Check Your Data

I was all prepared to do a fun, cutesy (okay, quit laughing. I know I don’t do cutesy. It isn’t in my nature) post. Then I ran across something on The Passive Voice that caught my eye. So I clicked through and, even at this early hour, felt my blood pressure rising. The piece basically condemned publishing for not being woman-centric enough. Apparently, there are too many men in the business and women feel the pressure not to let readers know they are, you know, women. The problem? There’s not a current source cited for the post. Everything is at least two years old. If you’re trying to convince me of something, at least take the time to find current stats and facts to support your claims.

I know. I know. Me coming to the defense of traditional publishing is ironic. But I’m not so much defending trad pub as I am saying the article featured by TPV is flawed. So let’s get to the article itself and you make up your own mind.

Digital Pubbing posted a guest article by Hristina Nikolovska. Entitled “Is Employing Men Over Women A Nefarious Plot?”, the piece is one person’s take on sexism in publishing. I’ll let your read it for yourselves. But long story short, here are some of the complaints Nikolovska lays out against the industry:

  1. Only two of the top 30 publishers have a woman at the helm.
  2. Women fear recognition, so they publish under male names, allowing them to reach a male audience and “publish without prejudice”.
  3. Women get a larger number of responses if submitting their work under a male name.
  4. Books written by women sell for less than those written by men.

There’s more, but these are the high points–if you can call them that.

Now, I’ll admit I’ve seen this sort of accusation against trad pub for years. My problem with this particular post comes down to a lack of current cites to back the accusation and the way it ignores some basic truths about the industry and about writers as a whole.

So let’s look at the four complaints listed above.

Only two of the top 30 publishers have a woman at the helm. The author admits this stat comes from 2017. Has nothing changed or did she not include current stats because they don’t support her premise? Inquiring minds want to know. (Or, as I find myself wondering as I look at the other links in the post, is this something she wrote a year ormore ago and then simply sent to Digital Pubbing as a guest post? If this is the case, she does herself no favors by not taking a few minutes to update her post.)

Another problem I have with this is that it doesn’t take into account how many women fill key positions within a publishing company. How many are in key editorial roles? How many are in charge of acquisitions? Those are the roles that will have serious impact on what books are chosen and published. Then there’s the question of who is in charge of promotions? The question should be much more involved than simply who sits in the CEO or COO position.

Moving on. . . .

I’ll combine the next to points because they come down to why women write under a male pseudonym.

Yes, there are some genres or sub-genres where a reader is more likely to pick up a book written by a “man” than they are one by a “woman”. Military SF is an example. Westerns is another. But that doesn’t mean a woman can’t make a good living writing in either. But that is something that has been happening slowly, mainly with the influx of indie authors. But let’s be real here. Most romance readers don’t want to read a book written by a man. So there are a lot of male romance writers who use a female name for their books. Funny, but that isn’t mentioned in the OP.

But there is more to using a male name, or even just another name, for certain books. Publishers have long asked their authors to write under a new pseudonym if they are going to write in a different genre. The publisher looks at it as not wanting to weaken their brand. Then there’s the quandary writers have found themselves in where they might get their break writing Christian fiction or sweet romance and they want to break out into a new, more explicit, genre. Often they can’t write more explicit fiction under their name because of how their contract is written.

But more often than not, the author doesn’t want to write under the same name for fear of alienating their core group of fans. That is why some authors still have closed pen names. It has nothing to do with writing under a male name vs female name and everything to do with making sure you don’t piss off your readers and lose them–and the money they make for you.

The OP made a point of commenting on how J. K. Rowling used a man’s name when she branched out into mysteries. At least the OP notes Rowling did this to distance the new work from the Harry Potter books. Yet even that, somehow, shows sexism in publishing.

The last point I want to address is her allegation that books written by women sell for less than those written by men. That may or may not be true. For one, there is no link or cite in the paragraph where she makes that allegation to support her premise. For another, if that information is included in one of the sources she links to, none of that information is newer than two years old. So I go back to my earlier point of needing to support your premise with current data.

Then there are other issues with the statement. She doesn’t break it down any. Are wel talking all books published? And over what period of time? Are we talking only traditionally published books, books publishing only by the Big 5, etc?

There are a number of reasons why a book is priced what it is: the name recognition of the author, genre and subgenre, format (hard cover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, ebook, audio book), length of book, fiction or non-fiction. None of this is considered in the original article. So we are talking apples and oranges and pineapples instead of solid facts.

