On Writing for Teenage Boys


Good news! I approved Getting Sideways for paperback publication on Friday, so it should be available on Barnes and Noble by mid-March, and Amazon a week or two after that. I’m almost halfway through my revisions to Driven, and hope to have it ready for the final editorial review by the end of March. My goal is to publish it in ebook form sometime between late April and mid May.

In other news, I’ll be one of the featured authors on YABookChat Wednesday, February 29th at 6:00 PM Pacific time. You can chat using the #YABookChat hashtag, or you can go to the nifty Tweetchat site which will add the hashtag for you.

Today is my day to post to the Indelibles blog, but since I’m having trouble providing content for my own blog these days, I figured I’d cross-post here. This topic, something I’ve been meaning to tackle for some time now, is a nice follow up to Elle Strauss’s post last week.

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Sometimes I think I have a 16-year-old boy living inside my head. That would certainly explain my weakness for pizza and raunchy humor.

I’ve heard some women say writing from a boy’s perspective is difficult. For me, it comes naturally. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I was always a tomboy who preferred boy books to girl books as a kid. Maybe because I spent so much time hanging out with guys when I was racing stock cars. I actually prefer to write from a boy’s POV and think it’s far easier than it would be to write from the POV of a girly-girl.

Why do I think it’s so much fun to tackle a guy’s perspective? For one thing I love playing with subtext, and boys have this elaborate dance when it comes to expressing their feelings. Girls can come right out and say what they mean, but guys have to beat around the bush. They communicate their emotions through their actions, which are often gruff, crass, and sometimes flat-out disgusting. They speak in opposites to get a point across. By the end of a scene in which two guys show they care about each other, the reader feels as if she’s really worked to get that emotional connection, silently urging them on the whole time.

From a writing standpoint, YA boy books are awesome. But from a marketing standpoint YA boy books are a tough sell, something I find ironic, since I’ve recently seen so many book bloggers talking about how much they like the male perspective and are looking for something fresh. And it’s not just book bloggers. Teachers, librarians, and parents are always on the hunt for good boy books.

With all this boy book love, you’d think they’d be a fairly easy sell. So why is it so difficult for these stories to find an audience? New York will try to convince you it’s because boys in high school don’t read, and if they do, they stick to adult sci-fi and fantasy. But the question is whether those boys are in that position because they don’t want to read, or because there aren’t enough YA boy books out there for them. It’s a vicious circle. One I think the traditional publishing industry has created. With no YA books for these boys to buy, they find other genres to read. New York sees them reading other genres and says they’re not interested in YA, so they don’t acquire YA boy books.

On one level, this opinion is just a hunch, but this hunch played out when I spoke to the owner of Cover to Cover Books in Vancouver, WA. She said she’d be happy to stock my titles due to the distinct lack of books for older teen boys. Mothers bring their sons into her store for reading material, and once they outgrow Louis Sachar and Rick Riordan they have nowhere to turn but to the science fiction and fantasy shelves. She used to feel comfortable directing them there, but in recent years the upswing in sexual content in these books has left her hesitant to suggest them to boys in their early teens.

So what can be done about this? I’m not really sure, but one step we can take is for the teachers, librarians, and parents who are trying to promote reading to team up with the authors who want to write books for this audience. The fact that people like John Green and Jay Asher have achieved popularity writing YA boy books proves there’s a market, but a book needs to get visibility to succeed, and that doesn’t happen easily for small press and indie authors.

I’ve researched blogs that promote reading for boys, but only a handful exist, and half of those don’t supply contact information for submitting book review requests or offering giveaways. I’ve done searches for various boy-centric Twitter hashtags, and there’s little activity. An opportunity exists for these groups to work with authors-especially indie authors who have the freedom to do giveaways and other promotions-but so far I don’t see that happening.

The answer I’ve come up with as a writer is to put together a promotional group, similar to the Indelibles, for authors of YA boy books. If you write in this sub-genre, please contact me using the contact button under my bio in the sidebar on the left. If you’re a blogger, teacher, librarian, or parent concerned with promoting reading among boys, or if you know of organizations that might like to get involved, I’d love to hear from you, too. Let’s try to forge a symbiotic relationship that’s a win-win for all parties.

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13 Responses to On Writing for Teenage Boys

  1. Roxie Matthews says:

    Hooray for coming out in paperback and hooray, hooray for the progression Driven! You are such an awesome woman!

    And as always, I wish you all good luck with your sales. If success is90% perspiration, and 10% inspiration, you have about 200% going for you.

    Like

  2. Robin Koontz says:

    Loved this entry. Be sure to post your request on Toad Hall. Power in numbers!

    Like

  3. Always an advocate for boy books, Lisa. Always advocating for yourself. You’ll break through that vicious wall one day. I’m sure of it.

    Like

  4. Great post, Lisa. You write so well from a boy’s perspective–I grew up w/ 3 older brothers, I recognize that gruff crass communication style!–and YA is SO girl-centric, I can see that older teen boys go to SFF just for something good to read. Love your idea of strength in numbers. Good on ya!

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    • Lisa Nowak says:

      Thanks, Chris. I’m glad I get the younger-sister-of-three-brothers seal of approval. Frankly I don’t know where that boy voice in my head comes from. But it sure is fun to listen to.

      Like

  5. Carol Riggs says:

    I’ve thought of the very same things! My WIP has a male main character, and my agent has suggested I change it to a female (though she hasn’t read it yet) for better marketability. Ugh! She did say the same thing as you about the circular conundrum for boys’ YA (not having any available, boys not reading, then saying there’s no market). Publishers generally don’t take chances on books with male protags…unless there is a potential that it’s really a GIRL’S book with a male character–you know, a romance kind of book or something.

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    • Lisa Nowak says:

      Isn’t that sad, Carol? After the struggle I’ve had, I can certainly see where she’s coming from, but it’s too bad it comes down to that. BTW, your agent is a really sweetie. She read part of one of my books and gave me some very nice feedback, even though she said it wasn’t her kind of thing. I queried a lot of agents, and she really was one of the nicest.

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      • Carol Riggs says:

        Absolutely! She IS a sweetie. 😀 I met her at the SCBWI 2010 retreat when I had a critique, and signed in April 2011. She’s not only sweet, she KNOWS HER STUFF. She gave a great presentation on revising mss at that retreat. 🙂

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  6. Great post Lisa! Transfer Student alternates POV between a teen girl and a teen [alien] boy. It’s my first male MC. I really like Rhoe and look forward to him visiting you here on the Transfer Student blog tour:)

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  7. Miranda Jean says:

    Well ironically enough this is the genre I’ve chosen so in a year or two if I actually have any success and find the time to finish the damn thing, I’d be more than happy to join your proposed group. I was a bit like you I suppose as a teenager – more tom-boyish than girlie and it was always so bloody hard to find a book where romance wasn’t the main genre but rather acted in the background or simply wasn’t there at all. Action/Adventure/Western/Supernatural is my preferred read and it is rarer than ever.

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