Sexism in the publishing industry – Is the shoe on the other foot in today’s market?
It has long been believed that people prefer to read books by authors of the same sex as them – I call bullshit! I for one am not drawn to female authors. In fact in most cases, unless the author is known to me, or it is a true life work in which it is relevant, their gender doesn’t really come into it. Perhaps I am unusual in this, but honestly, the blurb is more likely to get my mouth watering for a book than the name or gender of the author.
Recently, it has been revealed that publishers are changing or disguising the names of their male authors to increase sales. It is believed that women will only read novels by other women, and as women apparently read more than men, we are therefore the new demographic for publishing houses. I am not debating that women read more than men, perhaps we write more too? But I think that these studies are not really giving the reader enough credit.
According to one source:
“…80% of a new female author’s audience is likely to be female.”
Now, the inner feminist in me is giving a little cheer at this news, it was said on the radio that the likes of Charlotte Bronte and Mary Anne Evans (George Eliot as she is more commonly known) would be looking down and be rejoicing, I don’t disagree. Long gone are the days where these women and the likes of JK Rowling and EL James have to change their names to be taken seriously as an author (although taking E L James seriously would be hard no matter what gender she were).
Ignoring my inner feminist for a few minutes (she can be pretty loud and opinionated, so this can be rather difficult) I actually disagree with this trend completely. I do not pick books based on author gender, race, sexual orientation, upbringing, day job etc. I’ve read a Jeffrey Archer book for goodness sake, he couldn’t be further from what I consider to be my author demographic, or in fact ethical beliefs. I often read books without knowing or being affected by authors gender and in fact a lot of the time I won’t even know if they are male or female whilst reading their work. True, sometimes it is obvious from writing style or how the author relates their male or female protagonist, but often times it is impossible to tell.
I once read an article in a newspaper by a black female author, I was really enjoying the article until she started moaning about the fact that being a woman and a woman of colour at that, really put people off of reading her work. Until that point I was unaware of her gender or race and was merely enjoying her writing style, as soon as she stated who she was, my whole view of her writing changed and suddenly what began as a general comment on society became a much more direct point about racism and sexism. It did change the tone of what she was saying, but merely added the ‘woe is me’ tone, which then did, in fact, put me off, not because she was a woman or black, merely because, until that point it had been irrelevant to the piece and actually to the point she was trying to make. Although I understand where this woman was coming from, there are a lot of people out there who still harbour sexist or racist tendencies, I feel that if your writing is good enough, it will speak for itself, no one will look into your gender, race, upbringing or sexual orientation, it is irrelevant.
A prime example of this is Zadie Smith, at one point she was the youngest author to ever get a best seller. Being female, and a woman of colour did not stop her because her writing spoke for itself; her style was good, her story telling brilliant and therefore she was successful.
It took me years to find out JK Rowling’s first name (it’s Joanne by the way) and once I knew it, it had no bearing what-so-ever on what I thought of her work, before or after I knew she was a woman. I still think the first book is rubbish, all be it a necessary starting point with a good story, but shabby writing (perhaps a little unfair, it was for kids after all and her first book none the less) and I still think that the last three are excellent and helped to cement her place, not only as a great children’s author but as a great literary author full stop. For all I care she could have been a bright green alien with twenty tentacles from the planet Zog, it would still not affect how I felt about the writing.
The new research shows that women prefer overall to read books written by other women, with the exception of course of some of the more popular and famous male authors. Now I’m sure this could be considered the case with romance novels such as the Mills and Boon series, but as for general literature, I’m not convinced. Apparently, it is so much the case that publishers are having to use their male author’s initials rather than their full names to keep sales up. Seems like the shoe is on the other foot now boys.
Don’t judge a book by the cover? We all do. My advice, however, would be this:
Don’t judge a book by the author’s name!
As I was doing my research for this blog post, making sure my information was accurate and I wasn’t misquoting someone or some piece of information, it became apparent how, although we will feel sympathy and as a woman empathy for these male authors struggling to find their way in this apparent ‘women over-run’ world publishing, it really is hard to take it that seriously. Upon googling ‘sexism in the publishing industry’ it was apparent that still, one in six (approx.) articles are about discrimination against female authors.
I also came across an entire organisation set up to help women in the publishing industry:
That being said, a lot of the men who are apparently experiencing issues in the area of sales, say that they are doing so because their work is not taken seriously if their protagonist is female but their book is published under a male name. Would that this was the case back in the days of Jane Austin and Charlotte Bronte when strong female characters would have been ignored if written by a woman. Now although I still feel that this is not giving enough credit to the reader, I can see how this makes more sense than merely the fact that the author being male begin a complete turn-off.
A prime example of this is the Mills and Boon author section of their website. Of the 114 authors in the A section of their site (this is a company for whom the term ‘pulp fiction’ was penned), I found 5 authors with a male only names. Now there are also a further 12 who have ambiguous or initials only, so perhaps these are also male authors. That still leaves 97 with female names, and really who knows if these are male or female truly. So in genre’s such as this, the theory is alive and well. Women prefer female authors. Or perhaps, more women want to write Mills and Boon style books. Who’s to say?
I conclude this post with a final thought on the matter… If the market is so biased and we, the reader, are given so little credit as to look past the gender of the author, then perhaps the answer is to use the initials of all authors rather than gender specific names eg.
Take away all gender discrimination entirely.