Society’s Challenge to The Literary Industry

Time. Resources. Things you have to manage when they are limited, as they are for most people. What to work on for how long. How much to spend. Choices we all constantly make. We like to think we’ll get a return on our effort. As our level of interest goes up, so does the investment. Like, spending a decade learning to write novels before you’ve sold one.

Yes, it has been that long. Of course, I’ve been working a full-time job the whole time too. Kind of puts a dent in the writing time. But it is something I’m incredibly serious about. As is the market I finally settled on: Young Adult. In fact, I’m a bit more specialized than that. Slightly older young adult, which some editors these days are calling New Adult. And I have an additional handicap: I’m a guy. Stacking the deck against me even more, I have three teenage boys.  Now I don’t know, loyal reader, if you’ve been to the bookstore lately, but you really need to go take a look at the New Teen Fiction section.

What you’ll find if you look at the Teen section is basically the Romance section except with younger main characters. Not long ago I actually counted up the titles in the New Teen Fiction section. There were 85 titles for young ladies – and when I say young ladies I mean books 99% of males will have no interest in – and about 7 titles for boys. And the guy books were much closer to books that girls could also enjoy. Except for the zombies. So you see my dilemma? I write guy books. Or really, books that both boys and girls can enjoy. I’ve invested a decade for a market that doesn’t exist. Or does it?

A few days ago I was on one of my periodic surveillance missions in a local Barnes & Noble and happened to run into a friend I knew from the gym where we both exercise. I noticed he was carrying two books and I asked him what they were. Instantly he launched into a heartfelt narrative about how he can’t find anything for his son to read and was in fact dissatisfied with what was in his hand. His son is ten right now and loves to read and my friend expressed a lot of concern that the older his son got the less he was able to find for him. We turned to the teen section, next to which we were standing. I could see the light go out in his eyes as he wondered why there weren’t more books for boys.

My friend isn’t alone. At Christmas parties this past year I heard repeated pleas from parents for more boy books to be published. At administrative meetings in school districts, principles are begging for more boy books as an alternative to video games. And when given a book that speaks to them, boys will read.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a market so willfully neglected. I don’t know what the reason is but I do know that in any business, when you don’t seek out and develop new markets, death is only a matter of time. Readership is already sliding. Borders is on the edge of bankruptcy. Yet agents who say they are looking for boy books continue to represent the exact same Vampire Romances – most of which I find drifting through the bargain bin a few months later.

Reading is important. Kids who don’t read turn into adults who don’t read. And people who don’t read are ill-informed and unequipped to make decisions. This is especially dangerous in a democracy where people need to have a habit of inquiry. So I challenge the literary industry to develop and expand the market for literature aimed at young males. Or at least literature they won’t find so distasteful. In some fundamental ways it is key to the survival of our way of life.

Boys read. So give them something to read. Because if boys don’t start buying books when they are boys, they ain’t going to buy them when they’re men. And then it won’t be Borders closing its doors. It’ll be Random House.

About John

American, husband, father, writer, rocket scientist, soccer player, motorcycle rider, Christian, and proud of it.
This entry was posted in books, Borders, Boy books, literary agent, Literary industry, publishers, publishing, Young Adult. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Society’s Challenge to The Literary Industry

  1. Terri-Lynne Smiles says:

    Correction – Borders is in bankruptcy, and liquidating 200 stores.

    One contributing factor you didn't mention: the lack of male authors for this market segment. At the SCBWI conference last month, you were one of a handful of male authors in a crowd of 1100. It's harder for women to write boy's books. We've never been boys. On the other hand, it isn't as much of a stretch to write books that don't just pander to romance. Books with solid plots and some action. Those will appeal to boys as well as girls.

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