Why Are Female Fantasy Authors Pushed To The Back Of The Bus?

There was an interesting thread on reddit /r/Fantasy

where I learned some rather disturbing facts about the publishing industry. The person who opened the thread was wondering why women prefer writing teen romance centered Urban Fantasy and YA Fantasy and why there are too few female epic fantasy authors.

I have to shamefully admit I had the same misconception myself since this is the pattern I see in the best seller lists, book blogs and the word on the street. Big shot female authors who write fantasy write YA and UF centered on romance. Hardly any female names pop up in epic fantasy category. There is Robin Hobb, but she is where she is today because Robin Hobb is a gender neutral pseudonym. I had no idea she was a woman until last year. I know I am not alone in this, I talked to a number of her readers who thought she was a man until they saw her interviews. She actually became successful after being relaunched with this pseudonym. Here is the interview with her publisher: https://blog.sainsburysebooks.co.uk/how-megan-lindholm-became-robin-hobb/

In another interview she stated the gender neutral pseudonym was absolutely necessary to sell the books. How many people even know about Megan Lindholm, the othen pen name of Robin Hobb? She has published a number of books under that name but they were light years away from the success of the Robin Hobb books.

Several people mentioned the established epic fantasy author Janny Wurts in the thread. She chimed in there and her long replies utterly terrified me.

I had no idea she had to fight a battle to get her name put on the famous Empire Trilogy she co-authored with Raymond Feist with the same type face and same size. Quoting her:

There is another aspect to Empire that is interesting to note here. Ray and I had a ‘contract’ between us detailing several things up front. (mostly to do with what happened IF one of the partners dropped out)….In that contract, by MY request: there is a hard fast line assuring that BOTH NAMES will appear in the same type face, and be the same SIZE on the book cover.
I must have been prophetic.
Does anyone realize how MANY TIMES we had to enforce this point in a publisher’s contract, all the way down the line, with reprints, EVERYWHERE – because in almost every if not EVERY incidence the book was reprinted: the publisher would have made Feist’s name prominent and mine minimal.
That one line saved me a lot of horrible grief, but if it had not been CONTRACTED by us in advance, we’d never have been able to get publishers to honor that.

This is just… wrong. The fact that she had to fight so hard and make a contract to cover her interests alone is disturbing.

It gets better, quoting Janny Wurts again:

My point in bringing up Hobb is as much this: SHOW ME any other female Epic fantasy author who got ‘big budget launch treatment’!!! for a first novel in a series – show me ONE, that wasn’t doing YA or paranormal or UF….and let’s not mention Suzannah Clark (not epic) because as well as being an excellent author in her own right, she’s married to a MAJOR mainstream book critic…..yes, it required great work for her to be recognized for her excellence – I maintain the inside contact made a huge leap, for her, in treatment and how the book was handled.

She also wrote the publishers put girly, romancey covers on the books by the female epic fantasy authors, even if there’s no romance in the books:

You also must consider THIS: Carol Berg – awesome epic fantasy, female author – gets COVERS that (ugh!) Look Like she’s writing more romantic work…..and that may well turn away a male reader checking her out. Her Lighthouse Duet, read together (Flesh and Spirit, Breath and Bone) is a totally gorgeous work, absolutely finished and well done – and yet – the cover treatment is enough to scare even ME away, had I not known from reading her other stuff she doesn’t DO ‘romance’. So there is a further cover bias at work where publishers tend to package women authors differently, and that sucks big time.

I have just seen one such cover last night. It was a brand new war fantasy book by a female author but the cover looked like a romance novel. I wouldn’t pick it up from the shelf if I was looking for a war book. The author stated it is a war book with little romance element yet the cover screams chick lit. Nothing wrong with chick lit but the book is not that, it’s a war book and it will never meet its real readers with that kind of cover. The author even said “It doesn’t look much like a war novel, does it? (But it is.) I suspect if I were a man, the book would not have this cover image!”

This is so wrong in so many levels. How many great epic fantasy books by female authors fell through the cracks because of this attitude? I write gritty fantasy with no romance at all, I would be mighty pissed off if they made a girly, romancey cover for my book. It’s wrong! The cover should reflect the content of the book, not the gender of the author. I can’t believe this kind of gender bias exists in the 21st century.

