Dear female authors...

Saturday, 8 July 2017

In April this year, the #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear hashtag took off on Twitter after author, Joanne Harris, talked about how women are essentially demonised for taking time out of their family life to write. What followed was the writers’ equivalent of the Everyday Sexism Project, with authors as well-known as V E Schwab revealing that she was told “I'm so glad I didn't know you were a woman. I never would have picked up your book."

Similarly, J K Rowling was encouraged to use her initials to avoid boys being put off reading her work. There’s no way of knowing whether Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter books would have sold 400 million copies – but it’s a shame we live in a world where it was too much of a marketing risk to find out.

What I personally find the saddest of all is the female writers of the past who will never know how much their work was adored even when a female name was attached to it *gasp*. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the Brontë sisters, who were all published under male names. Charlotte Brontë, author of the much-adapted Jane Eyre, was once told by poet laureate Robert Southey that “literature cannot be the business of a woman's life”.

But it’s not just the name that goes on the cover that is affected by the, let’s say lacklustre, attitude to female authors – it’s bank balances, too. An article posted online by The Guardian in April 2015 discussed the findings of a study by Queen Mary University of London, revealing exactly how badly women are missing out. The study found that professional female writers – ‘professional’ meaning that they spend “more than half their working life on self-employed writing” – earn just 80% of what their male counterparts are cashing in.

Another issue female writers face is the endless hurling of accusations at us on Twitter, writing forums, and real-life conversations with people who should know better. ‘Women aren’t good at writing anything scary or violent’ (so why did Sarah J Maas turn Cinderella into an assassin for Throne of Glass?), ‘Women can’t write male characters’ (sorry, Harry Potter, Just William, and Frankenstein), and ‘Women only want to read and write romance’ (um, what exactly is romantic about any of Gillian Flynn’s novels?).

So, is it all doom and gloom for female authors?

Well, things are starting to look up: this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 list included two authors, both of whom are female, with their profiles highlighting their critical and financial success. This follows a 2015 list in which Veronica Roth was the only author honoured (the 2016 list did not include any authors).

The New York Times bestseller list also shows improvement, as 48% of authors on the list in 2016 were female. This is up from a shocking low of 14% in 1975, although the figure hasn’t dropped below 43% since 1998, proving that attitudes are changing – if somewhat slowly.

For aspiring female authors today, there are many great examples of women writing with extreme success. In the world of YA, for example, Sarah J Maas’s Throne of Glass has been optioned for a hotly-anticipated TV show called Queen of Shadows, while Nicola Yoon managed to have two of her novels on the New York Times bestseller list at once.

We can also celebrate the recent phenomenon that is the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which received critical acclaim and has now been renewed for a second season. But this isn’t only an example of a female writer’s enduring success – it also provides a valuable platform for feminism in society as a whole, depicting women as the property of men in a brutal way that has really hit home for many. While the fact that the show has hit people so hard is, sadly, proof that we still identify with the issues the story raises, its’ success is a sign that audiences aren’t turning a blind eye. The world is changing – and our stories are a vital part of it.

So, my message to you, female authors, is also a message I’d give to Robert Southey: literature can and should be the business of many women’s lives. Why?

Because we’re bloody good at it.

by Alice (@ allygatorgrey) from Reading By Dragon Fire 

This post has been kindly written in support of #Rebeccas24HourReadathon. SomeOne Cares is a charity that helps support survivors, young and old, who have suffered of rape or some form of abuse at some point in their life. 

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