US writer Catherine Nichols has revealed that she received eight times as many responses by sending out her manuscript to agents under a man’s name than when sending it out under her own name.
In an essay for Jezebel, Nichols said she sent query letters to 50 agents under her own name, receiving only two manuscript requests.
As an experiment, Nichols sent out six queries under the male name and received five responses – two “warm rejections praising his exciting project” and three manuscript requests.
“My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me—Catherine,” said Nichols.
Nichols went on to send out 50 queries in total under her male pseudonym, to male and female agents, resulting in 17 requests for a manuscript.
She said: “He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25.”
Nichols, who called her male pseudonym George in the essay, said that “being rejected is par for the writer’s course”, but said that after being rejected when submitting under her own name she began to think “not only that I had written the wrong book, but that I was the wrong person”.
Nichols did send some agents letters under both her name and a male name.
“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.
“George’s work was “clever,” it’s “well-constructed” and “exciting.” No one mentioned his sentences being lyrical or whether his main characters were feisty. A few of people sent deeply generous and thoughtful critiques, which made me both grateful and queasy for my dishonesty.”
Nichols theorised on the reasons for the gender difference: that the agents could have thought it was easier to sell a book by George, that it is “unusual for a man to write a book with a female protagonist, so maybe that made the book stand out”, that “with my name, maybe my novel was taken for “Women’s Fiction”—a dislikable name for a respectable genre—but not what I was writing”, and that “maybe the agents were subconsciously friendlier to George”.
Nichols has used the comments she received as George to “improve” her book, and is now represented by an agent.