This is my first experience as a guest blogger, so I’m not sure exactly where to begin. I guess I should start with an introduction. I’m John Elder Robison, six foot three, fifty one years old, male, from Amherst, Massachusetts. I own a business that restores and customizes Land Rover and Rolls Royce automobiles. I have a wife, a kid, a dog, and a tractor. Thanks to Monarch School of Houston, Texas, I’m even a high school graduate.
I don’t know the first thing about romance, mystery, or literature. I failed High School English and wasn’t admitted to College English. Despite that, I do have a reasonable command of language.
It’s not clear from that list of attributes why the Debutante Ball people would want someone like me on their blog, or anywhere nearby. The only conceivable reason is that I am a book writer too, so they identify with me for plying the same trade, some of the time.
Also, I have this difference called Asperger’s syndrome, which means I think in non standard ways. Today, I believe people are looking to me for insightful commentary on the publishing business so I will do my best to oblige.
Here are some thoughts on sex, publishing, and being a guy in a female dominated world.
Whenever I go to New York to meet people in publishing, it is obvious that I am in a minority. For book publishing is one of the few totally female dominated businesses that I’ve seen. Look at the organizational charts of the big houses and you’ll see what I mean. The top management is mostly female, as are the editorial, publicity, production and most other functions. And when you look closer, what few guys there are, are mostly gay. So straight guys like me are really left out in the cold.
There are only two places where I see lots of guys: The printing plants and the field sales force. Everywhere else, the females dominate.
In an industry that’s dominated by females, it’s natural to wonder if a male writer has any chance of success. Luckily, the female stranglehold on publishing jobs does not extend to the writing of books. The majority of bestsellers are written by females, but there is still a slim chance for guys like me. A look at the statistics tells the story.
This week’s NY Times hardcover fiction list is pretty evenly split, with 17 books from males and 18 from females. It’s not so good for the guys on the trade list, with 14 males to 21 females. The mass market list is even more lopsided, with 12 males to 23 females.
All the romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy and even general literary fiction are in those categories. And they are all female dominated.
The nonfiction list is the one place guys are most welcome. On that list, 23 books are by males, 12 by females. Books on finance, dog management, politics, and baseball are mostly written by guys. Guys also write histories, with recent books on the History of Bus Transportation and the story of Bomber Command in WWII being good examples.
USA Today publishes a single list where all books are ranked in order of sales. For this week’s top hundred, females are also favored 58 to 42.
With all the complaints about a glass ceiling, and popular stories about limited opportunity for females, how did a situation like this come to pass? I ask myself that question every day.
I’m sure it’s partly driven by readership. Ask any publisher who the typical book reader is, and they’ll say it’s a forty-year-old mom with two kids and some time to read.
I’m sure the females don’t see this imbalance the same way I do. Why should they? It’s in their favor. Luckily for guys, things are different in other creative industries. For example, Time Magazine recently surveyed American to identify their all time top ten movie stars. Nine of the ten were male. Good odds in any guy’s book.
Of course, the competition on the way to the top is fierce. Hollywood is full of struggling starlets, and many are probably fierce and carnivorous. I do not think I am cut out for the movies.
Another are where males are dominant is to become a traditional artist. After all, everyone knows the Painter of Light® – Thomas Kinkade – is a guy. According to Art Cyclopedia, twenty nine of the thirty most popular artists of all time are male. And Thomas isn’t even on that list. Those are good guy odds by any standards.
Finally, Billboard Magazine says 72% of the top songwriters are male.
What can you conclude from all this? If you’re female, and you’ve taken up writing as a creative pursuit, those statistics suggest you made a good choice, unless your area of interest is subways, tugboats, or bombers.
So what’s the point of all this, you ask?
The point is, I am going to run a contest. The winners can choose one of three prizes: A hardcover copy of Look Me in the Eye, a paperback copy of Look Me in the Eye, or a genuine 9 by 12 signed photographic print of something interesting.
I will choose two, three, or four winners depending upon how winning the crowd seems to be.
All you have to do is post imaginative and practical answers to this question: What should a hard working, lovable but bumbling guy do to make it in the female-dominated world of book publishing and reading?
I will read the answers and announce the winners Sunday.