Discussion – Male Readers And Female Authors


Hello everyone,

A recent post on the Twitter account for the Women’s Prize for Fiction claimed that of the bestselling books by female authors, men make up only 19% of their readers. This statistic really caught my eye, but sadly it did not surprise me in the least.

I have had conversations with friends and work colleagues where they have told me that their fathers, husbands, or other male relatives gravitate towards books by male authors – if they choose to read at all, that is. It has left me to wonder if this is another example of the inequalities that women still face across society, or if there is a slightly deeper reason for it. For what it is worth, I think it is a combination of the two.

One of the main reasons why I find this an interesting topic is that a very high percentage of the books I read are written by women. It is something like 90% overall and so far in 2022 it is even more. Including my current reads and audiobooks, of the 34 books I have read this year, only one of them has been by a male author. As far as male readers are concerned, I would say that makes me something of an outlier.

The fact I read so many more books by women is not a deliberate choice. There are several things I take into consideration when deciding the books I read, but the author’s gender identity is not one of them. For me, I suppose what I can surmise from my own habits is that most of the books I am interested in reading just happen to be written by women. I read a synopsis or see a review or recommendation, and I decide that is something I would like to pick up. The cover art may also have a psychological part to play in this too.

However, I do believe that some male readers – consciously or unconsciously – look at books by female authors and decide that they are not for them. There is no great excuse for this, but there are potential explanations which I shall aim to look into here.

Themes

A lot of books by female authors, especially in genres such as literary and contemporary fiction, mysteries and domestic thrillers, explore sensitive topics that pertain to their (often female) protagonists. These include things like pregnancy and motherhood, while others may contain strong feminist messages.

Perhaps some male readers feel that they might not relate to those themes or the experiences of female characters, and therefore decide not to read these books, sometimes in the belief that they are not the intended audience. I appreciate that to pick up a book like this might be reaching outside a comfort zone, but they should not be a determining factor in that decision.

Marketing

Quite often the way a book is marketed can have an impact of whether we choose to read it. This includes things like the aforementioned cover art, social media campaigns or comparisons to other well-known titles in the same genre. If, for example, a new release falls into a certain sub-genre that is made up of books by authors who fit a similar profile, that can potentially limit its audience.

Again, there is a chance that some male readers might see a book advertised online, positioned in a particular area at the bookstore or just make an assumption based on the appearance of the cover, and decide that the book is not for them or that it is targeted more towards a female audience. I realise that I am making some assumptions here, but these feel like plausible explanations.

One thing that I do feel limits the appeal of certain books is the sub-genre of ‘women’s fiction’. My opinion is that this sub-genre should not exist at all, as it effectively typecasts its audience and underestimates the potential reach of these books. I say this having read some books that are described as women’s fiction by publishers and fellow readers, and really enjoyed them. These can be distinguished from so-called ‘chick-lit’, which for me is an altogether different entity.

Let’s Chat

All I have given in this post are possible reasons why male readers do not pick up books written by women very often, in what I hope is a reasonable way. The fact is, I do not know the exact reasons why and I am sure there are many, and complex ones at that. The statistic mentioned at the start of the post just got me thinking – why do men make up such a small percentage of readers with books by female authors.

Do you agree with any of the points I have made in this post? Do you keep track of the number of books you read by male, female, and non-binary authors? Let me know in the comments.

Happy reading 🙂

12 thoughts on “Discussion – Male Readers And Female Authors

  1. Another amazing topic, Stephen! To think about it, before there were more male authors, but when women started to get rights and access to education, more female authors rose from oblivion. As for today, yes, there’s more female authors than male ones. But i honestly don’t think that gender defines a book’s quality, and men who prefer to read books written by males (especially the fiction ones, because in non fiction there’s plenty of both genders) are solely delusional and misguided. Such dynamic still shows that there’s a gap in our society and women still need to fight for their rights and with old chauvinist views.
    I also found that some male authors prefer to write their stories from female points of view which is amazing and shows one more time that it doesn’t really matter a male or a female is a writer as long as the story is good. Likewise women write excellent books from male points of view.

