Will Men Read My Book?


(photo: Nico Cavallotto, Creative Commons)

Something else to worry about on the rocky road to publication: The Goodreads analysts have crunched the site’s numbers to explore the reading habits of their male versus female members. You can see the results in this nifty Infographic. My home page includes a button indicating I’m a member of Sisters in Crime, started by women crime and suspense writers who thought 20 years ago (and still do) that women crime writers get the short end of the stick in book reviews and other ways. The text of the Goodreads post says that’s still true for book reviews generally.

Key messages from the Infographic: women are twice as likely as men to read a recent book, and men are twice as likely to write (is that a typo?) a 500+-page book. In the first year after a book is published, a male writer’s audience will split 50-50 along gender lines, whereas a woman writer’s audience will be 80 percent female.

This new finding tracks with a 2005 study that found four out of five men (academics, critics, and writers) said the last novel they’d read had a man as author, whereas women in the study were equally likely to have most recently read a novel written by a man or a woman. Whatever they read in 2014, according to Goodreads, men and women both rated the books by women a bit higher.

A 2012 Wall Street Journal article quoted a Penguin editor as saying: “For a new author, we want to avoid anything that might cause a reader to put a book down and decide, ‘not for me.’ When we think a book will appeal to male readers, we want everything about the book to say that—the cover, the copy and, yes, the author’s name.” Which is why we had J.K., not Joanne Rowling. And why women still write under men’s—or at least ambiguous—names. [For a survey of this and other types of literary masquerade, try Carmela Ciuraru’s Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms.]

Finally, Goodreads looked at the 50 books published in 2014 that men most often read, and found that only five were by women. Three of these fall into the fantasy-science-fiction-dystopia world of teen lit, one is young adult, and the last—The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a feel-good tale about a bookstore owner for whom everything looks grim, but then “magically” becomes more than OK (judging by the blurb). Go ahead, call me a snob, but I laughed out loud when I read the tagline for one of the fantasy books: Erchomai, Sebastian had said. I am coming.”

Similarly, of the 50 books published in 2014 most often read by women, only five were by men (that is, if you count J.K. Rowling’s Robert Galbraith persona). The books by men that women mostly read were young adult fantasy, adventure fantasy, Galbraith’s The Silkworm, Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes, and a book I read and liked, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.

If you’re wondering, out of the 41 books I’ve read so far this year, 29 (71 percent) are by men—partly reflecting my genre reading choices (mystery, thriller). So, what about your reading, and do you (know you) care whether the author is a man or woman?