Infographic: Anatomy of a Prize Winner

Posted by Elizabeth on April 19, 2018
Ah, the nuts and bolts of a prizewinning book. Who writes these victorious books? Are they men or women? Whose stories are being told? Who is reading them? And what books are the best of the bunch if you want a great read?

At Goodreads, we have long been interested in the subject of professional opinion versus user-generated opinion, so this year we thought it was high time to revisit the anatomy of a prizewinning book.

We learned that male authors win more often than female authors, and novels centered on a woman’s journey don’t win major literary prizes as often as stories about men or featuring multiple protagonists. Men tend to win more and write about men's stories more. In fact, an in-depth analysis of book data on Goodreads found that only 18 percent of 95 prizewinning books from 2000 to 2017 featured a woman as the standalone main character.

Together with the analytics team, engineers, and designers, we looked at a random sample size of 40,000 active members on the site (20,000 men and 20,000 women) and examined 95 prizewinning books from 2000 to 2017. These books won the following prizes: PEN/Faulkner Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards, The Man Booker Prizes, and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Awards.

The results support a very interesting 2015 study by author and researcher Nicola Griffith. It’s also been two years since Griffith’s post, so we looked to see if there were any new trends in the data.

In 2016 and 2017 the ten works included in our research mainly followed the same pattern as the one Griffith saw, with more male authors winning, and more books with a lead male protagonist winning. Even this week, the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was awarded to Andrew Sean Greer for Less: A Novel, which according to our site is an enjoyable read, but still a book by a man about a man. Interestingly, there was one book in the past two years that bucked the trend entirely, The Underground Railroad, which featured a female protagonist and was written by a male author (Colson Whitehead).

So, please enjoy this infographic! We’ll let you debate all the glorious questions that come forth. Why do stories about men get more conventional endorsement? Interesting counterpoint: The Pacific Standard points out that among best-selling authors, men and women are represented equally. What surprises you? What doesn’t?

Happy reading!
Elizabeth

P.S. For more fun reading data, check out our earlier infographic Sex and Reading!





Comments Showing 1-50 of 106 (106 new)


message 1: by Cassie (new)

Cassie Fischer I had to read "The Gathering" for school. I'm not surprised to see that it is often abandoned by women, but I still thought it was a solid 3 stars.


message 2: by Kirsten (new)

Kirsten Now do this with race


message 3: by Jay (new)

Jay DiNitto Can't wait to use this information to antagonize the sexes even further.


message 4: by Celeste (new)

Celeste Kirsten wrote: "Now do this with race"

I would love to see that


message 5: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie Burke I'm curious about the panels of judges that choose the winners. Are they mostly male as well? This could explain the majority of winners being male authors and male protagonists, a subconscious bias perhaps. If there were more women judges, would more women win the awards? Very interesting info!


Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* I read Middlesex but didn't care for it. Haven't read any of the other examples.


message 7: by Carolyn (new)

Carolyn How do the Goodreads Choice Awards compare? Since those were chosen by us, rather than a panel, it would be interesting to see how much of a difference there is.


message 8: by Nancy (new)

Nancy I've read The Sellout three times! It's one of the funniest books I've read in a long time. The first 2 readings were for a bookclub. I was one the 3 people who actually read it, and the only one who really liked it. The 3rd reading was about a year after the first two. I liked it even more! I caught more of his jokes. If the first chunk is too daunting, just skip it and get right into Chapter 1. Then you'll want to go back and read the Prologue and savor every word that you thought was so tedious before.


message 9: by Elithrion (new)

Elithrion Ah yes, the old "add gender to stats to make the article more interesting" trick.


message 10: by Nadia (new)

Nadia Fascinating, yet unfortunately not a surprise. This is why I've personally chosen to redress the discrepancy & ensure that each year my reading is approximately 95% & greater books written by Women and with a Female Protagonist. I feel as Women we have to change this ridiculous tendency to inundate our consciousness with only Male perceptions. As always it starts with us & our choices.


message 11: by Julee (new)

Julee Can we see the list of 95 prizewinning books? I want to see how many of them I have read!


message 12: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Royal How do you measure "abandoned" reads? Is it a certain amount of time since an update to reading status is made?


message 13: by Cavak (last edited Apr 19, 2018 10:16AM) (new)

Cavak Why is it only gender and not subject matter or genre? I don't mind them being there. Just wondering why the rest of the contents in these books are brushed over.


message 14: by Leonide (new)

Leonide Martin Nadia wrote: "Fascinating, yet unfortunately not a surprise. This is why I've personally chosen to redress the discrepancy & ensure that each year my reading is approximately 95% & greater books written by Women..."

