With all the new electronic devices available today it is a wonder that kids read at all anymore. In fact, they do. And they don’t.
There is little doubt that girls read more than boys. Always have and probably always will. Young ladies are more imaginative than the typical boy and this increases through the high school years when many of the subjects dealt with in YA novels become ‘uncool’ for boys while remaining acceptable for girls. And as Ginger Clark stated at the SCBWI conference last week, at about twelve years old, boys divert more and more into video games.
While all of this is true and I don’t debate it, there is a fly in the ointment. It is true but it is only true in general. I know this because of perhaps the most famous little boy of our times, a young wizard named Harry Potter.
J.K. Rowling turned the reading world on its ear and created an entire generation of readers. Even my own sons – I have three of them in high school – are unabashed fans of the series (two of them at least) and had no qualms about taking the books to school. Or even dressing up as the golden snitch for the premier of the last movie and parading around the theaters leading hundreds of squealing kids in Hogwarts’ cheers. We’re talking popular seniors in high school here. Yes, that Golden Snitch is mine. Yes, the theater was packed. No, I didn’t realize golden snitches have beards. But obviously they do.
More kids that evening…
And what Harry Potter event would be complete without a showdown between Draco and Harry? I’m pretty sure Draco in the picture below is the president of the senior class at my sons’ high school.
Do boys read? Hell yes they read. They just need the right books. And therein lies the problem.
A short visit to the teen section reveals that about 90% of the books are vampire love stories or some variation on that theme. Zombie love story. Fallen angel love story. Mermaid love story. Cyber love story. Fill-in-the-blank love story. The other 10% make just the barest attempt to fill the void.
So why is this happening? Ms. Clark – who was amazingly well-informed and I would commit any number of crimes to get as an agent, said that about 90% of editors are female along with 60%-70% of agents, and admitted that may add to the bias. And the attendees of the SCBWI conference last week were about 90% female. Of the remaining 10% (presumably men) probably half were illustrators. That leaves me and the EMT I met, writing books that a boy might consider reading. Not boy-books, a sub-classification of it’s own, but just subjects that would capture a boy’s attention as well as a girls. And since publishing is a very random process, that means the chances of the EMT and I being noticed are only about 2%. Given the number of submissions an agent and editor receive, it’s more like, .00002% of everything they receive.
Don’t get me wrong. There is definitely a market for insect-human love stories. But when an industry stops cultivating new market share or ignoring potential customers, the risk goes up significantly. Think about a stock portfolio invested entirely in sub-prime mortgages. Gluts breed discontent and shoddy quality. And that is the last thing the publishing industry needs right now, with competition from e-products, video games, and the imminent demise of Borders. (I’ll save that one for another day.)
Now more than ever we need to be cracking new markets and gaining readership. Because we don’t want to just survive, we want to stay in control of our destiny. Remember the CD industry? We need to figure out what kids want and make sure they know where to find it. The first part isn’t that hard and I’ll be discussing it in later blogs. The second part is a little harder and I’ll be writing about that too. Until then, visit a book store. Buy a book. And then, read it.