Thursday, February 11, 2016

Best-Selling Novels: An Update on the Battle of the Sexes

I have made several posts regarding the nature of the novels which have made it to the number one position on The New York Times Bestselling Fiction list.

One observation is that women have dominated the list during the 2010s. This is in stark contrast to previous decades when the list was mostly a boys club. The purpose of this post is to update this analysis and to provide additional material which shows the sharp differences over time.

The New York Times Bestsellers list first became a national sampling of best-selling books on August 9th, 1942. Interestingly, at its inception a female author had the number one book: And Now Tomorrow by Rachel Field. In 1943, the list would return truer to form: female authors had zero weeks and male authors, fifty-two. Women being shut out would occur ten more times, most recently in 1993.

During these first decades, on occasion, women would have a breakthrough novel, notably Désirée by Annemarie Selinko which stayed on top for 32 weeks in 1953, Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, 29 weeks in 1956-57, Ship of  Fools by Katherine Anne Porter, 26 weeks in 1962, and Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann, 28 weeks in 1966, but for the most part, male-written novels dominated the weekly lists. In general, if women achieved parity, it was through a single breakout work, while men had an avalanche.

Until the turn of the century, there were two exceptions to this rule. One was in the remarkable year of 1944 when four women combined to lead the lists 47 out of 52 weeks (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith, Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge, and Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor.) In 1991, five female authors combined for 35 weeks.

One prominent figure in changing the disparity was J.K. Rowling who in 1999 and 2000 had three Harry Potter books staying on top for 24 weeks, a reign that only ended when the New York Times developed a new list for children's literature.

From 1943 through 2010, women have spent more weeks in the number one position seven years. Since 2011, women have been on top four out of five years. This phenomenon is not due to a single dominant author or book. In 2015 it was nine different female authors. In 2014, it was fifteen women.

The number of weeks male and female authors had a novel in the number one position of the New York Times Bestselling Fiction list for each year from 1943 to 2015. Although this forest is dense with information, the take home points are how often in the first several decades male authors (red) dominated with all or virtually all the weeks. Male authors had at least 40 weeks in first position during 38 of the 73 years depicted. Female authors, one year.

This expands the second half of the above graph making it easier to visualize the diminution of male dominance.

Overall, in the decade beginning 2010 and through 2015, women have achieved better than parity with male authors with 165.5 weeks for females (counting male-female collaborations as one half week for each) and 150.5 for males. Since 2011, women have dominated four out of five years.


A Predator's Game, available March 30, 2016, Rook's Page Publishing.

Nikola Tesla, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Henry H. Holmes are all characters in my forthcoming thriller, A Predator's Game, Rook's Page Publishing, March 30, 2016.

Back page blurb of A Predator's Game (advance copy, subject to change).

Manhattan, 1896.

When the author Arthur Conan Doyle meets Nikola Tesla he finds a tall, thin genius with a photographic memory and a keen eye, and recognizes in the eccentric inventor the embodiment of his creation, Sherlock. Together, they team up to take on an "evil Holmes." Multi-murderer Dr. Henry H. Holmes has escaped execution and is unleashing a reign of terror upon the metropolis. Set in the late nineteenth century in a world of modern marvels, danger and invention, Conan Doyle and Tesla engage the madman in a deadly game of wits.

Martin Hill Ortiz, also writing under the name, Martin Hill, is the author of A Predatory Mind. Its sequel, set in 1890s Manhattan and titled A Predator's Game, will be available from Rook's Page Publishing, March 30, 2016. It features Nikola Tesla as detective.

His recent mystery, Never Kill A Friend, is available from Ransom Note Press. His epic poem, Two Mistakes, recently won second place in the Margaret Reid/Tom Howard Poetry Competition. He can be contacted at


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