RSS

Tag Archives: YA

The Problem with “Boy Books”

First, read this post by YA Author Justine Larbalestier: The Problem with Boy Books

I’ll wait.  It’s a very good post, and the parts I want to respond to are probably not the ones most would expect.

Unfortunately, comments on Justine’s post were closed, so I’m putting my response here on the Chimney.

I have a page here on the Chimney listing 200  YA/MG-ish books with male protagonists and/or authors.  For a variety of reasons, most of which aren’t made explicit on the page itself. For example, it makes the point that in fact there are many and even many good YA books with male protagonists and authors.

But to get to my thoughts on the whole “we need more YA books starring boys so boys will read” debate.  This argument, as Justine points out, makes several important assumptions, almost all of which are false.

  1. Boys don’t read.  Well, that’s obviously crap.  I read and I know many other folks of the male persuasion who do as well.   Not only now, but from back when many of us would have classified as YAs ourselves.
  2. Relatedly: we must solve this problem by getting boys to read YA.  Also crap.  Justine points  out that many boys do read, just not within the genre of YA.  The argument seems to be that YA books are for YAs, so if male YAs aren’t reading them, male YAs must not be reading.  Which is silly.  Although most YA lit focuses on YA (or lightly above) protagonists, sales data shows that the audience, whether intended target or not, is so much wider.  First, yes.  More female YAs read YA lit than male.  In fact, the readership appears to be drastically weighted towards females in all age categories.  So despite that settings and characters–and the blunt category label–I don’t think we can say that YA is lit for YAs, thus undermining the argument at issue here.
  3. A third assumption, which some might disagree about the truth of, is the assumption that we need boys to read more. Do we?  That depends on what value we believe/claim reading to have.  Is there some positive influence unavailable elsewhere that reading provides?  I certainly don’t claim to be able to prove either possible answer there.  But even without the full answer, the partial response we can rely on is that reading does have value and does provide some benefits, at least to some people.

 

I do have to disagree with Justine on one point: books do not have gender, sure.  But they have a target audience.  Just looking at the above-mentioned readership of YA, it’s clear that some books appeal more to certain people (and arguably groups) than others.  So in fact, there are “boy books” insomuch as marketing shows that  we can target our product and advertising towards specific groups we wish to cultivate as customers.  The underlying question is really whether there is cultural and individual to the reader value in such targeting. Most marketers and companies will naturally argue for the financial value to them.  Personally,as I suspect Justine does, I think there’s a great deal of value in having readers cross market category lines.  If we indirectly discourage boys from reading “girl books” by creating an opposing category of “boy books” and then hinting very strongly in our marketing that boys should read these in preference to girl books, we’re artificially preventing them from gaining the value of learning about different perspectives.

 

Now to address my points:

Boys do read.  They may not read YA, but as I say in point 2, that doesn’t mean they don’t read.  In fact, there’s a strong belief among the book-ish community that boys read a great number of Middle Grade books, and then generally mix in adult genre fiction over time as they age out of the middle grade category.  (It’s interesting to note that YA has a much wider practical audience compared to its supposed target audience than middle grade does, such that many readers never age out, or eve pick up the category later in life having not indulged when they were actually young adults.)  So there’s  no reason to artificially force some sort of supposed gender parity in YA publishing.  The fact that YA is less popular with boys does not as claimed equate to reading in general being less popular with boys.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy a broader array of male protagonists in YA, written by male authors or otherwise.  But keep in mind that I read over a hundred books a year, so it’s not that there’s necessarily a deficiency, but that I am an outlier, and further, no longer a young adult, thus somewhat disqualifying me from being a statistic at all.  (Though I read at the same pace when I was younger.)  Also, I had and have no trouble reading either female protagonists and authors or “girl” books, so again, still not an argument for forcing gender parity in main characters.

