From the start, the Australian Women Writers Challenge has been a bold and important undertaking. It has become a vital tool in countering the sentiment that it’s everybody else’s fault that Australian women are ignored, underrepresented and under-recognised. The AWW Challenge is a powerful opportunity to take a step back and interrogate one’s own reading prejudices and biases – we all have them!
To take on the challenge of exploring why we might not have considered reading certain works can be confronting, it’s not a nice thing to deconstruct about yourself – what and who you read and why (or why not). For women writers, the AWW Challenge is even more valuable as it takes this a step further and encourages the participants to share their newly discovered works with others. By more of us taking a part in the discussion, we work to counter the cloak of invisibility and boost the profile of women writers who otherwise get ignored by mainstream media, reviews and book promotion (as we know from the statistics we see each year from VIDA and similar calculations).
Twelfth Planet Press has directly benefited from the AWW Challenge in exposure through reviews and book discussions that have increased the awareness of many of our authors and their work, and has brought to the attention of a greater audience our press’s existence. As a press that publishes Australian women, we’ve found many readers interested and sympathetic to our work through the Challenge. It’s not a coincidence that readers who find us via this challenge tend to be readers who really understand what it is that we do at Twelfth Planet Press. We have several objectives:
- to publish fresh, original, well-written work that seeks to interrogate, commentate, inspire or provoke thought
- to provide opportunities for female writers by publishing and showcasing new work
- to advocate for fiction written for, by and about women
- to raise the awareness of women’s voices in science fiction, fantasy, horror and recently, crime; and
- to showcase and demonstrate the depth and breadth of Australian fiction to a broader audience.
Recently I wrote a blog post titled “Why Your Words Matter” addressing my response to a nonfiction article in an online magazine. The article was presented as an authoritative commentary on the Australian Speculative Fiction scene, yet failed to mention authors who are winning international awards and accolades for their work in horror. Because those writers were women, and because other women writers named in the article were originally referred to as “world class”, rather than “world class horror writers”, I objected to the piece as being factually inaccurate and for rendering those women writers invisible.
My piece, “Why Your Words Matter”, attempted to explain why it’s not necessarily the intent, nor whether this omission was deliberate, that’s the problem. The problem is that women writers have been omitted from commentary on “the scene”. That’s it. They have become invisible.
The piece I chose to critique was merely one example of where this happens. One of many. If it were the only example, this wouldn’t be an issue. And the one or two times the omissions are made wouldn’t matter. They’d be the outliers, they’d be noticed as factually inaccurate or incomplete, and other texts would be used as references. The problem arises when most criticism or commentaries or histories fail to mention women, either by design or by error.
In the case of the article I called out, the writer and I later engaged in a constructive dialogue and we were able to see each other’s points of view. He updated the piece and his publisher edited the introduction to state that the piece was not intended to be “100% comprehensive or a survey of all speculative fiction in a very active part of the world”. One might argue that the title “State of Play of Australian Speculative Fiction” says differently but that was that.
However, in the May edition of this publisher’s newsletter, the editor wrote a piece summing up this incident. Aside from somewhat emotional language used to describe what was actually just my pointing out of a factual error, and then a correction of this, the editor wrote the following two statements:
“I mention this incident because part of the discussion included the accusation that [the] omission of Twelfth Planet Press was associated with treating female writers as invisible (as Twelfth Planet Press’ publisher is female, and they have a very high percentage of female authors).”
“Correlating any form of gender bias on the article with this omission is pure conjecture, and in my opinion, unfounded. This statement in no way relates to the broader discussion on bias, sexism and misogyny, which, in my opinion, is unfortunately alive and well in our industry.”
I find these comments interesting as they were written after my piece about why the words matter. The words are what matter. Not intent, not motive. What is written is all there is for the reader to read. To omit is the action. And that was what my commentary addressed. I find it problematic that the editor decided to attribute the words “accusation” and “treatment” to what was a call of factual error. Women who should have been mentioned were not. Thus they became invisible.
So, too, the idea that the piece of work sits somehow outside any discussion of the field is problematic, both because it was specifically intended to be a discussion of the field and because it is indeed a part of our field. If bias, sexism and misogyny are alive and well in our industry, as the editor acknowledges, then who or what is “this industry”, if it is not made up of the individual actions and reactions, responses and contributions of each and every one of us?
If you aren’t part of the solution…
Reviews and discussions of work are important to authors, editors and publishers. They create book buzz, draw interest and raise awareness of work that might otherwise go unnoticed. The work of the AWW Challenge is greatly appreciated by this boutique publisher.
As a thank you to all the readers and reviewers in the AWW Challenge, we’d like to offer in return for every review of one of our books, a free Twelfth Planet Press ebook of your choice, for the rest of 2014. Simply send us a link of your review and the title of your ebook (and format) of choice. Because we are especially keen to boost our discoverability on Amazon, we’ll put anyone who mirrors their reviews on Amazon into a hardcopy book hamper draw – to be drawn Dec 31, 2014. Our hamper will include 1 hard copy book of your choice, a Twelfth Planet Press tote bag and chocolates!
You can send us your review links by email via firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter to @12thPlanetPress or Facebook at Twelfth Planet Press.
Alisa Krasnostein is editor and publisher at independent Twelfth Planet Press, a freshly minted creative publishing PhD candidate and recently retired environmental engineer. She is also part of the thrice Hugo nominated Galactic Suburbia Podcast team. In 2011, she won the World Fantasy Award for her work at Twelfth Planet Press. She was the Executive Editor and founder of the review website Aussie Specfic in Focus! from 2004 to 2012. In her spare time she is a critic, reader, reviewer, podcaster, runner, environmentalist, knitter, quilter and puppy lover. And new mum.