It's old news.
Publishers are saying it, agents are saying it, other writers are saying it. Maybe the only people who aren't saying it are actual teenage dudes, and we all know they're just defending themselves so we won't make them get off the X-box. My son, anyway.
I've been hearing it for a while now, and as a guy who's written thirteen unpublished books aimed squarely at boys, it's always troubled me to some extent. But no more than, say, the national debt or Stargate Universe getting cancelled after two seasons. It's always seemed pretty much out of my control, so I've gone about my business, doing what I do, rolling how I roll, and just kind of hoping things would get better at some point. (Which technically makes me complacent. Try not to judge.) Over these last couple days, though, it seems as though the universe itself has been bombarding me with constant reminders, messages both subliminal and cosmic. "You ain't gettin published, doofus -- you know that, right?"
Yeah, the universe is being kind of a jerk about it. Even when I nod, and say I got it -- it still won't shut up about the whole thing. I'm almost tempted to be discouraged.
I'm not, though. Wanna know why?
Too bad. You'll have to keep reading my blog for like three more minutes to get the answer.
First, something morbidly fascinating. To me, anyway. I work in surgery, so my idea of 'morbid' might be a little different than yours, but here are two pictures I took on my way home from work last night:
What you are seeing is the YA section at my local Walmart. The reason Walmart is important is because, 1: fabulous people like me shop there, and 2: the way books make it to their shelves is pretty simple -- if it's making money, up it goes. I don't know how well you can zoom in on these, but if you can, what you will find is a whole lot of pictures of girl's faces, and a lot of bylines with lady names. My two photos may not be a fair representation of the entire YA market, but take note of this -- there is only one male author in each frame. And one of them, Pittacus Lore, claims to be from an enlightened planet called Lorien. He's not even human -- he's from an advanced race of aliens with psuedo-magical powers. So how could an average father-of-four, who drives a minivan back and forth to his two jobs, expect to have a realistic chance of getting his book on any shelf? Much less the wellborn bastion of literature that is Walmart?
So you know, the trip to Walmart was not the entire impetus for this here blog post. This came after perusing the 'top 100 bestsellers in teens' at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble, then reading agent Mary Kole's blog post, 'Contemporary YA for Boy Audiences' (in which she mentions Steve Brezenoff, one of the contributors to the 'Boys Don't Read' blog), also after visiting the YA section at Meijers (local big box store, only more upscale, like Target with nicer shelving). The specifics of the universe and its incessant bullying are not the point, what I'm talking about here is the undeniable cascade of recent evidence reinforcing the thing we've all known for a long time. The thing I re-discovered when I finished the last of the books on my Kindle and went looking for something that might be fresh and new in my genre.
Boys don't read.
And personally, I don't see anyone making strong effort to draw them back in.
So why am I not discouraged?
In all honesty, I probably should be. On one hand, I'm happy for female authors in general It's your time, ladies. You've earned it. We've come a long way from the days when women had to use their initials or male pseudonyms in order to get their books published, and I think that's pure win. But on the other hand, things look exceedingly grim for dudes who write books for younger dudes. Said dudes (of the former variety) might be tempted to retire their quills and take up X-box controllers of their own. But as much as I adore Lara Croft and the lands of Cyrodil, there's still one thing that keeps me going.
I would love to be published, obviously, but that's not really it. That's not what's sustained me all these years. When it's all said and done, I wrote my thirteen books for one reason -- because I freaking love to write. Market trends and publishing potential aside, it's a hobby that is rewarding as hell. Even if nobody reads my stuff except my mom, my wife, and my co-workers (sometimes my own teenage dude -- when he's sick of playing the games he's beaten), I just love writing. I write what I like, and I love what I write. I think I was just hard-wired to make up wild stories, so I plan on doing it for the rest of my life -- whether anyone reads them or not. (I've actually written at least one entire novel that nobody's ever laid eyes on.) In the end... really? Boy's don't read?
This boy gets off on writing.
So I hope you didn't start this blog post expecting something more substantial. Like the secret to getting boys to read, or anything like that. I am really not that guy. But don't go away mad, because there is some reason for hope. All 'A' are not 'B. It is a logical fallacy to say that 'all boys do not read'. Some do. And certain books get published specifically for them. Why not mine? Why not yours? Because it really is happening, at times, a little. To some extent. Want another thing to consider? Rapidly changing technology rapidly changes the world. It might not seem like it now, but these trends could turn around faster than any of us would think possible. Maybe they're just waiting for the right books by the right authors. Maybe they're waiting for a game-changing angle nobody's thought of yet. Or maybe they're just waiting for X-box to release an app that lets them download ebooks.
Just imagine how many new boy readers we'd have then.
You'd need all your fingers and toes to count them.