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Five Reasons Why Christian Publishers Have Lost Male Readers (Part 2)


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Mike Duran has finished his look where Christian publishers have lost male readership. It is important reading.
https://www.mikeduran.com/2020/11/16/five-reasons-why-christian-publishers-have-lost-male-readers-pt-2/

Here's a snip.
 

Quote

 

“Clean”fiction” is not a high priority for most male readers

The term “clean fiction” has become a defining characteristic of Christian fiction. Clean fiction is, basically, “family friendly” or “safe” fiction. It’s “safe” because it contains no/very little profanity, no nudity, sex, or sexual innuendo, no/minimal graphic violence or gore, and is mostly uplifting, hopeful, and inspirational.

But is this the kind of content most men require of their stories?

Earlier books for boys and men were often characterized by images of rugged, muscular, adventurous men battling monsters or savages while fighting alongside busty heroines or rescuing swooning damsels. Political correctness has now rendered such stereotypes anathema. (It’s also replaced said stereotypes with a new one, the Strong Female Character.) Nevertheless, the visceral appeal of the early “boy’s genre” tapped into something that drew young men to those books and stories.

That phenomenon illustrated an important fact: Boys will often read what interests them. One of the first things that prompted me to become a reader was my love for monsters — dinosaurs, space aliens, nuclear mutants, etc. It led me to comic books, Weird Tales, Eerie, and a host of other graphic novel-type fare. Some 50 years later I still love monsters… and reading. Of course, temperament and environment played a part in cultivating this discipline. However, it was the subject matter and the visual allure that first drew my interest.

This dynamic was recently evidenced during the Harry Potter craze. In Potter’s magic spell turns boys into bookworms, the author notes how the series about the boy wizard energized male audiences:

Debbie Williams, children’s buyer at Waterstone’s, said: ‘I think that Harry Potter has had a big impact on literacy and particularly in encouraging boys to read more books. Following Harry Potter there has been a real demand from boys aged nine to 14 – traditionally a group that was not interested in reading books. Reading books is now cool and has a playground credibility, and boys want to have read the latest thing.’

The HP phenomenon is likely unrepeatable. Nevertheless, a similar formula seemed to have been at play in the early comic book and pulp magazine era. Those early pulp magazines were gateways to many male readers and writers, engaging them through images and narratives that evoked traditional masculine impulses.

A search for contemporary “Men’s Fiction” reveals lots of Must-Read lists, but few actual best-seller lists. Perhaps the closest is the Amazon category Men’s Adventure Fiction. The genre (predictably) includes espionage, survival, combat, sci-fi, western, noir, and martial arts. Similarly, Ranker aggregates Best Guy Movies, with the top ten containing films like Goodfellas, Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, Die Hard, The Terminator, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

It doesn’t take an expert to conclude that men prefer less romantic and emotive fare for the more visceral, gritty, action-packed content. Which creates a potential problem for the Christian fiction market. For if “clean fiction” is one of the defining elements of Christian literature, much “masculine” content won’t make the cut.

This is not to suggest that Christian men want nothing to do with romantic content, are actively seeking “unclean” reading fare, or that profanity, violence, and sex are required for Men’s Fiction. Nor is it to suggest that “clean” fiction cannot be compelling reads. Yet to the male, occasional profanity, blood and gore, or even cleavage is not as off-putting as to traditional Christian fiction readers. The active gravitation away from such content, and branding an entire genre as “family friendly” or clean,” has exacerbated the existing gender gap and driven the Christian male’s interest in stories (whatever still exists!) to other alternatives.

 

 

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Interesting thoughts. The few men whom I know that enjoy reading tend to gravitate toward non-fiction anyway, and I wonder if this is partly why--the "clean" fiction they're "supposed" to be reading is in fact, unconvincing and insipid...

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Mainstream Christian fiction loses readers in general for a several big reasons.

 

#1 It doesn't show characters living the real battle of the Christian life. I mean, no one's life is easy, but it gets even harder when you become a Christian. It's a war. No doubt about it. Books need to portray that reality. People struggle with sins, doubts, etc. their whole lives.

 

#2 Mainline Christian fiction - like a lot of churches now - presents a watered-down version of Christianity. God's not some genie in a bottle that we get out when we need help. He's the Creator of all.

 

#3 Romance isn't our greatest need. Marriage doesn't bring instant happiness... Our greatest need is salvation.

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On a related note, I’ve really enjoyed Michael O’Brien’s novels for the way they portray the struggles and victories of a Christian life in a way that feels very real (to me, at least.)

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13 minutes ago, Zee said:

I’ve really enjoyed Michael O’Brien’s novels for the way they portray the struggles and victories of a Christian life in a way that feels very real

I'll have to check those out!

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I think much of the problem lies in what we understand to be "clean". 

