Thursday, August 06, 2015

I Identify As A Man

There are more male than female authors.

You can explain the disparity in the population of writers in any number of ways. Men have more time to write, what with the supportive wife managing the house while they slip off to their writing place and focus on words. Women have more to balance, and are less likely to have a husband who will mind the children so they can have an hour or two to compose brilliant prose.

Or maybe it's nothing more than unintended bias.

Catherine Nichols had a feeling that maybe that was the problem she was experiencing when she could not get a literary agent to pay her any mind. She did the querying to no avail. No one asked to read her manuscript. Then she thought that her sex might be the problem, not her writing.

She submitted the same query she had been submitting, only she signed the letter with a man's name and sent it from a gmail account that matched. From the very first, the agent would have assumed the querier was male.

It should not have made any difference, but Ms. Nichols was shocked to discover that agents suddenly wanted to see more of her writing.

After --- or if an author, before
Not only did she get a response, but she had requests for pages from five of the six queries she sent. From nothing to excitement, and all because she tried something different. A good scientist knows that you need a decent data set to draw conclusions, so she fired off fifty queries as a man and found that seventeen garnered positive responses. Under her own name, which would be the control group, she never did better than one request out of twenty-five.

After the story hit, literary agents took to Twitter and denied that they were biased at all.

But surely the hypothesis is worth further testing.

Is it true, that literary agents have an unknown prejudice towards male writers? Is there some unconscious thought lurking, telling them that more men are authors than women so it will be easier to sell a man's manuscript than a woman's? After studying literature at university, do they have a preference for masculine writing, even though they tell themselves that it makes no difference?

Look, if Bruce Jenner could identify as a woman and be accepted, why can you not identify as a man and be equally celebrated for bravery? Query as a man, and gather some data. How much better of a response do you get as compared to your queries you submitted as a biological female?

Let's experiment, and see if there is a bias in the minds of literary agents. And if they call you out on it, well, there's Caitlin Jenner to fall back on as an example. You self-identify as a man. Does the agent have a problem with that? Are they prejudiced against those who self-identify as something they are not on the outside?

No comments: