When the Sword & Sorceress antho call went out, I sat down to see how many stories I had around with female protagonists (as that’s one of the requirements). I was startled to find the answer was: not many. Which surprised me; I thought I wrote female characters on a regular basis.
So I sat down and did some counting. These numbers have changed some since the original count (story sales, new stories in circulation), but the pattern’s still there, and still interesting. (At least to me. Your mileage may vary. If so, skip this post.)
At present, I have ten stories under submission with male protagonists, five with female protagonists, and one (“Driftwood”) that includes both, for a total of sixteen.
Of the thirty-eight stories I’ve written and bothered to submit, I’ve done seventeen male, eighteen female, and three mixed (including, for the sake of simplicity, all twelve of the “Never After” flash pieces).
Of the nineteen I’ve sold, seven male, ten female, two mixed.
Percentage-wise, here’s how it breaks down:
Submitting: Male 62.5%, Female 31.25%, Mixed 6.25%
Written: Male 44.7%, Female 47.4%, Mixed 7.9%
Sold: Male 36.8%, Female 52.6%, Mixed 10.5%
Or, to look at the numbers from a different direction: I’ve sold 41.1% of my stories with male protagonists, but 55.6% of the female ones. And that gap would shift further if I went back and recalculated it with “But Who Shall Lead the Dance?” assigned to female or mixed; the pov character is male, but Elsara is arguably the protagonist. That would drop me to 37.5% of male-MC stories sold, and potentially boost female to 57.9%.
In other words, I split fifty-fifty in my writing, but my sales skew female.
Without actually knowing statistics, I feel like the difference is statistically significant. I’m more likely to sell those stories that have female main characters. Now the interesting question is, why?
One strong possibility is that I write female characters better. People generally do better with their own gender, after all. I’ve seen the occasional complaint about Eclipse in Doppelganger (in the vein of, “I can’t believe he wouldn’t be attracted to Mirage, even when she gets nekkid in front of him”), but on the other hand, I also once had a male reader give a thumbs-up to Andris in “Lost Soul” (which, as a recent sale, is an added boost to the “sold: male” category).
Or maybe it’s a broader thing than just characterization: maybe for a whole host of reasons, I write better stories when I’m writing about women.
Or — and this would be the really interesting possibility — maybe it doesn’t have to do with my skill as a writer. Maybe the kinds of stories I’m telling about women are more interesting to editors than the kinds of stories I’m telling about men. I have very little sense of how people perceive the gendering of my writing; aside from the obvious comment that wow, there are a crap-ton of female characters in Doppelganger and Warrior and Witch and a dearth of male ones, I don’t have people saying about me (as they do about matociquala) that my work has girl cooties. (Okay, I don’t think they put it in those terms, but that’s how she condenses the various comments she’s gotten.) Does my work come across as feminine? Masculine? Neither? Both? Does anybody pay attention? What is the sound of one hand clapping?
In other words, I don’t have any firm conclusions to draw. I can, however, tell the pattern’s there. The reason I have so few female-protag stories on hand is not that I haven’t been writing them; it’s that they’ve been skipping out the door more quickly than their male counterparts. (If I were really hardcore, I’d count how many times each sold story got submitted before being sold. But that’s way too much work.)
I have a slew of new things to get out the door that have female MCs (“Kingspeaker,” “The Last Wendy,” “On the Feast of the Firewife,” “Once a Goddess” when it gets finished), so maybe in a year or so we’ll revisit these numbers and see if they’ve continued to hold.