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I have been debating the gender issues in the perception of books for a while now, and I have finally made a decision.
Joanna Penn is now J.F.Penn for thrillers/action-adventure/ anything I write that is in a genre that is dominated by men.
I will use Joanna Penn for my non-fiction and other works I have in the pipeline. Why am I doing this?
Feedback and reviews that I write like a man
Pentecost and Prophecy have some pretty violent scenes. I burn a nun to death on the funeral pyres of Varanasi and disembowel a psychiatric patient in the first few chapters.
It's not horror but it is thriller with a high body count and I make no apologies for that.
I like action movies. I like Lee Child's Jack Reacher. I love James Bond. In fact, one day, I'd like to be the first female writer to pen a Bond novel – move over Jeffrey Deaver! But apparently it's worthy of comment when a woman writes this type of thing.
Here's a comment I received by email about Pentecost. ‘It seems funny knowing you – I would definitely have thought the book was written by a man…”
and a lovely review stated:
“…this kind of sprawling, globe trotting, religious themed, action adventure thriller is historically the province of men; retired marines, mercenaries or CIA analysts. Or Dan Brown. It’s what you expect. And Joanna is, self evidently to my well trained eye, a woman. So then my not entirely foolish expectation when perusing her first novel was of something a little more, you know, delicate in character….But wow, beneath her pleasant and chirpy demeanour lurks the black heart of a terrorist interrogator, a fearless adventurer.” [Thanks for the great review Phil!]
I don't mind being compared to a man. It doesn't offend me. In fact, I find it kind of liberating.
But I don't want any consideration of my gender to come up when someone reads my books. I want them to have a great fun read and escape the world for a time.
So if changing my name to initials stops any second thoughts, then it's worth it.
Evidence that the categories I want to rank in are dominated by male names
As I write this, both Pentecost and Prophecy are in the Top 100 Action Adventure titles for the first time. (#5 and #82 respectively but you know it changes every hour!)
I'm excited as this is a category I like to rank in. I also rank consistently in Religious Fiction which is a more varied category.
Action Adventure is certainly male-dominated. Stieg Larsson, George R.R. Martin, John Locke, Steve Berry, Clive Cussler, Lee Goldberg, Tom Anthony, J.A. Konrath… these are the names from the Top 20 as I read them right now. There are a few scattered female names but it's an overwhelmingly male group.
I don't know whether there are more male readers in this category. I certainly buy these authors but I don't think women readers are that hung up on the gender of the author. But apparently men are and they are less likely to buy from a female name. Feel free to say otherwise, male blog readers!
Men also get more attention and reviews. But I won't be changing my gender, for now at least!
Evidence of other female writers who use initials or male names
A number of women writers of successful women writers use initials. The reader doesn't know who they are until they look behind the curtain which, I think, is how it should be.
- NYT bestselling thriller author C.J. Lyons
- Baroness P.D. James, whose honours come from services to literature and who is still putting books out aged 92. ‘Children of Men' seriously rocked.
- J.K. Rowling. A woman in a man's fantasy world.
- Romance author Nora Roberts turned into J.D.Robb for her suspense/crime novels, a more male dominated genre
- Others include M.J.Rose, J.T.Ellison…I could go on…
Using a male name is an option. A now-famous example in the blogging world is James Chartrand who came out as a woman on Copyblogger.com after years of writing as a man. Her business is ‘Men With Pens' and writing as a man totally changed her business. I'll be interviewing James on the podcast and we'll discuss this further.
Does it matter?
The author doesn't matter. The reader matters.
The author's gender shouldn't impact the way the story is read so it's best to make it a non-issue. Initials are neutral. They have no gender bias and I like that approach.
I know there will be some people who disagree. But I do consider myself a feminist in the truly inclusive sense of the word. Men and women are different but equal and we should all have the same opportunities. I want to be a bestselling, name-brand author. This will clearly take some time but I don't want my gender to be an issue either way as I write the books I want to write.
What do you think about gender in publishing? Are initials acceptable for women to write under? Are male buyers influenced by a female author name?