Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Why Do Women Dominate YA?

NPR recently released a list of Readers' Top 100 YA Novels, and The Atlantic wasn't the only one to notice how female authors dominated the field:
More than 75,000 votes were cast to cull the list of 235 finalists to the top 100. Also notable: Of those 235 titles, 147 (or 63 percent) were written by women—a parity that would seem like a minor miracle in some other genres. Female authors took the top three slots, and an approximately equal share of the top 100. As a comparison, you'd have to scroll all the way to number 20 on last summer's Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy list to find a woman's name (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley).
First off, I don't want anyone to read concern into this post. I don't think this is a problem. It's just interesting. It's also not a rout -- in the top 100 it's still 50/50, though when you remove classics the trend is more stark.

I can think of any number of reasons why women might dominate young adult fiction, everything from institutional explanations (children's publishers are overwhelmingly staffed by women) to genre (teen romance) to psychology (more on that in a minute), but I'm not sure any of them feel like a totally satisfactory explanation.

I think it's equally curious when you consider that middle grade (for 8-12 year olds) is a place where male writers still have some of the most popular series: Wimpy Kid, Series of Unfortunate Events, Ranger's Apprentice, Fablehaven

The only explanation I can come up for that, back to the psychology, is that middle grade is a time when men have their formative taste-creation time (take it from me: what guys like at age 12 is pretty much what they like at age 32), whereas for women maybe high school is more formative? So maybe men are more likely to gravitate to middle grade?

What do you think? Why are there so many more female YA writers?

Art: Lady writing a letter with her maid - Johannes Vermeer


Erica Cameron said...

That's actually a really good theory. I can believe the psychology behind that though I've never really questioned it before. It definitely changes individual to individual, but I think as a whole the idea that middle school is more formative for boys and high school more formative for girls is relatively sound. As much as any generalization on humanity can be, anyway.

Jaimie said...

Your psychology explanation is very perceptive. I like it.

Ann Best said...

In view of having raised three girls and then a boy, your theory works for me!

Anonymous said...

I am a teen services librarian and I have noticed that in youth, females overwhelmingly dominate library readership and participation in library-related events. For example, my teen summer reading club has 800 participants, and the participation breakdown is 70% / 30% females to males. So...perhaps it is just a matter of appealing to audience because more females are reading YA fiction than males.

Alex Villasante said...

I don't have an answer, only observations. I was at the YA Fest this past weekend in Easton PA and among 30+ YA authors, writing in every conceivable genre, there were maybe 5 male authors. Two of them, Charles Benoit and Jonathan Maberry write in more traditionally male genres - noir and horror - and with male protagonists. Jennifer Hubbard writes (amazing) YA contemp with male protags.
I guess the (non) point I'm making is about the audience that came out to see these authors at the free event. They reflected the gender of the authors proportionally - overwhelmingly female. Perhaps that's something to do with it?

Philip Heckman said...

Why are most nurses and most elementary school teachers female (and thus relatively underpaid)? Because the male-dominated society at large stupidly undervalues those professions. The more money, awards, and fame that accrue to YA titles, however, the more men will become interested. The Hunger Games and Harry Potter have got a lot of attention, which will begin to show up in more male YA writers in coming years. (So I’m a cynic.)

Michael G-G said...

For a simplistic explanation of why there are more males in MG and women in YA: it all comes down to respective audiences' interest in romance versus exploding toilets.

D.G. Hudson said...

Since I don't write MG or YA, I'll only speculate that for some women, that was their favorite time in their life. (team sports, mean girls, BFF, jockeying for position or for that captain of the team)

I think you're right about the psychology. Many adult women (not YAs) like to read YA, though I can't understand why. Nostalgia? (the same as some women can't understand why I love sci-fi and fantasy)

Interesting stats, but not surprising.

David Jón Fuller said...

It's an interesting theory -- I wonder if it explains in part the huge proportion of superhero comic book writers who are men?

Munk said...

I completely agree with your comment that what men like at 12 is pretty much what they like at 32. But do you think industry definitions are driving what is available to readers? Or are reader's interests driving the industry? What of the 13 to 16 year-old boys who are more interested in science than vampire lust?

Bobbie Shafer said...

