Showing posts with label stats. Show all posts
Showing posts with label stats. Show all posts

Thursday, August 23, 2018

WITMonth Day 23 | Stats (part 3)

Introduction
Here's the thing about math: Cold as it may be, it can often hide pervasive truths. Numbers don't lie, but they can mislead. They can omit. And sometimes, even as they tell the truth, they hide its depth and scope.

I've been publishing yearly statistics for a while now, but each time it feels like a snapshot. Every year, I get comments along the lines of "okay, but this is just an outlier" or "the average is skewed" or something to that extent. If we're being fair, these arguments aren't wrong. If a publisher is consistently doing good work in terms of publishing women in translation and suddenly has a bad year, isn't it a little silly to single them out? Wouldn't we expect to see some fluctuation in the rates of publication and publication trends themselves?

And so I did what any reasonable scientist would do: I decided to look at the bigger picture. Instead of analyzing data year-by-year, I decided to look at the past five years as a whole (2013-2017), representing the five WITMonths that mark this project.

The problem is that the data doesn't actually change. Yes, numbers may hide nuances, but in this case... they don't. That generally unchanged average of 28-30% publication of women in translation? It's unchanged because most of the prominent publishers of literature in translation haven't changed anything. Not in their averages, and not year by year. As you will see, there's a disheartening lack of progress. Hopefully seeing these numbers laid out will trigger the realization that yes, something needs to change.

Results


The first thing I decided to look at was the total number of books published from 2013-2017. I selected major publishers based on their overall translation publication rates, and mapped out the flat sum of books published by men or by women. As you can see, overall publication rates vary widely between different publishers, with some "major" publishers only releasing 15 or so books over five years. Even so, it's very easy to see that the overwhelming majority of publishers not only publish more men than women in translation, but do so at staggering rates. This becomes even more apparent in the figure below:


If 30% has been the approximate base rate of publishing women writers in translation for every year since 2013, it seems likely that most major publishers would simply hover around this rate. It turns out that this isn't actually true, and that the influence of a single publisher - AmazonCrossing - is even greater than I had previously assumed (alongside the significantly more minor effect of smaller publishers, which I did not include in these counts). If we take the grand sums of all of the top publishers, the rates of publication of women writers look fairly similar to those yearly values: 31% books by women writers. But if we remove AmazonCrossing, the rate fairly plummets to 24%.

It's not hard to see why. Out of the major publishers, only two even reach 50% (Deep Vellum at a solid 1:1, AmazonCrossing at 61%), with 5 additional publishers crossing the industry average of 30% (Other Press, Open Letter, HMH, Bitter Lemon, and Atria). There are then a few publishers that hover around the industry average (Europa Editions, Seagull Books, Graywolf, Minotaur) and publish just over 25% women in translation, followed by a shocking sequence of 15 big-name, high-prestige, acclaimed publishers of literature in translation that don't even come close. Publishers like Dalkey Archive, New Directions, Archipelago, Gallic Books, Knopf... it's not even an imbalance, as much as an outright lack.

This made me wonder whether I was missing something fundamental. In order to make sure these numbers weren't as a result of a single outlier, I looked at each of the five years individually for six major publishers, going both by sheer numbers of books translated and publishers who were frequently associated with publishing literature in translation.






There are a few interesting takeaways from this breakdown. First: It's interesting to note that AmazonCrossing wasn't always as focused on publishing women in translation as it is today. It also shows that the 60% rate cited above is a low-ball, shifted somewhat because of 2013. Since 2014, they have published comfortably more women writers than men in translation. They remain the only major publisher to do so. (Remember that many smaller publishers such as Feminist Press consistently focus on books by women writers, even if I do not include them specifically in these stats posts!)

Things get a little complicated after that. I actually first want to highlight Open Letter, since they're a bit of an interesting case in this group. With an overall rate of 34%, they fall somewhat on the side of better publication of women writers. But as you can see, this mostly follows a back-and-forth fluctuation - one above, one below. They also never quite make it to 50%. In my mind, Open Letter serves as a great reminder of what happens if you just follow the market flow without any critical assessment. This is the ultimate baseline... and no, it isn't good enough.

Next we have publishers like Europa Editions and Seagull Books. Both have rates just under the industry average (~28%), where it seems like a single year pushes that number just a bit lower (for Seagull, 2015; Europa, 2017). Even so, neither publisher quite manages to break free of the industry average. Europa does have one year of publishing parity, but it too is an outlier in a different way - it's the year in which they published the least amount of books in translation overall. Seagull's situation is a little more erratic, again showing how prevalent the baseline 30% really is.

In the next category, we have an interesting, singular example of a publisher that has been improving in their stats from year to year: New Directions. Despite publishing approximately the same number of books every year since 2013, they have steadily increase the share of books by women that are released per year. While they have yet to crack the base threshold (and have an abysmal 19% rate overall from 2013-2015), there is a clear upward trend. New Directions thus emerges as a unique beacon of hope when it comes to publishing women writers in translation, suggesting that this movement may actually lead to concrete change in the near future (I will discuss this more in depth in tomorrow's post).

Finally, we have a series of publishers that not only have low average rates, not only seem to publish very few women writers in translation, not only don't really change from year to year, but also simply go entire years without publishing a single book by women in translation. Take Archipelago, which does not actually publish all that many books in translation every year (but are uniquely associated with translated literature) as an example. This is a publisher that comfortably did not publish a single book by a woman writer in translation in both 2013 and 2015. Dalkey Archive is its counter, a publisher that puts out a massive amount of literature in translation every year, yet also managed to go the entirety of 2014 without publishing a single book by a woman writer in translation (I've written about this before, of course, quite specifically). Gallic Books, Pushkin Press, and NYRB all also have at least one year in which no women in translation were published. Interestingly, for both NYRB and Gallic Books, years in which women weren't published amount to the years in which they published fewer books overall. This should not be an excuse, however; books by women in translation are not simply add-ons, with room leftover only after the men have had their chance. In the other direction, Pushkin Press published its highest number of books in 2015, the same year it published zero books by women in translation.

There is, however, important context missing behind this data. First: The wonderful Three Percent Database on which I based these numbers has its own biases, for instance the limited focus on fiction and poetry, the lack of YA/children's literature, the omission of previously released/translated titles... Several of these publishers (Pushkin, Archipelago, NYRB) publish many additional books in translation that simply aren't getting counted here. However. I looked over the catalogs of each of these publishers, specifically those books that do not make it into the Three Percent Database. The situation not only does not much improve, it often gets worse. Archipelago, for instance, has an entire publishing line specifically for children's literature, in which I found a rate of below 20% (children's literature! that field allegedly so dominated by women!). For many academic-associated publishers, the situation is far worse, as there is a huge imbalance in nonfiction translations.

