Some very interesting research posted by Scratch -without interpretation, so I don’t feel too much of a plagiarist in using it – by Jane Friedman under the heading “Do Men Receive Bigger Book Advances Than Women?” delves into the gender distribution of advance sizes as shown by the Publishers Marketplace “information on book deals self-reported by agents and publishers since 2000.” Breaking this down further into deals reported since the start of 2010 and debut deals only still yields a sample of 392, surely enough to be fairly representative, and furthermore, broken down into both deal size and genre.
One comforting conclusion from the survey is that female debut authors are well ahead in debut deals with an almost exact 70:30 split: 70.8 percent women versus 29.2 percent men. They also seem to be either ahead or more or less level-pegging in terms of the size of the advance overall, all the way from below $49,000 to above $500,000.
Once the data is broken down by genre, though, the situation becomes much more polarized. Young Adult fiction, for example, is dominated by women, both in numbers of deals reported and sizes of the advance. So, less surprisingly, is women’s/romantic fiction. But in thrillers, science fiction and fantasy, and mystery and crime, the situation is a lot less happy for women authors. Jane Friedman allows for possible hidden bias in women authors not reporting their deals to Publishers Marketplace, but I find this very unlikely.
The conclusion for all three of these categories is that women are either writing far less in these styles of genre fiction, or are receiving far fewer, and far less lucrative, advances on their debut novels. No female debut novelists are recorded at all in the mystery and crime genre – which Agatha Christie might have something to say about. In science fiction and fantasy, meanwhile, at least the numbers of deals are closer. But none of the debut women authors appear to have breached the $50,000 ceiling at all. A pity, since a few of their male peers appear able to command almost ten times that.
Jane Friedman eschews overt interpretation in her piece. Understandable with such a small sample size. But for anyone looking for more evidence if it were needed that science fiction and fantasy are weighed down by dinosaurs in the top echelons, here it is. And the same appears true of some other supposedly macho genres as well.
One ray of hope is that women also appear to predominate in digital-first or digital-only deals. So perhaps women authors in the more obviously biased genres should simply bypass the established publishers entirely.