Have You Ever Been Profiled?





If you’re a male writing from a female POV, or vice versa, or a writer of one race writing from any other race POV, then this post is for you. It can also apply to any adult writing YA, or let’s take it a step further, a senior adult (55+) writing as a twenty-something.

The term profiling, in broad terms, refers to the process of identifying the perpetrator of a crime based on an analysis of crime statistics and the way it was committed. It is a common investigative tool (see How Stuff Works article). The most basic kind of profiling is a Be On the Lookout (BOLO) or All-Points Bulletin (APB), although you might not have heard it referred to as a profile.

Suspect was last seen in a dark blue Ford pick-up truck. He was wearing a red T-shirt and black jeans. Suspect is described as a white male, 5-feet 10-inches tall and thin with receding blond hair. He has a tattoo of a snake on his left forearm.

With a psychological profile, the investigators create this sketch in the absence of physical evidence or eyewitness descriptions, or to supplement such descriptions. They take what they know about an unknown suspect and his actions and try to generate additional information. For example, if a serial murderer has been killing the female employees of a law firm, profilers might find it likely that the killer is a male former employee or client of the law firm.

With predictive profiling, things get a bit stickier, and more controversial. Instead of seeking a particular suspect based on evidence at a specific crime, predictive profiling attempts to guess which people are likely to commit a crime, or act a certain way, based on characteristics they hold in common with a group. You’ll often hear of this mentioned in the news where individuals are harassed or even arrested, because of certain features they might have in common with criminals -- or worse yet, because of their skin color.

You’re probably asking yourself…what does any of this have to do with writing?

Fair question. The answer isn’t so much in the writing itself, but rather how other people react to it…specifically agents, editors, and even CP’s. I’ve mentioned on my blog several times that the reason I go by my first two initials (DL) rather than my given name (Don) is because of feedback I received early in my writing career from readers of a short story I wrote from a female POV (Itinerary). The negative critiques were relatively minor (i.e. “A woman wouldn’t say that” – even though I had heard me wife say it often), but it made me think. Was my writing being judged differently because of a subconscious assumption rooted deep in the reader’s minds – that an unproven author will struggle with voice if the POV is something outside of a perceived expertise?

Let’s take that thought an extend it out a bit. Is it possible that agents, editors, CP’s, beta readers…any of the above…are making judgements based upon who you are…compared to who you are writing as? And I’m only talking about writers who haven’t broken through yet and been published. Is there a pre-disposition to believe a male writer (or female) can only write successfully if they use a POV the same as their own?

Think about it…would you hesitate to pick up a book by a new MALE author who writes about a woman who is struggling against domestic violence? How about a white writer telling a tale of an African American struggling to become the first person in his family to go to college, or a Jewish immigrant who settles in the Midwest?

I know…it depends…right?   

Even though I have experienced this myself, my gut says no, that by in large these are professionals who have learned to put blinders on when it comes to considering the source when reading submitted material.

Profiling is a useful technique when it comes to catching the bad guys…but it can be misused and errant assumptions formed. And you know what they say happens when we ASS U ME.

10 comments

  1. In general, I don't notice. Anyone can be behind a name on a book. Although I think some might notice if the author gets some aspect wrong and they use the fact that author isn't that sex/color/religion/whatever to explain why it was wrong.

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  2. Have you read The Naturals series? It's a YA thriller series about a profiler dealing with serial killers. I actually enjoyed it immensely, and you know I don't normally read that kind of thing, so if I liked it, you probably would too :) Anyways, this post made me think of that because of profiling.

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    Replies
    1. I've added it onto my Goodreads TBR list. Thanks! :)

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  3. Hi Don - no .. I've never been profiled: though obviously am aware of it ... and have seen programmes about it ... but interesting to read your post and see Tiana's book thought ...

    Cheers Hilary

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    Replies
    1. Profiling on TV and in Movies is the latest fad!

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  4. Nope, I'm not a profiler, but I have had the experience of reading something blindly and knowing the age, gender and maturity level of the writer behind it. I think it steals a little of the magic. You are supposed to come out via your voice, but not in the flesh. :)

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    Replies
    1. Yep...been there and done that myself. I'd prefer it going in blind. :)

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  5. I know this happens frequently. Readers often think Erotica authors are having kinky sex all the time, romance authors are all females that sit around dreaming of Prince Charming, and horror authors are serial killer wannabe's. Funny how George Lukas isn't expected to have lived in a Death Star . .

    I never profile an author - unless it is non-fiction I'm reading. Otherwise, I think anyone can write anything. But I have been asked if my women's fiction character is based off my own life and I really don't know why. Perhaps it is that profiling thing.

    Loved the descriptions of the terms Don. Interesting reading, and good stuff to know if you're a mystery/thriller/crime writer.

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  6. For me the most important thing is whether or not the writing, the story, the dialogue, and everything else in general comes across as genuine. If everything seems phony and overly contrived then I don't buy it and consider the attempt a fail. I probably wouldn't try to write from a point of view that I know nothing about--not without a lot of research.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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