Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Guys Think Women Want to Read

by Raelene Gorlinsky

This is from an article in Publishers Weekly, July 4, 2011. The article is by author William Dietrich, about his attempts to attract women readers to his books, which are usually labeled male action/adventure or male thriller.

"The question is: what do women readers want? I've asked this of book clubs I've visited (always exclusively female) and their answer is [...] relationships. Romance. Food. Cool places to hang out, like castles and palaces. And sex, if tastefully calibrated.

"Women like action, but they want stuff happening inside to people as well as outside to armies. Scientists report that women are hard-wired for empathy, probably because it was an evolutionary advantage in raising children and a disadvantage in spearing enemies.

"Twenty-first century ladies are also stern. No wimp women, they warn. No shrieking ninnies. They want authors who understand them."

I think Mr. Dietrich has developed a good insight into what women want to read. (Okay, especially the food and sex.)  What about you? Do you agree with him? What would you say to male authors trying to add women to their mainly male readership?


ClothDragon said...

I'm reading Delusions of Gender right now -- and before that tested male on most of those gender-based aptitude tests, so I get grumpy and am, perhaps, not terribly helpful, I guess. My thoughts are:

What women want is to not be talked down to; to not feel like we're a singular demographic to be courted; to not be considered all of one type while men get to be individuals; to not be thought weak and in need of saving; to not have all of us (in print) desperate for children and family... Really it all boils down to being seen as people and different from one another, not -just- women.

Danica Avet said...

I love kick-ass heroines who don't fit the mold. I think male writers tend to lean more towards the typical old school heroine who needs to be rescued and protected.

I say screw that! I want to read a book where the heroine is the one doing the saving. I don't mean the hero has to be wimpy, but the heroine has to be on equal footing with him and saves his butt a few times instead of the other way around.

Unknown said...

It's true that women are generally more interested in the dynamics and specifics of relationships between characters than men. I see this first hand when my husband and I read a fantasy series we both like together. I like the love and friendship parts, while he couldn't care less and is waiting for the next battle. Other than that truth, I'm no sure what I'd recommend. Women are individuals just like men, and although I can easily point out what I like to read, it won't necessarily apply to women in general.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it is my age (52) or my nature, but I do tire of all the kick-ass heroines these days. It's PC and all, but it's a stereotype as sure as the other. I prefer intelligent heroines with insecurities. Sassy is fun once in awhile. I like anything that makes a story more than a bland contemporary (I have non-fiction for that and it's usually more exciting)--be it suspense, kink, historical, magic, sci-fi/futuristic, steampunk, what-have-you, but am mostly tired of shapeshifers and vampires. I like lots of plot, but need to know the inner motivations, emotions, and relationships that drive the characters. Dark and angsty is better than light and chirpy (unless it's really funny). Action is great, but not the endless battles of LOTR, please. I MUST have at least a HFN ending. I hate cliff-hangers and bittersweet endings. I want to be satisfied when I finish a book and think about it afterwards.
--Hungry Reader

Jenni Wiltz said...

I ended up writing my own thriller because I couldn't find any that gave me what I wanted--you know, the typical male hero who saves the world or finds the lost treasure or what have you, all while enchanting some female professor who can't save her own butt or the evil spy who lets the hero charm her out of a job. Please.

What I learned by writing my own female-based thriller was that I want characters with knowledge. The female characters need to be just as smart and educated as the male characters. They all need to be flawed--but not in an obvious Oprah's book club way (someone abused me, I was dumped and still can't get over it, etc.). I made my heroine schizophrenic, for example. She's ridiculously smart and intuitive, but she can't handle being out and about in society because the voice in her head will start to overpower her own voice as it comments on everything she sees.

Something else I learned...the love story between my two heroines, sisters, ended up being just as strong and rewarding as the developing love story between the hero and the schizophrenic heroine. I had more fun showing how supporting and amazing these sisters were with each other than I did making the hero fall for the heroine.

In the end, I guess I learned that as a woman reader, I want non-stereotypical women (no spunky heroines and no wilting flowers...seen it a million times before), non-stereotypical men (find something new and interesting to say that isn't about the wife he left behind or the family he's always wanted to have or the career goal that's just out of reach), and people who know their stuff. Smart people. People I'd want to be.

Angelia Sparrow said...

Everything ClothDragon said.

I get very nervous when a man starts talking about what women want, and talking about how we're "hard-wired."

What women want is the same thing men want, the same thing every human since the invention of language has wanted: A Good Story

What makes a good story varies from reader to reader.

Anonymous said...

I read a book a week on average. Lately I have found myself skimming over all the in-depth sex scenes in the books. They bore me to tears on occasion because they take me out of the action of the story to show me Tab A goes in Slot B. Enough already. Give me a good story that will keep me riveted to the chair. Give me a plausible plot and well-defined characters. Give me a heaping tablespoon or two of angst being suffered by the hero and I'm in dog heaven. You can keep your kickass heroines. They bore me as much as the too-stupid-to-live ones did in the 70s and 80s.

Barbara Elsborg said...

What would I say to authors trying to add women to their readership?
Trim the technical details. I don't need to read pages on how a gun works. Make the hero someone with a sense of humor. Give him a male friend so we can enjoy their witty dialogue. Give the guy some weakness we can identify with though don't make him weak. Don't make the heroine kick ass - I'm with the others on this - I don't like women who put down men. Men have enough to deal with.
Of course the hero has to be tall and goodlooking - even with scars!

Debra Glass said...

Good characterization in all kinds of characters. Villains with MOTIVATION. The characters in Silence of the Lambs are wonderfully depicted. Lecter has a method behind his madness. Starling is uncertain and yet determined. It doesn't matter to me if the characters are spunky, fragile, or whatever as long as their motivation is believable.

Nina Pierce said...

I agree with Barbara. I read a lot of fiction written for men. And I really don't care how big the ship is or where it was built. I enjoy the action sequences, but definitely want to know the intimate details about the characters so I care whether they live or die.

I want a hero who cares about other people including a love interest. And no, there doesn't have to be an HEA, but a relationship is nice.