Hello everyone! I hope you’re celebrating Women’s History Month in style (and by reading lots of female authors!). While it’s wonderful to celebrate women from history (and modern times), I think we would be doing them a disservice if we don’t acknowledge some of the issues still faced today. There are many ways I could go with this topic but I thought I’d keep it light, and look at something close to our hearts – books.
More specifically fantasy books, and the fact that in the Adult section it’s very rare to see a female author’s first name on the cover. Now, disguising female names on books is hardly a new concept. The Brontë sisters (and many other female writers throughout history) did it for much the same reasons authors still choose to do it now:
Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice . . .Charlotte Brontë
Now, the Brontës published their work in the mid-1800s. So the question remains – why do female authors still feel the need to hide their names to avoid prejudice against their work? I personally have noticed this trend in the adult fantasy genre more than anywhere else. The stereotype that fantasy is a “male” genre persists, along with the (sadly sometimes true) idea that a man wouldn’t want to read a book written by a woman. So what do these incredible female fantasy authors do? They abbreviate their names. Here are just a few of them:
N. K. Jemisin = Nora K Jemisin
Nora K Jemisin is the Triple Hugo award-winning author of The Broken Earth trilogy, along with many other Sci-Fi and Fantasy books.
I wondered how many of my fellow SFF fans, in a year headlined by reactionary pushback against the presence and performance of people like me in the genre, would choose to vote for the story of a fortysomething big-boned dreadlocked woman of colour waging an epic struggle against the forces of oppression.Nora Jemisin’s Hugo award acceptance speech
R. F. Kuang = Rebecca F Kuang
Rebecca F. Kuang is the author of the acclaimed fantasy series The Poppy War.
Rebecca F. Kuang is the Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Award nominated author of The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic (Harper Voyager). She also translates Chinese science fiction to English. Her debut The Poppy War was listed by Time, Amazon, Goodreads, and The Guardian as one of the best books of 2018 and has won the Crawford Award and Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel.Rebecca F. Kuang’s Press Bio
V. E. Schwab = Victoria Schwab
Despite publishing Young Adult and Middle Grade titles under her full name, Victoria Schwab chooses to print her adult fantasy novels under the name V. E. Schwab.
Fantasy favours male authors, and I’d rather people find and enjoy my books and then deal with their bias regarding gender, as opposed to them never picking up the book because of my name.Victoria Schwab on her decision to publish under V. E. Schwab
Compare this to some of the biggest male fantasy authors: George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, to name but a few. The only male author I can think of who styled his name the same way was J.R.R. Tolkien.
Thankfully we don’t tend to see this trend much in Young Adult novels, where you can find female written fantasy galore. (Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal, Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas, Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, And I Darken by Kiersten White, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi… I could go on, but I think I’ve proved my point.) While this is brilliant to see, it’s not the end of the issue. Because female written fantasy is so prevalent and well-received in YA, I believe a lot of authors are being pushed to write for that audience. Perhaps the reason there are so many women in YA is that they aren’t being accepted in Adult publishing.
Maria V. Snyder (author of the Chronicles of Ixia, my favourite fantasy series, don’t think I’ve mentioned it here before 🙈) originally wrote and published her novel Poison Study as an adult fantasy. It touched on many dark subjects, such as rape, torture, and murder. After the first book was released her publishers decided the rest of the series would be classed as YA, since they felt it would be more successful, and Snyder had to adjust the content of her following novels in line with this.
I can’t comment on it myself as I haven’t read them, but a hot debate I often see in the bookish community is whether Sarah J Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series should be classed as YA, due to it containing some explicit sexual content. Is this another book being forced down an age range to find acceptance and success? And if this really is what’s happening, aren’t younger readers suffering as a result?
As you can see, this is quite a hot topic, one which I could spend hours researching and going into (though I probably shouldn’t). So after everything I’ve said, what is there to be done about all this? I think the only thing we can do is keep shouting about our love of fantasy, championing female authors, and buying/borrowing books with women’s names on the cover. I’m sure many (if not all) of you are already doing that, so keep up the good work, and as always, Happy Reading!