Catherine Nichols is a young aspiring author. She’d worked hard on a novel and was happy with what she’d produced – the female protagonist was relatable, the plot was taut, and there was enough dramatic tension to keep the reader hooked. But there was a problem.
Her novel had no takers. She’d hopefully mailed her manuscript to 50 prominent agents, but no one seemed interested in publishing her work. Much less publish, a measly 2 of the 50 even deigned to reply.
It was then that Catherine hit upon the realization that perhaps the novel wasn’t the problem – the problem could well be herself. Not herself specifically, but her name.
Catherine decided to test out this hypothesis. She created a male alter ego – imaginatively named George Leyer – and began resending her novels to publishers.
The results were dramatically different. A total of 17 publishers replied to George, and they were effusive in their praise. “Mr. Leyer. Delighted. Excited. Please send the manuscript.”
“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,”, says Catherine ruefully.
Nichols’ essay comes at a time when the literary world is under scrutiny for its attitude to female writers. Joanne Katherine Rowling had famously changed her name while publishing the Harry Potter series to a more gender-ambiguous J.K Rowling, and Erika Leonard had adopted the pseudonym E. L James for Fifty Shades of Gray.
Even in 2015, it’s not easy being a woman.