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Friday, November 30, 2012

The Gender Divide in Contemporary Fiction

Last week, I was bummed when my two submissions didn't make the cut for Miss Snark's First Victim's 2013 Bakers Dozen Auction. The 60 results (35 YA/MG, 25 Adult) that will be looked over by agents and editors were posted early this morning. So of course I had a look. Expectations were high. I mean, if my loglines and samples weren't good enough to pass muster, that's fine; but I expect to see some really solid stuff up there. For the most part, my expectations were met. There are a few entries that caused me to shake my head in disbelief, but that's the nature of the subjective gate-keeping process. Know what's interesting thought? The selected samples featured an obvious imbalance in protagonists' genders, favoring one much more than the other. The causes behind this range in complexity but I think it's worth taking a look. Crawl on for a breakdown of the entries, the apparent gender divide and possible explanations for it.

If you're interested in reading up on the entries for yourself, you can find them all here. They're entered as individually numbered posts, so you may have to do some scrolling. Here's a simple breakdown of what I read:

YA/MG (35 entries): 

Female protagonist: 26
Male Protagonist: 8      
Both: 1

YA character ages were split almost evenly between 16 and 17, with one being 18.

MG character ages were split among 11, 12 and 13.

Number of books featuring paranormal/super powers: 11
Number of books featuring a "mysterious/dangerous/unattainable guy," not general love interest, but that specifically called out guy: 12

Adult (25 entries):

Female protagonist: 17             
Male Protagonist: 4         
*There was also a team with both a man and a woman, as well as one hermaphrodite and one shape-shifting lady dragon. The last entry was nondescript. 

Themes were split relatively evenly between women's fiction, historical fiction, contemporary, romance, paranormal/supernatural and sci-fi.

Clearly we see a lean toward the female persuasion in this small sampling. But why? Let's take a look at possible reasons:

1) "The contest has a female-skewed following who submitted proportionally more female-centric stories. It doesn't represent all of publishing." It's hard to confirm or deny this one since I have no idea what the hundreds of original entries looked like.

2) "The gate-keepers are biased toward female projects." Eh, I don't think this is the case. While their personal preferences certainly have bearing on their selection (just as anyone's does when deciding which books they want to read), they've been fair-minded in the past and will likely continue to be.

3) "The current market trends towards young female protagonists embroiled in love stories with dark/mysterious/attractive men and a hint of the supernatural/paranormal." Aha! I think we've found our answer!

After all, this contest is ultimately about getting the best projects in front of agents with hopes of getting the thing published and into the hands of readers. What has sold like gangbusters in recent years? Twilight. Hunger Games. 50 Shades of Grey. So it's no surprise that these submissions skewed towards what is feeding the market right now. (Whether that was through the organic submission process of authors who follow this blog, or the somewhat more artificial selection by the gatekeepers who were looking for projects that matched the agents' interests, I don't know.) But from what I've learned from Alter Ego's day job, movie studios are after the next Twilight or Hunger Games, throwing millions of dollars at book properties that sound similar with just one slight difference here or there. That's the way it is. In movies or books or anything else with dollar signs attached to it, once something latches on with a market, copycats will invariably appear and will thrive until the demand starts to slacken or until someone new introduces a visionary project. (Note: I never blame the authors, since I don't believe the majority set out to churn out carbon copies of popular works. I think the blame rests with the marketers who greenlight rip-off book covers - see Hunger Games and Divergent for an example - and, ultimately, the buying public who feeds the machine.)

The audience for these books/movies is also an interesting exploration.
Lately, they tend to be girls/women/ladies. What happened to all the guys? Where are my male readers/authors? All of the entries in the Bakers Dozen auction are well and good, and they certainly have their market; but they're not for me. So while it's great that women continue to make huge inroads in the world of publishing and film, I'll do my part to highlight some more masculine fiction...hell, I'll be happy with more fiction along the lines of Harry Potter and even The Hunger Games, where anyone and everyone can enjoy it. Look to the blog posts in the near future for just such announcements.

As for me, it's obvious that it would be easier to get published if my central protagonist was a girl in her mid-teens with a dash of the paranormal and an unhealthy obsession with a dark/mysterious/attractive stranger, but I don't think/create/write that way. And if I wrote for what the machine wanted to read instead of what I wanted, well I think I'd die just a little inside. Stay true to yourself and success will come. 



CS Severe said...

I hear ya! I'm not really interested in the whole mysterious love interest kinda story. They bore me quickly so I don't write them. My current project currently had three female MCs but I changed one of them into a guy and it totally changed the novel in a good way. It also renewed my interest for writing it. Good post!

Vincent Kale said...

Thanks! Yeah the dynamic between male and female characters is incredibly interesting to write and can be so much richer than just a straight-up love story. I may not understand women in real life, but I can figure out my characters over time by how they might react in a situation. :)

Hope to see your project on the bookstore shelves soon!