We dedicate a lot of space about the importance of reading books that aren’t written by straight, cisgender white men. There’s a reason — books written by women, people of color, those who aren’t straight or cisgender see less money, less promotion, and less support throughout the industry.
But beyond being aware of these books and reading them, what can you do to better support them? As consumers and readers, we hold a surprising amount of power in making change in the industry, even if it doesn’t feel like it. We are the ones the industry is trying to reach; if we behave in ways that support and speak out about our wants and desires when it comes to books and reading, we are on the ground level of creating change. Our money speaks.
In honor of Women’s History Month, as well as the on-going conversations on social media about sexism, feminism, and the importance of elevating and listening to women’s voices, Preeti and I have put together a list of tangible things you can do to support rad lady authors. And this isn’t about excluding men, this is about celebrating women.
It might feel overwhelming, like the responsibility to be a part of change is too hard or draining, but it’s really not. If you dedicate even one hour a month to any or all of these activities in some way, you are part of the change.
- First, honestly, make a decision to be aware of who you are reading. This is a big step for a lot of readers. Track your reading habits and see where you can do better. Set goals to up your reads written by women.
- Make it a challenge. Decide, for example, that you’re only going to read women of color for a month, you’re only going to buy books by women when you’re at the bookstore, you’re only going to review books by women, and so forth. Sometimes setting up a personal challenge makes it a habit.
- Select books written by ladies as book club reads. Select books featuring dynamic female main characters as book club reads, too, then talk about the authors and those characters at your discussions. Make the female experience part of the discussion.
- Librarians and teachers: build booklists featuring female authors and use them in your book discussions and in your classroom. Seize on social media discussions and bring them into the classroom — Maureen Johnson’s #CoverFlip experiment provides an outstanding example of how this can be worked into the classroom. Likewise, talk with girls about their reading experiences, what they’re seeing themselves in, as well as what they’re not. See high school Sarah Andersen’s findings when she did just that with her female students.
- Have a handy list of recommended reads that go beyond the bestsellers. Highlight those awesome lady writers who don’t see their names on lists time and time again. Recommend books based on those bestsellers by other women. Spend time talking about books featuring dynamic, complex, and authentic female characters.
- Seek out lady authors from indie/small presses, those who are writing memoirs, and look to self-publishing, too. Author Zetta Elliott recently wrote about why she, as a black female author, chose to move to self-publishing, which offers a lot of food for thought.
- Buy books. Actually, really buy them. If you can’t afford to buy them, get them from the library and request them from your library. You can ask your librarian to consider purchasing titles. Provide them with information about the book to make it easier. If you see the title in a magazine, heard about it on TV, read about it on a website, saw a review for it on a consumer/trade site, or something similar, let them know that, too. It helps them with purchasing decisions (sometimes libraries need a title vetted before they make the purchase and those sources help).
- If you can afford to buy books, consider pre-ordering them. Pre-ordering means buying it before its publication date and it’s proof to the publisher there is interest in a title. Make pre-ordering a treat. One thing I do is pre-order a handful of titles when the new year kicks off for the next few months so that when they show up, it’s a surprise present to myself. Book mail is the best mail.
- Leave consumer reviews for books by female authors on sites like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, but also leave reviews on Goodreads. If you love a book, take five minutes to write a review for it. You don’t need to write anything brilliant, just explain why you liked the book and why you think others would, too.
- Find zines, magazines, online writing that aims to reach women and share their voices. Read them, talk about them, submit to them if you’re a writer. Check out women-run publishing initiatives that seek out these works, like Book Smugglers Publishing. Support young women who are doing these very things (look at sites like Rookie!)
- Nominate books for the awards/recognitions for which they’re eligible. There are awards for which anyone can nominate and some which members of those organizations can nominate. If you’re in an organization with an award, nominate lady writers for them. Some suggestions include the Hugos (members only), the YALSA awards through the American Library Association (anyone can nominate, as long as they’re not financially tied to the book being nominated), the CYBILS awards (opens in the fall of each year), the RITA awards for romance (details here), and the Mythopoeic Awards (members only).
- If you’re not a member of an organization or don’t necessarily want to nominate titles, consider making lists of titles that are eligible for those awards in a given year, particularly in categories where titles aren’t always obvious. If you’ve read excellent blog posts, short stories, poetry, or other similar works throughout the year written by women, pull those titles together and share them for those who can and do nominate.
- Join VIDA and/or support VIDA initiatives. Share and discuss The Count of women’s reviews in media outlets, back their fundraising efforts, volunteer in their initiatives, and talk about what their members are writing about, onsite and off.
- Intersectionality is key, here. In other words, forms of oppression and discrimination are interconnected — for women of color, you can’t wholly divorce racism from sexism. So in supporting women writers, we should aim for diversity within gender equality and recognizing that there are multiple forms of oppression. Read more women, and read more women of color, read more lgbtq women, read women with disabilities. This is important not only for supporting traditionally marginalized voices, but for gaining empathy and normalizing what society considers Other.
- Pay attention to the institutional sexism in the book industry. These are real issues and they’re pervasive. There are gender gaps in pay, in reviews, in the New York Times Bestsellers. There are women writing about wanting to be taken seriously who are belittled for such desires. Why aren’t we taking this seriously when the data is there? When the proof is right in front of us? Pay attention and act accordingly. Listen to women’s stories — on social media, on blogs, in the broader media — and boost those voices. Believe them.
We know it’s hard to have the energy to be committed to change. And that’s ok. What we’re asking is to think about these things, and do what’s manageable (even if it’s just one or two things on this list), or do whatever you think you can support women authors. These are our suggestions, if you have any please comment and let us know!
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