And speaking of consumption of alternate media, I don’t enjoy (fiction–or non-fiction, I suppose) books about sports.  But I love anime (and manga) that involves sports.  As Justine brings up early on, all boys are different.  Anecdotally, no amount of sports-themed boy-lead stories are going to automatically bring more males like me into reading YA.

 

I’m gonna now delve into the Go vs chess analogy in Justine’s post because as you probably know, I love both linguistics and AI.  It’s in some ways a brilliant analogy, since it captures the issue of ignorance on the part of the person criticizing YA as simplistic.  Although Go has far simpler tools and rules to play, it’s far more complex than chess in it’s play.  Words work similarly to games like Go and Chess in terms of the complexity of meaning that can be derived from very simple building blocks.  I took those stupid reading level tests in high school.  Scored too high to get any book recs.  As Justine points out, the complexity of stories come not from the quality of the words themselves, but  from how they are arranged.  Quality here being defined as conversational level words versus SAT words.  For example, I could have said  “verbiage” instead of words, but despite the fancy  vocab, the meaning is the same.  In fact, I could have given the same meaning with “Two-syllable words vs eight-syllable words.”  TL;DR: If your plot is simple, you can’t hide it beneath flowery prose.  So much more goes into a story than the grammar.

 

 

Finally, onto the third point.  Justine cites empathy as something that readers can gain from novels.  You’re more likely to get empathy from a competently written story about someone different from you than about someone much more similar to you. Similarity enforces rigidity in thinking, where as difference more often encourages flexibility.  So if we want boys to read more(they already read plenty accounting for non-gender-related factors!) because of what they gain from reading, then in fact forcing stereotypical gender parity is the opposite of the correct solution.  They might read more (they won’t!), but they’ll gain less.

 

*I’ve actually left out a few very interesting points Justine made in her own post, because I don’t currently have anything to add, and they are separate attacks on this myth from the ones I’ve chosen to address here.  But they are just as important!   Especially the point about general gender disparity in readership/charactergender/author gender  vs. YA specifically.

Advertisements
 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

A Trend in Trends: Why No Genre Ever “Dies”

Trends are a major force in commercial fiction these days.  Forum threads, blog posts, magazine articles, even how-to-write books are teeming with theories on how to spot, find, catch, ride, avoid, etc whatever the hot new trend is.  Dystopian is dead, the nail’s in the coffin on vampires, and we’ve found the cure for lycanthropy.

 

But it’s actually a lot more complex than that.  Vampire books are still being picked up, dystopians are still coming out, readers are clamoring for the next John Green-style YA contemp.  And there’s a good reason for that.  The anatomy of a publishing trend can be summed up in a few easy steps:

  1. Someone, probably long ago, wrote a story.  A novel or not, doesn’t matter.  The knowledge of it has survived until now.  There may be a few similar books, but no one really connected them before now.
  2. Someone, pretty recently, wrote a story.  It happens to have some elements in common with our previously discussed story.  There may or may not be direct inspiration involved.  The story sells, possibly for a lot, possibly for a little, to some publisher.  The publisher puts some marketing behind it–or doesn’t–and it’s a huge success.  It might take a few years, but eventually, the book hits its tipping point and suddenly everyone is reading it.  It struck a note, embodied the zeitgeist, whatever.  Suddenly, whatever the topic is, it’s hot.
  3. Several people, with previous novels, novels in the pipeline, or novels on sub wrote similar stories.  They were probably tapping into the same spirit.  Whatever the reason, these books are now hot.  They’ve managed to get in ahead of the trend.  If their book was previously published, now it’s getting a bump from comparisons to the hot novel.  If it was in the pipeline, their publisher is sad they missed the trend-setter, but glad they have a quick follow-up, bound to be successful.  If the book is on-sub–and decently-written–agents are chomping at the bit to snag it and pass it off to a publisher for the big bucks.
  4. The follow-ups come out, make bank, for more or less than the original.  People were hungry for more of what the original gave them, and these feed that hunger, more or less.  Now we have a full-blown trend.  Everyone wants more, movie deals are going out left-and-right.  Now anybody who ever thought about writing a novel, or writing this kind of novel jumps on their computers, starts typing.  Inboxes are flooded with queries, everyone jumps at the shot for more money.  The market gets flooded with books.
  5. Publishers buy, put out new books as fast as possible.  These books also sell well.  People who rarely read normally buy into this new hot thing, especially after seeing the movies.  The market hits saturation.  Agents stop asking for these books.  Writers keep sending them.  Maybe some really good ones get picked up.  Some sell to publishers, some of those do well; many do badly.  Trend is “over”.
  6. Nobody wants these anymore.  Agents and publishers are all booked out.  Authors still send them.  Some are still trend-chasing but have missed the window.  Others are just writing what they want to write and had bad luck with timing.  They get told no one is looking for those books anymore.  Maybe, if they’re really lucky, and have a great hook or fantastic writing, they might get picked up.
  7. The trend is dead.  And then someone writes a new book.  It’s great.  Most people only remember one or two of the trend books, probably including the original.  (Twilight, for example.)  The book gets picked up; rinse and repeat.

