Four years ago I was going through the query grind with ‘Murder of Crows’. After 122 rejections, which I blogged about religiously, “We’d love to publish your book if you re-write it from a male point of view” “we’d like to accept your book for representation, but would like you to take a gender neutral pen name”, “remove the three old women characters, the NaNas. No one wants to see old ladies” etc.
I did get a handful of rejects and requests for re-writes that were related to the actual craft of storytelling, primarily pacing, and over-describing, which were AWESOME pieces of feedback and I used them immediately.
The point is, I never considered making sexist changes in exchange for publication. Why? Because the publication game is simply that, it’s a game. If you want to serve the story – the actual audience, you don’t play the game. After 122 rejections I self-published, and didn’t look back.
I am currently querying ‘Sinnet of Dragons’. Don’t worry, I’ve picked out my 20 agents, and I’ll be done after that, and on with the rest of the plan.
Half of the beta packages have been sent out, and three of the readers are in the target demographic of 14-18 years of age. Two of those readers are defined gender: male.
I am still writing from my birth name, Athena. The character POV is still Fable’s voice, a girl on the verge of puberty and introduction to her Muse power. I’m still including most of the characters from ‘Murder of Crows’, including the NaNas, who were dearly adored by readers (not so much by agents and sales people, but readers love them).
The funniest conversation I had while arranging for a fifteen-year-old male reader was with his mother who said, “He loves fantasy! He read Lord of the Rings and he goes through books like crazy.”
(An aside: girls out-read boys 2 to 1. This has led to the often erroneous assumption that boys don’t read. This is simply not true. They read a lot, but I have heard complaints from male readers at signings that they’re bored with the same fiction on the market… they’re tired of reading the same stories over and over. See “Knowing your audience” and queue conversations about gender and diversity in YA literature.)
I replied to her, “Did you know there aren’t any female characters in The Hobbit? They added females for the movie to help balance it out. Also, the entire “fellowship” was male.”
She nodded. “I did notice that.”
“Please ask your son if he’s okay reading a book about girls, and girl issues. As in, periods.”
I went on to explain that Fable Montgomery gets her period, and is therefore eligible by age to be executed for her perceived crimes. I make a consistent parallel in the story about the constant fear and threat of death that women have for being female. Being blooded means being fair game for all sorts of atrocity. It was the point I was trying to make, that much of the disconnect between gender disparity and misunderstandings occur in the real world, because when boys DO read, they are fed only masculine, hyper control concept fiction and storytelling. Something remotely feminine can be a repulsion because they have not been exposed to it in their story matrix.
As a society, we rely almost exclusively on our story matrices to define our perceptions and place in the overall picture. (Story includes religion, and social cultural normative expectations)
“Oh, he’ll do it,” she said.
“Can you please check with him first?”
“I know he’ll do it, because he wants to buy a basketball with the beta reader money.”
I laughed. “Okay, well, if he’s game and wants to do it, he only gets paid if he fills out the survey and completes the steps. It’s a story about a girl and her period… so I guess we’ll see how bad he wants that basketball.”
I was sure to tell her, that there was no obligation. If he stopped halfway through the book, just mark where he left off and leave an explanation: I can’t read anymore, it’s boring/stupid/gross. Then I’ll know where to tweak and tone it down a notch. No need to torture the kid.
However, the whole conversation let to a bunch of other conversations. I expect to do several more re-writes by the time the beta data comes in. The questionnaires allow for free thought as well as targeted questions about the characters and story.
Working in R&D had made a huge impact on how I started redoing the beta packages, thinking of the readers as consumer testers, and asking questions I thought they might be too uncomfortable to tell me outright. Try not to lead the question, but leave it open for them to acknowledge, yes, there was that thing that was off but didn’t know how to articulate it.
I have a few more packages to send out, and we’ll know by the end of July where it all falls. By end of August, I’ll wrap up my query process and we’ll be on to the next phase.
More to come on our social and story matrix, and how we as storytellers, and artists are in key positions to help inform the needed changes to be a more inclusive society, a more balanced representation of our diversity and humanity.
Humanize the story.