I'm wondering if perhaps the 12 year old child in us makes us write y/a or middle-grade. Whereas boys of that age were more sports minded and outdoorsy, girls stayed inside and read, imagined, and daydreamed. It's the child in me that loved y/a, middle-grade books and I was an avid reader from 6 on up.

Fred said...

I think women are naturally more in tune to kids because they tend to be the ones who raise them, and are therefore more aware of the nuances in their behavior, more interested in it, and therefpre have more to say on the subject whereas men tend to concentrate on more "grandiose" subjects.

Kathryn Rose said...

"What guys like at age 12 is pretty much what they like at age 32."

I now understand my husband. Eureka!

Diana said...

Are they really all female authors?

Look at the romance genre, almost all of the authors of romance are women or have female pen names. If you are a man and you want to write for Harlequin, you need a female pen name.

If you're female and you write thrillers, then you might consider using a male pen name.

Didn't Rowling use her initials instead of her first name so that readers wouldn't know she was female?

So who is the target audience and what gender of the author's name sells more books to that audience?

So as the teen services librarian pointed out, %70 of teen readers are female, therefore I would expect 70% of the author's names, whether real names or pen names, to be female. So they are actually on the low side.

Ted Cross said...

I don't see how Dune or LOTR are considered YA. I love many older YA books, like The Hobbit and A Wizard of Earthsea, but other than Harry Potter I feel that modern YA tends to talk down to kids, and I don't like that at all.

JeffO said...

Interesting idea. Here's a couple of thoughts. When I was 11, I decided I wanted to be a writer. For all of sixth grade, I wrote a ton, and I read a ton all through elementary school. When I hit 12 and 7th grade, I didn't exactly stop reading, but I cut way back; I spent a lot more time out and doing things with my friends. As for what I read when I *did* read, it was almost-exclusively adult fiction, except for some of the staples like S.E. Hinton books and things assigned for school.

Maybe the boys who are reading are not reading YA books.

Beth said...

1. Your theory works for me.

2. A lot of women who would write "clean" romance write YA, because there is one line for "clean" (not inspirational) romance.I think more women write romance than men, so being boxed in could be part of it.

Andrew Leon said...

I just did a post related to this topic, so I'm not going to go back through it all here; however, I will add that I think this is a bottom up change and that over the next couple of decades we'll see women dominating more than just the YA field.

Anonymous said...

Woman tend to gravitate towards support groups within their endeavors. I think that in and of itself helps women in the YA genre. The YA market in Romance Writers of America is one of the fastest growing sub-chapters within RWA. Now I'm not trying to be an endorsement ad for RWA but the information writers are able to attain as a member is substansial as is the opportunity to pitch agents and editors who are seeking YA. The vast majority of members within RWA happen to be women. The YA market is such a no holds bar genre right now that authors are able to go places within fiction that they are unable to go in adult fiction. Also too, the romance genre in general tends to be stronger sales wise than other genres like horror, thriller and mainstream fiction. Even during economic downturns, the romance industry is still going strong. I believe that contributes to the strong sales by female authors in the YA genre. Just two weeks ago I was at the RWA National Conference, agents and editors were salivating over finding the next Stephenie Meyer or Suzanne Collins. As different as those two series are the thing they do have in common is a love triangle. I'm not saying that men can't write romance, take Nicholas Sparks for instance, but the vast majority of YA that have ended up on that list and were written by women, have romantic elements if not full blown romantic invovlement between the protagonists. Now when you get down to the psychology behind it, teenage girls fantasize about romance, the happily ever after, and such. When you look at The Hunger Games popularity among teenagers, as brutal as it it, Ms. Collins still weaves a love triangle in between Katniss, Peeta and Gale. And Ms. Collins makes you want Katniss to get a HEA even more because of how bad her life had been. Most YA that I have found that has been geared towards boys rarely has a romantic element to it. Boys by the time they hit 12 are usually playing more video games than reading as part of the cultural psychology of young boys. Whereas teenage girls tend to want to be included in anything their girlfriends are doing so when one of them says you have to read this book, then everyone within that circle of girls is reading it.

Great post!
Maggie Mae Gallagher

Mr. D said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maya said...

What guys like at age 12 is pretty much what they like at age 32.

