Has publishing given up on male readers?

Via GalleyCat comes an article by one Tom Matlack, who thinks that the publishing business has given up on trying to attract male readers. The core of this theory seems to be based on his failure to find a publisher for a proposed anthology of what GalleyCat describes as “first-person stories about manhood”:

We hired the best agent in the business, wrote a detailed book proposal, and went shopping for a publisher. Fifty (that’s 5-0, including a who’s who list of the literary world) turned us down. They told us guys don’t read, would never read any kind of anthology, and most certainly wouldn’t read an anthology about men. Apparently we are all mindless fools. The publishers also said they were focused exclusively on the “sure-thing” celebrity books in the wake of deteriorating economics. Just about that time we noticed a well-received anthology in the New York Times Review of Books written by women during menstruation.

Well, I’m a male reader… and the prospect of a fifty-story anthology of first-person tales about defining moments of manhood is not one that has me enthusiatically opening a search tab on Amazon. My immediate instinctive response is that Matlack has perhaps mistaken lack of interest in a particular book proposal for a lack of interest in reaching male readers in general.

I’m willing to believe that men as a demographic may read less fiction, but if that’s the case then surely pitching predominantly for a female audience is actually a sound market-driven move by publishers? It’s a chicken and egg argument, really; are there less manly books for men because men don’t read so much, or do men not read so much due to the lack of manly books for men? The massive hype around the forthcoming Dan Brown book would seem to suggest that publishers have no problem with putting out male-orientated books if they think people are going to buy them.

Overall, I think the notion that publishing has “given up” on male readers is utter balls, even beyond the notably male-centric domain of science fiction; it sounds like a domain-specific re-run of those “OMG male white Anglo-Saxons are an oppressed minority!!1” whinges that get trotted out from time to time, and Matlack’s exasperated mention of a successful anthology about menstruation as somehow proving his point does little to dispel the whiff of affronted yet passive misogyny.

So, male Futurismic readers – do you feel that publishers aren’t putting out the sort of books that appeal to you as a man (as opposed to as a reader in general)?

7 thoughts on “Has publishing given up on male readers?”

  1. I wasn’t aware you could “hire” a literary agent. It’s also possible his book was crap, which was why he could only find the sort of literary agent who can be hired.

  2. Honestly, I think the problem isn’t that men don’t read, it’s that the kinds of men who do read are not the target audience for a book about men. I’ve never bought or read a book that was meant for my gender, and never will. I don’t find them interesting. I don’t even think Maxim is all that great of a magazine. Wonderful if all you want to look at is women in skimpy clothing, but I don’t need to buy a magazine to see that. I think publishers have caught onto the reality that the kinds of men that are interested in “manly” content don’t read such things, but watch them on TV.

  3. I’ve really never had any trouble finding books to read – quite the opposite, in fact. And I don’t fancy that anthology either. If I want to hear anecdotes about male-ness I’ll head down the pub with the lads, thanks. I’ll get anecdotes all night long 🙂

  4. I can kind of see where he’s coming from as a book of 50 short first-person stories about defining moments in womanhood might well get published. But then that’s not about markets, it’s more to do with the way in which women are far more open about using the thoughts of others to understand themselves.

    Story about a woman shaking hands with the man in the little boat for the first time? The Vagina Monologues.

    Story about a bloke’s first wank? MINE EYES! THE GOGGLES ZEY DO NATHINK!

  5. Yeah, I agree with you Paul. This smells like sour grapes and not a trend. So many factors to consider before he leaps to the conclusion that men don’t read enough, or men aren’t the market. It’s true that women are a better market in some genres–but in science fiction, I think male readers still outnumber female.

    As for a book about men talking about manhood…I think, personally, I’d rather read that in a story, not in a memoir. I agree with the person who said that guys just aren’t attracted to that kind of book… But we the theme of reaching manhood is a pervasive theme is great literature—TONS of stories that keep us hooked. We don’t want a confession–we want the whole story in a story form, maybe. It can’t be JUST about their becoming a man….

    And yeah, the guy’s snide reference to the women’s anthology….blew his credibility.

  6. Lets face it, there’s a reason why market researchers who are going after the male 18-34 year old demographic show pictures of half naked women and not reams and reams of printed text, they are visual mammals with wild hormones and short attention spans. Now you, dear author, and the commentators to this article wave your points that you’re men, and you read, but lets face it — you’re exceptions to the rule. Sitting in a NYC subway for a hours ride home I can definitely testify that the majority of book readers are female and maybe the odd male college student or coffee shop-esque patron. In the real world most men are more interested in a quick laugh or their next sexual conquest than reading an anthology or some other non-comic.

  7. I think you’re maybe going a little overharsh on men in general there, FTL, especially as you open your statement by claiming a select demographic whose popularity with marketers is based on their disposable income first and their fields of interest second, and the NYC subway is hardly a socially unbiased sample group. But if anyone’s got the relevant stats (or knows where to find them) please pipe up; it’d be good to do a follow-up post.

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