Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Despite appearances—by which I mean the number of male keynoters at writing conferences, the uneven amount of press attention, etc.—many, many more writers of children’s and young adult literature are female than male. Just look around the audience at last years SCBWI conference in Los Angeles.
This shot includes some speakers, so men are a bit over-represented
So when listening to a story on NPR yesterday about a program to help female and minority entrepeneurs polish their pitches and promote themselves, I heard a lot that was familiar. “In Silicon Valley,” the announcer said, “the idea is everything, and the pitch is how you sell it.” Yup. Sounds like getting an editors attention. 

“Fewer than 10% of tech companies are started by women and when women do start companies they bring in about half as much outside investment as male-founded companies do.” There’s a persistent rumor that men’s book advances are a lot higher than women’s. I usually don’t give much credence to rumors, but anecdotal evidence does support this one.

A Stanford University professor quoted in the piece said about women entrepeneurs (and of course this is a generalization): “they’re uncomfortable not knowing an answer, they’re uncomfortable taking credit, and they’re uncomfortable making bold statements.” Also familiar, and also a drawback in the publishing world, especially in the increasingly important world of promotion.

My friend Jody Casella, whose first book is coming out next year (YAY!), recently posted on her excellent blog about her anxiety over having to promote herself. “Forget the time and money involved in self-promotion,” she said. “I’m struggling with the idea of self-promotion itself.” Me too, Jody.

Of course men struggle with this too, but I really think that the problem is worse for women. The NPR piece reported a variation of an experiment I’ve heard about since high school: students were presented with invented work histories that were identical except that one had a male name on it and the other a female name. The two job candidates were seen as equally competent, but the woman was less likely to be hired than the man because her success made her seem “aggressive and self-promoting.”

I’ve said repeatedly that I could handle—and did handle for many years—the double load of writing and teaching, but with the ever-increasing demands on the author to do promotion, I had to give up my day job. I did that, and now I'm free to do that pesky promotion. Its time to put my money where my mouth is, otherwise I should have stayed at the university.

I’m not doing it, however. I’m hardly a shrinking violet, but I’ve been socialized like anyone else. I have a hard, hard time promoting myself. I don’t want to be seen as “aggressive and self-promoting.” I want my work to speak for itself.

But in this day and age, it doesn’t. I have to get out there and sell, sell, sell. And I will. I promise.

You believe that, don’t you?