Thursday, April 10, 2014

Female Authors Dominating Smashwords Ebook Bestseller Lists

Each month, Publishers Weekly publishes the Smashwords Self-Published Ebook Bestseller List.  We report our bestsellers based on dollar sales aggregated across the Smashwords distribution network which includes retailers such as iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, the Smashwords store and others.

The other day I was browsing our February 2014 Smashwords bestseller list at Publishers Weekly and realized that all the top 25 bestsellers were written by women.  Cool beans.

Wondering if this was a fluke, I looked at our December 2013 Smashwords bestseller list at PW and bingo, same thing.  All 25 books were written by women.

Then I looked at the bestseller list for November 2013.   Same thing again.  100% women.

Our ebook bestsellers for October 2013?  You guessed it, 100% women.

If you're wondering why I skipped January in the examples above, it's because we and PW decided to shift the publication schedule to increase timeliness, so we skipped January and published February in March.

Why are women dominating the Smashwords bestseller lists, other than the fact that these women are all super-awesome writers?  One likely factor is that romance is the #1 bestselling genre at Smashwords, and romance is overwhelmingly written by women.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  I'm constantly blown away the smarts, savvy and sophistication of romance authors.  These ladies have pioneered many of the ebook publishing and distribution best practices that so many indies take for granted today.

But strong romance performance doesn't fully explain the story.  While 2/3 of our February bestseller list was romance, 1/3 was not, with the remaining categories including historical fiction, fantasy and mystery.

Could it be that there are more female writers than male writers?  I don't know the industry-wide or Smashwords-specific gender breakdowns.

Could it be fiction readers, which skew female, prefer books written by women because the authors are women, or because women write stories that are most appealing to women?  I don't know.

For another reference point, I looked at today's top 25 bestsellers at the US iBooks store.  64% written by women.  At Amazon US, 56% of today's top 25 bestsellers are written by women.

There's a pattern here, but my data points above are too limited to draw a statistically significant conclusion.  For now, file the above under curious and unexplained observations.

Keep up the great work ladies!


Joe Vasicek said...

Not to put down any of these ladies' accomplishments, but there is a possibility that some of these authors are actually men writing under a female pen name. I'm thinking about writing some sweet romance, but if I were to publish it I would do it under a female pen name as far removed from my current one as possible, simply because of the female dominance within romance.

Dovetail Public Relations said...

Hi Joe. I wondered that myself, but without betraying confidences many of these writers are known to be female based on public appearances. I don't think it's a big factor in the findings. I think if we were looking at erotica it would be a different story. Many men write erotica under female pen names. I'm not telling who, though. :)

Louise Hathaway said...

Then, there are husband and wife writing teams like ourselves to add to the mix.

Donna Fasano said...

This is very interesting. Being a romance author, I'm happy to see that romance novels do so well on the Smashwords Bestseller Lists. I wonder if the stats are comparable on other lists: NYT or WSJ or USA Today.

Dovetail Public Relations said...

Lewis, fair point! I've met many a husband at conferences who support their wives in marketing, formatting, editing, business or any myriad other publishing tasks. Such partnerships are always inspiring to me. My wife and I co-authored our novel. I've also heard stories of husbands quitting their jobs to take care of the kids so their wives can bring home the bacon.

Donna, based on my unscientific and incomplete survey above, I'd guess we're more skewed to fiction and women than traditional publishers. Looking at the bestseller lists at Apple and Amazon this morning, the NF titles were almost all traditionally published.

David Sheppard said...

I've been in the writing business for decades and been around a few romance authors. Several things you can say that has historically set them apart. Number one is that they know their craft, and not just grammar and dialogue either. They know how to develop characters and plot a story. Second to none, in my opinion. The other thing is that they have historically been given short shrift by publishers and make almost nothing for their hard sophisticated work. I would bet that the reason so many romance authors and readers find each other here at Smashwords is that they have found a place where they are not treated as second-class citizens, and authors can make a little money, sometimes a lot of money, and readers can find a great romance novel without paying an arm and leg for it. I think this is terrific. Congratulations ladies. More power to you, and more power to Smashwords.

