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Do Christian Publishers Know How to Market to Men?

According to the Spring 2012 ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Journal, only 13% of its members are men. (You can find a PDF of that edition HERE.) I tweeted that stat yesterday and Richard Mabry, ACFW Vice President replied, “ACFW male membership has climbed each year I’ve been involved.” Frankly, I’m not sure if I should be excited by that or not. If 13% is a positive sign, I’m afraid to know our dismal representation before that. Or at what rate it’s climbing.

I followed up that question with one more to the point of this post and my ongoing concerns about our industry: “Is there an attempt to grow that number? If not, why not? If so, how?” That’s kind of where our exchange stalled. ACFW membership is simply reflective of the demographic tilt in the Christian fiction industry. As a result, there is no plan to grow male membership. That didn’t keep E. Stephen Burnett from offering a creative solution to ACFW’s Man Problem:

I’m fully aware that raising these questions is interpreted by some as a “wanton demonization of the majority demographic.” It’s not. But as one of that small minority of men, it doesn’t feel like the Christian publishing industry

  1. Sees any problem with an overwhelmingly female readership, and
  2. Is making any effort to reach / represent men.

Clearly, the problem is not at the ACFW level, but at the industry.

I’ve talked to lot of male Christian authors, many already published in the CBA, about this. Our impressions are remarkably the same. For instance, I recently spoke to a multi-published male Christian author who, like many of us, is looking to move out of the CBA. Why? Christian publishers don’t know how to market to men. This author described how difficult it was to get the marketing department to understand and “hit” his target market. Publishers are so geared to the ACFW 87%ers, that everything else must, of necessity, take a back seat.

Because Women’s / Historical fiction is the wheelhouse of the CBA, publishing houses are now designed to crank out this product. A new title rolls in and the marketing department just rearranges all the typical pieces: bonnet, covered wagon, parasol, petticoat, doe-eyed lass. Check, check, check! It’s a quick cut-and-paste affair. The economy has forced Christian publishers into “safe mode.” So when a horror, crime, fantasy, literary, or sci-novel rolls in, it’s the equivalent of adding a fifth wheel to an assembly line of carriages.

ACFW is no doubt reflective of the industry. Men would likely feel more comfortable about joining the ACFW if their demographic and genre interests were represented more in the industry in general. But would a more intentional, more effective, marketing strategy to men change anything? Until we see it, it’s hard to say.

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{ 60 comments… add one }
  • Richard Mabry August 29, 2012, 5:51 AM

    Mike, the figure I’ve heard quoted is that 85% of the readers of Christian fiction are women. Not sure that’s accurate or scientific, but you hear it over and over. In my first three (unsuccessful) novels, the protagonist was male. As one of my professors in med school used to say, “You can teach a white mouse in three times.” So I wrote with a female protagonist, and have continued to do so (although more recently there were male and female co-protags).
    As I indicated to you in our private exchange, ACFW attempts to serve the entire range of those writing and attempting to write Christian fiction. If it’s important for more men to write Christian fiction (and I don’t argue with this), the onus isn’t necessarily on the publishers or on ACFW to recruit them. If readership shows a like for fiction by male authors, more will undoubtedly join in.
    Don’t mean to start a long dialogue, but I just thought that–since I was quoted–I should give a more complete picture of my view of the matter. Thanks for what you do.

  • Cherry Odelberg August 29, 2012, 7:01 AM

    Why we need more male protagonists written by male authors:
    I learn the bulk of information from reading; let’s just say, 85% of my knowledge – even though I am auditory (so it is probably more like 59% of my knowledge that comes from reading). I would rather read good historical fiction than a dry history book. Others also prefer story over textbook. It follows that what I know of relationships and what makes people tick, comes from the novels I read. If I read predominately female written narratives, I am only seeing the male personality from a female point of view. My understanding and expectations are skewed. The reverse (all male authors writing to females) is just as damaging as it can led to oppression and suppression of women.
    In light of the statistics you give, should we be crowing that ACFW is a world and cultural leader with its 87% female membership?

  • Melissa Ortega August 29, 2012, 7:15 AM

    I’m not even sure that saying that the market leans towards women is accurate as I’m a woman and I haven’t the slightest interest in reading 90% of what sells on Christian bookstore shelves. I think the more accurate description of current publishing trends is that it markets to one small percentage of the Christian population which is, incidentally, largely occupied by women.

    What’s more, I can’t name a single Christian woman in my sphere of relationships that reads these books either. They read secularly published books because, sadly, they find the titles there to be more spiritually challenging than what they find in Christian bookstores.