Mark Lawrence has written a blog post about this issue and shared some disturbing facts: http://mark—lawrence.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/whats-in-name.html

Teresa Frohock addressed the same issue and made a case about the back blurbs focusing on the romantic elements in dark fantasy and horror books written by female authors: http://www.tfrohock.com/blog/2014/2/6/being-a-woman-and-writing-dark-fiction-its-complicated-sfwap.html

I am originally from Turkey, for those of you who don’t know, the publishing industry is quite different there. For example there is a well known male romance author whose every book gets in the national best seller lists. I can say there isn’t so much gender bias in literature there. SFF scene is very small, but literary fiction is quite huge and there’s no gender bias to speak of. People will buy the war books written by a female author, just as they buy romance books written by a male author. But in America, where the publishing trends are born and spread to the rest of the world, the gender bias is at medieval levels and the publishing trends keep making it worse in a vicious cycle. What’s worse is the people are constantly feeding this beast.

Janny Wurts made a good point about this fact also:

Post 2000, since the birth of paranormal romance and UF, and the huge growth of YA success: it has increased the percentage of women DOING those books in those areas where success comes more readily, and it has ALSO shoved women who are not writing in those areas into prejudice – where it’s just plain assumed the work is ‘for kids’ or ‘Romance’ where the relationship is the primary plot driver, and not secondary to a larger plot. The upshot of this surge in YA and romance and successful female writers in those venues has created backpressure for female authors to leave epic fantasy and move into those areas – better pay, better odds. If you think this is false, it’s not: directly, I’ve been pressured to CONSIDER moving to YA rather than continue writing adult epic fantasy. I resisted, no matter the fallout – because I am already writing what I prefer to write/refuse to shift that for a trend.

Now, as a female gritty fantasy author who is getting ready to be published, I’m quite troubled to read all of this.  I want people to read my books. Should I hide behind my initials or a gender neutral pseudonym or should I fight against the wrongs and use my real name? I’m lucky to be with an idealist publisher who fights against the gender and race bias, but what about the general public? What will happen when my books hit the shelves of Barnes & Noble? Will a female name turn away the male readership? How deep does the prejudice run?

I brought this up with my publisher and suggested hiding behind my initials and he said ‘Don’t you dare!’

I have read this masterpiece by Kameron Hurley and it got me to think. It made me decide to do the right thing and fight. Someone has to act. Someone has to do something. Rosa Parks refused to stand up and be pushed to the back of the bus. Maybe it’s time to take a page from Rosa Parks’ book and not stand up.

I am “nobody”, one of the little people, and fighting against the immense avalanches with a wooden sword doesn’t sound very appealing. But as Kameron Hurley puts in her award winning article, someone has to act. No one will do anything until someone stands up and does something. It’s long overdue.

Why should I have to hide behind initials or gender neutral pseudonyms to make a career writing dark epic fantasy?  This is wrong and female authors shouldn’t have to do this. Maybe it’s time to educate the readership. Publishers will change their attitude only after the readers start talking with their wallets. Publishing industry is a business for profit after all and money talks as it does in every business.

Quite a few of you folks who read my blog are book bloggers and  I need to ask you to consider this: Give female epic fantasy authors a chance. I know some of you review trendy YA books, I follow hundreds of your blogs and see you guys reviewing the hyped up YA/UF best sellers written by female authors, but please consider reading the works of these great authors too. Here are some lists to start with:

Reddit female fantasy authors list 1

Reddit female fantasy authors list 2

I will start by reviewing more female epic fantasy authors myself. My blog is not high traffic, it may not make much of a difference but I am hoping some other bloggers would follow my example. If you are on reddit, make a thread about a great epic fantasy book by a female author you read. Post reviews on your blogs and Goodreads. Tell your friend to read the books. We can make a difference.

I am going to put my full name on the book cover and I don’t care if I’m shooting myself in the foot by doing that. There is nothing wrong with my name. The world is wrong and I am refusing to bow to the wrongs.

I want to do the right thing even if it hurts me.

** Corrections to the first reddit link and Megan Lindholm being a pseudonym.



45 thoughts on “Why Are Female Fantasy Authors Pushed To The Back Of The Bus?

  1. Sadly, publishers like to bracket and pigeonhole. They think readers want authors of a particular type (be that gender or age or whatever) for a particular genre. It works both ways, of course. Try becoming a romance writer (be that UF or straight romance) if you’re a guy.

    There are other epic fantasy writers out there of the female gender, some of them considered very good. Ursula Le Guin springs to mind given that the Earthsea books were always some of my favourites. I’d consider Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising books to be epic fantasy, though many will argue they’re children’s books or maybe UF (presumably because they’ve never read them).

    But… if you really want to sell gritty fantasy novels to publishers right now, I’d suggest growing a beard, and setting your book in the autumn. You know, when winter is coming.