Nathan, I'm the same age as you and I feel this is a backwards causality. Actually, before the explosion of YA, I too pretty much read the same types of books between ages 12-25. (I am female)

HOWEVER, more teens are reading YA now than I did because there is more YA to read. The genre wasn't as big back then.

And yes, most of it is paranormal romance that wouldn't appeal to guys. However, Hunger Games definitely had cross-over appeal.

I don't know why more women write YA, but I don't think it's because teen years are more or less formative for females than men. It may simply be that so many women are mothers and we see what our teens are going through. Or it may be that Twilight inspired so many women writers. Also, a lot of writers are following the trend: they may have previously chosen to write adult romance or women's fiction, but are now writing YA because that's what's selling.

Carey Torgesen said...

Good post,

I would have to say it is the same reason most teachers are women. There is something about nurturing children, making them understand that we have all been there, and something in them that wants to help and teach. When it comes to kids and teens, women dominate the jobs that have to do directly. Counselors, social services, libraries (school), teaching, administration in schools, etc. So I think writing for kids is just a natural extension.

That and high school is about crushing on that hot guy or being nervous about asking that girl to the prom. It's the purest of love, without complication of career and age pressure. And girls love reading and writing about love. And every woman has that perfect high school love story in their head. So there is that too!

But that is my the way. I am a teacher, so this is where I'm coming from. :)

And yes. I write romance-ish stories for both YA and adult.:)

Mr. D said...

Carey has a point. I, too, am a teacher. At a Middle School in San Jose. And even though I am not the only male teacehr there, we are in the minority. Of the 12 principals I've had over the last 25 years, nine were women and three were men.

And interestinly, when I divulged to one of my fellow teachers recently, (a woman, btw) that my debut novel was going to be published this summer, she assumed it was a MG or YA book. She was nearly shocked when I told her that it was NOT for kids. KILLER OF KILLERS is not even remotely for kids.

Kendall Hoover said...

I have no idea why this would be, but I think it's incredibly interesting. I wonder, though, if there are more women writing YA or only more women getting PUBLISHED in YA.I think the answer to that would help determine whether author-factors or publisher-factors are more culpable.

Carolyn said...

It's a good question. There's a part of me that thinks there's some truth to the Victorian notion that women retain childlike qualities throughout their life in a way men generally do not. As the primary caregivers to children, it makes evolutionary sense for women to be able to relate to children.

Also, as more men become stay-at-home dads and dads are expected to do more and more childcare, you see more this "man boy" cultural stereotype. For example, the new NBC show "Guys with Kids." Also, the existence of Paul Rudd, Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, et al. Maybe evolution at work.

All that said, I feel I gravitate toward young protagonists because it's an interesting time in one's personal development. Things are raw and new and surprising and you're not set in how to cope with the world. You're making things up as you go along. Improvisation is fascinating to me, and what are your teen years other than one, giant improv comedy/tragedy sketch?

collectonian said...

As a female writer, I didn't set out to write YA, it happened more because for the stories I write, the age group is a better set of actors. While they may be limited by parents, they also have a greater freedom of imagination, etc.

Mentally, if I think about some fantastical creature coming up to someone and saying "hey you, time to save the world" the cynical adult will just walk off and pretend they didn't see it, while a teenager is more inclined to at least pay attention and go along with it.

How many 30 year olds would just follow along with some fairy declaring them the hero of the world? :-P Not to say it can't be done (in one of my adult stories, even, I do have adults dealing with it, but also in a more "grounded" space of angels/demons versus more out there creatures).

I don't think it has anything to do with the "nurturing" side of women - I frankly dislike children. I don't write YA for them, the stories end up being YA because it is what is best for the story and characters :-P

Long aside past, as for why there are more female than male - good question. I think part of it is that YA does tend to be more "romantic", not necessarily romance, but the fantasy of going off to a far off world, etc is a romantic notion that appeals to both male and female readers but that men may not feel the urge to write about. Though I'd be curious to know - how many YA readers are male vs female, it may just be the authors writing to the audience, similar to romance novels.

Anonymous said...

When I was in the YA target audience, I had already skipped into "adult books". Or rather I had moved into genrely speaking into Science Fiction and Fantasy novels. My sister on the other hand did the pure YA thing.

