The Great (YA Gender) Divide

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DennyCrane

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***A SMALL ADMISSION***
Sometimes I visit the YA section of bookstores to see where my book will fit in.

What struck me as strange was how much of the YA section seems geared toward teenage girls. I blogged about it over at INKROCK, but it got me thinking about what authors, publishing houses, and the industry itself could do to focus on bringing teenage boys to the table.​

Or have we just hit some sort of cultural impasse with boys and books? Have video games and the internet won the battle for their attention?​

I would love to hear your thoughts for a follow up blog post!​

Cheers!​


(Heading style "borrowed" from Markus Zusak's THE BOOK THIEF. I'll give it back. I promise.)​
 

Guardian

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The boys from high school that I remember reading seemed to be more interested in historical books or sort of war/espionage/thriller books. Lots of them also like Stephen King. When we were forced to do book reports, I remember the boys scrambling to take the best sports books. Could it be that the "coming-of-age" theme of YA just doesn't appeal to them?
 
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The boys from high school that I remember reading seemed to be more interested in historical books or sort of war/espionage/thriller books. Lots of them also like Stephen King. When we were forced to do book reports, I remember the boys scrambling to take the best sports books. Could it be that the "coming-of-age" theme of YA just doesn't appeal to them?


Definitely true for some, but the real question is how big a proportion.

My highschool never required us to do book reports, at least not in the English classes I was in. So it's hard to say which books exactly were most popular with the guys in my highschool. I do remember that a large proportion of them were not huge readers.


Denny, I think video games are definitely strong competition for books. I know a lot of my guy friends played tons of video games, but read very little. What they did read tended not to be YA, although at the time, the trend towards marketing to girls was already fairly well-established. Personally, while I love playing video games, books were always my number one leisure activity. Mostly adult spec fic rather than YA, though.

I don't think we've lost all hope of boys reading YA, but the question is whether we're willing to take the short-term hit to bring them back to the category. You can sell books to boys, even ones that don't often read. Eragon (which is MG Fantasy, really) was very popular among the guys at my high school, at least in the slightly nerdy circles I was in. That's not quite the same as saying I often caught people reading Anna and the French Kiss, but it does say that you can reach male readers with the right book.
 
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Marzipan

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Boys tend to go from MG to Adult and skip YA all together. There ARE boy books in YA but the statistic is that they mostly have girl readership so the demand for them is on the smallish side.
 
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Kitty Pryde

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Wasn't there a thread on this very topic a few months back? Didn't it end very badly once everyone had made all their outlandish monolithic gender assertions?
 

Marzipan

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Wasn't there a thread on this very topic a few months back? Didn't it end very badly once everyone had made all their outlandish monolithic gender assertions?
Sure was. I can try to go back and dig it up for the OP.

Here it is.
 
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cherita

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Here's an outlandish monolithic gender assertion, based on nothing more than my own anecdotal evidence: teen boys just don't like to read nearly as much as teen girls.

By some weird twist of fate, I've been surrounded by teen boys most of my life (both when I myself was a teen and now), and I can think of maybe 1 or 2 boys who were voracious readers, a couple more who would read sometimes for leisure. The rest all prefer/preferred video games or sports. But almost all the teen girls I've known (both then and now) like, if not love, to read. And honestly, I don't think it's a societal conditioning thing, but more a puberty/testosterone thing. Which I say because I know a lot more grown men who like to read. They're late bloomers in the reading game, it seems.
 

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I spent my teenage years reading about 'recent' military history and a lot of scifi/fantasy stuff. Every so often I'd pick up what I'd now consider YA but it reminded me too much of myself so I gave up in the end, preferring either something 'adulty' or really childish (picture books!). Can't speak for every teenage boy but I loved reading and still do.

But I'll agree, most guys I know don't read or only recently started. Every girl I know reads fantasy, YA or (in rare cases) scifi. Thrillers and horror seems to be pretty catchy too.
 

