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Emily Winslow
08-04-2015, 10:54 PM
There was an interesting essay on Jezebel today, about a woman's experience querying under a male pen name. She reports that her response rate was markedly improved with the male name. Obviously it's not a perfect experiment, but the very large change in response is suggestive (and potentially depressing).

Thoughts?

http://jezebel.com/homme-de-plume-what-i-learned-sending-my-novel-out-und-1720637627

Cyia
08-04-2015, 11:01 PM
I've not yet read the article, but anecdotally, I can tell you those results are in line with what I saw. My pen name was chosen years ago when I was a high school kid dreaming of becoming a screenwriter. As Hollywood is definitely a boy's club, I used a masculine version of my nickname. When I switched over to novels, I kept the name because I was used to it.

Initial responses (for a book I never did publish) were for "Mr. McQuein," and very positive. It was interesting because the novel was in a very saturated genre. The assumption of male-ness made the novel stand out. I clarified my gender with each response, but I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't.

Perception's big even in non-professional writing. The fanfiction handle I used that was gender-neutral was almost always assumed to be male by readers, and it changed the way the responded to me and the pieces I posted. Also anecdotal, but as I had another handle in another fandom - this one with a feminine name - I can tell you the interactions were different.

ElaineA
08-04-2015, 11:03 PM
I read it and my response was...depressing, sad, frustrating. I'm trying to be careful to keep in mind it's an anecdotal story. Not that there aren't studies to back it up, just that her own biases may have come into play, too. In selection of agents, etc. I thought the most heartbreaking part of her "experiment" was sending the same query twice, under two names. Even though that, too, is rife with unpredictables (ie: the same person who loved the second query under the male name may not have been the one reading the initial query under her real name), that bit gave me a true ache. It's hard getting query R's, but to be smacked in the face with that experience would really sting.

Roxxsmom
08-04-2015, 11:11 PM
Interesting, given how many agents are women and how many say (in my genre, at least) that they're looking for fantasy novels with female main characters. I always thought you were supposed to query as yourself, though, and work out pen names and so on with your agent and editor. They need to know what your real name is to cut the check to if they sign you.

I do wonder if there might be a problem being female with the kind of fantasy I write (secondary world and a bit on the gritty side, though definitely not grimdark). When looking for recently popular comparable authors, I get Scott Lynch, Brent Weeks, Joe Abercrombie and so on, but no recently emerged women.

But these guys are not perfect matches either, because my stuff isn't quite as epic in scale and it's somewhat more optimistic (positive character growth is a thing, and sometimes relationships even work out).

I'm finding tons of YA and UF writers, though, but I'm having real trouble finding bestselling, fairly new female authors who write the kind of stuff I do. Closest I can find to my style is Carol Berg, Lynn Flewelling and Robin Hobb, but I've been told they're not great comparable titles, as they've been at it too long now, and Berg's and Flewlling's stuff is more niche than bestselling.

When I started writing, I was told not to worry about what's popular, but just to write my heart out and focus on the kind of stuff I enjoy reading. So I did, and now it's a tough sell. Sad to think my gender might make it even harder. I always knew I might end up using my initials or my somewhat gender neutral middle name on a book after it was published, but it's depressing to think that faking my identity to the gatekeepers themselves is needed.

:Shrug:

I guess that's the breaks, but it's a bit depressing.

Vegetarian Cannibal
08-04-2015, 11:59 PM
I just read this article. Can't say I'm surprised. Fellow POC writers advised me when I first started out to hide my "ethnic" name. So I did. I've never posed as a man before, but hell, now might be the time to start. We don't spend our time getting rejected a hundred times over so not to win.

chompers
08-05-2015, 12:17 AM
I read it and my response was...depressing, sad, frustrating. I'm trying to be careful to keep in mind it's an anecdotal story. Not that there aren't studies to back it up, just that her own biases may have come into play, too. In selection of agents, etc. I thought the most heartbreaking part of her "experiment" was sending the same query twice, under two names. Even though that, too, is rife with unpredictables (ie: the same person who loved the second query under the male name may not have been the one reading the initial query under her real name), that bit gave me a true ache. It's hard getting query R's, but to be smacked in the face with that experience would really sting.
I didn't read the article, but I am wondering if it was the second query that was sent under her real name? Maybe it got rejected because the agent recognized it and thought it was plagiarized?

Chris P
08-05-2015, 12:27 AM
It's easy for me to (incorrectly) assume that gender and racial bias aren't as big a deal as they are just because I get almost exclusively form rejections. My name is androgynous, but most people correctly guess I'm a guy based on the spelling (women are more likely to spell it with a K or use a full name like Christine). I'm also as unethnic white bread as they come by US standards.

I confess I only skimmed the article, so she might have addressed this. YA and romance seem to have a lot of women writers, so I wonder if a man querying as a woman in these genres would yield opposite results?

