Authors should blog. Authors should get on Facebook and set up fan pages. Authors should tweet. And many YA authors do, setting up themed blogs, tweeting their favorite books, putting up book trailers and extra content. But just who is the content reaching?
According to a recent study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, teen blogging and tweeting are down. Interestingly, the researchers list teens as 12 – 17 years old and young adults as the 18 – 29 set. Key facts from the report:
- Blogging is less popular among teens and young adults now than it was 4 years ago. Think kids are still reading and commenting? Maybe, maybe not – teen blog commenting stats have also dropped.
- 14% of online teens now say they blog, down from 28% in 2006.
- In December 2007, 24% of online 18-29 year olds reported blogging, compared with 7% of those thirty and older.
- By 2009, just 15% of internet users ages 18-29 maintain a blog–a nine percentage point drop in two years.
- 73% of wired American teens now use social networking websites, a significant increase from previous surveys. Just over half of online teens (55%) used social networking sites in November 2006 and 65% did so in February 2008.
- 72% of online 18-29 year olds use social networking websites, nearly identical to the rate among teens.
- The specific sites on which young adults maintain their profiles are different from those used by older adults: Young profile owners are much more likely to maintain a profile on MySpace (66% of young profile owners do so, compared with just 36% of those thirty and older) but less likely to have a profile on LinkedIn (7% vs. 19%).
- 8% of internet users ages 12-17 use Twitter. far less common than sending or receiving text messages as 66% of teens do, or going online for news and political information, done by 62% of online teens.
- Older teens are more likely to use Twitter than their younger counterparts; 10% of online teens ages 14-17 do so, compared with 5% of those ages 12-13.
- High school age girls are particularly likely to use Twitter. Thirteen percent of online girls ages 14-17 use Twitter, compared with 7% of boys that age.
- Young adults lead the way when it comes to using Twitter or status updating. One-third of online 18-29 year olds post or read status updates.
While the report is good news for authors with older adult audiences (blogging, social networking, and twitter usage are up for internet users 30+ ) it poses an interesting question for YA authors – if teens aren’t using the same services as their favorite authors, how can we connect with them?
Last year, Matthew Robson, a 15 year old intern at Morgan Stanley, wrote a report about trending technology and teens. While the report is largely based on Robson’s own observations and anecdotal evidence, it provides some insight into teenage tech habits. According to Robson, Facebook beats Twitter in the teen market because,
Facebook is about connecting people, and sharing information with each other. The way my friends and I see it, Facebook is a closed network. It’s a network of people and friends that you trust to be connected to, and to share information like your email address, AIM screen name, and phone number. You know who’s getting your status messages, because you either approved or added each person to your network.
Twitter, he points out, is the opposite,
It’s a completely open network that makes teenagers feel “unsafe” about posting their content there, because who knows who will read it. Sure, you get emails notifying you when you have new followers, but that doesn’t compare to the level of detail you get when someone on Facebook adds you, and you get their information.
Robson makes a valid point – our kids are clever, web-savvy individuals. In recent years, teens have been inundated with warnings about online friendships and web-stalking and it’s great to see they’ve taken it on board. But what if the teen resistance to Twitter is more basic than that? Adolescence is all about belonging, finding a niche, expressing individuality, and forming friendships–key components to the Facebook experience. Twitter, on the other hand, makes it hard to form meaningful connections, especially as a large percentage of tweeple are out solely to promote their own content (Get your free credit report now! Learn how I made millions with this simple tool developed by a stay at home mom in just 93 days!). Finding followers can also be difficult–and why post regular updates if no one is following you? While it’s possible some teens still use Twitter as a way to keep with their favorite actors, musicians (and hopefully authors) it’s unlikely. There are easier ways–gossip magazines, tabloids, online news services, and personal/professional sites–which don’t require attention 24/7.
Why spend so much time thinking about why teens prefer Facebook over Twitter? (And if teens don’t tweet, then who’s following Ashton Kutcher?) Teen reactions to both services provide insight into what teens do want, even crave – connection and community. This seems like a big ask – what’s a YA author to do? (Aside from writing excellent, readable, relevant books, that is.)
Start by seeing what’s out there. Google the popular stuff and see what fans are producing themselves. Harry Potter and Twilight spawned huge online forums and communities–and while you mightn’t have such a big fan base you can still learn from their sites. Google yourself, too–you may be surprised by what’s out there.
If you’re web-savvy (or have a friend/spouse/liger who is) encourage readers to talk about your books by adding a forum to your website–check out the forum on Princess Diaries author Meg Cabot’s site for a few ideas. Answer questions and take time to respond to your readers. Ask questions, too – it’ll help you reach readers and give you some insight into the 2010 teen experience. Love the ‘net but hate the code? Consider signing up for LiveJournal. LJ users are like an out-of-the-box community – give them a little love and they’ll respond in kind.
Make it easy for readers to contact you – make sure blog comments are enabled and set up a site email (you could use your domain name or just set up a free Gmail account) and check it regularly. Respond to everything you get, even if it takes you a few months–after all, someone loved your book enough to write to you about it, or to ask for advice. What if it’s difficult to think of something to say? You’re a writer – you’ll work it out! Don’t forget about more conventional methods of connecting with readers either. Make school visits. Talk to kids at the library and local bookstores. Remember why you’re a YA author (not for money or fame – who are we kidding?) and put yourself out there.
