Friday, 18 September 2015

Rules for success as an author - the cynical version

You didn't think the unicorn would leave you with the party line, did you? Now that I've had a chance to read through all the literature I picked up at the CWIG conference, here is a cynical version of the rules in my last post. Brace yourselves, male authors...

1. Be born a boy - or use initials so nobody knows you're a girl.
According to an independent study on what kids are reading in British schools in 2015, seven of the top ten most popular children's authors are men, with only three women on the list:
Jeff Kinney
Roald Dahl
Roderick Hunt
David Walliams
Francesca Simon
Suzanne Collins
Julia Donaldson
Michael Morpurgo
Martin Waddell
with John Boyne, Michael Rosen, David McKee, Eric Carle, John Green and Dr Seuss all tying for last place at the top table (which sounds like a fun game of musical chairs!)
Interestingly, J K Rowling is not in the overall top ten list, although she featured on it in 2013 and 2014. Also, all three of the women on the 2015 list are writing under their full names so maybe the initials trick is not necessary any more?

2. Write about a boy hero - or if you must have a heroine, give her a decent weapon and fighting skills so she could be a boy in disguise.

my young heroine
Rhianna Pendragon
Well, it's a fact. Girls will happily read books about boys, but boys are less likely to want to be seen reading books about girls. So if you are looking for big-time sales, then why cut out half your readership by alienating the boys? I haven't read all the male authors' books, but out of the female authors on the above list Francesca Simon is there because of Horrid Henry, Julia Donaldson with the Gruffalo, and only Suzanne Collins with a heroine - Katniss Everdeen, a modern day gladiator fighting to the death in the Hunger Games. (Clearly though this trick does not always work, since the sword-wielding heroine of my Pendragon Legacy series failed to catapult me into the top ten.)

3. Luck
Can't get away from this one! Obviously there are many excellent male authors who write about boy heroes and still do not make the best-seller lists... or maybe they just don't know the secret handshake?

4. Ego
I'm probably on dangerous ground here, but part of ambition is having the self confidence and self belief that you have the required talent and hard work will get you there in the end. Do male authors naturally have more of this? There must be some reason that they feature so prominently on best-seller lists and prize lists, when as far as I am aware the vast majority of children's authors are women. I am not sure this is confined to publishing, though, and suggests the measurements we are using for success tend to favour men over women.

5. A wife
This links back to the time issue in my last post. All those irritating and frankly boring domestic duties can seriously interfere with a creative career, and any major disaster can stop you writing stone dead if you haven't got a wife to remember to buy the food, pay the bills, do the laundry, take the children to school... yes, I know some men can do all these things and are brilliant at them, but it's a rare man who will let their dedicated female writer disappear into her shed to write, keep the children out of her way, deal with all the distractions and have a meal on the table when she's hungry. Or maybe it's a rare woman who can disappear into her shed and leave all this stuff to her man without feeling guilty?

Thankfully, unicorns don't have to worry about such things. Next time (if I can persuade him to reply after being so cynical on his blog) the unicorn will give you his third alternative to these rules.

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