Maze Runner
08-05-2015, 12:39 AM
Well, I mentioned on another thread that this surprised me, since I've always had the feeling that more women read fiction and higher % of agents and editors seem to be women, but okay. Funny thing is, I queried my first book under my real first name that only a handful of women I've known also have as a first name, and I got nada. Since then, I've been using a pen name, initials in place of a first name, and I've gotten bites. Could be the first book was "written from the heart" and didn't look to have much of a market.

ElaineA
08-05-2015, 12:49 AM
I confess I only skimmed the article, so she might have addressed this. YA and romance seem to have a lot of women writers, so I wonder if a man querying as a woman in these genres would yield opposite results?

Being a romance writer myself, I had the same thought. It's hard for men to break into romance, for sure, and when they write it, it's often not classified as romance (hello, Nicholas Sparks).

There is some skepticism being voiced by agents already (not surprising, since they're the ones being pointed at in the article). They raise some interesting questions about the way the article portrays the author's experience. Specifically, the rash of Saturday replies.

This is the difficulty of these kinds of anecdotal articles. I feel sick about the bias, but I can see lots of reasons not to use an article like this to make sweeping statements. I'd rather rely on experiment and data.

lilyWhite
08-05-2015, 01:04 AM
I've read this over three times, and I've come to this conclusion: I have just about no idea of what the author is even talking about, what the "experiment" consisted of (actual numbers, how many people were sent the same submission under different names and had different opinions, how much time passed between submissions). In particular (because of my opinion on the "quality" of the article's writing), I'm curious if "George's" query letters were written in a different way as opposed to how the writer usually writes them.

(Granted, I'm biased in that I think Jezebel is complete crap, but my opinions come mainly in how I can barely understand anything in that article.)

snc84
08-05-2015, 01:17 AM
I saw a few agents tweeting about the article this afternoon. I got the impression that the author's genre was women literary fiction. Maybe not a big draw for male writers? Therefore a male name would stand out. The thing that stood out to me was the feedback her male version got was more encouraging, polite, and full of praise. She did state that her "George" never got an offer to rep. Could some of this just be a case of curiosity on the part of agents, who see mostly female writers, to take a look at the quality of a male perspective in the genre?

Also, while it was her list of agents that George sent queries to, why did she only query one of the agents under both names? This was an spur of the moment experiment so she used agents from her list. I would not send out a query with a fake name to agents at the top of my list. Maybe the smaller ones or ones that I might not want as badly. This might account for the quick turn around for requests - being from a smaller agency?

Either way, sad to hear this but glad she now has an agent.

WeaselFire
08-05-2015, 01:27 AM
I've read this over three times, and I've come to this conclusion: I have just about no idea of what the author is even talking about, what the "experiment" consisted of (actual numbers, how many people were sent the same submission under different names and had different opinions, how much time passed between submissions). In particular (because of my opinion on the "quality" of the article's writing), I'm curious if "George's" query letters were written in a different way as opposed to how the writer usually writes them.

I'm of the same mind. And a male who gets plenty of rejection. :)

Jeff

Viridian
08-05-2015, 01:46 AM
I confess I only skimmed the article, so she might have addressed this. YA and romance seem to ahave a lot of women writers, so I wonder if a man querying as a woman in these genres would yield opposite results?
That's generally not how sexism works.

In male dominated fields, men are considered more competent.

In female dominated fields, men are also considered more competent.

DoNoKharms
08-05-2015, 02:44 AM
That's generally not how sexism works.

In male dominated fields, men are considered more competent.

In female dominated fields, men are also considered more competent.

Very true, but the issue here might not be perceived competence but perceived marketability. I know one male YA writer with a Big 5 Publisher who was strongly encouraged to publish under an initial rather than his first name to appeal more broadly to female readers.

Edit just to clarify: I'm referring to the question Chris P posed, not the original article.

Aggy B.
08-05-2015, 03:13 AM
I've read this over three times, and I've come to this conclusion: I have just about no idea of what the author is even talking about, what the "experiment" consisted of (actual numbers, how many people were sent the same submission under different names and had different opinions, how much time passed between submissions). In particular (because of my opinion on the "quality" of the article's writing), I'm curious if "George's" query letters were written in a different way as opposed to how the writer usually writes them.

(Granted, I'm biased in that I think Jezebel is complete crap, but my opinions come mainly in how I can barely understand anything in that article.)

No. She said it was the exact same letter and sample pages, just sent with a different name and from a different email. Not all of the agents overlapped (some were sent only the query with the female name, some only the male name), but at least one whom she queried first as a woman, then as a man, responded positively to the man.

One thing I appreciated is that she lays out reasons why she might have gotten the results that she did beyond straight bias. It still doesn't change the fact that she got considerably more requests under a male name than a female. (Especially since the ratio under her real name was very low - 1 in 25. When I was querying, I thought I was doing pretty well to get 1 in 10, but some folks told me even that was at the low end.)

I think this is something a lot of women have considered doing (I did) but for various reasons don't usually follow through. (I wound up getting an agent before I reached a point where I felt like it must be my femme-nature that was getting my work rejected.)

