Monday, September 22, 2014

Query Question: crossing gender lines


I have written a YA fiction with a male protagonist/narrator. I don't intend to only write for boys forever but I have two teenage sons who I have homeschooled and it's been 18 years of working hard at taking a walk in young men's shoes, so it felt easy for me. When I research authors of teen boy fiction or when authors recommend teen boy fiction, it's primarily male writers. I do know my sons sort of side with the boy world quite unconsciously, but do agents/publishers also go along those lines. I want to use a pen name, anyhow. Should I consider an androgynous name since my first book is boy oriented? Or do you think I should begin querying without a pseudonym and bring it up if/when it goes that far? I've even wondered if I should specifically target male agents. I feel like getting boys to read, sometimes is harder than girls who read male writers pretty much as effortlessly as women's writers. I guess this is a strange question about gender.  


It's a confusing question about gender because it's all over the place.  First you're asking if readers think books with male protagonists/narrators have to be written by men. If you're seriously asking that question, you haven't read enough to query. Read enough in your category and read enough over all.  In other words I'm telling you that your reading alone should tell you that it doesn't matter if you're a man, a woman, a shark or a nincompoop: the story is what counts. Get your story right and we're off to the races.

And if you're asking if male agents have a preference for male writers, or writers they think are male, well, no, they don't. They have a preference for (all together now) Good Stories!

And if you're asking if it's a truism that getting boys to read is harder than getting girls to read, well, that's not something you as a writer have any control over whatsoever and thus you should not worry about.

What do you have control over? Your story.
Make it fabulous and everyone will want to read it.  Make the characters people we want to be, or hang out with, and you've got yourself a book.

I'm chastising you here because you've fallen into a trap that snares many writers at the start of their careers: you're worrying about things you can't control.  All that fear keeps you from thinking about writing.  Stop it.  When your mind starts whirring with these thoughts, say to yourself "Stop worrying about this."  You might need to say it out loud. (That will amuse your sons endlessly of course.)  And you might need something to think about INSTEAD of these worrisome thoughts.  Turn your mind to sitting down and writing.  Or scotch. I've found one or the other always works.

Now, quit worrying about this. Back to work.

11 comments:

bessie stewart said...

The answer was perfect. Not chastising. As a writer, you read one little bit of information about a successful author and then you leave behind yourself and chase down info on the web to prove the self doubt is valid. In the end, it's avoidance of the work, just as you say. Thanks for being firm and sticking to "it", all the it's you stick to here. :)

Colin Smith said...

This is exactly the situation J K Rowling found herself in when it came to publishing the first Potter book: will young people--especially boys--buy a book about a boy written by a girl? That's why she published as "J K" not Joanne. And when everyone found out J K Rowling is female, her sales took such a hit. Remember that? Yeah... :)

Judith King-Harmon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carolynnwith2Ns said...

If I worried about all the nit-picky nuances that come with the ying and yang of traditional publishing I’d take up knitting.

I wanted a pen name once. I thought if I came up with something friendly, homey and a little old fashioned, people would be more apt to read me. Since Erma Bombeck was taken I figured I’d go with Alice Kramden or Rose Nylund. Too obscure and too old fashioned, I decided on something more modern, something with a ring to it (a big ring) a name so ‘today and unusual’ it didn’t even need talent to be successful, a name which just seems to roll off the tongue.
Hello, my name is Kim Kardashian. That’s not taken is it? How about Paris Hilton, I like that one too.

Mister Furkles said...

Ann McCaffrey, Katherine Kurtz, Jo Rowling. The only readers were girls. Right? Uh... well...

Lisa Bodenheim said...

sometimes it's much easier just to drink a scotch on the rocks (as I sit here working on my yes, it-is-still, a WIP)

Elissa M said...

Andre Norton is a pen name and my brother was extremely disturbed to discover one of his favorite SF authors was female. That was 45 years ago. I don't think it's an issue now, and I personally wouldn't want an agent who thought it was.

For the record, my brother didn't stop reading Norton's books. In fact, he started picking up books by obviously female writers.

DLM said...

I wrote my histfic first person male, and am by no means a boy of any sort. I expect that eventually, there'll be a review or two smarming about how my novel sucks because my chromosomes and plumbing are all wrong.

There is ALWAYS a guitarist at the back of the bar, seething about the one on stage. "Screw 'em if they can't take a joke" is what I say.

I just didn't write for those guys. OR girls, for that matter. We can't write for all the world, and worrying about it won't improve the writing any.

Stephen Parks said...

As a young reader, the first time that I saw “me” in a character was when I read Rumble Fish (followed quickly by The Outsiders). I do remember being a bit taken aback when I discovered that S. E. Hinton was a girl, but the story overcame that awkwardness in me.

DLM said...

Stephen, were you Rusty James or Motorcycle Boy? :)

I was probably Ponyboy, oddly enough. And I had a crush on Dally ...


/Shutting up now/

Stephen Parks said...

Sorry DLM, that was 30+ years ago. I seriously don’t remember the characters now. But I can still recall that sense of “wow, there’s somebody out there who gets it.”