teen female protagonists, teen male protagonists, teen readership, YA authors, YA Fiction, Young Adult, Young Adult Literature
Where teen guys have drifted to sports and gaming, teen girls still like to curl up with a good book. It’s all in the numbers. The stats claim females make up over 80% of YA readership, most of which is penned by female authors. Did you think the popularity of the romance novel was a fluke? Does it surprise anyone that the majority of YA fiction has female protags and heavily lilted with romantic nuances? I almost titled this article, Have Romance Writers taken over YA Fiction, but I didn’t want to alienate my good friends who write romance, yet took the time to nurture my fledgling writing career. Besides, you can’t argue with reality. It’s a marketing thing. That said, we need to up the stats for male protags written by authors who have a Y chromosome.
Aside from being one funny dude (and a sailor’s potty mouth), author Chuck Wendig’s article, 25 Things You Should Know About YA Fiction, offered a unique perspective of the genre. One of his points, ” This is where someone in the back of the room grouses about how when he was a young reader, they didn’t have young adult books and he read whatever he could get his hands on … by gum and by golly — he read the Bible and Tolkien and Stephen King and Henry Miller and Penthouse.”
I’ll admit to being old enough to remember when we didn’t shop books by genre. Hell, I don’t remember anyone in my time using the word genre. Schools and religious organizations did the sifting for age groups. I do remember it was a time when everyone read books, because it was the only media entertainment available outside of the movies. Then, TV expanded beyond five channels and ruined everything. Gaming and texting took that ruin to uber-levels.
Meghan Lewit of The Atlantic had some insight on this subject in her article last year, Why Do Female Authors Dominate Young Adult Fiction? She and others, myself included, have a high regard for great female storytellers of teen fiction. The majority of top rated YA titles are written by female authors, but she is quick to point out the reverse is true with sci-fi and fantasy, where male authors rule.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that it isn’t easy to present a realistic teen male POV if you haven’t been there. I ought to know, this theory works in reverse . I have a couple books with teen female protags (got to go where the food is), and I relied heavily on trusted critique partners to flag errors with my interpretation. I return the favor when possible, helping friends ensure their male characters don’t come across like … girls. Girls have greater intensity with emotion (and want to see it with their heroines). Guys don’t show emotion as readily. It’s in their head, but to openly display said feelings is a betrayal of male genetics set down before the frontal lobe provided a shortcut to intelligence. Girls want love. Guys want … pizza. Estrogen and testosterone … think matter and antimatter.
There’s a few brave YA authors out there who stand while peeing, Green, Westerfield, Riordan, to name a few, but the number is dismally low. It’s our own fault. Teen boys, and the adults who think like them, aren’t all that into reading, and if they do, they want the adult stuff, sci-fi, dark fantasy, and horror.
So why am I even bringing this up?
Blogger Kessie Carroll, who writes male protags into her stories, posted an article with similar sentiments to mine, Where are the Male Protagonists in YA Fiction? “I thought I was weird until I started reading discussion threads on Goodreads and other places. Girls pleading for male protagonists who weren’t just romance-fodder for the Hot Teen Girl.”
I learned a lot by writing from a female POV in past stories. It helped hammer-down the emotion barrier, forced me into a place guys fear to tread. Now it’s time to put those lessons to test. My latest story engages a teen male who has to figure out why he’s different in a time when mankind is about to go extinct. It won’t be easy for him. Along the way, he’ll have to make sense of the emotional funhouse that can scramble a guy’s head faster than a Ninja blender.
We need a few good men in YA fiction. I’m in.
Who wants to come along?
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Thank you. I strive to live up to expectations.
Marlo Berliner said:
Well, I hear you on this, my friend. I personally think if more authors wrote YA with a male protag, then more young males might read YA. But it’s a shame that NY is so short-sighted on this (IMO). Today if you write a book with a male protag (and even nail the male voice), you have an uphill battle getting NY to take it. It’s a shame, really.
I sense a change in the wind, Marlo. There comes a point when readers crave for something different. I’m encouraged by Kessie Carroll’s post in which YA readers are looking for guy’s POV. So if you have a teen guy’s story in that archive of yours, time to resurrect it.
