As I was having dinner last night I read something that made me do a double take. In most of our fast food places we have this little circular called Coffee News. It has these small blurbs of trivia and jokes and short posts about random facts and things. The one that caught my eye and caused a serious discussion with Big Son was about how J.K. Rowling’s publisher used her intials instead of her name (Joanne) so that the book would attract young male readers. It made me stop and ask Big Son if gender makes a difference in the books he reads as he was and is a young male reader. He said no. He’s just as likely to read a book written by a woman as he is by a man and the name on the cover doesn’t make a big difference except for him to go look up other books by the same author if he really likes the book.
However, we both began talking about how it might make a difference to young boys because they see a woman’s name and think it’s going to be something for or about girls. Meg Cabot and The Princess Diaries for example. But many of the books Big Son has read were written by women. In fact, he said, in his opinion, women tend to write better fantasy genre stories while men are better suited to sci-fi/tech. As for fiction, he thinks both do well. Not that we really consider gender when buying books. We buy and read a book for content, not the name on the book. In fact, both Big Son and I have read James Patterson books and we own zero. Not a one.
So here’s the thing…in today’s society gender equality is and has been an issue, for a long time. Centuries ago women had to write under pen names just to have their work published while men were often published over a female author, whether established or not. But, more and more the line between who can write better in what genres is becoming blurred. Women can write fantastic sci-fi and tech stories and men can write some of the tenderest romance books. Julie E. Czerneda and Nicholas Sparks jump immediately to mind. And what about Ursula K. LeGuin and Richard Paul Evans?
And yet, women are still having to hide behind pen names to attract male readers. J. K. Rowling is writing as Robert Galbraith, although I do believe this is to differentiate between her “adult” self and Harry Potter for the kids. But still. What does this mean for me as someone who is working towards publishing a first novel? Should I consider publishing under initials only to attract male readers, or does it even matter?
What about you? Does the name on the cover affect your reading choices? If so, how and why? Should it even matter?