A few weeks ago I posted that very question after the topic came up in my writing group. One woman forwarded an article titled On Breaking the Literary Glass Ceiling . The piece was written by Jessica Crispin in response to a previous article, 'Numbers Don't Lie': Addressing the Gender Gap in Literary Publishing about statistics produced by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts showing that more men than women — 25 - 75% more — get published in literary publications (as opposed to romance or other genre publications) such as Granta, the London Review of Books, The Threepenny Review, The Atlantic, Poetry, etc.
That got me to thinking about all the instances of now-famous female author who used, or have used, male or androgynous-sounding pseudonyms:
1. J. K. Rowling (Joanne Rowling of Harry Potter fame)
2. James Tiptree, Jr. (science fiction Nebula Award-winner Alice Bradley Sheldon
3. S. E. Hinton (Susan Eloise Hinton, who wrote the classic The Outsiders)
4. George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans, the English novelist who wrote Middlemarch, along with other classics)
5. Andy Stack (true crime writer Ann Rule, who wrote The Stranger Beside Me about her friendship with Ted Bundy before learning he was a serial killer)
And that got me to thinking about those who've served as U. S. Poet Laureate, an honor that's been appointed annually by the Librarian of the U. S. Congress since 1937 and now includes a stipend of $35,000 and the opportunity to lecture and give readings as the nation's poetry spokesperson:
Now consider this mind-twisting statistic:Bowker, which supplies ISBN numbers as well as book industry stats, states in its 2010 report that women buy 64% of all books.
That last is something of a cheat, however, when you realize that most of those books being sold are either nonfiction or genre fiction.
And that last, I think, is the crux:
If you write genre fiction, especially romance, detective, mystery and thrillers, your readership — and probably those involved in producing the books, including agents and acquisition editors — are female, thereby implying there's little pressure on the part of female authors to use male or androgynous-sounding pseudonyms.
But what if you write literary fiction? Should you change your name from Samantha to Sam to deal with a serious bias?
The idea is certainly tempting, especially given the intense competition in the literary market given there are a lot of people who want to get their literary work published, yet there are few people who read literary stories, which in turn means the amount of literary work published every year is a tiny (tiny!) fraction of the 500,000 books published every year.
If you're still trying to decide on whether to change your name on the next manuscript you submit, consider reading Kirsten Anderberg's article Women Writers in Alternative Media Using Male Pseudonyms. One of her most intriguing points is that using pseudonyms — whether you're male or female — can be a good thing, and given the topic you're writing about, more appropriate than your real name.
What do you think?