And Christian Men Don’t Buy Books

Posted by Dale Cramer on March 30, 2012

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.

Any ideas?


* “Look, Jesus, enough with the parables already.  I don’t want to have to think, just tell me the rules.”

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17 Comment(s)

  1. Yes! I believe Jesus loves a good story as much as we do! Excellent point.
    I will say that as a woman, I tend to stick to the “inspirational” shelves at the library because I don’t want to fill my head with profamity and other worldly things. I’m sorry if that sounds uppity. I don’t mean it that way.
    Thanks, Dale. I do pray that there will be more of a market for men. You are absolutely right.


    Julia

    Mar 30, 2012 | Reply
  2. ((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.))

    I think that’s the real killer. The expectation is that if it’s in the Christian fiction section, it’s pushing an agenda and that if it was a really good book, it would’ve made it to the mainstream fiction aisle. Whether you believe in a particular religion or not, most of us don’t want to be preached at, even more so if it’s by a faith that isn’t our own. I don’t have any trouble reading about good story about a person of faith (any faith) and how that affects their life, but if I wanted to be preached at, I’d pick up a bible.

    :-)
    Elise


    Elise S.

    Mar 30, 2012 | Reply
  3. There is a much deeper problem than simply “males” not interested in Christian Fiction. Males, statistically speaking, are not that interested in Church altogether. As an example. Do you know what the two largest reasons are why people don’t return to churches they visit? Childcare and the condition of the ladies room. Gives you some insight into who is making that choice.

    If you look at the statistics on Church attendance is nearly 2:1 female to male ratio. As far as our Church evangelism, we are doing a terrible job of showing the manly side of Christ.

    I believe it is our preaching style. We focus so much on the “Love” of Christ, turn the other cheek teach and we forget that Jesus was not some sissy sitting on the side of the road teaching all day long. He was passionate, defended right from wrong, was patient yet firm in teaching and leading those around, at times expressed annoyance and anger with others (disciples and Pharisees/religious leaders). He rebelled against wrongness and championed rightness.

    I would wager a guess that of those in the 2:1 ratio who are male, a pretty fair number of them are just there because their wives make them come. And we are not reaching them, nor are we communicating to them that being a Christian does not mean you turn into a wimpy sissy.


    Larry A

    Mar 30, 2012 | Reply
  4. Whoa. You’ve got so much in this one post, Dale. First of all, guys don’t want to “shop” – mostly ever for anything but certainly not for fiction unless they’re looking for a specific book and then it’s so much easier to purchase it online or have your wife/girlfriend go get it for you.

    Next, my husband loves fiction but to go browse bookshelves or Amazon for a book to read? Not gonna happen. Especially when I’ve got novels stacked on two bookshelves and the floor. :/ Anyway, he relies on my recommendations and since I love thrillers, mystery, suspense, supernatural speculative, and a touch of horror in the CBA market – and Vince Flynn in the ABA – he has ample novels to read.

    Third. Marketing. What a mess that is. Most of the “techniques” used to sell any fiction is questionable, and I really wonder if most of it works. Professionals remain united that “word of mouth” is the biggest promotion a book can get, but, hey, it can take forever. And readers often undervalue how much their good opinion of a book matters.

    Ideas for marketing men’s novels? Wow. Come at the women. “Your husband – significant other – need a good book to read? How ’bout such and such? It has blah, blah, blah.” C’mon guys. Men who write fiction for men and those of us females who love their work, how do you get guys to pay attention?

    I think it’s absurd to ask authors what their “marketing plan” is because obviously the “professionals” haven’t figured out what truly works.


    Nicole

    Mar 30, 2012 | Reply
  5. *profanity, not profamity

    I could also add that it’s difficult to find books that qualify as “Christian fiction” for our high school students, especially for the guys, which is required for book reports here at our Christian school.


    Julia

    Mar 30, 2012 | Reply
  6. Amen!


    Nicole

    Mar 31, 2012 | Reply
  7. (Sorry, that “Amen!” was to Larry’s comment.)


    Nicole

    Mar 31, 2012 | Reply
  8. Dale,
    Just my 2 cents’ worth…though 2 cents will soon be a thing of the past if we are to follow in the footsteps of our Canadian neighbors. LOL.
    That, along with “a penny for your thoughts,” will soon go the way of penny candy.

