Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Reviewing the List

File this under “cleaning up things from last year.” It’s not necessarily the last in this category (still have to do that one about resolution that was kicking in my brain from last December or so, but that one’s going to have to wait a bit), but it’s the one I feel capable of tackling. Unfortunately, while I’m sure I actually started writing this in September or so, I can’t find the document. I suspect it’s an orphan, one of the things left behind on the hard drive of my old computer that didn’t get transferred. Perhaps I’ll be able to rescue it someday.

This particular post was inspired initially back in August, when Jo Eberhardt penned this post at Writer Unboxed. The gist of it is that female protagonists are underrepresented in fiction, but because of perception, we (and by we, I apparently mean men and boys) think they are overrepresented, or at least equally represented. At the time (early August), I went through my running list of books I had read for 2016 and started counting–male protagonist, female protagonist, hard-to-tell-who-was-the-protagonist. As I started, I was cringing: at the end of 2015, one of the things I vowed to do was to read more widely, more diversely. Looking at the titles and authors, I was sure I had failed miserably.

When I counted, I was pleasantly surprised, because the “who’s the protagonist” question turned out to be much more even than I expected. Not quite even, but close. I was going to write about it then, but either got lazy or decided to see how the list finished out. So, here’s how this worked out (note that one book was an anthology, so no main protagonist at all):


Forgive the “hard on the eyes” all caps for the table, and the fact that it’s not a table. The number here surprised me, as I said, because when I first started looking at the titles and authors, as I said, I was sure that women protagonists were vastly underrepresented. Part of that was seeing Joe Hill’s name on the list twice at the time, and forgetting that both of Hill’s books that I read this year (NOS4A2 and The Fireman) had female protagonists. I’ll also add there were two books on my list (The Water Knife and All the Ugly and Wonderful Things) that I counted as male. Though page time and point of view were shared fairly equally between male and female characters, I felt that the male character was the primary focus of the story, and one (All the Light We Cannot See) that I counted as female.

Now, I suppose I should look at authors. And for this, I’ll expand the list to include the non-fiction. Note that there are more authors than books, because of co-authorships.


Ouch. Only about a third of the books I read were written by women. Yikes. Something else I need to fix? Minorities and other cultures. Only four of the books I read last year were not written by white Americans, as far as I can tell. Clearly, I still need to do some work on the “reading diversely” thing. How about you? Have you taken a good look at your reading list lately? What did you find? 

That’s about it for me for now. I’m going to hopefully spend this Presidents’ Day productively writing. Thanks for stopping by, and share your thoughts in the comments section.

5 Responses

  1. Out of the 72 books I read last year, only 4 were by male authors (even though the bulk of my reading is romance, that number did kind of surprise me). I didn't bother with listing the sex of the protagonist, since the bulk of my reading is romance and both characters can be considered in that role.

    Funny thing is, it didn't seem all that long ago when all I read were Stephen King and Dean Koontz. But if you're looking for female authors who write good thrillers without the romance, try Tess Gerritsen and Meg Gardiner. I love their books!

  2. I read a lot of clean romances and there aren't that many men authors in that genre. Interesting look. I do enjoy finding more mixed race couples, though that's hard to find in historicals which I've been reading a lot of in prep for my Victorian time travel series I'm prepping for.

  3. I think because you and Jo don't read romances, the number's a bit skewed. As far as I know, Romance (including Romantic Suspense and Paranormal Romance) and Contemporary are the biggest sellers in the business. Those almost all have female protags and authors. In my circle of author friends (CPs and bloggers), 90% are women — but if I count L.X. Cain's Horror writer friends on FB & Twitter, 90% are men. Since I read horror exclusively, 95% of my reads are male authored, and no diversity unless you count monsters as a minority. lol

  4. Thanks for the comments, all. One of the things I think is especially interesting is how certain genres are so totally dominated by female or male authors. Romance writers? Mostly women. Horror? Mostly men. Lexa's first post here does make me wonder: how many writers are disguising their gender in the name of sales? How many men are writing romance under a feminine pseudonym? How many women are doing the same in horror or some other 'male' genre? Interesting questions, I think.

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