As we have done annually since 1986, volunteers examined reviews published in a wide variety of publications to see what percentage of crime fiction reviews were going to books by women writers. In most categories, women’s share of reviews increased slightly over last year. This increase is part of a long-term trend. In most categories, women’s share of reviews is trending up.
Percent of Reviews Given to Mysteries by Women, 2007-2015
Note: we’ve aggregated types of publications, but the specific publications monitored changes somewhat from year to year, so direct comparisons are impossible to make.
As we’ve noted since we began counting born-digital reviews in 2012, women tend to be better-represented among blogs and online review sites than in traditional media. This year, 52 percent of the 1,600 reviews posted to the blogs and websites we monitor were of crime fiction by women. The category most resistant to women writers, but making significant strides in recent years, is national newspapers: The New York Times, The Toronto Globe & Mail, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. These review outlets matter because they have prestige and a relatively wide readership. Of the important pre-publication review sources, Booklist once again favors male authors over women writers when it comes to assigning review space (42%), more so than Publishers Weekly (45%) or Library Journal which had 60 percent of their crime fiction reviews devoted to books by women writers; in fact, since 2011 a majority of mysteries reviewed in Library Journal have been by women.
We’d like to recognize the following publications that devoted half or more of their crime fiction review space to books by women in 2015.
- Boston Globe
- Minneapolis Star Tribune
- Entertainment Weekly
- Library Journal
- RT Reviews
Mystery Scene came very close, with 49 percent of their reviews devoted to books by women. It’s worth recognizing, too, that the Wall Street Journal, which over recent years was not so generous to women writers, on average giving only a quarter of their crime fiction reviews to books by women, approached parity this year, with 21 reviews of books by men and 19 books by women.
What percentage of published mysteries are by women?
Because there is no master list of all mysteries published, we estimate the percentage of mysteries by women by counting submissions to the Edgar Awards in four categories: best novel, best first novel, and best paperback or e-original, and any books submitted for the Mary Higgins Clark award that weren’t also submitted to one of the other categories. Combining all of these categories, women authors account for slightly over half of the books submitted (51%). This continues a trend: women have written over half of the books submitted for Edgar Award consideration in four of the past five years. However, as in previous years, the prestigious Best category remains dominated by male authors (56% books by men in 2015), with women author accounting for a majority of the best paperback or e-original categories (59%). That said, that gap has narrowed since last year, when women’s books were only 45 percent of Best First submissions. In 2015 they accounted for 52 percent of that category.
Not-So-Simply the Best
We examined a handful of lists of the best mysteries and thrillers chosen by several publications: Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and NPR. There was a great deal of variety on these lists. Of the 82 books listed on all six lists, only three were mentioned twice.
One (Richard Price’s The Whites) was on three of the lists, and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train was on four of the lists. Taking all of the titles into account, very nearly half of the books were by women (49%). This is a better showing than last year, when only 41 percent of the books on the three lists we examined were by women.
However, a different aspect of equality was not so well represented on these lists. Taking to heart the vision statement of Sisters in Crime – “to serve as the voice for excellence & diversity in crime writing” – we examined the racial diversity of authors on the list. Only six of the 82 books appear to be by people of color and none appeared to be Hispanic/Latino (based on an examination of self-presentation on author websites). Of those six, only three were by authors based in the U.S., and the listed book by one of those authors (An Untamed State by Roxane Gay) is not typically categorized as crime fiction.
Given that white non-Hispanics make up 67 percent of the U.S. population today, it’s problematic that 93 percent of the books chosen by U.S. publications as the best of the genre are by white authors. The forthcoming Summit Report coming from Sisters in Crime will explore the state of diversity and inclusion in our organization and in the industry with the goal of identifying obstacles, providing resources, and proposing goals for positive change.
Continuity and change
In 2015, Debra Goldstein joined the Board of Directors of Sisters in Crime and accepted the responsibility of coordinating the Monitoring Project. Barbara Fister will continue as a volunteer. Debra and Barbara would like to thank the many volunteers who make this annual assessment possible – we couldn’t do it without you! – and we invite members to consider joining their ranks. All that is required is to track a publication (print or digital) that includes reviews of crime fiction and report on the male/female breakdown of reviewed authors’ book four times a year Interested in helping out? Email us!