Gender Bias in Mystery and Romance Novel Publishing
Mimicking Masculinity and Femininity
by Anna Faktorovich, Phd
Published April 29, 2015
Examines gender bias from the perspective of readers, writers and publishers, with a focus on the top two best-selling genres in modern fiction. It is a linguistic, literary stylistic, and structurally formalist analysis of the male and female “sentences” in the genres that have the greatest gender divide: romances and mysteries. The analysis will search for the historical roots that solidified what many think of today as a “natural” division. Virginia Woolf called it the fabricated “feminine sentence,” and other linguists have also identified clear sex-preferential differences in Anglo-American, Swedish and French novels. Do female mystery writers adopt a masculine voice when they write mysteries? Are female-penned mysteries structurally or linguistically different from their male competitors’, and vice versa among male romance writers? The first part can be used as a textbook for gender stylistics, as it provides an in-depth review of prior research. The second part is an analysis of the results of a survey on readers’ perception of gender in passages from literature. The last part is a linguistic and structural analysis of actual statistical differences between the novels in the two genres, considering the impact of the author’s gender.
With Anna Faktorovich
1) What made you feel the need for such a topic?
I have been an avid reader for thirty years now. When I was in high school, I read widely in both popular and literary fiction. My favorite authors even in college were Alexander Dumas, George Sand and Anne Rice. But then, I read Harry Potter and a few of the other popular genre novels and they turned me off entirely from popular fiction. In parallel with this, I started my graduate studies in Comparative Literature and English Literature, with a focus on the 19th century. I started teaching college English, but I kept feeling a need to attempt to write and publish fiction in addition to my academic publications. But, there is an incredibly small market for literary fiction and an enormous one for popular fiction. I kept feeling an aversion for the latter that kept me from really pushing to compete in that market. Meanwhile, I published my first academic book with McFarland, Rebellion as Genre, and during this study I was surprised to find that there were repeating formulas even among my favorite literary 19th century writers like Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson. So, I started research into the intersections between classical literary genres and current popular genres and that became my second academic book with McFarland, Formulas of Popular Fiction. When I was writing this book I realized that the mystery novels were more engaging and denser than romance novels and that for some reason most of the mystery novelists were male. These questions gradually developed into the book before you now, Gender Bias. It was initially requested by Purdue UP, Columbia UP considered for several months and expressed interest before rejecting it, and McFarland kept reviewing it twice for a year in total before finally rejecting it. While I waited for them to get back to me, I published half-a-dozen novels, both popular and literary, and really saw a clear need for the book. So, when McFarland finally rejected the MS a week ago, I formatted and designed it myself and released it with my independent Anaphora Literary Press. I think this book is important reading material for writers and academics alike.
2) Do you feel the same bias in Paranormal books as well?
There is a gender-split between science fiction and fantasy novels, with most science fiction writers being male and most fantasy writers being female. I have tried writing fantasy novels, like my The Great Love of Queen Margaret and Battle against the Olden books, but these have turned into satires or semi-literary projects because I just can’t naturally write with the softer “female” sentences necessary to pull off serious fantasies. I wish I could write science fiction for a major publisher, but in part because of gender bias, it’s unlikely that regardless of how many books I’ve published they’ll ever be interested in a science fiction novel from me.
3) If no to the previous, do you think Paranormal authors have more respect for women, or are just more in tuned to what their readers truly want?
I discuss the paranormal genre in my Formulas of Popular Fiction McFarland academic book. The Twilight series come to mind as I think about your question. I read the last book in this series closely as part of my research and it was pretty painful to read it. The only thing that got me through it was laughing at some of the absurdities when they pushed beyond the lines of logically necessary gore. If you remember the book, the heroine finally marries her vampire boyfriend, who has extremely violent and painful sex with her, and then she gives birth to a vampire baby that nearly kills her. If this is what women want today – a bit of rape and baby-killing-mother violence – I’m not a member of this demographic. I’ve included violence and sex in my own novels, but usually it pushes over the edge to be obviously meant to be a criticism of the heroine/hero-antagonist/protagonist – the main character might be even despite being at the center of the story, and their deeds are blatantly unacceptable. Since there is rape, violence, and many other ugly things in reality, we should not feel ashamed about seeing these in fiction, be it paranormal, romance, mysteries or science fiction. I just think that writers should go beyond basic formulas that require a certain amount of escalating violence to keep a reader’s interest. Fiction should be surprising and characters should be fully explained and explored by ethical writers.
4) Have you always seen yourself as a writer?
Yes, I started writing a journal and poems when I learned the alphabet in preschool, and I haven’t stopped writing daily since that point. I can’t imagine how a writer would start writing and seeing themselves as a writer any later than this point. A mind is formed by 14, so anybody that still hasn’t started seriously writing before 14 is probably not going to succeed in this field.
5) What do you hope to accomplish with this book?
I hope that my studies into formulaic fiction will help other writers to improve their craft, and will help readers to choose fiction that is more than a repeating surface formula.
6) Do you feel as though this bias has been getting better or worst over the years?
