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Sep 27, 2010

That Boy Girl Thing

So why don't boys read more books, and girls do more math?

Just kidding. I'm not going to attempt to answer that here, because I would inevitably just piss everybody off.

Pub Rants joined the fray, which is where I caught some amusing contribuions to the debate, such as My Writer Bloggy Woggy: The Anti-Penis Bias in Pubbying!

I'm somewhat sympathetic, except for one thing. Some study somewhere, which I should cite, but I'm too lazy, and honestly, I have other things I should be doing now than writing this blog post, have found that female readers will read books by male authors and aimed at male readers, but not the reverse. Which makes me feel just a bit less sorry for the male readers who are complaining.

It is also why, despite this evidence about females dominating both the professional and readership sides of publishing, I have had cause to regret not choosing a gender-neutral or even masculine pen name. Because I write sf, and even hard sf, and I wonder if male readers will read it.

Ted Cross brought up a related point, about "romantasy" book covers. If you don't know the ones he means, take a look at his site.

Which brings me to the real point of this post, namely, do you think certain covers appeal more to female or male readers? And what elements appeal more to one gender or the other?

One might think that a book with a sexy female on the cover is meant to appeal to a man, and a book with a sexy man on the cover is to appeal to a woman. I don't think it's that simple.

I think the covers with the hunks and babes are BOTH geared to appeal to women. Books with sexy women meant to appeal to men usually show the women in a slightly different way. Kneeling at a man's feet in a bikini, for example. (Just sayin'.)

But I also have this theory, and feel free to disagree, that books oriented more toward female readers have a close-up shot of a face or torso (person focused), whereas books oriented more toward male readers have a wider shot, showing an action scene, or gadgets (spaceship, swords, boats, cars, castles, armor, etc.)

When pre-verbal babies are show toys, girls respond better to people/faces and boys to objects trucks or balls. Unless the baby in question has William's Syndrome, in which case, whether a he or she, that baby will fixate on a human face. Which is neither here nor there, but pretty interesting in and of itself.

Any thoughts?


C. N. Nevets said...

I don't think today's male readers necessarily care as much about the gender of the author as they do about the apparent target audience.

When I weight in on this debate last spring on Natalie Whipple's blog, the big thing I pointed to was the covers.

As a guy (especially teen to twenties) I was disinclined towards reading books that looked like romance novels. (1) They might turn out to be romance novels, in which I had and have no interest. (2) Other people might think I was reading a romance novel, which would have hurt my cred with both other guys and with young women.

What constitutes a romancey cover?

1) Close-up of a beautiful face (either gender).
2) A dramatic and attractive human figure with a dreamy background fading behind them.
3) A couple in an embrace.
4) A closeup of a human face full of yearning or heartbreak.
5) Flowers, ribbons, diamonds, soft pastels, velvet.

And so on.

Is it a fair response to the covers? Probably not. But it's an emotional response to the presentation that says, "Oh, that's not something I'm interested in," and I don't really see it changing.

But the gender of the author? If your stories themselves appeal, as a sci fi author you should be okay with your pen name.

Patti said...

That's an interesting question, but I think you're right when I look at my collection of books. I don't have any qith action shots on them.

I think CN hit it on the nose, my boys would never pick up a book that might exude romance.

Tara Maya said...

What about the cover for Conmergence? It's a close-up of a face... but to me, at least, it doesn't seem to be trying to target one gender or the other, and it definitely does not look like a romance cover. I hope.

Although there ARE two stories in there that have romantic elements.

Okay, three if you count the story of a broken dextrorsum who vows his love for his sinistorum will last longer than the matter-antimatter burst (a fraction of a millionth of a second).

C. N. Nevets said...

It's a distorted close-up of a face not meant to look beautiful as presented. Completely different. Looks very Phillip K Dick, to call on the name of the day.

And guys will never admit this except under the cover of a spiffy penname, but we're cool with romantic elements in a story. We just don't typically want to read a story where that's the point and the whole of the story.

Tara Maya said...

