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.