The wrong sex – M.G. Woods

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M.G. Woods wonders why publishers worry about an author’s gender when readers don’t…♥

You’ve had a fun idea for a novel. A romantic comedy. Better still, you’ve sat down and written it. The whole thing, from beginning to end. Then rewritten it – 117 times.

You’ve shown it to your beloved. Stood over her until she has digested every last word. Then you’ve torn it straight up and rewritten it again.

You’re still married. Now you’ve found an agent. He’s keen. Thinks your novel is witty, engaging, with intriguing hidden depths. You fall to your knees and applaud his impeccable judgement.

Then he sends it out to publishers. They love it (well, the ones he tells you about). There’s just one problem. You’re the wrong sex.

This, in a nutshell, was my brief foray into mainstream publishing with my first novel What I Did For Love… I have the rejection emails on my computer in a folder named Heartbreak. But, honestly, I’m not bitter.

The rejections are interesting, as they share one overriding theme: publishers find romantic comedy/chick lit novels by men very confusing. They don’t think they appeal to women readers.

But what about the likes of David Nicholls and Nick Hornby? These names cropped up a number of times.

‘It put me in mind of David Nicholls’s One Day, as well as Nick Hornby,’ said one publisher. ‘Which is one of the reasons that we’re not going to make an offer.’

Oh, that’s cleared that up then.

Others said love stories by men were ‘very tricky’, ‘hard to sell’, ‘difficult to launch’ – just not worth the commercial risk. ‘I worry about this area of the market and how this could be pitched at it,’ said another. ‘Is it for girls? Is it for guys?’

To which the answer is: why choose? I didn’t sit down to write my book with a particular gender in mind – any more than I did with age, religion or colour. I just wanted to tell a story.

As it turns out, my book may appeal to anyone with a mother, a partner, a best friend, a child. Or any experience of life, love, loss, joy, fear, pride, commitment and betrayal. So most of us probably.

Of course, there’s a long history of authors having to conceal their true identities, usually brilliant women trying break through boundaries imposed by the pompous male establishment. Louisa May Alcott, Mary Ann Evans, the Bronte sisters, J.K. Rowling, Lionel Shriver (I know, just checking you’re still with me)…

Today there are billions of readers worldwide. I wonder how many are constrained by stale gender stereotypes. Could a man not wholeheartedly devour a book on the evolution of the tutu? Or a woman not derive immense pleasure from a detailed mechanical history of the combine harvester?

With these somewhat jumbled thoughts in mind, I felt it was time to put my grand theory to the test. Forget the agent and the publishers, get the book out there and let the readers decide! They’re the only ones who matter.

So that’s what I’ve done. It’s early days but so far What I Did For Love… is being read and judged by both sexes on its merits alone and not on my body parts. Which is a great relief for all concerned.

M.G. Woods was a journalist on several UK national newspapers for more than a decade but not quite two. When the weather’s not too sunny or inviting, he still works in the media. What I Did For Love… is his first novel.

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