Liosse de Velishaf
08-05-2015, 04:35 AM
There are obviously ways this could be made more like a scientific study. But that's unlikely ever to happen for many other reasons. I don't think this was a perfect experiment by any means, but given my experience with gender-bias in publishing, I have to say it matches up pretty well to my perspective of reality.

Jamesaritchie
08-05-2015, 08:11 PM
And yet the bestseller list is full of female names, the bestselling novelist of all time is female, more than half of all published novels are written by females, and women sell an inordinate amount of nonfiction to magazines. Yeah, that gender bias is terrible.

onesecondglance
08-05-2015, 08:26 PM
I saw a few agents tweeting about the article this afternoon.

Most of the chat I saw about it was calling bullshit - suggesting it was made up. That was from female agents, so not sure what to make of it all.

autumnleaf
08-05-2015, 11:56 PM
I'm not at the querying stage yet (not looking forward to that from everything I've heard). So I'm wondering how realistic it is for anyone to get 5 responses in 24 hours. Has anyone here had anywhere near that rapidity of response?

ElaineA
08-06-2015, 12:15 AM
I'm not at the querying stage yet (not looking forward to that from everything I've heard). So I'm wondering how realistic it is for anyone to get 5 responses in 24 hours. Has anyone here had anywhere near that rapidity of response?

Not I. This was one of the "flags" that had agents voicing their skepticism yesterday.

snc84
08-06-2015, 12:16 AM
I'm not at the querying stage yet (not looking forward to that from everything I've heard). So I'm wondering how realistic it is for anyone to get 5 responses in 24 hours. Has anyone here had anywhere near that rapidity of response?

From what I know, it's highly atypical. A few agents, Laura Langlie comes to mind, have especially fast response times, but five in 24 hours is extremely lucky.

jjdebenedictis
08-06-2015, 12:19 AM
I'm not at the querying stage yet (not looking forward to that from everything I've heard). So I'm wondering how realistic it is for anyone to get 5 responses in 24 hours. Has anyone here had anywhere near that rapidity of response?It's unusual, but it's possible. Some agents stay on top of their inboxes. Some of them pounce fast on anything that excites them (because if something is good enough to get offers, then the fastest agent can often scoop other agents just by getting their offer on the table before anyone else has even gotten a chance to read the query).

I've had very fast turnarounds (measured in minutes) on both requests and rejections. Sometimes your submission happens to hit the inbox at exactly the right moment to get attention.

Toothpaste
08-06-2015, 12:49 AM
My first agent got in touch with me the day she got my submission (it was sent snail mail and so she got in touch the next day, yes the UK mail is that fast). It can happen.

Liosse de Velishaf
08-06-2015, 01:32 AM
Keep in mind it could be true but a coincidence. They might have been most of the way through their submission stacks when this query came in. So it could have happened. But I do think, unless we had more data on those agents(run her agent list through duotrope(do they do agents?) or query tracker, or something?), it's unlikely to be usable proof of gender bias.

ElaineA
08-06-2015, 02:46 AM
Well, I've had fast turnaround on queries, rec'd 2 Rs the same day, 2 days after sending QL, but never 5 in one day. I think the questionable issue isn't the speed for one or two agents, but 5 at once.

RedWombat
08-06-2015, 04:16 AM
I am verrrrry skeptical of the turnaround time there. Not of the sexism...if it had been in a week instead of hours on a weekend, I would have no comment at all. But repeated replies in under a day on a Saturday? Um. Hmm. Maybe not a red flag, but definitely a dark orange one.

What I'm wondering is, if we take the turnaround at face value, if there was some other factor that she didn't allow for--whether her pen name was accidentally very close to a famous name or something that she was unaware of--and it was just close enough to cause agents to go "Wait, what?" and check the e-mail faster. Because I can just buy one, but not multiples as described otherwise.

As it happens, I absolutely believe that male pen names sell better, my agent glumly said outright that if I ever want to try and pitch a YA under a male pen name, she'll do it and claim I'm a recluse who won't do book tours, because...well, that's life. (Haven't taken her up on it. Yet.)

Roxxsmom
08-06-2015, 04:44 AM
It's easy for me to (incorrectly) assume that gender and racial bias aren't as big a deal as they are just because I get almost exclusively form rejections. My name is androgynous, but most people correctly guess I'm a guy based on the spelling (women are more likely to spell it with a K or use a full name like Christine). I'm also as unethnic white bread as they come by US standards.

I confess I only skimmed the article, so she might have addressed this. YA and romance seem to have a lot of women writers, so I wonder if a man querying as a woman in these genres would yield opposite results?

Don't know how it plays out in romance or contemporary YA. Anecdotally, in fantasy, YA and UF are considered to be dominated by women, but epic fantasy is male dominated. I can't think of a woman whose published a blockbuster epic fantasy debut in recent years, but I can think of several men who have (Rothfuss, Abercrombie, Weeks, Brett, McClellan and so on). Robin Hobb is the only female writer who seems to get mentioned in the same breath as the "big boys" of EF, and she's been at it for quite a while (I've been told she's too last decade's news to be a good comparable reading demographic for the novel I'm pitching).