 

We’re around step 5 or 6 for YA dystopian right now, near step 7 for paranormal romance.  Traditional high fantasy is around 7, as well.  This cycle is faster now, tending towards around 5 years from first book to first book, and around 3 years from first book to step 5.  And while you may have to update a few things between cycles, there will never be a point where a book becomes forever unsaleable based purely on having missed the trend cycle this time around.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on May 18, 2014 in Publishing

 

Tags: , ,

Less Time Writing Blog Posts, More Time Leaving Myself Behind

I read this wonderful post over on The Rejectionist right after reading Nova Ren Suma’s “What Haunted You at 17” blog series which celebrated the release of her book 17 & Gone, and I realized that I am terrible about leaving.  I hate leaving: places, people, times of my life.  Every time I think about how I’ve drifted away from someone I really cared about, it leaves me on the verge of tears.  Forums I used to be on haunt me.  Things I used to do, like running cross country make me sad I stopped, even though it was the best decision for me at the time.

Even if this post bores you, you should absolutely go and read the ones I linked to and talked about, because they’re practically beautiful shorts stories in and of themselves.

In many ways I agree with what her R-ness says in that post, and the stories in the Haunted at 17″ series say a lot to back it up.

What about you?  Is leaving important to achievement?  Does it make for good stories?  Should we be spending less time on the internet these days and more doing things for real?

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Blogging

 

Tags: , , , ,

Who Are We Blogging For?

I just finished reading a fantastic post on how the Internet is affecting YA literature.  It was written by the wonderful Hannah Moskowitz over on her blog “Invincible Summer”—which I have only read about two posts on.  And that has clearly been my mistake. 😉

The gist of the post is that we writers, or at least those of us with a significant investment in the authosphere, have moved away from writing for readers, and fallen into the trap of writing for writers.  As someone whose first significant strides in writing came from the poet’s perspective, I can tell you that one of the greatest criticisms I have ever heard about the poetry community is that poetry is no longer written for everyone, but only for other poets, who have the knowledge, background, and exposure to appreciate the currently popular poems.

We do not want this happening to fiction.  We do not want to become a community of people writing only for each other, having lost track of the true purpose of our craft.  It’s all good and well to learn and discuss trends, and clichés, and how “proper” books should  be written.   But we can’t lose site of who we’re writing these books for.

I’m going to ask you now to follow the above link, so that I don’t have to repeat everything Hannah has already so elegantly articulated…

Okay, here goes.  I completely agree with Hannah that the YA writing community has moved in the direction she describes.  It has not completely lost itself, but it hasn’t stayed completely true to its mission either.  And the horrible, terrible, throw up a little in your mouth truth is…  The entire authosphere, the entire online writing community, is falling into this trap.  I see signs of it everywhere.  Writers blog for other writers, sink their valuable writing time into maintaining their status among online peers.

