Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Boys don't read

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I've been hearing it for a while now, and as a guy who's written thirteen unpublished books aimed squarely at boys, it's always troubled me to some extent.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?

Doesn't matter.

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.


Anita said...

You've got to write what you love, buuuuttt I do think publishers are primarily looking for books targeted at females that will cross genres from YA to the adult market. My books don't cross into adult genres so much, which is something I'll have to live with, because at this point I write what I write. So, anyway, good for you. P.S. I have no idea how to get adultish boys to read.

Bryan B. said...

I will say that the title of our blog--Boys Don't Read--is tongue-in-cheek.

Ray Veen said...

Sorry Bliss. I conveniently forgot that in the heat of the rant. I tweaked the post so there's no confusion.

Ray Veen said...

Anita -- Your homework assignment is to figure out how to get males of any age to read more, and then make it happen. This assignment will be due Monday.

Douglas, Father of a Boy who reads said...

Mr. Veen,

I stumbled across your blog while navigating the chasm of the internet and read this post based on the title.

Let me start by saying that you have a firm command of how to interestingly and coherently express ideas. Great writing. Can't wait to read one of your novels.

My son (age 8) hated reading with a passion until last year. Now he loves it. Reads every chance he gets. I sincerely hope this passion continues. I wish I knew what the secret sauce was that sparked his love of literature, but I don't. Don't get me wrong... He loves Xbox and mindless violence on TV cartoons too. But he reads every day and that makes me proud. His current favorite author is Rick Riordan, but I have the feeling he'll be wanting to move on to something else soon. Seeing him devour a 600 page book in a week and a half gives me hope for the future in some way.

So whenever you feel like the Universe is kicking you in the jewels and telling you that there's no future or point in writing good books for young men, do me a solid and think about my son for half a moment. Keep writing what you're writing. My son will appreciate it. As I'm sure other sons will too.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's anything new that boys don't read. Shoot, I'm 46 and when I was in high school I can't think of a single teenage boy I knew of that read books. They all hunted or did sports or just watched tv. It could be that teenage boys don't read because the lack of activity--or perception of activity (tv verses reading)--dissuades them to curl up on the couch and read a good book.

Ray Veen said...

Thank you very much, anonymous #1 and anonymous #2. You're feedback is encouraging. As they say, 'boys will be boys', and there's no escaping the fact that there's a lot of stuff out there competing for their attention.

'Teenage girls' for example.

Unknown said...

Great great post. Two greats.