W - women, M - men, B - both

These numbers are, quite frankly, enraging. They demonstrate an across-the-board lack of interest in the women in translation project, alongside the global stagnation I've described in previous posts. Publishers of literature in translation are supposed to be showing us the best that the world has to offer, but how can that possibly be true if we are only seeing a tiny fraction? (And don't forget that an overwhelming slice of these titles is from Western/Northern Europe!) Something has to change.

...and so I decided to do something about it.

To be continued.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

WITMonth Day 11 | Notes on stats posts

Some thoughts:

I'm currently working on a stats post summarizing five years of data, trying to understand whether there have been any meaningful improvements over the years that WITMonth has been running and if not, in what way and why not. In the context of this effort, I would like to draw attention to a few points:

1. Several publishers are what I have referred to in previous years as "repeat offenders". As I analyze the data more carefully, it occurs to me that this title is not sufficient enough, and I am currently in the process of contacting major publishers of literature in translation who I believe have a poor track record when it comes publishing women writers in translation (in numbers, not quality of course). I think it's time to have a serious conversation about why publication rates are remaining largely stagnant, and to see how things can improve in the future.

2. The Three Percent database on which I base some of my analyses is wonderful, but it does not cover all grounds. Remember that this is a database focused on first-time US translations of fiction and poetry, excluding nonfiction, YA, kidlit, and plays. For this reason, my publishing statistics are inherently Anglo-centric. That being said, I am also trying to collect data from prominent non-US publishers of literature in translation as well, in the hopes of having some complementary data. I also typically skim the websites of major publishers myself, in order to make sure that the statistics that I publish are accurate. I'm always grateful to receive any corrections to my assessments, but please bear in mind that I publish nothing without having also double checked that the gist of it is correct.

3. Usually, the Three Percent database actually overestimates the degree to which women writers are translated into English, due to its specific limitations. Among academic publishers in particular there are dozens of retranslated "classics" published every year (almost exclusively by men), as well as nonfiction titles which are also overwhelmingly by men. I don't have the time to create my own translation data in order to properly assess all of the data, but please remember this point when looking at that 30% rate. Based on my anecdotal assessment, the real number is probably closer to 25%.

There's a lot more coming this WITMonth, and a lot more work that will need to be done throughout the year. Hold on tight...

Friday, August 10, 2018

WITMonth Day 10 | Stats (part 2)

Introduction
Much as I love the cold, hard data behind the general publishing stats when it comes to women in translation (spoiler alert: I love very little about them), there's only so much that publishing can tell us. True, publishers are a fairly major gatekeeper when it comes to the existence of women in translation (indeed, perhaps the only gatekeeper... and the reason I'll be visiting this topic again later this month), but there are many stages from the moment a book is published to the point at which it reaches the reader.

One of these is literary publications and media. Much as we would love to think that nothing affects our tastes and interests, the fact is that marketing does work. This is certainly true of book marketing, with review outlets, bloggers, and the media at large playing a huge part in how books ultimately become hits or misses. Even among indie presses, the way a book is promoted can heavily shape the way it will be sold/recommended in the future.

And so I decided to again check the status of literary reviews, to see whether the situation has improved for women in translation since 2016 (when I last checked this metric). It's pie chart time!

Methodology
Journals and review sites were selected partially on the basis of visibility within the literary community and recommendations (not a particularly scientific metric, I know), as well as ease of data collection (i.e. chronological posting, well-labeled reviews). Due to the relative limitations in translation-focused literary reviews, this may lead to certain bias simply because of the smaller range of options. This analysis is not nearly as comprehensive as that of VIDA, but is inspired by their work. All assessments done manually, so of course there is the possibility that I have made some mistake - please let me know if this is the case and I will happily make any corrections!

Results

In 2016, The Guardian presented me with a bit of a conundrum. That was the year of Elena Ferrante, with several articles going back and forth as to her identity (remember that?) and her literary merits, and a time in which Asymptote Journal had a weekly feature in the "Fiction in Translation" tag. Ultimately, I found that of reviews, 22% had been of books by women writers in translation, even as the general Fiction in Translation tag had more features and pieces about women writers (30%). This year, the metric is flipped, with only 22% of the general features, reviews, and so on about women writers in translation, but among reviews alone, that number goes up to 29%. Neither percentage, I should note is particularly good. (I should also point out that I have a very strong suspicion as to why women writers are relatively better represented now in reviews - Nicholas Lezard who used to have a column in The Guardian's book pages no longer writes there, and that column featured perhaps three women over the course of the three two I looked at it...)

The reason I start with The Guardian now (and the reason I started with it in 2016 as well) is because I can think of no other newspaper with such a prominent literary review that easily and clearly labels its forays into translated literature, while also not having a paywall. More than that, The Guardian also prominently features online, is frequently shared, and is regarded quite highly as a general book page. Think of the exposure a book reviewed in the NYT or The Guardian has as compared to a book reviewed in a niche journal - the impact of widespread publicity is huge. That The Guardian is still reviewing and featuring so few women writers in translation in their pages is deeply disappointing.


I next looked at two of the major "niche" literature in translation journals, Words Without Borders (which I had checked in 2016) and World Literature Today. While neither journal has quite the reach of a site like The Guardian, they nonetheless have tremendous influence within certain spheres and represent a lot of the brilliant content related to literature in translation. Here, I was pleasantly surprised by review rates. While Words Without Borders does not publish nearly as many reviews as it does original translations or excerpts, it is still a commanding voice when it comes to literature in translation and perhaps the first resource that most readers think of when seeking voices in translation. That their reviews are solidly split between women and men writers is absolutely thrilling, particularly in light of their mediocre rates in 2016. WWB have long supported the women in translation movement and this support is not simply words, as is evidenced both by the numbers and the improvement over time. They have made an active effort to seek out women writers from all over the world, publish them at equal rate as men writers, and, it would appear, also review them at equal rates. This is wonderful.

World Literature Today, meanwhile, (which has significantly more reviews over the same one-year period) is a more complicated situation. 36% is the frustrating zone of "I see that you're slightly better than average, but is this really all I'll settle for?", where ultimately - this is still not a great rate, but it's just a teensy bit better than the industry standard of 30%. It's where WWB was two years ago. With a stunning 83 reviews over a one-year period (significantly more than any other review outlet I examined), WLT has tremendous potential to shift the focus to a more balanced playing field and give exposure to dozens of women writers in translation. I hope they improve on this matter in the future, following in WWB's footsteps.


The next tier was popular online reviews, sites clearly associated with literature in translation that also publish reviews, again ones that I had looked at in 2016. Here, neither result is particularly thrilling. Three Percent is the blog-arm of publisher Open Letter (and where I get all the amazing raw data for my publishing stat posts!), which itself publishes a fair amount of women in translation (but has never reached 50% in a single year I've counted, always clocking in somewhere between 30-40%). The dissonance between a blog praised for its role in the women in translation movement (by virtue of their database, and I'll admit that having gender added has made my life significantly easier than back in 2013 when I went through title by title and added author genders myself!) and a 17% rate of review of books by women writers in translation is jarring, and it should be, especially since that number reflects a significant drop from 2016's 31%. It indicates an additional gender bias beyond the publishing imbalance, one that I do not think reflects well on any publication or review.

