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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Christian Fiction: No Men Allowed!

By Mike Duran

Last I checked, God made them "male and female" (Gen. 1:27). Sadly, half of that demographic is barely represented in Christian Fiction.

Don't believe me? Just scan the recent
ACFW Genesis and Book of the Year winners. Out of the 72 winners (1st - 3rd place), a whopping 3 men received awards. That's right -- 3 out of 72! Perhaps it's not unusual when you consider that the ACFW has only one man on its 14 member Board of Directors. The 2008 Christy Awards were a little better: Of their nine winners, 3 were men. A brief foray into the world of Christian writing blogs reveals a similar lopsidedness. Novel Journey is a good example. Of its ten contributors, I'm the only guy (but after this post, I might be its last). Other group writing websites share a similar preponderance of females. The Master's Artist is comprised of 8 women and 3 men, the 11 member team of Focus on Fiction contains only 3 men, and of Charis Connection's 21 contributors, only 7 are men. For every one male Christian Fiction writer, there's a gaggle of chicks.

It's one of the more uncomfortable realities of the religious publishing world -- when it comes to fiction, women rule the roost.

To be fair, this inequity is not limited to Christian circles. Statistics repeatedly show that men don't read fiction. In the August 2006 issue of Writer's Digest, in an article entitled
Do Men Read? Maria Schneider put it bluntly:

Conventional publishing industry wisdom has it that guys just don't buy fiction. Men account for only 20 percent of novel sales...
And then, quoting Karen Holt, deputy editor of Publishers Weekly:
"The gap starts early, as girls in elementary and middle school read a lot more than boys, picking up a lifelong habit that most men never develop. Whether by cause or effect, most novels are published with women in mind."
Proposed answers to this enigma range from biological, to sociological, to emotive. Some offer that women tend to be shoppers, making even the casual female reader susceptible to a well-marketed book. In the aforementioned article, one author suggests that men do not read fiction because they don't want to deal with "complicated, painful internal conflict". In fact, it's been suggested that men choose novels of alienation, while women go for passion. Hmm. Is that what's driving women to Christian Fiction -- romantic passion?

Perhaps it's also what's driving men away.

An NPR article entitled
Why Women Read More than Men also hints that content may partly be the culprit to men's disinterest in fiction:

There are exceptions to the fiction gap. More boys than girls have read The Harry Potter series, according to its U.S. publisher, Scholastic. What's more, Harry Potter made more of an impact on boys' reading habits. Sixty-one percent agreed with the statement "I didn't read books for fun before reading Harry Potter," compared with 41 percent of girls.
For publishers and booksellers, that offers a ray of hope...
So maybe the problem isn't fiction per se, but the type of fiction being aimed at the male reader.

Okay, so I'm thinking out loud. Still, I can't help but wonder if this is something to be corrected or just conceded. I mean, why should the Christy and Genesis Awards consider more men if it's primarily women buying their stuff? However, couldn't it be that the absence of Christian Fiction for men has completely driven men from the fold? Why should a guy bother browsing the religious fiction aisle if all they see is pastels and lipstick and harlequin heroes and lacy curtains? Might as well cruise Nordstrom's lingerie section.

I know, I know. Supply and demand. The Christian Fiction industry is just reflecting the demands of its readers. But doesn't this create an echo chamber? Or as the author of
What Chicks Don't Like About Science Fiction suggests, "a self-confirming prophesy":
If there's something keeping women away from enjoying science fiction, it's not spaceships. It's not "aliens on some far-off planet." It's the fact that people on our very own planet keep telling us that women aren't supposed to like science fiction. It's a self-confirming prophesy, because the more that scifi creators are told this, the more they imagine that their audience is all boys. (emphasis mine)
The author conjectures that it is the perpetuation of a myth -- that sci-fi is mainly for males -- which keeps the industry from expanding its base. In a similar fashion, because the braintrust tells us that men don't read Christian Fiction, it becomes "a self-confirming prophesy."

Which brings me back to my question: Is gender inequality among fiction readers something to be corrected or just conceded? And if it is to be corrected, shouldn't Christians be in the lead? Or has Christian Fiction become so "feminized" that it's beyond reclamation? Hey, I'm just asking...

Anyway, as long as the Dekkers, Perettis, Cramers, Dicksons and Wilsons of the world are writing, I'll hold out hope. Still, whenever I think of Christian Fiction, this reader can't help but feel in the minority.


  1. I read like a boy, I've been told I write like a boy, and I like Sci-fi (and of course, my passion--horror.)

    I don't have any answers, but I know I read very, very few Christian Fiction books because, truly, even some of the books written by men feel feminized. Which might be due to so many women working with the man? Who knows.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Michelle. When I'm banned from Christian writing circles, perhaps you and I can commiserate.

  3. The 69 to 3 figure is staggering, but more understandable when you realize that not too many years ago ACFW was ACRW - the R standing for romance.

    Another aspect, which would explain why CBA publishing is even more female-dominated than ABA, is the traditional marriage, where the husband is the breadwinner and the wife takes care of the house and kids. The wife usually has more time to write, especially when the kids are in school or have all moved out. Since novelists rarely make enough to write full-time, even published ones rely on other sources of income, such as a full- or part-time job, freelance writing projects, or a spouse's job.

