I Could Not Have Been More Wrong

Another weekend at home: our “new normal” for now. Most of us have to stay at home as much as possible for the time being and all of us are supposed greatly to restrict our in-person interactions with others. So naturally we are looking to occupy ourselves in new or expanded ways.

I am noticing on blogs and other social media like Instagram and Twitter that unsurprisingly reading more has been one outlet. Interestingly, most of those I see declaring they are doing more reading are… women. And that is actually no surprise to me.

I wrote my first book back in 2013. At that time, I had not foreseen anywhere near accurately how matters would unfold for me in terms of my own reading audience. To be honest, my notions then about my probable readership proved to be, well, uh, totally wrong.

[Hôtel national des Invalides. 1994 photo by me. 2020 humor, for Instagram.]

That began to be demonstrated to me partly at least due to my authoring social media, which started simultaneously with my blog here. Social media is how authors now reach many potential new readers. Even large publishers expect authors to do social media for self-promotion, so there is really no escaping social media if you want to write for the public: everyone has to do it:

Thus self-promotion now demands we as writers must be on social media. That has its positives. I “meet” many more readers on here than I would ever in person (at, say, bookstore booksignings).

And good word of mouth is a fantastic endorsement. I always hope that if someone likes my books thanks to finding them through social media that they will tell others about them. Moreover I hope that even if they themselves don’t think they might like them, that they might tell others who they think might like them – and particularly so in these bizarre times.

Yet there are serious downsides to social media too. First, it may present a personal challenge that especially women, writers or not, tend to face far more than do we men. Second, women probably know unfortunately much better about this too: that it may misleadingly foster a sense of intimacy that is in fact not really there:

[Excerpt from And Out Comes Her Phone. Available in full for free on this blog. Click to expand that excerpt.]

And what did I get so wrong? Back in 2013 I had thought that my readers’ split might have been somewhat about 45/55 percent (men/women). However, as near as I have been able to discern over the years based on social media, reviews, direct feedback, and followers, some 90 percent of my readers appear to be women.

I had also not discovered this about the “novel biz” until after I took up writing myself. A large majority of novel readers for over 200 years (at least in America, Britain, and France) have consistently been women. So dominating my thinking whenever it drifted to this issue is having also uncovered F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 comment that most of his readers were women and that he felt initial sales of The Great Gatsby had been lackluster because the novel had lacked an “admirable” woman character.

However, when I had noted this issue a couple of years ago I was offered another perspective that has also stuck with me. A male commenter (and a writer) had posted that he felt lots of women read novels MORE for the male characters than for the female characters. (He did not say this, but in practical terms that translates into, I suppose, that lots of women read Gone With the Wind more for “Rhett” than for “Scarlett” or Pride and Prejudice more for “Mr Darcy” than for “Elizabeth.”) So if I had mostly women readers, he held, it was NOT because of my female characters – as I had kind of believed – but because of my male characters.

That was not an unreasonable take away, I had thought. Sometime later, though, it hit me that if that is accurate then Fitzgerald’s opinion was based on a serious misconception. For that (now classic) novel’s main male characters – “Nick Carraway” and “Jay Gatsby” – are on the whole pretty “admirable” men, so there had to be other reasons.

[Excerpt from Tomorrow The Grace. Paperback version. Copyright, 2019. Click to expand.]

There are narrow genres that, I am sure, must have more male readers. Writers in those would know which they are. Whatever the reason, my genre does not seem one of them.

[Tomorrow The Grace. Photo by me, 2019.]

I have never looked into why women overall are more likely to read novels than are men. I may finally try to track down some research on that. If you have any insights, please feel free to comment below.

So any man who wants to write novels had better remember who will likely constitute the bulk of his readers. Even if he might have drawn a wrong conclusion about why they read his books, F. Scott Fitzgerald certainly learned mostly who read them. If my women readers all disappeared tomorrow I know I would have almost no audience and might as well forget about writing.

I hope I never have to do that! Hopefully, you and yours remain healthy. Have a good Sunday, wherever you are (still, like us) under lockdown in the world. 🙂

2 thoughts on “I Could Not Have Been More Wrong

  1. Hhmm . . . Interesting. I’ll have to think about that. Do I read more for the male characters? For me, I don’t think so, but I could imaging that. I will say that I can become annoyed with female characters more easily. Perhaps it’s my female intolerance, you know, “Stop that whining,” or “Oh my goodness, why did she take him back? He treated her so terribly!” sigh Could it be that you simply write great characters in general thus your appeal? Again, hhmmm . . . . 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for that. It’s an intriguing issue I think. Everyone has their own opinions of course. I think we may not even realize our preferences. Maybe they are subconscious? And take “Mr Darcy.” For most of that novel, he is insufferable. Yet he is for some women a fantasy?

      Liked by 1 person

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