Where Have All The Guys Gone?

By | on November 15, 2009 | 44 Comments

JE: One thing we hear at Three Guys a lot (usually from women) is how refreshing it is that we offer four very diverse (but all very “guy-ish”) perspectives on the literary and publishing landscapes. We deal mostly in the currency of literary fiction, which is a market overwhelmingly dominated by middle-aged, college educated women. Why is this? Why is it most of my dude friends stopped reading fiction in college? In the past year-and-a-half, I’ve made over thirty (you count ’em, thirty!) personal appearances at book groups for “All About Lulu.” On average these groups are attended by anywhere from eight to twenty-five women, and they’re almost invariably gracious. But I’ve yet to see a single guy–once or twice, a nervous husband in the foyer with two leashed dogs, trying effect his escape before the wine and cheese hits the table, but other than that zilch. If the novel is dying a slow death, how can we get the male readership back? We’re talking about a huge, untapped market, here—how do we reach them? Personally, I don’t think price wars are going to do it. I think there’s a certain type of story that’s gonna’ win these readers back– one where something happens!

JR: This price war is total bullshit; a way to get the dwindling reader into the store, and gives retailers a chance to get into Ma and Pa’s pocket, it’s a buzz thing, and a scam. Who the hell is going to read Sarah Palin’s mashed potato life? Is Glen Beck the co-author? $9 for hardcover, for how long, what happens when the discount period ends, Dan Brown for $30? Are women readers reacting to books in an insightful way, more so than men, is it the nurturing effect? So now what do male readers actually read, Under the Dome, the hardcover version of the Simpson movie? Cut the time a hardcover is on the shelves to 6 months. Promote the trade paper, sell it, and get it into hands faster/easier,move backlist to downloads or POD. (check out Harvard Bookstore, and their Espresso Machine for books) The latest entry into the download world is something that sounds vaguely pornographic, but it will compete with the Kindle, both still pricey. Lower advances, increase royalties on the trade paper, use the internet as a tool to promote. Book publishing is offering a high class/priced product to the middle class, and wondering why it’s not selling.

JC: I disagree that the so-called price wars are bullshit. I think that the way the industry develops is fascinating. Publishing got itself into a rut, magazines, books, newspapers, and this is a seismic change. Whether for better or worse, of course is yet to be determined. I was reading Scott Esposito’s piece on Conversational Reading the other day, where he mused about the European price fixing of books, and I wondered — what will be the results of these two philosophically opposed views of bookselling? Will the indie bookseller be better off in a price-stabilized environment? What about the consumer? My MBA says that price-fixing is a pox on the free market, which is bad. (Really. It says it right there at the bottom of the diploma in little gold leaf calligraphy.) But does the reader lose more in knowledgeable recommendations, service and communitarian (seriously, they’ll take that degree away) values than they gain in price savings?b As a dedicated reader, I say yes.

But I really wanted to talk about guys. Why the hell don’t guys read like women do? Anyone who reads this is probably closely tied to the publishing community, or certainly has a vested interest in it, so you probably know some, but once you get outside that circle, it’s hard to find the casual male reader. So what gives? Is it the lack of male reading role models? Obama sold some books when he gave out his summer reading list, but — and we’ve considered this before — the charismatic writer, the cowboy living on the edge, the Mailer and Hemingway and Kerouac, even, is gone. We’re stuck with Dan Schmuck Brown. That’s a sad inspiration, my friend. Is the missing man the result of a massive industry wide marketing and editing misfire? How do we get them back? I believe only Dennis has the answer.

DH: I’m the gay guy on Three Guys with three straight best friends. The problem isn’t with the books. It’s with the guys. Since the age of Hemingway, guys have been in denial about feelings. As for the subject of marriage, most guys don’t want to read about it. That’s because a lot of guys think marriage should look like something out of Lucy and Ricky. As for the price wars, every bibliophile should get a bargain on a book once in a while. But I worry that if you get your art on the cheap, then the respect that should flow both ways between the reader and the writer runs dry. Something would have to be done then, to restore that respect. That might not mean higher prices but some other form of shared sacrifice. My rules for better book clubs: All books selected should have been published in this century. Make your book club into a great date night if you want 20-somethings to attend. If you want guys, free beer wouldn’t hurt. Maybe guys would be attracted to books by the idea of shared sacrifice. Think of what writers, booksellers, publishers and readers have to sacrifice. Let’s talk about that sometime. I can testify that all four Three Guys know what sacrifice is. We’re a band of book brothers.

