Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Tag: fantasy (page 1 of 7)

But there’s just not that many . . .

29.08.19 – EC – article edited to clarify male authors account for about 55% of fantasy *titles*, rather than 55% of books, which could be misinterpreted as books *sold*. That is an entirely different discussion and outwith the scope of this post.

Some of you may know that I’ve had a little side-project on the go over the last year or so, called Beyond the Boys’ Club.

Fantasy as a genre has tended to present as by blokes, for blokes. Blokes tend to dominate the recommendations from bookshops, the shelves in airports, the best-of-year lists and all those 25 Fantasy Books To Read If You Liked Game of Thrones listicles. Despite this, male authors account for only about 55% of fantasy titles published in a year (as of the most recent authoritative stats I’ve got).

And if readers and writers challenge all those lists that skew so heavily male (bar a token Le Guin or Hobb), sure as sunshine someone will pop up in the comments with the tired old refrain of “But there’s just not that many . . .”

That sound you can hear? That’s my teeth grinding.

So I started Beyond The Boys’ Club out of sheer spite. I wanted a list that I could shove in the face of the next person to “not that many” me. I started with the fantasy books I owned or wanted to read that were not by men, then began paying attention to publisher announcements, recommendation threads on social media, and what my friends and follows on Goodreads were reading.

Then I put the results into a Google sheet, and as of today, 27th August 2019, I have a list of 653 fantasy authors who are not men. You can see them here.

Each entry has a Goodreads link to an example of the writer’s work, and the book’s GR genre tags. I even did a couple of simple charts that will update automatically as I add more data. And there will be more; I have a feeling I’m just getting started.

653 fantasy authors who are not men . . . I have a feeling I’m just getting started

Some takeaways from the list so far

Highlights that jumped out at me as I wrote this post:

  • About 45% of the works listed are tagged YA, although there’s some crossover with middle-grade in that category, I note. This is by far the most populous subgenre in the list so far, but it’s still not the majority. That’s a genre myth busted – you know, the one that says only men write fantasy for adults.
  • Only around 28% of the list is categorised as romantic. So much for another genre myth, that non-male authors only write romance.
  • Just under 16% is categorised as epic/high fantasy.
  • Over 9% has QUILTBAG themes.
  • It trends series-heavy vs standalones, by about 3:1.
  • Over 21% of the list was tagged as SF-ish by Goodreads users
  • Anyone who says “I bet it’s all self-published” is getting a smack: 93% of the list is trad pubbed.
  • I clearly need to add more columns – ‘fantasy of manners’ is starting to pop up, and I had to omit a whole bunch of others like ‘mythology’, ‘Arthurian’ etc. Maybe I need to add more hours to the day while I’m at it.

Obviously as the list grows, these figures will change, but I think 650+ is a reasonable sample from which to start seeing trends. At times like this, I kind of wish I still had access to the database & software development tools I used to work with in Ye Olde Day Jobbe. I could pull out much more complex reports on this dataset and have fun *for DAYS*.

But yeah. 653. Not that many of us at all, right?

 

Caveat emptor!

1) This sheet is a WORK IN PROGRESS. There are new authors being added to GR every day. Every week, publishers launch more debuts. I’ll try to keep up, but see above re: fallible human with limited time.

2) Let me be perfectly clear: this is in no way meant to be a rigorous statistical analysis of the genre. It was a project I started on the spur of the moment, purely for myself, and it will continue as long as I’m still having fun with it. I do not expect it to satisfy the internet rules-lawyers for whom no source is authoritative enough, no numbers hard enough, no lived experience valid enough – especially if it tells them something they don’t want to hear.

 

The crunchy stuff

Here’s all the TMI about my data source, limitations and assumptions.

Source

This list is compiled from Goodreads entries, and uses the GR genre tags listed under each book. This is the wisdom of crowds writ large, with all that that entails. I am entirely dependent on third parties for the quality of the data. For example: books that have 3000+ user tags have probably got their subgenres broadly correct. Books with only 20-odd shelvings? Eh, not so much. The smaller the sample, the greater the effect of outliers and user errors.