And then again, we have a flip: Asymptote, which had a 22% rate in 2016, has now moderately improved that rate to 29%. Neither rate is particularly good, of course, and again there's this significant conceptual gap between how Asymptote present themselves in terms of the women in translation project and how they actually review books.


Finally, I took to Twitter to ask for recommendations of literary journals that review international titles. I ultimately chose three journals for my assessment (again, mostly based on scope, comfort, and accessibility): Latin American Literature Today, Literary Review, and Reading in Translation. None of the three presented with particularly thrilling rates of review, again serving as a disappointing reminder that the bias against women writers in translation (or women writers in languages other than English, more accurately) is pervasive and widespread. It's not a few bad apples; the entire orchard is tilted.

Discussion
I won't pretend that I'm not largely disappointed by rates that I see. Words Without Borders is a thrilling exception, but it should not be an exception. Having parity is not an unreasonable demand, nor is expecting literary journals to more carefully curate which books they promote. Considering the degree of unknown books I encountered in the last three entries (particularly the Literary Review, which included a lot of nonfiction) and how dominated literature in translation is by independent presses, this is not simply the fault of pushy marketing executives at corporate publishers. Every review we write is a choice of a single book out of hundreds published each year, and journals may choose whether they review significantly more works by men writers than by women. It may not be easy, but one simply has to look at WWB to see how it's done - no fuss, no issue, no grandstanding. Just interesting, thoughtful, and insightful reviews of books by women writers at equal rates as men writers. It's that easy.



Raw data


Thursday, August 2, 2018

WITMonth Day 2 | Stats (part 1)

Introduction
There is a sense that statistic posts are useless when it comes to the women in translation project. Indeed, if you check my "stats" tag on this blog, you'll notice that I entirely avoided the concept in 2017, opting instead to focus on reviews and lower-key discussion posts during WITMonth. Yet here we are in 2018. The Fifth Annual #WITMonth.

I began this project with statistics. Frankly, it was only by seeing the numbers in black against white that made me realize just how pervasive the problem was. It wasn't just my reading that was skewed, the entire system seemed entirely biased against women. The statistics helped me realize that something more had to be done, and with the help of several other members of this community, WITMonth was born.

There is a sense that statistic posts are useless.

I look at the statistics from 2017. I look at the statistics from 2015. I look at the statistics from 2014. From 2013 (the first year for which I conducted a comprehensive analysis). The numbers are largely static. In fact, the numbers are depressingly static, with little variation even within the various metrics I showcase.

After five years of advocating for this cause, I find myself feeling, not for the first time, that the work I do here is useless. After all, the most prominent publishers continue to insist that there is no real problem, at least the problem isn't theirs, at least the problem isn't really a problem. Others simply ignore the matter, as though by dismissing reader concerns, they can dismiss the problem entirely (I will discuss this further later in the month). But the numbers don't lie.

Methodology
As with previous years, I rely on the excellent work of Three Percent, using their database (now updated to include author and translator gender). All analyses my own.

Results
The first metric I always check is the simplest: what is the basic breakdown of books in translation, by men and women (and other).


As you can see, balance is still a far way off, with women comprising only 31% of new translations into English.  

The second basic metric I like to check is a regional assessment. As you can see below, the general skew towards translations of European literature remains pervasive. Not only does Europe make up more than half of all translations, it also showcases just how stark the divide is between publication of books by men and women, as well as the fact that excuses such as "there aren't many women writers over there" is simply a false, racist argument (and I have heard such excuses many times; I will continue to reject them offhand).



Another notable observation from this chart is the depressingly low rate of translations emerging from African countries. While this can somewhat be explained by the fact that some African writers use English as their primary language, it is still a huge oversight from the industry at large. There is also a missed opportunity here to explore a wider range of languages, not simply French or Arabic - Africa is a continent teeming with diversity of language and culture. There are countless older (and newer) texts that reflect this diversity, and not simply by men writers. These works deserve as much attention as classics from all other countries and cultures.

It is also worth noting a lack of diversity within certain continental designations. Recall that Asia is a huge, hugely populous continent, spanning several discretely different regions and cultures. Yet the literature translated out of these regions remains oddly homogeneous, with very few books published out of Southeast Asian or Central Asian countries. Curiously, women writers in translation were actually somewhat better represented in this regard, with two Indonesian titles translated (more interestingly, these were among the only non-European books published by AmazonCrossing - we'll get to that in a moment), an Armenian title, and a Saudi Arabian book as well. Yet the baffling absence of Indian books published in English remains from year to year, especially noticeable in the almost complete lack of Indian women writers getting translated/published.

Since I've already mentioned it, one of the other metrics I like to look at is AmazonCrossing's place in publishing. What was once a relatively ignored publisher of literature in translation has recently become a powerhouse, consistently publishing the highest number of books in translation from year to year. AmazonCrossing is also consistently one of the few publishers to publish more women writers than men writers in translation; 2017 is no exception. Yet what is so utterly shocking about AmazonCrossing's role in publishing women writers in translation is how much worse the landscape would be without them. Without AmazonCrossing, share of women writers in translation out of all translations dips from that already-not-so-great 31% to 28%; men writers are relatively "strengthened" from 65% to 69%. This becomes easily apparent when looking at how large a fraction AmazonCrossing represents for men versus women, as you can see in the chart below. One publisher is responsible for more than 20% of the books by women writers. That's... not okay.


If we look at publishers in general, the same old story emerges. AmazonCrossing is one of only two publishers within the top ten publishers that reaches or crosses the 50% mark. The other is the significantly smaller press Deep Vellum.


Here, I find myself needing to point out an added injustice of the awful statistics. Of course it's easy to see the absurd imbalances in publishing when laid out so starkly, not simply among smaller independent presses but also among the most established translators of literature in translation. But what is most upsetting in this chart (for me, at least) is that several of the publishers here with some of the worst publication rates have frequently attempted to capitalize on the women in translation project for their own sales, in what feels like cynicism at its worst. Moreover, the fact that certain publishers among the yearly top ten continue to refuse to engage in the conversation at all (indeed, often dismissing it outright) is similarly disappointing, as their ratios almost stubbornly refuse to balance out between men and women writers. There comes a point when I can no longer excuse the lack of improvement as simple ignorance; there are publishers that are well aware of the fact that they do not publish women writers, and they do not appear to care. This is a problem.

Discussion
Here is what it is truly angering about every one of the charts above - they look almost identical to the charts I've published from previous years. Publishers like Dalkey Archive, Seagull Books, New Directions, and NYRB have had extremely low rate of publishing women writers in translation (indeed, of publishing women writers at all) for several years now. AmazonCrossing has been the primary support system for publishing women writers in translation for several years now. The base rate of translation of books by women writers has hovered around 30% for several years now. The completely disproportionate preference for publishing books by European writers rather than literally any other place on Earth has existed for several years now. Nothing of what I am sharing is new.