Dovetail Public Relations said...

+10 David, you nailed it.

Unknown said...

Yay for the ladies!!! And for the readers of romance who are finding books they love!

Anna_esq said...

In addition to the prognostications of others, I think part of the reason may be that female authors are more comfortable working together to cross-market their work? I know -I- belong to more than one cooperative, and the ladies tend to be the dominant parties (though we DO appreciate our few guys!)

L. J. Hutton said...

As a non-romance female writer I'd definitely second the comment that Smashwords is a place where women writers aren't looked down on. I'm really not prepared to engage in some of the games the conventional publishing world indulges in - especially some agents - largely because I've come to this after years of banging my head aginst other career doors and getting nowhere. This isn't meant to be a guy-bashing comment - simply an observation that for ladies of my generation, and even some younger, talent really hasn't counted for much when it came to getting jobs. So when we find something we really love doing, I think we value highly the chance to be able to get our work out without having to make the square pegs fit into someone else's round holes. You only have to read many publishers' descriptions of what they're looking for in terms of new submissions to realise that they can be very restrictive regarding even what they're prepared to look at, let alone actually publish. Whereas with Smashwords we can put a piece of work out to the public and let it stand or fall by its own merits. And although this doesn't apply to me personally, it also allows us to put work out at our own pace, so if family crises disrupt the work we don't have some unsympathetic person badgering us to complete the next piece when it really isn't practical to do so. I'm a huge fan of Smashwords for all of the above, and would have to be offered one hell of a deal to go with a conventional publisher now! L. J. Hutton

adan said...

I think it's a great tribute first to the ladies themselves, then to Smashwords and others providing access.

I'm a guy, and even I wouldn't have the access without Smashwords, Amazon, Scribd, and so many others.

That the ladies lead, says something, I believe, about what people in general need right now - a re-balancing of priorities to that which creates and sustains life, and the qualities that go with that.

May we all learn something from those currently leading the charge.

Annemarie Nikolaus said...

Funny - but not surprising - that some men can't swallow it!

Better educated, yes. We need to be. And in addition to what David Sheppard writes:

Women in general always had to have more courage than men to make their way. And we are taught that we have to do all the work by ourselves, if we want to get it done.

So we are braver to embrace the indie way.

Petrea Burchard said...

As long as we're not being scientific:

It's been said and I agree: as tough as the publishing business is for all of us, it's particularly tough for women. Isn't it wonderful to thumb our noses in a way, and let the market decide if our work is worth reading? I know this is true for male writers as well (read J.A. Konrath's blog if you want to see some nose-thumbing).

Thanks, Mark, for an interesting post and for Smashwords.

Anonymous said...

I would be interested to see what the gender statistics are in the Non Fiction genres.

One of my first jobs was in a male dominated sector. They even admitted a woman has to prove herself much more than a man. I found this to be very true.

Keep up the good work ladies.

Sherry Ellis said...

Interesting. Looks like women are really out there hustling! (Probably men are busy with traditional jobs and not writing.)

Kerry Nietz said...

What I wonder about is the article writer's near gloating attitude. I mean, I don't think women have been oppressed in the publishing industry, have they? This isn't like a women's suffrage accomplishment. To me, it seems like a negative , because the absence of male writers probably also indicates the absence of male readers and that's a demographic that's already in decline. It is like saying "Yeah! Men are playing more video games and watching more sports!"

Linda Maye Adams said...

I suspect the real issue is the best seller lists themselves that come out of NY. It's easy to think of them as a tally of the numbers of best-selling books -- and they're not. They're based on what the booksellers tell them. That's probably why the lists are so different. The booksellers are picking books by male writers, but the sales here are showing romance is popular.