Kitty Pryde

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And among my high school friends, most of the boys read a ton (mostly adult SF/F) and most of the girls didn't read much outside of class assignments. Ha! It's simply not possible to generalize across gender lines. It is true that most, but not all, YA novels are targeted to girls. The ones that aren't seem to be disproportionately about playing team sports, being surrounded by a violent street lifestyle, or living a brutally violent dystopian existence (not to say those are bad, just saying options seem limited). BUT good books "for boys" do exist, and booksellers and librarians are perfectly capable of pointing them out.

I went to an event for YA readers and writers last weekend. Of the 100 attendees, there were FIVE DUDES. One was a dragged-along spouse, one was an pro YA author, and I assume the other three were fans/aspiring authors.
 

cherita

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And among my high school friends, most of the boys read a ton (mostly adult SF/F) and most of the girls didn't read much outside of class assignments. Ha! It's simply not possible to generalize across gender lines.

Honestly, I think it is. A generalization is just that. I'd bet real money that statistically, teen girls (and women, in general) read [way] more than boys (and men, in general). I don't know if there are any such studies, but I'm almost positive if there were, that's what they'd find. Your school is a fluke -- there's something in the water! Kidding. Unless there really is something in the water...

That said, I do think publishers, et al should provide good books for boys. But, I also understand why the YA section is and probably will continue to be overwhelmingly marketed to girls...

I went to an event for YA readers and writers last weekend. Of the 100 attendees, there were FIVE DUDES. One was a dragged-along spouse, one was an pro YA author, and I assume the other three were fans/aspiring authors.

I think that's very telling... or showing. Or something.
 

Polenth

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I'm female, but I've always been androgynous with masculine leanings, so I didn't have much to do with young adult when I was a teenager (not that there was so much of it then, as it took off in a big way after I wasn't a teen anymore). It didn't stop me reading as I read adult books. (I also played a lot of computer games... games don't stop reading).

The same is true of other masculine people I've known (of both sexes). It's not that they don't read. They just moved on to adult books rather than young adult.

So the issue may not be the issue you're thinking. A teen masculine boy who wants to read will find books. The issue is he might not find your book if it's in the young adult section, as he's skipping over that to read adult books. I don't have a good solution to that, but my guess is you'll be relying a lot on word-of-mouth (which is true in general, but more so if you don't have people finding it by browsing).
 

Marzipan

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I'm just wondering if anyone has fresh ideas as to how to bring more teenage boys to the table.

Hopefully, everyone will refrain from outlandish monolithic gender assertions. :Hug2: ...Hopefully :Ssh::scared:

We could chain them up, brain wash them or condition them ala Pavlov's dogs. With all jokes aside and IMO I think it would take a huge PR campaign to get more guys to read. Which would take WAY more money that most publishers would be willing to spend. I don't mean to sound like a jerk, but if they don't want to read why make them?
 

thebloodfiend

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Here's a fresh idea. Convince them that romance isn't bad.

There really isn't anything more you can do. A lot of women write books that could appeal to boys. But boys don't read them. And you can't make anyone read.

Honestly, if you don't want to read a romance, that's not my problem. If I write romance, I write if for readers who like romance. If you don't like it, read another genre.

Though, I think the bridge will converge eventually. More girls are playing video games and reading comic books ("boy" things). If boys don't want to read "girly" things, too bad. I'd rather break down gender differences than say we should write more boy books to get more boys to read. Diversity in YA (adding sexual and racial diversity) is completely different from trying to write more books that could appeal to boys. Racial and sexual minorities read white and straight characters all the time. They need more role models. There are plenty of YA and AF books with males as the MC. Actually, the glut of PNR is evening things out. Eventually, the bubble will burst.

I, personally, am not a fan of romance. But I can easily skip through the PNR books and find something else.
 

William Randall

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This is a very interesting topic because it's something that's very personal for me. I was one of those guys that stopped reading for fun by the time I got to high school, and it wasn't because I no longer enjoyed to read. I just had trouble finding books that appealed to me. It's not that there weren't books for guys, there just wasn't a great selection, and I didn't want to read fantasy or sci-fi, so that limited it even more.

So.............. now I'm writing the kind of books that I wish were available when I was in high school.
 