I explain in the study that most women today perceive a lack of bias against them. In reality, whenever I have received a job across my life, I’ve always been paid less for the same work in comparison to men with less education and experience than me. Women are still paid less overall than men. It’s harder for women to find jobs in the fields that lead to the top positions, and it’s near-to-impossible for a woman who is anything other than 10 times better than her male competitors from breaking into working as a director or a manager of a major company, unless she founds that company herself. Women are frequently sexually harassed in the workplace and fired if they refuse to comply with their boss’s demands, but they have few legal venues to pursue when this happens. Because they perceive due to popular misconception that there is no longer any gender bias in the workplace, they fail to respond with the necessary indignation when they are paid less, or when they are harassed at work. The US is near the bottom of international lists that rank women’s rights, so much so that I’m considering moving to the United Arab Emirates for a job, for which I’m now a finalist, next year, and I expect that I will have more rights as a woman and will be paid more on the dollar there vs. if I found a similar Assistant Professor job in the US. So, according to my research, there has not been any improvement in gender equality in the US since women in the US have given up this fight three decades ago.
7) What type of books do you personally enjoy reading?
I work from the time I wake up until I go to sleep, seven days per week, all-the-year-round. I read books when I write interview questions for interviewees for my Pennsylvania Literary Journal. I also read and edit books when I prepare them for publication with my Anaphora Literary Press; since I’ve released over 120 books with Anaphora so far, I review these pretty quickly. I receive around 100 emails daily, and at least a dozen of these are new book submissions from writers that want to publish with Anaphora, which I have to review/ read quickly to decide if they are right for a publication. This past year I wrote around a dozen books, and for each of these I read at least a dozen books as part of my research. I also finished a fellowship with the Kentucky Historical Society, and wrote an essay based on my research, reading around 50 books as part of this project. Out of all the books that I read this year, I guess the most enjoyable were history and biography books, which helped me to write honest and researched fiction and non-fiction, but no particular book stands out as outstanding out of this enormous pile of books. I hope that answers your question.
8) How do you feel about writers that write just to sell, as opposed to writing on subjects, or genres, they are truly passionate about?
Earlier today I received an email from somebody that wants to pay me L5,000 to ghostwrite a book for her. If she hires me, these funds would keep me going and writing my fun literary and academic projects for a couple of months. I’ve made only around $150 for each of the books I released with McFarland, so I’d have to write 33 academic books for McFarland to match this offer. Writing an academic book takes me around 3 months. I can finish the generic ghostwriting book in a month. If you do the math, it’s easy to see how writers fall into the trap of writing for money, instead of doing it for art. There are five giant publishers left in the world, and they need to sell 100,000+ of each of the books they release. They’ve calculated that they sell more copies if the writing style is less literary, less dense and more formulaic, so that’s what they hire writers to do. I personally have an addiction for writing literary and academic books, so I keep writing them in addition to my commercial ventures because of this drive. I guess I think it’s important for writers to do both make money and write about something they’re passionate about, regardless if these ventures intersect or take them on two different simultaneous paths.
9) How do you feel about any negative feedback upon writing this title?
When I started writing this book, I received great positive responses from the head of the British Green Party, and various feminist academics, who participated in my survey. I have received one adoption request from a college in New York after I released the book, and a few review requests, so it’s too soon to say if I’ll get negative feedback. I do feel a bit bitter about the extremely long and harassing review process that happened between the time I finished this book 1-2 years ago, and the present. Publishers like Columbia UP, Purdue UP and McFarland should respect an effort to speak up about the gender bias in publishing and should not have been impediments that slowed this book’s release by almost 2 years. When they finally rejected this project, they said that it just wasn’t right for their list, but as would be clear to any reader, it was obviously because there is more negative truths about publishing in this book than they could tolerate going into print.
10) Have you had more positive or negative feedback upon publication? And do you feel as though it may have been different if you were a male author?
I’ve previously published a book under an assumed name, and it went up to 700 on Amazon’s bestseller ranking, while books I’ve published under my Russian-sounding name haven’t broken past 4000 or so. There have been several studies, including my own, that prove that there is bias about perception of a writer based on their name, be it male or female, foreign or domestic. I have received mixed reviews on most of my previous books. I guess at this point, I’ve published so many books and have had so many successes both as a writer and as a publisher that I can’t complain about this problem on my own behalf. I’m really complaining on behalf of myself a decade ago, and for other young female writers who are currently trying to break through the glass ceiling.
About the Author:
Anna Faktorovich is the Director and Founder of the Anaphora Literary Press. She taught college English for three years before focusing entirely on publishing. She has a PhD in English Literature. She published two scholarly books: "Rebellion as Genre in the Novels of Scott, Dickens and Stevenson" (McFarland, 2013) and "The Formulas of Popular Fiction: Elements of Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance, Religious and Mystery Novels" (McFarland, 2014). She completed two other scholarly books: "Gender Bias in Mystery and Romance Novel Publishing: Mimicking Masculinity and Femininity" and "Wendell Berry’s New Agrarianism and Beyond," for which she received a Kentucky Historical Society fellowship. She also published two poetry collections "Improvisational Arguments" (Fomite Press, 2011) and "Battle for Athens" (Anaphora, 2012). (Goodreads)
Book's Anaphora Page: http://anaphoraliterary.com/catalogue/textbooks/anna-faktorovich/