– 3G1B

Tags:

44 Responses to “Where Have All The Guys Gone?”

  1. November 16, 2009

    Michael Balkind Reply

    Thank you for writing this article. It delves into a question that I’ve been asking myself since my first novel was released a couple of years ago. My sports mysteries are perceived by most as guy’s books and while they are selling fairly well, I believe if I changed the covers and titles to be more…uh…female friendly, then my sales might be better.
    While my books are murder mysteries with a sports theme, they are filled with emotions, and some romance. And even though I have received wonderful notes and reviews from many women readers, the image my covers and titles portray is that the books are for guys.
    It’s interesting, although I drive many people ((probably female) from book blogs, twitter, even the James Patterson Community website) to my website, many glance at my home page and don’t look any further. Even with cover endorsements from James Patterson, Clive Cussler and John Lescroart, they make the impulsive decision that my work is not for them.
    You mentioned book clubs. While I have enjoyed attending some great meetings with book clubs, they are primarily comprised of women who won’t give my books a chance.

    I have thought about this issue for a long time, but this is the first time I have actually written something about it. For that, I thank you. It made me realize that either I have to settle for a dwindling male readership base or I have to make some changes.
    On a good note, I am currently finishing the script for the pilot of Deadly Sports Television. If Stefan Marc, the producer who optioned my series, can make the TV series happen, then hopefully it will pump up my book sales. Till then, at least I am enjoying the writing and marketing process as I try to figure out how to expand my reader base.
    If any of you Three Guys wish to review Sudden Death or Dead Ball, I will be happy and honored to send you copies.

    Thanks for writing 3G1B,
    Michael Balkind
    http://www.balkindbooks.com
    Sudden Death
    Dead Ball
    Stealing Gold (coming soon)
    The Fix (coming soon – co-authored with ESPN Anchor, Ryan Burr)

  2. November 16, 2009

    Michael Balkind Reply

    Thank you for writing this article. It delves into a question that I’ve been asking myself since my first novel was released a couple of years ago. My sports mysteries are perceived by most as guy’s books and while they are selling fairly well, I believe if I changed the covers and titles to be more…uh…female friendly, then my sales might be better.
    While my books are murder mysteries with a sports theme, they are filled with emotions, and some romance. And even though I have received wonderful notes and reviews from many women readers, the image my covers and titles portray is that the books are for guys.
    It’s interesting, although I drive many people ((probably female) from book blogs, twitter, even the James Patterson Community website) to my website, many glance at my home page and don’t look any further. Even with cover endorsements from James Patterson, Clive Cussler and John Lescroart, they make the impulsive decision that my work is not for them.
    You mentioned book clubs. While I have enjoyed attending some great meetings with book clubs, they are primarily comprised of women who won’t give my books a chance.

    I have thought about this issue for a long time, but this is the first time I have actually written something about it. For that, I thank you. It made me realize that either I have to settle for a dwindling male readership base or I have to make some changes.
    On a good note, I am currently finishing the script for the pilot of Deadly Sports Television. If Stefan Marc, the producer who optioned my series, can make the TV series happen, then hopefully it will pump up my book sales. Till then, at least I am enjoying the writing and marketing process as I try to figure out how to expand my reader base.
    If any of you Three Guys wish to review Sudden Death or Dead Ball, I will be happy and honored to send you copies.

    Thanks for writing 3G1B,
    Michael Balkind
    http://www.balkindbooks.com
    Sudden Death
    Dead Ball
    Stealing Gold (coming soon)
    The Fix (coming soon – co-authored with ESPN Anchor, Ryan Burr)

  3. November 16, 2009

    DH Reply

    Hello Michael,

    It’s true that most browsers look at a book cover for about 2 seconds and if they can’t relate to it, they pass onto something else.

    But you have to write what the f… you want and let the chips fall where they may!

    But if that advice doesn’t satisfy then here’s some more, in-your-face, advice. 1. Try your hand at writing a YA sports mystery…broaden your market to sports-inclined kids. 2. LOSE your writer photo where you are holding a basketball. Hold, say, a dog’s leash instead. (Get a dog, if necessary…golden retriever ideal.) 3. Write a sports mystery about a group of women who form a sports club to watch games on TV…no men allowed. You could call it “The Number 1 Ladies Sports Club”. Okay…I am pushing the envelope but you get the idea.

