Why men don't read books by women

Aug 18, 2021

-       Did you ever think of omitting the word “mother” from the title of your book? 

I was asked this question recently during a podcast interview (My latest book is called Mother of Invention).

At first I didn’t even understand the question. 

The interviewer had to explain. 

He said that apparently several female authors who had been on the podcast had discussed the need to not “scare away” male readers. Men often don’t want to read books by women, or books that they perceive to be “for women”. It can become a commercial problem for female authors. 

Mary Ann Sieghart who is the author of The Authority Gap recently wrote about how she had commissioned Nielsen Book Research to find out exactly how big of a problem this was. 

The findings were depressing: 

  • For the top 10 bestselling female authors (in the UK) only 19 percent of their readers were men. 

  •   The top 10 bestselling male authors on the other hand had a readership that was 45% women.

  • Margaret Atwood, who everyone should OBVIOUSLY read, has a readership that is only 21% male. 

  • And when it comes to nonfiction women are 65 % more likely to read a nonfiction book by the opposite sex than men are. 

But to be honest, until the other week when I was asked if I had ever thought about making my book title more appealing to male readers, I had never thought of this really in relation to my own work. 

Maybe it has to do with the fact that I grew up in Sweden. When Mother of Invention was published there in 2020 many of the core readers actually turned out to be a male middle-aged engineers. My clever Swedish publicist Emma even ran a Father’s Day campaign for the book which did really well. 

(It’s important to mention that Scandinavia actually isn’t the feminist paradise that many people perceive it to be. The gender pay gap is similar to what it’s like in many other comparable European economies. And the glass ceiling is often lower). 

But yes, maybe Scandinavian men are more willing to read books by women. 

(Here’s a picture of Alexander Skarsgård holding not just one but THREE books by a woman).

The British writer Dolly Alderton has reflected on how the first time she was ever interviewed by a male journalist about her memoir Everything I Know about Love was in Denmark. 

The fact that men would read her book was unthinkable to editors in the UK. And no, I’m not surprised…

I personally  think that if men don’t want to read books by women it’s their loss. I believe that’s what I ended up saying on the podcast. Commercially I can’t see a huge problem either: women buy more books anyway. That’s the way the whole economy is going. Women are thought to influence almost 80 percent of all consumer decisions already. 

(Check out Bridget Brennans books on female consumption power if you are interested in this topic)

What I find more upsetting is how gender bias is reflected in the pricing of books. 

Books written by women are priced 9% lower even when you control for the fact that men dominate high status book genres (which tend to be priced higher in general). 

And here’s ANOTHER THING that’s REALLY wrong. 

It’s what I call “book season bias”. 

When I first came to London in my late twenties with a manuscript in Swedish that I desperately wanted to get published in English I was told that my book (later called Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?) was a “spring book”. 

Apparently this is a “truth” in UK publishing. Books that have to do with women or feminism should be published in spring. Autumn is for publishing BIG DAD BOOKS on the second world war (and similar). 

Now THIS actually pissed me off. 

It seemed so RANDOM. 

(Also: I don’t know about your dad but MY dad reads books on the second world war ALL YEAR ROUND.)

Ever since it has been a big career goal of mine to be published in the autumn. I have not achieved this yet in the UK for various reasons BUT Mother of Invention is being published in the US and Canada on…. 

*drum roll*

…The 19th of October!

BANG in the middle of DAD BOOK SEASON!


Publishers Weekly US has even listed it as one of its top ten Business and Economics titles for autumn, among such “dad books” as the new Game Stop book and Adam Tooze’s latest (which looks amazing by the way).

So, if you are in North America. Help me out! Pre-order Mother of Invention!

Let’s CONQUER dad book season!

Happy Thursday!


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Buy Katrine's book

"Mother of Invention: How Good Ideas Get Ignored In An Economy Built For Men" UK edition

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