Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Correlation and Causation: A Rebuttal

Correlation and Causation: Regarding Gender Discrimination Claims in Publishing

My cousin shared a Huffington Post article with me and I thought I'd share it - and my thoughts on it - here. After all of the courses I've taken in Women's Studies, this article and the statistics it presents concerns me, however, the analytical side of me wonders if this article is forgetting that "correlation does not imply causation."

Are Book Publishers To Blame For Gender Discrimination?
[The Huffington Post] took a look at all of the books published in 2011 by four of the major imprints - Knopf, Crown, Little, Brown and Farrar, Strauss and Giroux - and tallied the authors by gender. These publishers were chosen for their focus on literary fiction - the types of books typically reviewed by places like The New York Times Book Review and The Atlantic. We only included hardcovers in our count for the same reason.

What [they] found (see below) was that the gender ratios of books published by these imprints are in a few cases almost identical to those of the publications cited in Vida's survey [Ed. Note: Vida's survey showed that reviews of literary fiction written by men far outpaced reviews of literary fiction written by women]. If the gender representation in major publications is to change, and we believe it should, then perhaps that also requires a shift either in the mindset of the more "literary" publishers, or a broadening of the books and publishers whose work is covered by the media.
Books published in 2011 by Alfred A. Knopf
Pie chart by Huffington Post.

This is a big claim to make just based on publishing numbers.

There has been a struggle between the gender binary for centuries upon centuries and only in the past 100 years have women finally been gaining a voice, especially in the publication of literary fiction. So do these statistics reflect discrimination or do they reflect progress? Additionally, could these statistics represent an underlying discrimination outside of the publishing realm that somehow prevents women from even writing the same amount of literary fiction as men, therefore limiting publishers to submissions from men and women that reflect the publishing statistics?

The only way to really get a better idea of why the numbers are so apparently biased towards male literary fiction authors is to have access to the data on the actual manuscript submissions these publishers receive. Two examples to illustrate how this information is important:

(1) Publisher A receives 232 submissions in a year from women and 192 submissions in the same year from men. This publisher accepts and publishes 58 from the women and 96 from the men. That is a 1-in-4 acceptance/publication rate for women and 1-in-2 acceptance/publication rate for men. In this instance, there is likely a problem at the publishing level.

(2) Publisher A receives 116 submissions in a year from women and 192 submissions in the same year from men. This publishers accepts and publishes 58 from the women and 96 from the men. That is a 1-in-2 acceptance/publication rate for BOTH groups. In this instance, there is no discrimination occurring at the publishing level.

Without the submission/acceptance/rejection data, this article is just a baseless jab at publishers. The numbers the article provides ARE important to show that female literary fiction authors are being published at a much lower rate than their male counterparts, but to suggest that "book publishers [are] to blame" is a bit reactionary and thoughtless without further data, in my opinion.

Note: The two scenarios above are very basic and the reality is probably much more complex, but I wanted to keep the math simple in order to make my point clearly.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Stray Thoughts: Get the Funk Out

Bookish by Sky Sloderbeck
On Saturday, March 10th, I turned 39. The week leading up to this was spring break for my university. I spent the entire week gorging myself on carbs and staring at the computer screen, unable to string any words together. Some might call this writer's block, some might call it a lack of motivation, I call it a funk.

I have never been a big fan of my own birthdays, especially now. The strain of this past birthday was not only internal, but external. For personal reasons that I won't go into here, this past birthday has been one of my least favorites ever. Additionally, my writing has suffered, my creativity has suffered, and my humor has suffered.

Many writers, I suspect, fall into this kind of funk from time-to-time for various reasons, and they all have different ways to pull themselves out of it. For me, it's deadlines. A deadline gives me the motivation, the adrenaline boost, that kicks me in the rear and gets me going.

And I have a deadline coming up.

No later than April 1, but preferably by next weekend, I need to complete the second draft of a short story. Once this draft is complete, I have to mail it off to the organizer of the writing conference I'm attending in April. I'm in a master class with five other writers and a published author and we will be critiquing manuscripts. My story is a sci-fi short written from a point-of-view that is risky, to say the least, and it is a story that I hope I can expand into a novel one day.

The funk is still there trying very hard to urge me back to mindless TV and pointless web surfing, but the deadline won't permit that. The deadline is key to getting me back in the writing habit. The deadline is wonderful. I know that, as a writer, I may not always have deadlines other than the ones that I impose upon myself, but for now, this deadline couldn't have come at a better time.

How do you shake the funk when life gets you down or drags you away from your writing for an extended period? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Tantalizing Ten: February

Welcome back to another month of The Tantalizing Ten, where I share ten of my favorite blog articles targeted to writers that I have come across this month (whether or not the articles were actually written this month). School was kicking my rear in February, so my blog posting and blog reading were severely curtailed, but I did manage to make note of a few that I thought were the finest of February.

