Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

04/24/2010

Why Men Don’t Read

Filed under: book marketing,publishing bias,women favored in publishing — gator1965 @ 6:42 pm

Who says men don’t read? They DO read…Indeed they do! But, to hear published-author Jason Pinter tell it, it’s a wonder! I didn’t REALLY realize, until I read his article in the Huffington Post, just how gender-biased most new literary and publishing business decisions and advertising are to women…He points out some excellent examples:

Jason Pinter is pictured at right.

Back in 2005, while I was still working as an editor, I had an opportunity to acquire a book that I was confident would be a bestseller. The author had a huge media platform, was one of the stars on a show watched by millions of people each week, hosted his own radio show, headlined his own band, he had a fascinating life story, thousands (if not millions) of fans worldwide, and even had a degree in journalisn. Unlike many celebrity memoirs, I knew this author was passionate about his story and had the writing chops to make it a great read. The author’s agent wanted, in my opinion, a reasonable advance. I had confidence that this book was low risk, very high reward. However…

The author’s name was Chris Jericho. Chris Jericho is a professional wrestler. Needless to say, pitching Jericho’s book to my editorial board was like pitching iPads to the Amish. A whole lot of blank stares and a whole lot of people saying ‘I don’t get it’. Now, this is not the fault of the individuals, but it is the fault of a system in which in a room of 15-20 people, not one of them knew what I was talking about.

Like many boys, I grew up watching pro wrestling. I knew that Jericho was not only a huge star, but a genuinely smart, charismatic guy who had some incredible stories to tell. In an attempt to convince the editorial board, I brought in Chris’s videos, action figures, CDs, anything I could think of to prove to a skeptical room that this guy was a big deal and his book would work. Nobody was buying my pitch. Nobody had heard of Jericho. So here’s what happened–and I swear this is true.

One of our senior editors had a 15-year old nephew who was a wrestling fan. I was instructed to have a conference call with the editor’s nephew, where I would ask him what he thought about Jericho. If the nephew agreed that Jericho was popular and the book had potential, I would be permitted to make an offer. If the kid disagreed, no dice. Naturally I was dumbstruck, infuriated, since I was essentially being told that a random 15-year with no publishing experience and questionable judgment was trusted more than I was. Thankfully, the kid agreed with me, and thought the book was a fantastic idea. The offer was greenlit, I acquired the book, and Chris Jericho’s A Lion’s Tale got rave reviews (Kirkus loved it. Kirkus!!!) and the
book became a New York Times bestseller. The sequel is scheduled to come out this Fall.

Why do I bring this up? Because if you’ve worked in publishing, you’ve heard the tired old maxim: Men Don’t Read. Try to acquire or sell a book aimed predominantly at men, and odds are you’ll be told Men Don’t Read. This story is not an isolated incident, but merely a microcosm of a huge problem within the industry. If you keep telling yourself something, regardless of its validity, eventually you’ll begin to believe it. So because publishers rarely publish for men and don’t market towards men, somehow that equates to our entire gender having given up on the reading books. THIS MUST END.

This NPR piece three years ago came to the conclusion that women read more fiction than men by a 4-1 margin. Articles like this madden me because I think they miss the big picture, or perhaps are even ignoring it purposefully. It’s like discussing global warming, while completely ignoring the fact that hey, maybe we have something to do with it.

In my opinion, this empty mantra has begotten a vicious cycle. I was hesitant to write this article, mainly because in no way do I want to be perceived as diminishing the talents of many, many brilliant women in publishing. That is not the aim of this piece, nor is it my opinion in any way. This is a critique of the system, not those who work within it.

Nobody can deny the fact that most editorial meetings tend to be dominated by women. Saying the ratio is 75/25 is not overstating things. So needless to say when a male editor pitches a book aimed at men, there are perilously few men to read it and give their opinions. Not to mention that, because there are so few men, the competition to buy books aimed at men is astronomical. I was once shot down in an effort to buy a sports humor book because I couldn’t get the support of a senior editor. The reason? This editor had written a similar book proposal on submission and didn’t want to hurt his chances of selling it.

Men read. Tons of them do. But they are not marketed to, not targeted, and often totally dismissed. Go to a book conference, a signing. Outside of a Tucker Max event, what percentage of attendees are men?

I thought about this while watching the first television ad for the Barnes & Noble Nook. The ad itself, I think, is quite well done and effective. It tells a story, hits strong emotions. But notice something odd? It markets itself solely towards women. What about the Kindle? Amazon is a brilliant, juggernaut of a company, but the ads for Kindle with their twee music would make any guy groan. Why would men buy an e-reader, considering the takeaway from these ads is you can a) learn about your pregnancy after falling for Mr. Darcy, or b) become Amelia Earhart or Holly Golightly?

Now look at the ads for the iPad. Cool, right? They catch your attention without alienating half the consumer population. Why can’t we do that? Make a fun, cool campaign that doesn’t cut your audience off at the knees?

