JK Rowling opted against using first name 'Joanne' when selling her Harry Potter books, and now another female author has proven that hiding behind a male pseudonym can be the best way to grab publishers' attention.
Catherine Nichols had been met with disappointment after disappointment after sending letters to agents. Until she decided to use a man's name, that is.
Nichols contacted some 50 agents using her real name but only heard back from two. When she changed gender, however, she received responses from five out of six agents, including three manuscript requests.
It didn't take long for Nichols to identify the issue. "My novel wasn't the problem, it was me - Catherine," she wrote in an essay for Jezebel.
Nichols ended up with 17 manuscript requests from agents believing she was a male author.
"He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book," she said. "Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25."
Most iconic book covers
Most iconic book covers
1/12 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
Francis Cugat designed the cover art for Fitzgerald's quintessential jazz age novel. He finished it before the book was complete and the author liked it so much he 'wrote it into' the novel.
2/12 The Godfather - Mario Puzo
This 1969 cover art was produced by S Neil Fujita and became so iconic that the gothic typeface and puppeteer's hand were used as imagery in the film too.
3/12 The Cat in the Hat - Dr Seuss
Theodor Seuss Geisel designed this cartoon for his own 1957 children's classic.
4/12 Fifty Shades of Grey - EL James
If this cover to EL James' first erotic novel isn't one of the most iconic sleeves of recent times, we don't know what is.
5/12 The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
Salinger was known for being fussy when it came to his book designs. He liked them simple with the only words being his name and the title, like this one by E Michael Mitchell.
6/12 'Porno' - Irvine Welsh
DJ Design came up with this crass cover for Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting sequel that few book-buyers could walk by without noticing.
7/12 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
American jazz musician and designer Paul Bacon created this simple yet striking cover for Heller's novel. He is also the man behind the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Slaughterhouse-Five sleeves.
8/12 One Day - David Nicholls
Craig Ward designed this bright romantic sleeve for David Nicholls' 2009 novel.
9/12 A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
David Pelham came up with this famous cover ten years after A Clockwork Orange was first published in 1962.
10/12 In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
S Neil Fujita designed this crime thriller's sleeve using a classic typeface, a strong black border and a simple drop of blood. The drop was brighter at first but Capote asked for it to be made darker as time had elapsed since the murders.
11/12 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
Illustrator Elmer Hader painted this by Steinbeck's request for his 1939 novel. He then created the cover art for East of Eden and The Winter of Our Discontent, too.
12/12 Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
Edward McKnight Kauffer's powerful artwork represents the protagonist who is struggling to assert his identity in a world of hate.
The most interesting results came when Nichols sent the same agents letters using both her real name and pseudonymn.
"One who sent me a form rejection as Catherine not only wanted to read George's book, but instead of rejecting it asked if he could send it along to a more senior agent," she said.
"Even George's rejections were polite and warm on a level that would have meant everything to me, except that they weren't to the real me."
Nichols found that agents described George's work as "exciting" and "clever", without mentioning "whether his main characters were feisty" or "his sentences being lyrical".
Possible reasons why agents preferred her novel under a male name included the idea that it was easier to sell, that it is "unusual for a man to write a book with a female protagonist" and that with Nichols' real name, the book could have been considered "Women's Fiction" when that wasn't the genre she was writing for. Or, simply, unconscious bias.
Nichols has now found an agent and has edited her work using critiques she received as George.
Sadly, it seems Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot, Middlemarch) and the Bronte sisters were onto something when they wrote as men and not enough has changed in centuries after all. Sigh.Reuse content