In most Christian media that I have come accross, clean seems to connote "sterilized", something that has had the life removed removed from it. Yes you can interact with it safely but there isn't much of interest or anything feeling like real life to be found there.

 

The Bible on the other hand doesn't sterilize anything. Every one of the ten commandments are violated at some point by someone. Song of Solomon gives poetic descriptions of sex. People betray each other. God is killed. The people you might call righteous are the exceptions in the cast of characters.

 

I take from this that the important thing to consider is not content. All of life and death are on the table for exploration. What matters is whether we use these things for their intended purpose: to edify people in their knowledge of God. The purpose of messy content shouldn't be shock, titillation, wish fulfillment, or a sense of satisfaction when the bad guy gets his comeuppance. It should be to demonstrate that all of creation, including the not so pretty parts, declare the glory of God.

 

An example of a book by a Christian author that handles this pretty well would be Les Miserables.

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I often point toward the films PITCH BLACK, THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, PULP FICTION, and CALVARY. These are all stories of the redemption of sinners, and none of them are 'Christian' films in the genre sense of the term. I have a preference for telling stories that non-Christians can relate to.

 

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36 minutes ago, suspensewriter said:

I don't mean all Christian men, of course, but most of them just don't find it that interesting.

I'm still reading, just not tepid Christian fiction. Mike Duran has another installment in his Reagan Moon paranoir series, but that's published out in the mainstream, not within the cloistered walls of Christian publishing.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55285801-the-third-golemimage.png.ac2d6a71650e962c3fe430c48a5ea466.png

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I don't think it is Christian publishers, exclusively, that have lost male readers, but publishers in general.

 

Fantasy used to be the domain of people like Tolkien and Lewis.  Now?  It's retellings of Beauty and the Beast with sex and gore.

 

I disagree that guys want busty babes and sex.  They want purpose.  They want something to plant a flag on.  They want heroes and role models.  

 

I follow a bunch of comic book artists.  Their world is under assault.  They like books with heroes and villains, and strong male characters with a defined sense of right and wrong.  Yet the outside world - which is failing at their message, by the way - has tried to upend those precepts.  So there is a battle going on as the big companies like Marvel and DC move more towards the social justice thing, and pushing out the traditional artists and storytellers.

 

And the social justice thing is pervasive.  It's in the very platforms where these guys crowdfund.  I've seen content creators get shadow banned during their fund-raising campaigns, harassed online, and so on.  Still, their audience continues to grow day by day, while Marvel and DC's audience shrinks.

 

This is because one writes for men, who primarily read comics, and the other doesn't anymore.

 

You'll probably say, "Well that's comics."  True.  But I think that what's happening there is the same thing happening in books.  I know that the reason I started writing books is because I couldn't find anything that appealed to me.  I wanted something with a message.  I wanted something that spoke to me, because I couldn't find it anywhere else.  And I honestly don't think I'm alone in this.

 

In a sense, @suspensewriteris correct: there's lots of other venues for people to spend their time.  You can go to a movie theater for blockbuster entertainment.  There's Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix at your fingertips.  Then there are the soul-sucking social media platforms where you can waste all of your time tangling with trolls.  There are video games galore.

 

All of that is downstream from books.  They are STILL making movies out of Phillip K. Dick short stories.  Some of those big Netflix series were taken from graphic comics, comics, books, or inspired by them.  Many of the blockbusters come from comics and books: Captain America, Iron Man, The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe, The Edge of Tomorrow, The Help, World War Z, the list stretches on and on.

 

As a side note: video games are coming into their own as well.  The cut-scenes from Diablo II has some of the BEST story telling I've ever seen in a video game.  

 

My gut feeling is that there is a, largely untapped, audience that's just waiting to be rediscovered.  It's an audience that can be reached, but we're not going to get them by citing Bible verses in and out of our stories as we talk about life on the farm.  And we certainly won't reach them by avoiding some of the more harsher realities of life, because those offend our sensibilities.  I'd like to remind you that The Exorcist was, by the authors admission, a religious work.  And that one book has, for better or worse, woven its way into the psyche of the Western world.  The book and the movie scared the crap out of people because it hit that raw, primal nerve that we all have: the one that wonders after the true nature of good and evil.

 

When Christ spoke in parables, did He recite Scripture and verse?  No.  He only did that AFTER the story was over.  He told the story and let the listener fill in the gaps.  Then, He explained how it related to Scripture and the Kingdom of God.  And he spoke to people that others would not.  Why shouldn't we do the same?

 

At some point, someone is going to see what I see.  The question is, as Christians and as writers, do we want to get there first, or do we want to play catch-up?

 

I want to be clear: I'm not criticizing anyone's stories here.  Every voice has a place.  I think there is enough audience to go around.  But the people I'm describing aren't going to pick up an Amish Romance novel - they just aren't.  They are the individuals most likely to re-read Harry Potter for the sixteenth time, play Dungeons and Dragons, or play Call of Duty with their buddies.  They are all accessible to us.  Even if we don't convert them, we at least provide them something to think about.

