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September 09, 2005

Post-Bouchercon Thoughts

Post-Bouchercon Thoughts

Since we're always interested in the continuing debate about "The Girl Ghetto" in crime fiction, we wanted to share some illuminating scoop that's come to light post-Bouchercon, provided by honorary Book Tart and friend, Elaine Viets.  It's all food for thought, and we'd love to hear what you have to say.

Here are Patti Sprinkle's figures, which she compiled from the program (Patti is outgoing president of Sisters in Crime).

The biggest discrepancies occurred Thursday, which has the lowest attendance, with many people arriving Thursday afternoon and evening, and on Saturday, which has the highest attendance:

On Thursday, 11 out of 17 panels were without men or had one man.
On Saturday, 13 out of 19 panels had 1 woman or no women.

On Thursday, a panel described as "writers on the cutting edge" had no women.

On Saturday, "These Funny Guys and Dolls" had no women.

"Self-Market Yourself" -- no women.
"The PI and Pop Culture" -- no women.
"I'm a Guy, I'm a Girl: Writing the Opposite Gender" -- 1 woman.
"The PI Short Story" -- 1 woman.
"Lovable Villains" -- 1 woman.

Panels dealing with PIs, police, hard-boiled or noir are more likely to be all male or almost all male and run on Saturday, the most visible day. There were no cop or PI panels on Thursday.

Traditional mysteries were sidelined to Thursday and Friday, with only 1 on Saturday. Male writers of cozy or traditional mysteries are less likely to be included on panels.

To which Elaine comments:

I heard from both men and women who were shocked that traditional mysteries had been sidelined to Thursday and Friday, while cop and PI mysteries were given Saturday showcases. The idea of "cutting edge mysteries" being all male was outrageous. The discrimination against male traditional mystery writers also surprised them.

This imbalance is particulary bad at a conference named for Anthony Boucher, a man who appreciated all aspects of the mystery world, from cozy to hard-boiled.

Here's the good part -- future conference organizers promised this would not happen at their Bouchercons. They would be more careful about their programming.

So special thanks to Patti Sprinkle, who took the time to gather those figures. Sometimes, speaking out does make a difference.

Another of our favorite people, author, blogger, and self-promotion guru M.J. Rose, weighs in with her response to the above-noted stats:

That sucks.

But.

I'm so used to women being marginalized I hardly pay attention to it anymore. It's more of the same old, same old. But before I throw stones, in some areas of the genre there are more men writing than women so it is harder to make everything equal - just as there are more women writing in some areas than men. (I figured I'd give the excuse before the organizers claim it.)

I could get crazy about this, just as I could get crazy about how many women authors don't get reviewed vs men authors, just as I could get crazy about how male fiction is never called that but women's fiction is always called that, just as I could get crazy about "old timers" bemoaning how women and what they write sully the mystery/suspense genre, just as I could get crazy how male thrillers get so much more attention in general in the press than women do, just as I could get crazy that a 50 year old man is handsome and a 50 year old woman is close to invisible. It all sucks.

Living well is the best revenge and so is writing well.

The good news is that something like three times as many women buy and read books as men so no matter how things like B'con play out, when it comes to sales and readership, women are still going head to head with the big boys. The bestseller lists are much more equal than anything else in this biz.

I know at ITW we plan to do everything as equally as we can - we started off with three men and three women on the board of directors so that helps. But then again B'con was organized by two women right?

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Comments

My panel for first-time authors took place on Thursday and had only one man, Jeff Shelby. But I don't think he minded :). But your post got me thinking: how many first-timers are men this year and how many are women? Besides the folks on my panel (Alison Gaylin, Lori Armstrong and Vicki Lane were the others, and everyone wrote great books), the other two first time authors I've taken particular note of this year have been Michele Martinez and Louise Ure, both women. It would be interesting to see numbers. Although probably difficult to find out.

Here at TLC, we've already established that everyone is entitled to his or her reading taste. But when you're organizing an event that's supposed to represent the wishes of members and presumably the diversity of an entire industry, some attempt at being fair is in order. I hope the 2005 B'con committee is blushing.

Are we going to hear from future organizers?

That's not right. Especially as a male who would write a cozy or traditional mystery if he were writing books.

Women write PI and police procedural books. They should be on those panels, too.

Karen:

Not so difficult. Just check out the Edgars submissions for best first novel on MWA's website (www.mysterywriters.org). That should give you a rough idea on the gender breakdown of authors.

And congrats on your debut! Enjoy this special year.

As the incoming President of Sisters in Crime, I'm grateful for Patti's final presidential act, and I agree that more gender diversity in panels is a goal we all need to work toward. To that end, I think you'll like some of our plans for the Madison Bcon. It will be the launch of SINC's 20th anniversary, and we're going to be sponsoring a few panels of our own... Stay tuned! (I can be persuaded to talk more about this in a few months...) For now, though, be aware that you have been heard and we are paying close attention.

Curiosity killed the cat. I pulled up the list, counted the obvious (to me) male and female names, googled the Chrises and G.E.s, and came up with this count: men 33, women 15. Don't know how that jibes with what people expected.

