Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Gender Bender

I spent the better part of last Saturday in two airports as I made my way back home from a week of playing nursemaid. I had several hours in the Charlotte airport between flights. After I ate lunch in one of their overpriced restaurants, I roamed through the overpriced gift shops, grabbed a latte at Starbucks, successfully resisted the enticing aroma of Cinnabon and browsed through a newsstand/bookstore.

Maven Linda will be glad to know that Cover of Night and Raintree: Inferno are all over the airports like white on rice.

That, however, isn't the point of this blog. The point is gender. More specifically, author gender.

As I browsed I watched a very well-dressed and very handsome man (hey, I'm married, not dead) peruse the paperbacks, which were basically the NY Times top titles plus some others. He would look at the title and cover, turn to the back and read the blurb. After picking up and putting back several books, he pulled Born in Death by J.D. Robb from the shelf.

When he flipped it over and saw J.D.'s photo on the back, he dropped it like a hot potato. He looked way too old to still be a member of the "Girls Have Cooties" club so I can only surmise that he didn't want the book simply because it was written by a woman. He didn't look at the back long enough to read the blurb. So his action had to have been because of the picture on the back cover.

On her website, La Nora looks all gorgeous and girly with a big smile on her face. How she wears those heels is beyond me (unless they were just a photo prop). But she looks quite feminine.

Pick up a J.D. Robb book and there's another photo entirely. She's got the whole denim and leather thing going with an urban background and a stop-them-dead-in-their-tracks look on her face. I really like the J.D. photo. Should I ever need cover photos, I'm going to show the photographer this photo and say "Make me look like this. Please."

I've read plenty of male authors over the years -- Sidney Sheldon, Stephen King, Robert Ludlum, Homer Hickam, Clive Cussler, Robin Cook, Michael Crichton, Ian Fleming, Nicholas Sparks, Robert James Waller, Scott Turow, Tom Tryon and even a little Erle Stanley Gardner. And Mr. Brown, if you're reading this blog (yeah right!) I was enthralled by both The DaVinci Code and Demons & Angels.

It didn't matter to me that the above named authors have a Y chromosome. What mattered was a good story that hooked me from the start and kept me reading.

So I'm wondering if Mr. Hottie had a Y chromosome requirement for his reading material. It sure looked that way to me.

I realize that now I read mostly romance and romance is mostly written by women. But I've read some romance by male authors (we had one blog with us on Valentine's Day) and as long as it was a good story with a HEA, I didn't care if the author was male, female or Martian.

Answer me this: Does it matter to you?


Rhonda said...

Not at all, PM. So long as it's a good story, I don't care who wrote it.

I'm filing this under Things That Make You Go Hmmm. Men are weird.

(But I know Stephen King reads J.K. Rowling, so he's cool.:-)

Maven LJ said...

Hmm. I read male and female authors, and I know I have some male readers. But my husband doesn't choose female authors unless I physically put the book in his hand. He's even said the words (only slightly horrified) "This is a girl book" in my presence. To which I replied "Keep reading." :-)

Rhonda's right. Men are weird.


hhickam said...

You've made a very interesting observation. The man/woman reader paradox is one writers and publishers struggle with all the time, often in pitched verbal battles with one another. I like to think all my books would be enjoyed by both women and men, but publishers in general think of books as gender-specific. The "Josh Thurlow" series I've been writing over the last few years has given my publisher fits because I've refused to let them be gender pigeon-holed. The Keeper's Son featured lots of hot romance between Josh and the delectable Dosie, yet had plenty of battle scenes at sea. The Ambassador's Son had Josh in the South Pacific with a woman who fed into every man's fantasy, a vivacious native woman who not only craved sex but would, if her man crossed her, have his head off with her trusty machete. If you'll look at the covers of those two novels, you'll see the artist, at my behest, tried to attract both men and women to pick it up and look it over. I loved the covers (and now own the original paintings). But I've given in with the third in the series, titled The Far Reaches. TFR is about battles, blood, and beautiful nuns, all the things, I like to say, that make life worth living! We designed the cover this time to appeal primarily to men, although I still think women would like it (the nun is a woman struggling in a man's world). After The Far Reaches, however, I have a novel titled The Red Helmet (not a part of the Thurlow series) that we're bringing out on Valentine's Day, 2008. This one I have no doubt will be perceived a novel for women. It is the story of love and loss and love found again in the hills of today's West Virginia coal mining country. The cover, in this case, has definitely been designed to attract the woman's eye. It is of an adorable woman, her cheeks artfully smudged with coal dirt, in a deep, dark coal mine with the silhouettes of men in mining garb watching her. I've sent the cover around to men and women to get their reaction. Women want to know what this young, pretty woman is doing in a coal mine and are the men watching her up to no good? They want to read the novel to find out. Men want to know if I know the model, and does she, by chance, have a phone number? The name of the game, no matter how good an author's work is, or what gender will enjoy it, is ultimately marketing. I've learned to play the game somewhat but there are always more things to learn. Nora and her alter ego J.D. are trying to walk on both sides of the gender literary street. I am, too, but publishers would prefer we picked one gender audience or the other and stick with it. It's called branding, something I've always resisted (no doubt to the detriment of my career, but to the enhancement of my soul).