I can think of a number of highly successful female writers of UF (Briggs, Andrews and so on), and some who have switched from EF to UF (Anne Bishop), but I can also think of a number of highly successful male writers. In fact, they're often the ones everyone seems to toss out when people list their favorites. Hearne, Butcher, Gaiman and so on.

Don't know about the breakdown with YA fantasy, though there seem to be a large number of female writers doing well there, and some of the women who I used to associate with adult epic fantasy seem to be turning to YA in recent years :( (nothing against YA, I just hate to see EF becoming something that's seen as hostile to women).

Anecdotal experience--when I pitched my novel (which has a male plot-driving protag, so the query pitch focuses on his arc) to agents at a writer's workshop, they (both women) kept asking me about my female characters and women in my world. Since I also have a strong female co-protagonist, I was happy to tell them about her. They seemed very concerned that she be more than "just" a love interest (she is). Both requested partials but eventually passed on my MS.

I wonder if adventure fantasy queries from male writers get the same degree of gender scrutiny. Lots of agents and editors say they want female protags and diverse casts (http://mswishlist.com/mswl/fantasy) right now, but we'll see if this results in an uptick of female writers and female protags in EF a few years down the line (and if they do, will some of them be blockbusters)?

harmonyisarine
08-06-2015, 04:45 AM
I've read plenty of anecdotal evidence that supports this, though there's little primary source for gender bias in publishing (not to say it's nonexistent, just harder to find (for me at least, I'll take any sources anyone else has, and could dig out my own if anyone here wants)). The bit there is, sadly, supports this as well, whether or not this article is being truthful or not. I long ago decided to publish (if I publish at all) under a pen name to connect more to my mother's side of the family (their last name was stolen when they came through immigration a couple generations back), but about three years ago I decided that I'd use only initials or change the first name to be neutral to masculine. This decision came after being on the wrong side of the same situation but in biology. It's awful hard to prove on a personal level that this happens to women, but when anecdotes line up with research and evidence, we need to at least take it seriously.

Roxxsmom
08-06-2015, 05:05 AM
The best hard data I've seen for gender bias in fantasy and SF publishing (sorry, those are my genres, so I focus most on them) is the yearly Strange Horizons count (http://www.strangehorizons.com/2015/20150330/sfcount-a.shtml). It's focused on the issue of differential amounts of buzz, mention in blogs, and reviews books by male and female SFF writers get, not agent and editor bias, however.

My thoughts are that would be really, really hard to get unbiased data on agent and editor gender bias, unless there were an industry-wide desire to track these kinds of statistics. Agents and editors tend to keep their submission/acceptance numbers close to their chests, and let's face it, most probably believe that they're not at all biased and would be very upset if anyone suggested othewise (even if the numbers were starting them in the face). Sites like querytracker are based on self reports, and they may not be reflective of the general querying population (plus, I don't see a way to get the genders of all submitters, though many of their success story interviews have names attached (not all are gender identifiable, though).

Someone could conduct surveys on their blogs, but those will always be slanted in various ways. For instance, Mark Lawrence polled his readers and learned that a good number of them admit they wouldn't have bought his first book if the name "Mary Lawrence" were on the cover (http://mark---lawrence.blogspot.com/2014/02/whats-in-name.html). But are his core readers (grimdark) representative of SFF readers in general, let alone readers in other genres?

And even if we come up with hard data that support the hypothesis that query request rates are gender biased in at least some genres, people could come up with all kinds of explanations to explain it. Maybe women really just aren't as good as men, some will posit, or they're sabotaging themselves in some other way.

Some have a sinister agenda, because they're trolls who want to derail any conversation about sexism. But many more are men (and women) who honestly want to believe that sexism is mostly behind us and any lingering inequality is due to factors that are entirely in womens' control (like they need to write better, or write more of the kinds of things people in their chosen genre like to read, or they just need to learn how to sell themselves better, or...)

blacbird
08-06-2015, 05:57 AM
I haven't read the entire thread, but this strikes me as extremely strange, considering that women constitute something like 3/4 of the book-purchasing market, and that female agents constitute probably an even larger fraction of the agent population. "Women's" fiction outsells anything perceived of as "Men's" fiction by a huge margin.

150 years ago, "George Eliot" and "George Sand" adopted male pseudonyms, at least in part, to get their writings published. Even then, and before then, there were Jane Austen, the three Brontės, Aphra Behn, Anne Radcliffe, Charlotte Smith, Charlotte Lennox, Fanny Burney, Elizabeth Gaskell, Anna Katherine Greene, Mary Shelley, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Mrs. Humphry Ward (yes, that does sound sexist, but that's what she preferred to identify herself as), many others

Without question, the publishing event of 2015 is Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee. Why? Because she wrote arguably the most popular realistic American novel of the past century, now considered by just about everybody an enduring classic, and deservedly so.