Is there sexism in publishing? Sure. Some of it is on the part of publishers and some is on the part of readers. But the only way to know exactly how much, what its impact might be and to decide how to fight it–if it even needs to be fought–is to have current data and clear picture of what is going on instead of starting with an agenda and going from there.

Now, before anyone jumps all over me for saying if sexism in publishing even needs to be fought, let me explain. Publishing is a business, something too many folks tend to forget. It is in the business of making money. So if women make up the majority of readers of romance, why shouldn’t publishers take that into account when they work with their authors on how best to market a new title in the genre? That includes the author name.

And why shouldn’t authors take that into account when shopping a book around for an agent or publisher? John Smith doesn’t have to become Jane Smith. He can write that steamy romance under the name J L Smith. Women, on the whole, won’t think twice about it because we often use our initials in a business setting. (Of course, so do men.) A woman can do the same if she’s writing in a traditionally “male” genre.

I guess I just don’t see the big deal here.

Again, if you want ot make a case that sexism is negatively impacting the profession, prove it. Give solild examples and solid data. I’ll add, PG’s comments at the end of the excerpt over on TPV pretty much mirror my own and the comments from his readers are worth taking a moment to look at.

Finally, traditional publishing is swirling around the toilet bowl. But if we’re going to hit it for anything, let’s choose something where we can show solid impact or writers and readers–something like the antiquated royalties being paid, overpriced ebooks, idiotic library purchase policies, etc. Trying to create a tempest in a teacup over sexism using outdated data isn’t the way to point out the industry’s flaws. (Or using data from your own company that doesn’t appear to have any solid cites behind it.)

Okay, switching gears, here’s a reminder that A Magical Portent comes out a week from today.

Storm clouds gather. An unknown danger nears, one that may spell the end of Mossy Creek, TX, and all those who live there.

Dr. Jax Powell and her best friends, her sisters from other misters, are determined to do whatever it takes to protect their town and loved ones. Each of them, once considered the town’s wayward children, have returned home. All but one: Magdalena “Maddy” Reyes. She’s not refused to return to Mossy Creek, but she appears to have dropped off the face of the Earth—or at least from the streets of Dublin.

Can they find Maddy and save their town or is it already too late?

A Magical Portent is novella-length story that follows Rogue’s Magic.

Featured Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

24 comments

  1. I wish to add several things to your excellent article:
    Sure, maybe publishing houses have a big boss who is male. In the spaghetti of connections, who cares, and what does it matter? Most publishing houses are owned from abroad, and allt he overboss cares about is profit. He’s not making everyday decisions. Those are made by editors and senior editors. ALL OF WHOM I can tell you from years of attending conventions, are women. (Okay, there’s the occasional gay guy.) The feel for anyone breaking in is a multitude of women making all the decisions.
    As for having to change your name to publish. Snort. Giggle. In 2020. Be f*cking real. yeah, in some genres people mistrust female names, and trust me, they’ve been given reason by trad pub.
    And as you pointed out, women are expected in romance, and men have to change their names. Or women with masculine names. Our very own Blake Smith found that her regencies sell better under Anna Ferreira.

    1. Totally agree, Sarah.

      As for name changes, I remember when you were “asked” to change your name and the hoops you went through to find one. I also know there are those who won’t read my SF stuff once they learn Sam Schall is really Amanda Green. Fortunately, they are the vast minority.

      And that’s what folks outside the business, or those who want to force it to match their own agenda, forget. As writers, our job is to not only write the best work we can but also to connect with our market. If the market prefers a masculine–or feminine–sounding name, so what? You use your initials or a pen name. It doesn’t make you any less of a man, a woman or whatever you identify as.

  2. If you’re trying to convince me of something, at least take the time to find current stats and facts to support your claims.

    Or, if you can’t do that– at least bother to go deep, show a pattern with the old information you do have.

    And apply basic @#$@# sense so you don’t assume your conclusion in the first few sentences: The pay gap also exists, and it’s a reflection of men taking on higher-level roles.
    It’s half true– the paygap when comparing the sexes reflects the jobs that people are doing, roughly. Now look at apples to apples for individuals doing the same job, rather than comparing the sex that tends towards single-focus vs the one that tends towards multitasking.

    And then compare the individuals’ compensation with the job they do; if the company goes bankrupt in five years? Don’t compare it evenly to the one that’s stronger in five years.

  3. Women fear recognition, so they publish under male names, allowing them to reach a male audience and “publish without prejudice”.