    I have noticed a handful of titles popping up that show some small shimmer of promise, but the majority of my interest in Christian fiction is now focused on smaller, independent publishers who happen to be publishing some pretty interesting stuff. And I tell everyone I know where to find those books in hopes that they can eventually overtake the current genre. I would think that success like that would eventually convince the bigger publishing houses that they are missing out on an entire market. However, I’m not sure they are solely interested in market. There seems to also be a fear of risky theology and how to handle audience response to that. Some of that weaker brother tyranny that you spoke about in an earlier post. I have a feeling that until someone moves past that, this record will continue to skip until the demographic that is holding these sales together is no longer viable.

    • C.L. Dyck August 29, 2012, 10:35 AM

      “What’s more, I can’t name a single Christian woman in my sphere of relationships that reads these books either. They read secularly published books because, sadly, they find the titles there to be more spiritually challenging than what they find in Christian bookstores. ”

      Hear, hear…this is why, as a female reader, I’m thrilled with the distribution revolution caused by online bookselling. It’s allowed independent publishers to get a foothold and some variety to become available.

  • Bobby August 29, 2012, 7:29 AM

    Don’t forget that men don’t read much fiction period. Isn’t the overall male statistic reading novels even worse than 13%?

    Men these days can usually be found watching TV or playing games, whether virtual or outdoors.

    Also, it’ll be something of an impossibility to market to men because the way the world markets to men is either sinful (sex) or very masculine (tough guys). The church in general, nevermind Christian publishers, filmmakers, musicians, etc. can’t use the first method of enticing sex, and the second method of overt masculinity doesn’t appeal to today’s feminine Evangelical church culture.

    Now, I don’t want to jump into the hyper-masculine counter movement that sweeps in occasionally, frequently turning gimmicky (let’s turn church into a sports event!! Have a game clock keep the preacher’s message on track!!), but please note the pastel colors found in most churches and Christian retailers. These colors appeal to females, not males.

    • Jill August 29, 2012, 9:48 AM

      Pastel colors appeal to females? I know this is very difficult for men to understand, but women are not children. Precious Moments and ilk are for children. And I can’t recall even one church I’ve been in that uses pastel colors outside the nursery. Brown, grey, and more brown with some brightly colored glass is a more traditional color scheme.

      • Katherine Coble August 29, 2012, 6:42 PM

        Goo. Gah. Bbbaaa. Mlurp.

        • Katherine Coble August 29, 2012, 6:45 PM

          I’m sorry. It is very hard for me to have a more coherent response since all these big words are big AND written in blue and black. If only they were lavender or sea foam. Then maybe I could read them better.

          • Jill August 29, 2012, 7:18 PM

            I’ve heard Bic makes really lovely pastel Pens For Her.

            • Katherine Coble August 29, 2012, 7:41 PM

              I was going to buy some. And then I saw somebody say that “this pen is for Her” and I thought “I don’t need one of those. I have a vulva.”

              And then I realised I misread it.

              • C.L. Dyck August 29, 2012, 8:02 PM

                You two have me completely in stitches. 😀

                • Bobby August 30, 2012, 12:42 PM

                  You may laugh all you like. That’s the thought process in the marketing of the Evangelical culture.

                  Retail logic is to color products to appeal to women. This is marketing 101 from Wal-Mart to Mardel’s or Family Christian Bookstore. For example, Blue Bell Ice Cream colors its cartons in pastels to…you guessed it…entice female buyers, who predominantly are out shopping.

                  • Jill August 30, 2012, 2:17 PM

                    Okay, whatever you say. I guess I stand corrected. Women are children, after all. We love pastels. You know what I find a little disconcerting? Let’s pretend for a moment that you are right–that women love pastels and, therefore, decorate churches in pastel colors (a phenomenon I haven’t observed). Men are pretty much in charge of everything in churches and have been for hundreds of years. But God forbid a woman even be allowed to decorate. That might turn men away.

                    • Matthew Sample II August 30, 2012, 3:25 PM

                      lol, you guys are hilarious. But you are reasoning like this:

                      I don’t like pastels. I am a woman. Therefore, women don’t like pastels.

                      That’d be like saying: I am a man. I like to read fiction. Therefore, all men like to read fiction. 😉

                    • Jill August 30, 2012, 4:13 PM

                      Reply to Matthew(couldn’t find reply button)–that’s not my reasoning. My reasoning is that pastel colors are generally used for infant clothing and nurseries. They have a strong correlation in our culture with babies, so it’s insulting to claim that women prefer them and men don’t. And if women do prefer pastels, where is the evidence to demonstrate this?

                    • Jay DiNitto August 30, 2012, 5:34 PM

                      That’s probably a question for a marketing researcher/analyst inside the publishing industry. Maybe even a product manager or the like. They know a lot more about their customer base than us mere mortals.