In certain genres does the gender of the author matter? Probably. Hard-boiled detective or police procedural mysteries are expected to be written by men. Category Romance, on the other hand, the best-selling genre of all, is expected to be written by women, and there are male authors in that genre who have adopted female pseudonyms for marketing purposes.

caw

Samsonet
08-06-2015, 07:03 AM
Do we have any statistics experts around? If so, could someone help me figure out how one would experiment with something like this? It seems like there are too many variables here to make exact conclusions -- I believe there are prejudices out there, but is it possible to make an experiment that's more exact in identifying them? If that makes sense?

I haven't started statistics in math yet, so please forgive me if that paragraph makes no sense at all.

Fuchsia Groan
08-06-2015, 08:42 AM
I don't know how valid her "experiment" is, but she makes some plausible points if you consider this in the specific context of literary fiction. She notes that, when she queried her novel about a woman as a female author, agents said the heroine wasn't likable. When she queried as a man, this was (supposedly, lotta speculation here) no longer a problem. Instead, she was praised for her literary ambition, though the novel apparently still had problems, since she didn't get an offer.

She speculates that when she queried as a woman, agents assumed the novel was women's fiction (a genre that sells well) and rejected it for not appealing enough to women. (There HAS been a lot of discussion of "likable characters" as a dividing line, with a certain best-selling women's fiction writer criticizing more "literary" types for their unlikable, unrelatable characters.) When she "became" a man, apparently this was no longer an issue. Female readers did not need to be able to relate to the book's female MC. The book was judged as lit fic (a hard-sell genre) and, perhaps, rejected accordingly, with admiring critiques.

Obviously there's still a LOT of guessing in her analysis. But it's worth noting that if she's describing institutionalized sexism, this is a kind perpetrated equally by women. Maybe women don't expect a woman to write the next The Corrections or Infinite Jest. Maybe, for all sorts of complicated reasons (including their own ambivalence about academic literary fiction), they don't WANT her to.

I can't say. But, anecdotally, I do think that even people who equally read and love books by both genders may expect different things from them. And I think this is particularly visible in lit fic. If you read The Anxiety of Influence, where the whole tradition of Serious Literature is essentially described as one big Oedipus complex, you get a sense of this mind set. To those who see the tradition this way (and obviously that's far from ALL lit fic readers), women have no place in it as authors.

But I really don't think her experience can be generalized to YA, romance, mystery, etc., because it's so specific to "ambitious" (her word) literary fiction.

Roxxsmom
08-06-2015, 10:37 AM
I haven't read the entire thread, but this strikes me as extremely strange, considering that women constitute something like 3/4 of the book-purchasing market, and that female agents constitute probably an even larger fraction of the agent population. "Women's" fiction outsells anything perceived of as "Men's" fiction by a huge margin.

Women can be biased against their own gender, consciously and unconsciously. When you grow up in a sexist world where your gender is underrepresented in movies, government, and most high-status professions, it's hard not to ingest some of the toxin.

Women's fiction is a successful demographic, yes. But the specific case that this woman faced is that the book isn't actually women's fiction. But because A. she's a woman, and B. Her protagonist is female, some of the agents might be assuming it is and rejecting her book because they think it's "women's fiction that doesn't hit the right notes" instead of being spot on for "contemporary" or "literary" or whatever the heck it is.

Querying as a guy, hypothetically, she doesn't get pigeonholed in that way, and the agent thinks, "Oh, this is literary fiction, told from the pov of a woman. How unusual. And this guy did such a good job of writing a female character too."

And giving a list of successful authors who didn't use male pen names doesn't in any way prove there's no bias. We have no idea how successful these women would have been if they'd been male or used male names. We also know nothing about all their female contemporaries who couldn't get published or languished in obscurity. The list of successful male authors from their eras is certainly much, much longer.

You know how many novels by women we read in my honors English series in high school?

None.

And 2/4 of the English teachers I had in high school were women. When I asked why we didn't have any books by women, I was told that literary style books by women were either too recent to have stood the test of time, or they (like Jane Austin and the Bronte Sisters) wrote too exclusively to the female experience and not the "human" condition. They were, in other words, writers who wrote entertaining but light novels aimed at their own gender.

Prejudice against women writers is a thing. There are a number of people here on the pages of AW who have admitted that books by women are tougher sells for them. This is undoubtedly a bigger problem for women writing in male-dominated genres, like MilSF, thrillers, literary etc., but I've run across UF (a female dominated subgroup of fantasy) readers who sneer at books by women too. And we can't even begin to assess unconscious biases.

CrastersBabies
08-06-2015, 12:00 PM
I have experienced more positive results when I use no first name (just initials) or the shortened, masculine version of my name. It's just my experience. I write SFF, though, which I think still has some pronounced bias toward males. (Not including urban)

Jeneral
08-06-2015, 03:28 PM
Querying as a guy, hypothetically, she doesn't get pigeonholed in that way, and the agent thinks, "Oh, this is literary fiction, told from the pov of a woman. How unusual. And this guy did such a good job of writing a female character too."


