THE UPHILL CLIMB FOR THE MALE WRITER

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
What is the male writer facing today in the publishing industry. Read on, if you dare...

Submitted: December 24, 2009

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Submitted: December 24, 2009

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The following questions and answers were derived from the portion of an article about Nat Sobel, the literary agent. Credit goes to Jofie Ferrary-Ader as the writer.
Interviewer: "People in the business talk about how eight out of ten readers, or whatever the number actually is, are women. I think it's very difficult for young male writers to get published, especially today. I wonder what you think about that and how you've dealt with that in your career."
Sobal: "I certainly think it's very difficult for male writers who are not writing thrillers. They have a much tougher road. We've read a number of pretty good novels by male writers that we know just won't go. Male coming-of-age novels are impossible to sell. We've already talked about how it's getting more and more difficult to sell fiction. Let me give you a better picture of it by looking back on last year. Five of us in the agency read submissions?everyone downstairs and Judith and myself. Five of us. We have an editorial meeting on Thursdays. I never talk to Judith about what I've read except at this meeting so it's all fresh for all of us. We generally read partial manuscripts, or complete manuscripts. Everyone averages about two of those per week. So, in an average year, that's more than five hundred manuscripts. Last year, from those five hundred books, we took on three new writers. And we were only able to sell one of them. Remember that much of what we get is from writers I've written to after reading their stories in the literary journals?we get very little over the transom. So look at those odds.
They're very tough."
Interviewer: "Damn right. We've spent a lot of time editing through second and third drafts and finally abandoning books because we don't think we can get the writer up to the level we want. We have to give up on them. Occasionally those books will get published too. But the odds are really difficult, and for the male writers it's even harder.
Is there anything they can do to make their odds better?"
Sobal: "I'm always looking for the unusual. I think it may require writing something of a historical nature, with a historical setting. They have to be able to get an idea of what's on the best-seller list today and see that, outside the thriller genre, there aren't too many male fiction writers who are succeeding. And I don't think that's going to change for a while."
But isn't that troubling?
"Sure it's troubling. I think it's troubling for all literary fiction writers today. But particularly for the male writers, who are only gradually becoming aware of how limiting that audience is. But I think you can find good male writers who can write from the woman's point of view, too. I remember a first novel I sold years ago. The writer himself was in his early thirties, but the novel was a first-person novel from the point of view of a sixty-two-year-old woman. It was entirely in first person, and it was a terrific story. It began his career. So if a male writer can write from the female point of view, or has a story that will interest a woman's audience, I think he has a better chance than somebody who's writing the kind of Hemingway-esque stuff we read in school."
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I've been aware of this industry condtion for the past three years. Painfully so. So has my agent. And now Nat lays in on the line. I'm seeing, via my own group's stats and those of Publishers Market Place, reported sales that are approaching 70% female-centric, for debut authors. Given the fact that the largest reading and purchasing group are women, this is not surprising at all. Sixty-five percent of all books purchased are by women. I think women might account for as much as 70% of the entire fiction reading public. Most of these new releases are penned by young women--sometimes, very young gals, as is the case with YA titles. I'll go a step futher. The formula: Female writer, using a female MC, repped by a female agent that submits to a female editor = success=contracts= and a heck of a lot of three-book deals.
This is not sour grapesand I'm notintending this to start agender/flame war. But the fact of the matter is, is that the maledebut novelist is becoming somewhat of a literary dodo. Due to best-selling current trends, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and YA in all of the sub-genres, we're finding thatfemale writers have really staked their claim out in these areas and their readership is almost entirely otherfemales.
Truly, I had to give up SF for the simple fact that nobody, and I mean nobody, was buying it, other than the well-knowntrade publishers,signing with established name authors in the business.SF, as we all know, is predominently penned by male writers.
I think it's gotten worse. Nat claims that males might have their only chance in the niche of thrillers. I'm now seeing my thriller shot down repeatedly by, who else? Female editors. The NYC houses are run by nearly all female editors and, very young ones, whose tastes are almost collaborative. From a psychological standpoint, it is not very hard to understand that a woman, especially an editor, is less likely to beendeared to a male MC written in a male voice. Simply, it's a hormone thing, folks, having to do much with empathy, culture and general interest.
Let me make this clear: I'm not talking about midlist or bestselling male authors who are appearing on the NYT list, or who are great backlist sellers. I'm talking about debut authors in the past three years. Just exactly where are the contracts going? That's my question, my beef. I've had J.K. Rowling thrown up in my face for evidence that this just wasn'ttrue, since Harry was a male lead, and the series has been the most successful in popularity and sales ever run.Sorry, I'm talking about adult fiction--not YA. YA fiction is dominated by female authors.
I also believe that Joe Konrath, writer of the Jack Daniels mystery series, would not have been published if not for the fact that he had a female agent, who sold to a female editor, made his MC a female detective, and scratched his male name from the book's title. What does that tell you? I think it speaks volumes, since he failed to sellninebooks prior to his current contract. (He's a wonderful writer, by the by)
I know of about three publishing houses that state implicitly that there will be only female leads used in the storyline, and that sex and romance must weigh heavily in the plot. Juno is one of them.
Techno Books (The packager) has just announced that it is discontinuing their entire spec fiction line. They are leaving only mysteries open for submission, plus their Impressions line--which is, all romance, covering ALL sub genres, including paranormal and fantasy. Now, does that make sense? Once again, evidence of a major industry shift.
I've always heard and believed that if you write a great, compelling story, it will find worthy publication. Not so. Who do I blame? I'm going to toss this one on the bean counters--marketing. The demographicsprove that if you're not appealing to the female audience, you'renot worth the risk. It's math--it's numbers There are exceptions, but they are so far, few and in between that they are not worth mentioning.
What have I learned? The only control I have over this is toemploy empowered females in all of my stories from here on out, and drop any references to male authorship. I sincerely believe Nat when he says that the male writer will have to learn how to effectively write female lead characters into his script if he is tostand any chance of publication.
I never thought that writing could get any harder than it is.
What's the solution? GUYS, get yourbutts out thereand purchase your favorite books--support your genre. Okay? Then read those booksand spread the word, blog about it, telleverybody you know about what a wonderful story it was. And the next time you're standing in line with your wife at K-Mart, Cosco, Wal-Mart, or any other retail store,politely stay your wife's hand when she reachesfor that romancebook on the rack right next to the checkout counter. Oh, yeah, you did't know about that? Get smart...
Or stay unplished.
Arguments, comments welcomed. What do you think?


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