Part of this can be laid at the feet of the aspiring writers who have infiltrated and conquered the author community.  Everywhere, we are encouraged to start blogging, to build platforms, to make connections on Facebook and Twitter, and other blogs.  But we haven’t published anything.  What can we say to readers, who haven’t read us because we’ve given them nothing to read?

And so we build a community amongst ourselves, aimed towards our goals.  We share info, support each other, and work to build up everyone’s careers.  And it’s wonderful!  But it doesn’t really have much to do with our initial reason for joining this community:  to create things for other to enjoy.  Others who do not write, do not know the difference between submitting to an agent or submitting to a publisher, may not be fast friends with every aspiring and published writer on the web.  They do not go to every writing con they can afford, or buy six copies of a book because they want to support their best friend who wrote it.  When we take advice, and suggestions, and encouragement from those just like us, we can easily forget who we’re trying to please. 

Readers matter.  Readers have a voice.  Readers may even use that voice.  In fact, there are innumerable readers taking part in the authosphere as a whole.  But many have neither access to nor interest in the authorial, writerly community with it’s focus on mechanics and mutual support.  They want to hear about new books, win ARCs, make recommendations, and read reviews.  To those of us who are unpublished, these are not relevant to our main goal.  And so we listen more to each other, and less to the readers.  And that’s a dangerous road to take.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on September 30, 2010 in atsiko, Authors, Blogging, Books, Fans, Writing, YA Fiction

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Why I Will SPEAK Up When Someone Says That YA Isn’t “Real” Fiction

If you pay any attention to any literary blogs or newsites at all, you will probably have heard about the “controversy” that’s been raging over Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel SpeakI will not link to any of the other posts on the subject, except these two: Laurie Halse Anderson’s Post and a round-up by the wonderful Sierra Godfrey.  That should be plenty of info for folks still not clued in to understand the situation.  (I only came across is this morning, but that’s because I’m 410 posts behind according to my googlereader.)

Basically, some fellow in Republic, Missouri has tried to get three books banned from the districts curricula, including Speak, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler.  As a citizen of Missouri and a reader, I am extremely upset that this kind of crap still goes down in my home state.  I have only personally read the Vonnegut book, though the other two are now on my enormously long TBR list.  But that’s really irrelevant.  I’m only using this kerfluffle as an example.

I hear all the time that YA isn’t “real” fiction.  YA authors are often looked down upon, seen as inferior, treated as if they “couldn’t hack it” in adult fiction.  After all, they’re only writing for children.

Now, to be fair, it’s not all YA authors–or even necessarily a large majority of them–who have had personal experiences with this.  There’s an enormous amount of positive commentary on the internet.  Many YA authors are extremely popular, and some are even famous.  But I personally–while not being a YA author, or any other kind of author–have many times run across the afore-mentioned prejudice against YA fiction.  People I know, especially many who went straight from MG to AF, have made all sorts of comments on how YA is “fluffy”, or lame, or shallow, or just poorly executed.

Shenanigans.  90% of everything is crap, but there’ still that 10% sticking it out.  And books like Slaughterhouse Five and Speak stick like nothing else.  If you follow the links above, you’ll find an enormous number of writers and readers exlaining how fiction, and especially YA fiction can and has saved lives.  I’ve often been kept above water by the books I read, both in merely depressing and completely unbearable situations.

I’m not a YA reader.  I’m just a general reader.  But I count many YA books among my top favorites, and it isn’t because I read them when I wasn’t capable of understanding real world issues, or because I lacked the maturity to appreciate their irrelevance.  It’s because they were damn good books and still are.

So keep up the fight YA authors, and when shit like this rolls around, remember that you’re not the only voices ready to speak up for your stories.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 28, 2010 in atsiko, Authors, Books, Uncategorized, YA Fiction

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,