After all, we have an wide array of women’s superstars in our industry, from Katniss Everdeen and Hazel Grace Lancaster to JK Rowling and Judy Blume. And this parade of women marches far back behind the page. The majority of literary agents representing children’s’ authors are women; the majority of editors putting kids lit on the shelves are women; the majority of authors and aspiring authors putting words on the page for teens and young people are women.
When people discuss careers dominated by women, they usually mention eduction, nursing, fashion, etc. It’s a growing list and it’s wonderful to be able to add the very alive world of children’s publishing to it.
But all of this adds to the mystery of the New York Times Best Sellers List.
I first noticed this a few weeks ago (February 12th to be exact) when I was reading the paper with my dad. He was discussing how the adult’s Best Sellers List tends to be the same authors over and over again, and I posited that that was probably true of the children’s list as well. But that’s not what I noticed when I checked that week’s Book Pages. Instead, I noticed that the list of names was as follows: John, Rick, Random, Brian, Jack, Shel, Rick, Brian. Not one woman’s name on the list!
Because my own short time in this industry has been so dominated by women — eleven of our twelve classmates, four of my six professors, my agent, my editor, and all of the other agents and editors I spoke with are women — this seemed strange. But I figured it was just a current trent. Probably just a fluke.
So I crunched the numbers. I listed every author on the Best Sellers List over a year’s time, but I excluded the non-fiction titles (i.e. The Lego Handbook), which don’t seem to belong on this same list as The Fault in Our Stars or The Red Pyramid anyway. Here’s what I found:
*41 weeks of the year, there were more men than women on the list
*8 weeks of the year, there were more women than men on the list
*4 weeks of the year, the list was evenly split between the genders
*6.2 was the average number of men on the list
*2.88 was the average number of women on the list
*4 weeks of the year, the list was topped by a woman
*48 weeks of the year, the list was topped by a man
I have to admit, this shocked me. What’s going on? Obviously, it feels like we should be aiming for a 50/50 split, which we’re far from. But considering the majority of qualified authors are women to begin with, it seems like the data should swing in the other direction. How is this possible? Why would this be?
I have been trying to fill in the reasons ever since, but I haven’t gotten very far.
Perhaps there is a gender-based reason for this. Perhaps men are simply better at publicizing themselves and pushing their ideas toward the big money. Perhaps men tend to be more focused on reaching a broad audience or perhaps they are more likely to define success through becoming a Best Seller. Perhaps the fact that there are fewer men out there to push means that more people rally behind them.
Or maybe the reasons are more benign. Maybe it’s simply the old lore that girls will read about anyone, but boys prefer to read about boys, so men automatically end up with double the audience. (Although in my time teaching for boys, this proved to be entirely untrue.)
Or maybe it’s even simpler than this. Maybe it’s just that the recent super-stars are Rick Riordan and Brian Selznick, so there are men who often appear on the list multiple times in the same week. And maybe these numbers would look completely different in a year when the rage was Twilight or The Hunger Games.
But no matter the reason, it seems a mystery worth exploring during Women’s History Month.
Photo Credit: croniclebooks.com