                    • Bobby August 31, 2012, 7:03 AM

                      Jill, you may be under the assumption that I’m in agreement with the theory I’m putting forward. In fact, I am not. I think it’s pretty dumb.

                      That said, I have heard it directly from a top manager at Blue Bell that this is why their ice cream cartons are colored the way they are. To attract the female eye. Since they’re the #2 ice cream seller in the nation, I’d suggest they’re doing something right, and that’s not just making good ice cream.

                      Now, you’ve made it clear you don’t appreciate such marketing, and again, I’d agree with you. I know lots of women (my wife included) who hate light, breezy colors. That still doesn’t negate the fact that this is how many products are marketed, or that a large amount of women find this sort of marketing appealing. Walk into a Mardel’s or Family Christian Bookstore, and tell me the color scheme you find. I’d suggest you won’t find a lot of black, grey or kelly green. A Lifeway is designed entirely differently than a Gamestop.

                      Also keep in mind that many gals who buy Christian fiction, go into Christian bookstores, etc. are moms. Thus, you hit the nail on the head when you said pastels are for nurseries and kids. That’s the enviroment this consumer base is accustomed to.

                    • Matthew Sample II August 31, 2012, 8:28 AM

                      Well, don’t think of it so negatively. It might actually turn out to be a strength of women rather than a stereotype.

                      As to what we know about color and gender: Natalia Khouw reports that “McInnis and Shearer (1964) found that blue green was more favored among women than men, and women preferred tints more than shades.” According to “Radeloff (1990) … in expressing the preferences for light versus dark colors, there was no significant differences between men and women; however, in expressing the preference for bright and soft colors, there was a difference, with women preferring soft colors and men preferring bright ones.”
                      http://www.colormatters.com/color-symbolism/gender-differences

                      There are different preferences by men and women, as evidenced by Joe Hallock’s research project, published online at:
                      http://www.joehallock.com/edu/COM498/preferences.html#favbygender

                      As I alluded to before, some women might be built to be more color conscious than men. Radiolab recently did an episode on Colors and the middle part focused on the a small segment of society–women with an extra cone in their eyes. Apparently some women are genetically disposed to see more color than anyone else.
                      http://www.radiolab.org/2012/may/21/perfect-yellow/

                      That being said, apparently content trumps color choices according to other studies.
                      http://comminfo.rutgers.edu/professional-development/childlit/gender_project/conclusions.htm

                    • Jill August 31, 2012, 8:48 AM

                      Blue Bell ice cream is really nasty, I have to add. However, their containers aren’t pastel. Maybe somebody is redefining pastel colors, or doesn’t know what pastels are. Pastels involve adding white to significantly lighten colors. Blue Bell cartons utilize almost every color in the spectrum for their different nasty flavors, and they seem to be predominantly based off earth tones or Tuscan tones: These are not pastels. Considering the female Starbucks fad, I would say green is rather a good marketing color. Maybe the emphasis on pastels is why Christian bookstores are going out of business. Maybe they have no idea that moms associate true pastels (as opposed to earth tones) with baby vomit and leaky diapers. Maybe if Christian bookstores used earth tones, like Blue Bell ice cream, they would appeal to both men and women.

                    • Jill August 31, 2012, 9:32 AM

                      As it turns out, Lifeway Christian stores don’t use pastel colors either: inside of a Lifeway-run bookstore. This plain, “manly” color scheme is consistent with their other store pics, website and store fronts, too. Family Christian stores use a combination of earth tones, dark blue, grey, and yellow from what I can see. The yellow might be considered pastel. Their website uses bright pink and purple, which still aren’t pastel.

                    • Matthew Sample II August 31, 2012, 2:29 PM

                      Jill, I tip my hat to your research. 🙂

                    • Bobby August 31, 2012, 5:15 PM

                      Well I concede. My frame of reference was the Mardel and Family Christian Bookstore from my hometown, which are painted white and light green…the FCB was white and light purple. But the shelves are deep brown (wood) so, there you go.

                      I might point out that Blue Bell has many pastel colored cartons, but you’re obviously disgusted by it so we can leave that alone.

                      I would like to think the original point of my first post still applies. There is a certain kind of thinking and marketing that goes into selling products for men and women, and Evangelical culture normally does not subscribe to a predominantly male market.

    • Mike Duran August 29, 2012, 5:54 PM

      Bobby, I don’t know if there’s any hard stats on the average number of male fiction readers. My guess is that’s it’s a lot higher than 13%. I received an email from a reader today who mentioned that the percentage of men on Goodreads is something like 35%. That sounds more like it to me.

      • Bobby August 31, 2012, 7:05 AM

        Well, if that’s true I’m highly encouraged. I’d heard elsewhere like 93% of general market fiction was sold to women, or something like that.

