Scotland’s ROAR Program: New Numbers on Women in Publishing

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Not unlike the United States’ VIDA Count, the ROAR organization’s research reveals discrepancies in gender representation in parts of the Scottish publishing industry.

From the Scottish ROAR site, illustration by Alice Brown

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

The ROAR Count
Released today (July 25), the program of research and activism in gender inequality called ROAR—for “represent, object, advocate, rewrite”—is spearheaded by Christina Neuwirth, whose research has been funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities.

Since 2016, the group has been forming around research results in the Scottish writing and publishing industries, and the new site has been established to serve as a kind of hub for the group’s mission—to “identify, interrogate, and combat inequality” in the literary sector.

The newly reported information draws from 2017 data. Some of its highlights, according to the group, are:

  • Some 454 authors were published in Scotland in the 2017 study period
  • Thirty-seven percent of those authors whose books were published in Scotland were women, a number that’s 14.5 percent below women’s representation in the general population
  • The category in which women fared worst was nonfiction about Scotland: four women were published nonfiction in 2017, compared with 30 men
  • In thriller, mystery and crime genres, twice as many men were published than women
  • No women were published in 2017 in humor or sports books categories, while men published eight humor titles and 10 sports books
  • Women were more heavily represented than men in two categories: literary narrative nonfiction (nine women, one man) and romance (11 women, three men)
  • Children’s books and historical fiction were the most nearly balanced genres–40 women and 37 men in the children’s sector, five men and five women in historical fiction

Modeled to some degree on the US-based VIDA Count from Women in Literary Arts, the effort includes a look at news-media coverage of books for the same time period, January to December 2017, reporting today that:

  • In 2017, The Herald and The Scotsman published reviews of 604 authors’ books
  • Sixty-five percent of the authors reviewed were men
  • Eighty-six percent of the reviews were by men
  • Fifty-eight percent were reviews of male authors’ books, written by male reviewers
  • Seven percent were reviews of female authors books, written by female reviewers

Book festivals in Scotland fared better as far as the surveyed 2017 gender balance goes. According to figures being supplied by ROAR:

  • The AyeWrite Festival in Glasgow (it was in March this year); Bloody Scotland (this year in Stirling, September 20-22); and Edinburgh International Book Festival (August 20-26) all hosted events that involved 1,392 authors–44 percent of them women.
  • Of those, 461 presentations were solo-author events, and in those cases, women’s representation dropped to 38 percent.
  • Book festivals were the only part of the industry covered in which non-binary authors were represented in 2017, making up 0.4 percent of all programmed writers.

The Scottish Census for 2011 reported 48.5 percent of the population to be men and 51.5 percent women. A survey conducted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, indicates that 0.4 percent of the UK population identifies in a way that’s neither male nor female.

The research data is credited to Neuwirth, a PhD candidate with the University of Stirling, the University of Glasgow, and the Scottish Book Trust. The organization expects to have a count annually and those who might like to be in touch about the count can reach the group at mail@roar.scot

The ROAR Program

While gender equality seems to be the focus of the group’s output so far, its mission statement refers to a broader mandate, reading, “ROAR is a group working to identify, interrogate and combat inequality in Scottish writing and publishing. … Our mission is to end discrimination based on gender, class, sexuality, language, nationality, disability, race, age, religion, or caring responsibilities and their intersections.”

“It means paying attention to the way we work, and building opportunities and programs that are open and inclusive. It means that we need to roll our sleeves up.”Jenny Kumar, Literature Alliance Scotland

The program engages—at least through the participation of its working group—a substantial collection of Scottish organizations and institutions related to publishing and writing. The working group comprises:

  • Nyla Ahmad (Scottish Book Trust)
  • Caitrin Armstrong (Scottish Book Trust)
  • Jenni Calder (Scottish PEN)
  • Angie Crawford (Waterstones)
  • Mairi Kidd (Creative Scotland)
  • Wendy Kirk (Glasgow Women’s Library)
  • Jenny Kumar (Literature Alliance Scotland)
  • Katy Lockwood-Holmes (Floris Books)
  • Lesley McDowell (critic, editor, writer)
  • Judy Moir (literary agent)
  • Sophie Moxon (Edinburgh International Book Festival)
  • Christina Neuwirth (University of Stirling, University of Glasgow, Scottish Book Trust)
  • Jenny Niven (Edinburgh International Culture Summit Foundation)
  • Mairi Oliver (Lighthouse Bookshop)
  • Jess Orr (Glasgow Women’s Library)
  • Adele Patrick (Glasgow Women’s Library)
  • Elizabeth Reeder (University of Glasgow, Scottish PEN)
  • Shari Sabeti (University of Edinburgh)
  • Claire Squires (University of Stirling)

In a prepared statement provided with today’s announcement, Literature Alliance Scotland’s Jenny Kumar is quoted saying, “This important research demonstrates unequivocally that we collectively have a long way to go to level the gender playing field, and that as a sector we need to work together and take responsibility to contribute toward positive change in all that we do, every day.

“This gender discrimination must be addressed in order to make the sector—and the country—a fairer, more representative, and more democratic space.”Claire Squires, University of Stirling

“For Literature Alliance Scotland and our members, that means driving for better representation and inclusivity at all levels across all our activities to better reflect the society we live in. It means listening and learning and recognizing that stereotypes around gender in writing and publishing need to be challenged and that it starts with us and our work.

“It means paying attention to the way we work, and building opportunities and programs that are open and inclusive. It means that we need to roll our sleeves up.”

And University of Stirling publishing studies professor Claire Squires is quoted saying, “The ongoing research underpinning ROAR’s investigations into our lived experience of inequalities in the literature and publishing sector are revealing. In particular, women are disadvantaged in terms of book reviewing, and in terms of the proportions of Scottish nonfiction books.

“This gender discrimination must be addressed in order to make the sector—and the country—a fairer, more representative, and more democratic space.”

More information is at roar.scot.


More from Publishing Perspectives on diversity is here, and more from us on Scotland’s market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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