Do Men Not Like Books With Female Protagonists?


If you read Monday’s blog, you know I had some significant self-published success over the weekend. Renting vendor space at the Brandywine battle reenactment gave me great exposure to Revolutionary War-interested readers. So I got to sell over two dozen copies of Maiden America and multiple copies of its sequel, Designing America.

But in the midst of chatting with potential clients, swiping credit cards and making change, I realized something. Every single one of my buyers and potential buyers were women.

Every. Single. One.

I never wrote Maiden America as a women-only book. I don’t think I thought about gender at all, actually. In my mind, it was always meant to be a very well-researched, fascinating fictional spy’s account of the Battles of Trenton and Princeton.

History made fun! That was my goal.

But somehow or another, it and its sequel became history made fun for women only, since I can’t recall a single man ever buying a copy. At least not face to face. Who knows about online sales, but something tells me those are more of the gender-specific same.

Pondering this data, I formed a working hypothesis that men just weren’t generally interested in reading books by women with non-sensualized females on the front cover. This theory was helped along by my familiarity with the fantasy genre, which mostly features front covers with either male names or sensualized women.

In fact, I do a happy dance (or faint from shock) whenever I find a fellow female fantasy writer with a female protagonist who doesn’t go the smutty route.

As such, I decided to post a question on one of the Facebook writers’ groups I belong to. It went like this:

I just had a great author event at Brandywine this weekend, where I sold several dozen copies of my Revolutionary War-era novels. But it made me realize that I can’t think of a single male who has ever bought a copy.

Genuine question, not an offended one, but are men typically turned off by reading books by women with (non-sensual) women on the front cover?

For reference’s sake, the front cover is of a pretty young woman in a period-appropriate gown superimposed over the Declaration of Independence.

I didn’t get too many answers, I noticed. And I can’t say I blame most men for not wanting to weigh in on such a topic when, let’s face it, it could go really badly for them really quickly. At the same time, there were seven brave males who went for it.

Their answers were fascinating, including one individual who requested an actual image of the book in question, only to bluntly inform me that it looked “boring.” Another responder went into more detail, explaining how he typically doesn’t pick up books with solitary static characters on them. The covers he prefers might feature a group involved in some action, but they’re much more often sans characters completely.

To the first comment, women clearly don’t consider Maiden America’s front-cover image boring. And to the second, as a female reader, I’m in no way attracted to any book jacket that doesn’t have a person on it. Fiction without a featured character on the cover screams “boring” to me. I automatically expect the writer to be pretentious in his or her presentation, droning on about details I could care less about.

But I guess that makes sense when women are more relational and men are more task-oriented.

Unfortunately, my new and improved logical conclusion that men and women readers are just different doesn’t help me much when it comes to broadening my Maiden America readership base. It seems like if I change the front cover to bring in more men, I’m going to lose women.

Oh, the foils and follies of understanding the opposite sex.

None of this is to say I’ve given up on guys. After all, an author – self-published or otherwise – who turns down the potential for further book sales is a nitwit. This just means I’m going to have to think the whole thing through more thoroughly.

Is there a way to make Maiden America’s front cover appeal to both women and men?

Who knows. But challenge accepted all the same!

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