J.K. Rowling Helps Women Writers Double Their Share Of #1 Bestsellers, While Male Bestsellers Head For Extinction

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A new study by print-on-demand publishing company Lulu (http://www.lulu.com) reveals that women have doubled their share of #1 bestsellers over the last 20 years. Bestselling novels by female authors like J.K. Rowling and Danielle Steel may soon eclipse bestsellers by male authors like Stephen King and Dan Brown, according to the study.

Bestselling novels by male authors like Dan Brown and Stephen King are heading for extinction, according to a new study which reveals that writers like J.K. Rowling and Danielle Steel have helped women double their share of #1 bestsellers over the last 20 years.

The study of the 354 novels to have topped the hardback fiction section of the world-famous New York Times Bestseller List during the 50 years from 1955-2004 was conducted by Lulu (http://www.lulu.com), a website that lets anyone publish their own book and sell it on the Net.

The female share of #1 bestsellers over the first decade of the study (1955-1964) was 17.8%, and still just 23.8% as recently as the 1980s – compared to 46% over the last decade (1995-2004), and 50% so far this year.

Meanwhile, books by women fill four of the five top places in the current New York Times Hardback Fiction Bestseller list – and would fill all five but for recent changes in the classification rules.

Thanks to classic writers like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, the novel itself is sometimes considered a female literary form. Yet, barely 50 years ago, reveals the Lulu study, women novelists went four straight years (1958-61) without notching a single #1 bestseller. Twelve years in all saw women draw a similar blank.

1999, the year that J.K. Rowling first made the list, saw women writers publish nine out of 12 of the year’s #1 bestsellers – a record 67% share. In fact, the first three Harry Potter books each topped the list between June and September 1999.

The New York Times responded to this unprecedented feat by restructuring the classification system. Just before the publication of the fourth Potter book in 2002, the paper established a separate children’s fiction list, for the apparent purpose of excluding Potter from the main, adult list, even though many reckoned that most Potter readers were adult. The fourth and fifth Potter books topped the children’s list, as will the sixth, just out.

2002 saw the largest number of different women writers – nine – top the list, although their books still comprised just 43% of the year’s top bestsellers. This year has seen 10 #1s so far, of which five have been by women, putting women on course to claim a 50% share of the list.

If present trends continue, bestsellers by women will imminently overtake those by men, before going on to make male bestsellers extinct. “Once,” says Bob Young, CEO of Lulu, “women writers took on male pen names, like George Eliot, whose real name was Mary Ann Evans. Before long, male writers may have to adopt female pen-names: the Dan Brown of the future will become Danielle while the Stephen King will be Stephanie.”

The study was conducted by Lulu as part of a drive to boost the share of books by women which make up its own list of bestsellers (http://www.lulu.com/browse/top100.php). “Only 22 of our own 100 bestsellers have women as the only or main author,” confesses Young. “We’d like to see that figure grow.”

The very first New York Times Bestseller list, published 9 August, 1942, was headed by a woman – Rachel Field with her book “And Now Tomorrow”. The current #1 bestseller, “Eleven On Top” is also by a woman – Janet Evanovich.

Other novels by women to head the list this year are:

  • “No Place Like Home” by Mary Higgins Clark (April)
  • “4th of July” by James Patterson and Mazine Paetro (May)
  • “The Mermaid Chair” by Sue Monk Kidd (June)
  • “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova (July)

Both the youngest and oldest writers to have topped the list during the 50 years studied were female. Francoise Sagan was only 20 when “Bonjour Tristesse” reached #1 in 1955; and just 19 when it first appeared in French. J.K. Rowling was the youngest solo author to hit #1 in the latter 25 years, from 1980-2004 – only 34 when she first hit #1 in 1999.

Agatha Christie was the oldest author to top the list. She would have been 86 when her novel, “Sleeping Murder” reached #1 in 1976, had she not died earlier that year.

The woman to have written the most #1 bestsellers during the period studied is Danielle Steel with 26. Although Stephen King has managed 27, one more than Steel, the latter has a better bestseller-per-year average of 1.24, since first topping the list in 1984 with her novel, “Full Circle”, compared to a 1.04 average by King, since publishing his first #1 bestseller in 1979.


Lulu is the world’s fastest-growing producer of print-on-demand books – and a way for authors of all kinds to publish and sell their books with no up-front costs. Founded by Bob Young, who previously co-founded Red Hat, the open source software company, Lulu provides independent publishers with free access to on-demand publishing tools for books, eBooks, music, images and calendars.

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