  4. November 16, 2009

    DH Reply

    Hello Michael,

    It’s true that most browsers look at a book cover for about 2 seconds and if they can’t relate to it, they pass onto something else.

    But you have to write what the f… you want and let the chips fall where they may!

    But if that advice doesn’t satisfy then here’s some more, in-your-face, advice. 1. Try your hand at writing a YA sports mystery…broaden your market to sports-inclined kids. 2. LOSE your writer photo where you are holding a basketball. Hold, say, a dog’s leash instead. (Get a dog, if necessary…golden retriever ideal.) 3. Write a sports mystery about a group of women who form a sports club to watch games on TV…no men allowed. You could call it “The Number 1 Ladies Sports Club”. Okay…I am pushing the envelope but you get the idea.

  5. November 16, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . oh, that’s evil, dennis . . .if your really wanna’ guarantee success, you need something a little more precious before number 1, something like: “the popcorn shrimp and sweet potato pie ladies number 1 sports club” . . .

  6. November 16, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . oh, that’s evil, dennis . . .if your really wanna’ guarantee success, you need something a little more precious before number 1, something like: “the popcorn shrimp and sweet potato pie ladies number 1 sports club” . . .

  7. November 16, 2009

    DH Reply

    Picture of Jonathan with dog: “West of Here” sales rise 10%. Picture of Jonathan with rabbit: “West of Here” sales fall 5%.

  8. November 16, 2009

    DH Reply

    Picture of Jonathan with dog: “West of Here” sales rise 10%. Picture of Jonathan with rabbit: “West of Here” sales fall 5%.

  9. November 17, 2009

    Scott Bailey Reply

    This is a really important question, I think. Where *are* the male readers of literary fiction? Most of the men I know read either exclusively non-fiction or they read NYT top-10 genre fiction. My theory is that boys in school are not given the passion nor the habit for reading, because at the time boys are introduced to real literature, they’re also entering puberty which doesn’t just fuck your head up with hormones and make you stupid for a couple of years (if you’re lucky), it also drives you away from girly things like reading because the mating drive is kicking in. I am clearly tipping my hand to say that I fell in love with books when girls were busy ignoring me during my adolescence. I have no idea how to change this; I don’t know what we can do to make reading literature attractive to adult males. But the question vexes me. I was having lunch with one of my best friends last week, and he assured me that he’s vowed to read A Whole Novel Each Year. I shook my head; it’s all I could do.

  10. November 16, 2009

    Scott Bailey Reply

    This is a really important question, I think. Where *are* the male readers of literary fiction? Most of the men I know read either exclusively non-fiction or they read NYT top-10 genre fiction. My theory is that boys in school are not given the passion nor the habit for reading, because at the time boys are introduced to real literature, they’re also entering puberty which doesn’t just fuck your head up with hormones and make you stupid for a couple of years (if you’re lucky), it also drives you away from girly things like reading because the mating drive is kicking in. I am clearly tipping my hand to say that I fell in love with books when girls were busy ignoring me during my adolescence. I have no idea how to change this; I don’t know what we can do to make reading literature attractive to adult males. But the question vexes me. I was having lunch with one of my best friends last week, and he assured me that he’s vowed to read A Whole Novel Each Year. I shook my head; it’s all I could do.

  11. November 17, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . one novel a year! . . .and to think that’s more than most guys!

  12. November 16, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . one novel a year! . . .and to think that’s more than most guys!

  13. November 17, 2009

    DH Reply

    If Scott’s friend is only going to read one novel a year, I wonder what it should be? Anyone have one or two suggestions? Two great guy books that would lead to other books?

  14. November 16, 2009

    DH Reply

    If Scott’s friend is only going to read one novel a year, I wonder what it should be? Anyone have one or two suggestions? Two great guy books that would lead to other books?

  15. November 17, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . i recommend chaon’s “await your reply” . . .

  16. November 16, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . i recommend chaon’s “await your reply” . . .

  17. November 17, 2009

    DH Reply

    That’s a great choice…I agree with that…Scott, have your friend read that…great guy book…

  18. November 16, 2009

    DH Reply

    That’s a great choice…I agree with that…Scott, have your friend read that…great guy book…

  19. November 17, 2009

    Jason Chambers Reply

    Chaon would be great. Olear’s Totally Killer would be another. Should lead to a nice progression of books to follow.