Homer Hickam

Maven Linda said...

PM -- Try the Vince Flynn books. They have to be read in order. "Term Limits" is his first book, and though it isn't necessary to read it, it does introduce a few secondary characters who show up in the subsequent books. The second one is the one that introduces the character of Mitch Rabb, who is hands down one of the best action protagonists I've ever read. (Bob Lee Swagger and Paul Bannerman are the others, written by Stephen Hunter and John Maxim.) The books are out in the library or I'd give you the title; if you check them out, go by copyright date. I can tell you the storyline, though: a group of terrorists infiltrate the White House. I love, love, love those books.


Playground Monitor said...

Wow! Hi Homer! Been dinosaur hunting yet this summer? I love that you've let your soul take precedence. Too bad we can't have it both ways.

Hmmm... maybe Mr. Brown will read my blog after all. (Yeah, right.)


Smarty Pants said...

I've never particularly cared who or what wrote the books. Now, I tend to go more after books of people I know or specific genres I like, so there are more women, but it doesn't dissuade me either way. From Bunnicula by James Howe when I was a kid to Stephen King and John Grisham in junior high, then James Patterson and Dan Brown now, I've read plenty by both. I just like good books. Apparently the man at the airport is missing out.

Problem Child said...

It's just silly to only choose books based on the gender of the author.

Genre, yes; gender, no.

Of course, it's good to stray outside your chosen genre as well from time to time--you never know what you might find. DG and I have very opposite reading choices, and every now and then we'll pass one over the other might like. I found "Good Omens" and Terry Pratchett that way, and DG read "Outlander" and "Vampire's Seduction."

Carol said...

I read lots of books by male writers, too. All that matters to me is that I enjoy their stories. I do find though that women authors usually have more romance in their books. I guess that's why the guy dropped the In Death book.

Angel said...

I tend to buy more by genre than by gender, though like most of us here I buy more female authors just by choosing romance books.

Interesting how the preference (or outreach to an audience) can even extend to the author's photo. Personally, I think the kick ass picture of La Nora also appeals to women in this day and age of shows and books about take charge heroines.

Roxanne St. Claire said...

Stepping out on an unpopular limb to say I don't usually read male authors. I just don't usually find the emotional tug I like in a book, and, out of habit, seek female authors. That said, a man showed up at a readers group at B&N last night for a discussion of my latest release (wearing a "Team Glock" hat - how very cool!) and I just recieved a great letter from "Ray" who is also a fan. Fan mail from a male fan -who picked up an arcane reference to Pretty Woman in my book. Made my day. I do miss ol' Sydney Sheldon, though. Rest his soul. The man could write big, juicy, glitzy 80's books, couldn't he? Yum.

Rocki, vowing to read Vince Flynn this summer...

Angel said...

I don't think that's an unpopular view, Rocki, but probably something those of us who gravitate toward romance simply haven't recognized yet. I do think one of the reasons I don't read more male authors is because I enjoy the deep emotional depth of a romance. More men tend to write straight thrillers or more intellectual work.

I did read The DaVinci Code, which I really enjoyed and dived through. But at the end, I wished the two main characters could have fallen in love. :) Oh well...

Anonymous said...

It does not matter the gender; if I like the author's style of writing and the story line I will read either.


catslady said...

I'm sort of guilty. Normally it doesn't matter but I do give an edge to having women write my romance books. And I know sometimes names are changed and I have read some from male authors that I have enjoyed but if I have a choice, I'd probably pick a female author for romance.