Guardian

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I find it hard to find YA books to read sometimes, because I feel like there's so much girly feel-good crap to sort through. :p I can handle some of the girly stuff (hello, I love unicorns) but a book about romance or normal school crud really turns me off. So maybe that's also how a male audience feels about YA - trying to sort through it is not worth the hassle. Better to skip to the comic book section, if anything, or go to the adult section and avoid anything with a shirtless man on the cover. (Though personally I hate espionage stuff and most sci-fi, so I'm really screwed when it comes to finding books).
 

William Randall

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Here's an outlandish monolithic gender assertion, based on nothing more than my own anecdotal evidence: teen boys just don't like to read nearly as much as teen girls.

If you take out the "nearly" from that quote then I agree. Girls enjoy reading more than boys, but in my experience teaching 9th grade English, the gap isn't nearly as big as a book store would make you believe.

It's kind of a chicken-egg situation. There are fewer books for boys to read. Boys read less than girls. Which came first? I'm guessing the latter, because sales would dictate what ultimately gets put on the shelf, and if boy books sold anywhere near the way girl books did, then there would be more boy books. However, I don't think it's as hard to get boys to read as some would make it seem. I've seen the Percy Jackson series and the Hunger Games series transform boys into enthusiastic readers. And I've seen those same boys finish those series and then go to the library and come back empty-handed because they didn't find anything else that interested them. Now, some of that is their own fault for not digging a little deeper into the shelves, but girls don't have to do that: their books are everywhere.
 
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Marzipan

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Could it be that boys are more selective than girls? Note that is a question and not a statement. On average I see that most girls are willing to try different types of books on average. My husband and his friends (along with many of the teen guys I work with) seem to read based on if the blurb fits the description or is similar to something they have read before. For example: My husband only reads about male MC's that have great power. Thor, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Superman, Green Lantern, Eragon, etc.
 

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I've seen the Percy Jackson series and the Hunger Games series transform boys into enthusiastic readers. And I've seen those same boys finish those series and then go to the library and come back empty-handed because they didn't find anything else that interested them. Now, some of that is their own fault for not digging a little deeper into the shelves, but girls don't have to do that: their books are everywhere.

That's exactly my issue. My gender didn't give me the taste for "girl" books. I have to dig really hard to find something to read. Fortunately, horror YA has been on the rise, but even that can be stupid.
 

William Randall

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Could it be that boys are more selective than girls? Note that is a question and not a statement.

Interesting thought. I can't think of any reason why this should be true, but it does seem to mirror my own experiences and observations.

I'm probably the most selective reader that I know. It's a shame really, because had I not started to write my own novel, I would never have branched out and read books that didn't fall under my umbrella of interests. Also, a lot of the boys in my ninth grade classes really only want to read fiction involving sports.

I'm going to try not to make a stupid generalization here, but I'm not sure if I'll succeed: I think where girls are content with a genre that interests them: romance, fantasy, etc., boys need a topic that interests them, for instance: sports, and if that sports book contains a mystery or a love story or a talking dragon then that's just fine.
 

thebloodfiend

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Funny thing is, fantasy originated as a "boy" genre. And, outside of YA, it still is. And most of it is still sexist and still grounded in the European medieval world.

By sports books, I take it that you mean Tangerine or the Matt Christopher series? I loved those in elementary school, and I was the only person (girl or boy) who read them.

I don't think your generalization works until boys reach a certain age. When I was in school, girls and boys read the same things until puberty. Captain Underpants to Unfortunate Events to Goosebumps to anything you can think of. And that was in a pretty conservative district in Alabama.

And while I like reading about sports and playing sports, I never understood the obsession with sports. Of course, no one, not even I, read Summerland (a book about baseball), and I was the only person who read Crash (a book about track and football). I think it varies from person to person. And, once again, culture. If not, why do more girls tend to gravitate towards "boy" things than vice-versa? It's socially acceptable for a girl to be a tomboy, but not the other way around. A boy might not like romance, but in America, it's been ingrained into his head since birth that it isn't right for him to like feminine things which are seen as inferior to masculine things. It's always been that way in America. Chick-lit is inferior to dick-lit(Nick Hornby). Chick-lit writers don't get awards like dick-lit writers because romance isn't seen as deep or profound. It's seen as girly, which is synonymous with weak and bad.

