How to Write for Both Genders

It’s shocking, how few articles there are on the topic of writing a book that appeals to both genders. I’m not sure whether that means people don’t know how,  or don’t want their book to appeal to both genders, or think it’s unnecessary because appealing to both genders is easy, or what.

But just in case, I figured I’d give you what I’ve gathered on the topic.

First and foremost (and this may be a controversial statement but bear with me here):

Appeal to men and women shall follow.

You read me right. As I was compiling a list of male-reader advice, I realized exactly how much of it appealed to me as well. Because it was less about adding elements to appeal to men and more about avoiding things that drive men away.

So without further adieu, seven ways to attract male readers (followed by a few tips on how to adjust for females as well).

1. DON’T misrepresent male characters.

This is especially important if you’re a female writer. The most common complaint men have with books by female authors is that on the whole, their men are either assholes or estrogen-factories. The men that the reader are meant to like tend to wax feminine in a way that makes male readers uncomfortable. A couple of examples they cited as being extremely notorious:

      • Double-meanings. For the most part, men are simple and straightforward. When a man says, “Your hair looks nice,” he means that your hair looks nice. He isn’t saying, “But your make-up is hideous.” This is something that so many female authors just can’t seem to grasp. They write a layer of hidden meaning into their manly dialogue that just plain shouldn’t be there. This makes male readers uncomfortable at best, and angry at worst. (After all, don’t they hear that enough from their girlfriend already?)
      • Attention to detail. If your male character’s an investigator or an artist, they’re excused. Otherwise, a man just plain won’t notice the material of someone’s shirt or the specific cut of their hair, or even the color of their eyes. When a writer is using a male narrator but they’re spitting out all kinds of details about the settings and the people around them, it might feel alright for some female readers but men see right through it.

2. DON’T have a book cover men will be embarrassed to be seen reading.

Is this superficial? Very. But is it true? Most definitely. If the book looks even remotely feminine, he might not want his friends or family to see it, and that means he might pass it over altogether. Also, if you’re a female author with a distinctively female name, having that printed in large letters might deter them from even the manliest of covers.

Although I do have to note that this might not actually be your decision. The way publishing works these days, you get the cover they give you, no back-sass. (For the most part, anyway.)

3. DO give men something to piece together.

I’m sure you’ve heard before that women are talkers but men are do-ers. They like to get their hands on a problem and fix it. Keeping this in mind, give your male readers something to piece together. This is pretty straight-forward in a mystery or criminal investigation-type novel, but it can apply to anything really. Sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, just give the reader some sort of clues or foreshadowing so they have something to tinker with inside of their head for a while. If they can figure it out even just a page before it’s revealed, it’s still deeply satisfying in a way that we women can only begin to comprehend.

4. DO infuse your story with real emotional conflict… NOT soap opera conflict.

Even if you’ve never seen a soap in your life, you know what I mean. Dramatic gasping and betrayals around every corner, with wild love affairs and tragic departures. Women are tolerant of this. In fact, a select group of women even like it. Men, on the other hand, need something a little bit more substantial. Don’t over-do the emotional roller-coaster, and when you do write a scene meant to get to tug at the reader’s feelings in some way, make damn sure to avoid tired cliches. For a man to get involved in a novel, things need to be deeper than who sleeps with who.

5. DON’T be afraid to get a little technical.

If there are guns involved, know their names, and if you can’t do that then at least know a term more specific than ‘gun’. Revolver, sub-machine gun, double-barreled shotgun, the list goes on. On top of that, know how the gun your character’s using actually works. Yes, the reader can tell, and it earns a certain kind of respect if the author’s one of the 10% of America who can actually write about guns like they know what they’re talking about.

It’s not just guns–vehicles, mechanical equipment, tools, sports, anything that a man would generally hold the expertise in. Go the extra mile and get a little specific (although don’t infodump), and your male readers might just stick around for it.

6. DON’T pansy around.

Kill characters, drop f-bombs where they’re due, and generally show the blood, sweat, and tears of the story. Female writers, or books written toward women, tend to find ways to say the troubling things happened without showing it happen. Male readers just plain won’t tolerate that kind of pussy-footing around. They want to know the play-by-play in visceral, sensory detail. They want to see in their mind’s eye the bone protruding from the skin of the broken leg, not just hear that their leg is broken ‘but don’t worry, we’re driving him to the hospital for a cast right now. Sunny smile.’

This is one reason why zombie books are almost exclusively written by men. (Although I’ve got one written by a woman on my to-read list, and I’m looking forward to seeing the difference there.)


As you can see, a lot of my for-males advice could just as easily be ‘fiction-writing advice’ in general. Write realistic male characters and realistic non-cliche (non-overdramatic) emotion, write some sort of hintings or clues into the novel, make details vivid, et cetera. The thing is, it’s all in the genre. If action and adventure isn’t the type of story a woman is looking to read, whether or not you make the details vivid won’t make much of a difference. And if it is what they want to read, they’ll thank you for the detail you put in.

There isn’t really a stigma against women reading manly books like there is against men reading chick-lit. Women won’t be embarrassed by a masculine book cover, and there’s really nothing (aside from bad characterization/plot/writing/etc, like with any story) that really turns women off of a book in the way that soap-opera emotions and excessively female points of view do for men.

I’m not going to lie and say that romance doesn’t help, though. Make sure it’s a sub-plot and not the focus of the book (which goes back to keeping male readers around), and it should be tolerable if not pleasant for the men to read and really appreciated by the women.

I hope this has been helpful and informative, and if you have any thoughts, questions, or even disagreements, definitely leave me a comment!


One comment on “How to Write for Both Genders

  1. […] Editor Morgan Bishop writes: It’s shocking, how few articles there are on the topic of writing a book that appeals to both genders. I’m not sure whether that means people don’t know how, or don’t want their book to appeal to both genders, or think it’s unnecessary because appealing to both genders is easy, or what. […]

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