Monday, September 28, 2009


On Saturday I attended Foolscap, a small con held in Redmond, Washington. It's a strange sort of con: some panels are held in easy chairs in the corridor, there is much emphasis on wearing and making hats of all types, and mostly the bar was empty. A "relaxacon," in part, and yet the panels I was either on or attending were interesting.

Among these was a panel on YA fantasy and SF. The panelists were two very knowledgeable YA librarians and two actual Young Readers. Since I am writing a YA novel, I was very interested in what all these people had to say. Some of it was surprising.

Among the most popular of YA novelists is James Patterson. Yes, THAT James Patterson, the guy who wrote ALONG CAME A SPIDER and who appears to produce a novel every 15 minutes. His YA novel MAX was on a list of ten novels voted most popular by a wide survey of teens. Number one was GRACELING, by Kristin Cashore. Other things I either didn't know or else did know but were emphasized by the librarians:

Fantasy is far, far more popular with young people than is SF. Among less skilled readers, the choice is graphic novels.

The cover is extremely important. Both librarians said that over and over again they had "sold" a kid on a book until he or she saw the cover, at which point they said, "No, thanks."

Boys still don't want to read novels with girl protagonists. (Still!)

Sharyn November at Viking has been republishing classic fantasy, which has earned her the sobriquet of "goddess" among librarians.

The most important literary quality valued by teens -- more than character, setting, or style -- is a story that "goes somewhere" and does so at a reasonably fast pace.

Sites such as help track what girls like to read.

In all, a panel far more useful than many con panels tend to be!


bluesman miike Lindner said...

It's been many a long year since I was a teenage girl, Nancy, but don't the young ladies like a leetle romance? To get a clue through fiction how to deal with guys?

Tim of Angle said...

'Boys still don't want to read novels with girl protagonists. (Still!)'

And why would they? What possible value would they see in it? (Sure, YOU may see value in it--but THEY don't. And won't. Unless forced into it by officious adults. Which will destroy their interest in reading forever. Way to go, officious adults.)

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Here's a generic cover guaranteed to appeal to young ladies:
on Mars
in the West
on the Moors
on the Run
with a Vampire
with a Ghost
with a Werewolf
(That last might find its biggest fans among, uh, =unusual= young ladies...)
But the cover would be an =incredibly= handsome guy with one hand on a laser pistol (or flintlock or...), the other arm around an =incredibly= beautiful young woman about whom the potential reader could say, "That's ME!"

Trust Little Blues on this, gang.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

I think it depends on the author, Tim. I read PODKAYNE OF MARS when I was 12, and found good insights in goils' ways of thinking.

Nancy Kress said...

Tim -- If there is "no value" in a boy's reading a book with a girl protagonist, why will girls read books with boy protagonists? I think it's because they're just considering the boys to be humans, which would also be nice if it ran the other way.

Don said...

I was in Junior High School when I read Podkayne of Mars during my metals shop class. I came close to tears at the end of the book.

Female protagonists didn't have an effect on whether I wanted to read a book. However, way back when I was a young boy there were a handful of books with a female protagonist in science fiction and fantasy.

Joe Haldeman's Marsbound is an excellent book with a young female protagonist. I enjoyed the book.

A.R.Yngve said...

We need a "fantasy cover art vocabulary" to help us identify a "selling" book cover...

With items such as:

1. Props (swords, knives, helmets, armor, wands, jewels etc.)

2. Humanoids (Hero/Heroine, Orc, Elf, Wizard, etc.)

3. Animal/Monster (Troll, Dragon, Horse, etc.)

4. Setting (Castle, Cave, Village, Tournament, Forest, etc.)

Just by typing this list, I can already identify "Horse" and "Sword" as selling details on any fantasy cover.

Put the cover protagonist on a horse, with a sword, and you're on the right track...