Based on the feedback from my previous blog post (Christian Women Don’t Read Men) I’m thinking maybe this subject is worth probing a bit deeper. If nothing else, it has hightlighted the names of a lot of Christian writers who produce books men would probably like.
If they only knew about them.
As I pointed out before (albeit with tongue firmly in cheek) the Christian fiction market was born and raised on romance. There are lots of men who browse Christian material, but only nonfiction. Most of them wear ties and shine their shoes. They’re preachers and teachers and assorted other experts who know a smattering of Greek, and almost without exception they’ll tell you they don’t have time to read fiction. On more than one occasion one of these types has told me (me— a novelist) that fiction is a complete waste of time.* Apart from the occasional This Present Darkness or Left Behind, men have never paid much attention to Christian fiction. Being a man myself (no, really), a cursory glance down one of the aisles tells me why. Unlike the general market, men are not invited to read Christian fiction. There are no dividers— no Men’s Section, not even a Thriller section— so books that might appeal to men are lost in a sea of pastel. The problem is further complicated by the new realities in the retail world— the wholesale demise of independent stores, six feet of shelf space in Walmart, the proliferation of online outlets where there is no shelf, the rapid rise of ebooks, etc.
I can understand publishers’ reluctance to invest what it would take to build a substantial male readership. Their existing market is huge, and female. Why would a publisher risk large money in a tough economy to try and build a whole new market when they already have one? Their entire experience and marketing savvy, their whole machine, is geared to sell books to women. There’s also the possibility that if you consigned male writers to the Men’s Section it would only make it easier for women to ignore them. Anyway, while I don’t know it for a fact, I think it’s safe to assume that when Left Behind took off and soared into the stratosphere despite being a non-romance written by a man, it wasn’t because the publisher went all-in on advertising. They didn’t see it coming. Before the release, even the authors thought they’d sell maybe thirty thousand or so. There were two things that made it a monster: timing, and word of mouth. It was the turn of the millennium and everybody was curious. Everybody.
But if the publisher didn’t go all-in on marketing how did Everybody pick out Left Behind from the pastel sea? It had to be word of mouth. Christian women were curious enough to read the book, and then they handed it to their husbands. A lot of men did read it, but like I said, as far as I can tell most of them didn’t find anything to keep them interested afterwards.
And there’s another aspect of this whole discussion that we haven’t even mentioned: serious fiction readers. There are millions of people who read bestsellers in the general market. These people read widely (not just romance), they know good writing when they see it, and while a great many of them share a Christian worldview, they don’t care for heavy-handed evangelical dogma. The general consensus among them is that there are no good books to be found in the Christian market. This is not true, but they don’t know it. I suspect a large segment of this readership would actually like some of the stuff being written now, and a lot of the stuff they would like happens to be written by men. If they only knew about it.
So it seems to me that if men wish to continue writing Christian fiction we have two choices: we can either figure out a way to get Christian women to read something other than romance and then hand it to their husbands, or we can explore different avenues with an eye toward somehow getting the word out that there are in fact some very good books on the Christian shelves, many of them written by men. It’s entirely up to us; if the publishers could figure it out they would have already done it.
* “Look, Jesus, enough with the parables already. I don’t want to have to think, just tell me the rules.”
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