“Men’s fiction”

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?

7 Responses to “Men’s fiction”

  1. Bryan says:

    I think Steve Almond falls under Men’s Fiction.

  2. Veny Armanno says:

    Hi Michael, this really is interesting, actually, as publishers often talk about the major demographic of the book buying public – and to them it ain’t men. To be honest I don’t really know – especially when you look at the more commercial crime/thriller/horror/etc market. Here in Australia I think I’m regarded as something of a writer of men’s issues but it’s always about 95% women at events (hey, how great is that?!) plus a couple of males who seem very relieved to have a book ‘that’s written for them’.

  3. Gill Avila says:

    I have a soft spot for the old “men’s adventure” magazines of the 50’s and 60’s like True, Argosy,Saga, For Men Only, and other “pulp” style magazines full of “true adventure” stories (With amazing illustrations) like “We Sank Tojo’s Monster Sub” and other tales of heroism that would make Captain America envious. Even the title Fiction for Men reminds me of the Reader’s Digest volumes of the 50’s called Reading for Men.

    Good Heavens–my voice is deepening and my chest hair is growing dark again just thinking about it.

  4. When I think of “men’s fiction” as a corollary to “women’s fiction,” I tend to think “lad lit” vs. “chick lit,” which is why the first name that popped into my head when I read this blog post was Nick Hornby.

  5. Aimee Stwart says:

    What about Bond-esque types of books? I could see it as Men’s Fiction. And I don’t get why all the fuss. Can’t men have their own niche? What’s the problem of a targeted audience?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Lad lit. That’s great.

    I don’t consider Sci fi , mystery, thriller, suspense, coming-of-age or adventure — all some of my favorite reading material — to be “men’s” fiction.

    But the guys can have just about anything involving a middle-aged-man having a mid-life crisis trying to recapture his lost youth, or romantic comedies of any type (which seem to be the mainstay of chick lit, which guys can also have, as far as this female is concerned.) *grin*

  7. Robert Bilotti says:

    It’s an interesting place the male writer – and let’s face it, male reader – finds himself because the industry from inside out is overwhelming geared towards women. There’s nothing wrong with that; if that’s who’s buying books, you cater to them. It does make it more difficult for a male writer like myself who doesn’t write tough-guy thrillers or chick-lit.

    There’s a place for smart, intriguing, even sensitive men’s fiction for sure. I think we’ve seen it more recently and I hope it’s a trend.

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