Bookstore Turns Books By Men Backward To Put Women Authors At The Forefront

From The Huffington Post:

Forget a year of reading women: What about straight-up hiding men’s words from view?
OK, that’s not exactly what Cleveland’s Loganberry Books has done to celebrate Women’s History Month, but it’s close. For two weeks in March, the store has flipped male-authored books around, filing them spine-in on their bookshelves to hide their titles from view.

The experiment, called “Illustrating the Gender Gap in Fiction,” kicked off on March 1, when the store hosted “a live performance art project where we will shelve the works by men in our LitArts room backwards.”

”I was truly shocked by the effects of this exercise, and it does make me curious about other genres in the store,” owner Harriett Logan told The Huffington Post via email. “I have been ― or thought I have been ― a conscientious book buyer and a supporter of women’s works. It’s hard to tell that from the shelves.”

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Felix, who says, “That should really help sales, right?”, for the tip.

PG notes J.K. Rowling’s sales when she wrote as Robert Galbraith. He also has personal knowledge of a number of men who write romances under female pen names to avoid being ignored by female acquiring editors at major publishers.

Finally, KDP’s computers don’t care about your gender.

Peter Steiner’s cartoon, as published in The New Yorker. Cartoon obtained from Wikipedia.

For copyright geeks, here’s a link to Wikipedia’s discussion of the fair use of this copyrighted cartoon.

53 thoughts on “Bookstore Turns Books By Men Backward To Put Women Authors At The Forefront”

  1. I’m wondering if they really think *their* buyers use author gender as a factor in buying decisions, why not simply shelf the books separately and label them appropriately. Give better placement to the ladies. Achieves the same effect but won’t reduce sales.

    They have a decent-looking online store and the storefront looks clean and organized. Though I wonder about sales of the books near the ceiling–you might need binoculars to read the spines.

    • It could be worse. Harvard Book Store replaced all books written by female authors in their window display with notes about why the books were removed.

  2. It is a gimmick, though perhaps not a very successful one.
    Sure, they might be able to get a couple of guilty feminist to buy more titles by women, but then what?
    They’ll probably get some good press coverage out of this, which after all is the point of the whole exercise.
    I think it’s time we put this notion of separating authors by gender to bed, I care what’s between an authors ears, not what’s between their legs.

    • I’m not going to take any more offense at this “gimmick” than I will around Father’s Day when they’re trying to move the bbq cookbooks written by men.

      It’s probable every retailer could be moving some extra or older inventory if they came up with a new “gimmick” every month. I work with retailers in a niche industry and it’s amazing what they can move just by switching up where product is located in their shop. There is a lot of “I didn’t know you carried that or I’ve never seen this here before” when it’s been there the whole time.

      • Highlighting female authors doesn’t require hiding alternatives, though.
        Like I said earlier, they can just segregate the books by author sex and put the ladies’ books in a more favorable location.
        Supermarkets running Coke promotions don’t hide Pepsi. After all, buyers know Pepsi exists and pretending otherwise achieves nothing.

        Hiding male authors suggests the customers won’t buy the female author books as long as a single male author title is visible.
        Seems counterproductive.

  3. I encourage enlightened independent bookstores everywhere to do the same. Take a stand. Justice isn’t reserved for just one month each year.

    After two months, a live performance art project could take all those spine-hidden books off the shelves and send them back to the publisher. They weren’t selling, so why hold on to them?

  4. Well, not that I’d be looking for books in that genre to start with, but I’d start yanking the spine-in books just to see what they were. Then I’d probably put them back spine out 🙂

  5. The more I hear, the more I think they don’t want my business — nor the business of other readers.

    • I look on the brighter side. It gives us an opportunity to learn from those who are intellectually and morally superior to the rest. Spine in? Spine out? Brilliant.

      I’ve just rearranged my bookshelves, and feel a satisfying glow of accomplishment. Can’t wait to show the neighbors.

      • So, all your books are spine-in then?

        I think things like this, as an emphasis to talks about why and how we choose what books we read, can be helpful. If it’s used to brow-beat readers, it would be a fail. If it opens eyes that maybe there’s some cultural blindness going on, then it could be good.

        People when asked mostly won’t say why they don’t read books by women writers. I suspect they don’t think they’re being biased, unless something happens to open their eyes and get them looking at things they aren’t used to.

        Like it or not, women and people of color, non-Christians and others are often left out of the mainstream experience, and sometimes it upsets people when their blinders are tweaked.

        • I wear blinders when looking for books to read. If I liked it, then I bother with the name of the author. I am sometimes surprised by the sex or color of the author, but if I liked what they wrote I’m going to keep reading them.

          The people I don’t get are the ones that worry about a writer’s color or which way the plumbing works before bothering to read and see if they like them.