  • Nicole August 29, 2012, 7:46 AM

    Mike, I wholeheartedly agree. Due to whatever the latest and favorite excuse is for not marketing any author but the bestsellers, CBA fiction has never (to my knowledge) attempted to market toward men and basically have a difficult time marketing fiction period except to the small demographic that supports the bulk of its business.

    The men in Christian fiction deserve better, and I’m wondering if the “men don’t read fiction” is a concocted stereotype that has been used as another excuse to bypass real marketing. Fiction in general is difficult to market – at least in the CBA. It consists of blog tours and giveaways. Repeatedly. Pretty much all the men I know from truck drivers to intellectuals read fiction and a variety of it. But most of them read from recommendations from other men or their wives who know what they like (as in my husband). They almost never go to a bookstore (of any kind) to find a novel.

    Probably the majority of my favorite authors – or at least an equal number – are male. I write primarily with male protagonists or co-protagonists. I haven’t seen any valuable marketing for male-written Christian fiction. But then I haven’t seen any truly adventurous marketing of Christian fiction period nor have I seen any advancement in expanding their retail desires to those outside the diminishing demographic to whom they’re sticking like glue.

  • Jason Joyner August 29, 2012, 8:30 AM

    I go into Christian bookstores to look for fiction because I am an avid reader and a pre-published author. However, there is a lot of scanning past the bonnet books and Amish fiction to find the scattered suspense, mystery, or speculative fiction book. Men’s names grab my attention right away because they’re usually few and far between.

    I live in an area without Christian bookstores though, so I only visit them when I’m in a bigger city like Boise. If I go to Barnes and Noble it is worse, because their Christian fiction section is smaller.

    Then there are the blog tours. I’ve long participated with the Christian Sci/fi and Fantasy tour and the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance. The CSFF often features male writers because of the speculative niche. The CFBA is a great group, but I have been frustrated over the last few years because few books interest me, and for some reason the male authors and more action-oriented stories all come out in July. Thus all the tours are in July, and I don’t have time anymore to read three or four books and blog about them in one month.

    Not sure if I have any point other than adding my experience to what you’re saying. I appreciate voices like Richard Mabry above, but the audience is what it is for now. I’m not sure if recruiting more men to the ACFW will affect that. What do others think?

  • J.S. Clark August 29, 2012, 9:09 AM

    I don’t really read Christian fiction, I do sometimes, but for reasons discussed in this and other blogs. So I can’t comment too much on CF, but from my circle It does seem that the natural male/female reader split should be more like 40/60 than 13/87.

    But I wonder if its because CF is womanized or if it represents a church that is womanized? I mean you look around most churchs and they are predominantly women. Listen to Christian radio and the songs while sometimes inspiring, and edifying, are all about love. Not that love is bad, but my point is there is so much broader inclusive in love than singing to Yeshua (Jesus) as if he were a boyfriend. Where is the epic triumph of men like Samson? Or David?

    It seems perhaps that is why grittier fiction is important because it has not to do with evil, but triumphing over evil. Real stakes. Men are looking for great deeds to do, to be great (as intended, in God of course), but we are often told to “be nice.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy August 31, 2012, 7:07 AM

      Listen to Christian radio and the songs while sometimes inspiring, and edifying, are all about love. … Where is the epic triumph of men like Samson? Or David?

      Not Spiritual(TM) enough.

      “JEESUS IS MY EDWARD CULLEN! SPARKLE SPARKLE SPARKLE SQUEEEEEEE!!”

      • Brent August 31, 2012, 5:51 PM

        LLOL! The Twilight had me dying!
        And the worst part is it’s all so true. It sums up what’s gone so horribly wrong with Christian music. There’s nothing wrong with appealing to the female demo but to appeal to women’s most insecure and in many ways least mature impulses and drives is wrong.
        The buttons that media culture –secular or spiritual– push to galvanize the female audience are exactly the same. Relationships, even with Jesus, become just another form of teenage crush. You can’t have a proper spiritual relationship with the Jesus of the bible when in your mind relationships are about a love “high,” that you can only get from some fetishized object of adoration. Female audiences tend to look at everything through the lens of the screeching fangirl.
        Before long I expect to see women in Lifeway holding up signs that say, “Team Jesus,” or “Team Mary.” or team whomever.

        • Rebecca LuElla Miller August 31, 2012, 7:48 PM

          Brent, I’m not easily offended because I think there are distinct differences between men and women, but your comment is polarizing, I believe. You make some good points about marketing the way the world markets, but you give Christian women, and the Holy Spirit who resides in us, no credit for discernment.

          And you speak as if this is a women’s problem and men are immune to … I don’t know, team blond versus team brunette.