It could be argued that if there is nothing new in my data, I should not publish. Certainly, if this was a scientific paper of the sort I write at work, there would be nothing to report and I would have saved myself the effort of this work. Yet what we're talking about here is a distinctly static problem that is, shockingly enough, not getting better. Women writers in translation may be getting more attention these days as a result of the broader range of WITMonth and the women in translation project at large (and I'll discuss this point more in depth in part 2 of the stats posts), but for writers who have yet to be translated, the situation is not improving. 

There is still significant bias against women writers in translation. There are still sexist publishers. (Yes, sexist publishers. While there's plenty of unconscious bias, there is also a lot of plainspoken sexism. Do not hide from it.) We are still being cheated out of countless brilliant books by women writers that simply aren't getting their due.

After five years, something has to change.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

WITMonth Day 18 | Reviews of women in translation | Stats

After several years of anecdotal references, hand-waving and uncertainty, it's about time we figure out what's happening on the end of review outlets when it comes to women writers in translation. Let's dive in, shall we?

Methodology

I looked at only a very small sample of review outlets, attempting more to gauge an impression of the existing situation than the sort of truly representative work that outlets like VIDA do. The four journals I focused on were Three Percent Review, The Guardian (features and reviews separately), Asymptote, and Words Without Borders. These four were chosen based on my familiarity with them more than anything and may as a result have led to somewhat biased results. All data collected is from August 2015 through August 2016 (WITMonth to WITMonth, basically).

The three possible outcomes

There are three scenarios in terms of review rates:

  1. The standard 30%/70% publishing ratio. While a typically low rate, this would indicate that the outlet effectively "samples at random". There is neither an attempt at corrective discrimination, nor any additional bias being taken into account.
  2. Women in translation at a higher rate than the publishing average of 30%. This would probably indicate awareness on the side of the review outlet and an attempt to "correct" the problematic rates, seeking at the very least media parity.
  3. Women in translation at a lower rate than the publishing average of 30%. This indicates an outlet that includes a further level of bias against women writers, beyond a random sampling. This could be as the result of biased perceptions when it comes to "quality literature", similar to the overall review bias found by VIDA.

The Guardian - Reviews and Features

I began by looking at The Guardian's "Literature in Translation" section first, largely because of their literary prominence and visibility in the literary world. I decided to distinguish between specifically defined reviews and features/news articles fairly early in collecting my data. This came about when I noticed that Elena Ferrante's name seemed to crop up a disproportionate amount. Indeed, I soon realized that the Guardian's results skewed heavily if each feature on Elena Ferrante was counted as a separate piece focusing on women writers: Ferrante featured in no less than seven pieces, whether discussing her popularity or her actual origins (is she a man?! no?!) or the books themselves (less common). Two other authors also featured double (superstar Haruki Murakami and Chen Xue whose work appeared twice in Asymptote's Translation Tuesday series).



Thus looking only at authors featured, we see a fairly predictable distribution: 30% women writers, 70% men writers. I soon realized, however, that Asymptote's not-quite weekly feature seemed to have more women writers than average. Indeed, the Translation Tuesday series had a 41% publication rate for women. Adjusting for this "tilt", I checked the features again without this one series: the ratio plummets to 21%.




The situation did not improve much in reviews. Out of 41 reviews of literature in translation, only 22% were of books written by women writers. Here there was no need to skew or adjust, quite simply: The Guardian reviews fewer women writers in translation than men. Beyond the industry bias, The Guardian employs further hurdles for women writers in translation, leading to reduced visibility and awareness. (This despite the fact that they have featured two articles specifically on the matter of women writers in translation, non-author-specific articles which were included in the features count.)



Three Percent Review

While Three Percent Review does not have the same visibility or popularity of The Guardian, Three Percent is highly regarded in the world of literature in translation. Furthermore, the site has discussed the imbalance in publishing women writers in translation themselves. It seemed only fitting to see how they did. It turns out that the Three Percent Review follows the industry standard almost perfectly, even including the 8% of titles by various authors. Three Percent Review is the epitome of option number one as described above: They display a perfect random sampling of the existing bias. No more, no less.



Asymptote Journal

After noting Asymptote's high translation rate of short stories and excerpts in The Guardian, I decided to check their actual reviews page. Here, it turned out, they do a significantly poorer job, clocking in at a low 22%. This result surprised me after the pleasantly corrective Translation Tuesday rates at the Guardian. Different editors, perhaps?



Words Without Borders

Finally, I checked one of the most central websites for literature in translation: Words Without Borders. WWB is the site that many consider to have launched the discussion about women writers in translation (with Alison Anderson's original piece in 2013), and they recently posted their own WITMonth reading list. The rate here is a bit dull: 35% is slightly better than the industry average, but it doesn't quite wash away the bad taste of a huge imbalance. While I didn't look at their features and every article in every issue (I encourage any intrepid readers to map that out!), my impression is again of a site that takes what is offered. Despite honest attempts to find women writers from around the world (and WWB do seek to include women writers even when looking at more "difficult" regions of the world), they're just not able to break through that ratio.



What these results mean

Once again, I should note that it's difficult to claim these results as representative when I sampled only four review outlets. Unfortunately, I do not have the resources at hand that an organization like VIDA utilizes, nor the time to fully analyze the results to the levels that I would like.

But as always, a pattern emerges that does not bode well for the women in translation movement. The fact that review outlets are not attempting at the very least to even the playing field in terms of publicity is disappointing, though it may not be their fault. We ask ourselves: what books are publishers promoting or sending for review? Furthermore, the sloppy way in which some outlets review their women writers is even more depressing. In one Guardian review, the reviewer noted with subtle sexism: "There is something about the way Hochet presents us with the mental processes of a rootless 45-year-old womaniser that suggests a writer of unusual ability. These days, authors seem to stick to speaking for their own gender more than they used to."

It's disappointing to see this imbalance, but it represents another area in which we simply need to try a bit harder. For literature in translation reviews inherently pick from a smaller pool of books than those that are written in English. We know that the good books by women are out there (and indeed I noticed that many fan-favorites among WITMonth book bloggers did not make the "official" review cut in these outlets) and we know that it's possible to reach 20 excellent books by women writers alongside 20 excellent books by men writers. Parity - at this stage, at least - is entirely possible.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Women in Translation Stats | The Clickbait Version

Are women being translated less than men?


We decided to compare rates of translations into English for books by men versus books by women. You'll never believe the shocking results!

1. Approximately 30% of new translations into English are books by women writers


2. Most of the top publishers of literature in translation publish very few women in translation... and top publisher AmazonCrossing is the only one trying to make up for it!



