Writing to Men

In Christian publishing, since most readers are women, Christian books for men are treated as a niche market. Women are the primary market worthy of the most focus, and men are an afterthought if they are thought of at all.

Publishing is a business and it doesn’t make sense to publish foolishly. Some publishers don’t publish books where the only market is a man.

As a result, many authors write for everyone, both men and women…or at least they think they are.

Other than pastoral leadership books, some authors are writing exclusively to men on themes of spiritual growth and living, but for the most part, of the thousands of Christian books published every year in the US, relatively few create much of a wave with men. You can start listing names and hit a wall at about a dozen.

Could it be that men would read more if books were written with them in mind?

Since most readers of this blog and most Christian book readers are women (maybe more than 75%), it seems like a futile pursuit to write books for men, but maybe a little different thinking about the issue could help.

What qualifications do I have to write on this subject today?

Publishing experience? No, lots of people have that.

Literary agent experience? Heavens no.

I am one? Yes, that’s it.

After careful analysis, decades of random freelance anecdotal research and observation, 35+ years of marriage, watching sons, daughters, spouses, friends, colleagues and more, I’ve come to the conclusion:

Men and women are different.

Duh, yup.

No, really. It’s true.

So, when I see a book described as good for both men and women, I wonder if it is truly the case or they are just trying to be nice and mention men so we don’t feel left out.

After all, this is the age of being offended at everything.

At church, I attend either mixed-gender events or men’s groups. The events for both men and women are intentionally general enough so everyone feels connected and appreciated.

I don’t know what goes on in the women’s Bible studies. Haven’t been invited to any. I assume there is a lot of sharing of feelings and deep discussion about all sorts of things. Maybe you solve problems or address issues by immersing oneself in Scripture and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you. That’s the right thing to do.

I can’t be certain since I am not there.

But let me tell you what goes on in the typical men’s group.

  • We are generally understanding of others, but move quickly to solutions for problems. We are not satisfied simply to be understood.
  • We study men like David who messed up repeatedly, but still ended up a man after God’s own heart.
  • We consider what it’s like to be Joseph in the Old Testament, but also Joseph in the New Testament who was seemingly little more than an afterthought in the story of Jesus. Some men feel that way about themselves today.
  • We study Nehemiah’s work and feel like we could never measure up to his strength of character.
  • We are stunned by Abraham’s lack of faith at times and his incredibly strong faith at the end of his life. It’s a lot like us.
  • We see ourselves in the apostle Peter who was all over the map in his emotions and actions and then after the resurrection was the rock on which the church was built. Can Christ make me that bold?
  • We talk about the daily spiritual warfare of living in a sexualized world.
  • We encourage a brother whose wife left him.
  • We challenge a brother who immersed in some sin, thinking it harmless.
  • Addictions might have destroyed a past, but can be used as motivation for the present and future.
  • We use warfare metaphors a lot. And sports.
  • We worry people will discover we are frauds in our work.
  • We confront some issues with spiritual insight and then move quickly to, “Gosh, you need to stop doing that. Don’t be an idiot.” (Can’t imagine this technique working in the women’s group)
  • Some (all?) problems are solved by shutting up, stop going there and forgetting about it. Forgive and move on. Get over it. Let it go man.
  • Some situations require courage on our part. No deep spiritual thinking, just a deep breath, a set jaw and a steadfast heart anchored in the bedrock of God’s faithfulness. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. (The ex-athletes in the group don’t really get into the emotional junk.)
  • We pray that we would be strong witnesses for Christ and not just in our words.

I know both men and women are encouraged when we discover we are not the only ones experiencing what we are going through. It’s probably the unifying element to all this.

But men add the need to be strong, courageous, steadfast, unyielding to evil, discerning and wise in our choices. Personal accountability is a key element. Make a game plan and get to work.

Not all men are alike, but in general if you want to reach men you write differently.

Writing to both genders is okay. Like a sermon in a church service there is a place for it. But I think you lose some of the effect when you try to reach both men and women with every message.

So pick a gender-target (preferably the same one you are) and write.

I guess I just challenged Christian men to write to men and Christian publishers to publish for men.

