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Forget George Eliot: now it’s male authors disguising their sex to sell more books

21 July 2017

From The Guardian:

Riley Sager is a debut author whose book, Final Girls, has received the ultimate endorsement. “If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll love this,” Stephen King has said. But unlike Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, The Girls, Luckiest Girl Alive and others, Final Girls is written by a man – Todd Ritter. This detail is missing from Riley Sager’s website which, as the Wall Street Journal has pointed out, refers to the author only by name and without any gender-disclosing pronouns or photographs. (His Twitter avatar is Jamie Lee Curtis.)

Ritter is not the first man to deploy a gender-neutral pen name. JP Delaney (real name Tony Strong) is author of The Girl Before, SK Tremayne (Sean Thomas) wrote The Ice Twins and next year, The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn (AKA Daniel Mallory) is published. Before all of these was SJ (AKA Steve) Watson, the author of 2011’s Before I Go to Sleep.

“Literally, every time I appear in print or public,” Watson says, someone asks about why he uses initials. It was his publisher’s decision to avoid an author photo and to render his biography non-gendered. He has never hidden, but when Before I Go to Sleep went on submission, editors emailed his agent and asked, “What is she like?” Watson found the mistake flattering. Withholding his full identity was a way “to reassure myself that the voice worked”, he says. In the world of romance novels, male authors have long disguised their gender. The Glaswegian author Iain Blair wrote 29 romances as Emma Blair. Jessica Blair is really Bill Spence, Alison Yorke is Christopher Nicole and Dean Koontz has written as Deanna Dwyer. As an undergraduate, Philip Larkin wrote erotic novellas under the name Brunette Coleman.

. . . .

The recent spate of men writing with gender-neutral names seems commercially driven. It is not a necessity for acceptance, as the Brontë sisters or George Eliot felt their pen names to be. However, there are earlier examples of men who wrote as women to give voice to “female” issues at a time when recourse to the females themselves proved elusive or unthinkable. In 1747, Benjamin Franklin published “The Speech of Miss Polly Baker”, and essayist Samuel Johnson presented himself as “Misella”, a sex worker, in 1751.

Link to the rest at The Guardian


9 Comments to “Forget George Eliot: now it’s male authors disguising their sex to sell more books”

  1. So I expect we’ll be seeing a slew of feminist articles criticising the publishing industry for being so sexist towards men, and talking about the abundance of female privilege when it comes to being an author.
    No? I can hope.

    • Eh…I’m more worried about the kind of men who take any discussion of gender-related phenomena as an excuse to grumble about “feminists” and “female privilege” (Srsly? LOL).

      Personally I’m no more bothered by a man using a female or gender-neutral pen name to sell female-targeted books with “Girl” in the title than a woman using a male or gender-neutral pen name to sell sci fi or military fiction.

      • Author name has never really interested me, other than when I’m looking for a specific author’s books. I’ll read anything by anyone if it has a description that makes me want to read it. As a general rule I don’t think about the author at all when I read.

        In fact, if I’m thinking about the author, the book isn’t doing its job! (Excepting memoirs and biographies of course.) 😀

        • Patricia Sierra

          I agree with you. In fact, when I’ve stumbled across info and/or photos re some writers, I’ve been disappointed because I liked knowing less.

    • Feminists write about women’s issues, right? So I think maybe you should be waiting for a man to write these articles you’re looking for, don’t you think? If the issue is important to you, maybe you could even write them, whatever your gender. (You’re Anon so I won’t hazard a guess.) Just a thought. 😀

  2. Maybe it should be that way for all writers, using a name or handle that won’t give the reader any clue as to the writers race or sex. That way the story can only be judged on the merits of the story itself.

    Imagine the horrors of some readers when they discover they’ve loved and have been following someone they consider to be of the wrong sex or color!

  3. Patricia Sierra

    (deleted; posted in wrong thread)

  4. I understand the commercial appeal of doing this, both men passing as women and women passing as men, but as long as writers disguise who they are, the fundamental bias that certain subjects should or can only be written about by a certain type of author goes unexamined.

    If true, that would make for very dull books. Most stories are not about one thing only.

  5. the fundamental bias that certain subjects should or can only be written about by a certain type of author goes unexamined.

    The fundamental bias? Unexamined? Say it ain’t so. That would surely diminish all our lives.

    If a book is dull, does that mean the sex of the author is uncertain?

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