 3. University presses struggle even more to promote women in translation...


4. The imbalance exists across many languages...

 5. ...and many countries!


6. "Sure, but SOME parts of the world are more sexist and old-fashioned..." NOPE.


7. "But women mostly write Genre, not Literature!" STILL NOPE.



8. These stats have changed little over the past three years. Isn't it time to fix it?

Friday, April 8, 2016

2015 Women in Translation Stats | Part 3 - Genre and original publication

Read parts 1 and 2

After a longer than intended break, we're back with the latest round of women in translation statistics. This set of stats aims to debunk a few more pervasive and utterly false claims regarding the global lack of women writers in translation, and also points to an area in which we can absolutely do better.

Methodology
As always, my work is based on the US-centric Three Percent database (heavily expanded in this case...), and thus only includes first-time translations of fiction and poetry titles. Genre and original publication year were determined on a title-by-title basis.

Original publication year was largely assessed through Goodreads data, however in many cases the provided year was inaccurate and further research was required. This means that the margin of human error (though uncalculated) is likely to be much higher for publication year than for other metrics, and it is entirely possible that older titles or posthumously published titles were given misleading years. Most publication years, however, were verified through copyright information and Wikipedia, suggesting that at the very least, the data should be ballpark representative.

Genre definitions were given by my own assessment of the title's summary, including several overlapping categories (crime, thriller, mystery, etc.) and reductionist labels. By and large, any title marketed as "genre" was given the marketed label (thriller, romance, mystery etc.), while only titles which were explicitly of a genre nature were labeled (fantasy, sci-fi, historical fiction, etc. for ambiguously marketed titles with obvious subject matters). While this too is an imperfect metric, it nonetheless captures the broader picture and should be largely representative given the sample size.

Genre
The Three Percent database provides two genres: fiction and poetry. While I've found this division hypothetically interesting in the past, the results boil down simply:



Basically: there is no significant change from the overall stats. Good to know! We can suggest from this data that women are slightly more likely to be published for writing poetry than fiction, but the difference is fairly minor.

This is all I'd ever looked at in previous years, but this time I decided to follow a hunch and do some more digging. As I described in the methodology section, I went through the database title-by-title and gave fairly generic genre descriptors: fiction, crime, thrillers, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, poetry, etc. As you can tell, these definitions are far from comprehensive or indeed unique. The idea wasn't to specifically pinpoint the genre of each title (such a task is frankly impossible), but to get an impression of what sorts of books are being translated into English.

Which means the first chart I'm going to show you ostensibly has nothing to do with women in translation:


From a general lumping-together of all "non-literary" genres versus "literary fiction" (with short stories cast as a separate category since collections may yet contain more than one genre and often include more than one writer), it's apparent that the world of literary translations is actually pretty evenly balanced between so-called "genre" fiction, and "literary" fiction.

This may seem like a random, quirky tidbit, but it's quite a bit more than that. Another of the most common comebacks to the standard ~30% translation rate for women writers is the claim that literature in translation is usually literature, and women are "just more likely to write genre" (this is a claim that's cropped up in comments, tweets and private conversations, often with publishers). The above chart disproves the first part of that claim. The next will disprove the second:



As you can see, the gender breakdown here is not all that different from the global one. Yes, women are slightly better represented in genre fiction than overall, but four percentage points is... not all that much. It's a difference of 11 books out of over 200 in the "genre" category. Certainly nothing compared to the "dominance" women allegedly have in genre fiction. This is almost identical to the ratio we see pretty much everywhere, and the excuse of "genre" stumbles once it's established that genre in fact makes up just under half of all fiction/non-poetry publications in translation.

This myth is important to bust for several reasons. First: The implication of a two-tiered quality ranking. Linking women writers to "genre" (often disparagingly, with outright statements of the lower quality) is no different than the old argument that "women just don't write as well". It's an attempt to discredit works written by women, as well as an obvious move to separate them somehow from a standard (which is inherently defined by men).

Second: It is simply false. Women, it's true, write a fair amount of fiction (of all sorts), but this is not translated (!) into translations. Let's just say for a moment that women were writing far more genre fiction than men (and it's entirely possible that they do; I genuinely do not know global publishing trends). That means that men - despite being a minority in their native languages - would be getting published at significantly prioritized rates than women!

Here I'll also bust another myth: AmazonCrossing's strength as a publisher of women writers does not simply rely on genre. While they are predominantly a publisher of genre fiction (66/75 titles), women make up 6 of their 9 purely fiction ("literary") titles. Another predominantly genre publisher, Atria, also see 2 out of its 3 non-genre titles as written by women. It's a trend that holds, and in fact with the exception of AmazonCrossing (always the exception), publishers that focus on genre fiction publish far fewer women writers than others! Below is a chart showing genre books by publishers (of more than two books in 2015) with majority "genre" titles (in percentages):


Not so women-dominated after all. Once again, AmazonCrossing carries most of the weight.

Original year of publication
The next metric - also new, and now specifically focused on fiction titles - stems from another set of hunches. Before I begin, I should note that I began collecting data with an idea in mind as to what the bias would be, and discovered that I was wrong. I initially expected to see a short delay when it comes to translating contemporary books by women writers, but soon found that there was no clear difference. I also noticed that some books had pretty significant gaps between when they were translated and when they were published in the US. I dropped this categorization while analyzing the data, because my initial hypothesis proved incorrect. I have to admit: I'm glad to know women writers don't face a clear delay when it comes to recent publications.

That said.

I divided the data into three time periods. The first was 2010-2015 and - as noted - there was no significant difference in terms of publication rates (for fiction or genre). On the contrary: women made up 36% of publications in that time period, somewhat pushed by the prevalence of recently released genre novels by both men and women.

The second was 1971-2009. Here a gap begins to open just a bit overall: 27% women writers. Once I looked only at "fiction" titles, however, the gap opened further, and women made up only 23%. So there is clearly some struggle in translating women's backlog literature.

The third time frame was pre-1971. This cutoff was effectively to create some sort of "classics" division, with 1970 chosen in large part because it's been 45 years, and I'm young enough that I genuinely view that as a long time ago (sorry if this makes anyone feel old! I promise it's intentional!). This division made me stop in my tracks and stare at the data for a long, long time. I'd had a hunch that women would be severely under-represented in the "classics" realm (despite these being, of course, first time translations), but that could not prepare me for the scope of the imbalance.

You see, of 38 titles I identified as having been published before 1970 (including short story collections I could solidly identify as predominantly of the era, such as Clarice Lispector's complete stories and poetry collections, here reintroduced), 4 were written by women. To put that in chart form:


This metric is unbelievably infuriating. One of my focuses during the 2015 women in translation month was classic titles, and I unsurprisingly struggled somewhat to find books, even more when seeking books which have been incorporated into the "canon". Meanwhile, I discovered a practical treasure-trove of untranslated works (including a plethora of explicitly feminist literature). True, not all would fall under the category of "fiction", but there's definitely a lot out there that's never been translated.

