If we think back to the 1800s, a time in which female writers were not viewed with the same credibility as male writers, it is understandable why many female authors wrote under male pseudonyms. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë famously wrote under the pen names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Women were thought to be restricted to the domestic sphere, with no perception to offer on the ‘real world’.
In the 21st century, at times we seem to heave a sigh of relief that these gender disparities have been left in the past. However, new findings suggest we may be too quick to reassure ourselves of this progress.
A recent study has found a “marked bias” towards male writers in book marketing. The study compared broadsheet coverage of 10 male and female writers of similar fields and found that male writers received 56% of review coverage. Similar results were found in another study carried out by the Australian National University. Despite the fact that two-thirds of published authors in Australia are women, two-thirds of the books reviewed are written by men. These figures are part of a global trend applicable to Britain and the US.
These gender disparities in book marketing make it harder for female writers to sustain an income through their work
Even when women’s writing is given coverage, the focus is often on the author rather than their work. Often, in reviews of female writing, interviews focus on topics surrounding the writer’s age and personal life. To this day, female writers are not treated with the same legitimacy as male authors and are not given the same respect for their work.
These gender disparities in book marketing make it harder for female writers to sustain an income through their work. Already competing with an abundance of writers, female authors have the added burden of being disadvantaged in book marketing. Ultimately this poses as an obstacle for women establishing careers as professional writers and speaks for the 25% gap between the average earnings of male and female writers discovered by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society in 2018.
The case is often made that women are hindered in establishing careers due to their obligations as mothers. This claim that women prioritise their domestic lives over their careers is not only untrue but has been used for too long to justify clear gender injustices. There are obstacles being constructed that militate against women succeeding in the literary world.
These modern day Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bells are proof of the remaining ghosts of sexism haunting the book industry
Unfortunately, the struggle for recognition and validation experienced by the Brontë sisters still chimes with female writers 200 years later. Joanne Rowling, more commonly known as J.K. Rowling, spoke of how the publishers of her widely read Harry Potter series encouraged Rowling to use the author’s initials rather than her full name as a “marketing ploy designed to make her work acceptable to boys, who actively chose not to read books by women”.
Rowling is not alone in this choice. The mind behind the best-selling Cal Leandros series, Robyn Thurman, didn’t reveal herself as being a female author until the release of her third book. Instead, she chose to go by ‘Rob Thurban’ as she felt that having a female name on the front cover could work against her and lose readers. Similarly, writing duo Christina Lynch and Meg Howery, who are co-authors of the hugely successful The City of Dark Magic, said they initially used the male pseudonym of Magnus Flyte to appeal to both genders.
These modern day Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bells are proof of the remaining ghosts of sexism haunting the book industry. A push for equal book marketing will not only be a stepping stone to silencing the echo of outdated claims that female writers have less to offer than male authors but will also provide an opportunity for female writers to get the recognition they rightfully deserve.