          Perhaps you didn’t intended to imply this was a women’s issue–that only women can be beguiled by the marketing of the world. It came across that way to me.

          Becky

          • Mirtika September 2, 2012, 8:18 PM

            Men want to make believe they’re the alpha-super-duper-competent male protagonist–sleuth, superhero, football player, whatever. Romance readers want to marry the super-duper -competent male, be he alpha/gamma/beta or whatever.

            And it’s not so far from the truth for many readers that Edward Cullen types–not necessarily the dazzle and boring conversations, but what her represents for the romance-loving set– are equivalent to the heart’s desire of many woman: the above average guy who is willing to die for us. Not that unequivalent to Jesus in that way, the bridegroom who is exceptional, brilliant, powerful and able to complete us.

            Some of the comments here would be very hurtful to romance readers–as if they’re “bored housewives” or morons in some way for wanting to read love stories. I think we need to be careful. Because certain Christian publishers are ignoring MY needs as a reader can frustrate me, and I may have many critical things to say about what IS published, but the readers who love X genre should not be ridiculed by the readers of Y or Z genres.

            Love and relationships are very important, Scripturally and in reality. Try to imagine life without your beloved partner and children? Suddenly it’s a lot less fun, rich, intense, and meaningful to you, no?

            I value love/romance a lot. I just don’t see the types of romances :*I* prefer published, but again, just another area where I’m an outlier.

  • Jill August 29, 2012, 9:59 AM

    Why do men in the general market not buy very much fiction? I think this trend is, perhaps, more marked in Christian fiction, but it’s a trend in mainstream publishing, as well. As Ian McEwan famously said, “When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.” Ian McEwan is one of my favorite authors, so maybe he is writing more for a female audience, but I sincerely doubt it. The stats suggest women buy more fiction of all varieties than do men. That little piece of uncomfortable truth places Stephen King, etc. in the category of chick lit.

    Here are my questions: Why do men by and large not read fiction, or at least not buy it (it’s hard to say who reads it once purchased)? If both sexes read fiction, why do women predominantly purchase it? Why do Christian women prefer bonnet romances?

    • Mirtika August 29, 2012, 10:09 AM

      I have been an SF reader since I was 16, and I’m 52. At the SF clubs, it was mostly guys. At the conventions, the rooms were filled with mostly guys. At the bookstore, it was mostly guys in the Sf section. Over the years, I saw a lot more gals join in the activities, but SF was a male-dominated (reading and writing) genre. So, I guess my penchant for horror and SF as a young gal made it easier to date. 😀

      However, I’m married to a guy who, like me, loves SF–in films, tv shows, and anime. But he doesn’t read the novels. (He did read ONE way back in the 80s, and I never saw him do that again, hahaha). I have no idea why he’ll jump at an SF flick, but not read the novel. He reads non-fiction. He’s got tons of books, but they’re all work-related or sports-related or historical (medieval usually) or Christianity related. Oh, wait, he’ll read SF if its in a graphic novel I highly recommend.

      My nephew got into reading with SF. He’s 12. The only fiction I’ve seen him read is fantasy.

      The women in the family who read novels love romance. I’ve never seen my brother or BILs reading fiction. Not one novel. What can I say?

      • Lyn Perry August 30, 2012, 3:25 PM

        My wife reads nonfiction magazine articles on fitness. I read all kinds of fiction novels. All my 6th grade students are reading 25 books this school year, most of it will be fiction I’m sure.

      • D.M. Dutcher September 9, 2012, 2:13 PM

        If it’s for Christians in particular, SF and Fantasy is often profoundly atheistic. I used to love reading it voraciously, but then one day I started noticing that all the bad guys were religious fundamentalists, and when you are a religious fundamentalist, well…

        For regular men, I don’t know. I think this is a recent thing, though-I read voraciously as a kid and I know other boys did as well.

  • Mirtika August 29, 2012, 10:02 AM

    Why is it surprising that the ACFW is primarily women? It began as the ACRW, the “R” for ROMANCE. 😀 And if what is mostly bought for fiction in “CBA” publishing houses is aimed at women in female genres, then it makes sense for the ACFW to be made up by those who read and write such, ie, women.

    I joined back when I read and wrote mostly romance. My problem is that I like more romantic tension than is generally allowed in the CBA. So, whether it’s for my preference for SF or my preference for more realistic romance (ie, yes, evidence of some real hormones at work) and weird characters, I’ve got a lot of strikes against me in what I like to read and write. And yes, I mostly buy ABA books for that reason, though I do buy CBA/Inspy Romance/CSF.