    (Yes, I am a cynic.)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s like not having Go-Go or Honey on Big Hero 6 bedsheets. I appears that many people (publishers, marketing, etc) like to put people in defined holes because it is easier to understand. It takes a while to dig a new one, but it happens over time, usually by a lot of different people instead of one massive backhoe (both happen, but the former is more likely).

    I’m glad you are using your full name. And that you are willing to stand up for it.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. At first, when I read the title of this, I was like, ‘Nah, it’s not that bad.’ But once I realized we were talking specifically about epic fantasy, I completely concurred. There really is a gender bias that’s kind of ridiculous, and I know plenty of authors who’ve written under gender neutral pseudonyms or initials to avoid this very thing.

    So sad.

    But like you said at the end, standing for it by reviewing and supporting those who DO break the mold and write in it is an awesome way to start breaking this apart. Also, don’t hide your name. Own it.

    An excellent, well written article. Bravo, my friend.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I personally do not see the need to hide behind a pseudonym or initials, but do what you think is right. At the end of the day, you have to lay your head down on the pillow and not have any regrets.

    As for prejudice against female authors, I’ve never believed I had any, but who knows, maybe I’m just a man “who likely do[es]n’t even notice a bias enough to owe up to it” as Ms. Hurley insinuates so many people are in her post on Mark Lawrence’s blog. Naturally, I find that thought difficult to believe considering my favorite authors during my formative years were female writers by the names of Janny Wurts, Barbara Hambly, Margaret Weis, Katherine Kurtz, Jennifer Roberson, and Louise Cooper — to name just a few. All these amazing female authors helping ignite and fan the flames of my life long love of epic fantasy, but maybe I’m just deluding myself.

    Not that any has asked, but if they did I’d say this whole problem has been caused by publisher decisions (the cover, blurb, description, suggested rewrites, et cetera.) I mean, the majority of consumers are going to gravitate toward the type of book they enjoy whether it has a male or female name on it. If they want a blood and guts grimdark then any book with a romantic looking cover, romantic sounding plot line is going to turn them off no matter if John Doe wrote it. It really isn’t a gender bias decision; it is a personal reading preference. And the publishers are the ones making the calls on most of these type of decision it seems.

    Good luck going forward.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Janny Wurts replied to the reddit thread opened after this post and strongly advises me to use a male pseudonym or initials. She’s saying without saying it’s a futile and pointless fight… Sigh. Well, at least I won’t get a romancey, girly cover, there is the chance people will pay more attention to the cover matching the content of the book, than the name. I personally don’t pay attention to gender, either. A lot of people are drawn to the covers and the romancey covers may be the reason some great books never reach their true audiences (A delicate princess in a flowing silk dress and swirly flowery borders for a gritty war story? That’s an outrage!)

      I guess I’m lucky this won’t happen to me since I have a rational publisher who is 100% against such gender bias. Thank you for the great comment, I am going to do my part and promote some of those great authors and do my best to raise awareness.

      Liked by 1 person

    • There’s something very strange and limiting, though, about publishers and readers flat-out assuming someone who wants to read about war doesn’t also want to read about romance., or vice versa. A good epic fantasy, to my mind, should have it all — politics, battle, adventure, romance. The relentless division of books by whatever are perceived to be their single dominant traits (so often along gendered lines) might be useful for shelving, but ultimately does a disservice both to writers and readers.

      It’s also worth noting that when a book written by a man that is mostly something else — epic fantasy, thriller, mystery, whatever — happens to have a romance in it, the romance is never seen as dominating over the other elements. It’s always assumed to be the side note. When a book written by a woman that’s mostly something else also has romance, that romance tends to become its defining trait, even if it’s not at all the most significant plot element or what ought to be defining it, genre-wise.

      And, it’s also irritating that books seen as having more of those “feminine” traits also tend to be the less-reviewed, less-broadly-publicized, less-supported, so female authors get hit from both sides — their books get mischaracterized based on their gender, then stigmatized based on that because publishers, reflective of overall society, value stereotypically feminine traits less than stereotypically masculine traits (never minding that women, by and large, consume more media and spend more money on it than men do).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Why Are Female Fantasy Authors Pushed To The Back Of The Bus? | Writer's Resource Blog

