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.
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.
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.
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 🙂