Sunday, 13 June 2010

Women who Like Crime Fiction


Yesterday I participated in an enjoyable crime readers’ day event held at Nottingham Central Library. After talks by others in the morning, I hosted my Victorian murder mystery event in the afternoon. All very enjoyable (and well performed by the cast) as I calmed down after the trauma of getting completely lost in Nottingham’s Kafkaesque one-way traffic system. I like solving mysteries, but trying to find the library’s cunningly concealed car park defeated me...

One thing that struck me forcibly was that all but one of those participating in the event was female. And it is commonplace for the talks and events at libraries I attend to attract an audience that is 90% female. This may have a bit to do with the fact that I sense my recent books have appealed especially to a female readership. But I don’t think that is the main reason. The fact is that most whodunit writers who give talks find that most of those attending are women. I’m certainly happy about this, and I’m sure most if not all other writers are. But it does make you wonder why there is such a strong female presence.

Is it the case that mystery stories, perhaps especially those in the traditional style, appeal much more to women than to men? Or are men just very reluctant to attend talks about whodunits? And is there a connection with the fact that many key players in the publishing world are women? I’ve only ever had one literary agent, and she is female. Of the fiction editors I’ve had in the UK, five out of six have been female.

It’s all very intriguing, and definitely not a subject for complaint, but perhaps for curious enquiry. I’d be interested to know what readers of this blog think about the topic. Incidentally, the winner of the mystery event yesterday was – by a pleasant coincidence – a lady called Lisa whom I’ve never met before, but someone who has commented on this blog in the past. It was delightful to say hello to her, and a reminder of how connections can be made through the blogosphere that occasionally end up in meeting face to face.

28 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - That's a very interesting question. As far as face-to-face events, I couldn't answer your question with any reliability. But I know that, in terms of people who are kind enough to comment on my blog, I have more regular female than male commentators. But not many more, and of course, my blog is hardly representative of the world of crime fiction fans. I am eager to find out what your other readers think.

Clarissa Draper said...

That's very interesting. I don't know why that's the case. I would be an interesting case study however. All I know is, can't wait to read your work... and I'm female.

CD

seana said...

Martin, well, not to scare close to half the human race disproportionately, but the Atlantic Monthly's cover article is called The End of Men. That might be an explanation. It's a good article, but a bit disconcerting...

harriet said...

Well, I'm a woman and I like crime fiction very much indeed. I think you may be right about the gender divide, though I do know a couple of men who enjoy it. But why that should be is beyond me, I'm afraid. For me it works as comfort reading -- yes, bad things do happen, but everything is always (or nearly always) satisfyingly resolved at the end. Maybe men don't go in for comfort reading?

cassandrajade said...

I know quite a few guys that like reading mysteries though they complain that too many mystery stories target a female audience nowadays. I don't read a huge number of mysteries, they are my occasional break inbetween fantasies, but I find them very entertaining but detail and nuance driven which may be why women like them. Then again, who knows why anyone likes anything?

Deb said...

I apologize for the broad generalities, but I think mysteries appeal to what we consider a "woman's nature" more than to a man's. Mysteries focus on uncovering secret connections, looking for the smallest hint or inconsistency, and determining how X is related to Y. I believe that women, on the whole, enjoy this sort of thing a lot more than men because, in general, women are much more social beings--making friends, organizing get-togethers, planning events, etc. I'm not saying that men don't do these things, but it is usually more of a woman's "role." Whether it's nature or nurture, women, by and large, look for the social connection, which makes mysteries interesting to them.

Also, I believe studies have shown that women read (across all genres and types of books) more than men.

Jilly said...

I have a particular preference for crime stories without too much graphic violence. But I've noticed that male friends who like reading crime always go for the more violent end of the market. I would be reluctant to draw the conclusion that men prefer violence and women prefer more intellectual crime stories as like most generalisations it probably isn't true.

I think crime fiction has always had a large female following but I have no idea why that should be. I read crime stories because I like the puzzle element - trying to work out what happened and who done it. I've heard other women say the same thing.

I wonder whether more women attend such events because they see them as something to do which is different and because they like talking about what interests them. Men perhaps prefer reading to talking about what they read. Very difficult to answer the question really without assuming all the members of one gender are the same!

Maxine said...

Yes, most readers are women (and children under the age of 11). Publishing in general is an industry dominated by women (certainly in the lower echelons;-), but also, there are plenty of women senior execs etc in publishing - compare with any other industry covered in the business pages where virtually everyone is a man in suit). One reason I think is that content generating is not as renumerative as other industries, and so attracts fewer of the ruthless business types, and the creativity aspects appeal to women.

But returning to reading - apparently 60 per cent of UK readers are women over 50. That is one reason why you are doing so well to have a character like Hannah Scarlett - we like reading about capable, attractive, intelligent women ;-)

Based on anecdotal evidence of sitting on the train morning and evening, the men who read go more for thrillers of the "modern James Bond" era - women seem to read a huge range of books. Interestingly, you see as many people reading ancient library books or classics as you do reading current novels.

It is said that men tend to read non-fiction rather than fiction, but I don't recall if I've seen hard figures on this.

Final point - you see quite a few comics (aka graphic novels) now, which to some extent are publishers trying to get pre-teen and teen boys into the reading habit, eg young James Bond, Alex Rider et al. (not totally - but someone has thought that if the male sex does not read, they might do so if they get lots of pictures).

What the iPad and e-readers will do to all this, I don't know - I suspect the short form of reading will become massively more popular - the kind of short-short-story or excerpt that you can read on a train journey or in a waiting room? But even so, boys (men) may prefer to do what a lot of men on the train do (that I see) which is to watch movies or play games on their devices, rather than use them for reading.

