Recent political events have prompted me to think about the way our history shapes the books written by writers and publishers. After the summer of protests in 2020, publishers tried to push more books of color authors forward and diversify the industry in general. As for recent events, I wonder how the rollover of Roe v. Wade will affect the directions of the book.
Women have of course written books throughout history, and the best of them reflected the hard realities of the time. Jane Air Written by Charlotte Bronte focuses on a woman who makes her way through the world with limited choices. the mill by Margaret Drabble (published 1965) follows a woman who decides to raise a child on her own, despite intense societal pressure to get married. After Roe v. Wade, stories women write for women are becoming more and more popular and not all of them focus exclusively on marriage and motherhood.
History of Raw in Wade
Since 1973, women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) have had the legal right to an abortion in the United States. The landmark case Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court set a precedent for the legal right to abortion throughout the United States. Although it was never codified into federal law, from 1973 to 2022, the legal right to abortion was protected by default. That changed on June 24, 2022, when the Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson for Women’s Health, effectively dropping Roe because the right to abortion “was not deeply rooted in this nation’s history or tradition.”
It is important to understand this basic history and how things can fundamentally change as access to a single legal right expands. Before Rowe, women married and had children at a much younger age. The average age of American first-time mothers in 1970 was less than 22 years. Today, more women can choose to wait for marriage to prepare for it, with the average age of marriage steadily rising since 1970.
Preparedness means a variety of different things: financially, socially, and emotionally as well. For many women, this has meant joining the workforce first and advancing their careers in fields previously closed to women. This was particularly important for women to become lawyers and preside over cases that gave women more access to previously restricted rights.
Telling stories through expanding rights
Over the past twenty years, New York times The Best Sellers list came close to equalizing the number of men versus women on the list. However, when you go into the gender division, the “home” genre has been dominated by women since the ’80s and the romantic genre since the ’60s.
Lola Roe v. Wade, we probably wouldn’t have had the explosion of women’s fantasy and romance novels that still dominate the publishing industry today. Although the category of “women’s fantasy” is questionable at best, writers such as Liz Kay argue that this category should not be vengeful.
At LitHub, she says, “I write primarily for women, but what I refuse to accept is that with women as readers, I need to lower the bar.”
In the 90s, driven by popularity Bridget Jones DiaryThe term “lit chick” came to include essentially all women’s books. Writer Lucinda Rosenfeld asked in 2017, “Given that so many female writers and readers currently feel that we are, once again, fighting for our basic liberties, is it possible that a new category of women’s literature, overtly more feminist than the previous one, is on its way?”
Over the past few years, female writers have been accused of “overtaking” literary literature and not leaving space for male writers. Although the numbers do not support this assertion, it is true that anything approaching equality appears to be a threat to the dominant group. Plus, we’re just getting more writing by women of color and trans writers and gender non-conforming writers. The basic problem between women and men in published books does little to express the overall publishing industry problem with diversity outside the white men’s outlook.
The biggest trend I’ve noticed in “female fiction” in general is the freedom to make bad decisions. Instead of being trapped by circumstances and forced to make difficult decisions, there are many accounts of women with a range of possibilities. Although there are still plenty of stories about women succeeding in making the best of their lives, there are plenty of stories about messy women who make bad decisions.
The reality of post-RU America
You can only ban legal abortion. People will always seek an abortion because they got pregnant through a traumatic experience, are not ready to be parents, cannot safely carry a pregnancy to term, or simply do not want to have a child. All of these reasons are equally valid and important for all people to seek care.
Things have never been so rosy for people across the country seeking abortions, even legally. Now that abortion is truly shaky, I wonder how it will affect the industry for intentional escape, light and vague readings. I’m sure readers will continue to yearn for the candy-colored joy of reading Low Stakes Beach. However, these books may also begin to refer indirectly to the realities of the American political world.
I wonder if there will be a rise in historical fiction or science fiction and fantasy, which is taking place in a world where sexism is increasing. Although many countries are working to impose restrictions on anyone who is not an engaging man, writing directly about our reality can be difficult for readers to gravitate towards. It might be better to dive into a different world of fantasy to tackle our horrific reality.
I also think there will be an increase in horror stories about gender-based violence due to the recent popularity of books and films that tackle social issues head-on with horror. Personally, I hope there will also be a few books full of hope, optimism, and imagining a way forward. I am not defending a fantasy that ignores our current reality, but a fantasy that provides a spark for people to continue the fight for equal rights.
Past and future publishing trends
In the past, women writers would write under male pseudonyms or neutral pseudonyms in order to publish their work. The men decided that writing as a profession would distract women from their proper child-rearing and housework duties. Mary Ann Evans (better known as George Eliot) published her books under a pseudonym because she wanted to evaluate her work on her merits alone: women writers were not seen as intellectually important.
Not only did the writers want to comprehensively evaluate their work; They knew that their ideas, themes, and literary merits would be rejected solely on the basis of their gender. For any dissenting ideas or complex female characters to infiltrate the intellectual law, these women had to conceal their identities so that their writings could be taken seriously.
Although the publishing industry can be really slow to change, the summer of 2020 brought about a drastic change in the types of books purchased and changes in publishing houses to reflect these buying patterns. The summer of 2020 caused a significant increase in the number of customers buying social justice books, a trend that continued into 2021. Last summer, New York Times Magazine I published a long article about trying to address historically exclusionary practices in publishing, especially towards women of color.
Even if things change quickly in customer buying patterns, deployment is slow to change due to a variety of issues. The first is that writing, selling, and publishing a book takes a long time. However, there is also a crisis of confidence in the publishing industry itself among work-burdened young book professionals. Failure to respond to workers’ concerns from publishing executives will continue to fire workers from marginalized backgrounds.
These earlier trends raise the question of how the publishing industry will respond to Dobbs v. Jackson, which ended the protections set by Roe v. Wade. Censorship of books on abortion and reproductive independence is likely to increase in states where access to abortion is restricted or non-existent. Authors may choose to publish anonymously if they are writing fictional or factual stories about these places with punitive laws against people who seek or assist with abortion care. Aliases may be a security measure.
Low pay problems and burnout in the publishing industry are firing employees who will be the protagonists of marginalized authors’ books. When you only have the people who are good at publishing, choosing which books to get published and publishing, you get American Dirt Case. I’m sure agents and editors who acquire it will look for factual stories about abortion and reproductive care or deeply reported histories of different states where access is restricted. My concern is that the majority of these stories will lean toward the white perspective.
Overall, I think we can expect a large number of books on reproductive justice in about a year or two. Writers who have books on submission that match the topic will get their work done, and it is likely that writers who are currently focusing on projects related to the topic are working hard at the moment. With the issues facing the publishing industry right now (including corporate consolidation, employee burnout, and a failure to support diverse talent), it’s hard to say whether these books will demonstrate a diverse set of expertise.
For more reading about the genres I’ve discussed here, dive into books on social justice, beach reads, and science fiction/fantasy books by women and non-binary authors.