I’ve heard this asked in publishing circles, and I think it’s an interesting question. First, is it true? Do men truly turn up their noses at women authors? I’m not aware of any hard statistics backing up the claim. All I can offer are my own experiences as a thriller author, based on the reader mail I receive.
Most of my fan mail — I’d estimate 75 % — is from women readers. When I do hear from men, they’ll often confess that the only reason they read me is because their wives had introduced them to my books. Yes, men WILL read books by women authors — if they’re prodded into it. So it does appear that men tend to shy away from women authors, while women are far less discriminatory when it comes to the author’s gender.
The one exception I’ve experienced was for my NASA thriller, GRAVITY, for which my reader mail had an abrupt gender switch — 75% of my letters were suddenly coming from men. (And I don’t think it’s because my author photo was especially sexy!) It’s not that I picked up that many extra male readers; rather, I think my women readers dropped out for that book. Which probably explains, in large part, GRAVITY’s disappointing sales.
How can a woman writer snag those hard-to-get, flighty male readers?
I had a taste of just what I was up against during my book tour down south a few years ago. I was standing in a Sam’s Club, autographing copies of my book, when I noticed a male customer picking up an armful of various paperback thrillers. My media escort, a nice Southern gentleman, approached the customer and said, “Say, you seem to like thrillers. Why don’t you come over here and meet Tess Gerritsen? She writes great thrillers, and she’d be happy to sign one for you.”
The customer gave me a long look and then responded with a dismissive shake of his head. “Naw,” he said. “I don’t read books by women. I don’t like the way they write.” And he turned and walked away.
Now, I happened to get a good long look at the books he was purchasing. And I knew, for a fact, that at least two of those books were actually ghost-written by WOMEN writers. The man was ALREADY reading — and presumably enjoying — books by women, but he didn’t know it.
What many men truly dislike isn’t necessarily women’s writing. Rather, they dislike reading books with WOMEN’S NAMES on the cover.
There’s no way to get past that prejudice.
Unless I change my name to Terence.