My husband is a good natured guy and just shrugged. "Sure." After ten minutes of trying to pretend I was not watching my husband's every expression as he took the story in, he turned to me and said, "Oh yeah. It's chicked out."
I was disappointed, but it confirmed the nagging doubts that had already begun to take hold. My husband was being honest, and for that I can only thank him. If I was writing a horror novel targeted specifically toward men, he was 100% correct. I took the words to heart, set the book aside, and have been avoiding it ever since. I no longer trusted my voice.
I believed that horror is dominated by male writers because the majority of readers are men. I had heard of studies that show men prefer to purchase books written by men, and I was worried that a scene I had written - a scene that I was proud of - would alienate male readers. My story wasn't just about strange things that happen in a house after a couple invites a stray dog inside. My story was about a couple in turmoil, too distracted to notice the strange things taking place in their own home because of the distance growing between them. It was about a woman going through the pain of learning she could not have children and a man who wasn't coping because the life he envisioned with his wife became unobtainable. It was loaded with emotional land mines and did not fit the traditional man vs. very scary obstacle story structure so often followed in horror.
There are many women writers who have written under a masculine pen name or with ambiguous initials to avoid alienating male readers (this great article by Katie J.M. Baker gives several examples of gender biases). Authors, especially those of us who are published for the first time and haven't established a name for ourselves, are willing to do just about anything to up the chances of a sale. We are constantly told by agents we pitch to and speakers at writing conferences that it is more important with the first novel than ever to "play by the rules." If we know our primary demographic, we will bend over backwards by using an alias, donning a costume for our back cover shot, and altering our websites to be more appealing. In my case, I threw out an idea I loved based on fear and decided to stick to safer material.
An article posted by my fabulous sister-in-law got me thinking about the representation of women in literature, including review coverage and awards. It's no big secret that the industry is still male dominated, and it wasn't hard to find articles that represented this stance. What I didn't expect to find were the articles highlighting the fact that women read more than men, outnumbering them in the fiction market by as much as 4:1. According to cited studies, women also do not display the gender bias that men do and will read books written by both men and women.
I am a business analyst by day, which consists of providing executives with data to help guide them to decisions based on fact. Numbers are something I am comfortable with, along with an advanced grasp of economic theories. If women purchase 80% of fiction and we accept the claim that they do not display a gender bias, it seems logical to presume women writers should account for a little less than 50% of the sales. Unfortunately, this is very hard to back up without solid sales data. The only information I could find were the New York Times best seller lists, and this does not give me pricing and volume. However, looking at the top 50 best sellers did reveal that the numbers were fairly close: 27 men to 23 women (again, this cannot be considered definitive without sales data). This is actually pretty amazing considering that the majority of books that make it through the publishing process are written by men.
While the major publications primarily feature reviews by men about men, we are operating in a different world. The proportion of sales that are eBooks continue to grow, and this trend will endure. Reviews on GoodReads, Amazon, and scores of online bloggers continue to sway readers. Book sales continue to be heavily influenced by word of mouth and if women are reading more than men, most of those mouths belong to women. The landscape is changing, and while it appears the industry is behind the curve, the simple rules of supply and demand will force compliance. I have confidence that consumers will continue to choose books that appeal to them and by doing so, the playing field will even out.
I actually walk away from these articles with more confidence and will dust off my novel. This time I will not slash scenes because they are "too chicked out" and will embrace the time spent on character development. Men like my husband, who prefers non-fiction and spy thrillers, will not pick up my book. That's okay. The important thing is to write and do it well. After it is on paper I will concern myself with fitting it into a genre and choosing a demographic for marketing purposes. It's time to follow the data and forget about my own biases.
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