And there's the part that fills me with rage. The Three Percent database, I'll again note, only includes first-time translations. You won't find a new translation of War and Peace here. Sometimes there's a new collection of short stories by a famous author (in this year's example, a new collection of Chekhov works) which qualifies, but these are largely little-known writers and utterly unknown "rediscovered masterpieces". So why are they almost all by men? Why is the earliest book by a woman writer only from 1921, while men have 7 books from the 19th century and 1 from the 17th?

I can hear the arguments already: "But women didn't used to write as much as men!" You know what? Sure. Sure, let's say you're right, and only 10% of all pre-1970 literature was written by women. Why in the world should that impact which books we choose to translate and rediscover in 2016? These are not established books. With the exception of one book, none of these books were written by famous men, or men who left a lasting impact on literature. They are already unknowns. And I find myself wondering: why not take that opportunity in promoting an unknown writer and recognize the literally thousands of women writers history has almost purposely forgotten? We know an imbalance exists, has existed, and seems determined to continue to exist. Is this not an opportunity to right the wrongs? Is this not the opportunity to bring to light literally hundreds of regarded, important and historically relevant texts by women writers from around the world?

The utter lack of books for kids/YA
This one doesn't even need a chart. Out of 549 titles in the 2015 database, two were fairy tale collections and three were marketed towards young adults (though here I may have missed a title or two; we're still talking about 1-2% at most). Such a huge hole made me wonder if there wasn't something else hiding here or a problem with the source data.

I tweeted Chad Post about this imbalance and he explained that he does not include picture books in the database. This explains the glaring children's books gap, but not the lack of YA. Young adult and children's literature has been going through a targeted diversification process, with movements like "Diversify YA" and "We Need Diverse Books" leading the charge. It's critical that those efforts do not forget the importance of international and translated fiction, especially given the increasing tendency towards xenophobia in Anglo society. For literature in translation to cease being niche, it must be viewed as entirely normal by younger readers as well.

How does this relate to women in translation? On the one hand, it doesn't. This is simply another field in which a stark and deeply problematic imbalance is present. On the other hand, women writers are often credited with writing more books for kids and according to VIDA's Children's Literature count from 2014, women are generally more likely to win awards for children's books (indicating that perhaps women do write a majority of literature for children, especially if we assume the bias against women when awarding prizes crosses genres as well). While I cannot say for certain if this true worldwide, it may act as an indicator or guidepost that is without a doubt relevant to our overall conversation.

The emerging picture
A good deal of what I've tried to do with the women in translation project (and these stats posts) is identify various misconceptions that surround the lack of women writers in translation, as well as try to find the source of the problem. These posts can only ever look at that which is available in English and in that regard will forever be incomplete.

That doesn't mean they can't be representative of something. Yes, it means something when publishers year after year after year publish 30, 20, 10, 5% women writers. Yes, it means something when the problem stems not from one pin-pointed mark on the map, but across the entire globe. Yes, it means something when the problem spans genres and eras. The picture reveals a stubbornly consistent lack of women writers in translation, regardless of the metric thrown at the problem. This is deeply troubling.

Is there a single entity to blame? No. This is a problem that literally spans continents, centuries and concepts. It's a problem we'll only be able to solve by working together across borders and languages and ideas.

And to solve it, we need to know what we're up against. This is just another piece of that endlessly complex puzzle.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

2015 Women in Translation Stats | Part 2 - Languages and countries

Read Part 1 - Publishers here.

I should point something out before I begin: This post will include some personal observation and analysis in addition to the hard numbers. When writing about statistics (particularly those that have a, shall we say, feminist nature), people will eventually try to prove that your numbers are actually wrong. It's hard to reject the publisher stats (though some have tried), but somehow people eventually reach a particularly toxic - and at times racist - argument.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

We left off with an industry-wide problem and an overall rate of translation at 31%. At this point, I decided to look more specifically at the language breakdown of the books published. Part of this is out of pure curiosity, but most of this has to do with the question of whether women are poorly translated worldwide, or if this is a geographically isolated problem.

Methodology
Once again, my numbers come from the US-based Three Percent database and are for first-time translations of fiction and poetry only. A single title by an author of unknown gender (translated from German) was removed for the sake of simplicity. The cutoff value for the country/language specific charts was at least 7 titles published, in order to better see the data. As always, there is a chance of some inconsistencies/inaccuracies due to human error...

Breakdown by countries and languages

Click to enlarge
As you can easily tell, the problem of translating women is not as a result of a certain country, rather the overwhelming majority have low rates overall (some more than others). It's difficult to measure how universal this is, mostly because of how many more translations there are from French relative to all other languages, and also because we again face the AmazonCrossing conundrum discussed in the previous post. Amazon has been shown to be a statistical outlier, and I knew from compiling these ratios that many of the titles had specifically been translated from German.
Languages, excluding AmazonCrossing
Note that German has gone from having more women writers translated than men, to significantly fewer, Korean has balanced out fully, and while Finnish didn't make the 7 cut in this case, it's actually the only one of the three to have retained an advantage for women writers (by one book). The differences really aren't all that major beyond German, but it's such a huge difference that I want to emphasize it: Of 37 titles by women writing in German, a whopping 27 were published by AmazonCrossing.

But what about countries, I can hear you ask? Surely languages aren't especially representative, since of course Spanish spans three or so continents, French at least three, Russian an entire swathe of Asia and Europe... surely there's some major difference with countries, right?


Not quite. France remains the overwhelmingly dominant voice, and since French translations remain dismally disproportionate in not-translating women writers, it's not especially surprising that the overall ratio looks not unlike France's.

And still, the rest of the world doesn't do all that well either. I decided to try to find the countries with the best track record, the area of the world so often touted as egalitarian and supportive of women and progressive and... you get the point. So yes, I looked only at the Nordic countries:

Hmm. Not that great either.

The narrative of "some parts of the world"
I think I need to pause here for a moment and explain what it is exactly that I'm trying to show. You see, there's this one argument I'm constantly told whenever I talk about this imbalance: The problem of women in translation is surely as a result of "some parts of the world being more oppressive to women". Western readers frequently imply that the entire project is meaningless, since of course there are going to be cultures in which women simply aren't valued as highly as men. This is almost always code for "the rest of the world is sexist, but the West has advanced beyond that".

This is a claim that has not only always angered me greatly because of how heavily racially coded it is, but more to the point angers me because of how distinctly false it is. Look at the charts above. Do you usually include France in your list of "oppressive to women"? What about Sweden? Boy, Spain sure does have a poor track record. And goodness me, Norway, that bastion of oppression!