OK then.

 

41 Responses to Writing to Men

  1. Avatar
    Jackie Layton May 24, 2016 at 3:45 am #

    I would love to see more Christian fiction for men. Both of my sons love to read, and it’s not easy to find books to give them.

    I’m not sure where these books fit in, but here are a few books my guys have recently read. SEAL of God, Service, A Warrior’s Faith (if you’re a woman you better have a tissue as you read this one), and Hand and Fist. The language is not the best in some of these books, but you can’t help but see the influence of God in the lives of these men.

    Thanks for sharing, Dan!

  2. Avatar
    Brennan McPherson May 24, 2016 at 3:57 am #

    There’s definitely plenty men who are readers (and happen to be Christians), but most of them are bored with Amish romances and women’s inspirational fiction so they go to Clive Cussler or Lee Child. I think the themes in our writing, and our style, should be as organic as possible. The less we try to manipulate our own work for market purposes, the more we’ll be able to repeat what we did, and the more honest the work will be (hopefully). For me, the relationship between fathers and sons plays an extremely important role in all my stories, partially because it’s important to me, and partially because it grew organically out of the stories themselves. I’d love to see more stories about manhood, and fatherhood, and what it means to be a son, a brother, a husband, etc. Though I think part of it is to minister to men and interest them with good inspirational fiction, I think women need it, too.

  3. Avatar
    Diana Harkness May 24, 2016 at 5:21 am #

    Thanks for the suggestions on making my novel more accessible to men. I will certainly copy them into my Evernote file and reference them as I edit. I read war novels, historical fiction, police procedurals, and action novels (BTW, I’ve read most of Lee Child’s novels) where the characters are primarily men of action. I also read literary novels–mostly by women, and dislike most romances. I think my novelized version of Elijah would appeal to men although I may need to add more war references and more descriptive fights. Thanks again for the insights.

  4. Avatar
    Rebekah Love Dorris May 24, 2016 at 5:21 am #

    Wow. This is brilliant. Could be that the old “readers are leaders and leaders are readers” explains the lack of godly male leadership in society, if men’s books are considered a niche market!

    That’s what I love about husband/wife duos like, well, the only one I know of is the Thoenes. Both my husband and I LOVE reading their books – the perfect blend of emotion and drama. And crazy good writing.

  5. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka May 24, 2016 at 5:50 am #

    I’m glad to see some men writing Christian fiction, for the reason s you mentioned. Men know how to write realistic male character. Some women can do this, but a man knows how a man thinks, how he’s likely to respond to a situation, and how to craft a realistic story.

    I appreciate what you shared about the things men discuss in men’s groups. Truly fascinating. And yes, just a wee bit different from what goes on in women’s groups. 🙂

  6. Avatar
    Joe Neff May 24, 2016 at 6:01 am #

    This is brilliant. Oh, the list is so real. And while I appreciate the women who want to use it, we need men writing for men. I think more would read, as you said, if we wrote differently. And it isn’t just a change in topic needed. It is a new way of writing that resonates with men.

  7. Avatar
    Sarah Hamaker May 24, 2016 at 6:06 am #

    I wrote a piece for Crosswalk.com a few years ago called “In Search of the Male Reader” you might find interesting: http://www.crosswalk.com/culture/books/in-search-of-the-male-reader.html

  8. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee May 24, 2016 at 6:10 am #

    Thanks for that great information, Steve. I just flipped my nonfiction book, so the ladies’ section is first but I will make some changes to the men’s section, so that they will feel more included. The book could be divided into two, one for ladies and one for men, but there is so much cross-over information that I really did not plan to do that. Food for thought, that’s for sure!

  9. Avatar
    Susan Mary Malone May 24, 2016 at 6:10 am #

    It is a quandary in publishing isn’t it, Dan, writing for men. And not just Christian publishing (I work with writers both in that market and others). But as you say, the vast majority of book buyers are women (in all markets), so publishers buy books targeted to them.
    That said, I’ve worked with a number of male authors, most of whom write for a male audience, and they’ve gone on to be published, and done well.
    I also edit for a theology professor, who wrote a wonder theological book for a lay audience, and it sold very well.
    Your points about men are so well done here. Yep, we’re just different 🙂

  10. Avatar
    Peter DeHaan May 24, 2016 at 6:32 am #

    A thought-provoking post.