Nadia, I couldn't agree more! I also make effort to read women writers and stories about women protagonists. Keep the faith! Lennie


message 15: by Linda (new)

Linda I am wondering if women have a larger capacity to read someone else's perspective (i.e. a man's) for reasons like empathy, curiousity or wanting to better understand?

I know this sounds like a sweeping generalization but as a librarian, I have had older men specifically request suggestions for a good read that were not written by women. When I questioned this, the reason given was they want something highly relatable and clearly they didn't think they could relate to a woman's perspective.


message 16: by Chris (new)

Chris Evans Matthew wrote: "How do you measure "abandoned" reads? Is it a certain amount of time since an update to reading status is made?"

Personally, I have an "abandoned" shelf where I stick books I've given up on. I've seen it pop up enough on 'top shelves' that I know others do it too.


message 17: by Lindsey (new)

Lindsey Very interesting, although maybe not surprising. Wish I could see the full list of the 95 prizewinners, unless I'm missing that link in here somewhere, to see how many I've read...


message 18: by Janelle (new)

Janelle Brilliant comment, Nadia. Yes, women can choose to read more women authors.

How do we know that the ratio of male/female awards is not representative of the male/female ratio of book authors? Maybe women write 39 percent of all books and therefore 39 percent of the awards go to women authors? How do we know if the award ratio is unfair?


message 19: by Alex (new)

Alex Nadia wrote: "Fascinating, yet unfortunately not a surprise. This is why I've personally chosen to redress the discrepancy & ensure that each year my reading is approximately 95% & greater books written by Women..."

I choose to read books that I like I won't read books from male authors that I don't like just to increase the discrepancy.


message 20: by Trinity (new)

Trinity my fav book series is written by a woman...


message 21: by Trinity (new)

Trinity I like a lot of books written by men like:
Shakespeare
Scott O'dell
etc...


message 22: by Bess (last edited Apr 19, 2018 11:11AM) (new)

Bess If it is a great read and a fabulous author, who cares if they are male or female?! I read lots of books by men. I like them. I also read books by select females. Why? Because they are the genres I enjoy most. I don't pick a book based on male/female authors. I'm not really sure anyone would. Please stop bashing the sexes. Enjoy your books and have a day! :D


message 23: by Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* (last edited Apr 19, 2018 11:29AM) (new)

Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* The way I look at it, people should read what they want and what they're drawn to without guilt. When I see these articles and comments on male authors being more common, I'm always a bit surprised since it turns out most of the books I read are written by women. I don't seek out by gender, but it turns out a coincidence because of genres I mainly read seem dominated by mainly women writers (such as Urban Fantasy)


message 24: by Jenn (new)

Jenn Estepp Julee wrote: "Can we see the list of 95 prizewinning books? I want to see how many of them I have read!"

Yes, I came here to ask the same!


message 25: by Jane (new)

Jane I have been reading books by female authors almost exclusively for several years now
I did read All the Light We Cannot See but can't remember a thing about it
I think I can date this trend to going through the menopause
I realised that men write mainly about the joys of sex and mainly from the point of view that it's a great benefit to women conferred on them by men
Going through the end of those hormones made me realise there is so much more to life and men are not going to tell me what I should be enjoying or thinking.


message 26: by Aubrey (new)

Aubrey So dicklit is still considered a vaunted subject by the reigning mainstream. How depressing.


message 27: by LongTrang117 (new)

LongTrang117 What is the point of these metrics? What is the goal here? What a great first world problem we have of authors winning utterly frivolous awards for writing awesome (frivolous) books. Oh wait but it's not a 50/50 split it's only extremely close at 39/61. OH NO! How can we cope! (We could go read a book maybe).

Maybe women need to write better books? (Barely, it seems). Maybe men are just better at opening jars of pickles AND writing stories?