By languages too. I have most frequently heard readers and industry-folk alike try to argue that Arabic would have significantly lower rates of translation than other languages. And while it's true that women writers make up only 23% of translations from Arabic, that's the same ratio you find for, well, French. It's the same ratio you find for Japanese (22%), only a little less than the ratio you find for Portuguese (27%) or Spanish (29%). Any claims that attempt to dismiss the problem of women in translation by limiting them to "certain parts of the world" are not only false, they are racist. They presume a cultural superiority by one specific slice of the world which - guess what - is doing just as poorly as almost everywhere else. At times, even worse, especially given how many more books they get translated per year.



This is what it looks like by continent of origin. Europe, the Americas and Asia all hover around the 31% (plus or minus), and Africa generally does lag behind. But of course, the entire African continent accounts for a grand total of 31 titles, making its lower rate of translations less prominent. Europe remains the primary source of all translations, and we're still left with a fairly global problem.

I also looked within Europe. This metric is probably the sketchiest and least accurate, because my definition of Western versus non-Western Europe was extremely vague. Basically anything east of Germany and the entire Baltic region got called "non-Western", but this is mostly just a guided attempt to show the differences between the two regions:


And here there is a marked difference - Western Europe at an unsurprising 35%, while the smaller countries (with far fewer translations) don't even reach 20%. That's something worth remembering for the future.

Final takeaways
I want to reiterate that these numbers are all extremely skewed, and to a certain degree almost meaningless. When one language and one country and one part of the world is so dominant in all of translation (a topic that should be discussed separate of the women in translation project...!), it makes it hard to recognize the weight behind any of the other numbers. French's 23% translation rate is obviously much more significant than, say, Tamil's 100% (which results from one book). But even with that, it's impossible not to recognize that there is no part of this world - no language or country or continent - that is doing well. The problem of women writers in translation is global, and while some countries technically have parity or even ratios above 50%, their weight is generally not so prominent (with the exception of German, where the numbers shift drastically without one publisher).

We cannot blame "some" regions of the world for a failure to give voice to women writers, and we cannot attempt to make this some sort of cultural distinction when it is effectively universal. We can only continue to discuss the gross imbalance and seek ways in which to rectify it across the board.

Monday, January 11, 2016

2015 Women in Translation Stats | Part 1 - Publishers

Unlike previous years, I found myself digging into the women in translation statistics a little more in depth in 2015. After almost three years of crunching these numbers, small patterns have emerged and I've begun to look at the big picture. Not that it's always easy when looking at publishers that release 4-5 books a year on average, but the more you look at the titles that are published (and who publishes them, and what genres they fall into, and who their authors are), the more you do start to recognize recurring themes, recurring problems, recurring offenders.

This will be a major theme in these posts; I have decided to dub a certain class of publishers "repeat offenders". These are the publishers who have not simply failed to translate books by women writers at similar rates as men, but also have shown a pattern of failing women writers, consistently falling below the already-low average. My hope is that these publishers will now join the 2016 Publishers in Translation challenge and commit to doing better, but for now let's start looking at numbers.

Introduction and methodology


2015 overall men:women rates of translation

As always, all data on published titles is taken from the Three Percent database. This collection of statistics is thus US-specific (and only for first-time fiction/poetry translations of original texts, so no retranslated classics looked at or nonfiction titles of any kind), though by all indicators is also fairly representative of the translation trends in the UK as well. Gender assessments are done one-by-one, based primarily on biographical information (Wikipedia, biographical information provided by publishers, personal websites and pronoun use, etc.). Anthologies were labeled "both" authors unless specifically noted as being all one-gender (one collection was exclusively women writers and was included as having been written by a woman).

The 31% overall rate may look a bit familiar there to long-time readers of this blog, since that's the same fairly disappointing number we encountered in 2014. As we'll see later (in the three-year "trend" stats), there is simply no indication that there's an improving trend. Yet. Put as kindly as I can possibly phrase it: 31% is embarrassingly low. It is not good enough.

What makes this 31% even more shocking is how very fragile it is. Because as you'll soon see, it's not that all publishers simply publish around 30% women writers in translation and are done with it. If only it were so simple.

The top 24 publishers

There's something to be said that even most of the "major" publishers of literature in translation haven't released all that many books. In order to tune in more sharply to publishers who "specialize" in literature in translation, I decided to look specifically at publishers who had released 7 or more titles in translation in 2015. At face value, the results seemed pretty straight-forward:


Perhaps not amazing, but 32% is at the average, indicating some level of consistency in the field. Except... not really.

Zoom to enlarge (?)

When it comes to publishers crossing the 50% mark, there are only two: AmazonCrossing (with 65.8% women writers) and Europa Editions (55.6%). Both publishers show an increase from their last year stats (from 52.3 and 31.6% respectively), though it is unclear how much of that has to do with the fact that Europa Editions published significantly fewer books in 2015, while AmazonCrossing published significantly more (and I'll get back to AmazonCrossing in a moment). A third publisher comes close to reaching parity: Atria sits at the respectable 45.5%, compared to a 2014 50% ratio - solidly balanced. Wakefield Press also comes in at a reasonable range, with 42.9%.

But let's look at Amazon again. Last year, I noted that AmazonCrossing seemed to lap other publishers of literature in translation when it came to publishing women writers in translation, and this has become disturbingly accurate this year. AmazonCrossing published 48 titles by women writers in translation in 2015 (a sizable portion of which were part of a series of German-language romance novels), while the next 23 publishers published a grand total of 51 titles by women writers. And in this sense, it suddenly became apparent that AmazonCrossing is simply a statistical outlier. In essence, if we want to see what publishing in translation largely looks like, we can't look at any ratios with Amazon in them, because Amazon skews those numbers far too significantly. Ouch.

The top 23 publishers (excluding AmazonCrossing)

So I decided to look at the overall men:women ratio without AmazonCrossing, and then the top now-23 publishers. The overall rate drops from 31% to 25%, the top publishers drops from 32% to 22%. While AmazonCrossing is of course the largest publisher of literature in translation these days regardless of gender, no single publisher should ever be responsible for that much of the gender divide. Especially when the immediate conclusion to be reached is: Other publishers are doing very, very poorly.

For example: The next largest publisher of literature in translation after AmazonCrossing is Dalkey Archive. Now Dalkey has long been one of the worst publishers when it comes to translations of women writers (see here) and they have also long avoided explaining how in 2014, the publishing house managed to publishing a stunning zero books by women writers (out of 30 titles released overall). Despite that criticism, their 2015 ratio is not particularly inspiring: 16%.

If we continue down the line, fellow heavyweight "literary giant" New Directions did only marginally better at 20%. And these are the stats we see among the non-Amazon top publishers, for example: Seagull Books at 12.5%, Gallic Press at 15.4%, Pushkin Press and Archipelago at 0% (!), Penguin and Knopf at 12.5%... Even seemingly more aware or "younger" presses like Deep Vellum and Open Letter scrape by with 33% and 30% respectively.

Suddenly it's not surprising that the overall ratio is 31% even with AmazonCrossing. With so many publishers barely translating 20% women writers (let alone 30% and certainly not 50%), it's unsurprising that the situation is simply not improving.

