Women Science Fiction Readers

Serendipity

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I was at Foyles yesterday collecting a science fiction book for Christmas reading (I rarely get into the city these days - hence the planning ahead).

The assistant and I got talking, as you do. He noted that I was unusual in my tastes in that I was buying a science fiction book. Further conversation elicited the fact that there are not many women science fiction readers. Unfortunately my impishness got the better of me and I told him I write science fiction. He didn't quite know how to reply to that.

We had a good laugh about it. However, it does bring out a serious point. He is a bookshop sales assistant with a lot experience (on loan from another chain because of staff holidays). If he says women science fiction buyers and readers are rare, then I believe him.

There are obvious implications - authors and publishers catering for the readership will bias their choices more to what they think interests men rather than women.
 

atsouthorn

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Yeah, that bias exists but it's strange. When I started writing I did a little bit of research on the sci-fi audience. Apparently, the percentage is split almost equally between males and females. Of course, these were just stats from a handful of websites so take them with a pinch of salt, but perhaps it's to do with the level of engagement.

I've certainly noticed more men around other sci-fi mediums such as movie discussion boards and online games etc, so perhaps that creates a bias in literature.

But surely the sales assistant would notice if it were more equal. Would be interested in asking my local shop too!
 

Jo Zebedee

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blah - flags. So many flags.
I* don't find them as rare as this indicates, and, when a writer is marketed towards women readers, they go very well. There is a longstanding issue in the genre where science fiction books are very 'perceived' (because we're all different) male in their cover content, and blurb (for instance focusing on the tech aspects rather than the character aspects) which can make it harder for women to access.

However, writers like Matt Haig (the Humans and How to Stop Time are both Sf, The Midnight Library more fantasy), Claire North and TJ Klune pull in a predominantly female readership. But they're often not shelved, or marketed as science fiction - and this brings a skew in perception, even from experienced buyers and marketers, that leads to an assumption that female readers are rare. This may be part of what your sales assistant, no matter how experienced, isn't picking up - the peripheral sales of sci fi that aren't perceived as such.

I guess what I'm saying is if you market something heavily at a particular crude demographic, readership will be skewed to it. Project Hail Mary is a good example and Palino's Sleep in a Sea of Stars are great examples of books with covers that appeal to a wide readership - and I can confirm that, in our shop, PHM has had a 50% sales rate across male/female and that an awful, awful lot of the people ordering and talking about SF to me are females. :) More so than in the past - because the marketing has changed for a certain number of books. (And for others, not - the likes of Neal Asher still have very bloke-ish covers)
*For those who don't know I run a small bookstore, and also worked for 10 years in a large chain of bookstores as a manager, so this observation goes across around 20 years in the business.
 

nixie

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Certain types of fantasy are also seen as male, off the top of my head I can remember remarks about some of my purchases. Last book in The Dark Tower was asked if I was purchasing it for my partner, same sort of remarks for Erikson and Abercrombie. The upside is after a conversation with the assistant he does save me the latest releases if they are running low.
 

The Big Peat

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However, writers like Matt Haig (the Humans and How to Stop Time are both Sf, The Midnight Library more fantasy), Claire North and TJ Klune pull in a predominantly female readership. But they're often not shelved, or marketed as science fiction - and this brings a skew in perception, even from experienced buyers and marketers, that leads to an assumption that female readers are rare.

Marketed as other Spec Fic genres, or accused of literature?
 

Betok_Haney

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*For those who don't know I run a small bookstore, and also worked for 10 years in a large chain of bookstores as a manager, so this observation goes across around 20 years in the business.
Jo - have you seen a change over the years, like an increase in female readership, or has it always been an equal split?
 

asp3

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I was encouraged by the number of women science fiction enthusiasts and authors at WorldCon 2018 in San Jose. My main science fiction literature connection is with a woman who's a friend of my sister-in-law and she and I discuss science fiction when we're all together at various gatherings at my sister-in-law's place. Granted the guys like the various science fiction / superhero movies and TV but they don't read science fiction. Also I could care less about most of those movies and shows.
 

Jo Zebedee

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blah - flags. So many flags.
Marketed as other Spec Fic genres, or accused of literature?

Interesting one. Claire North often marketed as literary. Matt Haig often marketed as general fiction - he does a lot of mindful stuff too. Project Hail Mary marketed as pure sci fi, Paolini too

Jo - have you seen a change over the years, like an increase in female readership, or has it always been an equal split?

I’ve always seen it as reasonably split but there has always been a distinction between sci fi that blokes might read vs wider sf (by the publishers to be clear)
 

Astro Pen

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Several of my novel betas were women (add now a female editor to that) The response was pretty much the same:
"I don't usually read sci-fi but I really enjoyed that."
I think, as I have said before there is a "Rockets and Spandex" prejudice to anything carrying the SF label whereas it is a much broader church.
I have wondered whether nudge rebranding as a 'techno thriller' might be a good idea? Simply to overcome that prejudice.

Then again am I any better? I say "I don't read romances", then find myself deep in Golon's Angelique in Love ;)
 

Fiberglass Cyborg

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Struggling to find a source, but I remember coming across the striking statistic that around 70% of regular readers of fiction are women. I've also run across statistics saying that even for ostensibly "macho" genres like thrillers, the readership is more than 50% female. Mark Niemann-Ross did a small survey that gives the science fiction readership as 57% male, with some caveats. Who Reads Science Fiction? - SFWA Going purely by subjective impressions, I think I've seen slightly more men than women at SF conventions, and vice versa for fantasy conventions. Nearly all the SF/F readers I know from everyday life are women, including my mum, who got me hooked on it all!
 

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