  20. November 16, 2009

    Jason Chambers Reply

    Chaon would be great. Olear’s Totally Killer would be another. Should lead to a nice progression of books to follow.

  21. November 17, 2009

    Jason Rice Reply

    A Fraction of the Whole!

  22. November 16, 2009

    Jason Rice Reply

    A Fraction of the Whole!

  23. November 17, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . also, hesh kestin’s “the iron will of shoeshine cats” falls very much in the guy camp, methinks, though my wife loved it, too!

  24. November 16, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . also, hesh kestin’s “the iron will of shoeshine cats” falls very much in the guy camp, methinks, though my wife loved it, too!

  25. November 17, 2009

    H.G. McCrary Reply

    Not sure if you have seen “Guys Read” http://guysread.com/ but it’s pretty cool. “Welcome to Guys Read, a web-based literacy program for boys. Our mission is to help boys become self-motivated, lifelong readers.”

  26. November 16, 2009

    H.G. McCrary Reply

    Not sure if you have seen “Guys Read” http://guysread.com/ but it’s pretty cool. “Welcome to Guys Read, a web-based literacy program for boys. Our mission is to help boys become self-motivated, lifelong readers.”

  27. November 17, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . .hooray for guys read!

  28. November 17, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . .hooray for guys read!

  29. November 17, 2009

    Michael Balkind Reply

    Thanks for the tips all,
    Dennis, good thoughts – I have outlines written for both YA and women’s sports mysteries. I do plan to write each when I finish my current MS.
    Also when I went back and looked at my website picture, I had to agree with your ‘LOSE the basketball’ comment. Puppies definitely help attract people. Good call.
    As for names of a new book – we’ll see. 🙂

    Thanks for the help.
    From your newest ‘#1 3G1B Club’ fan.

  30. November 17, 2009

    Michael Balkind Reply

    Thanks for the tips all,
    Dennis, good thoughts – I have outlines written for both YA and women’s sports mysteries. I do plan to write each when I finish my current MS.
    Also when I went back and looked at my website picture, I had to agree with your ‘LOSE the basketball’ comment. Puppies definitely help attract people. Good call.
    As for names of a new book – we’ll see. 🙂

    Thanks for the help.
    From your newest ‘#1 3G1B Club’ fan.

  31. November 19, 2009

    P.S. Moore Reply

    I’m with Scott on this. I’ve published two Young Adult books, and I have a third coming out next year. In a discussion last week, my agent said the dreaded — but apparently true — words: “Boys don’t read.” I did a book group for a bunch of high school kids who read my first book: out of about twenty, two of them were boys. Which, I think, is somewhat rare. (Most likely, they were offered extra-credit for going!)
    Clearly, if the vast majority of guys are finished reading for pleasure by middle school or high school, it’s unlikely they’re going to become ravenous readers later. Sure, college may open up some minds or spark the interest, but we’d all probably agree that most of the men who read will be picking books by Grisham, Patterson, Clancy, and the like.
    We’ve heard about “Lad-Lit,” with Nick Hornby being the poster boy. There have been a bunch of these books dealing with guys in their twenties or thirties over the past ten years or so, but I suspect they didn’t do a whole lot of business. And again, it’s pretty likely that the reason has to do with guys giving up reading at a young age.

  32. November 18, 2009

    P.S. Moore Reply

    I’m with Scott on this. I’ve published two Young Adult books, and I have a third coming out next year. In a discussion last week, my agent said the dreaded — but apparently true — words: “Boys don’t read.” I did a book group for a bunch of high school kids who read my first book: out of about twenty, two of them were boys. Which, I think, is somewhat rare. (Most likely, they were offered extra-credit for going!)
    Clearly, if the vast majority of guys are finished reading for pleasure by middle school or high school, it’s unlikely they’re going to become ravenous readers later. Sure, college may open up some minds or spark the interest, but we’d all probably agree that most of the men who read will be picking books by Grisham, Patterson, Clancy, and the like.
    We’ve heard about “Lad-Lit,” with Nick Hornby being the poster boy. There have been a bunch of these books dealing with guys in their twenties or thirties over the past ten years or so, but I suspect they didn’t do a whole lot of business. And again, it’s pretty likely that the reason has to do with guys giving up reading at a young age.

