By Mary SanGiovanni
As you may or may not be aware, February in the publishing business – or, at least, in the horror genre – is considered Women in Horror Month. Traditionally, during this month, writers, editors, readers, reviewers, fans, etc. of both sexes and all genders try to raise awareness of the work of women currently writing fiction, comics, and scripts, creating art, and making movies and video games in the horror genre. People discuss their favorite women creatives and suggest, ideally to a wider audience, which works provide a good introduction to these women’s work.
As a theory, I think this is a fantastic idea, and in practice, I appreciate every effort people make on my behalf and the behalf of other women creatives to spread the word about our work. I think a key component of securing financial and professional security as a woman writer is in establishing my presence, popularity, and competence to editors, publishers, media outlets, movie and television people looking to adapt work, and of course, to readers who buy and enjoy horror books. This is a simple business principle; if people keep buying my books, I can afford to keep writing them for publication. In reality, something like Women in Horror Month is a current necessity.
What vaguely nettles me about Women in Horror Month, though, is that it still is a current necessity.
Believe me, I get it. We as women creatives arrived later in the game to a genre traditionally dominated and built, quite respectably, by men. Many women writers my age were and are inspired by the works of men. Many of us learned our craft and the nature of the business from men. We were lucky to have forward-thinking males who recognized that talent in any particular genre or form of art was not the exclusive domain of a particular sex or gender, and who used their voice and influence to better all our situations. But to be blunt, there were both men and women who perpetuated sexism and even misogyny, as well. I think it’s important to establish that I do not think men’s contributions to the genre I love should be overlooked, undercut, erased, or prevented in the future. That, to me, would simply be doing to people I respect the same injustice which has been done to me in the past. It seems neither fair nor prudent.
However, I can’t help feeling some frustration that women writing horror is still enough of a novelty in the minds of some people that the qualifying phrase “women writers” persists, and that a month still needs to be dedicated to reminding or illuminating people that women do, in fact, write the same kind of horror that horror fans enjoy, the same kind of horror that men are writing. I look forward to a time when the sex/gender/color/race/orientation, etc. of a writer is irrelevant – not something we work hard not to see, but something that truly doesn’t matter. The quality of the work and the contributions to a genre we all equally love, strive to improve, and fight to protect should be the only benchmarks. And I understand that to reach that point, efforts to raise awareness of women in horror need to continue, at least for a while.
I discussed in my last column some ways in which I thought women could practically and naturally/organically level the playing field and establish their place in the genre. I believe those principles are sound, particularly the notion of proving we are name brands which make money and draw readers. To quote, I said, “Some of it is a matter of highlighting fellow women when they achieve something of note – prestigious awards, bestseller lists, reviews in high-profile places, publication with venerable publishing companies. It’s about raising readers’ (and other publishers’) awareness of reader appreciation of our work, and positioning ourselves and our fellow women as creators who will bring in sales.” So how to accomplish this?
One way to do that is for all you good folk out there who make efforts on our behalf to continue to discuss women in horror – in months other than February or October. Continue to nominate your favorite writers – women as well as men – for awards and Bestseller/Best Of lists. Ask for your favorite writers’ work at bookstores and online. Show up at signings and events where they are and show public support. Sport their t-shirts and display their merchandise. Retweet, share, repost. Continue to review their work, discuss the merits of that work, and recommend your favorites to family and friends. Reach out to them and remind them that they’re being read. If you’re in the business as a publisher, producer, agent, editor, or compiler, don’t let sex/gender be a deterrent – but also, please don’t just include work you feel is below your standard just to meet a quota. Be diverse, but let us rest assured that you’re including our work because you are picking the BEST from the most diverse pool of quality that you can find. If you can, get a fair and balanced selection of your writers a Bookbub spot, an interview, a book tour, or an endcap. If you’re a reviewer, highlight the books you enjoy and why you enjoy them. If you’re an academic, discuss their literary merits and contribution to the body of significant works that make up the genre. If you’re media – newspapers, radio, even television – spread the word with a highlight piece, however brief. If you’re a fan, leave Amazon and Goodreads reviews. And remind the doubters that we don’t write with our lady bits; we write with our minds, our hearts, and our souls – just like men do.
Help us establish a reputation for being reliable, timely, prolific, lucrative producers of quality work in the horror genre by believing we are. Believe in us. Normalize us.
Women may make up only 20-40% of those writing horror today – roughly 2-4 stories in an anthology of about 10 – but we ARE writing, and those percentages are shifting more and more with each new generation of writers.
I am eternally grateful to the people out there who continue to shine a light on our darkness and who treat us as equals. Thank you to those who refuse to let the work of women in horror lapse into obscurity, both from the past and in the present. I truly hope, though, that in time, the efforts I mentioned above will no longer be necessary, because we’re all just simply creatives in horror.
Also by Mary SanGiovanni: The Art of Business for Women Writers