That was my main impression from the article too. That the agents who requested did so because they thought she was a male writer who nailed the pov and voice of a woman main character so well. And the notion of "if a woman writes it, it's women's fiction, but if a man writes it, it's fiction," bothers me too. Ultimately, they'd get shelved in the same place at Barnes & Noble, I suppose, but I don't like that separation. I hadn't thought about it in those terms before I read this article.

jjdebenedictis
08-06-2015, 10:22 PM
I have gone through a few stages in this.

When I first read the article, I was furious. There's no f'ing way the world should be allowed to be that unfair.

After I calmed down, I grew a few doubts about the article, mainly because it was posted on Jezebel and I've often found the flavour of feminism there too unforgiving to jive well with my flavour of feminism. Jezebel is exactly the right venue to put something that is maybe a wee bit made up overstated but also guaranteed to infuriate women who care about equal rights (like me; see my first response).

And now my pragmatic, "fuck 'em; I can work around that" side is coming out. I just sent out a submission, and I didn't refer to myself as anything other than J.J. in it. I usually put my full (and obviously female) first name in the query letter, just to spare anyone having to tiptoe around with whether to call me Mr. or Ms. when they reply. But if it improves my chances, then let them tiptoe.

I, personally, wouldn't object to querying under a male name and then, if I get an offer, correcting the misunderstanding and asking to change my "pen name" to my real name. I wouldn't even mind the agent pulling the same stunt with a publisher on my behalf.

The reason being, if they like my book well enough to make an offer, then they like it well enough to publish it even if I'm female and they've got some unconscious biases about women. Where I'd draw the line in the sand is if they wanted to back out after learning I'm female. The words on the page are the same; you're stuck with me.

CrastersBabies
08-10-2015, 12:39 AM
I have and will continue to publish under a male or gender neutral name. (Or initials.)

Right now, I don't think ANY woman selling under a man's name, or initials, or a gender neutral name is "selling out" or being a wuss. It's a business decision in a business that still (for the most part) values a male name or gender-neutral name over a woman's name.

Except for romance/erotica, I believe (but those folks can correct me). I think it's inverted in that genre. I know many males who write romance under female pen names. Would "coming out" as male hurt their sales?

Twick
08-10-2015, 03:55 AM
It is, of course, all anecdotal. But still suggestive.

I suspect that if she were marketing her work as "literary fiction" she was running into the David Gilmour Syndrome (ref. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/david-gilmour-not-interested-in-teaching-on-women-authors-1.1868197). Or perhaps it should be called the Hemingway Syndrome; the idea that "real" literary works or the 20th and 21st centuries require the hard-drinking, hard-womanizing man of the world, interested in the big ideas of our time, like Socialism, Freudianism and Existentialism. Men like George in the article, whose creator visualized him as "a sort of reptilian Michael Fassbender-looking guy, drinking whiskey and walking around train yards at night while I did the work."

Not like women authors, who are assumed to be mostly into feelings and relationships and stuff. Very nice and all, all fine in their own place, but not quite literary.

blacbird
08-10-2015, 04:42 AM
The past ten Pulitzer Prizes for fiction have been awarded to five women and five men (with no award granted in 2012; must have been a really shitty year for fiction). How relevant that is for this discussion, I don't know. But it's a fact.

caw

Viridian
08-10-2015, 05:10 AM
I have and will continue to publish under a male or gender neutral name. (Or initials.)

Right now, I don't think ANY woman selling under a man's name, or initials, or a gender neutral name is "selling out" or being a wuss. It's a business decision in a business that still (for the most part) values a male name or gender-neutral name over a woman's name.

Except for romance/erotica, I believe (but those folks can correct me). I think it's inverted in that genre. I know many males who write romance under female pen names. Would "coming out" as male hurt their sales?
Idk about heterosexual fiction. But in m/m, lots of women use male pseudonyms or gender ambiguous names.

I have never encountered evidence that men face bias in the romance genre. In most professions dominated by women -- like teaching, counseling, and artistic professions -- men continue to have the advantage despite being the minority. So I don't know why that would be reversed specifically when it comes to writing romance novels.

PlasmicSteve
08-10-2015, 02:25 PM
When I see initials on a book cover, I assume there's a good chance that the sex of the author is the opposite of what's common in that genre. CJ Smith in Crime, Mystery, or Horror is probably a female writer; CJ Smith in YA, Romance, or Erotica is probably a male writer. I'm sure I'm not alone in these assumptions - I think the use of initials has become so common now that it has the opposite of its intended effect.

Aggy B.
08-10-2015, 04:35 PM
When I see initials on a book cover, I assume there's a good chance that the sex of the author is the opposite of what's common in that genre. CJ Smith in Crime, Mystery, or Horror is probably a female writer; CJ Smith in YA, Romance, or Erotica is probably a male writer. I'm sure I'm not alone in these assumptions - I think the use of initials has become so common now that it has the opposite of its intended effect.

Still beats having someone tell you your name is too "sweet" for a particular subgenre.