  4. Katie, the ACRW connection is intriguing. I would like to know what ACFW is actively doing to shed its romantic underpinnings and broaden its representation... apart from just changing its name. After four years, you'd think more men would be making inroads. If the numbers are any indication, assimilating males is not part of ACFW's new goals.

    I think the "traditional marriage" does explain some of the gender inequality in Christian Fiction circles. However, having pastored a church, I can attest to the fact that women are more likely to lead and serve in a church than are men. Most men relinquish their God-given roles of leadership far too easily. We are spiritually passive and lazy. In a way, I think the tilt toward female fiction is also evidence of Christian men being MIA.

  5. As a librarian, I can attest that men read. They read a lot. They read fiction as well as nonfiction.

    Stephen King did an article recently for Entertainment Weekly in which he addressed this very issue. If you google "Stephen King manfiction" you will find it. He makes several very good points.

    If you write something men want to read, they will read it. Of course, the corollary is that they have to know it's out there...

    And IMHO it's not the romance that's driving men away. Many men in our library read Harlequins and big-name romance/romantic suspense authors. They're not ashamed to do so; they're secure enough in themselves that they blithely set down a stack of their favorite authors and are willing to engage in conversation about what they like and dislike. They also read authors like Dee Henderson who provide the action sequences they like to read, in a faith-based frame.

    But far too much of what is written is not marketed to catch men's attention, and then publishing moans that it can't attract male readers - a self-justifying perspective.

    Just my $0.02

  6. PS by "publishing" I mean the marketing moguls and bean counters at the big firms who determine the covers, the PR budget and strategies, etc., NOT authors who raise questions such as yours -


  7. Mike, it would be an honor and a privilege to commiserate with you (I'll likely be kicked out first.)


  8. So maybe the problem isn't fiction per se, but the type of fiction being aimed at the male reader.

    I think you hit the nail on the head!

    I'm raising three boys. I've read with my eldest since he was born, and do so with the others too. At an early age, much earlier than I would have guessed, I found my son looking for books with male characters. There were some but not as many as with female lead characters. The pool only diminished as he get older.

    Now 13, he doesn't find much of what's targeted toward YA readers very appealing. Go to any bookstore, secular or Christian. The YA section is full of relationship books with pink or pastel covers, pictures of girls, or if not that, fantasy. He's not a fantasy reader. So what's left for him?

    Because not reading is not an option in my house, he's forced to read books aimed at adults, which I have to screen carefully. As the percentage of adult books increases, I have seen his interest in reading, his excitement about finding and reading new books, drop off significantly.

    1. Patricia, your son might enjoy the Flabbergasted trilogy by Ray Blackston.

  9. I like doing Christian theology through story-telling. The men that have read my science fiction romance have liked it. So have the women. Getting published online is relatively easy. Finding ways to get people to read what you have written is an even bigger challenge.

  10. The author Brandt Dodson turned my husband into a Christian fiction fan, where before he wasn't interested. Now he's pre-ordering Brandt's books and I've never known him to do that before.

  11. Sorry, I slipped on the keyboard. I'm not really anonymous... Wanted to say that just like my husband, now I'm a Brandt Dodson fan too.

  12. I found your blog by googling "who reads Christian fiction?" That may suggest how frustrated this author is by the self-perpetuating truisms of publishing.

    If I write "what I know," (and unfortunately, I know male topics), my agent tells me that male-oriented fiction doesn't sell. If I write stories set in other countries, I hear that publishers only want American settings. I find that my protagonists are too young, my timelines are too dated, and if I mention Vietnam, I discover the publishing industry is not ready to touch that subject yet.

    The rejections never seem to be based on poor prose, undeveloped characters, mechanical dialogue, etc., but on mysterious marketing triggers.

    I cannot seem to write something saleable unless I have conducted a full-fledged marketing study to discover what editors will or won't buy at any point in time.

    Yet, if I have a TV ministry with a household name and a sizeable mailing list, it doesn't seem to matter what I might write.

    Please give me your thoughts about what a writer must do to break into Christian fiction. And pease don't tell me to attend writers conferences. I've won awards at them.

    It appears I must craft a female-oriented story line, with a 25-to-35-year-old female protagonist who never leaves America.

    Or, of course, develop a massive following.

    Yes, I am frustrated after twenty years of "No." And perhaps there are no answers other than the mysterious formulas for sales that exist in the minds of publishers.

    I should apologize for venting all over your blog. In fact, I will. Please accept my apology.

    Unknown author

  13. Hmmmmm, and here all this time I just assumed it was because girls are better writers than boys.

    But on a serious note to Anonymous, that’s a loaded question. It seems that every path through the publishing door takes different routes. You’ll find interviews on Novel Journey where some people faithfully walked the path for 25 years before finally breaking in. You’re right about big names often having a straight and open door, while the unknowns are up against a long, winding road. I encourage you to read through our archives and see how differing the paths are. You might find encouragement there.