    Gamer, here– I regularly “pass” as male. Not because the gamer guys would treat me poorly– until recently, almost all of the folks who knew I am female were male, not counting my husband for obvious reasons– but because the failure state for bad treatment was so extreme. Four different women were… well, nuts, to the point that I was glad I separate my gaming ID from my IRL and blog ID. One to the point where I’m not sure if she felt spurned by my then-fiancé or what. Two of them were fine until they found out I was female. Vs two guys who behaved poorly. Given the sex division is rather the opposite direction, if the writers are writing as men to avoid prejudice– it’s probably on the part of other women.

    The author’s name on the book is part of the style package; in video game terms, you’re going to expect something different from a bright-pink-haired hobbit looking character vs a leather-and-iron clad dragon-man; it’s a matter of style. And you’re stuck dealing with whatever the last dozen folks who used the same style did that may have stuck in your audience’s craw.

    1. Hypothetically speaking, why wouldn’t female discrimination against females who make different life choices be more plausible that some secret he-man, woman-hater’s cabal running the world?

      I mean, the historical record doesn’t exactly indicate that in small towns the house wives and the open prostitutes were all living happily in harmony. It is seems like collusion to ostracize and socially coerce is a fairly common behavior.

      Under this model, you would expect some portion of female employers to discriminate against women who make different lifestyle choices, tolerate women who make the same choices, and not target men for the the games.

      Under a secret male chauvinist cabal model, contrasting male versus female treatment would be useful.

      For this model, you would want to instead look at what behavioral differences might be important to the specific employer, and then contrast fitting females versus unfitting females.

      1. Pointing that out makes the folks who f’ed up, royally, but don’t want to admit it, feel really bad.

        Folks whose self image is built on being well-regarded by others and/or popularity are especially vicious to threats against that.

      2. Oh, and of course– pissing matches by either sex against those they view as threats are a solidly human problem, as are “how dare you not let me use you!” type abuse.

  4. I saw reference to rising blood pressure in the first paragraph and said “this is gonna be gooood…”

    Yes, there probably is sexism in publishing. Yes, male names certainly sell better in SF than female. Andre Norton. James Tiptree. Endless others.

    And really, I don’t care. I massively do not care at all. Because there’s more bias than mere sexism in publishing these days. If a mere name change could get rid of the crushing pressure to conform to political “norms” I’d change mine every week.

    All of this “publishing is sexist! publishing is racist! publishing is homophobic! publishing hates trans!” is propaganda being pushed by people who hate our guts. They are the same assholes who burnt down Uncle Hugos, they just do it on the internet instead of in the street.

    Publishing, like most things, is a BUSINESS environment. It requires people measure their offerings against the market and adjust accordingly. If the market is male author name, then you put male author name on the book and smile as you make money. Because its business. Making money is the end goal.

    But the screamers don’t want to do that. They seek the power to -force- the market. “You WILL buy the female author, you nerd racists!” Because their end goal is not to make money, but to push people around and scream in outrage.

    With the result that people are just dropping out of the market altogether. They’re all leaving to go do something else. Usually anime and manga, because Japan ain’t playing the SJW game.

    I also don’t care because making a decision on hiring somebody based on religion, race or gender is already illegal and has been for 60 years now. All over the Western nations, it is illegal. So if an author can show they got turned down over being a female, they can win a dandy lawsuit without any help from me.

  5. And what was true seventy years ago, has changed. A quick glance at my shelves, and I see Andre Norton was publishing in the fifties. Mx Nikolovska is using data that old, she’s not dealing with the real world today.

  6. It’s hard for me to understand why you would NOT want to match your pen-name to your genre like J.K Rowling did. If you radically change genres, a change in name is in order to prevent confusion. This is a business and business rewards people who figure out what needs to be done to make sales.
    I deliberately write under two names for that reason. My science fiction romance (not the ‘I was the alien’s love slave’ subgenre) is very different from my nonfiction where I write about resilience and preparedness and sewing. If I started writing cozy mysteries, I would add another pen-name. I would also change my author photo to better fit in stylistically with my genre, too.

    It’s business but I don’t believe that your typical SJW has ever run a lemonade stand, mowed lawns, or babysat for money. Someone else always paid the bills and money magically appeared without any effort at all.

    1. I would be interested in knowing your pen-names. I am always interested in buying new books – and books about resilience, preparedness and sewing sound interesting!

      1. Am I allowed to talk to mention my books?
        If not, please delete my answer.

        If so, I write as Teresa Peschel for my nonfiction. My most recent book was on sewing cloth grocery bags in quantity. Home sewing assumes sewing one item and only one item. Production sewing is VERY different and it is never discussed outside of industry. I certainly couldn’t find any information on the subject.

