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Author Topic: Fantasy genre - a male preserve?  (Read 11625 times)

Offline Sherwood H Smith

Fantasy genre - a male preserve?
« on: September 03, 2013, 11:57:46 AM »
As the female half of a fantasy writing partnership (The Vispadjinn by Sherwood H Smith) I am intrigued as to why it seems that mainly males both read and write the fantasy genre. Is it because the books are often action/plot predominant with less emphasis on character/emotions? Are fantasy novels written by female authors different? Can you tell the gender of the author if the name doesn't give it away?
I always hate to confirm a stereotype but in our partnership my preserve has been mainly to deepen the characters, introduce some empathy etc. I have to admit that although I enjoy reading fantasy(as well as writing it!) I certainly don't read it to the exclusion of all else. That may be because in my other life I'm a teacher so have to read a lot of classic novels.
I'd be fascinated to get others' views on this.

Offline AnneLyle

Re: Fantasy genre - a male preserve?
« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2013, 12:11:14 PM »
In my experience, the overall readership is pretty much 50/50 - certainly that's the approximate split at events like Eastercon. There's this pervasive image of SFF as a male preserve that simply isn't borne out by the facts. If you include paranormal romance as a subgenre of SFF (I'd argue it's primarily a subgenre of romance), then the balance probably tips towards women...

That said, I'm sure there are subgenres that appeal more to men than women (e.g. military SF), and vice versa. But as a woman writing epic-ish* historical fantasy, my audience is roughly half-and-half, I reckon, going by the reviews on Goodreads. Sure there are a few Neanderthals who won't buy a book with a woman's name on the cover, but they're in the minority (and they'd probably object to the gay characters and romance I put into my books, anyway!).

What does irk me is that men writing epic fantasy get a lot more publicity - I've heard of bookshops putting on displays of epic fantasy novels that excluded the many women writing in the genre.


* I say epic-ish, as although the trilogy ranges across Europe, it focuses on a small group of characters. Much more like Scott Lynch in scope than GRRM :)
Elizabethan fantasy trilogy The Alchemist of SoulsThe Merchant of Dreams and The Prince of Lies out now from Angry Robot Books!

Offline Fellshot

Re: Fantasy genre - a male preserve?
« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2013, 07:08:22 PM »
It only seems like there are more men in fantasy because certain rather loud elements of the genre like to  pretend that women aren't relevant as writers or readers. Such persons are living in a carefully constructed illusion that they maintain via a cultivated stereotypical image of a "fantasy reader," the "fake geek girl" nonsense, the misapplication of misconceptions concerning history, and of course the time honored ritual of covering one's ears and shouting "LALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU" when confronted with any evidence that contradicts them.

My experience says that the readership and the author pools are an even split with regards to gender, but that the marketing is distinctly skewed towards men because reasons. My experience also says that women have been reading and writing fantasy since the beginning because it's easier to believe an ignored presence than a complete absence.

Offline Nighteyes

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Re: Fantasy genre - a male preserve?
« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2013, 09:07:25 PM »
Sorry but do you need to keep mentioning your book in every post?  (And add it as a tag for the thread as well!)

No, fantasy is not a male preserve, but as Fellshoot said, sometimes the male side of fantasy (both for writers and for readers), can be a lot louder, and make it seem male dominated.  Even this very site made the mistake back in the New Year of writing a top ten list of the most anticipated books of 2013 without including a single one written by a female writer.   :o
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Offline Noona

Re: Fantasy genre - a male preserve?
« Reply #4 on: September 03, 2013, 09:17:50 PM »
I think sometimes female fantasy fans feel like they can't talk about the fact that they like sff, for a variety of reasons. I know I certainly used to be afraid of talking about what I read - now I run the sff section of the shop I work for and our customers (male and female) like my recommendations. So I think that it may sometimes seem mostly male, but it certainly isn't. (Although, as Anne said above, certain subgenres probably do have a more pronounced gender split.)

Offline Mark Lawrence

Re: Fantasy genre - a male preserve?
« Reply #5 on: September 03, 2013, 11:07:48 PM »
I ran a demographics poll for my readers and two for general readers. Suspect sampling, but there were 500+ data points:

http://mark---lawrence.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/demographics.html


I took part in Teresa Frohock's experiment to see if people could tell the author's gender from their writing:

http://teresafrohock.com/blog/2013/1/7/gender-bending-the-big-reveal.html


And every person bar one junior staff member that I've come into 'contact' with in at fantasy publishers (over 20 people) has been female - including the bosses.

Offline AnneLyle

Re: Fantasy genre - a male preserve?
« Reply #6 on: September 04, 2013, 06:51:34 AM »
And every person bar one junior staff member that I've come into 'contact' with in at fantasy publishers (over 20 people) has been female - including the bosses.

There are certainly a lot of women in publishing. Angry Robot is unusual in that, back when I was signed, all three of the staff were male*, though this undoubtedly reflects their origins as an imprint (of HarperCollins) explicitly set up to capture the 16-24 male demographic. Their author list is still predominantly male** for the same reason, but recent signings - including at least one epic fantasy author besides myself - have been predominantly female.

