By Chris Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
A friend sent me two photos of a new Christian bookstore in the Nashville area.
The first photo showed the “Men” section, which was sandwiched between “Young Adult” and books on food and dieting. About 20 titles for men were displayed on one narrow bookcase with four shelves and another shelf on an adjacent bookcase.
The second photo showed the “Women” section. Occupying center stage in a brightly lit part of the store, this section was nearly 10x as large as the section for men.
The disparity between men’s books and women’s books is not unique to this store. It’s on display just about everywhere that Christian books are sold – from small brick-and-mortar stores to the largest online outlets.
Why is this the case? And what can you do about it?
Starving an Audience
Men don’t read. That’s a common mantra in the publishing industry. To support that claim, some cite the fact that women read many more books, especially fiction books, than men do.
Best-selling author Jason Pinter counters that men can’t read what’s not available. The contention that men don’t read, he says, has spawned a vicious cycle where publishers offer more books for women, market those books more heavily, and then use the higher sales of women’s books as justification to double down on more content for women in the future.
Dr. Paul Maxwell, who worked as an acquisitions editor for a Christian publisher, is even more blunt in his assessment. “There is one piece of folk wisdom among Christian publishing that guides a lot of book acquisition and marketing: men don’t buy books; women buy books,” he says. “Even books that we acquired for men were actually marketed to women, to buy for their husbands and their sons.” Trying to reach male readers is considered a lost cause in many Christian publishing circles, he continues.
Part of the issue may be that the publishing industry employs many more women than men. Surveys in 2015 and 2019 reveal that the ratio of women to men is roughly three-to-one. It’s natural, says publisher Jason Low, for executives, editors, marketers, and others in the industry to “work with, develop, and recommend books by and about people who are like them.”
Pinter recalls that, when he was an editor, he pitched a book written by a professional wrestler who had a huge following, mostly teen boys and young men. No one on the editorial board had heard of the wrestler or had any idea why someone would buy his book. Ultimately, the pitch succeeded only because the 15-year-old nephew of a senior editor on the board thought that the book was a good idea.
Books for Men Are Risky
Most book publishers, especially larger ones, tend to be risk-averse. When deciding which books to acquire, or obtain the rights to publish, a typical publisher takes a cautious approach, looking for candidates by established authors who target large markets with tried-and-true topics and content.
“You can't work in publishing for very long before you realize that there is risk, financial risk, endemic throughout the entire process,” says Dan Balow, a literary agent at the Steve Lauby Agency. He describes Christian publishers as “investors” in books who have to be good stewards of the money they invest. Publishers target women more than men simply because women buy more books. Christian men are seen as a niche market.
Balow sees interest in serving that niche as waning.
“What's alarming to me is how publishers have basically given up on books for men,” he says. Most publishers now see two types of books for Christian adults: those for women and those for all adults. The perceived risks of targeting “a very small category of people” – men – are too high.
A Call to a Less Traveled Path
Some publishers, however, are taking calculated risks on men. And reaping rewards.
“There's great stuff being done for men out there,” says Balow. “There needs to be a lot more of it -- a wider variety of topics, bringing a Christian perspective to men on a wide variety of things.”
Men, he says, are getting “chewed up” by the world, which gives confusing messages about what a Christian man is. Because a typical man has few close friends, he can end up confused, discouraged, and lonely. “We've got to fight that,” adds Balow.
Books with a Christian worldview, written specifically for men, can be a powerful weapon in the fight. How do we get more of them? How can you help?
Here are three things that you can do to increase the number of books for Christian men that are available.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/RonTech2000
1. Purchase Books . . . and Promote the Ones You Like
Very few people make a living writing books. But most authors do get a little bit of money, usually in the form of royalties, from sales of the books they have written. So, when you purchase a book, you are sending a small reward to the author who wrote it.
You also are sending a signal to the company that published the book.
Publishers are businesspeople. Businesspeople are motivated by profits. When sales of a book increase, the profits of the book’s publisher increase. Once those profits become substantial, the publisher considers publishing more books similar to the one that is selling.
Of course, your purchase of a single copy of a book is not going to have much of an impact on the publisher of that book. The way to magnify the impact of your purchase is to promote the book to other people, which will cause some of those people to buy their own copy of the book.
Promoting a book can be as simple as talking about it in normal, everyday conversations. You might recommend it to guys at your church, in your workplace, and in other spheres of your life. You can mention it on social media. And you can leave positive reviews of the book online.
Something else that you can do online is follow writers.
2. Follow Writers
Every publisher’s dream is a formula for a successful book. Sadly, such a formula doesn’t exist.
“Whenever somebody tries to figure out, in a scientific or business way, how to have a successful book, it never works,” says Balow. The “secret sauce” in a book that becomes popular, he continues, is the creative inspiration of the author.
The industry is not going to research or strategize its way into more compelling books for Christian men, Balow adds. It needs more inspired authors to deliver content that resonates with men.
The challenge is connecting those authors with publishers. Most traditional publishers do not accept manuscripts, proposals, or any other submissions from authors; the only submissions considered are those from literary agents. To be considered by one of these publishers, therefore, an author needs an agent.
As you might expect, agents are in high demand. A typical agent is inundated with proposals and queries from many prospective authors. Determining the potential success of an author based on a few pages of a manuscript is difficult. So, agents and others in the publishing industry have another metric for evaluating authors: how many followers the author has.
An author’s followers are people who are connected to the author, usually online, in a way that can be tracked. Most social media platforms provide metrics on the number of subscribers or followers someone has. So, too, do YouTube, blogging platforms such as Substack, and some other online sites.
When someone’s writing has a positive impact on you, try to follow that person online. The written work doesn’t have to be a published book. It may be an article, a blog post, or even a comment on someone else’s social media post. The more followers a budding writer has, the better his chances of getting a book published – even if he’s never had one published before.
While getting a book published by a traditional publisher can be extremely difficult, self-publishing a book is easy. And cheap. In fact, it can be free. That’s one of the reasons why the self-published sector of the book market continues to grow at a rapid pace.
The downside of self-publishing is that getting people to buy your book is extremely difficult. The average self-published book achieves sales of only about 250 copies.
You may have no ambition to have a book published. You may not even feel that you are a decent writer.
But you have a story to tell. It may be a story that other Christian men need to hear.
Start writing it. And other things you want to say.
Express your thoughts on your Facebook page. Start a blog and write about any topic you want.
The more you write, the more you will find your voice. And the more you will spark conversations with others. And get them writing, too.
From this community of writers will come more books for Christian men.
Photo Credit: ©Ben White/Unsplash
Chris Bolinger is the author of three men’s devotionals – 52 Weeks of Strength for Men, Daily Strength for Men, and Fuerzas para Cada Día para el Hombre – and the co-host of the Empowered Manhood podcast. He splits his time between northeast Ohio and southwest Florida. Against the advice of medical professionals, he remains a die-hard fan of Cleveland pro sports teams. Find him at mensdevotionals.com.