Thursday, August 09, 2012


"The preponderance of white, straight characters is certainly troubling."

Meghan Lewit asks a question at The Atlantic recently: why do female authors dominate young adult fiction? She's right, they do. From JK Rowling to Suzanne Collins and S.E. Hinton, most of the top selling books and series in YA fiction are by women.
More than 75,000 votes were cast to cull the list of 235 finalists to the top 100. Also notable: Of those 235 titles, 147 (or 63 percent) were written by women—a parity that would seem like a minor miracle in some other genres. Female authors took the top three slots, and an approximately equal share of the top 100
And Young Adult fiction is the biggest seller right now, its clobbering every other genre in writing by a large margin. The mega franchises of Twilight, Hunger Games, and Harry Potter (all featuring major female characters, by female authors) are all but propping up the publishing industry.

But the answers are easy to come by to her question. First off, women dominate the publishing industry, from top to bottom. Agents, editors, publishers, owners, people working at the publishing houses are all mostly women. I was stunned by the majority when I was trying for over a year to find an agent. Almost all the names were women, both at publishing houses and at agencies.

And further, they almost all specifically requested or preferred female writers. Almost all editors and agents will list what they particularly want to see, and most of them said "no fantasy" but yes to female authors. If you're a chick lit or Young Adult writer, you're going to find it easier to get work. It used to be that women would write under a male pen name to get published because the men in the industry would tend not to take them as seriously. These days it might be wise for men to pretend to be women.

Another reason is that female authors write about topics girls want to read. They'll put relationship-heavy content in the books (Twilight is basically about getting a boyfriend and having lots of boys chase after you), and have strong grrl characters. Its almost comical these days how blatant the girl power themes are.

A tale of two girls who will dominate the world, which will win, the mousy redhead or the goth brunette?

A tale of a girl who overcomes difficulty to be powerful and loved by all boys.

A tale of girls at a school who band together to defeat an evil that all the stupid boys we throw rocks at cannot.

I'd call it pandering, but this is not contrived, its what these women have been raised to think of as proper and important. Women need empowerment with examples of strong female characters as heroes to look up to! Its a kind of feminist victory! Not having these is demeaning to women!

Meanwhile, boys tend to read adventure, science fiction, and fantasy books. And while women love to call this kind of thing juvenile, nobody categorizes The Lord of the Rings or Ender's Game as Young Adult fiction. So if you're going to write Young Adult fiction, you're targeting a different sort of audience.

That's not to say boys won't read Harry Potter or Twilight. Vampires and werewolves and magic are still fantasy. And adults like reading good, fun writing of any age, just consider the Narnia Chronicles or The Hobbit. The thing is, you've got different targets audiences. And these days, girls are pretty much taught to favor things women have done as some sort of vicarious empowerment.

And finally, in an industry that's suffering so badly, publishers look for what they think are sure sellers. Lately, YA fiction written by women has sold enormously well. So they want more of the same. Its sort of a cargo cult approach where you don't really understand why something works, only that it has in the past and so you trust it. Publishers aren't making enough money to take risks these days, so they go with what they figure is the sure thing. YA fiction by women seems that, so they get signed and published.

Ms Lewit doesn't even try to answer her question, by the way. She focused instead on why all those editors and agents want women as clients other than business fears:
After chick-lit purveyors Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult raised the call about the disparity between books by male authors and books by female authors being reviewed in the New York Times Book Review, Ruth Franklin at The New Republic did her own analysis of the literary glass ceiling. The results are dismaying: after reviewing catalogs from 13 large and small publishing houses (and eliminating genre titles unlikely to be reviewed), she found that only one came close to gender parity, while the majority had 25 percent or fewer titles written by women.
Of course that's number of books, not sales. Women are burying men in sales because of JK Rowling and her comerades in the YA Fiction category. Oh those names? Here's where Ms Lewitt really goes off the rails:
It hardly seems like an accident that some female authors including S.E. Hinton and J.K. Rowling write under the gender-neutral guise of their initials.
Oh dear. Look, Ms Lewit, they called themselves by these initials long before they wanted to be a writer. This wasn't out of some oppression of women or a desire to hide their gender, any more than F. Lee Baily or F. Murray Abraham are trying to be ambiguous with their names. You're looking for phallocratic tyranny by the male culture where there isn't any. But then, she's concerned that the main characters are "too white."

Guess what, my characters are deliberately vague in their ethnic background. The only one you can be confident is probably white is the redhead Thealea in Snowberry's Veil. I don't honestly care what their ethnic background is, and since its a fantasy world, all our categories of ethnicity are useless to begin with.

I really should consider submitting my stuff as a girl and push the female-friendly aspects of my books just to see how successful they'd be, as an experiment. It would be interesting to see if the ones who rejected it from a guy would be interested in them from a girl.

Women do seem to like my writing a lot, especially women who say "I never really cared for fantasy before." Which is odd because I deliberately avoid the cliche of the Strong Woman Character© in my books. Its almost as if women just like interesting stories and characters without needing to be spoon fed confidence in the form of some implausibly great female who outshines all the guys.

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