Considering Sex: Widening Your Audience

12 Nov

Nobody will ever win the Battle of the Sexes.  There’s just too much fraternizing with the enemy.

~Henry Kissinger

I don’t consider myself a sexist. Nor am I willing to take a test in a women’s magazine to find out. Embarrassingly,  my writing echoes the immature boy within. Instead of genuinely developing female characters, I force unnatural stories around them. The fact (99%) that I was never a little girl troubles me. My only exposure to them occurred when I was afraid of catching cooties. Perhaps I’ll be able to channel their fears, frustrations and interests when I father a girl of my own. Or maybe, just maybe I can stop thinking in stereotypes and naturally create a winning female protagonist.

Thursday, November 11th 5:12pm: I did.

For over two years, the first draft of “Excuse Me Mr. Thunder” has sat on my desktop. Not once did I glance at it. I’m glad I didn’t. The time away allows me to edit unbiasedly, but more importantly I’m now able to consider the perspective of not only editors, but also designers, marketers, legal advisors and whomever else puts in their two cents at an acquisitions meeting.

“Mr. Thunder” personifies the elements of a thunderstorm as a young boy is repeatedly woken on the eve of his first baseball game. He begs each of the elements to “work another day” allowing him to get his much needed rest. The prose needs an IV, but I’m confident with time and psychotic nit-picking it will become delicious. I’m more worried about reaching a wide audience and maximizing long-term sales.

After red-inking the draft, I sat and pretended to be an editor. A foreign voice surfaced and said, “I love the weather/science connection and how it’s taught through the eyes of a character children can associate with. That being said, what about my girl readers? I’m afraid they’ll be turned off by a baseball obsessed boy.” The sex of my character just cost me 50% of the market. Hmmm, what to do?

What if he was a she? Thus the boy became a girl; expensive surgery not necessary.

Then I made a mistake. I allowed political correctness to blindfold me. “Can she play baseball, or does it have to be softball?” This dilemma became an ’empowerment moment.’ I had the opportunity to bravely send the boys-only baseball aficionados into the dugout and the girls out to the diamond. A boy reader may be turned off by a girl (you know what I mean), but if he truly loves baseball, he won’t be so fickle. More so, it’s not about baseball. It’s about explaining, justifying the elements and importance of storms in order for young readers to accept them as part of nature and their lives. So does it matter if my little baseball player is a girl. Nope. But in doing so, it may just empower a few feminine sluggers into making the book a home-run.

Look at your children’s book then consider the demographic spectrum. Who’s enticed to read/buy and who’s sent packing? Wherever possible, add an element that will speak to the forgotten (offended) group. But whatever you do, don’t under any circumstances distract the reader from the core story, theme(s), and characters. Which is why my protagonist is simply a girl and not a stuttering Native American in a wheelchair. While plausible, it’s too distracting.

Speaking of distractions, don’t let your sex, race, or pants size distract you from seeing the potential to remix a story into something everyone can enjoy. Happy unbiased imaginating everyone!

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