D.M. Jarrett author of the Sean Yeager Adventures series carried out some informal reader research recently. The results were surprising unless of course you used to be a teen / tween (middle grade / young adult) male yourself. In which case they will come as little or no surprise.
The research was simply this – ask some real tween readers what they want to read about given the choice and why. Also, ask them about why they like what they like and vice-versa. Now this is not going to qualify for a doctorate or even for a tabloid article, however I thought it should be said and put out there:
Boys like machines, action, being in the middle of the machines and action and general mayhem . They like the details associated with the tensions and the clever solutions. They like the detail of how stuff works and what you can do with it and how the protagonists and antagonists use the clever details to prevail.
Funny – that sounds like a younger version of what billions of men like doesn’t it? It’s like Guy flick vs Chick flick all over again.
It may not be PC, it may not be what every mother wants to hear, however it is what I have found to be true over and over again. Boys like in books what boys like in the real world. They like cool gear, they like fast action and they like the cool gear doing stuff in detail and fast.
Note – no mentions of love, betrayal, character growth, moral messages, unrequited love, inexplicable cross-species love affairs or any of that other girly stuff. WOW what a surprise! Not.
For example – (and by no means offered as a scientific survey)
Question – why didn’t you like (a well known book)? Answer -because it didn’t describe the details of how things worked enough and I didn’t feel like I was there. I didn’t know which picture in my head was right. I wanted to know more about how stuff happened.
Question – why did you like Harry Potter? Answer – because of the details in the descriptions. Like how you catch the train and how you enter Diagon Alley. And what Hagrid (and others) looked like. And what you had to do to make the spells work and open rooms.
So what conclusions can we draw from this informal research?
Well in truth a proper and well run research group would be needed to draw meaningful conclusions, however I will nonetheless state my beliefs based on my own (probably biased) interpretation and intuition:
With some notable exceptions I believe that boys are being short-changed, they are not being given the books they want to read. They want machines and they get ‘relationships’. They want fantasy wars and they get ‘real world scenarios they might relate to’. They want gear details and action and they get ‘teens with crushes and inexplicable powers wandering around aimlessly.’ They want punchy and to the point and they get ‘this is a really well written book and won lots of awards’.
And that is part of the reason that I started writing Sean Yeager books. You see most men are boys at heart and we know what we want to read about. The funny thing is that quite a lot of girls like that kind of stuff too but it’s not trendy to admit it in front of their mates.
Needless to say the Sean Yeager book series is gravitating towards what boys want to read about, since the girls seem (as ever) to have an enormous array of products to choose from. (See any children’s clothes shop for example. Two rails for the boys and twelve for the girls).
Try applying lateral shift to this, I think you’ll enjoy it.
The problem may not be – Boys don’t want to read enough. The problem could be – Boys are not marketed entertaining enough books to want to read more.