Books

For each author, I have listed one book to represent their work. This was either:

  • the title that had been recommended
  • where a series was recommended, the first book in the series
  • where only the author was recommended, a title I had heard of
  • where only the author was recommended and I had not heard of their work, a title that was well-rated on GR

Definitions

1) I have had to limit the number of columns I used, because GR is hardly prescriptive in its subgenres, and it was not practical to attempt to reproduce the same degree of granularity. SFF subgenre definitions are notoriously blurry anyway, so I took a broad-brush approach.

2) Every entry on the list has Fantasy as one of its genres.

3) Many books have been assigned genre labels on GR which amount to a dozen different ways of saying the same thing. For example:

  • Fiction > Young Adult
  • Fantasy > Young Adult
  • Fiction > Young Adult > Teen

have all been counted in Column E as YA. I’ve done similarly with all varieties of Steampunk, Historical etc to keep the number of columns manageable.

In a similar vein, Epic Fantasy and High Fantasy were aggregated, and Dark Fantasy and Horror.

4) One particular column that has bugged me to no end has been the SF one. I’ve seen an awful lot of what I would class as traditional Epic Fantasy listed also as Science Fiction Fantasy. Is this different to fantasy with SF-nal elements, like time-travel or steampunk? Is this people just classifying all fantasy as a subgenre of Science Fiction, the way bookshops do sometimes?

I don’t know, and there’s no way tell, so if any variant of Science Fiction was included in the book’s genre list, it got a tick in that column.

 

Errors & Omissions

I have not read every book in the list, much as I would like to, and neither have I applied my own interpretations/used my discretion over genre tags. Any mistakes/omissions I will gladly hold my hand up to; I am, after all, only human and I have but one life to give.

 

Featured image: Free photo 117112301 © creativecommonsstockphotos – Dreamstime.com

Let’s talk about sex

Sex in fantasy books, that is. Settle down at the back.

The other day, I was tidying up my notes folder and found some scene fragments I’d written a while ago. One of them featured two of my characters having sex. At the time, I made a funny tweet about it and let it go, but this is actually something I feel very strongly about. Strongly enough to go back and expand my funny tweet into a threadlet:

And then when I still had Thoughts, to write this post.

So what’s the big deal?

There is a sector of the genre readership that doesn’t like sex in their fantasy. Some find it uncomfortable or embarrassing to read. Some view it as boring, unnecessary and a distraction from the plot. Some just feel sexual encounters are as much a part of the character’s everyday life as trips to the bathroom, and therefore have just as little reason to be on the page. After all, if the reader just needs to know two people have slept together, that can be shown with dialogue, contextual cues and other narrative devices, without describing the act in any way. The “how much detail is too much” question is one for another day.

I’m firmly in the opposite camp. I think that building a character without taking into account their sexuality leaves out a huge amount of information about them and how they relate to the people around them. Sexual desire is a powerful motivator in humans, as is sexual jealousy. It can skew a character’s priorities, make them willing to take risks. Who they choose to love and what opposition they may face for it reveals much about their society and social role. Think caste systems, religious divides, the effect of wealth or public visibility vs a private life and that old favourite, forbidden love.

Intimacy makes people vulnerable in a way that combat does not, and characters with vulnerabilities are interesting.

Everything I include in a book has to have a purpose – often more than one. That’s true of the sex scenes too. They’re not there for titillation. Intimacy makes people vulnerable in a way that combat does not, and characters with vulnerabilities are interesting. It also reveals how their upbringing has shaped them: what they want, what they expect, how much they give and receive when no-one else is watching. Even characters’ reasons not to have sex are intriguing. Asexuality, shyness, fear, disability – it is all relevant and worthy of exploration.

There are other reasons to include a sexual encounter, too. It’s a change of pace. A chance for the reader and story alike to catch their breath. To snatch a moment of joy in a highly-charged situation. For separated lovers to reconnect. Or maybe just for the protagonist to remember what it is they’re fighting for.

Sex is a very human – and humanising – thing. It’s another dimension to the character, another colour on the palette with which to paint them. The more colour, the more texture, the more real they become, and that’s what I’m striving for. Realistic people in a made-up world.

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