To understand the Hot Dudes Reading phenomenon, you need to start by looking at the Instagram account’s most-liked photo.
“This ruggedly handsome guy looks like a long lost Hemsworth brother and I am NOT mad about it,” reads the caption.
Resting against a subway door – a big no-no, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority – the mystery man has one hand behind his head as the other grasps a book on which his eyes are squarely focused.
“His blatant disregard for those subway safety signs has me thinking he isn’t afraid to break the rules,” the caption continues. “I could pretend I’m an officer writing him a ticket and if everything goes as planned, he’ll be the one handcuffing me.”
It’s just one of nearly 200 photos of good looking men reading books – mostly while riding New York City subways amid a sea of phone-clutching passengers – that HDR services to its followers. (As of Friday, that number is at a whopping 860,000.) Although the captions are written in the voice of a witty and thirsty Manhattanite with good camera skills and an eye for studs, the reality is each post is the result of tireless collaboration between a group of 13 professionals in their 20s and 30s, all of whom have been friends for years.
With a book (appropriately titled Hot Dudes Reading) published by Simon & Schuster now on sale, 12 of the authors headed to the Time Inc. offices in downtown N.Y.C. in late April for their first-ever sit-down interview. No subject was off limits, so long as the authors could maintain their anonymity to protect their careers and keep the focus on their bread and butter: the men they shamelessly objectify. Read on for their best-kept secrets.
1. All the authors are sexually attracted to men.
The group is comprised of six heterosexual women and seven homosexual men. Seven of them are single, five are in steady relationships, and one – a female vice president of a hedge fund in her late 20s – is engaged. Laughing, she explains that she put off her wedding planning in order to finish the book. But long before the love of her life popped the big question and publishers came knocking, the petite blonde found herself hanging out with this creative and diverse group of friends.
“The catalyst was that we’d all spent a lot of time going out together,” she says of HDR’s origins.
The group began using a Groupme chain to communicate. Soon, one of the guys shared a snap of a sexy guy reading on the subway. One of the ladies, a fashion account executive in her late 20s, replied, “We found the golden unicorn: a hot guy who READS!”
“It was one of those things,” explains a marketing manager in his late 30s. “I think everyone has those ideas in their head, where they’re like, ‘This would be so funny. We should do this.’ Blah, blah, blah. But I think a lot of people just don’t act on it. I was finally just like, ‘Let’s just do it,’ and see what happens. I literally just signed up for the Instagram account.”
2. Yes, they’ve hooked up with the men.
One thing might lead to another when you aim your iPhone lens at a man. Indeed, the group isn’t shy when asked if they’ve ever had sexual encounters with the subjects they photograph. After some thought, they arrive at an official count of how many members have undressed with subjects: eight.
“That’s actually more than how many are single right now,” quips one woman, making everyone burst into laughter. They don’t elaborate, though, leaving the comment open for interpretation.
3. Their day jobs might surprise you.
Running an Instagram sensation and creating a book packed with eye candy is not the group’s chief focus. Ranging from an intellectual property attorney to a former boy band singer-turned-casting director, from an investment banker to a social media strategist, their gamut of careers covers everything you’d expect from a random group of millennials and Gen X-ers in the Big Apple. And although that might sound like a lot of cooks in one kitchen, the group says they’re winning thanks to their strength in numbers and diversity.
“A lot of friends who are in this tumultuous situation might not have made it this far,” says a graphic designer in his early 30s. “But even when we fight or disagree on things, we’re always there to support each other or take the lead on something else.”
4. They didn’t see success coming.
Even while approaching one million followers, the group doesn’t forget their humble beginnings.
“At one point, we were like, ‘Let’s get to 1,000 followers,'” says a social media manager in his mid-20s.
Given the size of their social group, that goal seemed realistic after the account premiered in February 2015.
“Every time we’d get another follower, we’d be like, ‘This person’s following us,’ and really hope it was some random stranger,” says one of the women. “And we’d be like, ‘Oh no, that’s my coworker.'”
Eventually, though, things began heating up. Says an attorney in her late 20s: “We got 7,000 followers at [a birthday celebration], and we were all like, ‘Cheers – we’re gonna be famous!'”
But the real kicker was when Lance Bass – a pal of the former boy band singer in the group – tweeted about the account. The rest is history. Despite being initially surprised by how fast the account took off, the creators understand why people gravitate to their work.
“I think it’s a universal human experience to look around, especially in New York City, at the other people on the train and wonder what everyone’s lives are like,” explains the graphic designer. “You live in this little world in your head and sort of fill that with the people around you.”
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5. No, the guys aren’t posing.
You might think a trio of three men posing perfectly while riding the subway in their underwear during Improv Everywhere’s No Pants Subway Ride – an annual tradition for daring New Yorkers – is too good to be true. However, the group insists they haven’t asked guys to pose for their photos. (The one exception is the book cover, for which the team picked the man from their most-liked photo.)
“Every single one of us has been caught taking a photo,” says the attorney. “I have 1,000 photos where the guy reading doesn’t notice, but the person next to him does.”
Nowadays, the creators find all the potentially awkward moments amusing.
“[Another member] and I were together on a subway one time and we were taking a picture,” says a retail planner in her late 20s. “And then he left and a girl came over and was like, ‘Oh my God, are you guys going to send that to Hot Dudes Reading? And I was like, ‘We are. Don’t you love it? They’re so funny.'”
6. Those captions don’t write themselves.
The squad partly attributes HDR’s popularity to its original content — and that goes beyond photos.
“What makes us more desirable or interesting from a literary perspective is that we create content,” says the social media strategist. “We don’t just repost. We didn’t just throw up photos and say, ‘7 train. Super cute!’ We actually create stories for every guy, which I think made heads turn and made people think, ‘They’re actually content creators who could produce a book.’ I don’t know if this would happen if it were the other way around.”
Adds the marketing manager: “It’s like that old saying, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ We’ve flipped the script. We judge them by the cover. It’s an insight into who they are as a person. It gives a taste of their personality. We like to take that piece and expand upon it. We might go a little off the rails, but that’s the fun part of it.”
7. They were more strategic about the book.
Evolving from Instagram users to legitimate authors was only a matter of time, the group says.
“We started to get interest from publishers, and it was a little bit overwhelming to be honest,” explains the lawyer. “I knew someone who was an author and I asked him for advice and we started to get some inquiries from agents and [two of us] took the lead on vetting them for the group because we decided to talk to the agents before we talked to publishers. They really taught us the process because we weren’t equipped. No one is this group was looking to become an author. We weren’t in the business of publishing. So we needed someone to say, ‘This is how this industry works.'”
That’s when the group’s focus shifted: “We hadn’t really thought of this project as a business until then,” she says.
With their author hats on, the team decided their book should be a proper representation of the city. That meant more explorations in the concrete jungle – an assignment the members welcomed.
“When we get a 7 train photo that’s hot submitted [for Instagram], it’s great because we’ve tapped a new market,” says the social media guru. “When it comes to the book, we actually had to hop to different trains that we normally don’t take just to capture the content. And even go into boroughs that we don’t go into.”
So far, the response to their hard work has been “incredible,” says one member. “Our followers are amazing, hysterical, and seem genuinely stoked we’ve come out with a coffee table book to start conversations – and ogle at – in their own homes,” he explains.
In addition to the rush the book release gives them, the group is also proud of its message.
Says the strategist: “In the age of the meme culture, when so many things out there are negative now, we provided this positive outlet that people felt comfortable following and liking.”