One other thing, looking up G.E. Nordell's BACKLOT REQUIEM, it appears to have been published by I-Universe. Are self-published novels eligible for Edgars?

Just because women have been marginalized doesn't mean we should rationalize it or continue to accept it. I'm glad SinC stepped up to the plate on this one. Hats off to Patti, and best wishes to you, Libby, as you lead a terrific organization this year!
N, ready to burn my bra.--And it would make quite a fire!!

hm, I guess this would be were I just sit here and read...I am not a writer...but the world is unfair! No one ever said it would be fair! BUT!!! I am usually the first to scream UNFAIR! I personally do not read mystery novels by men...well that I know of...but most of the time I like women writers, I relate better to the thinking process of the writer I guess.

Not that I make a difference in the writing world mind you :)

I am reading The Halo Effect by MJ right now...shivers...can not read it at night :) it is soooo very good!

Luckily, the "Homicide in High Heels" panel that I chaired (and which Elaine V and Harley were on) was well-attended and lots of fun; though I did have a bunch of people tell me on Friday that they were sorry to have missed it, since it was Thursday at 1 p.m. and they didn't arrive until that afternoon or evening.

My understanding is that authors must request to be on panels for B'con. Do we know whether there were female authors who wanted to be on a panel (and submitted their application in a timely fashion) who didn't make the cut? That stat is probably pretty significant.

I'm wondering whether part of the problem is that women are not as good at self-promotion. Could that be part of the problem?

Meryl--Everybody and their six cousins requests to be on panels at B'con--too many to be used. (Which is why you sometimes see panels with six participants---certainly an unwieldy number for an hour's discussion) Who is actually chosen is up to the B'con committee. So we're at the mercy of their reading taste.

As for men being better at self-promoting? (I can hear the screaming all over author listserves now.) The conventional wisdom is that *publishers* are more likely to spend promotional money on male popular fiction authors---who appeal to the male business travelers who buy books in airports or to readers who only buy bestsellers for whatever reasons.

(Which, in my view, just goes to show that people who only read bestsellers never actually browse bookstores but buy only on the basis of full-page ads in USA Today or the number of Tom Clancy books still taking up prime real estate in airport bookstores or buy from the limited number of titles presented in the tiny book departments of big box stores. But I'm prepared to be shouted down for this opinion.)

Also, you'll discover that popularity has just about everything to do with print runs. And print runs depend upon many, many factors--sales orders being where the buck stops. And sales orders depend on so many factors that it would be hard to discuss them all in this space. (It would make a great panel, though!) But one of our theories here at TLC is that "men's books" tend to have simpler stories, whereas "women's books" are more layered and complex--much like women's lives.--And the simpler the concept, the easier it is to communicate to the publisher's marketing and sales staffs--and subsequently to distributors, booksellers and finally readers. My first thought? One way women can improve our sales--and by extension, our popularity, is to become better at streamlining the concepts of our books. If you can distill your book idea down to a terrific log line easily understood by sales staff, bookseller and consumer, that's a great first step. (That log line will help program committees figure out interesting convention panels, too. Men tend to write thrillers or crime novels or noir or other established genres, whereas women are currently combining so many story elements in their books that it's perhaps difficult to pool similar books onto cohesive panels. But here I am making excuses for the other side, huh?)

As for women getting themselves onto a fair number of B'con panels on days when the whole convention is in full swing, it's going to take some shouting and pounding on tables to get that accomplished. Not sitting back and accepting the status quo like good little victims. I hope we're adding our voices to that discussion.
N

I should also add--by way of explaining my views above--that I'm not a good self-promoter. In fact, I rarely do any at all because I figure my time is better spent writing another--and better--book. I'll do it when my publisher pays and organizes it all. I'm basically opposed to self-promotion, I guess. Doing it well is just not something I have the time or talent for. (And...okay, I tend to think that most self-promotion gets you better known in the mystery community---or romance or SF--whichever genre you write--and not to the general public.) So somebody who's committed to self-promo should feel free to speak to this issue.

I love self-promotion. It's how I rose in the ranks from a small traditional press and sold any books at all. It's part of the business these days, and we have to face that, whether we like it or not. I feel like I'm half hermit and half social butterfly, and the travel and promotion feed the side of me that I squash while I'm writing a book. I adore getting out there and meeting readers. I love festivals asking me to come and taking care of me. I enjoy the hell out of conferences and conventions. I'm a PR major, too, so that doesn't hurt.

Some authors just aren't built to do it well and don't want to. There are others, like me, who happen to truly like it and want to do it. Sure, in the best of all possible worlds, our publishers would drop a load on advertising and stuff so we didn't have to do anything but write our next books. But I'd miss it, for one thing. Getting out and talking to people just charges my batteries, it drives me, and I would hate not to have that.

So, Meryl (and Ms. Nancy), there are lots of sides to this self-promotion issue. Some men are good at it. Some men suck at it. Ditto the women. I think, like writing good books, it's an individual issue, not a gender issue. Those who can, do. And many do it very well.