She transitioned out of YA and into mainstream fiction sooner than I did. She had an easier time of it, and mostly looks back on those books as being silly.

While I took a lot longer and found it harder to transition out of genre fiction, when I did, I moved more towards literary fiction -- except in rare instances mainstream fiction bores me.

I seriously doubt my sister would ever pick up a "Sweet Valley High" book again. Or for that matter, anything similar. She is more Erin Morgenstern, Sara Gruen, Jennifer Close these days.

While I am more William Gaddis, Cormac McCarthy, Junot Diaz, Margaret Attwood. I will though, cheat and read something by Brendan Sanderson, John Scalzi, or Alastair Reynolds.

Growing up, given my Robert Jordan, Piers Anthony habit, I don't think I ever experienced anyone telling me anything other than "Grow up, those books are garbage." Which I think caused me to gravitate more towards serious books.

While I think my sister went through a more natural "Oh, those books are fine for a girl, she will grow out of them." comments about her reading.

Natalie said...

I think you've got a good theory Nathan, and not one I'd heard before. I was at the SCBWI conference in LA last week, and chatted with a lot of YA authors, all of the women. Most of us seem to agree that middle school is a time we'd rather forget! (Though some women do gravitate to MG.) Middle grade shapes gals too, but first loves, learning how to keep your friends while turning more attention to the opposite sex, and then there's the separation from one's parents - the angst, the trauma, the drama - all great fodder.
For me, there was never a question of what age I'd write for. When I began to write, the voice that came out was a YA voice (and it continues to be). That's the younger part of myself I most relate to still. Maybe that's the way it is for a lot of other women.
Thanks for sharing this idea - it is intriguing. said...

Oh Nathan, Nathan. Seriously?? Women tend to write more YA because they believe YA are worthy of their time and attention. Men write fiction and it's 'literary fiction'. Women write fiction and it's 'chick lit, women's lit' etc. But in fairness let's not forget R.L. Stine and other men who also write because they think kids deserve good writing.

Nathan Bransford said...


Ummmmm..... You know I'm a man who writes children's books right?

Jan Priddy, Oregon said...

I admit I haven't read all the books on the two lists, so maybe it isn't fair for me to comment, but I will anyway: the lists are weird.

I have no idea why some books are on the lists at all, why some are on both lists, why some rank higher than others—why isn't China Miéville higher, for example—or what idiot ever decided that The Lord of the Flies was a YA book to begin with.

One reason for the disparity: marketing. A YA author commented that she (SHE) didn't set out to write YA, that's how she was classified. There is some sexism at work here. If a book is about a child and especially if it has a woman author, I suspect it's more likely to be classified as YA, regardless of the content.

Here's another: Rowling used her initials and a central male protagonist to sell her books. Girls will cross gender lines, but boys rarely do. That's why ALL the books I read as a child had male protagonists. This only began to change for me as I got older and could find books of the sort I wanted to read with girls in them.

But mostly, these are stupid lists. Many of my personal favorites are on both, but not all, not in the order I would place them, and sometimes on the wrong lists.

Eva said...

I agree with Michael G.G. Boys, even in high school, tend to enjoy the typically MG book themes (slapstick humor and adventure), whereas girls, even in elementary and middle school, tend to enjoy the older YA book themes (relationships, loss). My theory is that more girls are reading books targeted to older audiences and more boys are reading books targeting younger audiences, and the authors are responding to this trend.

david elzey said...

From another perspective, my MFA creative writing for children and young adults program was 95% female. the question us got kept getting was "how do we get more men involved?"

therein lies another long conversation, but the fact that the NPR list came in with *as many* male authors as it did is perhaps better than it was in the past when men were predominantly the ones getting published.

Mary Horner said...

I like your theory about formative creative years, but don't know the psychology behind it. I have, however, read many YA novels, and never really thought about breaking down the numbers by gender. I do know that one hundred percent were written by people, so, food for thought!

Mira said...

I find it interesting that females dominate the YA field, but what I find even more interesting is that they don't dominate anything else. In fact, they not only don't dominate, they are not fairly represented.