Filigree
08-10-2015, 05:54 PM
I'm currently having this discussion with an agent. I published a M/M romance under 2 initials and a last name. Now that we're on sub with a mainstream fantasy novel, we're deciding whether to use a similar pen name, a different one, or my actual name (which is striking enough that people think it's a pen name.) Each path has its advantages and disadvantages. I write fantasy containing Feelings, Relationships, and political intrigue. I can 'get away' with a female name. If I were writing more military fic or grimdark, I might keep the gender-neutral name.

While it *is* a real issue, I have to admit some skepticism about the original article, simply because it appeared in Jezebel. I've found too many inaccuracies and logical fallacies in previous Jezebel essays, to give the site 100% trust.

Namatu
08-10-2015, 07:36 PM
I have never encountered evidence that men face bias in the romance genre. In most professions dominated by women -- like teaching, counseling, and artistic professions -- men continue to have the advantage despite being the minority. So I don't know why that would be reversed specifically when it comes to writing romance novels.I read a lot of romance novels, and I would pause at picking up a book by a male author. It would just be automatic. That's my own bias. I do feel that in that genre, men probably don't have the advantage.

As others have noted, the Jezebel article is not without its problems. I like the idea of the experiment, but can't say much about how it was executed/described.

Viridian
08-10-2015, 08:17 PM
I read a lot of romance novels, and I would pause at picking up a book by a male author. It would just be automatic. That's my own bias. I do feel that in that genre, men probably don't have the advantage
I can understand that. I have the same reaction when it comes to fantasy novels (I have an automatic preference for female writers). It's not intentional, it just happens. But we don't really know how other readers feel.

I have to agree about Jezebel. They're fun to read, but past articles have been chock full of inaccuracies, so I'm hesitant to trust them.

Aggy B.
08-10-2015, 09:51 PM
Jezebel's problems are usually in the research department. If the in article links are accurate, then the content is more or less straightforward. (They tend to let journalistic integrity slide in the rush to get a story out quickly, which has led to blatant cases of misreporting on things which were ultimately damaging to the folks they were intending to support.)

The biggest problem here is that this one woman conducting an unofficial "experiment" regarding the querying process. She was already in an emotionally difficult place which likely helped to color how she interpreted some of the responses she got. Add into that the deepening frustration when she sees confirmation that part of the problem could be her name and gender and yes, the column she wrote is likely biased.

That doesn't actually make it wrong. Too many other women have experienced much the same thing in other genres from markets/publishers/agents, but have either never tested our nagging feeling that it is something other than the normal ifs of querying (quality, timing, etc) that is keeping us from being taken more seriously. Is it unlikely that she got five requests in 24 hours over the weekend? Yes. Is it impossible? No. Is it possible that she didn't check all of her email records while she was writing this and may have condensed the timeline - consciously or not? Yes.

When I was querying I received requests for more material within 24 hours. The agent who reps me now responded in under five minutes with a full request. I also received rejections in 24-48 hours. Two full requests on the same day (but from a batch sent out about a month before). Requests that came in months after I had decided that agent was never responding. It's unpredictable, which is why it's hard to say - short of demanding to see every email in person - whether what she cites is untrue, exaggerated or just exactly what she claimed.

But, again, it has been demonstrated that there is a bias against women receiving reviews and write-ups in the big newspapers and magazines. Why that is (aside from the obvious that our society still exists in the shadow of patriarchy) is less clear. It is difficult to understand why that same bias existing in the agent world (plethora of women agents or not) would be that much different.

E.F.B.
08-10-2015, 10:21 PM
I didn't read the article, but just wanted to say this: If and when I start querying my work, I will most likely use a pen name for the sake of privacy. But it will be a female pen name because I am female and I don't stinking care who thinks what about it. If someone/some place should choose not to accept my work because I'm female, that's their problem, not mine, so long as I make sure my writing is truly of good quality. If a publishing house is going to reject me for being female, I wouldn't want them to publish my work anyway. I'll just shake it off (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfWlot6h_JM) ;) , keep improving my writing and keep submitting until someone, somewhere accepts it and publishes with my female pen name on the cover. Because I can, that's why. Status quo be darned.

Raventongue
08-10-2015, 11:26 PM
The problem is that they're not always CHOOSING not to accept your work because you're female. More often than not, an agent reads a name, thinks they're about to approach an excerpt with fresh unbiased eyes, and is primed to perceive what they're about to read in a less positive light because it's a female name.

I'll be using a pen name. I want it separate from both my female birth name and the real male name I go by in my daily life, because I don't want agents, publishers, and whoever else is making the decisions to know whether I'm a trans or cis man unless or until my book hits the shelves. I know what kind of stereotypes are out there and the lenses through which my work will be viewed if it starts right off from the get-go as the work of a trans man.

Roxxsmom
08-10-2015, 11:54 PM
I can understand that. I have the same reaction when it comes to fantasy novels (I have an automatic preference for female writers). It's not intentional, it just happens. But we don't really know how other readers feel.

