The publication of Twilight and subsequent exponential explosion of the Paranormal Romance genre in the YA marketplace, heroes of the epic fantasy have nearly become extinct. Rare are the newly-published tales of conquest by a young hero over his personal, metaphorical or, heaven forbid, actual demons. Despite the recent success of such movies as The Lord of the Rings or Percy Jackson and their encouragement of real-life heroes to find kinship between the pages of the original books, boys and young men are still largely ignored in the YA marketplace. Why is this?
After speaking to over 50 literary agents and a handful of YA publishers, I got an answer…one that disturbed me greatly. In their esteemed opinions, boys over the age of 13 don’t read books. Really? Why not? The demographic data shown to me by the agents indicates that boys at or over the age of 13 are into sports, girls and…you guessed it…video games. I think there are a couple really good reasons for this. First, there really aren’t a whole lot of great books being published right now that will appeal to boys of that age. With the exception of a handful of really great titles in the Middle Grade level including Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, Michael Scott’s Nicholas Flamel series and Jenny Nemmo’s Charlie Bone series, there are few that portray strong male leads that our young boys and men can aspire to or identify with. Even so, these are all written for younger boys at the middle grade level. How do we capture the interest and excitement of teenage boys? I’m not convinced that teenage boys aren’t reading…they’re just getting their books in the specific genre sections instead of age level sections of the book stores. Go to any Barnes and Noble or, better yet, Powell’s World of Books and see how many teens and men are roaming between the sci-fi/fantasy aisles.
I can see the attraction to video games. Boys and men are, and will always be, warriors at heart. Where else can they possess amazing physical prowess with magical abilities and opportunities to wield extreme weapons? Where else can they triumph over adversity or overcome incredible odds? Video games totally rock! But, they’re so expensive that they aren’t accessible to everyone who would want them. The athletes who excel in the courts and on the fields at the Junior and High School level are excellent role models, but the recognition is limited to the talented few. Perhaps another venue for the rest of our kids who aren’t superstar athletes and who don’t have access to the expensive newest video game craze would be a return to the escapism of the written word. One that would appeal to our culture’s forgotten heroes…boys. The trick is how to get boys to sit still long enough to make their way through 300+ pages of text!
Personally, I have four boys; one with ADD, one with ADHD and two with the natural attention spans of gnats. Writing in such a way to keep my boys interested and engaged has always been a challenge. My oldest son gave me the key: keep it moving. He had a good point. Stan Lee of Marvel Comics gives the best advice for writing for boys, “Take your guy, your main character, and get him into trouble…just keep getting him into trouble. Everything follows from there.” So, after writing a book that should appeal to boys, how do I convince them to read it?
Scholastic Book Fairs are particularly helpful. They bring books into the schools and encourage teachers and all students to try new stories. Often, they offer excellent deals for large purchases for classrooms. One way or another, the trick is to get books into schools and into the hands of children. Because Scholastic keeps their prices low, they are more affordable for their target audience. I, for one, truly appreciate what this organization does for schools and readers. Perhaps if we can get our foot in the door by starting with a captive audience, we can remind publishers and book sellers that our young male heroes are still out there and reading the stories that are worthy of their valuable attention.