Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the release of the first Harry Potter book. Twitter and other social media platforms teemed with memories and thoughts about the series and its author, J. K. Rowling. There’s an inspirational “keep on keeping on” story about how many times Rowling was rejected by agents and publishers before someone finally saw how special her work was.
That tweet was in response to this one:
I didn’t dig enough to see what Oswalt was ringing the bell for, but the quoted tweet is a bit in conflict, it seems. Yes, Rowling was rejected several times and the takeaway is to never give up.
How is suggesting she use her initials part of the inspirational story? And maybe more importantly – should female authors take a cue from Rowling and also use initials to hide their gender from potential readers? Will their chances of publication and/or sales suffer if they don’t?
When I was a new, budding writer, I toyed with the idea of using initials or even a non-gender specific pseudonym. As readers of this blog know, I decided to use my full, female name on my books and posts. It’s in the web address, for crying out loud. I’ll tell you why I made that choice, but you have to wait a minute.
It’s not a great mystery that sexism exists in the publishing industry. Check here and here and here and here for stories about that. So it would seem using my feminine name would be hurtful to me (to be honest, I wonder more about my Russian-sounding last name in today’s political climate. For the record, it’s Czech). So why not use initials if it will help me professionally?
I’m going to borrow Mystique’s answer to Nightcrawler: because we shouldn’t have to.
I don’t begrudge female authors who use initials or male pseudonyms. They have very valid reasons for doing so (hell, it’s certainly worked out for J.K. Rowling and E. L. James). I have friends who do it. Personally, I chose to use my female name because I don’t think my womanhood should be hidden, as if it means my work is less deserving of attention. I imagine you could ask most men if they think male writers are inherently superior to female writers and they would say no, because that’s ridiculous. There are plenty of women authors who use their female names and do quite well (Suzanne Collins, anyone?).
Still, the underlying sexist culture is real. Maybe I’m hurting myself by admitting my womanhood, but I figure as long as we play by the sexist rules, they won’t change.
What do you think? Would women authors do better to hide their femininity?