By any other name

woman and proudThis weekend I read an interesting article about whether J K Rowling sort of shot herself in the foot by writing under a male pseudo name for her crime fiction.
This fits into the general consensus that if female authors want to be taken seriously (by men) they need to pretend to be a man. Although this isn’t necessarily the given reason by J K Rowling. Rather, it seems she just wanted to get as far away as possible from her celebrity image, which is fair enough.

However, the readers of crime fiction are mainly women (which I find very interesting and makes me wonder if perhaps men should start watching their backs). Studies suggest that women, being the enlightened creatures that we are (mostly…sometimes) don’t care whether the book they’re reading is written by a man or woman, as long as it’s a good story. But men won’t read books written by women that have a male protagonist (see J K Rowling’s new publishers reaction when he discovered she’s a woman in the article linked above).
Remember, the most prolific crime writer in history is Agatha Christie. This all makes perfect sense. The name on the book is part of the books marketing and therefore should appeal to the books market. It’s logical (Captain).

So what about fantasy and science fiction? J K Rowling was recommended by her publishers to use her initials on Harry Potter, but again that was because of the market. Young boys, male teens and men may want to read about a boy wizard and they don’t all want a boy wizard written by a woman. Not that it made an ounce of difference once the book took off.

Since my late teens, I have thought I would use my initials on my future, bestselling (ahem) books, hence the title of this blog. I thought it quite droll that my initials even spell out my name…
But I’ve been looking at the bookshelves in Waterstones lately, at the publishers and authors names. Since last year I’ve been paying particular attention to female fantasy and sci-fi authors.

The majority have quite ‘girly’ covers, which are instantly off putting to me. It suggests that they are for girls only and the stereotype of this is that there will be love and dresses and prettiness. Bleugh. The only exceptions I’ve found are Robin Hobb, Ursula Le Guin and Jen Williams (although there must be more…surely).

Fantasy isn’t as bad as science fiction when it comes to the gender of writers. Sometimes, if you squint hard, it can even seem that female fantasy and horror writers are mostly up there with male writers. Still, the great Robin Hobb chose her penname partly because it could be male or female.

So, has the world moved on since my late teens, that I can write with my given name instead of initials? I quite like my name, I wouldn’t mind having it on the front cover of my books, but I also want my stories to be read, by men and women. Saying that, the main market for all of my fiction work are female fantasy fans. All of my stories have female protagonists, which doesn’t mean that men can’t enjoy them (I hope) but does mean that women might relate more (might – I often read male protagonists and relate to them).
The above article’s point about most people now assuming a writer using initials is a woman touched a nerve with me. Is there any point in hiding behind initials, and why should we have to hide anyway? You see, that’s the other question. Do I really want a man who wouldn’t read a book just because it’s written by a woman looking at my stories? Well, yes, if it might change his mind.

And round and round we go.
I would love to know your feelings on this topic, and whether you think it matters anymore?

And time for a quick poll, if you can a moment to help me out of my quandry by being part of my focus group.



5 responses to “By any other name

  1. Maybe I’m in a minority here, but the name and sex of the writer, in any genre, really doesn’t matter to me, and it never has. The quality of the writing is everything. Same as, when I was a bookshop manager, I used to be seen on the bus reading kids’ books. I got some funny looks, and I didn’t care. Still don’t. I’m just not seen out and about reading as much, as I’m in a car most of the time!
    I’d like to think it doesn’t matter, but I suppose if research says it does… 😦

    • I know what you mean Karen, I never used to even notice the name of the author. I’d only look when I finished the book and if I liked it so I could find more of their stuff. It was only when I started realising they were all men that I started paying more attention!
      Maybe the studies aren’t quite that accurate – most people I know don’t seem to care.

  2. I would probably prefer to read something written from a different perspective than my own and choose Jennifer over John but really if I don’t know the author then I open the book and read something to see if I like the writing and the sex of the author is irrelevant, Books are very expensive and take up a lot of time so they have to be good. It’s not like turning the telly on 🙂

    • I love that approach! 🙂 And great to know another person doesn’t care about the name or gender of the author! Feeling much better about these ‘studies’!

  3. Pingback: An apology, promise, celebration and thank you. In that order. |·

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