    My understanding is men and boys don’t read as much as women and girls, particularly fiction. Do you recall the excitement over the Harry Potter books, all those articles in the news over the hoopla, because…the books were getting to BOYS! 🙂

    I think with the SF friendly editors having moved on–some making their own indie houses, some freelancing–it makes it harder for the established “CBA” publishers to know what to make of the “fringe” books. It’s those who love and appreciate the books that are different and fresh who can figure out how to acquire and market them, how to find the readers.

    I don’t much visit REAL bookstores these days, with my addiction for ebooks and amazon, but we did go in for me to browse magazines, and I noticed a ginormous teen fiction section chock full of speculative fiction. Of course, the CBA houses see this, too, hence some of the toe-dipping into the spec-fic for teens. Wanna get the young readers? There’s one way. But young readers aren’t idiots. It needs to be good and exciting stuff, not just morally sound, or the ABA will happily supply it, without any moral qualms about content.

    Marketing matters. If they don’t know how to do it–for men, for SF readers. for Teen dytopian/fantasy readers, well, we know how that goes…the vicious cycle.

  • J. L. Lyon August 29, 2012, 10:21 AM

    Mike, I think this blog is just another piece in the wider discussion of the reasons for Christian Fiction and what it should become going forward. But as others have spoken to here and on your blog in the past, change in the CBA is somewhat limited by the self-perpetuating success model of Publisher-Store-Consumer. Stores only carry what they think customers will buy, publishers only publish what they think stores will carry, and customers can’t buy it if the publishers don’t publish it. However, I think there is evidence that some traditional CBA publishers are beginning to see (if only in their peripheral vision) that the ebook age might allow them to bypass this model entirely and target these historically undernourished demographics of Christian readers with very little risk to their bottom line.

    As to ACFW membership, I will admit that despite my aspirations to publish in the CBA I haven’t yet joined. Why? I don’t know. Maybe men don’t feel they can join such an organization until they can come in with some street cred. 🙂

    • Rebecca LuElla Miller August 29, 2012, 12:36 PM

      If Mike had “thumbs up” buttons, J. L., I’d have clicked on one for your post. I was hoping the history of ACFW wouldn’t be ignored, so was happy to read Mir’s comment. But the larger issue of the industry has to do with what you said her. It’s the same issue I encountered ten years ago in discussions with industry professionals such as Karen Ball: genres that sell get published and get marketing dollars.

      It didn’t take Tyndale too long to figure out how to market the Left Behind books once they started selling so well.

      I don’t think it’s a matter of not knowing as much as it is a commitment to do it. For the latter, businesses like to have an idea that they will likely get a return on their investment, and as hard as it is to reconcile, they make that based on sales of what is out there.

      So the best thing if readers want to see more fiction written for men is to buy the fiction written for men that is already in existence.

      Becky

      • J. L. Lyon August 29, 2012, 3:53 PM

        I agree, Becky. Businesses hear us best when we speak with our wallets. The challenge is making Christian men who read fiction aware of what’s out there, and what’s worth their time. I’ll admit (shamefully) that I’m a bandwagon reader. I tend to select books and authors that have already gained notoriety, and I can probably count the exceptions to this on one hand.

        Perhaps the answer is not in an either/or approach, but in a novel that appeals to both genders–one that can capture both the typical CBA reader and breaks the mold enough to catch the eye of those who are only interested if there is already a bit of buzz. What exactly would this novel look like? Well if I knew, I’d be rich.

        • Rebecca LuElla Miller August 29, 2012, 4:32 PM

          J. L., that idea sounds like it would work. I know speculative writers have been waiting for just such a “breakout” book that will alert readers to the existence of Christian works in the genre.

          But in some way, we’ve had those. Someone else mentioned Ted Dekker. And Frank Peretti preceded him. Were only women buying This Present Darkness?

          The question is, why did those authors succeed, but it hasn’t translated to men being aware there’s Christian fiction for them? Could it be that the successful authors are the ones that need to give a leg up to the ones coming after them? Should they be telling their fans, If you like my books, then you’ll also like …

          It’s all very interesting to consider.

          Becky

  • Matthew Sample II August 29, 2012, 10:36 AM

    Great thoughts! Thanks for bringing up these provocative ideas. Just some practical questions that struck while reading this:

    If the industry trends to female readers, what stops innovators from creating another industry which targets Christian men?

    How did authors with success in the male Christian market (Peretti, Dekker, Gansky, Bunn… to name the few I’ve enjoyed) get that success?

    Do we know how best to reach the male target market?

    Do we know what they want in reading material? Or if they have no interest, how they can be won over? What do they view as a valid reading use of their valuable time?

    How does leisure time affect the different target markets? How does education affect the different target markets? How does seasonal responsibilities affect reading habits of the target markets? Where do target markets go to read? Where do they go daily? Can these constraints be harnessed into marketing strengths?

