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Some Not-Necessarily Coherent Musings About Gender-Based Reading Preferences

This is a horribly complicated subject matter.

Really, it should be someone’s doctoral thesis. And I’m insane for trying to make it a mere blog post.

So please don’t take my insanity as fact. Take it as the musings of someone who has recently become fascinated with the study of gender-based reading preferences.

This all started last year at a Revolutionary War reenactment where I was selling my Revolutionary War novel, Maiden America. As people came up to my table to talk, peruse or buy, I started realizing something…

I couldn’t think of a single man who ever bought the book. For that matter, I could only think of two men who had ever bought any of my books. Every other one had been female.

So I started wondering. Was it the front cover? I had specifically chosen an image of a young woman in Revolutionary War-era garb with an I-know-something-you-don’t-know smile to grace my spy story’s jacket, then superimposed her over the Declaration of Independence.

I thought that was pretty gender-neutral, but according to the men I proceeded to ask after the reenactment, my front cover model looks more come-and-get-me then I-know-something-you-don’t-know. Maybe that’s the same thing in the male lexicon? Or maybe I’m just bad at distinguishing between the two.

[Editor’s Note: I’ve since given up on trying to draw in male readers. My new, altered front cover totally looks feminine now, even in my opinion.]

Regardless, I didn’t write Maiden America for a female-specific readership. I wrote it as an engaging way to help people enjoy history. It’s light on the romance, and filled with spies and suspense.

Yet no male takers. I wasn’t offended, but I was intensely curious.

So when a male editorial client of mine read it this year, I jumped on the chance to ask him for his honest feedback.

Which was fascinating.

He thought I’d done a great job weaving a believable story and really enjoyed the historical angles. But he admitted he did find himself wanting to be inside another character’s head sometimes. Specifically, he mentioned one of the male character’s heads.

That’s not a reaction I’ve ever gotten from a female reader before. I’ve had two women tell me they had a hard time getting into the historic-light language at first, though once they did, they loved it. And two others admitted they weren’t a fan of its first-person perspective.

But nothing about wanting to get into a different main character’s head.

So that got me musing yet again: Was my male reader a little bored or uninterested at times because he was inside a female’s head the whole novel through?

That follow-up question, which I wasn’t brave enough to ask, wasn’t born out of feminist leanings any more than it was born out of chauvinistic ones. So it’s nothing against my editorial client, who is a great guy with a great now-published book.

It’s simply one more question I have on top of a growing pile of questions, facts and opinions… that I really should write a doctoral thesis on, particularly when there already have been studies done that show how:

  • Men prefer reading books written by men, and women prefer reading books written by women.

  • Women tend to read fiction at higher rates than men.

  • Literary agents prefer promoting male writers. (You’re more likely to get their attention under a male name than a female name.)

And then there’s my own personal observation that the top five novels on The New York Times best-seller’s list are typically written by men. James Patterson. John Grisham. Dan Brown. Those kinds of guys.

Which, if true, strongly implies that since women tend to read fiction at higher rates than men, they’re more willing to cross the gender divide.

That’s why I ventured into asking a gender-based reading question on two of my writers’ groups last week. The answers I got were then supposed to be the topic of this blog post.

Clearly though, they’re not. You’ll have to get those gender-based reading results next Wednesday when I continue my not-necessarily coherent musings on the subject.

See you then.



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