Saturday, December 29, 2012

Girl Books

When I'm not sharing observations about pop culture or doing my "real people job" (you know, the one that pays my bills), I write fiction.

I did National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo, to those familiar with it), and managed by miracle and sleep deprivation to pound out 50,000 words in a 30-day period. And some of those words were not-horrible.

Though I've been writing for most of my life, I'm an unpublished amateur. Which is fine; if I'm going to have any bit of work with my name on it floating out there, I'd want it to be a good as I could make it, so not having my work seen by anyone but me and a few friends suits me.

But I would, eventually, like to be published. I think most people who write on a regular basis (or even an irregular basis, really) want that.

Here's the problem: I'm a woman who likes to write modern Fantasy, and I don't necessarily write for a strictly female audience.

To say that my gender kills my chances to be published in the genre of my choice is an exaggeration, sure. But, according to an article on science news website io9, The Wall Street Journal reports that female writers of Fantasy and Science Fiction are encouraged to use male pseudonyms--or at least, gender-neutral pen names-- if the editors believe that their novel will appeal to boys.

The article quotes an editor at Penguin:
"It sometimes makes sense for a female author to use a pseudonym, particularly when the main characters are male, or when it's a genre with a strong appeal to men, like military science fiction, certain types of fantasy or gritty thrillers," says Penguin editor Anne Sowards, whose fantasy authors K.A. Stewart, Rob Thurman and K.J. Taylor are women. ...
"For a new author, we want to avoid anything that might cause a reader to put a book down and decide, 'not for me,' " Ms. Sowards says. "When we think a book will appeal to male readers, we want everything about the book to say that-the cover, the copy and, yes, the author's name."
This mindset, while certainly sad, isn't new. The Bronte sisters, Louisa May Alcott, and plenty of other women have used male names or vague initials to assure that their work reached its audience. And then there's S.E. Hinton, who used her initials to make sure that male readers weren't deterred from The Outsiders, her debut novel inspired by two gangs present in her school. And J.K. Rowling, who was told that her series of novels about a boy wizard wouldn't sell if the name Joanne was printed on the cover.

There's an overwhelming belief in the market that women and girls will read books by male authors, but boys and men won't read books by female authors (there's a similar opinion regarding race--people of color will read books about white people, but white people won't read books about people of color, but that's a whole other post--or six-- for a whole other day).

Why is that opinion so widely held?

I've said before, I think, that masculinity is more strictly enforced than femininity, and that's what this line of thinking probably goes back to. At some point, boys are taught--implicitly or explicitly-- that liking things like "girl books" is makes them girly.  Which, in American society, is something that it is most definitely not okay for a boy to be. After all, what could be more girly than a book written by a woman--especially if it's one told from a female perspective or one with a female as the main protagonist?

That's just my theory, of course, but I think it holds some weight.

I'll leave you with a quote from the Tumblr of Shannon Hale, author of Goose Girl and a number of other Young Adult and Young Adult Fantasy books. In this post, the author discusses why boys don't read "girl books." The post can be read in its entirety here.
Another staple in my signing line is the family. The mom and daughters get their books signed, and the mom confides in me, “My son reads your books on the sly” or “My son loves your books too but he’s embarrassed to admit it.” Why are they embarrassed? Because we’ve made them that way. We’ve told them in subtle ways that, in order to be a real boy, to be manly, they can’t like anything girls like.
Though sometimes those instructions aren’t subtle at all. Recently at a signing, a family had all my books. The mom had me sign one of them for each of her children. A 10-year-old boy lurked in the back. I’d signed some for all the daughters and there were more books, so I asked the boy, “Would you like me to sign one to you?” The mom said, “Yeah, Isaac, do you want her to put your name in a girl book?” and the sisters all giggled.
As you can imagine, Isaac said no.

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