Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Great (YA Gender) Divide

Once, boys and girls both read, and read often.

So, I’m a guy. A dude. I play sports, grill meat, and sometimes, under the influence of beer-flavored beer, I’ve even been known to chest bump.

But I also write fiction.  And not just fiction – young adult fiction. 

On the way to becoming a YA author, I noticed something strange about my masculine circumstance.  When I first started out – learning to query, learning to write and edit – I stumbled into these e-relationships online with others who were endeavoring to take the same path.  We found common ground, usually in genre, and supported each other in the journey toward publication.

Ninety percent of my YA author e-relationships are with women.

I know, that really isn’t evidence of anything, but it got me thinking.  What about the male-oriented stories?  A quick browsing of the YA section of any bookstore will show you just how feminine the genre has become.

This isn’t a bad thing, but for me it is slightly alarming on a business level.  Publishers publish to make money, but if the balance of YA books being published is overwhelmingly for teenage girls, does that mean teenage boys aren’t reading?

I didn’t read much as a teenager.

Sure, I took in the occasional Crichton book and tried to understand Clancy military thrillers, but I was more drawn to Spielberg movies and comic books.  Today, there are even more distractions with video games and the internet.

As I've aged, my reading habits have changed, grown.  Right now, I’m reading Alexa Martin’s GIRL WONDER.  Alexa is a good friend and has written an amazing account of what it must be like to be the new girl at a new high school.

I like girl-oriented YA.

Though Alexa would definitely welcome me, and even though a guy like me can enjoy and see the literary merit of GIRL WONDER, I am probably not among Alexa’s target audience, though it begs the question - do I need to relate to the subject matter of a book to enjoy it, and if not, why not target me as a potential reader?

Looking at the many amazing books in the YA section makes me wonder if teenage boys would read more if they were targeted more.

Certainly, these thoughts are void of the complications and economics of marketing, but still...

Teenage boys like to read.

Some authors know this.  And some of them are men.  Look at the works of John Green or Andrew Smith.  Heck, even J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was aimed at boys.  So then, what about YA is so standoffish to teenage boys?  Is it marketing?  Is it this new feminine cultural definition of YA?  Is it the more boyish distractions of video games and sports?  

I’m not certain, honestly.  But I think this is an issue that needs to be addressed.  There is a bigger market out there that would support more teenage boy readers.  We just need new ideas on how to approach them.

(Paragraph headings are totally "borrowed" from Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF.  I'll give them back.  I promise.  Premise was inspired by Andrew Smith's recent observations of gender in YA.)


  1. This is a topic we could talk about for quite some time. YA is a contrived marketing niche in the vast emporium of literacy. Marketers went after teen girls with disposable spending money. They didn't want boys involved (and a lot of them still don't -- there are plenty of authors who not-so-subtly express resentment and disdain for boystench in YA). Unfortunately, the clever get-your-dollars collusion between marketers, booksellers, and, later, teachers and librarians, began to also give rise to the side-effect that since "YA" equals "Teen Reader" and since "YA" excluded "Boy," THEREFORE, no boy was a teen reader. We just have to break that deeply-entrenched and erroneous belief.

  2. That makes sense, Andrew. I remember my first agent asking me (my second, a former YA editor, never had to) on the phone who I thought might be my audience for my book.

    I said something to the effect of, "Guys who were like me as a teenager - comic book readers, the crowd, gamers, etc."

    There was audible sigh and then, "Oh." Like he was disappointed. We talked often about upping the relationship between the two male and female leads after that.

  3. An Observation (From A YA Librarian): Guys do read, (and I know that's not big news) but they seem to be slightly defensive about it. God bless them, when they come back asking me for the second book in the series, it's with a "wanna make something of it?" kinda tone.


    Then there's guys like my all star quarterback who listed Book Club as his one of his clubs when he was up for homecoming king. He's like, "Yeah, I read. F you."

    He won king, btw :)