Note: If you have read January's "Tantalizing Ten," then you might see a pattern here on the sites I frequent and enjoy. I do not apologize for this. If you don't like it, then bite me leave a note in the comments on other interesting, useful, and (preferably) amusing writing sites.

Warning: Some articles may contain graphic language or references to things inappropriate for children. If this may bother you, then why are you on a blog in which I compare story arcs to sex?

Serious, But in a Pee-Yourself-Laughing Kind of Way

1. Terrible Minds: 25 Things I Want to Say to So-Called "Aspiring" Writers
Excerpt:  I’m just going to type this out a dozen times so it’s clear: finish your shit. Finish your shit. Finish your shit. Finish your shit. Finish your shit. Finish your shit! FINISH YOUR SHIT. Finish. Your. Shit. Fiiiiniiiish yooooour shiiiiit. COMPLETO EL POOPO. Vervollständigen Sie Ihre Fäkalien!

2. Terrible Minds: 25 Reasons That Writers are Bug-Fuck Nuts
Excerpt: We are trained to be gifted liars. Anybody who writes fiction — or works for Fox News — is tasked with the job of convincing others that Things That Are Absolutely Not True are, in fact, Totally Fucking True. Our entire job is predicated on being good at spinning a complicated web of deception. Truth? Bo-ring. Lies? High-five! Lies make Story Jesus giggle as if you’re tickling his tummy. I imagine all writers have those moments where they’re sitting around their office, pantsless, an empty whiskey bottle spinning idly at their feet — they rub their eyes and mutter, “I don’t know what’s real and what’s fake anymore.” Then the writer hops on his rocket unicorn and goes to buy a cat-burger from the fish-faced Atlantean fellow down on Bumbershoot Street. See? The lies just fall out of me. Like chewing gum from a dead man’s mouth.

Shooting Straight: Writing

3. Jane Friedman: 3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask
Excerpt: How much of yourself are you going to share? And which part? 

Let’s assume you do want an audience (of any size). It necessitates some kind of persona. Deciding not to have a persona (removing yourself from visibility, Pynchon style) is a persona.

You can’t imitate someone else’s persona. You can only be yourself. Some of us think famous people are (or ought to be) aloof and distant, so we imitate aloofness, even when it has nothing to do with our personality.

4. Writer's Digest: How to Get a Short Story Published Like a Pro
Excerpt: As a writer you probably hear a lot of advice about how to get your novel published, how to write a perfect query letter, how to get an agent or editor’s attention and so forth. But what if you want to know how to get a short story published? How is the process different for submitting to literary journals or magazines different from approaching a book publisher?

5. Writer's Digest: Ten Tips to Avoid Clichés in Writing
Excerpt: We’re drawn to clichés because they’re convenient. And convenience for writers—convenient plots, convenient characters, convenient coincidences, convenient settings or situations or strings of words—almost always spells doom.

6. Write to Done: Writing Secrets of Prolific Authors
Excerpt: Write Every Day. 

When you’re motivated, you’ll write every day. When you write every day, you’ll increase your motivation to write.
Some writers find they lose momentum if they don’t write every day. Others find it better to take a break from writing every so often.

7. Wordplay: A Writer's Guide to Punctuation
Excerpt: Punctuation in a story is like the spice in a soup. When we’re sipping that soup off our spoons, we’re not likely to notice or identify every spice that has created the uniquely delicious flavor caressing our taste buds. Same goes for punctuation. When shaken out with a skillful hand, the very effectiveness of punctuation makes it go unnoticed. On the other hand, when we choose the wrong punctuation in the wrong place, the result is the readerly equivalent of coughing over too much cayenne pepper. 

8. Wordplay: A Wordplayer's Manifesto
Excerpt: To make the most of our lives as writers, we must understand the core principles and defining moments of being an author. We must boldly claim our goals, and we must remember, refine, and renew our commitments every day. To help us keep our sights set high, we need to declare ourselves to ourselves, as well as the rest of the world.

9. Christina Katz: Forget Infatuation: Your Writing Career Wants A Commitment
Excerpt: [I]f you want to have a successful, long-term writing career, than the relationship between you and your work is going to look a lot more like marriage than anything else. ... Because marriage isn’t just about love; it’s also about partnership and commitment.

10. Christina Katz: 10 Things to Never Do On Social Media
Excerpt: [N]ever think that social networking replaces cultivating a real life. It doesn’t. Social networking compliments and expands your real life. Unplug once and a while to make sure your real life is not getting neglected.