        As Odessa Moon, I write huge sprawling family sagas on a terraformed Mars that is essentially feudal in nature. No fossil fuels, you know, along with a 400 million mile supply line. People have to eat and technology is not energy. My characters loathe Olde Earthe and wait in fear for the day when their overlords return in force and turn them all into slaves.

        Our website is peschelpress.com so you can see more details of what I and my husband write.

        1. Apply common sense; I’d have to go look up the exact wording in the rules, but the general gist is… I don’t think we really care if it comes up in the course of conversation, if you’re a regular commenter. We care very much if it’s a spammy “buy my book! buy my book! Did I mention my book? This conversation could totally be about my book!”

        2. Dot pretty much answered, but I will add this. If you are asked by someone, you can answer. No sweat there. Unfortunately, we had to start enforcing a no unsolicited promo policy on comments because several folks thought this was their personal promo site and would post links to their books, blogs, whatever whenever they felt like it–and without asking.

          Another caveat, one we have to remind folks of because of WP, if you post links in your comments, limit to one or two. Three will automatically throw the comment to moderation. Two might, depending on what mood WP is in at the time.

    2. I publish academic non-fiction under my professional name, and fiction under Alma T. C. Boykin. That way people looking for fantasy don’t get hit with water law (which probably comes under horror, not fantasy, anyway.)

  7. I get a daily email from Audible announcing their deal of the day. A while back I noticed an overwhelming preponderance of female authors and female main characters. In fact, just about the only books that they offer that have both a male author and a male protagonist are military fiction, whether that’s MilSF or Military thrillers, or Historical Military Fiction. Police Procedurals, Mysteries, and Thrillers–traditionally male dominated genres–virtually always have female main characters. The only Literature that I can recall being offered that was written by a man are books that are at least thirty years old–J D Salinger, John Irving, Tom Wolfe. Granted, the Audible Deal Of The Day is not representative of the genre of fiction as a whole, but it shows what is being pushed by at least one major sales outlet.

  8. And I can’t imagine using a pseudonym to publish my work. This year I published a collection of Fantasy and am currently putting the finishing touches on an SF collection, both under my real name. I hope to do a Horror collection early next year, and I’ll do it under my name as well.

    A heedless consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

  9. I always figured that if I published any romance that I should use a, um, feminized version of my already female name. Julianne or Juliette instead of Julie. Romance should be lush as well as female. There are indy authors who, if I were a trad editor, I’d probably tell to use a pseudonym just to have something easier to remember, shorter and more “punchy”. Bigger type on a book cover! But there’s no way to tell someone that their *name* might be a hinderance since names are identity. And sometimes long uncommon names work great so who am I to say?

    Books by women selling for less (on a reread I note that it doesn’t say that the women make less money but that the *books* sell for less) in trad pub is probably nothing more than the shear number of category romances out there since a 50K word book is still less than an 80-100K word book (even if both are romances.)

    Same about women fearing recognition. Romance. You can be completely proud of writing romantic fiction and still not want your grandmother or employer to read it.

    1. Well, sure, if you write werewolf bondage porn (a real genre I discovered at my public library and wasn’t I happy to see my tax dollars in action). I wouldn’t want my relatives to know I wrote that sort of thing. I wish I could write that sort of erotica because I’d make more money.

      As to your pen-name as opposed to your ‘real name’. It’s business. Pick a name that tells a potential reader something about what they’re getting. Choose something that is unique both on Amazon and on Google and is not, at the same time, close to that of a serial killer or porn star. Julianne and Juliette are so romantic sounding and then add a melodious last name and you’re on your way.

      1. > close to that of a serial killer

        A friend of mine went 404 a few years ago. He was elderly, in poor health, and lived alone. After his voicemail box filled up, I started checking for death or arrest notices. The problem was, there had recently been a heavily-publicized trial and conviction of a serial killer who lived in the same area and has the same name – including middle name – my friend did.

        He’d fallen ill, went to the VA, and was passed off to hospice without actually being admitted, which is why he VA clerk said they had no record of him. And they’d sent him to a hospice several hundred miles away, for no reason I could figure. You’re talking about a four or five hour ambulance ride… and then he’d passed away, but due to some other kind of bureaucratic fustercluckery, no death certificate had been issued six months later when I indirectly found out what happened.

        His retirement and disability checks were still being auto-deposited into his account, his rent, and bills were being automatically deducted, and his affairs were still running on automatic, except he wasn’t there any more, like some low-rent Black Mirror episode.

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