I have to agree about Jezebel. They're fun to read, but past articles have been chock full of inaccuracies, so I'm hesitant to trust them.
Individual reader biases for or against writers of a given gender are probably never going away. They become toxic, however, when there's a preponderance for one or the other gender. And unless a genre is specifically marketed at a female demographic (aka romance or women's fiction), the preponderance of bias seems to run against women.

I'm guessing that many agents and editors are aware of this, and it's almost certainly a frustrating thing for female agents and editors if they personally love a book but think it may not sell enough to be profitable for them. But if most of your "cash cow" clients who get huge advances and go on to assume bestseller status are male, this probably figures into signing decisions. No one signs an author thinking, "She'll have a nice, steady midlist career with a small but loyal following, and I need more of those on my list."

blacbird
08-11-2015, 04:14 AM
I'm a male, and no agent will accept my work because it sucks. I feel talent-bias, and demand equal consideration.

caw

Roxxsmom
08-11-2015, 04:22 AM
I'm a male, and no agent will accept my work because it sucks. I feel talent-bias, and demand equal consideration.

caw

I feel your pain, though I seriously doubt your work sucks.

There are a kajillion reasons why something might not be "marketable" besides the skill with which it was crafted. While querying, I've become uncomfortably aware of the fact that most of the authors I think of as good "comparable titles" for my own fantasy (many of them women who were writing reasonably popular epic fantasy in the late 90s and early 2000s) are barely blips on the SFF radar anymore. Their older books don't end up on anyone's "all time best" lists, nor are their new titles blockbusters on par with EF writers who have emerged in the past ten years: Weeks, Brett, Rothfuss, Bakker, Abercrombie, Lynch, Lawrence, Sanderson and so on.

The advice to write the kind of stuff you love reading is terrible when your taste doesn't run to what's currently selling like hotcakes.

utesfanami
08-11-2015, 04:25 AM
Very sad and unfair.

Liosse de Velishaf
08-11-2015, 04:50 AM
I feel your pain, though I seriously doubt your work sucks.

There are a kajillion reasons why something might not be "marketable" besides the skill with which it was crafted. While querying, I've become uncomfortably aware of the fact that most of the authors I think of as good "comparable titles" for my own fantasy (many of them women who were writing reasonably popular epic fantasy in the late 90s and early 2000s) are barely blips on the SFF radar anymore. Their older books don't end up on anyone's "all time best" lists, nor are their new titles blockbusters on par with EF writers who have emerged in the past ten years: Weeks, Brett, Rothfuss, Bakker, Abercrombie, Lynch, Lawrence, Sanderson and so on.

The advice to write the kind of stuff you love reading is terrible when your taste doesn't run to what's currently selling like hotcakes.

It's especially sad since Sanderson, Rothfuss, and Weeks aren't even some sort of brilliant writers. Weeks can be incredibly self-indulgent and immature in his work, Sanderson is incredibly creative but his writing mechanics and some of his story-telling needs improvement, and Rothfuss doesn't do nearly as well as he assumes at escaping cliches. Bakker and Lawrence are brilliant, and half the "gritty" fantasy writers out there are pale imitations. Brett tells a great story and is a good writer, too. Lynch is a bit weaker in both, but still good.

I do wish the epic fantasy folks weren't hogging the limelight. I tend to write more literary,half-high epic, and weird fantasy, and that's definitely not what's popular now.

jjdebenedictis
08-11-2015, 09:53 AM
It's especially sad since Sanderson, Rothfuss, and Weeks aren't even some sort of brilliant writers. Weeks can be incredibly self-indulgent and immature in his work, Sanderson is incredibly creative but his writing mechanics and some of his story-telling needs improvement, and Rothfuss doesn't do nearly as well as he assumes at escaping cliches. Bakker and Lawrence are brilliant, and half the "gritty" fantasy writers out there are pale imitations. Brett tells a great story and is a good writer, too. Lynch is a bit weaker in both, but still good.My thoughts exactly; I really like some of those authors, and some of them I'm surprised at the fact they've gotten so much traction on the market. I kinda don't get Sanderson's appeal, for example.

angeliz2k
08-11-2015, 11:53 PM
I read it and my response was...depressing, sad, frustrating. I'm trying to be careful to keep in mind it's an anecdotal story. Not that there aren't studies to back it up, just that her own biases may have come into play, too. In selection of agents, etc. I thought the most heartbreaking part of her "experiment" was sending the same query twice, under two names. Even though that, too, is rife with unpredictables (ie: the same person who loved the second query under the male name may not have been the one reading the initial query under her real name), that bit gave me a true ache. It's hard getting query R's, but to be smacked in the face with that experience would really sting.

After reading the article, this was one of my responses. How did she choose whom she contacted under which name? It's possible that--without any intention whatsoever--somehow the group she queried under male name simply happened to be better-disposed to that kind of story/query, no matter the name on the query letter. I know she wasn't conducting a scientific experiment, so it's not like we can expect random sampling and controls, but it IS something to keep in mind. There may be some mitigating factors.

That being said . . . it is a sad story, that she got so much more attention under a male alias.