HNS Conference: Gender Preferences

Every conference generates a unique buzz. The panel discussions, the conversations around the buffet line, all tap into the collective consciousness. The 2015 HNS Conference just concluded in Denver, and I’m left thinking about gender and trends in historical fiction.

Discussions about what readers wanted seemed to be top of everyone’s mind, specifically, whether they preferred to read about female or male protagonists. There were two panel discussions around gender and historical fiction, The Gender Divide, and Damsels to the Rescue: Reviving the Male Protagonist. The issue/assumption has been that since women constitute a higher percentage of novel readers, they may shy away from stories with a male protagonist. But is that true?

When I consider the historical novels I’ve enjoyed the most, many have featured a male protagonist. Just to name a few: Patrick O’Brian’s Lucky Jack Aubrey series, Elizabeth Chadwick’s William Marshall series (A Place Beyond Courage, featuring William Marshall’s father, John, is one of my all time favourites), and Mary Stewart’s Crystal Cave Series. Aside: Although the Merlin series was labelled as fantasy, in my opinion, it’s every bit historical fiction.

But I’ve equally enjoyed stories with a strong female protagonist. In fact, gender does not factor in my decision on selecting a novel. I don’t look for stories with this character or that character, but I do look for good stories. On the opposite side of the book table, I find it easier to write male protagonists. Not surprising when you understand that in my home life, I’m surrounded by men.

I wonder if there is truly a gender divide in historical fiction, whether stories with male protagonists are truly a tough sell?

I’ve noticed a trend in romantic fiction to include the hero’s point of view instead of keeping the guy standing back in the shadows, all dark and brooding. This is a huge step forward for romantic fiction which used to only present the heroine’s point of view.  Women are clearly not put off from these stories. In fact, one romantic publisher, ChocLit, insists on a 50/50 hero/heroine POV, and they seem to be thriving. So if women, who consume romantic fiction, enjoy hearing from the male protagonist, why is it considered a tough sell in historical fiction?

I’d like to know what your preferences are so I’ve devised a quick (unscientific) poll. Please take a moment and let me know what you think.

Featured picture:

By User:benjamint444 (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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