Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It’s good, but you’re not a woman

A guest post by Bennett Arron

I’ve recently returned from sell-out shows at the Edinburgh festival. I’m very pleased about this, not only because the shows were well received, but also because people appreciated the subject matter. The show was called Bennett Arron Has Had Enough and in it I spoke about the things which have recently annoyed me. These included: the oxymoron of customer services, being arrested and, most importantly, having my novel turned down because I am a man.

My novel is a romantic comedy. Before it was sent to publishers I asked some well-known friends of mine if they would read it and give me their thoughts. Ricky Gervais, whom by his own admission never reads novels, said it it was ‘funny from beginning to end’. David Baddiel said: ‘A very funny insight into life’ . Jimmy Carr said: ‘It’s the perfect romantic comedy, I loved it.’

The editors to whom it was sent were also very complimentary. I shan’t name the them or the publishing houses, but here are some of the responses….

‘I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It’s a very accomplished piece of fiction and I found it genuinely funny.’

‘…compelling characters….the writing is engaging and the story well crafted.”

‘Very well-observed….very funny.’

So, you might be wondering where you can purchase this book. Well, you can’t. You see, no one will publish it because I am a man.

Here are some of the reasons from the editors:

‘Men writing about romance and relationships doesn’t appeal to the reading public.’

‘Women readers feel that women writers cover this area far more convincingly.’

Is that true? Can such a statement be made? It reminds me of a comment made on a chat show recently where one of the female presenters actually said the words: ‘All men generalise about women and stereotype them’ without any sense of irony.

So this is what I’m up against. If this situation were reversed, if a woman writer were told that no one would buy a particular genre unless it were written by a man there would be cries of sexism and inequality. However it appears that it’s completely acceptable for me to be told this. I don’t know how Tony Parsons and Nick Hornby managed to overcome this prejudice, but I now admire them even more. I also admire their publishers for taking what apparently constitutes a huge risk.

It has of course been suggested that I use a female pseudonym to sell the book, or have a sex change - but I’m not going through that again! My problem is, by using a pseudonym I feel I would be would be conceding to the discrimination. I’ve been asked what’s more important, having my book published or making a point? Well, however much I’d like to see my book published - after all who wants to have two years’ work wasted - I would feel a fraud, on many levels, by changing my name.

Perhaps, and I’m going out on a limb here, attitudes should be changed as opposed to my name. Female friends of mine have read the book and passed it on to their friends, all of whom have loved it.

Some publishers have also suggested, that I write a female protagonist instead of a male one. Why? I have had more 30 sitcom scripts produced on television. The majority of these, ironically, had female leads. I have been given work because I apparently write the female voice very well. However, now that I have decided to write my first novel from a male perspective, I am being penalised.

Well, I’m sorry, but I’d prefer not to use a pseudonym. I’ve already used a false identity once (I was the person who stole the ID of former Home Secretary Charles Clarke and was subsequently arrested) so I won’t be doing it again. If this means you will never have the opportunity to read my novel then there’s nothing I can do. Don’t blame me, blame ‘acceptable’ discrimination. In the meantime I suppose I’ll have to work on a new novel about war, or crime, or cars, as apparently these are the only subjects on which men are able to write.

Bennett Arron will be performing his show It Wasn’t Me, It Was Bennett Arron at the Radlett Centre on 3 November.

www.bennettarron.com

28 comments:

  1. The following women's work were originally published using male pseudonyms or their initials rather than their full name, because it was believed that their work would not sell under a female name:

    Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell - Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte
    A.M. Barnard - Louisa May Alcott
    George Eliot - Mary Ann Evans
    J.K. Rowling - Josephine Rowling
    D.C. Fontana - Dorothy Fontana
    Robin Hobb - Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden

    Personally, I would not be ashamed to be in such company.

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  2. Anonymous10:52 am

    "My problem is, by using a pseudonym I feel I would be would be conceding to the discrimination."

    So see you could be a woman - welcome to our world!

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  3. I don't understand why someone should reject a romantic novel because of the sex of the writer. A good book is a good book.
    It's when characters are not build up after what kind of persons they are, but when the writer trying figure out how the other sex might be thinking I start to protest. That often fails.
    Both male and female writers do that.

    I can't really understand why some people choose to take a male name or female name. But I can understand when writers take an androgynous name to be read without preconceptions and let the reader do they judgement of the book before society learned in so called knowledge of the sexes makes it mark on the book.
    In a better world they wouldn't need that.

    Then it's just silly that the ones who chose use initials more often is considered being a man.
    All of us have them.

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  4. I don't blame you for being thoroughly fed up. I will gladly read a romantic comedy written by a man or a tough thriller written by a woman. It seems that the publishing industry, like so many others, is littered with those who panic unless they can put you in a neat, labelled box. The correct term for these people is '****wits'. I don't know what the answer is. Don't give up, though.