    I mostly write nonfiction and much of that for the Christian market. I know I’m suppose to read in my genre, but most of it bores me. I often end up skimming or skipping and too often just give up.

    So either I’m not typical (which could well be the case) or Christian publishing doesn’t understand what Christian men want to read.

    I recall the premise set forth in the book “Why Men Hate Going to Church” and wonder if many Christian publishers don’t suffer from the same mindset.

    (Of course, what do I know? General market YA is my go to read.)

  11. Avatar
    Carol Ashby May 24, 2016 at 6:39 am #

    That Y-chromosome makes a big difference. I worked for more than 30 years in a mostly male career, and I quickly learned to adopt male patterns of speech and a “solve the problem, don’t just understand it” approach to be more successful.
    It was great training for being able to write male characters that are genuinely masculine and not just larger, hairier versions of female ones. I even write more than 50% of the time from the male characters’ POVs. I think that’s a distinctive feature of my writing, and I hope it’s appealing.
    That did lead to an amusing comment by a contest judge. She (I’m assuming) thought my rather stoic male protagonist should have been displaying his emotions on his face and using more emotional words. Ain’t going to happen in real life, ain’t going to happen with my male characters.

    • Avatar
      Peter DeHaan May 24, 2016 at 8:34 am #

      Carol, interestingly, I worked for many years in a female dominated industry. When I write fiction, my POV characters are often female.

      • Avatar
        Carol Ashby May 24, 2016 at 9:21 am #

        That’s really interesting, Peter, but I guess I’m not surprised. I suspect having an opposite-gender work environment is one of the best training grounds if you hope to flip naturally between male and female POVs.

  12. Avatar
    Katie Powner May 24, 2016 at 7:11 am #

    I’ve been thinking about this exact topic recently. The protagonist in my WIP is a man and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about his connection with “real” men. I hope he is authentic. I also wish we were allowed to call people idiots at women’s Bible studies. But, alas.

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby May 24, 2016 at 7:32 am #

      Katie, do you have some male relatives or friends who will check him out for realism? My husband is my reality checker for how a man would respond if I’m not quite sure. He makes great suggestions, like making my villain more sympathetic by having him rescue an injured bunny…and make rabbit stew a few pages later.

      • Avatar
        Katie Powner May 24, 2016 at 8:38 am #

        Thanks for the suggestion Carol, that’s a great idea. I imagine it could be difficult to get any men to read it, however! My husband did, but of the two of us he’s the sensitive one so I’m not sure if that helps much. I love the rabbit stew thing, that is awesome.

        Also, I should clarify that I do not want to CALL people at Bible study idiots, only occasionally say they are ACTING like idiots. There’s a difference.

        • Avatar
          Carol Ashby May 24, 2016 at 9:07 am #

          A male colleague who is a tech writer read one of mine completely, but he is also writing fiction. He said he really enjoyed it (perhaps he was being generous), but mine all have a major plotline unrelated to any romance, which helps for male readers. Maybe you could get someone to read a few short sections to see if you have the right feel to the character.

          Even sensitive men have the characteristic male speech and thought patterns. My husband is a kind, thoughtful person as well…even toward rabbits.

  13. Avatar
    Marilyn Read May 24, 2016 at 7:48 am #

    Your posts are learning experiences for me. I treasure your honesty and straight approach. In this one, I see my son. I think you characterized Christian men in a way women can understand (and relate to.) I see the set the jaw, put aside and move forward in my son. But we women do that, too. It is, after all, our gracious God’s advice. Recognize our sin, give it to Him, and accept forgiveness.
    I hope you are invited to a women’s study soon. I believe if you came to my Thursday study, you would be amazed at the similarities of men’s studies. We are not focused on feelings, but in growing in obedience and usefulness. Perhaps we are better at encouraging!
    Thanks again, Dan.

