Today, I'm thrilled to have Rogue Women Writers blogger and international thriller writer Chris Goff challenge your perceptions about who reads -- and writes -- thrillers. Welcome, Chris. -- Elaine Viets.
At the Rogue Women Writers’ panel at ThrillerFest on July 8, Steve Berry (panel master) raised the curtain on the gender disparity in writing International Espionage & Geo-political Thrillers. It was a great discussion with audience participation and everyone could see that there are differences—in treatment of men and woman AND in their approach to writing. The disparity in the mystery/thriller/crime fiction genre is the primary reason Sisters in Crime (SinC) exists. And while the industry has come a long way, a recent article by Allison Breen, "Is Progress Being Made in Publishing", published in Forbes magazine in July 2016, cites some interesting examples that seem to prove the publishing industry in general still favors men.
But that aside, I think it's worth exploring the issue strictly from the reader standpoint.
In my genre there exists a perception that men are the predominate readers of International Espionage & Geo-political Thrillers AND, that said, that those same men don't like reading books written by women.
While every source I found did seem to support the allegation that International Thriller readers are predominately men, I could find no statistics to back up the claim. An interesting blog posted on criminalelement.com, Linda Rodriguez (author of the Skeet Bannion novels) addressed the issue. She postulates that, looking back to the origins of thrillers and mysteries, they did split along gender lines. "Thrillers were originally written by, for and about men [and] shared elements of idealized male protagonists braving physical danger and escalating threat that built to cathartic endings of explosive violence.”
She goes on to say—and I paraphrase—that mysteries were written by, for and about women, and predominately read by female readers. She ends by claiming that things have changed, alleging that "women are the majority of readers throughout the spectrum [of thrillers and mysteries]...and that women [also] write roughly half the books in the combined genres."
According to a 2015 US Media Audience Demographics report by MarketingCharts.com, female fiction readers read mystery/thriller/crime books at a much higher rate than male readers (57% compared to 39%), though crime fiction was given as the most popular genre for both genders. If you look at the lists for the top mysteries and thrillers of 2015, there is a good gender mix among the authors. But when you drill down into categories, another picture emerges. I scanned close to a thirty "bestsellers" lists—broken down by reviews, publications and sales. A recap shows that in the psychological thriller genre the women authors seem to have an edge. In action and spy & espionage thrillers the men dominate.
If women are the primary book buyers, the conclusion one must draw is that women are putting these male authors on the lists. So maybe it's the women's perception of International Espionage and Geo-Political Thrillers that needs to change.
It's also interesting to note that the same authors' names come up again and again across the lists, so maybe the question should be: How does an author get her books into the hands of the right readers?
All of us from authors to agents to editors and publishers are looking for answers.
Is it the content of the male authors' books versus the content of the female authors' books that draws the readers? I don't think so. My fellow Rogue Women Writers write just as kick-ass action scenes and can be compared with the most popular writers in the genre.
Is it the way the books are marketed? Possibly. I have published with Berkley (Penguin), Crooked Lane Books (a small publisher) and Astor+Blue Editions (a smaller publisher), and they all have different approaches to marketing. An argument could be made that I've received more attention for my books from efforts made by the small publishers, but it's no secret that having a publisher put some money and muscle behind a book can make a difference.
So what can an author do to get on the radar?
We can solicit reviews and book blurbs from the bigger players in our genres. It's not always easy. There are a lot of authors vying for limited review space and for the time other authors can give to endorsing another writer's work.
We can promote through bookstore and library appearances, reminding ourselves that it's just as important to meet the booksellers and librarians as it is to pack a signing—maybe more important. Big books are often made through word-of-mouth, and having the opportunity to meet the people with a direct line to the readers is an important first step.
We can reach out through social media. It's one reason we (myself and seven other women who write International Espionage & Geo-political Thrillers) formed the Rogue Women Writers blog; the reason the Femme Fatales are in existence—to reach the audience for our books.
We are all looking for the next thing that will help garner attention for our work. We all hope for award nominations and starred reviews. But all we really can do is write great books—and keep knocking on the door. From now on, I'm adopting a new mantra. If they read me, they will love me! I'll let you know how it works.
Chris Goff is the award-winning author of six environmental mystery novels and a new international thriller series. DARK WATERS (Crooked Lane Books, September 2015) her thriller debut, is a nominee for the 2016 Anthony Award for Best Crime Fiction Audiobook. Dark Waters features Diplomatic Security Service agent, Raisa Jordan, and set in Tel Aviv amid the Israeli-Palestine conflict and is said to be “a sure bet for fans of international thrillers.” (Booklist) The second in the series, RED SKY, is due out in 2017. Check out her website at www.christinegoff.com.