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Gender in Publishing

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Greybeard, Jun 18, 2011.

  1. Greybeard

    Greybeard Minstrel

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    Do you wonder if gender plays any role in the publishing world?

    Years back I read a story about mystery author J.A. Konrath. He had initially intended to write under his full name, Joseph Konrath. But his publisher insisted that he use J.A. Konrath instead, to make his gender less obvious to prospective readers.

    I also read the same story about J.K. Rowling. Her publisher demanded that she use two initials. Because Jo Rowling has no middle name, she picked K after her grandmother.

    Why is this? How big of a role does gender play in publishing?
     
  2. Kelise

    Kelise Maester

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    There's been surveys done, and apparently men aren't that willing to try fantasy written by women. Doing a quick google on it shows that (some? most?) men don't take women seriously and/or think it'll be a trashy romance.

    Or it could be the opposite. Do females expect fantasy by men to be all elves and gnomes with axes and huge epic battles - and if so, they think that's a bad thing?

    Personally I read things when they're recommended. Thanks to the internet and forums like this, websites like goodreads, I very rarely have to pick up a book all on my lonesome, so the author's apparent gender doesn't influence me one way or another. I also think it differs country by country. Fantasy in Australia seems to be overrun by female names stated proudly on the covers and not many seem to hide it.

    Is it mostly in America where it's still happening? And there's other ways they 'hide' - I can think of a few names which could go either way - Kim Stanley-Robinson, Robin Hobb, etc - who have been mistaken for being female (Kim) and male (Robin) when they're the opposite... but other than that, it doesn't really come to mind at all.

    tl;dr: Yes, it probably plays a role according to surveys and publishers, but possibly doesn't effect as many people as we might think because of how easily we can rec books to each other these days.
    It happens as to not blanket out part of an audience. Could it also be if your real name is too hard to remember how to spell, or - in the older days - too German when there had just been wars? Etc etc etc. It's all marketing, and totally depends on who your publisher wants your target audience to be. They won't let you try to publish an epic war battle fantasy if your name is so, Violet Pansyflower. Because no one (well, fewer) in your target audience would take you seriously.


    Eugh, I'm in a rambly mood, my apologies.
     
  3. BeigePalladin

    BeigePalladin Sage

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    it's time like this I dispair for my gender. I've seen far more aweful things written by men than women.
     
  4. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    I think that making gender less obvious is probably a good thing; after all, who wants to be judged on their name before a prospective reader has even read the book? In any case gender is a largely social construct whereby judgements are made about a person based upon their biological or percieved sex, about which people DO, unfortunately, still make judgements that influence their choices - in daily life as well as in publishing. I'd rather my writing was judged on the merits of my writing than on my chromosomes.
     
  5. I think that the contemporary publishing market is a pretty fair place (in terms of gender), but only when taken as a whole. As mentioned above, when one examines certain, individual genres, bias then appears. Our genre of fantasy and sci-fi is a perfect example. It is male-dominated. And when female authors do engage, one often sees the initials with a last name. I didn't think of it till now, but my publisher just released three novels:

    Mine (epic/high fantasy) attributed to full name.
    A YA Fantasy attributed to a male via full name.
    A YA Fantasy attributed to a female (maybe marked intentionally androgynous) via initials and last name.
     
  6. Derin

    Derin Troubadour

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    I was about to remark that I've read a lot more fantasy written by females, but on reflection they do publish under initials remarkably often.
     
  7. Behelit

    Behelit Troubadour

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    Lets be real here, do not downplay the differences between men and women. Likewise, men and women tend to be more alike in some aspects than credit is given. Even if its entirely socially driven from infancy, it is still a fact of life.

    As for the OP.. our brains are conditioned to prejudge in general. It is an important gift and a curse. So even if its minute, publishers(or any business, for that matter), in the interest of profit, may make seemingly bizarre protocols to make their product optimally marketable.
     
  8. Kate

    Kate Troubadour

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    It's a weird thing. Recently I realised that I read more books (not limited to fantasy) written by men than I do women. I have no idea why, it's not a conscious choice, I read what is recommended or I think sounds interesting/appealing. If I had to stand up now and answer the question, is there any difference between a male and a female writing, I would say no. But really honestly thinking about it in terms of my own general reading preferences, there might be. Don't ask me to explain it though!

    Actually, I'm now thinking back to something I read online a few weeks ago (one of those random twitter links, I may have even retweeted) that suggested that certain linguists can tell from a writing sample if the prose was written by a man or a woman. Something about the level of sentimentality, action, emotion and abstract ideas. Pretty interesting stuff, but obviously there are going to be exceptions and cross overs to the idea.

    And writing this has just reminded me of a kind of a strange and awkward moment I had a few years ago in a 2nd hand bookshop buying a stack of novels. The old woman behind the counter told me I "Read Like A Man". I'm still puzzled, but yes most of those books (all?) were written by men.
     
  9. Kelise

    Kelise Maester

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    I think while I've read mostly female authors (especially lately) I have to admit my top two of all time are males - Scott Lynch and Patrick Rothfuss. And Sean Williams isn't far behind.