Kit Sloane's all-woman panel on Thursday was quite well-attended and very much appreciated by a mixed-gender group of attendees. My short mystery panel on Friday with three men and two women wasn't very well attended, because short story panels never really are. We had a good time, however, and received some positive feedback from writers who'd stopped by.

Overall, I enjoyed the conference and enjoyed Chicago. I felt Deen was a gracious hostess and the hotel was lovely.

I'm not an author, just a reader. And it's only been a few months that I've been reading the blogs of the circular links for all of you mystery writers. When I started figuring out what Bouchercon was, I thought how great it would be to attend something like that and meet such great people talking about what they do as a passion and a living and meeting some admired authors. I've considered going in the future. But I sense that Bouchercon is not for the reader and that it is more for the writers, publishers, critics, etc.

And at some point I became aware of this gender-bias issue in the mystery genre, particularly, after being discussed on several sites. After a while I began to think just write a damned good book and people will read it, male or female, traditional or cozy or PI or hard-boiled or whatever. Just do good work, I think to myself. It all washes out in the end. BUT, I must say, after reading the statistics listed above, I was shocked. Yes, shocked is a fair assessment. It is amazing that this bias is so blatant and obvious. I will think long and hard about spending my money to attend such an event until I see evidence of enlightenment. I'm not ready to pay to listen until they are ready to think. Just the observations of an outside-the-circle reader.

Lori, I hope you recognize you're the most important person here. We are thrilled to have an actual reader among us!
You might like Bouchercon. Or Malice Domestic in DC in the spring. If you go, look us up. We owe you many, many drinks.
xo
N

One thing to keep in mind is that usually the panels don't start as early on opening day as this one. As a result, there aren't as many 'marginalized' panels as was the case this time. By scheduling panels all day on day one the organizers threw off a number of attendees who didn't expect to have panels on Thursday morning.

Can I speak up and defend program planners? And forgive me for the extreme length of this post.
There are always more people who WANT to be on program than can be accommodated. No matter WHAT we do, if we start panels too early (say Thursday morning) or run them too late (say Sunday afternoon) we will hear complaints. Trust me. It never fails that no matter what we try, people complain.

Program works best when you actually ASK those who wish to be on program "what are you good at?" and provide them with some possibilties. Like a questionnaire. Program works LEAST well when you assume a) you know everyone's strengths b) when you put someone on a program item that closely resembles one they've done 27 times before and c) when you don't look at other events and see what worked well.

Too many program particiants DO NOT volunteer that a) they aren't going to be in on Thursday or they leave Sunday morning.
b) too many program participants join very late and expect to be put on the best program in the best time slot. We DO leave room, but when you're dealing with a few _hundred_ people, the earlier you can get program DONE, the better. It means that your stuff can go to the printer and be relatively accurate and that the moderator can do her homework, and prepare better; that he can contact the panelists, read the books, or the reviews, or run ideas past them all.
Gender - matters. WHEN it's a program item about gender. Otherwise to me, a MIX matters; unless I'm doing a panel about the Pacific NW (and I would hope to, as I'm based in Seattle) then my panel won't, if at all possible, be made up of all people from the Pacific NW. A MIX of gender, age, location, experience (new writer? seasoned pro? NON-writer? (yes, lots of those)) makes for a good discussion, as long as it's planned well.

I feel that 6 or 7 tracks of program is too many for a convention the size of Bouchercon; it's grown lately but I do NOT think it's necessary. Cutting back would maybe eliminate some of the "too early too late" programs. I think it leads to thin audiences and thin topics, too many people doing "my name is and my book is" because of that. We had about the same number of attendees (about 1500) in 1994 and we had 3 tracks, or 4, one being a "15 minutes of fame/20 on the 20" type. We had 300 program participants in that mix, almost all limited to one program item each.

YES, everyone who wants to be on program should volunteer to be on program. Except the guests of honor - who get NOT to be on program if that's a choice (hey're GUESTS first). I know lots of conventions guarantee to authors "if you join by X date, you'll get a panel". I won't do that. It IS helpful if you join early, and I tend to have early deadlines - iike 5 or 6 months out if possible JUST because it's a lot of work and you need time to hear back "oh,no I CAN'T do that panel after all" and sometimes that gets complicated. But just because you've joined a convention, you are not automatically on program. That should not be how it's done. YES there are authors who don't want to do program. Trust me.

And i think in this context "self-promotion" is useless. I don't want publicity packets, or calls from your agent. If you want to be on program, you tell me and then when the questionnaire is ready, I'll send it to you. you read the instructions, fill it out and return it.

Bouchercon - Left Coast, Malice Domestic - is a convention and YES it IS for the reader. It's not a writer's conference it is a convention. I'm a fan and I work on conventions because I'm a fan. I don't work on writer's conferences because they're not for me. Of course writers go to promote themselves, but that's NOT why conventions exist.

Andi Shechter
Fan Guest of honor, LCC 2001
Program assistant, LCC 2004
Chair, program chair, LCC 1997
Program Chair, Bouchercon 1994

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