I have no idea whose going to want to read my book.
Don’t get me wrong, I know of several individuals who claim they’re anxiously awaiting the momentous day that I deliver unto them a copy of my novel-in-progress’s final draft:
- Friends who have had to listen to my talk about my opus for far too long
- Former coworkers
- Select family members
(My mother, at this point, is only a “maybe”, but I’m fairly confident I’ll be able to either strong-arm or guilt-trip her into the task.)
But in terms of actual readers who are neither emotionally nor relationally obligated to me, I’m not really sure.
Particularly when it comes to actual male readers.
Our stories, ourselves
For a long time, I was preoccupied with the idea of getting men to read my book. It’s not even finished yet, but the idea that men might not want to read it caused me only slightly less anxiety than the fact that I only sorta know how the story’s going to end.
The current literary landscape is one often consisting of gendered book covers (q.v. YA author Maureen Johnson’s enlightening coverflip challenge), the pervasive (and socially perpetuated) notion that boys (and perhaps the men they grow up to become) won’t read books about female protagonists while girls/women will read anything, and the dismissal of genres typically enjoyed more so by women as trashy, maudlin, or otherwise irrelevant.
I thus thought that attracting male readers in spite of the various strikes that could be levelled against a book such as mine would mean my work was important – that it was serious and significant, and that consequently, I’d be considered a serious and significant writer.
And then I thought about this whole idea of women’s stories again.
A recent post at NPR’s blog discussed the number of women – or more appropriately, the lack thereof – in movies playing in theatre on a mid-June day this year.
According to the post, there were 617 showings of various movies at various times on that particular Friday in the Washington, DC area, and of that 617, 561 (91%) were movies about men or groups of men wherein women only played supporting roles.
An obvious reason for this wild discrepancy is that, despite the success of numerous female-centric movies in the past, few movies about women – let alone movies about women written and directed by women – are being produced today.
According to the (highly recommended!) Sundance documentary, Miss Representation, “the media has always been overwhelmingly in the hands of men”.
The film provides the statistic that women hold only 3% of clout positions in telecommunications, entertainment, publishing, and advertising, which is to say that “as you go up the ranks in media, fewer and fewer women and people of colour exist at every rung of the ladder”.
Or expressed yet another way, in what for me is the most profound quote in the entire movie, as stated by the Women’s Media Center Founding President, Carol Jenkins:
That means that 97% of everything you [women] know about yourself and about your country and your world comes from the male perspective.
In service to my sex
Admittedly, I’m writing a book, not a screenplay for a movie, and studies apparently claim that women comprise 80% of fiction readers in North America and Britain.
This may be because books are the only media bastion where one can easily find female protagonists, let alone female characters who are multi-dimensional and involved in situations that women find interesting and compelling.
I’ve thus decided to stop worrying about whether or not men read my book. Of course, I’d love it if they did – I’d love to share with men my fascination with the lives of women during the medieval times.
But, assuming anyone wants to read it at all, I’m now perfectly okay with it if it turns out only women are interested.
I have no problem with writing a novel that’s for us and by one of us, for not enough of our stories are being told across all forms of media.
I want to do my part in redressing both the deficiency of and negative judgement inflicted upon women’s stories, so if this is to be part of my contribution, I’m proud to be of service.
10 thoughts on “Who’s Gonna Read Your Book: On gender, readers, and the (gendered) state of entertainment”
You’ll have 1 male reader.
True…I will pass on the Romance stuff. Most guys probably do?
I tend to like gun-fights and things blowing up, but feel a connection to your novel, following you here for the past year and knowing of your struggles to be authentically historic.
Not intending to start male / female controversy here, but thumbing through some of the wife’s reading material in the past has given me the impression that female readers / writers only want to know how handsome the brave knight or solder is.
“There he stood, dashing in the uniform of an officer, exposed muscles rippling in the moonlight.”
I would rather know what type of sidearm he was carrying or how he intended to use the sword.
That said…I still look forward to a copy of it when it is released, signed of course. I will pay the postage.
Thanks, Chris. 🙂
I tend to pass on a lot of the capital-R Romance stuff myself – not because I don’t like a good love story, but rather because I don’t like the capital-R Romance formula, wherein the relationship is the central element of the plot, and the ending has to be a happy one. I like novels that have their romance as more of a subplot, or just one of many things that happens and contributes to the plot but isn’t the whole plot. Just a personal preference, and thus a choice I made for my own novel. I don’t want anything to do with any muscles rippling in the moonlight (which, to me, doesn’t sound sexy at all, but rather like some sort of spasm that needs to be looked at by a physician).
And for you – signed and postage paid! 🙂
I look forward to it
Make that two male readers. BK (Before Kindle) I used to pick books out pretty randomly from bookshelves, charity shops etc. Many a novel I’ve read and enjoyed which were written by women aimed (I imagine) primarily at women. I imagine there are more than me and Chris ^ out there 🙂
I think you’re right, Roy. I think that, giving a book a fair chance, any man and any woman can enjoy (or at least find something enjoyable about) any book written by the opposite sex.
I just fear that people often aren’t even willing to give it a try, particularly men, for a variety of reasons. In that coverflip link I posted, there was a video clip in which a man was being interviewed about his thoughts of “girly” book covers. He indicated that men don’t ever want to appear soft, and wouldn’t read a book at all if presented only with “girly” options. I know not all men are this way, but there does exist those who are.
No freakin’ way!!!
Sorry, I had to be contrary for the sake of being contrary. Of course I will read your book. Pretending I don’t know you and just saw it sitting on a shelf in the bookstore, I might not, but that’s because I don’t typically read historical fiction, not because of a female protagonist. I’ve said it before here, but I like female protagonists because they tend to have more interesting challenges. Boy heroes tend to do a lot of running around and fighting, which gets dull. You may be happy to know that my current WSACD (Work Sitting Around Collecting Dust) has not one, not two, but three female protagonists. i was going to call it “Sisters are Doing It for Themselves,” but that might obscure the whole end-of-days element.
I wasn’t actually going to call it that. But the three female protagonists part is true. I discovered the joy of writing about women when I did my second manuscript in which the two lead characters were women. So much more interesting because women have more complex pressures on them from society and families.
WSACD – that just rolls off the tongue.
I too like books with clever protagonists, both male and female: you’re right – fighting does get dull. I didn’t love Pillars of the Earth, but I appreciated how one of the main characters – a monk – was constantly forced to use his head to overcome his enemies.
That’s awesome that you’ve had so many female protags in your work. I’ve never actually tried writing from a male character’s POV. I’d definitely like to try it someday, but with how deep I like the penetration to be with my POV characters (wow – does that every sound dirty!), I’d be really worried about getting it wrong, and would workshop the hell out the story with every guy I know, present company included!
I don’t think I’ve absorbed enough feminist literature to be comfortable writing first-person female, but I like writing women as main characters. I haven’t figured out how to do it in short fiction, though. Next time I do a short story I’ll push myself in that direction for the challenge.
I used to worry about this too. And at some point I came to the same conclusion as you. If men read it, great. If they don’t, I won’t be upset. They have enough of the world catering to them. 🙂
And I’ve got a male protag and lots of shooting and butt kicking. So if they pass on my book because of my name, or because there’s a love story, or because my female protag gets an equal amount of stage time, then they’re missing out! LOL
That’s the best attitude to take, Kay. If it’s really true that 80% of readers are women, we’ll get the best return on our efforts marketing to them anyway. Besides, if someone is really so narrow-minded that they wouldn’t read my book because it says Janna G. Noelle on it instead of J.G. Noelle, I’m not so sure I really want them reading it.