 

(Or I could be dead wrong, and I'm sitting here trying to make myself look insightful.  Only Time will tell.)

 

 

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41 minutes ago, Jeff Potts said:

He only did that AFTER the story was over.  He told the story and let the listener fill in the gaps.  Then, He explained how it related to Scripture and the Kingdom of God. 

Also worth noting that he only explained the story to those that went to him after it was over and asked him what it meant. We should be more constrained in our impulse to make sure the reader "gets it". Our job is to make sure that there is something that can be gotten.

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2 hours ago, Jeff Potts said:

My gut feeling is that there is a, largely untapped, audience that's just waiting to be rediscovered. 

 

Let me give you a different take on that.  The world of fictional books, for the average male reader, I think, is largely dead or dying.  We just don't know it yet, and people are afraid to talk about it.  They cling to their dreams as writers, hoping for to connect with readers, but honestly, men are going away from the fiction presented in books, and I think it is a good thing.

 

I am a publisher, so that it saddens me to say this, but I think it is true.  It is beginning to happen in our lifetime, you just don't see it yet.

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On 11/16/2020 at 9:23 PM, HK1 said:

#1 It doesn't show characters living the real battle of the Christian life. I mean, no one's life is easy, but it gets even harder when you become a Christian. It's a war. No doubt about it. Books need to portray that reality. People struggle with sins, doubts, etc. their whole lives.

 

#2 Mainline Christian fiction - like a lot of churches now - presents a watered-down version of Christianity. God's not some genie in a bottle that we get out when we need help.

 

I agree and it is for these reasons I started to write again. To plug that gap. It is not gender specific either. Mena nd women may have some unique challenges but being a Christian is hard in this modern day world where the self is first.  

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On 11/17/2020 at 2:00 PM, suspensewriter said:

 

Let me give you a different take on that.  The world of fictional books, for the average male reader, I think, is largely dead or dying.  We just don't know it yet, and people are afraid to talk about it.  They cling to their dreams as writers, hoping for to connect with readers, but honestly, men are going away from the fiction presented in books, and I think it is a good thing.

 

I am a publisher, so that it saddens me to say this, but I think it is true.  It is beginning to happen in our lifetime, you just don't see it yet.

 

I kind of see what you mean about men not finding literary fiction interesting. There are no shortage of media to consume right now and many of the circumstances that would have been oportunities to read a couple of decades ago are now spent on phones. From my own experience I have found it difficult to find stories I engage with written by contemporary authors so I've been listening to books in the public domain.

 

As a publisher why do you think this is a good thing? Is it becuase of the quality of the fiction men are rejecting?

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It is because men long for a battle to fight, to be caught up into something greater than themselves and to be allowed to play the hero- rather than play the out-of-touch, misogynistic, toxic, dunce that the world tries to make us out to be. 

 

And if we can't find that in real life, then reading about it is the next best thing. But that slice of Christian fiction grows ever smaller. Men don't want romance novels or dime store moral tales that tie things up in a neat little bow.

 

They want the war that their souls long for.

 

There's a reason that LOTR and other fiction like it is still as popular as it is.

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While I prefer something about the level of gore an 8 year old boy could handle, everything you're saying about purpose, grit, and real evil is why I've never gotten into Christian fiction. I used to read Clancy until his sailor language started getting into my brain! Give me and my boys heroes, not wusses.

And everything is always changing, but as long as we follow a God who chose a book to communicate his eternal truth, there will be a market of readers. Literacy and the Bible walk hand in hand. Get my sons engaged in a story and they will have an easier time with the Bible and vice versa. 

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Hey, SW!!! I hope you're doing well... I've been away for a while...

 

You're making some fascinating statements, and I'm working to wrap my brain around them. Just unwinding it all a bit... I'm sure you're not putting all men into a single bucket, as some are still reading, but I get that you claim that the market in male-oriented Christian fiction is trending downward, which I think was part of the points advanced in the OP. But you've added the claim that you don't think that the new level it settles into will support a market niche for male-oriented Christian fiction, yes?

 

If that's true (and I'm fully open to the possibility) then the status quo in male-oriented fiction could be a dead end, so it might be really important to search for new, innovative directions that either haven't been tried before, or which haven't been sufficiently developed to produce that gust of wind to catch our sagging sails/(sales?)... sorry.

 

Anyway, I hope I'm not putting words in your mouth, but I get the impression that you're sounding the alarm that there's at least one market niche where its writers may need to innovate, or die. 

 

-----

 

Oh... and @Celebrianne... trust me, an 8-year-old boy will have a much greater appetite for gore than a 68-year-old man. I understand that your heart was in the right place, but the comparison may get a smile from some of the guys... just sayin'...😁

Edited by Wes B
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