    • There is also Ursula K. Le Guin but all of those authors were published before things turned for the worse with the new trends. Back in the days they didn’t push romancey covers on female authors regardless of the content of their books, nor were they pressuring them into focusing on romance in their books. The pigeonholing has become far worse, it seems. It’s truly disheartening.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on The 960 Writers and commented:
    This makes me so fucking mad!
    I’m still on the fence about using a gender neutral penname or a name that clearly indicates that I’m female. Personally, I even look for female SciFi writers and would miss out on some if they used a used a male or neutral name. But how many others would instantly think “chick lit trash” when the barest hint of a romance comes up in the novel?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am grappling with this dilemma too. My second novel is earth based science fiction and so for a while I was thinking it might be better to hide behind my initials on the cover, but I’ve worked on this manuscript for years. My cover should be as proud of me as I am it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Many people pick up a book if the cover is eye catching. If the cover matches the book’s theme, I don’t see why it shouldn’t sell. I think part of the problem is the big shot publishers designing romancey, feminine covers for the female authors of genre books. It may be the publishers’ attitudes and the covers not matching the book’s content causing the problem.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on Raymond Clarke and commented:
    I think it’s valuable to spread the word about topics that are important to writers everywhere, such as this one. Gender bias is just unfair in that it makes undue assumptions about groups of people. I say prove it, or start treating people equally, or based on individual merit.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Pingback: Where Are All the Female Epic Fantasy Authors? | I Read Encyclopedias for Fun

  10. Pingback: #WriteInclusively | Elizabeth Rhodes

  11. Excellent post. Unfortunately, having studied gendered family norms and gender inequality in the workplace, I am not surprised. Saddened, but not surprised. For all our talk of equality, we are still socialized (and still unconsciously socialize our children) into gender-specific assumptions. And marketing just makes it worse. This trend with fantasy authors looks very familiar to anyone who’s been watching toy aisles become more and more segregated into Boy toys and Girl toys, not to mention the resistance of Hollywood to the idea that women could like (and star in!) action and superhero movies. Oh no — I was about to say that at least books aren’t yet color-coded to indicate whether they should be read by men versus women, but I just realized that the “romanticizing” of the covers is doing exactly that.

    I hear your call to action and respond! Off I go, to read and post reviews for more female fantasy novelists! Also, I’ve linked to this on FB to push all my non-blogging friends to do the same.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh yes the toy aisles have been bothering me like no tomorrow. When shopping for gifts for friends kids I always picked the gender neutral science kits.

      My next series of posts (after I finish the YA fanatsy without romance/;love triangle plots) will be the great epic fantasy by female authors. I added quite a few gems to my TBR and looking forward to reading them. Thank you so much for spreading the word!

      Liked by 2 people

    • I’ll admit that after reading this, I’m wondering if I should cut out the whole romance subplot in my fantasy novel. The idea of having some publisher stick a bodice-busting image on the front of my fantasy-mystery makes me cringe!

      Liked by 2 people

    • They did this to the book of a Harper Voyager editor… She wrote a war book and they put a swirly, red dominated romance cover featuring a fragile princess in flowing silks. She wrote ‘I wonder if I would get that cover if I were a man!’

      This makes me so sad and angry. I’d say don’t change your story but make sure to negotiate the cover with the publisher. There are millions of geek girls out there who want to read sword & sorcery, those wrong romancey covers turn them off too.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. I can’t tell you how often I’ve come across female written epic fantasy and turnt away because of the shitty book covers. I blatantly judge books on their cover, because I’m not just a book reader, I’m a book collector. And female written epic fantasies, with few exceptions, mostly seem to have covers unappealing/uninteresting, a situation compounded by the often lacklustre/uninteresting blurbs they’re given. And I still do it. These days, unless book bloggers I know aren’t full of shit are discussing a book and saying it’s good, I don’t even blink twice in it’s direction. Great post!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Good for you! Damn, it’s already hard enough to get published people have to make it harder just because of our gender? Thats so stupid!

    My book is also a dark fantasy. This article is making me seriously think hard about publishing on Amazon. Then it’ll just be the readers to contend with and not sexist publishers.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. My publisher is indie/very very small press/operates in a basement with leprechauns as staff so they didn’t really care one way or another how I did my name. My own personal biases probably made me lean towards gender-neutral initials K.S. Villoso rather than Kay Villoso. It just looked better. And this is probably the reason why it did.

    Good point about Carol Berg. I didn’t realize it. I loved her works but yes, those covers (i.e. the Revelation and subsequent sequels books) are atrocious.

    I think it’s good that our generation of young women epic fantasy writers are becoming more aware of this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The cover Jane Johnson got for a war story was ludicrous. A pretty princess in flowing silks framed by flowery red things, something a fantasy fan looking for a war story would never pick up. If she was John Johnson, they would come up with a proper cover featuring swords and chain-mail clad dudes and some castle ruins in the background, something that would actually sell it to the correct audience.


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