  14. Avatar
    Stacey Philpot May 24, 2016 at 8:14 am #

    This made me cry a little. Which, clearly, further solidifies my girliness.
    But it was meaningful for me to be given insight into the things which weigh upon a man’s heart, what biblical characters his life and story might identify with. My husband doesn’t talk about these things, but I’m sure he feels them. I didn’t think it was possible but this blog made me love and appreciate him more. Thanks.

  15. Avatar
    Jaime May 24, 2016 at 8:30 am #

    This post was very helpful to me from a ministry standpoint! I am the director of all the adult ministries in my church, and so part of my job is to meet with the Bible study leaders to see how things went. But whenever I ask the men’s study leader, or my husband who attended, I get very little information on how things went. Mostly, it just went “Ok”. Now I am going to fill in the “Ok” in my head with what you just described, to appease my need for more info. Thank you!

  16. Avatar
    Carol Ashby May 24, 2016 at 9:36 am #

    As we women all know, our minds are always thinking about something even if we’re only slightly awake. When I would ask my husband what he was thinking and he replied “nothing,” I used to think he just didn’t want to tell me. Then I read about some brain studies on the difference between male and female brains. I learned that men have a “nothing” box where they are watching what is going on but not really thinking about anything in particular. My son confirmed that he had a “nothing” box, too.
    We need to let our male characters have that nothing box as well.
    Here’s a hilarious presentation on the subject that my husband says is SO true!
    Mark Gunger’s “A Tale of Two Brains”
    https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+male+and+female+brains&view=detail&mid=E5000844C4D31C088425E5000844C4D31C088425&FORM=VIRE

    • Avatar
      Brennan McPherson May 24, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

      The “nothing” box is real. Compartmentalization is a peculiarly deep skill in men (I suspect that’s a big reason they’ve historically been more active in doing terrible things like killing people in war). Neither a good or bad trait. Just different.

      One thing I hate, however, is an oversimplification or clichéd view of manhood. Men aren’t simple. Well…some are. But in general, to use the caveman or “sports-lover” guy as your male archetype all the time is a mistake. I know plenty manly men who aren’t into football, baseball, soccer, or gunz and ‘splosions. Some baseball players are highly sensitive. Some artists are extremely gruff.

      I think many men are conditioned to behave stupidly because it’s more socially acceptable, at times, to claim mindlessness than to admit complicated emotions. And with the ability to compartmentalize, it becomes easy to wear masks. But to write a man who only shows the mask is to show an innate misunderstanding of men. They are much more than the masks they wear.

      It’s true that boys tend to develop emotionally more slowly than girls in adolescence, but I’ve never subscribed to the idea that boys lack emotional complexity. In fact, it’s possible it can be more difficult for men to work out emotional issues because they’re so compartmentalized they lack the self-awareness necessary to deal with the complexity of emotions they do experience.

      For me, the biggest difference I identify between speech patterns in men vs. women is that men tend to (I say this with trepidation because people vary so much) be more focused in communicating objective information the listener may find relevant, while women tend to communicate personal emotions that may or may not be relevant to the listener. Perhaps because women tend to be more interested in emotional connection and are searching for emotional similarity, while men are looking more for mutual interests.

      Whatever happens, I think it’d be a mistake to push a stereotyped version of manhood. What men need is deeper exploration of their purpose and calling.

      • Dan Balow
        Dan Balow May 24, 2016 at 12:56 pm #

        I agree. We are not uncomplicated cavemen, but on the whole, we are different than women!

        I am actually a little disappointed in the responses today to the post. I hoped to get someone saying how men view things was “wrong” and we should be more like women.

        I had some really great comebacks prepared. Alas, I may never be able to use them. 😉

        • Avatar
          Rebekah Love Dorris May 24, 2016 at 1:54 pm #

          Oh please, do share!

          Umm, how’s this:

          “Mr. Balow, surely you must be joking. Why do men think it’s acceptable to sacrifice emotion at the altar of logic? It hurts me deeply to imagine the repression you men must experience who think everything must be cut and dried. If only you would open up more and tell us how you really feel…Girls rule, boys drool. Be like us – your way is WRONG”

          That prime your pump?

