Gender Equality And Pen Names…Seriously?


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?


Jesi Scott is an aspiring writer of novels, a poet, and blogger. She has guest-blogged over at The Well-Tempered Bards, and has a post featured at For Love Of…. Jesi has two poems published in Memories of Mist, a literary anthology, and one published story in a newsletter. She is currently working on releasing her first poetry collection as well as writing her first novel. When not writing, Jesi can be found getting lost in bookstores, singing and dancing around the house, experiencing culture with friends, and generally having fun with her four sons when they aren’t driving her weeping into her closet, which she calls her Padded Cell. She loves to rescue stray bookmarks, as well as books, and has opened her heart to any and all stories needing a home. Archery is her current favorite thing ever but you might want to stand back a little as she still has a tendency to drop the bow occasionally.


  • Al The Author

    I’m a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) here in the UK, and there have been some discussions around this in relation to the children’s market. I think there are long-standing assumptions within the publishing industry about what boys will and won’t read (they won’t read stories with a central female character, being the big one).

    I hadn’t heard anything about the gender of the author putting off boys – perhaps because most of the output, particularly for younger readers, is written by women (with women also being the gatekeepers into the industry… a frustration to me).

    The point being raised here is that these assumptions no longer hold, if they ever did.

    I know from my son’s circle of friends that boys take against princesses and “pink” pretty early on, but does my son (6) care that a woman wrote the book he’s holding? Not at all. Does he care if it has a female lead? As long as she’s not an annoying princess (what message does this send to young girls anyway?), probably not.

    I think we’re in a situation where a risk-averse industry perpetuates some long-held assumptions about choices made by readers, without daring to challenge them and find them to be non-existent.

    • Jesi

      Being a mother to four boys I can honestly say I never thought about it until now. I’ve bought books for them based on their interests, not the author’s name. But, being the eldest girl of three daughters I remember being given books by female authors, not male. Luckily they were books written by strong women about strong women or had equally strong male and female characters, i.e. Louisa May Alcott, Madeleine L’Engle, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Cynthia Voigt, Susan Cooper.
      Women do write the majority of children’s books but for a very long time men held the reins on sci-fi and fantasy. Today though I see those areas changing as gender disparity between roles change. More men are writing for kids and women have broken into sci-fi. Personally, I think it’s an interesting time to be alive. A new age of enlightenment is upon us and I’m curious to see where it leads.

  • Lizzi

    I don’t often tend to notice the gender of the author, when choosing a new book, it has to be said. Certainly as a child I don’t think I would have paid attention to it.

    • Jesi

      Well that’s good. I wasn’t so lucky but then I’m fairly certain it was due to the generation of parents my generation had where boys had to be boys and girls went allowed to be tomboys. My mother still believes pink is for girls and blue for boys and while I like pink, blue has been my favorite color almost all my life. And I loved climbing trees, riding bikes, and playing baseball (NOT softball which is played with a larger ball). But on the upside the female authors I was given to read were strong female writers with strong female leads like Louisa May Alcott or biographies about strong females like Queen Liliuokalani, the last Queen of Hawaii or Amelia Earhart. Tolkein was one of the first male writers I ever read and The Hobbit blew my mind wide open. I was about 12. I think it really depends on the way you are raised and the examples set before you.
      I don’t think author gender should matter, and that’s my final answer.

  • Paul Brads

    The gender of the author has little to do with my choices in books. I read Midwives, Skeletons at the Feast, and one other before I realized Chris Bohjalian was male.

    • Jesi

      See, I just always assumed that the majority of book readers read sort of the same way I did, which is that gender doesn’t matter. How well the book is written matters more to me than WHO wrote it. I’ve always been this way. I liked all types of books when I was younger but unless I checked out the school library I was only given female authors to read. I’m not sure if that was conscious on my family’s part or not. But it didn’t make a difference in any case. So when I read the article it threw me a bit and made me think about if things have really changed so much in the last thirty years. Most boys didn’t like princess stories and most girls didn’t like trucks. Things have changed but not so much in that department. Most boys still don’t like princesses and most girls still prefer dolls to trucks. Although, I am very glad to see this number has decreased since my childhood. Now if manufacturers would drop the whole “all girls like pink” theory, that’d be great. LoL
      Still, I wonder how much of a difference the name on the cover matters to boys as long as the subject isn’t one they wouldn’t care about.
      How was Skeletons? I’d heard it is really good.

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