From the article, this caught my attention:

"The results are dismaying: after reviewing catalogs from 13 large and small publishing houses (and eliminating genre titles unlikely to be reviewed), she found that only one came close to gender parity, while the majority had 25 percent or fewer titles written by women".

25% or fewer? It's really hard for me to believe this is representative of the author gender breakdown. In other words, that only 25% of writers are women.

In some ways, the question that the Atlantic posed is telling. Where are the articles asking why MG is dominated by male writers? Why literary fiction is dominated by male writers? In fact, why every single other genre is dominated by male writers?

I think it will be very interesting to see if independent publishing opens the door for these statistics to change, since women will have full access.

I'm not giving you a hard time, Nathan, though, for posing this question. I think it's really interesting that women have broken through to dominate YA, and the debate here in the comments about the reasons for that are interesting. I just think the underlying issue behind the question is also very interesting.

MaryAnn Pope said...

I agree with Mira. So woman slightly dominate YA and probably romance genre too, but men grossly dominate the rest of the genres by 75%? Is that true?

I calculated the percentage of woman authors on the 100 top scifi that this blog post linked to, and only 15%of the authors were woman. So men dominated that genre by 85%.

I agree with Mira that a more interesting question is why are men still dominating literature in general.

Selene said...

Ye Gods, the stereotyping of women in the comment thread is depressing. Because of course we're all naturally more nurturing and interested in children than men! That's why we should, like, stay home and take care of the kids when they're small. Or why we're just more naturally suited to be teachers or nurses and stuff. It's the natural way of things, you guys! It's biology!

Anonymous said...

@Selene - As an explanation it also doesn't make sense, because they why do men dominate Middle Grade?

Mira said...

Thanks, Mary Anne. I also had to look at those stats twice. 25 percent seems so low! Interesting about the science fiction list.

I also wanted to add why I suspect women were allowed to breakthrough YA. I think it was because J. K. Rowling, and then Stephanie Meyer, were so successful. Alot of money made there, so it probably got associated with the gender of the writer with the genre.

Just a theory.

Jon VanZile said...

I hope this doesn't get me in trouble, but I think it's because of the large crossover between contemporary YA and romance. Paranormal romances are huge in the YA category and many of the YA books I read feature a pretty traditional romance at the center of the book. So it makes sense to me that a lot of the YA readers later graduate to contemporary romance, which dominates trade fiction in terms of number of titles published and (I think) overall share of the market. With boys, on the other hand, they begin to drift away from reading around middle school in general, so they read these MG novels, and then sadly many of them are done reading for a long time or they graduate to nonfiction and magazines.

Mister Furkles said...

I think Jan Priddy, Eva and Michael G. G. have addressed the real question: who is reading what? Who writes what is determined by who reads it. The publishing industry classifies books but the names of the classes do not necessarily reflect who is reading these books.

The significant differences in MG and YA seem to be age of the MC, vocabulary, sentence complexity and voice. Usually, girls read more and at a more advanced level. Hence, more girls would read YA and more boys would read MC. As the boys reading MC mature, they move on to adult books if they are still interested in novels. I also suspect there is a lull for teen boys where they are not reading much but the teen girls are reading more. After that, young men and women both move into adult books.

Anonymous said...

Good grief.

First of all 25% fewer women than men does not at all mean %25 of writers are women. If you have a hundred male writers, 25% fewer female writers is 75 women writers. If there are 50 male writers, 25% fewer would be 38 women. Not good at all, but no the the reactionary gender apocalypse that is implied in the comments.

Secondly I'm glad the Atlantic mentioned the Jodi Picault issue. She complained that women writers weren't being reviewed in the New York Times. Well what isn't mentioned is that did a survey of women reviewers, and while a lot of publications (the Atlantic included) were dismal regarding the number of women reviewers they hired. Jodi Picaults nemisis, the NYtimes rather well 48 women reviewers to 52 male reviewers.

That said if you are truly interested in gender equity, then YA's 63 percent of writers being women is not in any way healthy. The only healthy statistic is 50 percent.

Mira said...

Anon, you are quoting incorrect statistics. It was not 25 percent fewer women than men. It was 75 percent fewer women authors than male authors.

And it was measured over the entire publication listof 13 publishing houses.

