Friday, September 2, 2011

Where Have All The Men Gone?

By Russel D McLean

Last week I attended a great event in Ayr. It was the second “reader’s day” I’d attended, and as ever it was great fun to mix with writers in other genres and styles as well as meet the readers and discuss not only my own books but those of other authors too.

More than usual, however, something struck me about this particular day:

There were no men.

Well, that’s a lie. There was one man. One man who’d booked a ticket maybe two days before the event after reading about it on my twitter stream (which perhaps in part provides another answer to the question – how do we reach men in the first place?). And all power to his elbow, because he had some great insights into both the book I’d chosen by another writer and my own novel, too.

Like my twitter friend, I’ve occasionally been the only man at a book event and it’s a strange sensation. As with Ayr, the women are all very welcoming, but there is a sense of being the other, of being oddly out of place. Of having different cultural references and touchstones.

And you wonder why there are no other men there.

The stereotype is, of course, that men don’t read. That’s what we’re all told. That we’re anomalies because statistically we shouldn’t read.

But I don’t think that’s true.

Put a group of men together and often we will talk about books. Not often the books, we admit, that are chosen for book clubs, but then I have to wonder if we are perhaps more solitary readers, if we shy away from “organised” talk of books.

Maybe, then, it is that we talk about books differently. That could explain the success of a few “men only” reading groups. The rules of social engagement are different. While I love attending book groups as an author, I have never done so personally because I find the idea of merely talking about one book odd. I prefer an organic exchange or recommendation and ideas.

Or perhaps it’s that we’re told so often that we don’t read that we might begin to believe it. After all, when I first started writing crime a person high up in the industry said, “don’t write for yourself because men of your age will never read crime.” Which seemed then, and still does seem, crazy. Because I was a crime reader at that age. Albeit, I realise now, not reading what that particular person considered to be crime novels.

As ever, I think it might a little from column and a) little from column b).

I do believe that many men don’t read or don’t attend book events because they are made to feel its not for them. We read in newspapers and we’re told by people that we are a demographic who doesn’t read so we start to believe that as a truism and we shy away from reading and book events because its “not for us”. This is a shame.

I also think we may not be being targeted as well as we could be. Again notice our man showed up at the event through following a twitter stream, rather than hearing direct through the library or – metaphorically speaking “instore”. And when I think about it, it’s the same way I hear about events. Through newsgroups, online and more “fannish” methods. I rarely “stumble across” an event.

But whatever the case, here’s something we should remember at all times:

Real men read. Real men talk about reading.

So let’s talk – come on guys, tell us why you do or don’t attend book events. Talk about whether you’d start or join a book group. Talk about the books you love and the books you don’t love.

Talk about what makes you read a book.

Talk about reading.


Tom Roberts said...

At events such as the Windy City Pulp and Paperback Show in Chicago, or Pulpfest in Columbus, Ohio, if there are 450 attendees, 400-425 of them are men.

These two conventions cater to the golden age of fiction from the pulp magazines and the four days are spent talking to men (mostly) who read either adventure, mystery/detective, Western or science fiction works. Most of the attendees are 40 years of age and up.

At many comic conventions the attendees also are mostly males of young to medium age.

Western sales are also, too, catered heavily to men.

My own sales are probably 98 percent male. I never know when a sale appears to a female customer if it is for her, or a gift for a spouse, or family member. ( I often suspect the later.)

Following Bouchercon next week in St. Louis I will have a better idea of what the current readership of new crime fiction is, but I think readership of detective/mystery works is still fairly strong with men.

From years back when I ran chain bookstores sales for authors such as Tm Clancy, Clive Cussler and Michael Crichton were always very strong with male readers.

These subgenre collector/reader groups are only a small portion of the possible reading population, but from many years of attending shows of this type I know that with this type material many men are reading.

At this time of year a lot of men are watching sports or doing outdoor activities too.

Tom Roberts
Black Dog Books

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Ironically, most of the movies the typical guys love and recite lines verbatim from were all based on novels. I think a lot of dudes are into the Clancy, Balducci, etc. Non-fiction and true-crime seem to do better with males than fiction.

I think Stephen King still holds up with males, but his style is tailor-made for us. Plus, he's seems like a cool dude, one you would want to meet..

How many guys who love "Fight Club" have read the novel?