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  5. Anonymous12:23 pm

    You're right to be angry. It's a shitty situation perpetuated by sexist idiots who genuinely believe that certain types of books can only be written by men and certain kinds only by women.

    Obviously the best outcome is for you to find a publisher who will release the book under your own name, but if you do end up bowing to the pressure, I feel like there is at least some honour to be had in using your intials. It can lead to teaching moments further down the line "Oh, B. Arron is a bloke? Gosh and he writes such great romantic fiction!" in the same way that lot of people ultimately had to conclude that J K Rowling was able to write fiction that appealed to young boys despite the fact she turned out to be a woman. (The fact that we still even need these teaching moments in the 21st century is a source of continuing depression to me, but there it is.)

    Renaming yourself Brenda will just reinforce the ancient prejudices of these twits and I hope you stay strong in your resolve not to do it.

    A Feminist

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  6. Anonymous12:51 pm

    the only way to actually prove the discrimination is to try and get it published as a woman. stop being so precious.

    your problem may be that if you try and sell it as a woman it may get turned down as not good enough and then you would have wasted two years.

    go on take the plunge, using a pseudonym is not changing your name or taking on someone else's identity.

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  7. Why are you relying on a publisher. Here is what I would do in your situation.

    1) Release the book, entirely for free, as a digital download.
    2) Using a service like Lulu.com, create a paperback and sell it via Amazon, perhaps at £8.99.
    3) Create a hardback version, also via Lulu. Check the cost of goods. Price it at, perhaps £25.
    4) Offer a deluxe edition. Hardback. Signed by the author. Number it to make it a limited edition. How many? 100? 500? 1,000? You need to balance scarcity with avarice. Sell this from your website. You don't need to print any until a customer buys one.

    You have a show where you can promote. By the sounds of things, you have friends in high places who could help you promote it.

    So my question to you is: why are you waiting for permission?

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  8. As a woman, I would love to read more romantic fiction by men. You have as much experience of relationships as we do. Lovers and partners matter to everyone, not just women. So while we're on the topic, why shouldn't the genre start to market to male READERS too?

    I agree with Nicholas - prove to publishers that new things can work. Do it yourself. Make money AND change the world. Bonus.

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  9. What has the world become? This is complete twaddle. I completely agree with you, if the situation was reversed the publishing house would have a laws suit on it's hands. How can they use your gender as a reason to not publish? It's ludicrous.

    Why to set the equality moment back 50 years!

    Good luck with it all!

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  10. A question: Have you checked whether the claims of the editors/publishers are actually true.

    Surveys/statistics may well show that readers do literally Judge A Book By Its Cover and shy away from male-author romanace novels.

    This may not be rational, and may expose an underlying sexism, but that would be on the part of the book-buying public rather than the publishing houses. The latter would be guilty of nothing more than playing the market to their advantage, which is what they are supposed to do.

    So, I would not be so coy about naming the publishers. If they have data that backs up their sexist approach, then ask them for it. Or, let the blogosphere ask them for it.

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  11. I agree - it IS ridiculous, but I wonder how many women writers are pressurised into writing a certain type of romantic novel in order to be marketable? Maybe it isn't that they don't want rom-coms from men, but they want men to stick to type and women to do the same. After all, it can't be the case that ALL female romantic authors are writing the twee rubbish you see in most bookshops.

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  12. Welcome to the club, Mr. Arron. Female writers have been discriminated against for centuries, for no other reason than their gender. You have my sympathy... but perhaps such foolish practices would cease if more men had to deal with the cement ceilings of misogyny found in many facets of the publishing world.

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  13. Anonymous5:51 pm

    I find it astonishing personally. Why should publishing under another name be an acceptable course of action? Knowing how shallow many publishers are surely an endorsement from Gervais, Baddiel etc would be enough for them to publish something (hey! It's good too - that's a bonus!) or perhaps I'm being unfair on them and they are the last remaining publisher who hasn't sold out to the celeb-drenched memoirs and bios that are cramming bookshops.

    I think the attitude of having your sex define you and your work quite abhorrent and also an insult to both sexes. I wonder if Anne Rice was ever told that people don't read horror from a woman?

    Stand your ground and self-publish I would say. With bizarre statements like the ones from the publishers no wonder so many writers are.

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  14. I agree with Nicholas Lovell.

    Mainstream publishing is full of unfairness and discrimination, not just on gender lines by any means.

    There are many options for releasing work and gaining an audience/readers.

    I find romance, and the genre I write in, 'pornography' (Or if you prefer a more literary term-erotica) riddled with gender stereotypes.