  • John Robinson August 29, 2012, 10:46 AM

    I’ll make this short, as a lot of you have heard this song before. I have four OOP Christian novels, written for a male audience, and as this thread attests, the marketing for them was close to non-existent.

    After the death of the last one I basically said forget it, and placed my fifth–an SF work–with a secular house. Absent an unmistakeable “oh, no, you don’t” from God, I’ll be staying with the general market.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy August 31, 2012, 7:10 AM

      On both writer’s Yahoogroups I’m on, I have always been a vocal proponent of “Going Mainstream”.

  • Nicole August 29, 2012, 1:42 PM

    “So the best thing if readers want to see more fiction written for men is to buy the fiction written for men that is already in existence.”

    The thing is, Becky, many men don’t realize it exists. As Jason, who understands all the viable points of the industry made here, mentioned, he knows how to “shop” at a CBA store. How many other men might consider it until they walk in to see 85% bonnet, historical romance, and women’s fiction on the shelves? Let’s face it, the stores are set up for the chosen demographic – not making any effort to appeal to or draw in the male component.

    • Rebecca LuElla Miller August 29, 2012, 4:23 PM

      Nicole, it’s the same issue speculative writers have faced–and there have been some of us determined to do something about it. Some of us are working within the framework of traditional publishing, some have opted to move to independent publishers, secular publishers, or self-publishing.

      As far as I’m concerned, the ball is in the authors’ court. As long as the sales aren’t there, publishers aren’t going to throw marketing dollars their way. That’s the way this business is structured: the haves get promoted, the have-not’s get a mention in the catalog.

      Becky

  • Bob Avey August 29, 2012, 3:50 PM

    I don’t know the numbers, but most of the secular books sold in America are also purchased by women.

  • Jay DiNitto August 29, 2012, 5:53 PM

    One thought: I’m not so sure business can create markets very well. It is less resource intensive to simply response to (perceived) demand. I mean, market research is endless so that route is resource intensive as well, but the results tend to be much more accurate. If men aren’t interested in reading novels, it’s simply because men aren’t. Marketing towards men when it won’t generate much demand is more costly than just catering to demand that is already there.

  • Nicole August 29, 2012, 7:30 PM

    Jay and Becky, you make valid points. And far be it from me to rock what CBA insists works for them. It’s their business, their niche in the industry. However, I do find it just a bit strange from the business standpoint that they don’t “grow” their potential in the industry. Like Becky said, the spec-fic writers could have a place in that market – especially now with the craze in fantasy novels (and films) – but CBA publishers deny that anyone buys CBA spec-fic. Huh? You mean all those readers who buy spec-fic deliberately sidestep it from the CBA? Or could it be they have no idea it exists? Because they refuse to publish and market it? Maybe it’s a catch-22.

    • Rebecca LuElla Miller August 30, 2012, 9:16 AM

      Nicole, growing their potential is something I’ve been after for … oh, about ten years. Well, eight, anyway. OK, maybe six. 🙄 A long time at least.

      Seriously, with CBA’s aging target demographic and the trends of YA blockbusters in the general market, it seems hard to figure out why Christian publishing–once purposeful in providing Sunday school materials–isn’t leading the way in marketing to a younger readership.

      At one conference, at the height of the recession, one editor said his house was pulling back from anything that wasn’t of the tried and true nature. Last year, however, the report from that conference was that editors were again buying.

      Any wonder, then, that Bethany House has been adding speculative writers the last three years. Speculative! Bethany! And Thomas Nelson has jumped on full board it seems, at least with a certain type of speculative–targeted to YA and middle grade readers, primarily. Zondervan is adding speculative authors, too.

      The point is, these houses have speculative books out there. Now it’s up to readers to buy them.

      This same pattern can be duplicated by action/adventure or crime fiction which seem to have a level of popularity. There may not be many books in those categories, but writers need to do the heavy lifting for each other and help promote the genre. That’s my theory, anyway.

      Becky

      • Nicole August 30, 2012, 11:38 AM

        Zondervan and Thomas Nelson now owned by HarperCollins . . . Hmm.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy August 31, 2012, 7:12 AM

        For “target demographic” you mean “Church Ladies”.

        Or “Born-Again Bored Housewives” — remove the “Born-Again” and you have the target demographic for Harlequin romances and Fifty Shades of Grey.

  • Katherine Coble August 30, 2012, 5:15 AM

    Time to be serious.

    I have a serious answer.

    The Christian Fiction market made great inroads to male readers (initially) with the _Left Behind_ books.

    But the biggest stumbling block for both male readers AND male authors is not content–because, face it, the CBA can do pretty well with non-romantic content when it wants to. (Again I would point you to the Left Behind books, the Frank Peretti books and the Ted Dekker novels.)