    I know it’s frustrating to have an art and no outlet for it. Yet also bear in mind that this particular industry has seen a lot of changes in the last twenty years. Look at the number of books now on the shelves, the expansion of topics. Yet even so, it’s still young and growing, and I think will continue to expand. Perhaps a market will expand yet more.

    Mike, interesting read. I always love your topics!

  14. “Is gender inequality among fiction readers something to be corrected or just conceded?”

    Corrected – without a doubt.

    Up until the sixties, the markets had been male-dominated for all of history. Either too many of you backed off after the wars, or the Pandora-types you let out of the box to help out during those times scared the pants off you when you came back home. Maybe you were too tired of confrontations to take on the ones you loved, especially when they weren’t doing a half-bad job and didn’t mind doing it.

    But that was a long time ago.

    Now, the entire publishing industry has gone the way of the Boy Scouts, who started out with hero-codes, pledged to save lives, blaze trails and – above all -- be trustworthy. Today, these boys by the same name sit around picnic tables doing organized noodle crafts while being firmly admonished not to leave the group. No trailblazing, it is no longer acceptable. And should someone want to snuggle up with you after lights out, don’t punch them in the nose, it might hurt their feelings. In my opinion, you can’t run much of anything on feelings, alone. They are like the caboose of a train: you can put one in the front, but it’s impossible to pull a load on anything less than a decline.

    My point to all this? Man was created first and then Eve. It’s the natural order of things, and the world still steps aside for any man who knows where he’s going. Give us what we need, and not what you think we might want. Rattle the publishing world where they stand – their feet are only clay, anyway, and any man of iron can topple them. If they won’t listen to you, pull out all the unhappy and disgruntled men from within their very own ranks and start a new army. Sort of like David, who collected all the dissatisfied, problem people when he was hiding out in the wilderness. Then they went out and conquered the world. They are looked back on now as “mighty men of valor.” What’s more, the world loved them.

    We still do.

    Strength and honor.

    So, go for it.

  15. Great post, Mike. Really. Every year I look at the ACFW finalists and scratch my head wondering, "Where are all the men?"

    Does the ratio of finalists reflect the ratio of members? Maybe. I don't know the numbers there. Katie Hart's comment about men traditionally being the breadwinners and not having the time for all this writer stuff probably has some validity. I know I have time to write and that's about it. Social networking and online groups and such? No time. If you look at the ACFW group threads there are so many more women than men networking and building relationships. That may have something to do with it too.

    Really, though, I think this just makes men work harder to write better and write more gripping stories. I know it motivates me to.

  16. This is a fascinating topic and a well written piece. As a boy I consumed fiction. As a young English teacher, I continued the pattern. The Bible says that when a man matures, he puts away the things of a boy. When I left teaching, I got involved with computer programming and my thirst for fiction was squelched by a lack of time and the realization that reading fiction was a form of self indulgence that would be a detriment in advancing my career. When I began to write fiction two years ago, I got back into the saddle and read several books by people that I met on the Internet. It became clear to me that I could get hooked on reading very easily and neglect more important things in my life. I decided my writing goal was not to help people escape this world via a novel, but rather to help people learn to cope with the problems and challenges of life through the portrayal of Godly wisdom in a story format (use the word parable if you wish). I think that fiction can serve a useful purpose in helping people understand those who are different from themselves - whether by gender,religion,race, nationality, or occupation. Most of you don't want to hear this, but fiction is also a diversion which keeps people from serving God as he desires. Fiction should only be a spice sprinkled on the main course of life. Malnutrion of soul and spirit will result if fiction becomes the staple of a person's diet. When a person's life is centered around the fiction they read, their life is off God's center. Maybe men have learned this lesson better than women. Or maybe testosterone renders men incapable of sitting still long enough to meet the challenge of imagining the action of the printed word. Or is it that men have a harder time getting emotionally involved in make believe stories. My guess is that all of these factors enter into the equation, depending on the man.
    Donald James Parker
    author of Reforming the Potter's Clay

  17. First of all, thanks for this forum! It is a very important issue to me personally. I understand the situation very well and am PROUD to say that I am doing my part to correct it!

    I am a Christian Fiction Author and my novel The Silver Cord: Cimmerian Dawn is certainly written with male readers in mind as it has an obvious military bent to it. The interesting thing is that most of my readers have confided in me that they cried multiple times while reading my book so I think I'm presenting a compelling piece of literature that not only serves their need to "feel strong and macho" but also to connect those feelings with those of a loving father and protector. Those emotions wrapped up in the great mission to serve God can lead to a pretty interesting story if written the right way. The key is that male readers want something that they can be proud of and to identify with. Every male reader that has read it has asked me for the sequel. So if anyone is looking for a good Christian fiction book for men, I can humbly suggest that they look into mine. It can be done!!

    Erik Stevens
    The Silver Cord Cimmerian Dawn

  18. I think there's an additional element here, when you look at these numbers. Granted I don't know many male authors personally, but I'm assuming they're, well, men. And most men that I know aren't very social creatures. They don't gravitate to groups and such, which could explain their lack of involvement in ACFW and pre-published contests. There are more solitary men than there are solitary women.


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