B. A. Binns said:
And yet those books are out there. One of the things i talk to librarians and schools about is, if you want them, you have to buy them, because that is what publishers care about, not what people say they want, but what they actually buy.
I’m with you, DT! My first novel is being published in September, and has a 13-y.o. African-American male narrator: http://www.amazon.com/Zero-Fade-Chris-L-Terry/dp/0988480433
As they down under, good on ya, Chris. Zero Fade looks like a fun read. Thanks.
B. A. Binns said:
This is exactly the subject I am making a presentation on to the American Library Association on Saturday, June 29. It turns out there are loads of YA books featuring male protagonists (including mine) and YA books by male authors. They just don’t get as much hype as the female protagonists and female authors. I will be sharing information on many such books with the librarians present at my session (titled Attracting Reluctant Male Readers). In August i will be part of a similar discussion on a panel with a male author about getting more male authors and more books with male protagonists. This is a hot topic int he book, library, and school communities.
BA – Dope! I’ll be at ALA as well, at the Curbside Splendor/Consortium table from 11-11:30am Saturday, Booth 2637. Come say hey.
Excellent news, BA, and thank you for rallying to the cause. I hadn’t realized it was a topic of interest with libraries and schools. I hope you’ll post your notes when the panel meets. I’ve signed up for your newsletter, and will follow your reviews.
Stephanie Scott said:
BA, you said it better than I could. Great point. I would personally also point out that there is also diversity in YA, as in cultural and racial, however few of those books are the “buzz books” or the choices for endcaps and hyped up promotional tours. It’s not that those books don’t exist. Now, how do we get that diversity more known to readers?
As a side note, while I do think that male protagonists deserve more air time, I don’t see it as a negative that one category of fiction is dominated by women. Part of me says, it’s about time. Women writers have struggled long enough to be recognized, and even then, we are often trivialized for writing “women’s fiction” and romance or writing for children. As if these are not as worthy of merit as literary fiction or sci-fi. I think the best view is that there is room for both men and women in YA, and we should push for more diversity in general, in characters and in writers, rather than reducing it only to male/female.
B. A. Binns said:
The numbers are that there are more women writers across the board, but, as Stephanie says, more male writers tend to get the accolades except in things like Romance and YA. Two years ago there was a big discussion about the many accolades for Jonathan Franzen’s book Freedom (even though many agreed he did not do a thorough job with his female characters) while similar books by female powerhouse authors were being ignored by reviewers, even when they did awesome work portraying both genders. Part of the problem is that reviewers tend to be male. And too many assume women will do a competent job with emotions and characterization but are awed when a man does it.
Female authors stand out in romance, YA and MG because so very few men are there. And some of those who are male try to hide that fact for one reason or another. Fortunately I know of several male YA authors, all still trying to become as well known (and hyped) as their female counterparts. Those are some of the authors and books I will be talking about at ALA, along with other tips to get more boys reading. Maybe if the males did more reading and buying, publishers would do more publishing and hyping.
I’m with you, Stephanie. BA makes rock solid points. We need more teen male readership, something educators and others have tried to change for many years. On the marketing side, I’d be curious if there are stats showing a girl’s preference to choose a female author (versus male). Is there an implied higher trust factor that a female author will deliver the emotion they desire in a good YA book?
That said, I’m super pleased this attracted some attention, and appreciate all the good feedback I’m getting. Now … I need to get back to my WIP. Got a teen guy in a dystopian setting that needs finishing.
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An impressive share, I just given this onto a colleague who was doing a little analysis on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast because I found it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the treat! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love reading more on this topic. If possible, as you become expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more details? It is highly helpful for me. Big thumb up for this blog post!
B. A. Binns said:
Just FYI, my talk at the ALA and a summary of the information I and school librarian James Klise gave is available at http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2013/07/03/ala-2013-attracting-reluctant-male-readers/ I have stats about readership and more in a copy of the presentation you can find on my website, http://babinns.com You are right, romance is primarily female readership. But guys will read if presented with the right book. Most major publishers aim books at girls, boys are usually not their targets. But schools and librarians are working to get the right books in the right hands. That’s why I have also been invited to speak to the National Conference of African American librarians in August to talk about getting more men of color writing books for youth, and more boys of color reading.
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