We hear all the time that there are legions of men out there who won't buy a book written by a woman. It's why Joanne Rowling published the Harry Potter series as "J.K."; she knew boys would be less inclined to pick up her books--even though they're about a boy wizard--if they had a female author's name on the cover. Ask your typical male for his favorite books, and he'll inevitably give you a list written by male authors. When there's a woman on the list, it's usually Harper Lee, and an astonishing number of those men who cite her don't realize that the ambiguously-named author of To Kill a Mockingbird is actually a woman.
For a long time, I thought this prejudice worked from the male side only, since despite the fact that a huge majority of both book readers and book buyers are women, books written by men still make up the vast majority of best sellers. Obviously, women are more willing to buy books written by men than men are to buy books written by women. The gender distribution on the bestseller list is changing, slowly. But readers still have a lot of expectations and prejudices when it comes to an author's gender, and it seems that female authors aren't the only victims.
I was surprised the other day when a good writer friend of mine mentioned off-handedly that she rarely read books written by male authors. "I find they don't usually delve into emotion and character interaction the way I like." Now, I knew this woman loves to read what she calls "girlfriend books" and books that focus on interactions within families; in other words, the kind of angsty, meandering, introspective books that have a tendency to send me running for the hills while screaming "Nooooo!" But I'd always assumed she chose her books by subject; I didn't realize that at some point she'd consciously come to the conclusion, "I don't like books written by men."
Now, this might strike many of you as one of those "Well, duh!" moments (I have a lot of those). But the fact is, while much has been written about MEN not reading books written by women, we don't hear so much about the reverse.
In thinking over my own reading history, I can honestly say that I read books written by both genders. Yet I refuse to buy a love story written by a man unless I know in advance it ends happily (no Bridges of Madison County, The Notebook, or Cold Mountain for me. Seriously; what is it with you guys? Afraid that if a couple live "happily ever after," critics will think you write like a girl?). And--the ultimate irony--I'm also leery of suspense and thrillers written by women, largely because I've found in the past that they generally don't give me what I'm looking for. That said, though, I'm always open minded. (Or at least, I try to be.)
Interestingly, my friend revealed her thoughts on male authors because she was in the middle of reading a book, written by a man, that was giving her all the emotion and character interaction she craved and normally assumed she wouldn't find in book with a male name on the cover.
So what about you? Do you find that you have expectations based on an author's gender? Does an author's gender influence your buying habits, and if so, in what way?