University presses

I also found myself checking a new metric this year: university presses. More precisely, I looked at the publishers whose names contain university names or the phrase "university press". Why specifically these? Why not any publisher that is distributed by or partially funded by a university? Quite frankly, I know that as a simple reader, a university press gives an air of... authenticity, a sort of quality control highlighting classics and canon-worthy titles. How do women writers fare in this elite world? Badly.


Not only is 19% well below the 31% average, it's even below the Amazon-excluded 25%. And before readers jump to inform me that of course university presses are bound to translate fewer women writers because women wrote significantly less prior to 1960 (which of course ignores the countless works of phenomenal literature written by women throughout history but I'll set that aside for a moment...), I'll shoot this in response: What purpose do university presses serve in new translations, if not to seek untranslated, unfamiliar and forgotten gems? Women have written plenty of those since the dawn of time, and precisely fit the bill when it comes to eye-opening new titles.

University presses publishing significantly fewer women writers than men means one thing: they are perpetuating an all-male canon. Publishers are gatekeepers. They carry responsibility. So this sort of huge gender disparity is not something to be shrugged aside or ignored.

Now what?

By this point, it should not surprise any readers why I have challenged publishers to release their own internal gender ratios, and to publicly commit to improving them. The fact is that even publishers who have expressed support of Women in Translation Month (WITMonth) failed to publish a single new translation of a woman writer in 2015, and hardly any of the rest did much better. Publishers are failing readers and it is high time we recognize that there is serious work to be done.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Women in Translation | The grim improvement of 2014

It would be wonderful if when I ran the statistics on women in translation, I looked only at the raw percentage. I could come and point to the slight increase - from 28% to 31% - and say that there's been an increase. There's been an increase! Excellent! Let's pack up and go home, we're done here, right?

Well... no.

It should be fairly obvious actually. A 3% increase is fairly pathetic. I don't particularly consider it to be a significant change, considering how fluid these things are. One tiny uptick does not yet qualify a trend, and it's worth digging a little deeper into the numbers before we start to celebrate. So let's dig deeper. Warning: I will try to remain objective in this post, but I'm not going to pretend that there aren't problems where they exist.

As always, statistics were taken from the excellent Three Percent database. I'll also point out that another batch of statistics was recently released at womenintranslation.tumblr.com. Our calculations were completely uncoordinated, so take that as further proof of the existing problem. Oddly enough, we seem to have reached different calculations for many fields... I expect I used an outdated database but the percentages largely stand. I also find their charts to be less intuitive and comfortable, so I'll be posting my data regardless. Check it out though. It's grim.


I find it very interesting that women are better represented in poetry than fiction. I don't have an explanation for it, but it's interesting and worth noting, especially given (false) assumptions that women are more likely to write "thrillers" and "Genre fiction".


Some of you may recognize this graphic from Twitter, which I posted a while back. This looks at the top six translated languages, and the gender breakdown. As you can see, the "other cultures" excuse that is so loved by denialists is moot. Essentially, we see that the lack of women writers starts at the top and continues on down (evidenced by the complete language chart below, which sadly is much less visually clear but paints the picture quite well). A country like France does not for a moment lack women writers (and yes, France is the overwhelming source of books translated from French), yet it fails miserably at translating them. Is the problem really in French? Or is the problem in our translations into English?


As we can see, the overwhelming majority of languages have a male-majority translation rate. Even the usually gender-balanced Scandinavian countries suddenly have gender imbalances (Finland excepted). Again we're forced to ask ourselves whether the problem is abroad in other languages, where "women are perhaps not writing" or whether the problem is in the English-speaking world which devalues those books which women are writing and just aren't having translated.


Here we have the top publishers (published 10 or more books in translation in 2014), numerically. This chart is important alongside the next, but I want to look at it harshly for a moment. Note that the top publisher of literature in translation - AmazonCrossing aka The Devil Itself - crosses the halfway mark for women. Of the top publishers, AmazonCrossing is the only publisher to pass the 50%, with Atria the only other one to reach it at all. And note that the second highest publisher of literature in translation - Dalkey Archive - published a stunning grand total of zero books by women writers in translation. Quite frankly, we could leave the chart with just those two stacks and dust off our hands.

Chart arranged from most books published to least, with at least 6 translated titles in 2014

But now let's look at the percentages. Percentage-wise only, we see only three publishers reach/pass the equality mark. Four managed not to publish any books by women writers at all. And another eight published only one book. Taking into account only the top publishers, we see that the translation rates suddenly shift down drastically. Instead of that initial 31%, we get 27%. Uh-oh.

So what do these results even tell us? What did we get from all this supposedly pointless number crunching?

Confirmation.

Like last year, we see that the spread of languages indicates a problem here at home rather than in the countries of origin. Like last year, we see that the problem is very publisher specific, with some publishers striving to make improvements and others distinctly not. We see that same ~28% number everywhere - awards and translations and reviews. And from the results that the Women In Translation Tumblr posted, we see that the myth of "women translators dominating the field" is just that - a myth. The Tumblr found that women actually made up just under 50% of translators. Hmmmm. It's almost as though women are perceived to "dominate" in fields even when they don't, and this is used against them...

And now the million-dollar question... what do we do?

As readers, there's a lot. First and foremost, I highly recommend taking part in the conversation. Looking at your personal reading trends. Challenging yourself as to why you picked this book over another. Challenging publishers. Questioning, checking, thinking and being aware. That's the first step, before anything else. Before you even begin to read or buy books, just ask yourself these questions.

Second: Take part in the Women in Translation Month. Yes, shameless self-promotion! Spread the word and make WITMonth a major part of the discussion. One of the biggest problems the fight for equality in literary translations has at this time is how utterly spread out it is and uncoordinated. We've got lots of different passionate people who are completely unaware of the fact that others are fighting the same fight. Let's find each other, and we can only do that through the help of the hivemind internet. Let's work together. Let's localize and give ourselves this organized space to discuss and move forward. The idea of WITMonth - far beyond just reading books by women writers in translation - is to spread the word about the specific problem of the lack of women writers in translation. So let's help fix that.

Third: Help build the Women in Translation Database! This bigger project is meant to make it easier to find books by women writers in translation, so that we're able to at least offset decades of completely unbalanced publication rates and erasure. There are many different ways to help the database: if you're wondering how to help, feel free to contact me through any of the acceptable means (email, Twitter).

Fourth: Make the change yourself. If you're a publisher or a translator or someone involved in the industry, look at these numbers. Look at the numbers over at the Women In Translation Tumblr. Look at them again and again and ask yourself what you can be doing to fix it. It's a complicated question, and I'm afraid I can't think of any easy answers (because no, I don't think that quotas are necessarily the way to go). But the moment you start to think about it, you start to fix the problem. And that's a huge first step that we need to take, readers and industry-folk alike.

Fifth: Spread the word.