Posts Tagged ‘jonathan franzen’

Battle of the (Literary Fiction) Sexes

January 19, 2012

Novelist Teddy Wayne wrote a great piece in  Salon   yesterday  talking about the issue of whether male or female writers have the advantage in the world of literary fiction.

As an agent, I think about this a lot. When I’m  looking at submissions  of  literary or “upmarket” commercial fiction, this question is always setting off sparks on the left side of my brain. Of course the big question for me is whether the book is sucking me into an immersive  trancelike vortex that makes me want to stay up all night and turn the pages. But I keep having these intrusive thoughts in my mind: “Who’s the audience? Will women relate to this? Do I really understand what women want anyway?”

So far most of the novels that I have taken on are by women authors and from the point of view of  women characters.  I am completely smitten by all of my novels. Haunted really. Obsessed even. And I know they   must appeal to women as well as men. How do I know? Because I ask  my wife Leslie to read them.  And if she stays up all night, quid erat demonstratum. (For the record, I have represented male authors as well and I am as smitten with them as with  my female authors.)

Pretty much every estimate and survey shows that  women are the audience for a vast majority of this kind of fiction. Actually, 60% of all books, fiction and non-fiction, are bought by women.  Men read relatively little fiction and overwhelmingly what they read is genre fiction, action, thrillers, and suspense. Men primarily read non-fiction – manly subjects like golf tips, right wing screeds, and “how to make ten minute meals”.  Ok. That’s a  cheap shot.

Jodi Picoult

Jennifer Weiner

Last year Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult threw down their gage at the literary fiction establishment and  led an assault on the almost universal critical raves of  Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. He was hailed as a genius and his work a masterpiece. Weiner and Picoult, whose books have sold millions, pointed out that fiction by women tends to be dismissed as “commercial” or “women’s” fiction. There was a great interview of them in The Huffington Post where they discussed this issue.

Weiner brought up the subject  again yesterday in her blog. She went through all the book reviews in The New York Times in 2011. She counted150 reviews of books by men and only 104 by women.  She also pointed out that of the books that were reviewed twice and had profiles of the author, 10 were of men and only 1 was of  a woman.

Weiner didn’t count the gender of the winners of the major literary awards, but  I did and the statistics there are even more damning. Of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction since 1984, 17 of the winners were men and only 11 were women. Of the National Book Award for fiction since 1984, 19 of the winners were men and only 7 were women.

What these statistics tell me is that Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult are right to be concerned. One of the conclusions you could draw from this is that men are more brilliant writers of imaginative literature than women. That’s  a pretty odious thought. The other conclusion that you could draw is that sexism is alive and kicking in the critical literary world.

I’m grateful to Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult for having the courage to point this out.


Book Publishing by the Numbers: 2010 Best Selling Books

March 27, 2011


And the winner is......


Publishers Weekly just released its list of the bestselling books for 2010. Here is the list of the top 10 Hardbacks in fiction and nonfiction along with sales estimates for the year. (Disclaimer. The sales are for the year 2010 for domestic sales of  hardback books only. E-book sales are not included. Nor are international sales.)



The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Stieg Larsson, 1,900,000

The Confession, John Grisham, 1,360,000

The Help, Kathryn Stockett, 1,317,397

Safe Haven, Nicholas Sparks, 929,397

Dead or Alive, Tom Clancy, 921,358

Sizzling Sixteen, Janet Evanovich, 903,000

Cross Fire, James Patterson, 902,906

Freedom,  Jonathan Franzen, 761,701

Port Mortuary, Patricia Cornwell, 700,000

Full Dark, No Stars, Stephen King, 675,000

As usual, this list is very heavy on name brand commercial authors. ( If you are a literary snoot, one might even call some of these “franchises”. ) If you look at the 20 runner up titles, you will see that there are 5 more books by James Patterson and a co-author. This is sort of a dead giveaway that Patterson probably has little to do with the book other than providing his name as a marketing tool. Other authors who are perennial bestselling authors  on the 20 book runner-ups are: Janet Evanovich (who also has book #6 above), Vince Flynn, David Baldacci, Nora Roberts, Clive Cussler, Robert Jordan, and Lee Child.


Decision Points, George W. Bush, 2,653,565

Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth, and Treasure, Glenn Beck, 860,002

Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything,  Geneen Roth, 850,000

Life, Keith Richards, 811,596

America By Heart:  Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag, Sarah Palin

The Daily Show Presents Earth, Jon Stewart, 782,871

Sh*t My Dad Says, Justin Halpern, 761,000

Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?, Ina Garten, 722,608

Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama, Bill O’Reilly, 662,950

Chelsea, Chelsea Bang Bang, Chelsea Handler, 653,321

As usual, public figures (usually conservative) top the list. Last year the best selling non-fiction book was Sarah Palin’s selling 2,600,000 copies. Glenn Beck and Bill O’reilly seem to reliably make the top ten every year. They are offset, just barely, by Jon Stewart far back in the pack.