I’m tired of people saying Men Don’t Read. Men LOVE to read. I’ve been a reader my whole life. My father is a reader. Most of my male friends are readers. But the more publishing repeats the empty mantra that Men Don’t Read the less they’re going to try to appeal to men, which is where this vicious cycle begins.

Publish more books for men and boys. Trust editors who try to buy these books, and work on the marketing campaigns to hit those audiences. The readers are there, waiting, eager just under the surface. And I promise, if publishing makes an effort to tap it, they’ll come out in droves. It won’t be easy. They’ve been alienated for a long time and might need to be roused from their slumber. But as I’ve always said the biggest problems facing the publishing industry are not ebooks, or returns, but the number of people reading. This is a way to bring back a lot of readers who have essentially been forgotten about.

So the next person who tells me that Men Don’t Read, I’ll simply respond by saying Then You Don’t Know Men.

Print it, and they will come.

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8 Comments »

  1. I don't buy your comment. One of the biggest promoters of books is John Stewart of The Daily Show. Stephen Colbert of the Stephen Colbert Show does a pretty good job too. I'd be willing to bet that the majority of the authors he has on are men. Men talking about books with men writing the books they talk about the featured authors. As a woman writer who had trouble selling non-fiction about women to publishers I find your words don't ring true. And, when my hard work in promoting my book Living in the Heartland: Three Extraordinary Women's Stories is successful, my bet is that John Stewart and Stephen Colbert (who I sent a book to two months ago without any response, not even a 'no thanks') ever ask me on their show,then you can tell me you told me so!!

    Comment by livingintheheartland — 04/24/2010 @ 7:56 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Pam,You do make a point. As I said, I never realized that there was any biased one way or the other until Jason Pinter pointed out some examples: the smart pro-wrestlers hard time getting published, then the links to the way the Nook and Kindle market to women and finally how (in his opinion) most of the publishing business decisions in the board meetings are made by women…Being somewhat of a pragmatist I think both women & men probably have hit bumps getting published, and for a myriad of reasons…not the least being the sorry state of the publishing industry and it's putting quick profits above true talent. As for Stewart & Colbert, I believe they hark what they're told and paid for…again by promoters in the publishing industry.Apparently, Jason was making the point that there is an old maxim in the publishing world that "men don't read as much as women" so they look down on things written about men…

    Comment by John Austin — 04/24/2010 @ 8:41 pm | Reply

  3. John Putnam: I've often wondered why it has become so difficult to find books that really appeal to me.

    Comment by John Putnam — 04/25/2010 @ 8:20 am | Reply

  4. John, as you can see there are different views…I love comments from different perspectives!

    Comment by John Austin — 04/25/2010 @ 8:24 am | Reply

  5. No matter how you cut it, the publishing biz is in trouble. On reason I wrote my book is because I had trouble finding books I really like. Now I have trouble finding a pulisher. I get the feeling the industry shuns a large share of potential readers. Is it because women control the editorial boards od publishers? It may have an effect. People make choices in matters of art based on their own likes. The reading matter men choose will be different from women. But there is never a way for anyone to truly pick a winner. There are to many stories of great books that no one wanted to publish. No one wants to read a story about a white whale, they said. They were wrong, way back then.

    Comment by John Putnam — 04/25/2010 @ 9:44 am | Reply

  6. So true, John (except that, quite often, there is a lot of writing/art that men & women do mutually appreciate)…This points out what I've believed for a long time: the publishing industry, EVEN BEFORE the current crisis, was always based on an extremely poor business model that was more subjective than objective. There is a saying floating around that publishing is about making money NOT about publishing good books! I just don't see why the two have to be mutually exclusive!! Seems a bit of an oxymoron…

    Comment by John Austin — 04/25/2010 @ 9:45 am | Reply

  7. Certainly a truly good book is loved by men and women, and it's not so much about the sexes it's about their perceptions of what books others will buy. And no one has a handle on that. I write Westerns, but not like any Western you've ever read. Westerns don't sell, they say. Yeah? Why do some American Publishers reprint more Louis L'amour and Elmore Leonard books than anything but the Bible? Bret Harte and Mark Twain got their start writing Westerns about the California Gold Rush, maybe it'll work for me – except the book is still a Western and nobody reads Westerns. It's an easy excuse not to publish a book. There are many easy excuses to pass on great books that will sell while looking through the flood of writers in more currently popular genres that will hopefully become the next blockbuster novel. Miners would do that in the gold rush, leave a productive spot because they thought another one would be more productive. Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn't. The dirty rotten truth is that publishers are afraid to take chances on books. Scared money never wins at poker and no one has plans to bail out the publishing industry. Best is to publish the same old things that are known to sell. No one wanted to publish Harry Potter, you know. Scared money, ingrained opinions, it's a tough row to hoe for a writer.

    Comment by John Putnam — 04/25/2010 @ 10:33 am | Reply

  8. Very well put, My Friend!

    Comment by John Austin — 04/25/2010 @ 10:33 am | Reply


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