Sunday, January 03, 2010

Write Like a Man

Julianna Baggott has an article in the Washington Post called “The key to literary success? Be a man -- or write like one.” It’s quite interesting. She starts with this:
This fall, Publishers Weekly named the top 100 books of 2009. How many female writers were in the top 10? Zero. How many on the entire list? Twenty-nine.
She points out that women, as book buyers, “float the industry.” It’s not just Publishers Weekly that seems to short-change women writers:
In fact, Publishers Weekly is in sync with Pulitzer Prize statistics. In the past 30 years, only 11 prizes have gone to women. Amazon recently announced its 100 best books of 2009 -- in the top 10, there are two women. Top 20? Four. Poets & Writers shared a list of 50 of the most inspiring writers in the world this month; women made up only 36 percent.
Is it just that readers prefer the subject matters or themes written by men? Playwright Julia Jordan doesn’t think so.
"The exact same play that had a female protagonist was rated far higher when the readers thought it had a male author," Jordan said. "In fact, one of the questions on the blind survey was about the characters 'likability,'and the exact same female character, same lines, same pagination, when written by a man was exceeding likable, when written by a woman was deemed extremely unlikable."
Of course, what a person reads and likes is subjective. Or are we swayed by the sex of the author? What do you think?
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  1. Helen, did you ever read about "James Chartrand"? Here.

    A woman that only got a break as a writer by masquerading as a man.

    I blogged about it at the time. Complete with rude poem. Not entirely seriously, I must stress.

  2. I can be swayed by the gender of the author...I'll admit it. I would be especially critical of a literary fiction book from a woman's perspective that was written by a man--I'd just be looking for "errors" in perception, etc. Hate to say it, but it's true.

    But I'd *never* think an author would be a *better* writer in general because of his or her gender. Although, clearly, this is what happens at writing award ceremonies frequently.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. Like Elizabeth, I don't think a writer is better because that person is a man or woman.

    Guess we need to find out who some of those judges are in the contests! Sounds about as lopsided as the Academy Awards, which will see only its fourth female director ever nominated. (And none have won.)

    Is there a difference in writing style? Probably.
    I can look at my own bookshelves and see a trend. Most of my non-fiction is by male authors - factual, no-nonsense stuff. Most of my fiction is by female authors - relationship & emotion driven.


  4. I need to go over my reading list from last year and check out my male/female author ratio. I think I read a lot of female authors, but this has me very curious.

  5. Very interesting stuff. I also think I read more female authors - have to check that out. I do have some fave authors of both genders.

  6. It is an interesting question - it's one that Sisters in Crime has been following for years.

  7. Hmmm...I'll have to think about this - perhaps look at what it is like in different parts of the world. I know in Canada that the premier writers are women - Margaret Atwood made the Globe and Mail's most influential list of the decade - the only writer to do so. And of course we have Alice Munro and Ann-Marie McDonald and so on and so on. Really a feast of women authors. I happen to have the books that I've gotten for Christmas with me for my blog - let's have a look.
    Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel - winner of 09 Booker,woman (huge commonwealth prize)
    Hellman - Carl Rollyson, bio of Lillian Hellman but written by a guy.
    What They Wanted - Donna Morrisey (newfoundlander - fantastic writer)
    Half Broke Horses - Jeannette Wallis
    Galore - Michael Crummey ( another newfoundlander)
    So a pretty even list, slightly more women. How do you write like a guy anyway?

  8. So strange I was just thinking about his yesterday. My first fantasy novel was released two days ago and I can't helpe noticing how few female authors there are on the fantasy shelves unless you include all the urban fantasy romances that actually belong on the romance shelves.
    I read many genres and some of my favorite suspense authors are male writers and I often snort at the their romantic story lines but I don't read them for the romance. Others do it very well. It's sad to think such a subtle prejudice exists and we're not even aware of it.

  9. A reader can be swayed by the sex of the author. Looking at the author of a book, you'll question could he write a good story about this or could she have any knowledge of that topic.

    Unless you know for sure that author's sex, you can't go by the name to know the gender. It is unfair and unrealistic. So we are swayed.

  10. I think that stinks. I was just thinking today how everyone goes on and on about Gabriel Garcia Marquez being the most important South American writer, but I love Isabelle Allende and think she's miles better and I thought maybe it was because he was a man.

  11. I think we all have some subconscious prejudices, be it regarding sex, age, religion, etc. Sometimes it's good to think about them and perhaps make some conscious decisions to step outside of those subtle prejudices.

  12. For me, I am not at all swayed by whether the author is a man or a woman. My favorite book that I read this year was written by a man, Leif Enger, and my 2d favorite was written by a woman, Mary Ann Shaffer.
    These "top 10 /100" lists are very subjective, of course.

  13. All my accomplishments have sprung from being told that I couldn't perform at par with a man. I get so mad I have to prove them wrong. I tend to read more women writers but do not let gender sway me in choosing to read a book. I think women are more flexible in our reading choices than most men are. They tend to stick with what they know and like, which almost always means reading a male author. That's my experience.

  14. My reading choices are pretty evenly divided between men and women, and my name has often been mistaken for John Henry Mead, which may have helped sales. (I also receive unsoliticited email from France.)

    As far as gender writing is concerned, I think women do a better job writing from a male POV than men writing about women protagonists. We're more intutitive and, unfortunately, usually underrated in the marketplace.

  15. I wonder if there could be a blind test where you're given a set of books with no author name on any of them. Could you tell the sex of the author? Would you base your selection on what sex you thought the author was?

  16. I frequently don't realize if an author is male or female till I start to write a book review and realize I don't know if it's he or she.

  17. I never give the sex of an author a second thought. If I find an author I like I just read their books. Unfortunately, there does seem to be some sort of systemic bias in the realm of writing. I found the whole 'Men With Pen' revelation fascinating, but sad. Gender should be so irrelevant when judging the quality of a written work. Like I said - sad.

  18. Men write novels? Hmmm, I'll have to check some out.

  19. Made me giggle, Jenn!

    I've introduced my DH to some women authors, but he still, when he's on his own, picks up male written books.

  20. This has been a big question with me for years. My name is Christine, but I grew up with the nickname CB. At first I thought "by CB Taylor" would give me gender-neutrality long enough for readers to pick up my books, since I write mystery/adventure that both male & female beta readers seem to like. But as I wrote my upcoming novel, I tracked my progress on social media sites--where I used "Christine" so gender would be *very* clear. :-) Now many people know me by that, & I'm just persnickety enough to want to succeed as a gal.
    *sigh* Ah well--just having last-minute jitters over what to put on the cover. :-)

    What would you do, if you had this either/or option?

  21. Interesting discussion. Think I'll change my name to Sly Thomas.Thought about doing that years ago, but then again, I'd probably benefit from having a male protagonist--yeah, I guess I could do that--but I wouldn't hae nearly as much fun--then again...LOL

  22. Every household I spent time in as a child was stocked with books by male authors. I can't rememebr ever reading a female author. I read some female authors now in YA. I find the YA as good as adult fiction. In non fiction I've read only two female authors in mind/body/spirit.

    I'd rather be represented by a female agent though. It seems there's more female agents than male. Either that or I'm only drawn to female agents. Anyone else noticed this?


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