The world does pretty much treat everyone unfairly, including most men. But it can treat some people even more unfairly than others.

I also want to mention this is not really about who reads or writes what type of genre. It's about who is chosen for publication in that genre.

Tammy said...

I believe women dominate the YA field because more women are responsible for the care, feeding, and upbringing of the YAs. Women know what their (YAs)interests are and can better apply that information to writing publishable books.

Susie said...

Interesting post! I agree with many of the comments here, especially by Bobby Shafer (daydreaming girls as future writers) and Beth (YA often offers clean-er romance). I also wonder if its just this period of development--girls spend a lot time talking to their friends about boys, dates (or wishing they had friends to talk about these issues) etc, and reading these books might feel like they have friends. Many successful YA writers tap into girlhood/teenage angst (think Judy Blume!) I read a lot of YA myself, and it taps into my younger self. But I write mysteries, also dominated by women (at least the "softer" types).

MaryAnn Pope said...

Anon @ 10:55, you are right about the statistics. I should've read more closer. So it's about 43 % women writers which is much more reasonable.

But the low percentage of women writers represented in the top 100 Science fiction/fantasy list is still staggering.

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mira said...

MaryAnn, you have to go to the original article for the statistics. I'll quote it again:

"Ruth Franklin at The New Republic did her own analysis of the literary glass ceiling. The results are dismaying: after reviewing catalogs from 13 large and small publishing houses (and eliminating genre titles unlikely to be reviewed), she found that only one came close to gender parity, while the majority had 25 percent or fewer titles written by women."

Of the 13 house reviewed, for 12 of them, 75% were male authors.

Unless there is something I'm missing, Anon's statistics are not correct.

Mira said...

I think it may just be hard to believe it! :)

James said...

Philip Heckman, Munk, and Diana bring up some valid points.

I'd say the bottom line is where the interest lies for the writer.

Nathan points out that SciFi is lower on the list for female writers. Is this just a lack of general interest in gismos and technology? I want to write about a theme park of dinosaurs! Rawr!

YA tends to have more of a leaning toward young love and first relationships. You look at something like Twilight -- it's not really about vampires (if you can even really call them vampires--She changes canon). It's about young love.

Maybe females just like to write about young love more than males? And we would rather write about dinosaurs riding the Tilt-O-Whirl.

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AR said...

If it's a temporary or contemporary trend - perhaps the influence and inspiration of Madelaine L'Engle?

Also, developmentally, adolescence is the time when social intelligence is developing. Is it too much to suggest that in general women might have a leg up in that arena and that's what YA is really about?

Some intrepid male author may pioneer a form in which young men can read about all those things that they largely lack in contemporary society - the initiations into manhood specifically as opposed to mere, and delayed, maturity.

Unless that's already been done - and the secret is that adult fantasy/sci-fi is actually all adolescent fare. :)

Peter Dudley said...

I wonder how many of the female YA authors on the list have children, and how old those children were when they wrote their successful books.

I think you're right on the male MG author psychology. It's easy for an adult male author to identify with middle school boys. I've noticed that especially as a youth coach--before 6th grade, they're little kids. In middle school, you can start joking around with them, but you're still someone they look up to. As they get older, they act and think more like adults-in-training. Connecting with our inner juvenile, in that sort of safe, middle-grade fiction way, is fun for adult males.

One of the reasons I settled on YA, however, is that my boys have always "read up" and read a lot of YA when they were younger (10 to 12 years old). It's easy, as a father, coach, and other youth group leader, to connect with my target audience. While being a parent is no more a requirement to write YA than being an elf is a requirement to write good fantasy, I think it probably makes for an easier path. Especially for moms who have another breadwinner in the household--there's a very deep connection to the target audience, and those writers probably spend a lot of time already telling stories to children.

Just a thought. Overall, I don't really think it matters much. But it's fun to speculate.

Jack Holder said...

This could have a connection with the education we each receive. Reading the comments, I think we all agree that women are more and more dominating the areas of early education, and top students. The stat of 60% of students in college being women has some bearing all the way back to middle school. Girls are taught at an early age to be literate, to read, to succeed in academia. Boys more and more are being taught that the most lucrative and rewarding venture they could have is swinging a bat or catching a football (I say this in full knowledge of my self-love of football). But young adults read what they can connect to. And in a broad general sweeping sense, women can write better women characters than men can.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Just got done camping for four days at a Scout camp with my son.