  33. November 25, 2009

    Bill Kenower Reply

    I think Jon has a point about men wanting books where things happen. Women are able to tolerate less happening. When men get together they tend to want to do something – women tend to want to talk. This is a generalization, I know – men talk plenty and women do stuff – but overall I think this divide is true. If you look at literary books, just the covers, they invariably look like a story where nothing in particular is going to happen. Look at a thriller etc. and you know action is coming and plenty of it.

  34. November 25, 2009

    Bill Kenower Reply

    I think Jon has a point about men wanting books where things happen. Women are able to tolerate less happening. When men get together they tend to want to do something – women tend to want to talk. This is a generalization, I know – men talk plenty and women do stuff – but overall I think this divide is true. If you look at literary books, just the covers, they invariably look like a story where nothing in particular is going to happen. Look at a thriller etc. and you know action is coming and plenty of it.

  35. November 25, 2009

    DH Reply

    I have to say Jon and Bill both sound on the money. Guys don’t think about conversation as a form of action…it’s more likely the planning stage for some goal-directed activity.

    But for women (again, in general)conversation is a performance art…a form of action.

    As for Eric Rohmer films where everyone just “talks”…they’re my favorite! (just throwing that in)

    So have you ever asked yourself…how much action do I want to read about in this story? I don’t think most people approach novel reading this way…am I wrong?

  36. November 25, 2009

    DH Reply

    I have to say Jon and Bill both sound on the money. Guys don’t think about conversation as a form of action…it’s more likely the planning stage for some goal-directed activity.

    But for women (again, in general)conversation is a performance art…a form of action.

    As for Eric Rohmer films where everyone just “talks”…they’re my favorite! (just throwing that in)

    So have you ever asked yourself…how much action do I want to read about in this story? I don’t think most people approach novel reading this way…am I wrong?

  37. November 25, 2009

    Jason Reply

    do you describe action via talking, or exposition, or both? I like to develop a little character through exposition, (narrator) and then give the reader more through talking. I think you learn more about the character that way. As far as men vs women and what they like to read, I think you’ll never know. We learn a hell of a lot watching a movie, especially when characters talk. Now describe that movie, (your favorite) and what the characters say, and you have a novel.

  38. November 25, 2009

    Jason Reply

    do you describe action via talking, or exposition, or both? I like to develop a little character through exposition, (narrator) and then give the reader more through talking. I think you learn more about the character that way. As far as men vs women and what they like to read, I think you’ll never know. We learn a hell of a lot watching a movie, especially when characters talk. Now describe that movie, (your favorite) and what the characters say, and you have a novel.

  39. November 25, 2009

    Bill Kenower Reply

    As for action and talking, Fitzgerald said action is character and I tend to agree, action, of course, not just things you do with a gun or a car, but anything definite your characters do as oppose to think about or even say, really.

  40. November 25, 2009

    Bill Kenower Reply

    As for action and talking, Fitzgerald said action is character and I tend to agree, action, of course, not just things you do with a gun or a car, but anything definite your characters do as oppose to think about or even say, really.

  41. March 6, 2010

    Don LePan Reply

    A lot of guys like sports and politics and a powerful narrative line–fair enough. A lot of literary fiction doesn’t have too much of any of those. A suggestion? Of course: my own Animals: A Novel, coming from Soft Skull in May, described by J.M. Coetzee as “a powerful piece of writing, and a disturbing call to conscience.” No sports (I would have liked to fit some baseball in) but a strong narrative line and lots of political stuff to argue about. Also feelings–but I really think we guys are OK with those if we have some of the other stuff too. Hope so!
    Don LePan

  42. March 5, 2010

    Don LePan Reply

    A lot of guys like sports and politics and a powerful narrative line–fair enough. A lot of literary fiction doesn’t have too much of any of those. A suggestion? Of course: my own Animals: A Novel, coming from Soft Skull in May, described by J.M. Coetzee as “a powerful piece of writing, and a disturbing call to conscience.” No sports (I would have liked to fit some baseball in) but a strong narrative line and lots of political stuff to argue about. Also feelings–but I really think we guys are OK with those if we have some of the other stuff too. Hope so!
    Don LePan

  43. March 6, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . .yep, we’re looking forward to animals . . . denise and a. horowitz tell me great things!

  44. March 5, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . .yep, we’re looking forward to animals . . . denise and a. horowitz tell me great things!

Leave a Reply