Evidently I’m writing a fantasy novel.
This is news to me.
So how did this happen?
Of all the sessions I attended at the HNS conference last week, the one about male protagonists was the most surprising. As far back as 2015 I’d heard murmurings that my choice of a male protagonist was unusual but I didn’t realize just how unusual.
Industry logic goes like this: historical fiction is written primarily by and for women. Women prefer to read from the points of view of other women. Hence, a female protagonist is all but required in order to market a book as “historical fiction”*. Hence, having Edward Kelley as my protagonist creates a hurdle to publication, at least in this genre.
Of course, historical fictions with male protagonists do exist, though they’re often marketed as something else. This results in oddities like “Wolf Hall” being shelved in literary (even though Hilary Mantel clearly thinks of herself as a historical fiction writer) and books from the POV of a male spy having women on the covers to meet reader expectations.
Which makes little sense because readers don’t actually expect this. Anecdotes aren’t data but the panel attendees–men and women alike–enjoyed reading male protagonists and want to see more of them. Authors enjoy writing them, even though some editors warn them off (!).
The trope persists due to a risk-averse publishing industry based on what I suspect are very old stats. This does a disservice to readers and authors alike in terms of publishability and findability.
Interestingly, fantasy/sci-fi has the opposite problem. Which led to my asking whether I should pitch the Work in Progress as fantasy, given my male protagonist and fantastical elements. The panelists replied with a resounding “yes”.
So, shall I pitch as fantasy and betray the sisterhood/fall under histfic readers’ radar, or pitch as historical fiction and possibly never publish at all? It’s a conundrum. Fortunately, I find this funny as well as frustrating.
I invite readers to share their favorite genre-bending media (not just books! Movie, tv, comic, game, etc. recs are all welcome!), particularly historical fiction not marketed as such. How did you find it? Did you have trouble finding it?
*Not that historical fiction can’t be about men: it often is, just through the eyes of the women around them. The notion is that women don’t mind reading about men, they just don’t want to walk in their shoes.