So next month is Women in Horror Month.
In the past, I think I’ve made my feelings clear on what this means, but I have some new thoughts for the new year, and I hope you’ll indulge me a moment as I relate them.
I absolutely appreciate every time my name is mentioned on a reading list, a “best of” list, a list of women writers you should be reading, etc. I admit that it gives me a little thrill to know I’m not writing in a void, and that what I am writing means something to people. And since writing is such a solitary profession, it is sometimes the only way that I know you’re reading my work. I love seeing that, and I am always grateful. Now, during WiHM, we see a lot of these lists, specifically of women writing horror, and in the last few years especially, they’ve been pretty comprehensive, and show a wide range of women authors being read. While, ideally, women writers would like to appear on these lists all year long, it feels good to be acknowledged at least in February for all the hard work we put into our work. While, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need a WiHm because sex/gender/race/orientation, etc. would be irrelevant from a buying and selling standpoint and writers would simply be known for their work, the world isn’t quite set up for that yet, even though we’re making some significant strides in that direction. A month acknowledging and introducing women to new readers is helpful. We acknowledge and appreciate our allies who do what they can to recognize, acknowledge, and encourage us.
But I’d like to make some suggestions. If you do these things already, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
If the purpose of WiHM is to bring awareness of women writers to a larger audience and to balance professional/financial opportunities for career security and success between male and female writers of horror, then let’s focus efforts on doing just that. This year, instead of JUST lists of women writer recommendations, I would encourage folks to go a little farther.
If you haven’t already, read some women horror writers — living women horror writers. It occurs to me that if the only women horror writers you can name and/or say you’ve read are Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, and Daphne Du Maurier, then in essence, it’s like saying these women were a historical fluke, and that nothing of note in horror has been done since then. This is, of course, untrue, and fans of horror do a disservice to themselves in missing out on some great fiction.
Perhaps discuss a book by a woman writer you’ve read, and talk about why you liked it. Tell others why it is a good, scary book, why it is a worthy contribution to the cannon of horror literature. Tell others why they might want to consider buying and reading this book. Tell family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances — anyone you think might be interested. Start a dialogue about why that book made an impression on you, and why it might make an impression on others, too.
If you’re a writer, discuss some of the women writers who have influenced you, and why. What is it about their style or their work or their approach to their careers that you admire? Tell other writers. Tell readers. Tell publishers. Both readers and writers who admire you (and, to some extent, publishers, too) are interested in what has shaped you as a writer. I have often seen people look up and read authors they have never heard of, simply because an author they admire mentioned those who were an influence.
Legitimize women as writers of horror. While, for the purposes of this article, I refer to us as women horror writers or female horror writers for the sake of clarity, when you discuss books in general, that qualification really isn’t necessary. It’s not a phenomenon that, despite being women, we write horror. If anything at all, it’s simply another perspective, shaped by experience, which allows us to tell horror with different themes, focuses, and approaches.
Recommend us for projects because you genuinely admire our work, our work ethic, and our potential, not because you need a woman writer to fill a quota. Now look, I know that publishing is a business. A successful business makes money. A successful business person in publishing seeks out writers who do good work, do it on time with no headaches, and have the kind of reputation that brings in readers. I’m telling folks that women writers can promise the first two now. In time, we can promise the third item, as well, so long as we can work toward eradicating the misguided concept that women can’t write original, scary horror fiction. It’s a bias that I think time can resolve, as well as chances that allow us to show larger and larger audiences what we can do. Give us an opportunity to prove that readers will keep coming back for our work and will trust in its ability to move them.
When you represent us, don’t just try to sell our work for projects that fit some concept of a “feminine” or niche angle. Again, I understand that as author representatives, you are, in a sense, looking for the best fit. And I respect that. But it goes back to legitimizing women’s work in the same way we do men’s. Represent us for the same kinds of jobs, the same money that you would represent male clients for. Go after those same big-fish projects for us, and we’ll work hard to make sure we deliver and make it worth everyone’s while. We are willing to work in writers’ rooms. We’re willing to do tie-ins. We’d like to see our work optioned for television and movies and streaming services. We’ll do interviews with TV, radio, and news outlets. We’ll travel for meetings if you need us to. We’d love to see our work translated into other languages all over the world. We are absolutely happy to think outside the box, and to try new things and new forms of media that can help books stay competitive with other forms of entertainment in this rapidly changing, tech-heavy world. We have ideas. We have enthusiasm. We want to go big.
Media coverage can do a lot of good for people in entertainment fields. If you are a big news outlet, a pop culture web hub, or an influencer in any way over what people read, consider doing an article or interview on women writing horror. Don’t minimize or “cutesy” it in any way. Tell your readership that women ARE doing this, right alongside all the men whose names they might already recognize. Help us reach an audience wider than the community who already knows us. Help us reach the casual browser, the beach reader, the airport shopper, the grocery store book buyer.
You don’t need to skew us toward more “female-friendly” marketing unless we’re writing in those genres/subgenres. You can call my work horror. You can call it supernatural thriller. That’s what it is. It’s not paranormal romance just because two characters kiss once and because I’m a woman. It’s not sexy gothic because I wear black and I’m a woman. It’s not erotica because I like sex and I’m a woman. I don’t have to write in a certain style or in a certain genre because of my lady parts, and you don’t have to market me that way. Read what I’m writing, and market it for what it is. If I write a paranormal romance, market it as such. When I write horror, call it that. Let people see that women write a wide variety of things, horror not the least among them.
At conventions and book signings, as you pass the tables of authors with their books for sale, read the author names on the book covers. If I’m sitting at a table with a man who has also written books, but my name is on the book cover, then understand that HE didn’t write those books — I did. This would seem fairly obvious, but sometimes people dismiss the woman behind the table. I am not, in that capacity, a partner, a girlfriend/wife, a +1, or his administrative assistant. I am a writer in my own right, and I am displaying the results of the hard work I’ve put into creating a literary product.
There are some things women writers have to navigate themselves. We have to decide what we want to wear — jeans and t-shirts like so many of our male counterparts, dresses, or business clothes, makeup, etc. — and how we want to present ourselves. We decide how much sexuality goes into our public image, because it’s a hard facts-of-life truth that women still are judged on that and so it’s still a consideration. We have to take some initiative in going after projects, negotiating fairness in contracts, and hell, sometimes, just making statements that are either a) actually heard, or b) not just automatically attributed to the nearest male. We have to be heard, to make our words count, to make ourselves seen, and to get our work read. We have to work twice as hard sometimes to be considered half as good. We have to consider what to do with WiHM, and how to make the best use of it so that come March 1st, people don’t go back to forgetting. And I encourage fellow women writers to be bold in doing those things. Bold does not have to mean bitchy. We have grace, class, talent, and power — bold means using those qualities to avoid being forgotten, ignored, or walked over, and that’s okay.
There are plenty of men (and other women and people of fluid genders) that are there for us and will support us and can understand struggling. We see them — we love and appreciate them — and we acknowledge that they’re there for us. They are our champions in this business. But the biggest champions for women writers are those women writers themselves. We can do this. We have been doing this. We will keep doing it.
To those who support women horror writers in any way they can, big or small, thank you. It is, sometimes, those little gestures that make all the difference. And to those who want to support us, I hope these suggestions are helpful. I think we can make next month, and all the months in 2021, a truly positive move forward for horror writers everywhere.