Why We Need More Female Names on Fantasy Books | A Discussion

Where are the female names on fantasy books?

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!

Love and lemons, Abi

11 thoughts on “Why We Need More Female Names on Fantasy Books | A Discussion

  1. I love reading this post and it is so true. I remember hearing about Victoria Schwab saying about her name on her adult novels and it was really sad (especially as an aspiring fantasy writer myself) and it was even more sad that I could see male readers making that decision when picking up a book. Another female fantasy author is S. A. Chakraborty so it is really common and sad!! I am trying to read more adult fantasy and I plan on supporting and shouting about all the female authors.
    I even remember J K Rowling saying she did that with her name for the same reason and look at how successful her books were (I know this is middle grade and I don’t really like J K Rowling anymore but it goes to show the painful truth that female authors can face this). You don’t see it is in the YA section though which is nice and I hope the other groups follow in it’s footstep but we readers can help by shouting about the books written by females that we love.
    Great post and so important, thank you for sharing!! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! It’s definitely disheartening to see, and that the authors feel the need to do this just so people won’t be biased against their work. Oh yes, she’s the author of The City of Brass, isn’t she? I’ve been meaning to read those books, thanks for adding another example!

      I’m so glad that things are different in the YA section, hopefully it will begin to influence other categories soon! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh this is so interesting! I have a lot of thoughts about adult fantasy written by women being classified as YA – I’m thinking of writing a whole post about it – but I hadn’t even thought about the fact that women writing adult fantasy often abbreviate their names to make them “gender neutral.” I guess YA readers are more open to picking up a fantasy book with a woman’s name on the cover but adult fantasy readers haven’t gotten there yet?? It is really sad to think about and I wish there were an easy solution. I like what you said about championing books written by women, and that’s definitely what I’m going to continue doing!! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are defintiely a lot of issues faced by female authors, which all seem to be especially prevalent in the fantasy genre. It can be pretty sad to think about but I choose to see YA as a hope for the future, since those readers will grow older and influence the adult market. It also seems to be the place where a lot of new trends start out, so hopefully we will see an influx of female-written adult fantasy soon! 😊


  3. This is such an interesting discussion! It makes me sad that female authors of adult fantasy feel the need to hide their names to disguise their gender. It’s sad that women are still being dictated what to write, and I do agree, some are definitely pushed into YA.

    Also, I did not know about Poison Study being written as an adult novel!! I thought it had a very adult feel to it, in part because Yelena is already 19 at the start, but also because Valek is, well, incredibly old for a YA love interest, inappropriately so, in my opinion. (Don’t get me wrong, I shipped them, of course, but I was baffled by his age as well as the fact that EVERYONE in the cast is an adult.) It just doesn’t read as a YA novel, imo. Anyhow, now I know why. (That said, the thing I’m most bothered by regarding that series is that Yelena is a woman of color… who is whitewashed on the covers…)

    Also, I love N.K. Jemisin, and I need to read The Poppy War. (Sadly, I’m not a fan of Schwab *hides*)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s very sad when you think about it, I’m just hoping that I will get to watch this change and see female authors be more accepted.

      Oh yes, as much as I love Yelena and Valek I was a bit taken aback when I found out how old he is. I think once you know it was written as adult, not YA, the whole book starts making a lot more sense. And I didn’t realise Yelena got whitewashed, my editions of the books don’t have a person on the cover, but that is just not good. Yikes.

      Haha, don’t worry about not liking Schwab, I tried reading one of her books (ADSOM) and DNFd it with the hope of maaaybe picking it up again one day. It hasn’t happened yet 😅

      Liked by 1 person

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