I feel the same way. Otherwise, I would be well on my way to earning my keep as a romance writer right now. Most of my stories do include a boy-meets-girl. But I keep wanting to stick in all these other scenes around the romantic scenes.

C. N. Nevets said...

Eventually I'll be comfortable enough to actually include a little more boy-meets-girl in my stuff. I keep being told from writing class and some random posts on Flashy Fiction that I do good at it, but the thought makes my soul hiccup.

Tara Maya said...

Aw, you can do it, Nevets! I have confidence in you. OTOH, don't feel you *have* to include anything that doesn't work toward the story you want to tell.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

I don't know if it's a cover issue or even a protag issue. It seem to me that the guys I know who read don't care about the MC gender, author gender, or cover. They care about content. They don't want to read 486 pages about someone falling in love. They'd rather read 486 pages about someone going on a quest to save the world. Can't say I blame 'em. Everyone's got their own tastes. Too bad for the guys I know, most YA I see these days has a lot of plots that teen girls read, not teen guys.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Covers have a lot of impact on who will pick up a book, of course. I think my cover for Cinders screams "fantasy for a girl" and that can be a problem. Luckily, I've had many men read the book and like it. That's good, but they probably picked it up because they know me. I'll make it up with my Monarch cover in the future and make it all manly and spy thriller-ish when it's really family drama. Covers. Marketing. It's all misleading.

C. N. Nevets said...

I was actually debating mentioning Cinders or not, but you did so I will. lol It's really on the bubble. The costume and the setting scream the fantasy part louder than the do the, "for girls," part. The cover would not have attracted my attention, but would not have turned me off necessarily either. It would have made me think twice.

And, by the way, don't underestimate the spy thriller part of Monarch. I might be wrong, but I see less potential for, "Oh, that's not what I thought it would be from the cover," than for Cinders. With one qualifier, that I won't go into here, but you can ask me about sometime if you want.

Tara Maya said...

What do you think of offering the same book with more than one cover? Obviously this only works if you are self-publishing and have creative control, but it would be an interesting way to conduct market research "live" on the cover. And a lot of books out there come in more than one edition, so hopefully nobody would have a reason to be confused.

Tara Maya said...

For Monarch, frex, I could see a "spy story" oriented cover, and a "woman's fiction" cover. Then see which sells better and which garners more satisfied readers.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Nevets: Well, now that we have discovered you completely missed the end of the book (hah!) we can reevaluate all that qualifier stuff. Maybe. We'll see. :)

Tara: I love the idea of different covers, and I have thought of doing Cinders with a different cover for the hardback version I do in the future. :)

Many books do have different covers for the US and UK versions, don't they?

Tara Maya said...


C. N. Nevets said...

*ahem* Yeah, about missing the entire last two chapters there. Sorry about the, Michelle. Consider the qualifier revoked.

Most of the books in the portion of the psychological suspense in which I am convinced Monarch firmly resides have very neutral covers with simple, bold geometric designs and an image that is thematic or scenic.

And, Tara, I think multiple covers is a great idea. Either as an experiment or just to attract more than one audience long-term.

Covers are strange things.

Not that I know or care or was at a convention where I heard about this from Diane Carey or anybody from Pocketbooks, but they eventually discovered that Star Trek TNG novels with pictures of Picard on the cover always sold better, regardless of whether he was a main character or not. In some later printings of early series novels, I believe that added Picard to the cover to boost sales.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Well I'm glad we cleared it up, Nevets!

C. N. Nevets said...

Oi. Me too. *Picard facepalm*

Tara Maya said...

Brilliant. I will just put bald dude on my cover and it'll sell like hotcakes.

Ted Cross said...

I don't think males care whether a writer is male or female; we just want stories aimed at what we enjoy most. We aren't turned off by stories that have romantic elements (see LOTR), but we do not like stories where romance is the main point.

Covers mean a great deal more than people generally care to admit. That's why I was shocked enough during my walk through B&N to write a couple of posts about it. Covers have truly changed, on average, in the fantasy section. They are now really aimed at females with these new Romantasies, as I called them. Look at those covers I posted in my blog and it is pretty much indisputable; men (on average) won't buy those books.