Why macho men don’t read: the alarming decline in action thrillers

by isabelrogers

There is a blog on the Bookseller website today, apparently written by a “UK-based agent”. Literary agent, I imagine, though from the tone and cloak’n’dagger anonymity one might assume he (and there, dear reader, is another silly assumption of mine) is a secret agent. Perhaps he’s plotting the overthrow of publishing, like some James Bond villain. Even now he could be stroking a cat.

It was brought to my attention on Twitter by Chris McVeigh, whose exact words when tweeting the link were “Oh do fuck off. So much to deride here it’s difficult to know where to start.” He’s right. Sorry this isn’t the shortest blogpost. Read it at your own blood pressure peril.

In summary: this agent thinks men are short-changed with the kind of books they are offered. It’s all just too damned female these days. You can read his pompous ramble here, but I’ve reproduced some of it in my attempt to catch his drift. To analyse, if you will, even though I admit it’s a male trait and I therefore may not be able to pin his arguments down with sufficient clarity. I can only giggle and make a fluffy pink apology.

The tone is robust and male from the off (sorry – I must have picked up that racing term from one of the virile, male-dominated Dick Francis novels I devoured as a womanly teenager). He employs the pronoun ‘one’, often when suggesting daft ideas: “one struggles to think …”, “a few years ago one would have been sure …”. Make your mind up, love. Is it a struggle or are you sure? Perhaps you were sure but now you are not? These pesky modern decisions are awful.

His rose-tinted spectacles are firmly pinched to his manly nose. Now is bad. The past was good. Black and white. Male and female. He likes long sentences, that lead you, bloodhound-like, to a conclusion so far removed from that which he started one wonders if one has wandered alliteratively into some German translation, and aches for the end of the paragraph to find the bloody verb.

He is fond of opinion; less of fact. The passive voice is employed to add statistical relevance. “It’s an observation that … doesn’t get any less true.” “The Reading Agency’s recent survey does nothing to dispel …” “It is also interesting to note …” Is it though? Is it? Interesting to whom? “It would seem reasonable to ask …” Would it? Reasonable to whom? There are no links to survey data. He dismissed as “ongoing rumblings” several years’ worth of VIDA statistics analysing “the different way in which serious fiction by men and women is received”.

Let’s jump to the heart of the matter. He likes action thrillers. He thinks other men like action thrillers and find no pleasure in any other genre. He thinks there should be more action thrillers published because all his favourite “internationally successful male authors” are dead or about to pop off, though it is interesting to note (god, he’s got me doing it now) he does not include Ian Fleming in that list. He complains that if he had the “next big action adventure to send out there are whole publishing divisions where there is to all intents and purposes no one for me to sent it to.” Really? Really? Let’s just leave that preposition dangling and move on.

He goes on to spin his take on the current publishing world and then to use that as accepted fact. “If we have stopped being good at publishing for men, perhaps one of the reasons is …” That’s a big if, sunshine. He describes publishing meetings where “the room was happily discussing the latest sex and shopping novels before moving on to some male editor’s action thriller: the drop in temperature was perceptible.” If he was present at more than one of these plural meetings and did nothing to raise that temperature, why was he there? (Also, do rooms discuss anything, happily or otherwise, without people in them?)

Then we come to his innocent-sounding question which is anything but, containing as it does the nub of his sexism. “Of course,” (always great to start with this: it sweeps the reader along in your confidence of self-evident truths), “a good professional is in theory capable of evaluating all sorts of fiction, but just how enthusiastic can female colleagues get about strongly masculine subjects?” The answer, of course (two can play at this game: I’m getting the hang of it now) could be “very”. It could be “eye-poppingly, seat-wettingly, jumping-up-and-down excited”, but then OF COURSE it would be seen as girlishly immature gushing and therefore Not Serious Enthusiasm. You can bet your bottom dollar we can’t have it both ways.

Towards the end, he retreats into the asexual pronoun of “one” when harking back to “a few years ago”. One can only assume he was happier then. Anyway, back to his reminiscence: “A few years ago one would have been sure of a friendlier reception in the sales department – traditional bastions of more macho culture – but sales teams are mere stubs of what they once were.” I could feel his detumescence suffuse that entire desperate paragraph. Poor lamb. I’d like to be a fly on the wall at the next meeting he has with anyone from a sales team. They could get t-shirts printed saying STUD, with the D crossed out and B written next to it.

Apparently the “long term hardly looks encouraging either.” His last gasping paragraphs seem to suggest, in an unsavoury, banker-like manner, that if your pay is shit you’ll only get women doing those jobs. To attract the pre-stub studs, you need big bucks. Sadly, as the gender pay gap statistics show, he is horribly accurate. I no longer wonder why, since he feels no need to apologise for that opinion. It is apparently normal to observe this situation without getting angry about its inequity.

He bookends his damp squib of a rallying call with references to effeminate men. He seems to operate on a scale of value that goes: (1) macho men, (2) ordinary-looking hetrosexual men, (3) effeminate men, (4) women. I fear for his safety should he venture out on Old Compton Street of an evening.

It’s because of attitudes like this that I seriously consider writing under a male pseudonym. And then think: why the hell should I? Also, I don’t write action thrillers. Silly me.