Can Women Give Blokes What They Want?

Article excerpt

Thirty years ago both my publisher and my literary agent were men. Today both are women. This is not just an anecdotal accident. Publishing is one of many industries that now seem to be almost wholly dominated by women. Though there have always been women in the publishing trade, memory suggests they used to be mainly ill-paid recruits from the rentier class, often single, characters who might have escaped from the pages of a John Fowles novel. They were rarely senior executives.

Nowadays all that has changed. Women run large publishing companies and literary agencies - as well as their families - with great verve, and the men often seem like also-rans, the drone or the Sabbath goy who exists to turn on the lights. So far, so good. But is this perceived gender shift changing the nature of what gets published?

In America, where gender debates are considerably harsher than here, they think they can perceive a trend: the feminisation of fiction. A recent article in the New York Times by Trip Gabriel (surely a character from fiction) outlines the nature of the development: "While little publicised and hard to document, it is a widely held belief in the book business that more women buy books than men - perhaps as much as 70 or 80 per cent of fiction. And when it comes to novels and stories, what publishers believe women want are either works by female authors or - if the author is a man - then a story with a strong female central character."

The article went on to suggest that "the current generation of female editors and authors helps reinforce the perception that fiction is being feminised."

Now, in blokeish Britain, with any number of macho male writers adorning the fiction shelves, this seems hard to credit. There are certainly innumerable young women writers who may just feel it is time to push the greying machos aside, particularly if they have market research and sympathetic women publishers on their side. …