On Publishing, As a Woman Writer

"When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman." { Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

VIDA, Women in the Literary Arts, recently published a study on the acceptance rates of men and women at various prestigious literary magazines. Amy King has a list of articles and responses on her website that you can peruse Here.There's been quite a stir about it on the web.

Some magazines say there are less women submitting their work; some say that they just publish the best quality pieces, which happen to be mostly by men. 

Lately I have thought that it might be because women think differently from men, communicate differently. Some editors might not see that type of poetry, that way of thinking, as poetic.

Male writers have dominated literature in the past and set the mode for what is considered literature; writing about motherhood, domestic life, isn't considered "as important" as writing about war or politics, traditionally male topics.

Even woman editors, if they have been taught that the domestic sphere is inherently and always sentimental, might disregard quality work by women in favor of more male topics.

And there's a way of writing too--maybe its just me, but some women poets have a distinctly feminine way of writing, whether they are writing about babies or economics, and I think sometimes that way of writing doesn't communicate as strongly to the male reader.

In school I knew a poet who wrote the most beautiful but always, in some way, feminine poetry, no matter what the topic; our male professor seemed to always simply not "get" her poetry while our female professor adored her. I don't think it was a matter of not liking the student or anything petty like that, I think it was simply that she communicated more strongly to a female reader.

All that said, what do studies like this mean for the female writer?

For me it has perhaps the opposite of their desired affect--after seeing those statistics, I'm much less likely to send my work to a magazine that publishes predominately men.

Not that I don't think my work could compete; I just don't know how I feel about supporting and being involved with a magazine with bias like that.

At the same time, I am likely to send my work to a magazine that publishes only women; are those magazines inferior, being specialty magazines, or valuable, for dialogue among women, for  support of emerging female voices?

I talked this over with my husband as we strolled along the riverview park today, our baby girl in her stroller laughing and laughing at my fake-coughing noises, and he suggested that a better pie chart from VIDA would take into account the percentage of women who submitted that were accepted/rejected and the percentage of men who submitted that were accepted/rejected. Because what if 90% of women who submit are accepted but only 25% of submissions are from women?

All that to say, statistics can, and in this case probably are, a bit skewed.

Still, I think this sort of thing is worth thinking and talking about. Where we stand as women writers. Where I stand as not only a woman writer but a Christian woman writer; a calling to strive for excellence in my work no matter how likely it is to get published is still there, statistics or no.

What are your thoughts on these statistics? If you are a writer, how do you react to learning how infrequently these magazines publish women?


  1. Personally, I'm okay with the idea of "audience" - whether that's for my blog or my poetry. For example, I think something like 95% of my blog readership is female. I write about predominantly motherhood- and family-related topics, so it makes sense to me. So, I wouldn't be upset if I published primarily in journals with more of a female audience, because I think I probably write in a way that speaks more to women than to men. I think it's just a matter of being in a certain section in a bookstore, identifying a readership. As for poetry, I definitely prefer poems by women to poems by men. I can only think of a handful of male poets I can stand. All of my favorites are women. I know that when we were editing our online journal, I remember there only being one or two poems written by men in each issue, not because we were sexist, but because those poems just didn't appeal to us in the same way. So, maybe it could be this way because more editors are men? It's an interesting discussion for sure. Looking forward to more of your thoughts on the topic. :-)

    1. I think in that study a lot of those magazines were primarily edited by men. My only worry with publishing in niche magazines, like women-only magazines, is that I'd be labeled a niche writer, not truly considered on par with other poets, you know what I mean? Like how good christian music is usually about as good as mediocre secular music?

      Though a lot of my very favorite poets are women too--Louise Gluck, C.D. Wright, Eavan Boland; I'd be interested to find if they have primarily male or female readers; maybe its just a matter of getting "good enough" to appeal to both men and women; or is poetry by a woman inherently Going to appeal to a female reader more, no matter what?

      So much to ponder...