    But here is the small change of my thoughts anyway:
    You’re right that Men Don’t Buy Christian Fiction AS MUCH AS WOMEN DO.
    However, my (now ex) husband would read whatever I brought home from the bookstore or library. Since I didn’t read the women’s fiction myself, and he didn’t WANT me to read women’s romance novels (you heard me right: my husband suspected that romance novels created dis-satisfaction and unrealistic expectations in women), I chose books that were of “mutual” interest, such as Peretti’s books, and of course all of C.S. Lewis and other heavyweights. (Does Chesterton qualify?)
    But you may find this interesting: he was the one who brought home the Left Behind series as well as anything Larry Burkett wrote–do you remember The Illuminati or Solar Flare?—my husband bought and read those books.
    So, in response to your concern about men not reading Christian Fiction: not always the case. In this case, my (ex) husband was the one buying CF written by men, and telling me not to read the chick lit romances. (Not that I wanted to…UGH.)

    Don’t be discouraged. Keep doing what you are called to do!


    Connie

    Apr 1, 2012 | Reply
  9. Mr. Cramer, these last two posts mimic conversations my husband and I have frequently. My husband is one of the “preachers who knows a smattering of Greek” as you described (although he knows more than a smattering!) and doesn’t have much time for fiction. This is true- because he works a six day week and his wife and two young daughters can be selfish in wanting time with him.

    Aside from the issue of time, my husband’s approach to reading differs from my own. He approaches books and asks “How will reading this help me in my career/hobby/marriage/parenting?” (It’s all work, remember?) When considering a book I ask, “Will I enjoy this?” I imagine this is a difference explained somewhat by brain wiring/gender. Our approaches likely explain why neither of us ever touched the Left Behind series, too.

    My idea: Go where the men are gathered. Find the conferences and gatherings of Christian men and be a presence. It seems that if you could capture the attention of church leaders, you might find a way into the hearts and minds and nightstands of male readers. The key is to have a voice at a gathering. An author would need a top-notch presentation on a subject useful to a male audience to be noticed and remembered. You know what my husband brings home from every conference he attends? BOOKS!

    This could also be done on a local level, speaking at Men’s Breakfasts and interdenominational activities like Men’s Fraternity. (The themes in Levi’s Will are perfect for Men’s Fraternity, btw.) Getting the attention of pastors/church leaders might prove helpful, because pastors have an audience. And in the world of podcasts and blogging, their influence reaches beyond their congregations.

    My husband commits to reading fiction three times a year and recently read Levi’s Will at my pleading recommendation. I convinced him it would be a fabulous back drop for a Father’s Day sermon and that he should give a copy away through his blog in early June. Summer of Light would be a great June give away, too.

    Maybe some other leaders/pastors would do the same.


    Rochelle Palmer

    Apr 19, 2012 | Reply
  10. Sound advice, Rochelle, and I sincerely hope my clowning around didn’t ruffle any feathers. I have on occasion thought about ways to approach male readers, and it always comes back to the same thing: I would need to write a nonfiction book. I’d be willing to bet almost all of the books your husband brings home from conferences are nonfiction. I have spoken at a few men’s events over the years, but I’ve noticed the bulk of the invitations go to those who write nonfiction of one kind or another. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve been toying with the idea for the last couple years. I may take a crack at it soon.

    Dale Cramer
    Dale Cramer

    Apr 19, 2012 | Reply
  11. Dale,

    You raise some good issues. But the issue is much bigger than Christian fiction. It extends to Christian radio, Christianity in general, and society as a whole. Nowhere are men encouraged to be men anymore (with a few exceptions). We’re encouraged to be sensitive, understanding, “nice guys”, but agression in men is generally discouraged. The neuterization of men has left many of us confused about our roles.

    Men are naturally agressive. We are make to kick some ***, and our families, churches, workplaces, and society need us to aggressively channel our masculinity to protect women and abused people, promote God’s kingdom, and just generally be alive men instead of neutered or feminized zombies.

    The feminization of Christianity is completely un-Biblical. Who are most of the major characters in the Bible? From my reading it’s men, and that makes sense if men are to be the leaders. But today’s Christian churches, publishers, and radio stations cater almost exclusively to women. They seem more concerned with successful marketing than building God’s kingdom.