Barbara said...

Men (if you glom them all together, which one wouldn't, really, would one?) tend to read non-fiction as much as fiction; women (glommed, see above) read fiction 70% of the time. Unless you're this woman, in which case it's more like 90% crime fiction, 10% non-fiction. I suspect there's a bigger divide, though, when it comes to events. Women tend to be more social in their reading habits, and men more solitary, generalizing very broadly. (Also, I suspect it's simply more acceptable for women to be seen enjoying fiction and books in general than men, who are supposed to be lifting weights or cooking meat over fires or something ... as the old song says, "I enjoy being a girl."

Barbara said...

Oh, and if Maxine is interested, I got those figures from a book called Reading Matters published in - ? - 2006 or 2007; it's a meta-analysis of reading studies edited by Catherine Sheldrick Ross and it's quite good.

Dorte H said...

I think I´m a bit late at the party. I agree that more men like hard-boiled suspense (many murders, car chases etc) while women like whodunnits and an interesting environment. I know I have written a lot about Scandinavian ´femikrimi´, but I cannot help wondering at the cover of the Mari Jungstedt I am reading right now. It is very, very pink so I presume the Danish publisher does not even try to sell it to men. I am not sure I would read it in a train. I´d rather be seen with a Dan Brown cover, actually.

Maxine said...

Pink in that it is a photo of a sunset, Dorte, but not "pink" in that awful chicklit/women's book way that is so common.

I agree that I am happy to be seen reading a thriller though not so sure about Dan Brown ;-) I enjoy a good thriller if it has an original plot and isn't some "world conspiracy conspiracy with lots of descriptions of guns and bombs in it" - this is the type of book I see a lot of men reading - perhaps more "adventure/military" than crime - I have never read an Andy McNab book but that is the kind of think. Military camouflouge and flames on the cover, rather than sunsets!

Thanks for the figures, Barbara.

Dorte H said...

Maxine: I can hear you have not seen the Danish cover. I promise to post about it later, but the camera battery is flat right now.

flip said...

Was lovely to meet you yesterday Martin. As for getting the right solution to the murder mystery that was a bit of a surprise, but a pleasant one :)

pattinase (abbott) said...

Women seem to do most of the reading in my real world--if not online. Book clue members are female, for instance. Women need a transcendental experience--men have sports.

Martin Edwards said...

I have been delighted, and fascinated, by your comments in response to this post. This is such a thought-provoking subject, that I'm strongly tempted to return to it in the near future, once I've had a chance to digest your various observations, which are certainly stimulating.

Deb said...

I know we can't always determine gender from on-line names, but it appears that everyone who responded to Martin's original post is a woman. Perhaps that says it all!

aguja said...

A bit late, but my own enjoyment of a 'whoduunit' is attempting to be one step ahead whilst indulging in the 'underworld' of detection; looking for clues in the words and actions of the protagonists and searching for the intricate threads that lead to that moment of discovering whodunnit.
I do usually have to take my hat off to the author for outwitting me.
And I am female, BUT I think that I should add that my husband equally enjoys the same novels.
Thank you for yours, Martin!

Nan said...

I think the thing is that most readers, period are women. I know men readers. My husband reads. But for the most part it seems to me that women are the readers in the world.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these further comments. Deb, you are spot on!

Steve Lewis said...

I'm not sure why, but 98% of the readers who leave comments on my blog are male. If it weren't for Patti Abbott, I think it would be 99.99%.

I know this doesn't mean anything in terms of the question you asked, Martin, but I've been aware of this for quite a while, and I just had to tell somebody.

-- Steve

Martin Edwards said...

Steve - I do find that stat fascinating. Do you think it suggests that the majority of fans of older mysteries (other than Christie, Sayers and co), and in particular the more obscure titles, are male?

Steve Lewis said...

That's a good point. Although Mystery*File does cover new mystery fiction as well as the old, the predominance is certainly toward the old.

Another emphasis is toward collecting as well as reading. Maybe there's something there as well, that reading older mysteries requires the effort (and interest) in going out and finding them.

Christie and Sayers are easy to find. Miles Burton, Henry Kane and Steve Fisher, all of whose books have been covered this part week, are not.

Not to mention Means Davis, who was female, just to keep the record straight!

Martin Edwards said...

Steve - collecting, yes, that's something I tend to associate more with men than women. Means Davis - a truly great name!

vegetableduck said...

A majority of the people who post at GAD are men too. Traditionally men often were considered to be greater readers of detective fiction, because, so the thinking went, men had puzzle-oriented minds and women were more attracted to emotions, found more in mainstream fiction.

After reading these comments I feel I should put down my books and run to grill meat, hunt animals and play contact sports. Verily, I must be sub-mannish.

Richmonde said...

I'm a woman and I love crime fiction. One of the things I like about it is the way it uncovers secret worlds and unfamiliar places and werid milieux. There's a large cast of characters, so people of all ages and types get a role. It's a type of fiction that doesn't foreground young, beautiful, conventional people. So we all get someone to identify with. That was point A. Point B is that there are many activities that single, middle-aged women can't join in with. We can't just turn up on our own to bars, parties, clubs, concerts – men can. So you'll find us out in force at any event where being a single female isn't an issue: lecture at a library, lunchtime chamber concert, art gallery, religious service, music workshop. (Single men, this may give you pause for thought.)

Martin Edwards said...

Curt, interesting point about GA fiction appealing to men. But of course great practitioners such as Christie, Sayers and Marsh were female. I'm sure there's a way of reconciling the two facts, though.

Martin Edwards said...

Richmonde, greetings! Your point is very well made, and I wish I'd thought of it. Definitely a subject for a future blog post, I think.