Thursday, March 8, 2012

Guest post: Anne Trubek

Today we have a real treat.  There's been a lot of talk lately about the VIDA statistics, and professor and journalist Anne Trubek isn't just commenting on it, she's doing something to address the parity.  She's here today to talk about VIDA, being a woman in the arts, and why more of us aren't publishing.


I have been teaching writing as a professor at Oberlin College for the past 15 years. I have never been one of those professors who complain about the quality of writing declining. In fact, I often have the opposite reaction: I am always amazed by how many good writers are out there. What I love most about teaching is helping people get from point A to point B. The level does not matter. One student’s “A” might be grammatical mistakes, and I get a thrill out of helping them write correctly. Usually, though, point “A” is pretty advanced.  It is not “kids these days” I lament. It is “why are the same old people getting their work published when there are so many talented others out there?” 

Be they college students who don’t submit to the campus literary magazine or colleagues who let a great book idea sit on their hard drive for years, I see the same thing over and over:  many very smart, adept writers do not try to publish.  Some simply procrastinate, avoiding taking the big step and deciding they will  finish revising that piece (which is usually already pretty darn good)  after the baby is older/the job is calmer/the summer/the Downton Abbey season ends....

I get it. I have been there. But it is a shame.

But you know what frustrates me even more? When that writer decides it is time, she cannot figure out how to get her work published. Here, my frustration lies not with dallying authors but with the fact that the process for submitting work for publication is often overly opaque. So many times people are simply flummoxed by the pragmatics of publishing writing. How does one submit a personal essay to Newsweek? How did Jane Brown, that friend from high school who no one ever really liked, get to write about fashion for the New York Times? 

Sometimes, the information is easily found through some googling. Sometimes--often--it is not. It’s all very hush hush, and many prospective writers feel discouraged, dissuaded, out of the loop. 

It’s not the writers’ fault, though. There is a sort of secret code to getting your work published. Except it does not have to be a secret. There are fairly common steps most publications take, and those who want to write for them can learn those steps. Making this process hard to learn helps publications cut down on scads of crappy submissions. But it also keeps great writers who could offer much from ever knocking on the door. t

Here’s where politics come in. A group that looks at the bylines of major literary publications, VIDA, did a count, and the numbers are not good. Women are far outnumbered by men in these illustrious pages. 

The possible explanations for this situation are many--I have written some thought on my blog, as have others

I have a theory about one way to redress this situation: I think the lack of information about how the publishing game works prevents women from playing it.  The more women learn the game, the better the numbers may be.

Maybe I concocted this theory because it helps me feel less useless: I have learned a lot about publishing in the magazines that VIDA looked at, as well as others. I have teaching experience, so I can convey that information fairly well. And so that is what I am doing--my small part to get more women’s voices out there. I want to get more files moved from the “Draft” folder into “Sent Mail.” 

I’ve written a short guide to pitching publications on my blog. Later this month I’m offering a course for those--particularly women!--who want to learn more about publishing their work.  I hope one or both of these resources will be useful. 

Anne, this is amazing!  And you are amazing for being so generous with your time and resources.  I can't wait to take your class later this month.  Thank you for coming to visit us today!


Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Great post and information!

Maria Geraci said...

Yes, great information, Anne. Thanks! And thanks to Brenda for having you on her blog :)