    But then I have the added problem that some of my writing is treated as 'obscene' and is therefore unpublishable in some countries.

    These things are sent to try us.

    Good luck!

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  15. Thank you all for your comments.

    Perhaps self-publishing is the way to go. Not an ideal scenario but it might help with the promotional side.

    Thanks again,

    Bennett

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  16. Anonymous2:12 pm

    Don't self publish. It is for losers.

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  17. Who says it's 'for losers'? I think that's to confuse self-publishing with vanity publishing.

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  18. Anonymous5:36 pm

    Self-publishing isn't for losers but it's not an easy way to sell books. Trust me. If there are prejudices against men writing romcoms, believe me there are prejudices just as hard to overcome against people who self-publish. Publish with Lulu and just see how many newspapers will review your book, and how many bookstores will stock it. Of course it'll help to have Ricky and David quotes on your cover, and if you do stand-up and can market it that way, that's a huge advantage...but if I were you I'd go with initials before I'd go with Lulu and I speak from bitter, bitter experience.

    As for the notion that women won't buy romcoms written by men, that is patently absurd but unfortunately I think a lot of publishers are drinking the chick-lit Kool-aid -- i.e. pigeonholing books as being of interest only to women and consequently marketing them only to women. And what's really worrying is that this seems to be a recent phenomenon -- I've been doing research about an American novel from the 1940s, a coming-of-age book about a young girl, which would undoubtedly be classified as chick-lit if it were published today. Back in the 40s it was issued in a special edition for soldiers heading off to war! How far backwards have we gone.

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  19. Anonymous11:08 pm

    It is more profitable for the publisher to supply a prejudicial market. Capitalists don't like risk taking; just profiteering. That's market economics for you.

    How about trying the Guild's Book Co-Operative? Maybe not as profitable though.

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  20. This also runs through the world of children's books, where there may be partial support for publishers' views about the effect of an author's gender.

    Most of my kids' books feature either primarily male or an equal mix of male and female lead characters. They are adventure stories published in my full name: many school sessions confirm that girls and boys are equally happy to pick them up and read them. A 2006 book features two female leads, again with adventure themes. It was specifically marketed at girls (lots of pink on the cover) and my name was changed to gender-neutral initials, the publishers arguing that girls wouldn't pick up a book written by a man. Encouragingly, all the many girls I asked about this in school visits said the publishers were simply wrong: an author's gender meant nothing to them. But depressingly the boys took a very different view. Nearly all of them (and we're talking several hundred) said they wouldn't pick up a book whose cover looked "girly," they wouldn't read abook about a girl, and they wouldn't read a book whose cover made it clear it was written by a woman. Quite a few said they would not have started Harry Potter if the author's name on the cover was Joanne Rowling.

    It's likely that the publishers who rejected your book would excuse themselves from charges of sexism on the grounds that romantic comedies are largely read by women (true); and that female readers won't buy them if written by a man (highly questionable).

    Your options now are:

    1. Submit to other publishers under your full name. (Who gets accepted first time round?).

    2. Aggressively marketed self-publishing as suggested above.

    3. Submit elsewhere under a female pseudonym or neutral initials.

    4. Give up.

    You've had lots of positive feedback, and you have faith in what you've written - so I'd urge you consider all options but number 4.

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  21. Anonymous11:50 am

    Just don't forget the dress and wig when you sign the autographs.

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  22. Anonymous1:03 am

    Go for lulu.com - it is relatively easy, but stick a gender neutral first name in front of your own. What is difficult with lulu is the merketing - I have used the pen name Ava Amari for my novel HEBE - a roman-a-these- deliberately for this idealistic format. This actually makes it nigh impossible to promote because the first call would be the people known to me. I think you'd be alirght with a romantic comedy and you have named friends to twitter, market etc. PS plse download my novel from LULU it's cheap and excellent

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  23. Anonymous8:37 am

    So what? Women have been putting up with this nonsense for a very long time. And what makes you think that you have some divine right to automatic publication?
    Put your teddies back in your pram - put the manuscript in a drawer -and get on with something else.

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  24. Dear 'Anonymous 8:37am',

    At no point did I say women had not put up with it - although that does seem have changed of late. Nor did I say or presume I have a divine right to automatic publication. And thank you for suggesting I forget out my book completely, most supportive. I won't write any more as you no doubt have to get back to your job as a publisher.

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  25. Anonymous8:32 pm

    Borrow the pseudonym P.H. Vazak. If it was good enough for Robert Towne... woof!

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  26. Anonymous6:07 pm

    Seems like anonymous 8:37am has got a real problem, hasn't she?

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  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  28. Eh. The tone was certainly harsh, but I think there's a valid point.

    Though I think it was expressed more effectively by Anonymous 10:52am.

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