          (as far as PG’s comic, it’s even better that they can not only not tell that I’m a dog — but that I’m a mutt to boot!)

        • Let’s see what the data says.

          Here’s this week’s top trade paper books from PW:
          http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/pw-bestsellers/tradepaper.html

          This lists 25 books. Let’s see how many women authors are there.

          Hum.

          Horrors.

          No!

          18 out of the top 25 are written by…women.

          3 out of the top 5…women.

          The top book. A woman.

          Those blasted men are so over represented!

          How can we as a society not see the bias against women authors with those 7 man-books lording it over the list. (I wonder if those men wear suits to boot.)

          Turn them all backwards so we aren’t overwhelmed.

          I’ve got to go take a break. It’s just too much.

                • So you dismiss the evidence showing that women predominate among bestselling authors, and provide no evidence in favour of your own view that women must be discriminated against ’cos reasons… and I am the stupid one here?

                  I think you owe both me and John Brown an apology. But I am damned sure we will never get one, knowing how self-righteous you are.

                • Apologize? Why would I?

                  I paid John the courtesy of explaining what was wrong with his argument. My response may have cut him to the quick, but it was still polite (or at least I hope it was polite).

                  I have nothing to apologize for with John’s comment.

                  You, on the other hand, keep putting words in my mouth and demanding I defend them. For example:

                  “your own view that women must be discriminated against ’cos reasons”

                  Yeah, I didn’t say that. That is a straw man argument you whipped up.

                  Why should I apologize to you when you keep inventing things I didn’t say?

            • Nate,

              I think you’re missing my point, although I will admit the presentation would make it hard to see if you happened to hold the views that were the object of the sarcasm.

              Let me see if I can explain my point without all that. It’s not just about a couple of books on a list because of the simple fact that best sellers sell orders of magnitudes more than other books.

              For example, JK Rowling sells more books than thousands of other authors combined.

              I gave a speech at the national ALA in 2009 and worked with Book Scan to get numbers. And at the time, she represented something like 15%, all by herself, of YA. Stephenie Meyer had similar numbers.

              So just 2 best sellers that year made up a huge portion of all YA sold that year. Add in some more best sellers, and suddenly you see that when it comes to representation in the market place, when it comes to who people are actually reading, women authors are knocking it out of the park.

              Here’s the USA Today’s Top 100 books for 2015.

              http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2016/01/24/top-100-books-2015-usa-today/78814838/

              40 of those authors by my count are women. Also remember that those at the top often sell orders of magnitude more than those farther down. And women are at the top.

              Publishers Weekly used to print actual numbers for the year of the best sellers. It would be interesting to get something like that and just do the math. I haven’t seen those lists in a while, but we can get a gauge with these best seller lists.

              Here’s Amazon’s current top 100 authors. These folks sell more books than probably then next few thousand authors combined.

              https://www.amazon.com/author-rank

              Look at the genders. 22 of the top 50 are women. Very close to half. Now, that thing moves, and so I suspect we’ll find on some days they might be 27 or 28 out of fifty.

              The point is that if we look at the numbers of books sold in a year and separate them by gender of author, and look at the trends year after year, we begin to see that it’s a tough case to make that women authors are under represented.

              Readers are choosing to read women authors, and in many years, they’re choosing to read women authors more than male ones.

              • I went back and read the original article and noticed an important detail;

                No, your point about the best-seller list is irrelevant; the original article mentions that this trick was only applied to literary fiction and not genre or best-sellers.

                In other words, it only covered the part of the traditional publishing industry where who you knew and whether you were part of the right clique mattered more than the quality of the work or its marketability.

                So the bookstore was trying to show that women were excluded from the old boy’s club. This we already knew, but I for one don’t give a rat’s hiney.

                The fundamental problem with this trick was, as a commenter pointed out, that this really showed what was wrong with the bookstore’s stock rather than the industry as a whole.

                We live in an age where it easier than ever to publish a book, so the only real limitation to representation is how many people choose to participate. (In a previous era representation was limited to those who were chosen, but that’s no longer true.)

                The thing about diversity in books is that the books are already out there – you just have to find them.

                And really, that is something the bookstore should have been doing all along, so this trick just reflects badly on them rather than saying anything about the industry as a whole.

        • I think as self publishing becomes more mainstream, Factors such as race and gender will become less important overall, because in Kdp it doesn’t matter what you identify as so long as you can write and upload your book onto Amazon.

          • I don’t even know why it matters now. I loved fantasy, but it’s not like I judged writers based on gender. I remember how happy I was as a teenager when I found the Earthsea novels by Ursula K. Le Guin. Something to finally satiate my appetite for YA fantasy after reading through all the LOTR, Narnia, & Redwall books. I didn’t say, “oh this was written by a chick, so it must not be any good.”

