History, Mystery and The Female Experience: Best Writers by Genre

Over the last decade, the US job market has undergone significant changes. One of these is the rise of women entering and dominating the workforce. Despite this progression, though, the overall increase of women in the workforce isn’t as compelling as it was a decade ago. We’re still seeing several issues of equal representation of men and women among certain industries. 

A prominent issue in the lack of gender equality is the continued wage gap between men and women in the workforce. In 2016, women earned eighty cents to every dollar of a man’s earnings, an increase from seventy-three cents in 2000. The rising share of high paying jobs for women is helping to narrow the gender wage gap. While high paying jobs for women are an improvement, changes in certain industries aren’t as visible as they were a decade ago. Unfortunately, women are still not making equal wages despite being the majority of the total workforce.

This gap in equal representation between men and women also exists in the literary and publishing industries. Many women still choose to hide their gender behind male pen names to avoid prejudice in the publishing industry. When looking at industry trends, we can see more clearly how gender and genre affect the publishing industry for writers. 

The Top Four Prolific Writers

While we still see the gender gap and male dominance in publishing as a whole, hope for equality does exist. If we look at the list of the most prolific writers, we´ll find the top four positions equally represented by both men and women. 

  1. Charles Hamilton – According to historians, Charles Hamilton wrote over a hundred million words under at least twenty different pen names. Since he wrote under names such as E.S. Turner and Frank Richards, it’s hard to pin down exactly what work was done by Hamilton. 
  2. Barbara Cartland – This lady wrote over seven hundred Victorian-era romance novels. She holds the world record for having the highest number of novels written in a year at twenty-three. Cartland’s publishing credits continued after she died in 2000. Several of her manuscripts were posthumously released.
  3. Isaac Asimov – One of the most notable sci-fi writers of his time, Isaac Asimov is known for writing the most works across multiple genres. He has written over five hundred books, in genres from history books to mystery, and even screenplays. 
  4. Corín Tellado – Under this pen name, Maria del Socorro Tellado Lopez also wrote romance like Barbara Cartland. She specifically avoided explicit content in her stories to prevent censorship. In her lifetime, Tellado published over four thousand written works of tame romance. 

The Top Authors for Highest Book Sales

When comparing the top four prolific authors to the top five highest book sales of English and American writers, female writers dominate. This is another important aspect to note when looking at the best writers and the female experience within the publishing world.

While men may still dominate the writing field, women’s writing is collectively out-earning men in sales of published books. This quick review of sales earnings provides another aspect of reaching gender equality among writers and within the publishing industries. 

  • William Shakespeare earned an estimated four billion dollars in sales of forty-two books of plays and poetry. 
  • Agatha Christie reached the same amount of four billion dollars in sales of her eighty-five books of mystery. 
  • Barbara Cartland is another woman to make this list, reaching one billion dollars in sales of her seven hundred twenty-three romance books. 
  • Danielle Steel is an American female writer who has reached eight hundred million dollars in sales of her one hundred seventy-nine general fiction and romance books. 
  • Harold Robbins is an American writer to reach seven hundred fifty million dollars in sales of his twenty-three adventure novels. 

The History of Women Writing as Men

A very common practice throughout history has been for female writers to use gender-ambiguous pseudonyms or male pen names. Women would write under masculine names to avoid prejudice for being a female writer in male-dominated circles. 

Even in modern times as men still dominate the industry, women continue to choose male pen names. Women are still seeking to avoid gender prejudices by utilizing a male identity to experiment with anonymity. Also, women may still be using male noms de plume as a way to encourage male readership for their publishing. 

While women continue to hide their femininity, and despite publishing continuing to be a male-dominated industry, female writers have steadily increased. This increase in women’s writing may be attributed to the rising number of women becoming college graduates.

Industry Trends by Gender

The gender ratio of the New York Times Best Seller list is a way to gauge how women are perceived in today’s world.

During the 1950s, number of books written by women for the first time made up a significant portion of the best seller list. In 1970s, the rate of female representation reached a high of 38%. During the 1990s, these changes in the gender ratio affected the way the list is organized, greatly narrowing the gender gap. 

Although the number of women on the list fluctuated over the years, the percentage of female titles on the list continue to increase. Women are obtaining more high paying jobs than ever before, but wage gaps for these positions are still an issue. Even as women continue writing under male pen names, the success of female writers is closing the gap of gender inequality.