Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Where the Girls Are

My name is Lurker. I'm a grown man, and I read novels.

Outside of the comfortable and safe confines of this blogosphere, this makes me an oddity. Among my circle of acquaintance and family, I'm almost the only male I know who reads novels. Even many of my male writer friends--including one guy who is WRITING a novel--don't read novels. They might read histories or nonfiction, but not novels. No, I'm something of a freak.

My oldest son was a voracious reader as a child. We plowed our way through everything, often together. It's part of what got me interested in MG books, because there are some great books out there. We read the Harry Potter, the Lemony Snickets, Treasure Island, LOTR, Artemis Fowl, etc., etc., etc. Now he's 14, and I'm still reading MG and he's ... not.

I follow MG and YA sales pretty close, because this is the market I'm writing for. It's instructive. You'll see highly popular children's and MG books written for boys and girls. But when you start getting into YA, the boy's books just drop away. The market is dominated by romance-y type books, usually written by women. Books that might appeal to boys, like I Love You Beth Cooper, which tells the timeless story of a teenage boy trying to get laid, end up marketed as adult books because no teenage boy in his right mind would be caught dead reading a novel called I Love You Beth Cooper. (But they should--it's hilarious.)

I'm not blaming publishing for this. Of course not. You publish what people buy, and around about age 12, maybe 13, the vast majority of boys stop reading, never to start again. Girls, on the other hand, transition from MG into YA and then many of them make the leap into women's fiction. Over half of the paperbacks published in the United States are women's fiction, a descriptor that encompasses everything from bodice rippers to chick lit to erotica.

If I had a magic wand, I would invent a genre that widely appealed to boys and was acceptable to their parents (sorry, guys, no porn ... but then again, boys don't read porn either). You know, the kind of adventure that kept them engaged and actually excited boys about story-telling. Oh wait ... such a thing already exists.

It's called a video game.


Mark Terry said...

My guess is that this is why Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider YA novels are so successful--he's basically a 14-year-old James Bond. Rick Riordan's books are geared more toward MG, although there's some carryover. My 15-year-old, for instance, loves the Percy Jackson novels. But he's starting to read more adult novels while I still read some MG and YA.

I could be cynical, but an awful lot of teenage boys read SF (if they read at all) and maybe fantasy. I understand the SF publishers are trying to expand more aggressively into the YA market these days (but then again, so is everybody else).

Melanie Avila said...

I only know one teenage boy, but my 20yo nephew seems to read a lot of fantasy. Adventure books do seem like a good niche -- I'm surprised there aren't more out there.

And why would someone name a book I Love You Beth Cooper? They should have named it Beth Cooper is Hot. That would get them. :P

btw, I linked to you today.

LurkerMonkey said...

I would say Rick Riordan is MG ... As a rule, kids don't read down, so at 12, Percy Jackson is pre-teen. Your son is a happy exception :)

I think you're right about SF and fantasy, but I also think it's a tiny slice of sales compared to the monstrous sales racked up the comparable books aimed at girls. You know. You get 20 kids together, and 1 boy will be reading fantasy and EVERY girl will have read Twilight.

My son and his friends do read graphic novels, though. Dark Knight Returns, Sandman ... that sort of thing.

LurkerMonkey said...


Thanks! And Beth Cooper was hot. She's being played by Hayden Paniettiere in the movie ...

You and Mark both brought up fantasy, which I guess I neglected. Looking back, I spent a few years reading fantasy when I was teenager, then I switched into horror, and then heavier stuff. But it's kind of my understanding that many fewer boys are reading fantasy now than used to. I wonder if there are numbers on this?

Mark Terry said...

Well, Ian started reading Percy Jackson when he was 10 and stuck with the series. He's not swept away by the 39 Clues, though. (Nor am I, for that matter).

Melanie Avila said...

I just read that abut the movie -- I actually came back to tell you. Yes, very hot.

spyscribbler said...

Yeah, I have a 14 year old student who's reading Rick Riordan, too. I think because he started the series when he was younger.

This is why I'm so against putting ages on books. Girls will hang out with other girls who are younger and be relatively okay with it. Boys? OH MY GOD he's a day younger than me I do NOT PLAY WITH LITTLE KIDS!

Okay. I'm exaggerating, but just a little.

I'm also annoyed by how some people get so appalled at the fact that kids are reading comic books and graphic novels. Like they're some threat to literacy because there are pictures. Um, there are WORDS. It's READING. And there are pretty awesome stories, too.

LurkerMonkey said...


I 100% agree about comics and graphic novels. I've read a fair number of them my son has laying around, and some of them are AMAZING.