Are your reading choices gender specific?


Does the gender of an author influence your book buying decisions?

 Or more directly…

 Do men make a conscious decision not to buy books by women?  And vice versa.

 Recently having published an ebook this is a question that occurred to me as I looked at ways to market my work.  My ebook has so far been read and enjoyed by men as well as women but I have no way of working out from the statistics Amazon Kindle provide of the percentage of male/female readers who actually buy the book other than if they leave a review.  Even then the nickname they use to leave a review may not necessarily be gender specific.

 I understand from searches I have carried out on the Internet that statistically women read more books than men but it is difficult to find out the reasons behind this more accurately without doing a much wider survey.

 The men I know tend to read factual books, biographies and detective novels.  I asked a good friend of mine if he would be willing to proof read my short story, he is a retired English teacher and I thought it might amuse him to do so.  His immediate reaction was ‘I would find it difficult not to assess the content and compare it to the works of say John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway.’  Now, forgetting that the comment might be construed or misconstrued as outright snobbery, what interested me most was that he immediately mentioned two male authors.  I have lent him books by male authors I enjoy which he also enjoyed but I must further quiz him further on which female authors he has read and admired and whether he might have any prejudice with regard to gender in literature.  

 Of course if I ask him outright, I am sure he will fervently deny any such prejudice, and to be fair I very much doubt he would have realised it even if he had.  However, I will further probe in a subtle way and see what the real answer might be.

 Then there is another male friend, who is an ardent fan of detective novels, spy thrillers, biographies and such like.  So far he has enjoyed all the stories I have written, apart from one.  The question is however, would he have picked them out if he didn’t know the author personally?  And this query goes for all the other male friends I have too.  A couple of them would only ever consider picking up a technical manual or if really pushed a Jeffrey Archer novel. 

 Of course my small circle is hardly enough to make a wider assumption that men are put off by reading female authors.  But it does beg the question why exactly did J K Rowling and undoubtedly many other women writers decided to choose not to reveal their feminine first name?   Or why did they write under a masculine pseudonym?  If more women than men buy books why would they feel the need to?

 Is it really a problem if men don’t want to read books by women and vice versa?

 Both sides would be missing out on a great deal if they decided what books to buy based on gender. 

 I decided to examine my own preferred reading over the years and felt a little bit surprised to note that most of the authors I have chosen to read have been male.   I don’t think this necessarily would have been because statistically there are more male than female authors. 

 I didn’t consciously choose male authors for any other reason than that the subject matter or culture appealed.  Perhaps reading is more about personal choice in relation to content than the sex of the author who wrote the book.

 If you are interested to read further on this topic, here are a couple of links you may find of interest.

 Why don’t men read books by women?  The debate

 Why women read more than men.

 Whether you are a reader or a writer, I would be very interested to receive your comments with your opinions or own personal experience regarding the above.




2 responses »

  1. This is sadly a two way street- women read predominantly books written by women and men read mostly books written by men. My wife’s book group is all female and very seldom reads books by male writers. I belong to an all-male book group (interestingly when I suggested we make the group mixed it was badly received!) and we have to remind ourselves to occasionally include books by women.

    I suspect there is a certain amount of us all conforming to type and not challenging our own assumptions or predispositions. A woman friend insisted that “menbooks” and “womenbooks” are fundamentally different. She said women want books that follow and deal with close personal relationships whereas men want books which deal with more abstract ideas, action or factual matter and she suggested women provide the former for women and men provide the latter for men. I also suspect that publishers’ desire for clearly defined market segmentation plays a big part, with covers, publicity etc sending strong messages that this book is for ….young professional women, sportsmad men etc. I don’t think commercial pressures bow to the idea of a wholistic reader!

    I read widely and like a lot of female writing (eg Austen, Eliot, Carter, Lively, Attwood) but I rather guiltily acknowledge that my friend’s formulation held truer than I would have liked for my own reading tastes. My wife’s bookcase also supported the hypothesis. When I’ve tested it subsequently on others it tends to hold true, often as a rather nasty surprise to men and women who see themselves as avid and wide-ranging readers.

    I did actually spent some time trying to look for womenbooks written by men and vice versa. I think Maria Vargas Llosa’s The Bad Girl and William Boyd’s Any Human Heart might fit the bill and pretty much anything by E Annie Proulx would fit in my friend’s menbook box. But all of those seem exceptions…and it did take a bit of thinking to get there!

    Years ago I went through a period of dutifully reading what I now call Murdochdrabbles and finally became sick and tired of well-off people with silly names agonising over their infidelities and insecurities and ignoring the world beyond (a little unfair I know). It was simply too small a canvas to reflect the world I lived in. I knew I didn’t ever want to read such a book again. That made me think about what I did want from the reading experience and where to go looking.

    I now know what I most want from a book is good writing and originality of thought, a sense of ambition and risk-taking in the project. That means I most enjoy that amorphous non-genre “literary fiction” which doesn’t easily fit into the other pigeon holes. I like writers who take risks and are prepared to fail; what I call high-stakes writing by writers ploughing their own unique furrow and with something to say to the world (which is why crime/detective/romance/thrillers have no appeal to me as they are essentially formula writing of greater or lesser skill). The writers I admire can be women (eg E Annie Proulx, A L Kennedy) or men (eg Jon McGregor, Ian McEwan ), but If I’m honest the men outnumber the women significantly. I’d hesitate to impose a gender quota on myself because I don’t think it would achieve anything other than a facile sense of political correctness. I’d rather take recommendations from men and women I trust of good books with which they think I should become acquainted. I’ll gratefully take a good book (by my own criteria) from and by either a man or a woman– but I’ll bet the men will give me menbooks and the women will give me “womenbooks”.

    I’d still like to blame the publishers but I have a nagging sense that “that’s just the way it is”.

    If it’s any consolation at all , The Mice and Men Book Group (all men, no mice!) has already decided to put Virginia Woolf’s To The Light House next on it’s reading list!

    • Thank you for taking the time and trouble to respond to this blogpost so fully. It was really interesting to read your experiences and opinions on this subject. To be honest, it wasn’t one I had given much consideration to until I began marketing my ebook The Eight of Swords. It is obvious (and always has been) that men and women have different observations on life and the world in general so it would naturally follow that writing would be influenced by this. We should celebrate the differences rather than see them as obstacles. I must make a point of more closely researching female literature as I have to admit the majority of my reading matter has been from men but as I said above for no reason other than subject matter.

      Will be interesting to see how you all get on with Virginia Woolf!

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