Found this in my email. Extremely interesting observation, I think.

But when is the last time someone actually looked at the fact female writers (in my estimation), and women in modern publishing, in fact, outnumber males now?

This has been a running theme, in fact, on some blogs where the prize winners are calculated for "literature" versus "YA" or the euphamistically termed "chick-lit."
As if, if it is written by a woman, it can't possibly qualify as "lit," on its own. It must have its own category.

Why, in fact, are most Pulitzer and other major literary award winners men? Do they actually write better books than, say, Jane Austen?

And then, to go beyond who writes, and who publishes (agents, acquisition editors, etc), a study could and perhaps should be done on who, exactly, demographically--and not by guessing or opinion--is reading what these days?

J.K. Rowling's popularity isn't merely from kids reading her Harry Potter series. It's also from Scholastic taking a chance on her stories, and from teens to adults liking her stories as well--it's own "Lord of the Rings" phenomenon, for a new generation.

I laugh at any concern this might cause anyone. If more men read, more men likely will write. It's possible men may write something men might like to read, just as its possible women might write something women like to read. Or that men write something women like to read (50 shades of grey?) or that women write something men like to read.

As for the prevalence of women writing and publishing more YA than men...hahahaha. Like I said, someone should check to see the sheer number of women writing versus men; the number of women in the publishing industry versus men, and perhaps, the greater awareness of kids' tastes for "classic" YA versus middle-grade YA? Or even (shudder the thought) why there ever was a YA genre devised, considering most of us were reading "classic YA" like Jack London's stories and Hemingway and Fitzgerald in high school, before someone decided they were too deep or too well written or whatever for high school kids and decided they'd be better off and safer with the likes of "Mockingbird" or "Hunger Games"

Anonymous said...

As a female writer, I'm honestly just glad to hear we dominate any area of fiction! I thought the men dominated in all genres, so this is great news to me, esp. considering my critique partner thinks my book should be YA not middle-grade (as pitched). Yay!

Anonymous said...

Oops, forgot to sign my post.
Yvette Carol

Anonymous said...

This is what happens when the publishing industry is, in general, not as interested in female writers as male ones. Women who want to write gravitate to genres where they are more likely to be successful, and because the "important" genres are ones where male authors dominate, women end up writing in the ones that aren't seen as important. YA was given very little attention until recent years and wasn't seen as a "serious" genre. So it was just easier for a female author to break into that part of the industry.

I disagree with a lot of the other explanations being offered here. YA is more romance-focused so women tend to write it more? I think that gets the causation backward -- YA isn't inherently about romance, it's that a lot of YA authors (most of them women) decided to put that element into their books. And if the issue was that women are more "in touch" with teens because they do more childcare -- well, that's even more true of younger children, but men are still dominating in that publishing category.

And Nathan, I think your explanation misses the mark as well. In general, I'm skeptical when people posit an explanation for something like this that is based on the assumption of an inherent difference between men and women. It's too easy to assume that explains things when in reality there's usually a simpler, more concrete social factor (like the publishing industry's resistance to female authors).

Think of it this way: even if most women would say their high school years were most formative to them, and most men would say their middle school years were, presumably both men AND women think that adulthood is an important time in their life. But in almost every category of literature focused at adults, male authors vastly outstrip their female counterparts. That suggests that the distribution of successful authors isn't about author-interest nearly as much as publisher-interest.

Anonymous said...

Women read more fiction than men. Also, a lot of stay at home moms read a lot with their kids, so this might breed some story ideas.

Most guys I know read lots and lots of non-fiction, save for the gamers that will read tons and tons of fantasy novels.

Mira said...

Terin and Anon 8 a.m. Good points!

So, just to double-check, I went back to the article about the original research re. the 75% male/25%female ratio. I should mention that they don't consider the research conclusive or necessarily representative cross-industry because it excluded genre and commercial books, as well as having a small sample size. (Important point here, since many readers of Nathan's blog write and read commercial or genre).

The point of the research was to find out if the number of books (written by women) being reviewed reflected the gender breakdown of publication of books (likely to be reviewed).

