Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Writing: Some Rules May Just Be Legends

This picture of Gayle Roper's class on writing at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference reminds me of the journey I and some of those other folks have made as we pursued the writing life.

One of the things I was told early on in my writing life was that 85% of the readers of Christian fiction are women, and they prefer a female protagonist. Since I'm a slow learner, my first novels had a male protagonist--and those books are still on my hard drive, unpublished. Then I wrote what ended up as Code Blue with Dr. Cathy Sewell as the main character, and more contracts followed. As one of my medical school professors said, "Hey, you can teach a white mouse in three times. Learn from experience."

After four successful novels, I decided to test that rule with my fifth book, Stress Test, featuring co-protagonists Dr. Carrie Markham and Adam Davidson. My introduction of a strong male lead didn't seem to bother my readers. By then I began wondering if the rule was only a legend. Thus, the survey. Here are the questions and responses.

Do you prefer the protagonist to be male, female, or makes no difference? 85% said it doesn't matter. Here's a typical comment: "I like strong, human characters who push boundaries to solve problems in search of an ideal (i.e., who fight fights worth fighting)."

Does the author's sex matter? 91% didn't think so. One commenter said, "I've found many male authors leave out an essential element that draws me to their work - the emotions. When an author shares his heart with me in his writing, as James Rubart does (for example), he can suck me in just as effectively as a female author. But I've found few male authors to date who do that. If they don't, I won't read their work." I'll pause here to acknowledge my wife, Kay, who is my first reader and helps me write with authentic female characters, something for which I've been complimented.

Does the publishing house matter? Not to 84% of respondents. Here is a typical comment about that:
"I do consider the publishing house--certain houses tend to publish clean fiction and clean is important to me--but it does not determine whether I read the book or not. Good story and that it is clean are most important to me."                                

I also asked about preference for romance vs. suspense (I write medical romantic suspense and this was just for me). 14% voted for romance, 68% for suspense, and to everyone else it didn't matter.

I believe the following comment pretty well sums up the responses I got. "If the writing is great, I don't care if the protagonist is male or female. (It is interesting to get the male perspective at times though.) I usually read books from Christian publishers because I can get a good read without language and explicit sex scenes. Other than that, I don't care who the publisher is. My favorite genre is romantic suspense, but it doesn't matter where the emphasis is if the book keeps me on the edge of my seat."

I recognize that this survey is far from scientific. The sample size is too small, and it's obviously biased since the people taking it either read this blog, my tweets, or my Facebook posts. But it's accurate enough for me.You can draw your own conclusions, but to me it seems that readers don't care about the sex of the main character, the sex of the author, or the name of the publisher. They just want a good read. And that's what I'll keep trying to give them.

How about you? What do you think of the responses? Anything you'd like to share? Let me know.

(Note: For those who were expecting a post about the Super Bowl, I refer you to your local newspapers, radio, TV, and the Internet. I'm ready for baseball season.)


sue harrison said...

Very interesting, Richard. Thank you for sharing your findings with all of us who are out there trying to figure out what really works for the readers of inspirational fiction!

Richard Mabry said...

Sue, Wonder how many of my author/readers have heard the same thing I did--85% of Christian fiction is read by women, and they like female protagonists. At least in this survey, that's not true.
I'm not sure the responses apply to everyone, but they certainly apply to my own readers, which is the area where I was struggling.