We’re told nowadays male novelists need to pretend to be women. Or we hear they need at least for readers not to know they are men. (Meaning their first name should not reveal their sex.) Or we’re informed only women can really write women characters women will read.
The reverse can also be the case. The best-known attempt to mask the sex of an author in recent years was when it became “J.K.” rather than “Joanne” Rowling. Her publisher feared boys might not read the books if they knew a woman had written them.
However, she became so famous and in that fame it naturally also became common knowledge she was a woman, that it’s hard to know how large a part the “J.K.” played, but as it turned out her boy wizard tales may have been read by a slightly higher percentage of boys than girls. For example, one study found 57 percent of boys and 51 percent of girls said they’d read Harry Potter. Yet given the gazillion number of books she sold, she’d have sold roughly only half a gazillion if they’d been read either mostly by girls or mostly by boys. Looking again at those numbers too, if you think about it she actually did pretty well with “gender balance.”
But that’s kids. Early on, knowing I wasn’t writing “World War Whatever,” or a wizard tale, or a vampire book, but a fictionalized historical romance travel memoir, I “listened” to articles like that Guardian piece. I decided to use my initials “R. J.” rather than “Robert.” I figured it would be prudent to play down whether I was a male or a female. After all, why not?
But when Passports appeared, I decided not to try to “hide” behind the initials. I decided my novels (I knew there would be more) are my novels as they are: they have both major males and major females. So, here on social media, I made it plain from the outset: I’m a man. (I use the “R.J.” now for publishing consistency.)
I have no breakdown on my readers by their sex. Over time I have learned anecdotally that, yes, quite of few of those who read my novels are women. But some readers are men too.
On one male author’s decision, that Guardian article also notes:
A Goodreads survey from 2014 suggests the instinct to mask his gender is a right one. It found, for example, that women are predominantly read by women – 80% of a new female author’s audience is likely to be female.
And that seems to bulldoze my position. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the “novel-reading” audience is overwhelmingly female to begin with. So saying women read women authors is hardly a shocker given most readers are women.
If women are reading my novels and know I’m a man, I feel I must be doing okay anyhow. Moreover to assert that being a man, and it being known I’m a man, I couldn’t write a fictionalized memoir that includes the fictionalized women who are central to the basis of the tale? That’s ludicrous.
Readers are a lot smarter than “the powers that be” give them credit for. Trying to “hide” an author’s sex ultimately leaves us nowhere anyway. For unless it’s a wholly “segregated” tale, in every story it’s inevitable a male author must write women characters and a female author must write men.
Or should J.K. Rowling not have written, say, “Dumbledore,” because he was a male character and she’s a woman?
In the end, we’re all humans anyway.
Have a good Tuesday, wherever you are in the world. 🙂