As a self-described “men’s fiction” guy, I was intrigued by the announcement this week that Esquire is launching an e-book series aptly titled “Fiction for Men.” A collaboration with e-book publisher Open Road Media, the first volume launches in June with short stories from Aaron Gwyn, Luis Alberto Urrea and Jess Walter. According to the Times, a new volume will follow every few months.
To my mind, any new attempt to showcase fiction is to be commended. But I was struck by the idea that the anthology is partly an attempt to answer the question “what is men’s fiction?” It’s a question I’ve certainly pondered as an agent. Yes, it’s reductionist, but “Women’s fiction” is a pretty well-defined category in publishing—if I have a novel that I think falls under the “women’s fiction” banner, I have a good idea of the editors I would approach for that. But “men’s”? Not so easy to suss out.
Now, I know that part of the reason for the lack of definition is that “men’s fiction” often falls into other pretty well-defined categories—thrillers, suspense, mystery, sci-fi, horror, etc. And then there’s the “literary” tag, which often neatly avoids gender-specific designations, though what makes a book “literary” is an even knottier question. But what do you do with a book that’s about men, mostly likely written by a man, yet doesn’t fit into any of these boxes, and to call it “literary” would be a stretch?
Well, on first glance, Fiction for Men doesn’t really help matters. Yes, they’re showcasing some pretty heavy hitters, but wouldn’t Gwyn, Urrea and Walter fall under the literary banner, rather than “men’s”? On the other hand, in the June/July print issue, Esquire has works by Stephen King and Joe Hill, Lee Child, and Colum McCann—Two horror guys, a suspense writer, and yes, a man of letters (i.e, literary!). Of course, who knows what they’ll actually write, but ostensibly, it seems like Esquire is just as confused as I am. Then again, maybe that’s the point…
Perhaps once Fiction for Men gets going, we’ll have a better idea of what Esquire means by the category. And from there, maybe we’ll see if it has any effect on how publishers define their lists. Meanwhile, I’ll throw the question out there–what does “men’s fiction” mean to you?