The Help Desk: Should female writers man up their mansucripts?

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I recently read an article proving that publishers are more interested in novels submitted under male names. My novel has been rejected by several agents for being too “weird and creepy,” and I can’t help but wonder if they’d have the same criticism if the same book had a male name on it. So my question: Should I use a male pseudonym? And, if so, which male pseudonym should I use?

Vivienne from Maple Leaf

Dear Vivienne,

I dearly love delivering lectures about the hurdles female writers face in the publishing industry (and beyond) but those speeches are best saved for house parties, baby showers, and other social engagements where people are “just trying to relax and have fun. Christ, Cienna.”

Yes, agents would probably be more receptive of your work (at least initially) if you wrote under a male pseudonym. I’ve found that if I go without plucking my chin hairs for a week or two, men and women alike treat me with the fearful deference once reserved for tiny dictators. It is a triumphant feeling to don the mantle of manhood and bask in the glow of unearned respect, even if only temporarily.

But you’d be doing all writers who were not born cisgender male a disservice by masquerading this way. Men’s success is expected. Ours is not. We are playing a game that’s been designed to see us struggle, if not fail. We need to change the rules instead of bending to them.

Which is why I suggest you be yourself. If that simply won’t do, try embracing a gender-neutral pseudonym when querying agents, something like “Scrotack Faginam.” That will get people reading your work just as surely as masquerading as a man and, bonus! you won’t be labeled a sex traitor by your peers.

In my lifetime, I hope to see female writers (and LGBTQ writers) simply treated as writers, people whose stories and opinions are just as widely read and respected as their male counterparts. But that will take pioneers like you and me writing weird, creepy shit and proudly shoving our sex in the face of many strangers — which is one reason why my business cards are now printed with a tasteful inkblot of my vaginal lips. When I hand them out at industry parties, people often ask me, “Why do you have the scowling face of my disappointed mother printed on your business cards?” And I reply, “You are mistaken, sir, those are my Nether Grins. You see, I am a female writer and now you will never forget it.”

Grrrrl Powrrrrrrr,