For the love of God get over it people. Find a real tangible problem in the world to go fix. That's exactly it. You won't. Because you don't actually care, and none of you actually think this is a problem. Other than it somehow makes females look bad, I guess?

All this crap does it stir up drama and preach to the pervasive female victimhood mindset in the world today. How about we all be regular humans and not victims for once?

Meanwhile there's a lot of men writing awesome books and not worrying about this crap. Is that their male privilege showing? Maybe the women characters appear when the women writing the books are actually interesting themselves, not victims all day everyday?

How horrible it must be to be a victim because you can't read award winning books by females as often as you can read them by males? Jesus Christ. Opps! Jesus was a male. (But was he white or black or brown?) How triggering!

Maybe the protagonists are men because when you have to swing a sword to slay a dragon it helps if you're Arnold Schwarzenegger and not Nancy Drew? Could that have some small part to play? Nah... couldn't be... lets ignore the entirety of human experience and make shit 50/50 right down the middle... even with book awards FFS.

@Nadia are you crazy? Why would you purposefully limit your reading experience like that? How boring. I guess you don't want to read many award winning books...


message 28: by Chris (new)

Chris Evans How sad would it be for a person to determine the stories they would read, not by how good the stories where, but by the genitals the author possessed?


message 29: by Kiri (new)

Kiri If 61% of the prizewinners eere men, id be interested to know the gender split on the judging panels.


message 30: by Ingasha (new)

Ingasha I think that it is because most female authors write for the same genres (mainly to do with romance of whatever type). These include urban fantasy, paranormal, erotica e.t.c - all in some kind of romance while male authors write for more diverse genre or even include a variety of genres and diverse themes. I think these makes the difference in that the later just seems weightier. I remember hearing my brother commenting once how you can tell if an author is female by how love scenes are written.


message 31: by Samneang (new)

Samneang Sin Kirsten wrote: "Now do this with race"
Yes!


message 32: by Kitri Miller (new)

Kitri Miller Chris wrote: "How sad would it be for a person to determine the stories they would read, not by how good the stories where, but by the genitals the author possessed?"

I think people already do, judging by the split and how books are sold. There is a whole idea that 'women write books for women, but men write for everybody' mentality in publishing and selling, and to a certain way, how people read books. We are slowly catching up to the idea that women can write as well as men, and it has nothing to do with the skill of women as writers, but how we unconsciously read things based on the name of the writer. It's why so many people (but especially women) have written under pseudonyms. Otherwise they would have never been published.

I'm personally trying to make sure I read a 50/50 of women and men. We shouldn't ignore that the system might be unconsciously biased to men because of history.


message 33: by Jan (new)

Jan Kirsten wrote: "Now do this with race"

YES!!!


message 34: by Jan (new)

Jan Kiri wrote: "If 61% of the prizewinners eere men, id be interested to know the gender split on the judging panels."

uh huh.


message 35: by Krista (new)

Krista Ivy Stephanie wrote: "I'm curious about the panels of judges that choose the winners. Are they mostly male as well? This could explain the majority of winners being male authors and male protagonists, a subconscious bia..."

you have a point.


message 36: by william ellison (new)

william ellison Always find the Bailey's prize for Women's Literature is reliable for a good read


message 37: by Chris (last edited Apr 19, 2018 01:11PM) (new)

Chris Evans Kitri Miller wrote: "Chris wrote: "How sad would it be for a person to determine the stories they would read, not by how good the stories where, but by the genitals the author possessed?"

I think people already do, ju..."


Sorry, but I think that's sad. The thing about the past is, it's always going to be there, you can use 'x happened in the past' as a justification FOREVER.

I quite often don't even look at the author when picking up a new series and have been surprised later when it turns out it's an author I've read before.

It's probably my experience with the Star Wars Original Canon Books, so many different authors wrote them that that detail became irreverent. Some were men, some were women, and I honestly couldn't tell you who wrote what (except for Zahn, but he's a legend).

Hell, for the longest time I thought Terry Pratchett was a woman, neither thinking that, nor the revelation that he was male effected the stories or my enjoyment of them at all.

I prefer to discriminate by quality and genre, rather than race and gender.


message 38: by Story (new)

Story Eater Linda wrote: "I am wondering if women have a larger capacity to read someone else's perspective (i.e. a man's) for reasons like empathy, curiousity or wanting to better understand?