    The problem is that the CBA builds its budget on series fiction. The way they’ve structured their author contracts, marketing budgets and distributor deals is to no longer sell books but _series of books_. And that has bitten them in the wallet with male authors and male readers. While men will generally read novels with continued protagonists (the Alex Delaware mysteries; The Miles Vorkosigan SF novels) they skew away from series fiction with continued plotlines. Some speculate that this is because they associate such things with soap operas while others assert that its simply because men’s reading patterns are different enough to prefer to conclude a story in one volume.

    Either way, since the CBA has survived at least 4 recessions and 2 major market downturns by being heavily-invested in the series model they are going to be at an impasse with male readers and authors for quite some time.

    • J. L. Lyon August 30, 2012, 6:36 AM

      Good theory, but I don’t see it really playing out in the market. Left Behind was a continuous-story series, as was (IMO) Dekker’s CBA best, The Circle. Lawhead’s latest have been trilogies and five-parters. And while Stephen James’ Patrick Bowers Files are procedural, it’s the continuous story of Bowers and his nemesis, Basque, that keep the overall plot interesting. That’s not to mention that secular science fiction and fantasy, the poster children for successful marketing to males, are heavily dominated by series fiction.

      I can see men viewing certain series as soap operas or not worth their time, but I still think that indicates a marketing problem, not a series problem.

      • Rebecca LuElla Miller August 30, 2012, 10:07 AM

        This newsletter just arrived from Multnomah/WaterBrook. It’s promoting non-fiction, but it seems to dispel the idea that publishers don’t know how to market to men.

        Becky

      • Rebecca LuElla Miller August 30, 2012, 10:11 AM

        I didn’t mean that comment to register as a reply to yours, J. L. To you, all I can say is, you took the words out of my mouth again! 😉

        Becky

  • BK Jackson (@BKJacksonAZ) August 30, 2012, 5:40 AM

    Except that this problem isn’t unique to men.

    Christian publishing also does not market to women who want to read something besides romance.

    And before the romance writers pull out their claws and come after me, understand–I have no problem with romance fiction. I have a problem that that’s all there is. I here complaints here and elsewhere about the plethora of historical fiction in CBA. Try looking for historical fiction that ISN’T romance.

    So while my women’s demographic may be small (and yes, I understand that perhaps there aren’t enough of us to bother with marketing from the big publishers’ standpoint), we are left out in the cold.

  • Melissa Ortega August 30, 2012, 7:37 AM

    The last statistic I saw (from 2011) was that women make up 58% of book buyers/readers and that they are more likely to buy across the genre board. The heaviest book buyers were around 50 years old (of both genders) and made less than $35,000 a year.

    I am curious to see the numbers on YAs, as I think their generation is going to look completely different. They (both men and women) have been raised on series fiction with very long continuing plotlines, both in books and television. I admit, I tend to read with this crowd more than I read with the 50s crowd. If everything happens in one book or even in one short film, psychologically I feel like I’ve been robbed. I know a lot of 30’s and unders that feel the same way. We want to go in, immerse completely, and live there for a long time before we come out – with souvenirs. I didn’t really like the Left Behind series (mostly because it was so redundant by book 3 in its pretence than none of us had actually taken the time to read books 1 and 2 – really?) but it is one of the only CBA series I can remember that could appease this type of literary craving. Whatever the current trend is, I think it’s going to change in a big way because the books that sell the best don’t aim for either sex square on – they have some appeal to both. Maybe because they’re more interested in telling a cracking good story than psychoanalyzing their readers?

  • Bobby August 30, 2012, 1:05 PM

    In response to some of the chatter about CBA folks not bringing in different/risky content and sticking with tried and true fiction, I’d suggest that a partial reason may be that booksellers are paralyzed (maybe) by a fear of backlash for risky stuff.

    I’d even wager lots of publishers who may even *want* to put out some different, out-of-the-box stuff don’t because of horror stories of attempting it and getting backlash from consumers who think it’s a bit too out-of-the-box. I’d even go so far as to argue the *gatekeepers* of Christian bookselling aren’t the publishers, it’s the buyers.

    This point’s been made, but it bears repeating: when a breakout hit emerges, the publishers will clobber spec-fic/sci-fi/fantasy/horror/whatever with blinding speed. Agents will be swallowing any manuscript they find related to the content of the breakout hit.

    Perfect example: Hunger Games. That, plus Twilight = Loads of books and front store positioning for dystopian young adult novels about young, chosen girls who are in, say, *hesitant* romances.

  • Kessie August 31, 2012, 10:47 AM

    I started to write a comment here, but it got so long I realized it might as well be a blog post. So here it is: Why Bother with Christian Publishers?

    http://netraptor.org/blog/2012/08/why-bother-with-christian-publishers/

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