Voice of War by Zack Argyle – SPFBO #6 Finals Review

Voice of War by Zack Argyle

SPFBO #6 Finals Review

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This Is How You Lose the Time War

Novella Review

The Girl and the Mountain by Mark Lawrence

The Girl and the Mountain

New Release Review


Jen Williams responds to opinions on Bookshops’ perceived SFF Prejudice

The Copper Promise (cover)So, yesterday we published a piece on Fantasy-Faction highlighting the observations made by three of British fantasy’s female authors suggesting that UK Booksellers are selling them and their contemporaries short. A number of comments and tweets came flooding in, and Forum Members even started a topic; the overwhelming feeling was that ‘yes, there is a problem’.

One post I wanted to bring to your attention is that of Jennifer Williams. I’ve found Jennifer’s rise to prominence online both interesting and exciting. Jennifer is obviously a woman, obviously, who is writing Epic Fantasy and receiving a significant amount of attention for it. Her first book, The Copper Promise, has been reviewed by the majority of bloggers and has an incredible average of 4.4 stars on Goodreads and thirty-two 5 star reviews on Amazon. Here are Jen’s thoughts:

As a writer who is both a woman, and had her very first book come out last week, this is a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, as you might imagine.

I am very lucky in that I am with a big publisher, and from the photos people have been sending me, The Copper Promise has been popping up in various Waterstones and WHSmith’s across the UK (it’s even in Foyles, I went and looked at it there last night…). The buyers for these various shops have been good enough to take a punt on an unknown author, most ordering in one or two copies. This is amazing to see, and there is no way to really describe the feeling you get when you walk into a bookshop and see your book there on the shelf.

Now, the question is, what will happen to those one or two copies now? I’m relatively unknown (unless you’re a big fan of my blog posts where I rant on about video games and Lego, ahem) so I’m relying on people either hearing about my book through word of mouth or reviews, or simply browsing, coming across it and deciding to give it a go. There is less chance of this, for example, if my book is spine on and not face out (quite likely when there’s only one copy) or if it doesn’t make it on to a display table.

As Juliet E McKenna and Sophia McDougall have both been doing, over the last year or so I have found myself counting authors on tables too, in the SFF sections, and I’ve found the same thing as they did – women aren’t really there. Oh, there will be one or two, but mostly it will be the same four or five names that I’m sure you all know. Which is entirely understandable to an extent – I was a bookseller for many years and I know very well that sometimes you just want your bestsellers to smack people in the face as soon as they walk into your section, and in adult fantasy, the big mega sellers are men. However, I was talking to a (very excellent) bookseller last week, who wanted desperately to feature as many female writers as she could on her tables and staff picks areas, but she is continually overruled by people higher up. And the fact is, GRRM is going to keep on selling whether you put him on a table or not, so maybe – maybe there is room for a “Hey you may not have heard of this, but it’s great” table. It’s tough, and as an ex-bookseller who once had to cram 800 Stephen King books into a tiny horror section I know space is limited, but the truth is there are TONS of brilliant women writing fantasy and we just don’t see them on display in bookshops.

It’s a complicated issue and a vicious circle, one that better people than me have spoken about at length, but this is why passionate booksellers, the SFF community, and places like this are so important to debut authors like me – because it’s the enthusiasm of readers that can move my spine-on book from the shelf to the table, or even better, in front of a new reader’s eyeballs.

Jen-WilliamsAs someone involved in the genre, it really hurts to hear that an author who has written such a great book is already doubting sales not because of her ability or assurance in her work, but because of the ‘guys at the top’.

There is no denying that the publishers, the bloggers and Jennifer, herself, have put in all the right kinds of effort that should make this book a top seller. You’d expect this undeniable momentum and buzz to be picked up by Bookstores, but will it? I’m not so sure… I do share the same concerns as Jennifer that when the next big titles from male authors come out and it is a choice between keeping her book in a prominent place or handing it to Mr x she may lose out and that’s hard to swallow. I guess the argument is that G.R.R. Martin has his fans… people will buy his books whether they are on display or hidden in a corner down in the basement. Why not promote the authors that readers and bloggers are shouting about and telling you need to be read? Or at very least offer them (new authors that is) their own space in addition to titles you ‘expect’ to be more in demand? Hmm…



  1. And if you’re self-published (and female), discoverability is even harder, even if you have similar star ratings as Jen, have featured on a number of blogs and won quality awards. Not whinging, just stating fact.

    And I love the look of Jen’s book. Off to buy it…

    • Avatar Overlord says:

      Worth noting that Jen was self published before recently getting picked up 🙂

      • Absolutely! 😉 I’m still hoping for that discovery…
        I think this is where luck comes in, otherwise known as having the right conversation with the right person at the right time.

        Even if you have great endorsers (Simon Scarow, Sue Cook, etc.) the key is discoverability.

        Thank you for another great post and discussion.

  2. Avatar Overlord says:

    Just received this photo from Jen that was taken by Adrian Tchaikovsky:

    Jen-Jo in Waterstones

    REALLY good to see two VERY good SFF books on prominent display in Waterstones 🙂

  3. Avatar Lucy Hounsom says:

    Great to see such a bold, colourful display of women’s fantasy writing. And wise words from Jen regarding the need for communities of readers to help change these old fashioned attitudes, as well as bookstores. It’s encouraging to see the level of exposure this gender issue is currently receiving and bodes well for women fantasy writers of the future. The first step is admitting that the problem exists.

  4. […] It’s tough, and as an ex-bookseller who once had to cram 800 Stephen King books into a tiny horror section I know space is limited, but the truth is there are TONS of brilliant women writing fantasy and we just don’t see them on display in bookshops. (Jennifer Williams, quoted in “Jen Williams responds to opinions on Bookshops’ perceived SFF Prejudice” at Fantasy Faction) […]

Leave a Comment