I know this sounds like a sw..."


Where do you librarian? I'm just curious.


message 39: by ✌ Adam (last edited Apr 19, 2018 01:44PM) (new)

✌ Adam Mendez ✌ Jay wrote: "Can't wait to use this information to antagonize the sexes even further."

Exactly what I was thinking.


message 40: by Chris (last edited Apr 19, 2018 01:57PM) (new)

Chris Evans Kitri Miller wrote: "Chris wrote: "How sad would it be for a person to determine the stories they would read.."
..It's why so many people (but especially women) have written under pseudonyms.."


I bet you don't have statistics for that. There are a large number of male authors who have to use female pseudonyms to publish romance novels.

and, no, gender neutral (ie initials) pseudonyms don't count unless you want to count authors like JRR Tolken, JB Garner, RA Mejia, JA Hunter, MA Larson, JJ Abram, ext too.


message 41: by Amina (new)

Amina Jo This is one of the reasons I think feminism is so important. For such a long time women did not have a role or voice in literature besides surface descriptions as wife and mother. Our stories were never told. Now feminist critique of literary works etc. is giving women back their voice I think. We need more research studies like this and we still have a lot of work to do to be recognized as valuable to society. I myself gravitate towards books with female leads. Does anyone else out there do the same?


message 42: by Eric (new)

Eric Allen I have preferred genres, Sci-fi, Fantasy, and horror, or any mix of the three. There are some very notable selections from each of those three genres written by women, but, unfortunately, the vast majority of books written in these genres are written by men. I'll read just about anything, written by anyone so long as it's sci-fi, fantasy or horror, and so long as it's not written in present tense, which annoys me to no end, but it always seems like I have to go out of my way to find books in these genres that are written by women, which I haven't already read. Anne McCaffrey, Barbara Hambley, Elizabeth Moon, and J.K. Rowling have written some of my favorite books of all time, but it really seems as though these genres are sadly neglected by female authors, and it probably isn't helped much by a very male-biased publishing industry either. Which brings up the horrifying story of why J.K. Rowling publishes under J.K. even though she doesn't even have a middle name. She was told, by her publisher, to pick a male sounding pseudonym, because no one would buy a book written by a woman.


message 43: by Travelin (new)

Travelin You have a point. The book "Less" appears to be garbage.


Elizabeth ♛Smart Girls Love Trashy Books♛ Commenting to keep track of the other responses.


message 45: by Jo (new)

Jo Marsicano Angering and sad, but not surprising. Validates that we live in a male-identified society, reinforced by male-identified publishers.


message 46: by Bookslut (last edited Apr 19, 2018 02:38PM) (new)

Bookslut Julee wrote: "Can we see the list of 95 prizewinning books? I want to see how many of them I have read!"

Yes, that's what I'd like to see too. And an explanation for how/why those particular books were chosen.


message 47: by Maria (new)

Maria Linda wrote: "I am wondering if women have a larger capacity to read someone else's perspective (i.e. a man's) for reasons like empathy, curiousity or wanting to better understand?

I know this sounds like a sw..."


Yes, the bias is very real. I, too, have experienced this at work.
And unfortunately it isn't just older men, but also the younger ones and the parents. There's an idea floating around in their minds that girls can read about any gender and enjoy the books, but boys must read about boys.
I've challenged this mentality quite a lot as a children's librarian, and luckily, successfully so. You have to start young to break the status quo. ;)


message 48: by Gay (new)

Gay Harding When I choose a book it is about the content. Sometimes it will be because I have read the author before and enjoyed his/her style or just the story. Nothing to do with gender.

If it turns out that the majority are men, then so be it. I’m not going to change my method because of some study.


message 49: by Elizabeth, Chief Wordsmith (last edited Apr 19, 2018 03:40PM) (new)

Elizabeth Matthew wrote: "How do you measure "abandoned" reads? Is it a certain amount of time since an update to reading status is made?"

Hi Matthew: For the abandoned book section, we looked at books on the prizewinning list that the readers placed on shelves marked “DNF,” “Abandoned" or other synonyms.


message 50: by Jacquie (new)

Jacquie Kirsten wrote: "Now do this with race"

I wish there was a LIKE button here because LIKE LIKE LIKE


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