          • Avatar
            Andra M. May 24, 2016 at 2:16 pm #

            I should have refreshed the page before I commented, Rebekah. Your comment is better than mine 😛

          • Dan Balow
            Dan Balow May 24, 2016 at 2:17 pm #

            Sorry, I see through the deception. I hold my best comebacks for genuine condescension.

            🙂

            • Avatar
              Carol Ashby May 24, 2016 at 2:18 pm #

              Here’s one for you, Dan.
              If a man says something and there is no woman there to hear him, is he still wrong?

        • Avatar
          Andra M. May 24, 2016 at 2:14 pm #

          But men are always wrong, Dan!

          There. Now you can throw out your comebacks. 🙂

          • Dan Balow
            Dan Balow May 24, 2016 at 2:20 pm #

            If a man says something in a forest and there is no woman there to hear him, is he still wrong?

            There…I just confirmed your suspicion.

      • Avatar
        Carol Ashby May 24, 2016 at 2:09 pm #

        For me, the archetypal man is the engineer. Smart, reliable, capable, more focused on results than relationships, using fewer words to say something than most woman conveying the same information, getting together to do something concrete rather than to just spend time together for the simple purpose of being together.
        Here’s an interesting question to ask your male and female friends. If you were forced to choose, would you rather be respected or loved? After you get your results, read Ephesians 5:33 and think about the significance. (However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.)

      • Avatar
        Iola May 24, 2016 at 4:35 pm #

        The “nothing box” is real? Well, I’ve learned something today. It explains a lot.

    • Avatar
      Richard New May 24, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

      Oh, so true! The video is a great presentation (in simplified form) on male/female understanding. Ten fingers up!

  17. Avatar
    Beverly Brooks May 24, 2016 at 9:37 am #

    Dan, refreshing that you tackled this subject. Makes sense and hopefully will encourage some guys to solve this problem … as in go ahead and write!

  18. Avatar
    Iola May 24, 2016 at 4:37 pm #

    “I guess I just challenged Christian men to write to men and Christian publishers to publish for men.”

    So is this entire post a teaser for the 2017 lineup from Gilead Publishing? Or a subtle plea for male-oriented fiction submissions?

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow May 24, 2016 at 5:55 pm #

      Nice guess, but I was thinking of the overall industry. But we do need more men novelists.

  19. Avatar
    Angie May 24, 2016 at 8:01 pm #

    You had me at the photo!

  20. Avatar
    Jennifer Zarifeh Major May 25, 2016 at 5:24 am #

    I have 3 sons and it’s taken me YEARS to figure out their species. Their ages are 22, 18 and 13. But in many moments, they are the same age. As is my husband. All sort of a mish mash of ‘something-teen’.
    I attended Ronie Kendig’s Writing From a Male POV class at ACFW last year, and she affirmed much of what I didn’t know that I knew.
    Men speak to each other differently than they do to women. They easily tell each other blunt truths, while women throw rose petals out prior to speaking each word.
    Boys throw punches, and it’s done.
    Women throw words, and it is NEVER done.

  21. Avatar
    Autumn Grayson May 26, 2016 at 7:27 am #

    I talked to my boyfriend about some of this stuff yesterday.  I said that I didn’t think I’ve ever seen examples of the ‘nothing box’ even in books written by guys.  I said that I guess the reason for that is that showing the nothing box would require a span of time where the character would not be having thoughts the reader would be interested in reading, or a span of time where the character is not doing anything or solving a problem.  That would probably bore the reader if the nothing box was shown in too much detail.  My boyfriend said he’s seen the nothing box shown in Stephen King’s works, and all Stephen King does is say that the character stared off into space.

    That was interesting to me because if I hear that a character stared of into space, I usually interpret that as their mind wandering to something else, daydreaming, and simply not paying attention.

  22. Avatar
    Mike Henry Sr. May 28, 2016 at 9:24 am #

    Thanks Dan. I’m working on a non-fiction book, my first. Your post addressed many of the concerns I’ve had with both the topic and how it will appeal to readers. Thanks for the insight.

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