* Now that they've grown and started new imprints, they're getting closer to 50/50.
** Not all the authors listed on their website are still publishing books with them - it's mainly the backlist that's heavily skewed towards men
Elizabethan fantasy trilogy The Alchemist of SoulsThe Merchant of Dreams and The Prince of Lies out now from Angry Robot Books!

Offline Sherwood H Smith

Re: Fantasy genre - a male preserve?
« Reply #7 on: September 04, 2013, 11:37:55 AM »
First of all apologies, Gariath for my shameless/desperate plugging. As I am sure everyone on this forum appreciates it's so hard to drum up any interest in a new name.

I've been really interested by your replies - and comforted by the stats quoted. They sort of reinforce what I've found in other areas of life i.e. that our perceptions are very much formed by the press' use of stereotypes and the recourse to lazy journalism at times.
Certainly in other genres I have found it very hard to 'spot' the gender of an author.

Offline Blodeuedd

Re: Fantasy genre - a male preserve?
« Reply #8 on: September 04, 2013, 06:31:49 PM »
I am a woman and I love fantasy. Why? I honestly do not know. What I do know is when I have read fantasy romance (the horror) I have not liked it just cos there are more emotions and romance and blah blah blah.

And when it comes to authors, do I like at if they are male or female? No, why would I bother. If they write a good story they write a good story. If not then I will not read more.
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Offline Sherwood H Smith

Re: Fantasy genre - a male preserve?
« Reply #9 on: September 05, 2013, 12:10:47 PM »
 Blodeuedd - I hope it didn't appear that I was suggesting that women writers were better than men or vice versa. I was just interested if there are any differences in style or approach that people have noticed. I don't intentionally choose books by the author's gender but after a quick check of my most recently read titles the majority are written by women. Strange!

Offline AnneLyle

Re: Fantasy genre - a male preserve?
« Reply #10 on: September 05, 2013, 01:49:20 PM »
Oddly, I find that most of the SF on my shelves is by women, whereas the fantasy is mixed (and most of my favourites are by men).

I have no idea what this means...
Elizabethan fantasy trilogy The Alchemist of SoulsThe Merchant of Dreams and The Prince of Lies out now from Angry Robot Books!

Offline DBASKLS

Re: Fantasy genre - a male preserve?
« Reply #11 on: September 05, 2013, 05:23:10 PM »
Oddly, I find that most of the SF on my shelves is by women, whereas the fantasy is mixed (and most of my favourites are by men).

I have no idea what this means...

Nothing I suspect  ;)

I'm a girl. I like fantasy more than sci-fi. Personally I think those two statements are mutually exclusive. I like fantasy because I'm me  :D
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Offline AnneLyle

Re: Fantasy genre - a male preserve?
« Reply #12 on: September 06, 2013, 09:22:11 AM »
Actually, I think it's because I like my SF with a lot of cultural worldbuilding rather than just tech, and women writers seem to do that more than men. In fantasy, OTOH, I guess men and women both write good epic/S&S/swashbuckling stuff :)
Elizabethan fantasy trilogy The Alchemist of SoulsThe Merchant of Dreams and The Prince of Lies out now from Angry Robot Books!

Offline graveyardhag

Re: Fantasy genre - a male preserve?
« Reply #13 on: September 06, 2013, 11:06:43 AM »
I do not currently know (as in physically see or speak to) any males that read fantasy. I have known exactly 2, as far as I can recall.
Girls on the other hand? We ladies got this. :D
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Offline HAnthe

Re: Fantasy genre - a male preserve?
« Reply #14 on: September 09, 2013, 07:28:43 PM »
In the library, I think I see equal numbers of men and women browsing the SF/F section.  I can't survey them, alas.  But I've got to say that when I look at our shelves, for every David Weber (who basically owns his own shelf) there's also an Anne McCaffrey; for every Robert Jordan there's a Laurell K. Hamilton; for R.A. Salvatore there's Mercedes Lackey.  People who write a lot of books, who get checked out a ton.  People who command shelf space.  It's pretty even.

Maybe I should do a proper survey of the books...

As for readers, probably 90% of my friends read SF/F (which is how we became friends).  I have more girl-friends than guy-friends.  They're all ages, interested in all different subgenres.  Sure the women probably predominate in the paranormal-romance reading, but that doesn't mean they don't read military SF on the side -- or that no men are reading the paranormal romances.

(You'd be surprised by how many men stray into the romance aisles on any given day.  We had complaints back when we split the genres up, because now people can see them there, instead of them being able to quietly check out a couple romance paperbacks without anyone noticing.)

Also, there's more paranormal and dystopian fantasy/SF drifting down into the YA and kids' materials from authors of both genders.  Rowling, Meyer, Clare -- Riordan, Colfer, Nix.  The shelves are pretty balanced.  I think it's the media and public perception that has to catch up.