    As a man, I do read a lot of Christian fiction: fiction because I just want to relax, Christian because I don’t like the graphic sex in most non-Christian novels (there are some notable exceptions: The Hunger Games was quite good). I have read a fair number of Christian romance novels (at least the ones I can stomach), but it’s incredibly refreshing to read gritty books like yours. God deals with us as real people in all our failure, nastiness, and struggles.

    Thanks for your writing. And keep writing fiction. I’ll read everything you write.

    And if you’re ever in Columbia, SC, email me so we can get together. As a closet writer, I’m envious of your talent and work.


    Will Arthur

    Apr 25, 2012 | Reply
  12. One other comment: I read many of the Left Behind series and didn’t really care for them. IMHO, they seem to have been written to meet very tight publisher’s deadlines, kind of a book a month style of writing. The writing just wasn’t very good: the characters are one-dimensional and there plot skips around too abruptly. A shame because Jerry Jenkins is a great writer. His other books are great.


    Will Arthur

    Apr 25, 2012 | Reply
  13. One reason I’m here at this blog at all is because I was so happy to find a Christian fiction novel that I truly enjoyed– there’s a different tone and feel to your novels that I appreciate. I’m not big on the sea of pastel, myself, Christian or otherwise. My husband’s not really a reader at all, but when he does read it’s non-fiction — I can’t think of anything that would convince him to get lost in a novel. Very thought-provoking question, though — what would it really take?


    Kristen

    May 15, 2012 | Reply
  14. Mr. Cramer,

    I literally just finished reading your book “Paradise Valley” (thoroughly enjoyed it by the way), and emailed you telling you so plus now decided to check our your blog (first blog I’ve ever looked at as well). Therefore, this will be the first time I’ve ever given my two cents worth (as it goes).

    As far as getting Christian men to read Christian books, I too am wondering what it would take. For e.g. my father absolutely will NOT read anything fiction (he did make an exception for the Left Behind series). He has shared some of his books with me, his daughter, and while they were “ok” they did not entice me to read non-fiction.

    Now….my husband (who is a Christian) does NOT read non-fiction or fiction Christian books. He loves to read but tends to lean towards the Clive Cussler type book or Louis L’Amour books. I broke down one day (when I had no new books of my own to read and didn’t want to re-read one out of my 300+ collection) and read one of his Clive Cussler books – again was “ok”, but definitely not habit forming.

    I have also come to realize that my husband and I also do not enjoy the same type of television shows. He tends to watch channels such as the History Channel and Biography. Whereas I lean towards shows like “19 Kids and Counting” or “Little People Big World” or gasp “Survivor”. I know I am rambling, but my point is …. shocking as this sounds, men and women don’t think the same. Since most Christian fiction books are geared towards women, both in content and look of the book, I think it’s going to have to take a real “makeover” in the industry to appeal to most men’s tastes. Marketing/advertising/costs would be huge in order to even get the attention of most males. I don’t see the industry taking a chance on it until Christian men start to take the initiative to demand and read Christian books instead of just giving up and reading the non-christian counterpart. I know my husband would read such books if they were compatible in “style” to the type of book he likes.

    Just my two cents worth (from Canada – yes we still have the penny – for now). :) Donna.


    Donna Z

    Sep 22, 2012 | Reply
  15. Aha! Only two of the above comments have been posted by men (I didn’t count your comment on a comment.) Not scientific, but speaks to your subject. I’m a published Christian author/writer (strictly non-fiction)who reads mostly non-fiction for two reasons: first, to be inspired; second, to study “word-smithing.” (“Left Behind” series and many of Jerry Jenkins’ books along with three of yours are my fav fiction reads in the past decade.)

    Rochelle’s comments are “on target”, IMHO. Many of the “Christian” books I’ve read were purchased at “Promise Keeper” gatherings. “Sharing”personal faith stories is much more effective for me than “Bible-thumping”.

    Keep up your good work!


    Chuck C

    May 31, 2013 | Reply
  16. A friend gave my husband Sutter’s Cross. He read it and passed it to me. It’s usually the other way around. I have now read Bad Ground and Levi’s Will and passed them on to him. Your next four are already upstairs waiting for me. I hope you are still writing. I will be waiting for your next book! I fear I can read them faster than you can write them. Sigh. Thank you for sharing your talent and your wisdom.


    Jana White

    Nov 26, 2013 | Reply
  17. Thank you, Jana. You and your husband may have stumbled upon the best kept secret in Christian fiction.

    Dale Cramer
    Dale Cramer

    Nov 26, 2013 | Reply

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