So, they focused on book genres that are likely to be reviewed, and the 75%/25% reflects that.

Here's the link to the research, if anyone is interested:

Anonymous said...

I honestly think that it's just what happens to be "in" right now. Lots of focus on the romance. I know plenty of male authors in different genres that are not "in" at the moment, like sci-fi/fantasy for teens. They are known among kids who like to read that stuff, but I don't know if they would make it to the top 100 list when they have to compete with Twilight, The Hunger Games, and all the spin-off titles.

Jessica Peter said...

Interesting comments all around! The one thing I couldn't help responding to was D.G. Hudson's comment speculating that for some women the teen years were the best of their life. . . It made me smile, because I write YA partially for the entire opposite reason - it was likely the worst part of my life (and many of my friend's lives), but it has such great opportunities for anxiety, tension, and heartbreak - which make good fiction, though I wouldn't want to live them again!

But in general, I agree with some posters that it has to do with who's reading the books. Mainly girls reading the YA, so mainly female-written and female-centric books are written. But. . . which came first? Hm. . . .

A. M. Perkins said...

It could be any one of the reasons mentioned above (personally, I think Philip Heckman hit it closest), but there could be something else at play: random chance and individual talents.

This all reminds me of something similar on the British quiz show QI: they discussed the local myth that women's pheromones attract fish. Apparently, it started because female fishermen (fisherwomen? fishers?) held the top fishing records in Britain.

Instead of saying "Hey, those ladies can really fish!" the men thought, "Wait, there are women that fish better than men? There must be a biological reason for it - why else would a woman be better than us at something?"


Annalise Green said...

Honestly, I think that right now teenage boys are more likely to play videogames than read books, so females comprise the majority audience of the later YA books. I DON'T want to read any gendered reasons into that - I think a lot of it might be societal, for instance, because videogames market more to boys and YA books more to girls - but that does seem to be the pattern at the moment.

adan said...

i was gonna say i felt confused, but actually i AM confused, but in a kinda of delightful way, and with an expectation that this conversation will probably get even more interesting over time ;-)

i myself have only recently returned to fiction (since the early 80s) having been primarily focussed on poetry and painting, so my own work is tilted toward young seniors (YS ?) ;-)

and i have NO opinion or observation of who writes what percentage-wise in this is-it-even-a-genre topic

i do like writing from an over six decades perspective though, 'cause i can, as needed/wished include all the ages before me -

and that's something i do find kinda fun to be able to do, and seem to be getting equally good response from males and females

if it's true one returns, in old(er) age, to a child-like semblance of our innocence, maybe there's some hope there, in aging, i hadn't anticipated ;-)

best wishes everyone!

Anonymous said...

I think females have been inspired by JK Rowling and then Stephanie Meyer, who made YA look glitzy and fun. Rowling & Meyer became really rich, really fast. As we have Suzanne Collins also doing really well, we can expect even more female YA writers. People say women and girls read more than boys & men, but what are they reading most? Romance.

Now, you cannot drag women into the technology fields where they are needed (and where the money is). 99% would rather sit on the sofa & read romance, or write it. This is why women fail & hardly earn as much as men in the workforce in general. Too much time thinking about romance & Young adult Fiction.

Anonymous said...

^ Lol at this person above me.

Yes, why DO women dominate YA? That is, assuming they do in the first place. StackedBooks has recently published a post debunking the perception that women dominate YA. It's supported stats based on the best-seller lists for YA fiction from the New York Times.

I think women just seem to 'dominate' because the books that have gathered such international popularity - enough to merit film treatments - happened to be written by women. Another reason could be because we're used to not seeing a whole lot of participation by female writers (that are noticed anyway) in other genres. So suddenly, when the lists seem to contain a lot of female names, they're 'dominating' when that may not really be the case.

Anonymous said...

Women writers have romance and now moving into YA... I don't have a problem with this except it creates a unfair playing field. When almost from what i understand 60% of YA is Romance theme based (Contemporary for one)with a female pov.

Now with that being said can any one list YA written by women that features a male pov? (If you can't that's okay)

What i'm saying is YA is dominated by Women not Men so it begs the question is YA Gender bias?

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