Do men have a better chance at “literary success”?

An interesting editorial by Julianna Baggot in yesterdays’ Washington Post explores the phenomenon of literary awards and recognition being heaped overwhelmingly on male, and not female, writers:

I often hear people exclaiming that they’re astonished that a particular book was written by a man. They seem stunned by the notion that a man could write with emotional intelligence and honesty about our human frailties.

Women, on the other hand, are supposed to be experts on emotion. I’ve never heard anyone remark that they were surprised that a book of psychological depth was written by a woman.

So men get points for simply showing up on the page with a literary effort.

What’s interesting, however, in the Publishers Weekly list is that the books are not only written by men but also have male themes, overwhelmingly. In fact, the list flashes like a slide show of the terrain I was trying to cover in my graduate thesis, when I wrote all things manly — war, boyhood, adventure.

Playwright Julia Jordan pointed me toward a recent study about perceptions of male and female playwrights that showed that plays with female protagonists were the most devalued in blind readings. “The exact same play that had a female protagonist was rated far higher when the readers thought it had a male author,” Jordan said. “In fact, one of the questions on the blind survey was about the characters ‘likability,’and the exact same female character, same lines, same pagination, when written by a man was exceeding likable, when written by a woman was deemed extremely unlikable.”

That men scoop up most writing awards is pretty apparent. But the question I’d like to ask (and don’t know the answer to) is: Which gender makes more money at novel writing? My suspicion is that women novelists do better, because we write in more popular genres (romance and mystery), and because fiction readers are more likely to be women.

Does anyone know?

Awards are nice. But honestly? I’d rather be more widely read, and well compensated for it!

6 replies
  1. Ginger
    Ginger says:

    Happy New Year Tess – in “classical” times many, many years ago, it was fairly rare for women to be held in high esteem and maybe the same was also applied in modern times to female writers. Women have, and possibly will have to fight harder than the male species to prove themselves. This has certainly already been accomplished by female writers, as there are very many top notch females in the literary field and, as a staunch fan of Tess Gerritsen, I say give credit where credit is due – you ladies are doing a fantastic job and surely scare the hell out of many male writers.

  2. spyscribbler
    spyscribbler says:

    What I’ve found fascinating is that Nicholas Sparks, basically, writes romance. And yet… look at how he’s viewed and the respect he’s given (and was instantly given), in comparison to the typical romance author, or even Nora Roberts, who had to fight for respect for the genre during her career.

    Please don’t get me wrong: I love Nicholas Sparks. I suppose you could say he’s more women’s fiction, and he’s declared himself to be writing women’s fiction, but I find a big difference in the way people talk about him and look at him as opposed to the way people treat female authors in the same genre.

  3. l.c.mccabe
    l.c.mccabe says:


    Writers should be judged by the content of their characterizations and plot rather than by their gender.

    There *is* a tremendous amount of sexism in our society, but it is not always rigged in favor of men over women.

    Sometimes, the sexism is against men.

    I would like to point you and your readers to a blog post written by Christopher Gortner who had difficulty getting published, because he was male and writes historical fiction.

    His former agent even suggested he adopt a woman’s name in order to become published.

  4. Tess
    Tess says:

    I would agree that it may help to be a woman when it comes to selling books.

    And when it comes to literary awards, it clearly helps to be a man.

    But you can’t eat an award — or pay your mortgage with it.

  5. Jen B
    Jen B says:

    I’m interested in the answer too, Tess.

    To follow up what spyscribbler was saying about Nicholas Sparks and romance, I read “Bridges of Madison County” by Robert Waller because of all the critical acclaim it was given. And I really don’t understand the difference between that book and a lot of other romance novels– not particularly good romance novels– full of cliches and unrealistic interactions. I wonder if it’s the gender thing again.

  6. GutierrezBette20
    GutierrezBette20 says:

    I strictly recommend not to hold off until you earn enough amount of cash to order all you need! You can just get the business loans or short term loan and feel yourself free

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