Monday, October 31, 2011

Money, Meet Mouth

Over at Andrea Brown agent Mary Kole's Kidlit blog, she answered a question about whether publishers are looking for boy-focused material.  Her short answer is that boy books without girl appeal are a tough sell.  Her article is honest and blunt.  No one is really doing anything.  Publishers aren't really doing anything.  They're waiting for the boy market to explode the way the girl market has.

I'm not going to talk about boys not reading.  Boys are reading.  Maybe more than ever before.  Andrew Smith talks about this at length at his blog.  Boys want to read.  They're just not reading YA.  Why?  Because YA is a pretty hostile environment for a lot of guys.

What I'm bothered by is that publishers--who are slowly becoming irrelevant in this new marketplace--seem to be content to just let half of their readership slip between their fingers.  Sure, everyone once-in-a-while there's a book that appeals to them.  THE HUNGER GAMES, HARRY POTTER, PERCY JACKSON.  But for the most part, publishers have given up on boys.  They've conceded half of their readership to graphic novels and video games and adult books and on-line porn.  Okay, well YA never had much chance against that last one.

But imagine if Apple simply gave up half of its customer base.  Imagine if they said, "Well, businesses aren't really buying Apple products, so we're just going to pretend that business customers don't exist."  As someone who uses Apple products, I can tell you that their business segment wasn't performing the way they wanted.  They stopped spending the dollars on what wasn't working, and found new approaches.  They found a better entry point into the market.  The iPhone and iPad helped Apple gain a foothold in the business sector.

But publishers have given up.  They occasionally publish boy books, occasionally take risks, but for the most part, they don't.  And I get that publishing is a business.  But you've got to spend money to make money.  You've got to put your money where your mouth is.

So here are some things publishers could do to lure boys back to YA:

1.  Advertise where the boys are.  This one is simple but probably costly.  However, you can't expect boys to buy your books if they don't know you exist.  Buy ads in comic books, video games, and promote heavily at conventions. A lot of what makes something popular is word-of-mouth, but that initial spark has got to begin somewhere.

2.  Do more multi-format crossovers.  Publish graphic novels along with the books.  Or limited run comics as a run up to the publication of the book.  Do more interactive internet puzzle games to get people involved.  Get involved with music.  Stop making lame book trailers and make a kick-ass music video for a book.  Create games out of books.  But stop thinking so linearly.

3.  Publish books with multiple covers.  There are legitimate books out there that girls are reading that would definitely appeal to boys, but the covers are a major non-starter.  The answer isn't gender neutral covers either.  From experience, I know that girls are often put off by a cover that's too boyish.  And boys are put off by one that's too girly.  So, try multiple covers.

4.  Embrace gender differences.  I'm not talking about boys love guns and girls love dolls.  There's a huge difference between stereotypes and differences.  And boys and girls ARE different, whether it's PC to admit it or not.  Embrace those differences and create books that embrace them too.  Want more boys to get excited about THE HUNGER GAMES movie?  How about a comic book from Peeta's POV from his time in the games? Better yet, where's that first person shooter video game?  I'd play a HUNGER GAMES tie-in game on my PS3.

5.  Start an imprint dedicated to books aimed at guys.  This one might be reaching some, but I don't think so.  There precedence for it, in fact.  DC Comics created an imprint called Minx in 2007 to try to lure teenage girls into the graphic novel market.  Sure, it was a failure, but the titles created were quality titles that were well reviewed.  A lot of the failure was pinned to the fact that they weren't able to get the comics shelved in the YA section of the bookstore.  The point is that DC recognized that there was a huge untapped market out there, and they went for it.  Publishers need to do the same.

6.  Create more crossover titles.  Forget the whole YA title altogether.  Stop trying to force boys to come to you, and go to boys.  Get boy oriented books shelved where boys will find them.  Sci-fi and fantasy shelves are always a great spot for a book that won't fit in.  You'll never sell a book if your audience can't find it.  So find them instead of making them find you.

The point is that publishers can't sit on their assed and then claim that boys aren't reading.  I don't buy it.  Boys are out there and they're reading.  But if you want them to read your books, you've got to go get them.


  1. I agree, it's a disgrace that publishers aren't even trying to get boys to read. Twilight-esque books are garbage (at least from a boy's pov) so publishers need to cater to them!

  2. Anon: I don't think Twilight or its copy-cats are garbage...I think any book that gets young people to read has merit. However, I do think those type of books have a limited appeal boys.

  3. Oh, and I don't think publishers need to cater to boys at all. But simply turning their back on a huge segment potential customers is a terrible business practice.


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