            As an author now, I also don’t believe it is necessary to post pictures of yourself on the book itself. Just seems a little pretentious to me. But if someone was concerned about getting discriminated against, that should be the first thing to go.

        • So, all your books are spine-in then?

          Not all of them. Some are on their side. Those are the ones where the author just used initials.

          And my neighbor did come by. I showed him my bookshelf, and the dolt asked, “Why are those books backwards?”

          I sighed, gave him back his electric drill , ushered him out, and felt a healthy glow of moral and intellectual superiority for the rest of the day.

      • “It gives us an opportunity to learn from those who are intellectually and morally superior to the rest.”

        Was that directed at me, or the bookstore? (I am self-centered enough to assume that was meant for me but I wanted to make sure.)

    • Kinda what I was thinking.

      A bookstore that does this for a single day triggers a reaction: “Oh wow, so few books are on display.” It’s a quite visual indicator of the balance between how female and male authors are represented in publishing. It’s something easily memorable long after the books are all arranged spine out again.

      That’s more powerful than percentages in news stories.

      Is it something to do every day? No, of course not. But making a statement on a day when attention is focused on it, that’s hardly idiocy.

      I know enough authors who write under differently-gendered pen names for certain genres to know that sexism exists in the marketplace. It can be gotten around, and that’s not the problem.

      The problem is that when children see a lack of representation in things like books or other media, they can infer that participation in that media is for other people, not them. It’s self-perpetuating, and that’s the greater harm right there.

      • But part of that is the bookseller’s fault. They buy in the books from the publisher. One could argue they choose mainly male authors because that’s what they think will sell, but if they offer more books by men than by women they will sell more books by men than women, and the publishers will see men sell better than women, so they’ll do more of same.

        At the end of the day, all they are doing is saying “look how many books of a certain type we have chosen to offer you.”

        • It’s the bookseller’s fault if publishers are selling books on a 50/50 even basis and the bookseller is only picking books written by men (or women, or whatever).

          At the end of the day, all they are doing is saying “look how many books of a certain type we have chosen to offer you.”

          Yes, andfor Women’s History Month, that type is books written by female pen names.

      • Hiding all the books by male authors is bad if you do it because you feel that male authors are inferior. It is not bad if you do it for one day to highlight female authors or to get people thinking about the ratio of male versus female authors and help spark a conversation around that.

        It’s still bad if you do it to illustrate the point that male authors are inferior, but talk about assuming bad faith.

        • But doesn’t that tell you something about the bookstores thinking?
          They’re basically saying that female authors can’t compete with mail Ones in the free market, that only once The male authors have been hidden Will people buy other books.

          • All it tells me is that they decided to highlight female pen names in a way that drew attention to their lack of representation versus their ratio in the population.

            Your hypothesis is like looking at romance promos at Valentine’s Day and assuming that bookstores are saying that romance can’t compete with everything else unless they’re being promoted over the other books.

            All books are available. Some are temporarily promoted more than others because of a movie release or a holiday. This is not a demonstration of lack of trust of the promoted books.

            • Romance promos don’t generally tend To hide the other books in the store And discourage people from buying and Reading them.
              As for the representation of women, The fact that this bookstore has very few books by women is more a A reflection on this particular bookstore, and doesn’t have much to do with society at large, as Amazon and host of other e-book distributors can attest.

            • All it tells me is that they decided to highlight female pen names in a way that drew attention to their lack of representation versus their ratio in the population.

              What are the ratios?

  6. Hiding everything but what you are showing off is bad, whether its men, women, POC, fish, philosophers, bestsellers, whatever. Its a gimmick AT BEST, and an impediment AT ALL TIMES, and ought not be done for any reason. Pump up what you like instead of masking what you don’t.

    Hope that’s not too misogynistic or sexist, Nate.

  7. As for the issue of representation, I am from what Some here might consider a Minority group.
    I don’t want to be treated as some kind of representative for all people of my skin colour, because we all have different life experiences and hold different beliefs and world views and these are the things that define us more than skin colour ever could.
    I want people to read my books based on the synopsis Or because they think the cover looks interesting, not because there are people telling them they are racist if they don’t.
    I would imagine it’s similar for some female authors.

  8. I buy books I want to read. I buy more books from authors I like. That’s my entire selection process. Nowhere in that process do I sort by race, sex, religion, politics, nationality, age, or any other non-listed criteria. That’s not virtue signalling, its LACK OF BIAS coupled with a voracious reading habit.

    So when some store plays gimmicky games like this, which makes it harder for me to troll through the stacks for something to read, I’m out of there without buying anything (because I can find things in other store or on Amazon, where this kind of game isn’t played). And I will not bother going back to see if it was just one day trying to provoke a conversation. Find another way.

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