Marketing Books for Boys

Okay, sorry for that detour on Monday. That was a lot of videos to dump on you at once, but oh my gosh they're fun to watch. Next time you're bored, that's 25 minutes of free entertainment right there.

So, last Friday we talked about how boys actually do read OMIGOSHWHOKNEW?! Well you guys knew, for starters. The general (and thumbs-up scientific!) consensus seems to be that boys read, they just don't read a lot of YA. Probably, says the consensus, because there's not a lot of YA for them to read.

The thing is, guys like me -- most boys, too, I think -- will read a lot more than we're given credit for. I'm not going to go all the way and speak for all guys everywhere, but these are some of the things said about boy readers, along with how true (or untrue) I think they are.

Boys won't read books with romance. Not strictly true. I think a lot of boys will tolerate romance (that's kinda how we see it, sorry) so long as it's not the point. Look at the Harry Potter and Ender's Shadow series, the Mistborn trilogy, Graceling, or Hunger Games. All of these have romance -- Hunger Games even makes it an essential part of the conflict -- but because it's not the primary tension of the books, boys can read past it and still enjoy the ride.

Boys won't read books written by girls. Not true! Honestly when I was a boy I didn't even look at the author's name (unless I had to for a book report). You think the droves of boys who read Harry Potter didn't know "J. K." was a girl? So long as it was well-written and had characters I could identify with, I didn't really care where it came from.

Boys won't read books with girls on the cover. Okay yeah, pretty much. I mean, I'll read these now, but I wasn't so secure as a teen. Even as an adult, sticking a girl prominently on the cover -- without any guns or dragons or spaceships or anything -- tells me the folks who made the book don't really want me reading it anyway.

Boys won't read books with girly titles. True, but kind of subjective as to what constitutes a girly title. Red flag words include: girl, kiss, love, lips, pretty, diary, sweet, and affair. The thing is other guys are going to ask us what we're reading, and we'd much rather say Vampire Slayer than Pretty Lips Love Affair.

Boys won't read books with girl protagonists. Not true. Sure we want boy characters we can identify with, but we'll read pretty much anything if there's a chance someone gets stabbed, shot, or explodes.

Okay, so I did slip into talking about 'we' there, but in truth this is just my opinion. What's yours?


Emmet said...

The Kiss Goodnight is a title that I would read, as are A Bombing Affair, Diary of Death, For the Sweet Love of Chuck Norris. In general though I would agree with you. I think that the only issue with girl characters is when they are made unrealistic or personify the women you simply don't want to spend any time with. One of the best movies of all time was La Fem Nikita, totally would have read it as a book, even if it just had her in an evening dress on the cover (this may be the one exception to the girl on cover rule). I'm not sure what to do with Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, every time I see that book I get confused.

Adam Heine said...

Absolutely, Emmet. As I said, those are just red flags. Not definite no-nos.

Sweet Taste of Blood
Diary of a Ninja
Dragon Lips
100 Sweet Starfighters

Although it does seem like you have to add a "manly" term to balance things out ;-)

Emmet said...

*The LONG Kiss Goodnight. Big difference

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I was just pondering this with my current WIP, which is aimed at YA. Lots of action, peril, a few sniper rifles, but also a whole lotta love-triangle. Again, it's an essential part of the plot, and the MC is a girl. So, will boys want to read this? My ROTC nephew says "yes" based on the rifles alone, but I'm afraid he'll be disappointed it's not a shoot-em-up.

Ultimately, I write books for young PEOPLE, and I kinda hope boys can see their way clear to appreciating those books.

I have another novel in mind where the MC is a boy, but he paints. So, maybe not the most appealing? But then there's the robots-have-taken-over-the-world part that might intrigue them.


vic caswell said...

most recent example of this for me was CITY OF BONES- excellent title, the actual story (i believe) would appeal to guys, but THE COVER!!
i was sitting outside the movie theatre reading it, and this guy comes up to me, and asks if it's a good book. after telling him the plot, he's hooked. then he asks to see the cover, so he knows what book to buy... AND yeah. the look on the guys face!
seriously, i was embarassed to be seen with that half-nakey man on the cover of the book i was reading, and i'm a gal! so... cover art. why is it that there are so many issues finding good cover art, when there are so many great artists out there?

Emmet said...

FYI Susan, between a girl sniper and a boy painter I'm reading about the chick that shoots stuff. The obvious exception would come if the boys paintings had some supernatural/trans-dimensional properties... just saying.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Emmet Good to know! And in fact our boy-painter has the key power for saving humanity from the singularity. Yanno, nothing too special. :)

Ken Lindsey said...

I definitely agree with this post, Adam. I remember, in middle school, if I had been sitting there, reading a book with kissy-faces on the cover... well it would have meant harassment, and even possible wedgies from my friends.
I still found plenty to read, though not so much in the YA area.

Michael LaRocca said...

I'm one of those stereotypes who started by reading cereal boxes over 40 years ago, and I believe I was a boy.

I remember writing stories at age 9, but it's possible I started earlier than that.

Yep, romance is something I tolerate if the rest of the story's good. Amazing coincidence, I think, that whenever a protagonist faces the greatest drama of his life, that's when he meets Ms. Right. Every time.

(An editor's insistence that I include romance in VIGILANTE JUSTICE annoyed me so much that I gave the hero guy AIDS. I don't write romance.)

Way back when, I knew that when I read novels by DC Fontana, she was a woman. All the best STAR TREK novelists in the 70s were women, and many used initials rather than names like JK does today.

Myrna Foster said...

Yeah, I'm a girl, but it looks like a pick out books more like a boy. All of these supernatural books driven by romance that have flooded YA are not my thing. And I haven't picked up City of Bones because of the cover. Ew.

Adam Heine said...

@Susan: I would read both of those. There are plenty of boy readers who could identify with shy sensitive types. Certainly enough to read about a robot dystopia.

@aspiring_x: City of Bones does look like a cool story, but I have to agree with you about the cover. The guy's tattoos almost make it okay, but unfortunately they are more subtle than his nipples and golden curls :-/

@Ken: Indeed, and that's the problem.

@Michael: You gave him AIDS? That's hilarious. So's the point about meeting Ms. Right during major life crises.

@Myrna: If that cover isn't appealing to guys or girls, who is it appealing to I wonder?

Nick said...

I'm totally with you on the non-masculine covers. I think boys avoid a lot of things they may otherwise like in fear of being "caught" as doing something unmasculine. I bet the majority of books marketed for girls could be pushed more neutral, and boys would read them. It's not like boys aren't intrigued by male/female relationships.

Adam Heine said...

Yes, Nick. Exactly. Folks would be surprised what boys will read, so long as it's not overtly girly. I remember a number of romantic, even sexual, scenes in the Dragonriders of Pern books, and I thought they were awesome. (The dragons helped).

Dayana Stockdale said...

Interesting comment. I think in general people are less inclined to read books that they would embarrassed to be seen reading.