Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On Writing for Teenage Boys


Sometimes I think I have a 16-year-old boy living inside my head. That would certainly explain my weakness for pizza and raunchy humor.

I've heard some women say writing from a boy's perspective is difficult. For me, it comes naturally. I'm not sure why. Maybe because I was always a tomboy who preferred boy books to girl books as a kid. Maybe because I spent so much time hanging out with guys when I was racing stock cars. I actually prefer to write from a boy's POV and think it's far easier than it would be to write from the POV of a girly-girl.

Why do I think it's so much fun to tackle a guy's perspective? For one thing I love playing with subtext, and boys have this elaborate dance when it comes to expressing their feelings. Girls can come right out and say what they mean, but guys have to beat around the bush. They communicate their emotions through their actions, which are often gruff, crass, and sometimes flat-out disgusting. They speak in opposites to get a point across. By the end of a scene in which two guys show they care about each other, the reader feels as if she's really worked to get that emotional connection, silently urging them on the whole time.

From a writing standpoint, YA boy books are awesome. But from a marketing standpoint YA boy books are a tough sell, something I find ironic, since I've recently seen so many book bloggers talking about how much they like the male perspective and are looking for something fresh. And it's not just book bloggers. Teachers, librarians, and parents are always on the hunt for good boy books.

With all this boy book love, you'd think they'd be a fairly easy sell. So why is it so difficult for these stories to find an audience? New York will try to convince you it's because boys in high school don't read, and if they do, they stick to adult sci-fi and fantasy. But the question is whether those boys are in that position because they don't want to read, or because there aren't enough YA boy books out there for them. It's a vicious circle. One I think the traditional publishing industry has created. With no YA books for these boys to buy, they find other genres to read. New York sees them reading other genres and says they're not interested in YA, so they don't acquire YA boy books.

On one level, this opinion is just a hunch, but this hunch played out when I spoke to the owner of Cover to Cover Books in Vancouver, WA. She said she'd be happy to stock my titles due to the distinct lack of books for older teen boys. Mothers bring their sons into her store for reading material, and once they outgrow Louis Sachar and Rick Riordan they have nowhere to turn but to the science fiction and fantasy shelves. She used to feel comfortable directing them there, but in recent years the upswing in sexual content in these books has left her hesitant to suggest them to boys in their early teens.

So what can be done about this? I'm not really sure, but one step we can take is for the teachers, librarians, and parents who are trying to promote reading to team up with the authors who want to write books for this audience. The fact that people like John Green and Jay Asher have achieved popularity writing YA boy books proves there's a market, but a book needs to get visibility to succeed, and that doesn't happen easily for small press and indie authors.

I've researched blogs that promote reading for boys, but only a handful exist, and half of those don't supply contact information for submitting book review requests or offering giveaways. I've done searches for various boy-centric Twitter hashtags, and there's little activity. An opportunity exists for these groups to work with authors-especially indie authors who have the freedom to do giveaways and other promotions-but so far I don't see that happening.

The answer I've come up with as a writer is to put together a promotional group, similar to the Indelibles, for authors of YA boy books. If you write in this sub-genre, please contact me at webfootracer AT Comcast DOT net. If you're a blogger, teacher, librarian, or parent concerned with promoting reading among boys, or if you know of organizations that might like to get involved, I'd love to hear from you, too. Let's try to forge a symbiotic relationship that's a win-win for all parties.

~ Lisa

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In addition to being a YA author, Lisa is a retired amateur stock car racer, an accomplished cat whisperer, and a professional smartass. She writes coming-of-age books about kids in hard luck situations who learn to appreciate their own value after finding mentors who love them for who they are. You can connect with her though her blog, The Tao or Webfoot, or buy her book, Running Wide Open, at any major online retailer.

18 comments:

  1. So cool that the boy pov comes easily to you! I'm looking forward to tackling that one day!

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    1. It's a lot of fun, Laura. Can't wait for your book to come out. :)

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  2. I have the same problem. Most of my POV is in boy but believe it or not boys are still cool. My son loves reading books from boys POVs and libraries enjoy having them also. My books have surfaced in several libraries because it's written with boys POV. Keep writing with that teen boy in mind!

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    1. I'll have to check out your books, LM. I'm always happy to meet another boy book author.

      I think that once they take hold, my books will do okay, it's just harder to find that audience unless you have a paranormal angle. I'm hoping the girl book I have coming out in May (Book 3 in my series) will give the others a boost.

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  3. Good luck with Running Wide Open! I read as a youth, but not nearly enough as I should have. So props to you, your research, and your writing! The youth of today needs to read more.

    Uh oh. I see your Word Verification (WV) is still on. I'm on a mission to rid the world of this unnecessary evil frustration! Please stop by my blog and select the How To Turn Off Your Word Verification tab and help make the world a better place one blog at a time.

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    1. Stephen, I share your distaste for Word Verification. I blog with Wordpress, which has found a way to control spam without having to resort to this abomination. I'm not as familiar with Blogger. I'll talk to the rest of the Indelibles about getting rid of the Word Verification. So long as there's a way to do it without getting a ton of spam, it probably won't be an issue.

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  4. I've always been most drawn to boy books, too. My current MS is a MG boy book and I love promoting great boy lit. Good for you for being proactive about promotion!! :-)

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    1. Shannon, it's great to hear there's another like-minded individual out there writing and promoting books for boys. MG tends to do better than YA, and several of the Indelibles have MG boy books available or are working on one.

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  5. I love reading (and writing) from a male POV. So yay for your boy book! What boy wouldn't wan to read about fast cars? :)

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    1. I hope lots of boys do, Karen. :)

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  6. This is a bit of a confession, but I can't remember when I last read a boy book! Maybe Harry Potter. I suck at that, and much rectify :)

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    1. No time like the present to start, Jessie. There are a lot of great boy books out there.

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  7. Check out msyinglingreads.blogspot.com, although it is more MG. And authors such as Barry Lyga, and Michael Northrop! Great post and totally spot on.

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    1. Thanks Jon. That looks like a great resource.

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  8. My first MG novel is from a boy's POV. The POV comes naturally and the play on emotions and actions is exactly why I love writing it. Book 2 and 3 are from a girl's POV (but def not a girly girl). I'm hoping to get back into the male POV soon. Especially if there continues to be a lack of boy books out there for upper MG/YA readers.

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    1. Hi Ansha. I remember you! Sounds like we're on the same wavelength when it comes to writing.

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