    But yes, there's things online where you can input a few thousand words, and it'll tell you if you sound male or female. Such as: The Gender Genie
     
  10. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    Heh, interesting site. Apparently I sound male. It's not a narrow margin either. It seems to judge based upon certain keywords, but "the" and "a" are considered male keywords, which seems odd to be since they're words one can hardly avoid using by simple virtue of being female. They get a lot more points than other words I've used frequently, like "and", a female keyword I've used about half as many times as I used "the". It just doesn't seem quite right to me. I wonder how they came to the conclusion that "the" is male and "and" is female.
     
  11. Kelise

    Kelise Maester

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    Utterly no idea. My writing when I update my blog is male - I haven't bothered to check anything I've submitted anywhere yet. Still trying to decide whether I want to be seen as male, or female...

    Wonder if it's possible to 'learn' how to write 50/50, as to technically be 'perfect'. Not that I think I want to. It's interesting, though.
     
  12. Derin

    Derin Troubadour

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    I don't trust those. Many of them are contradictory.
     
  13. BeigePalladin

    BeigePalladin Sage

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    that site is wrong! wrooooooong!!!

    Female Score: 1224
    Male Score: 505


    also, I'm aparantly a very feminine writer :D
     
  14. Derin

    Derin Troubadour

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    Youre username has the word "beige" in it. Everyone knows that males don't see more than black, white, primary and complementary colours. Stereotypes tell us so.

    QED
     
  15. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    I think, given what I write, I am going to use a gender neutral version of my name. Which isn't particularly hard. My name is Alexandra (Hollingshead), so really, Alex would suffice in making it gender neutral. A.V. would be my initials, or A.V.S. if you count my married name (Hollingshead is the name I was born with, and I'm not taking my husband's name, which is Smith). A.V.S. Hollingshead or Alex Hollingshead. I think either works... anyway, bit off track, I think what I write is definitely something that belongs to a market dominated primarily by male authors, and I don't think my gender will aid me at all. I don't know if it'll be a hindrance, either, but I couldn't say that for sure. I write New Weird, very political, often quite bleak, and definitely aimed towards adults. Plus, nearly every major character is a man, and one of the two women with prominent roles is a prostitute (admittedly, so is the [male] main character, but he gets to be King, so we can overlook that), and the other one is his little sister.
     
  16. BeigePalladin

    BeigePalladin Sage

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    so the govornment in your story would literally screw you for a fiver :D

    sorry, I had to do it
     
  17. Erica

    Erica Minstrel

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    In the early days, women in the SFF fields did disguise their names (think of C.J. Cherryh, James Tiptree and Andre Norton), because the perception was that 1. Most of the readers in the genre were young males and 2. Young males don't like/relate to females as storytellers, perspectives, characters etc. Readership has changed greatly in the field, and cuts across all ages and genders. In fact, there may well be more female than male readers now. I remember reading somewhere that the overwhelming majority of people who read novels these days are women.

    Given the huge number of female writers publishing works of fantasy under their own (or female) names these days, it doesn't seem like it's as big a deal as it once was. As a female reader in her 40's, I don't worry about the gender of the writer when I am deciding on whether it might be fun to read, but in practice, most of my favorite authors these days are women. Not sure why that is. Maybe it's a matter of focus and style. I like novels with a relatively small cast of pov characters, as a rule (even just one) where you get inside the head of the characters. Romance is optional, and preferably not be the main point of the story, but if there is a love element that works for me, then I am certainly not turned off by it. Do women write that way more than men?

    Of course, there are other reasons for disguising one's name as an author. A big one is privacy.What if that pesky ex-boyfriend (or one of his friends) from college reads your novel and realizes that your arch villain has his personality.
     
  18. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    This is very common. In Joe Konrath's case he was writing a female protagonist as a male and in Rowlings... same issue a female writing a male protagonist. In general, women writers have a bit harder than men so you'll see more women using initials them men.
     
  19. Erica

    Erica Minstrel

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    Oooh fun. Let's see. I'm female in real life.

    Prologue

    Words: 2022
    (NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

    Female Score: 2756
    Male Score: 2762

    The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

    This is based on the prologue of my NiP. Seems like the score is too close to call really as it's almost a split. This scene is from the pov of a conniving (male) inquisitor who is interviewing my male protagonist in a prison.

    Chapter 1,

    Words: 2908
    (NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

    Female Score: 3245
    Male Score: 3811

    The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

    Much more strongly male than the previous scene. The pov character in this chapter was my male protagonist. He's getting drunk and then getting the snot beaten out of him.

    Words: 2997
    (NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

    Female Score: 5173
    Male Score: 3662

    The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!

    This is a long scene in chapter 2 written from the pov of my female character. The scene is not violent or conflict ridden, though there is some emotional tension (she's talking to her mentor and then healing the victim of the assault previous scene).

    Seems like it works by assigning certain keywords to males and females. I wonder if it's more accurate with nonfiction than fiction. With fiction, the nature of the scene and the personality of your character are both going to describe how many of the 'gendered' words you use. The question is, are my different scenes getting different gender scores because I am writing the characters differently, or is the amount of conflict in the scene driving the score in some way? I'd like to see one that analyzed not only words but the pattern of their use, since some researchers have found that males and females tend to speak with different patterns (Deborah Tannin). I'd guess that might apply to writing too.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2011
  20. Heh, I've seen the Gender Genie before... it's always correctly guessed my gender (male) in the past. This time, it didn't; I gave it a 4800-word chapter from my novel and it said I was female.

    Who knows if that means anything ;-)
     
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