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    1. Thank you so much, Nastassja! I completely agree, gender does not define the quality of a book. I feel as though sadly that some male readers can approach novels written by women with certain views or stereotypes in mind that are misguided and lack foundation. This is a shame as it does suggest a gap in our society. But you are absolutely right, there are lots of great examples of male authors writing from a female point of view and vice versa.

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  2. I feel I gravitate towards books written to express points of view other than cis white straight (male) because it had such a monopoly in the market, now I intentionally look for those representing new and different types of characters, not only to pique my interest, but to take a walk in someone else’s shoes that are markedly different from my own. Today I don’t take notice of the authors gender identity as much because the current market is way more inclusive. But ten years earlier and further back I used to try and find more female authors because I was becoming bored with characters that were misogynistic (male) or objectified (female.)

    I do see a trend in marketing where the authors gender identity is a point of difference in a campaign – I don’t know how I feel about that. Because an author is more than their gender identity, and the whole thing about disclosure and in the current political climate can make them a target or put them on a book ban list regardless of the content of their novel.

    Growing up, if any of my male friends read books, they only read male authors – usually Stephen King, Tolkien, Isaac Asimov, Piers Anthony; and my female friends pretty much only read things like Sweet Valley High or Mills and Boon. I was an outlier because I liked to explore many different genres. There was also the minor group of ‘book snobs’ who only read the “classics” and thought anything else was mass marketing crap.

    I do like to make a point in my book purchases to include minority groups, be it gender identity, sexuality, race, nationality, able-bodied, etc from an array of genres because I enjoy reading widely… and it kind of helps understand the human spirit through storytelling.

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    1. I had a similar experience to you! One year, as a challenge to myself, I decided that any reading I did (outside of necessary readings for classes) would be of female authors and it surprised me how tough that could be sometimes depending on what I wanted to read. Now, I think my reading is a lot more diverse but largely due to intentional choices, rather than the diversity of the books available. There are absolutely more options for writers of color, disabled writers, queer writers, etc. but it still takes some work to find them which is disheartening!

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  3. this is an absolutely amazing post stephen!! i had no idea about that statistic, and it honestly both surprises me and makes me sad. i agree with you about having women’s fiction as a genre, because women’s fiction doesn’t seem different from normal fiction to me!

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  4. I think this is a great discussion to get started, thank you Stephen for making this post! I agree with you that a lot of the reasons why this trend may be happening has to do with factors like the marketing. I’m sure there are direct correlations in the reading audiences of certain genres based largely on what the covers tend to look like.

    I also agree that “women’s fiction” is not a good subgenre descriptor. It often does encapsulate certain themes that are most often associated with the feminine, but as we as a world grow our understanding of gender identity and fluidity I don’t think that a ‘women’s fiction’ subgenre that ultimately covers things like topics of motherhood, sexuality, and romance is an accurate genre descriptor.

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  5. i completely agree with all of the points you made here stephen!! the dynamic between an author, the protagonist, and the reader in terms of their genders seems extremely prominent (consciously or subconsciously) in the minds of many people when they’re deciding what to read. it’s frankly depressing to think about how many readers might have missed out on a potential favorite book just because of a preexisting bias. and i 100% agree about the pointlessness of labeling certain books as women’s fiction—the existence of that category has always struck a wrong chord with me and i’m glad to hear I’m not alone!!

    fantastic discussion stephen 💖

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Abby! You’re right, it is quite sad that a potential bias might cause many readers to miss out on a fantastic book, especially when a lot of the time those thoughts are based on stereotypes or just a lack of understanding. I’m glad you agree about women’s fiction too!

      Also, it is so lovely to hear from you!! I’ve definitely missed talking books with you. How are things? 💕

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  6. Lots of great points here. My husband also read lots by female authors, but that was probably because he would read the ARCs of books I had received, and I mostly asked for book by female authors. But when he was choosing for himself, I think he tended to lean more towards male authors – but most of those books aren’t in genres I readily read.

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