I prefer science-fiction and fantasy with a splash of romance and action. But I write contemporary because I'm not a good world builder. I wish more guys would read cross genre though. Goodreads is 70% female, which isn't a problem, but it wouldn't hurt a few guys to read more and join.
 

DennyCrane

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Andrew Smith (THE MARBURY LENS) just made a comment on my blog that links the current "feminized" state of YA to a series of calculated marketing events.

So, the question is, what would be a good marketing strategy that might bring in more male teenagers to YA without losing the strong female teenager audience?

Ebooks on Xbox?
 

thebloodfiend

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So, the question is, what would be a good marketing strategy that might bring in more male teenagers to YA without losing the strong female teenager audience?

Ebooks on Xbox?


Nothing. The guys I know who play Halo (most are skaters, some are stoners) have never liked reading. Either reading is something you've liked since you were a kid, or you never enjoyed it because you weren't a good reader.

Switching a marketing campaign won't get someone to read. If they don't like reading, they don't read. It's as simple as that. And I don't exactly like the comment he left on your blog. There's nothing wrong with an inherently female audience. Until very recently, writers have been mostly men, or women writing under male pseudonyms if they wanted "serious" readership. There are "boy" books. Boys just don't read them, don't want to read them, or don't care. And it's their fault, not the publisher or the writer or the female audience. They're depriving themselves of a book because of the title, blurb, or the fact that a woman's name is on the cover.

He says feminine like it's a bad thing. I hope he doesn't mean it like that. I don't like the way PNR is marketed above everything else, but a good reader knows to ignore hype and advertising because it's generated by the publisher to get you to shell out money for something that probably isn't good.

Like I said, instead of focusing on writing more boy books, make the girl books more approachable for boys. Don't shun them for liking something that isn't sports/violence/war oriented. I can guarantee that at least 10% of boys will try to crossover if they don't feel alienated or embarrassed.
 

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Nothing. The guys I know who play Halo (most are skaters, some are stoners) have never liked reading. Either reading is something you've liked since you were a kid, or you never enjoyed it because you weren't a good reader.

Switching a marketing campaign won't get someone to read. If they don't like reading, they don't read. It's as simple as that. And I don't exactly like the comment he left on your blog. There's nothing wrong with an inherently female audience. Until very recently, writers have been mostly men, or women writing under male pseudonyms if they wanted "serious" readership. There are "boy" books. Boys just don't read them, don't want to read them, or don't care. And it's their fault, not the publisher or the writer or the female audience. They're depriving themselves of a book because of the title, blurb, or the fact that a woman's name is on the cover.

He says feminine like it's a bad thing. I hope he doesn't mean it like that. I don't like the way PNR is marketed above everything else, but a good reader knows to ignore hype and advertising because it's generated by the publisher to get you to shell out money for something that probably isn't good.

Like I said, instead of focusing on writing more boy books, make the girl books more approachable for boys. Don't shun them for liking something that isn't sports/violence/war oriented. I can guarantee that at least 10% of boys will try to crossover if they don't feel alienated or embarrassed.

:nothing
 

William Randall

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Andrew Smith (THE MARBURY LENS) just made a comment on my blog that links the current "feminized" state of YA to a series of calculated marketing events.

So, the question is, what would be a good marketing strategy that might bring in more male teenagers to YA without losing the strong female teenager audience?

Ebooks on Xbox?

I think it really has to do with the books. A phenomenal YA book (or series, preferably) aimed at boys will get readership. And the thing about a "boy book" is that girls will read it too. On the other hand, *most* teenage guys won't touch Twilight (publicly) with a ten-foot pole. I'll mention Percy Jackson again as an example of a series that reeled in male readers, although that is more MG than YA. So it can be done; there's just not as much of it getting churned out.

I'm not really sure of the marketing that goes into books, but as far as I know, they're not marketing directly to the readers, but to the distributors. So you're trying to convince the bookstores to carry more male books, not convince the actual boys to read more--that's for teachers and parents to do.
 
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