You know how you have a giant collection of datasets saved, but you never seem to get to them? The Guardian Datablog posted one that moved me from my usual weekend lethargy. Not about some world injustice, a critical healthcare issue, or anything Genuinely Important -- but UK book sales data, checking into whether Fifty Shades of Grey is really the UK's bestselling book of all time.
I grabbed it and had a poke around. My curiosity was less about EL James (although mad props to a fanfic writer for making the big time) than about general genre and gender distributions. At a base line, when I did some hasty labeling, I saw that as expected, fiction overwhelms, and women are writing more of it:
Then I threw in some data analysis, just to see if there were any trends there. Okay, EL James finally pops up. Maybe there is a mild trend towards women selling more here?
Then I looked at publishing houses. I wondered if any of them were perhaps making more money off women than off men, and which ones?
This one suprised me a little more than I expected. Bloomsbury publishes JK Rowling, of course (and Khaled Hosseini, who incidentally lives in the USA). The rather macho-looking Transworld has Dan Brown, Bill Bryson, Richard Dawkins (and also Joanne Harris with Chocolat).
But the quickie plot that got me really motivated to spend my Saturday on graphs was this one:
My first thought was "How very irritating: the women bestsellers are all labelled as writing for children, even though they dominate the list. And what is up with the science fiction and fantasy group there?" It seems that one of JK Rowling's oeuvre was a top seller in its "adult" edition too. The one male author in SF&F is Tolkien (for Lord of the Rings, all of them, I suppose). Which means that no actual "science fiction" is on this list, it's all fantasy, if you're tracking genre like I do. Other big names for kids are the Twilight series and Hunger Games series, also stuffed into "Young Adult." EL James is classified in "Romance & Sagas." I guess there's no "Porn" category, or "Adult," like there is for movies, which I think is a real prudish shame.
I regrouped a bit; I put the fantasy books together, whether they are for "kids" or not. That includes Philip Pullman, Stephanie Meyer, Suzanne Collins. Most adult women I know have read JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins. I actually find it disgusting that publishers would trivialize these authors as writing "for kids," especially given what's in them -- but that's a gender genre rant for another day. I left Time Traveler's Wife in General Fic, although it could go in Romance or Fantasy, I suppose. I put the two Bridget Jones in with Romance, although I feel the Romance vs. General Fic to be a rather slippery slope. I did not put Chocolat in Romance. I grouped the Biography and Autobiography together. The food and diet related items seemed most interesting as a meta-group. Here's my remash of the genre and gender stats:
Men are represented in more genres, even with my regrouping. But why are there no women in Crime, Thrillers and Adventure on this list? Where are the women mystery writers? (Did I perhaps miss one I should have categorized as genre?) Likewise, there are no male Romance & Saga writers shown here. Yeah, I think the jokes about male "sagas" really are due at this point. (Note a couple links from a recent Twitter exchange on long books by men: "The Exasperating Maleness of Long Novels" and "Why Don't Women Write Long Novels?".)
Finally, I did one arranged by author, just to see, and of course JK Rowling rules the list. Male and female authors are pretty evenly distributed throughout, as well.
What's most interesting here is that the very last one listed is Suzanne Collins, despite the recent Amazon announcement that the Hunger Games books have now outsold Harry Potter on their site. Curious! A US/UK difference? Ebooks not accounted for in the Neilsen data?
Just in time, the Hunger Games DVD is out, and I know what I'm watching tonight. It's also high time I gave Fifty Shades of Grey a shot, even if it's not SF & Fantasy. If you want to check my recodes and the original data, I uploaded the spreadsheet with my new columns here. Please let me know if you think I made any mistakes in recategorizing (or especially gender labels).
PS. I screened out the weird Beano entry, which has no author listed. So this is really about the top 99 books.
PPS. At Readercon recently, a bunch of SF&F writers on a panel said the way to publishing success was to "write a boring thriller." (Me: "I could totally do that!") Now I think it's: Write a great fantasy with teen heros that a publisher will buy from a woman, that in a great act of resistance against age-ist stereotyping by The Man, adult women everywhere download and enjoy shamelessly and tell each other about where male publishers can't hear.