On Sexism in Publishing

Writer Catherine Nichols made some waves this week when she published “Homme de Plume: What I Learned Sending My Novel Out Under a Male Name” in Jezebel magazine.

Nichols writes that after a long period of discouraging silence from agents who’d requested to read her work, she created a new email address under a male name:

I sent the six queries I had planned to send that day. Within 24 hours George had five responses—three manuscript requests and two warm rejections praising his exciting project. For contrast, under my own name, the same letter and pages sent 50 times had netted me a total of two manuscript requests. The responses gave me a little frisson of delight at being called “Mr.” and then I got mad.

Nichols concludes that “George” is “eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book” based on the responses.

But the responses themselves are illuminating–where George is praised for “clever,” “well-constructed” and “exciting” prose, agents ask Catherine why her characters are not “feisty” enough.

Alison Flood wrote a follow-up piece for The Guardian. She quotes Francine Prose’s essay “Scent of a Woman’s Ink” for Harper’s magazine:

“It’s not at all clear what it means to write ‘like a man’ or ‘like a woman,’ but perhaps it’s still taken for granted, often unconsciously and thus insidiously, that men write like men and women like women – or at least that they should.

Nichols’ experiment puts a new spotlight on a very old problem.

[Thanks for the link, D.J.]

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