If teens aren’t using Twitter, should YA authors just delete their accounts? Yes. No. Maybe. Twitter is what you make it – everything comes down to the reason you tweet. If your sole objective is to connect with teens, Twitter might not be your best option. But if you want to connect with crossover and new adult readers, go for it–one third of 18 – 29 year olds read or post status updates. Twitter is also an excellent way to connect with other writers, learn from writers, agents, and editors, and establish a web presence (a useful tool in finding an agent and/or editor).
Do you have a Twitter account? Why do you tweet? How do you connect with your readers?
Earlier this week, I asked about the limits in YA literature. Is there a line? And if so, where is it?
We are actively looking for great, new, cutting edge fiction with protagonists who are slightly older than YA and can appeal to an adult audience. Since twenty-somethings are devouring YA, St. Martin’s Press is seeking fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an “older YA” or “new adult.” (Submissions can be read here; winners were announced last night.)
New adult literature isn’t exactly, well, new. In The Guardian of Education, an early 19th century journal dedicated to reviewing children’s literature, Sarah Trimmer defined “Books for Young Persons” as books for readers 14-21, while the term YA was coined in 1937. But despite its early roots, publishers didn’t truly begin marketing to a younger audience until the fifties and sixties (Maureen Daly’s Seventeenth Summer and S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders were two of the first real YA novels, though they were released 26 years apart ). Until then, children and teens selected books from an adult pool, though certain titles appealed more than others (Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series are good examples).
Sometime in the 1980s, young adult literature came into its own. Come the 1990s, children’s books had been divided into several categories – picture book, early reader, reluctant reader, chapter book, middle grade. The past couple of years have seen YA split into early teen/tween fiction and a catch-all 14 or so and up category. According to St. Martin’s Associate Editor, S.Jae Jones (JJ), NA fiction would be the upper end of YA, pitched at readers 18 to twenty-something.
Although NA may be part marketing ploy, I think this evolution of the genre is inevitable. Though books like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women are still incredibly popular (Little Women has never been out of print), YA literature with a more realistic, true-to-life bent (think Nancy Werlin’s The Rules of Survival) is much in demand. NA gives St. Martin’s and, hopefully, other houses, the chance to revel in the complexity of publishing for young adults.
Earlier this week, I wrote about Knopf’s decision to categorize Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels as YA. But sticking TM in with YA (oh, god, I’m writing in LOLspeak) is a gross over-simplification of not just the book, but of teen readers. Not all teens will be ready for the cloaked realities in Lanagan’s novel; conversely, some teens will read, dissect, and discuss the book without hesitation. Creating an upper category like NA helps readers find the books they’re ready for without drawing undue attention from younger readers.
NA also straddles another YA issue – the crossover title. For the past few years, some publishers have been marketing books (TM, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief come to mind) as both adult and young adult, marking the different editions with different cover art. Will the creation of New Adult fiction do away with the crossover title? Possibly. Publishers everywhere are trying to cut costs–no longer able to afford slush readers, most houses are now agent-query only. Cover production isn’t cheap (especially if you’re Bloomsbury). NA gives publishers the chance to put out just one cover yet still reach the desired crossover audience.
Of course, NA is unlikely to mean an uptick in acquisitions–there’s a lot of higher level and crossover YA already out there, and that’s just the already published stuff. Even closed to unsolicited submissions, most houses appear to be swimming in material. Yet “unlikely” does not equal “not at all” – though adults are reading YA, picking up a “kids’ book” still carries a stigma for some. Several of my twenty-something friends look down on the YA titles cluttering my bookshelves, claiming to be “past all that stuff”. But, as JJ points out,
Dan [Weiss, publisher-at-large at St. Martin’s] and I think there is a gap in the current adult market–the literary fiction market–for fiction about twentysomethings. You never stop growing up, I think, but little in the market seems to address the coming-of-age that also happens in your 20s. This is the time of life when you are an actual, legal adult, but just because you’re able to vote (in the US, anyway) that doesn’t mean you know HOW to be one. This is the first time when you are building a life that is your OWN, away from your parents and the family that raised you. It’s a strange and scary place to be.
Just as YA is fiction about discovering who you are as a person, I think NA is fiction about building your own life.
As older, snootier readers discover the joy of upper level YA–ahem, NA–demand may increase. This, in turn, would give writers the chance to explore the freedom of a slightly older protagonist while also easing some of the logistical aspects of writing YA (Would a parent really let their 15 year old hunt Daleks? Does this happen while she’s in school/at camp/over the summer? How could he afford x and y?)
Early twenties protagonists are surprisingly rare; in a panel on YA literature at Harvard’s 2008 Vericon, City of Bones author Cassandra Clare talked about pitching her novel, then about twentysomethings, as adult fiction. After several conversations, Clare realized she had to choose between adults and teens. She went with teens.
Will New Adult take off? I hope so. Last night, the winners of St. Martin’s New Adult contest were announced on #YAlitchat (there’s more on JJ’s blog). For most books, it’s at least 2 years between acquisition and release, meaning it could be a while before an NA section pops up in Barnes & Noble (unless St. Martin’s digs through its YA catalog to get the ball rolling). In the meantime, I think I’ll be loaning my upper YA books as NA…
Would you buy New Adult books? Does the title appeal to you/sound better than YA? Or are you happy with the system as it stands?
Photo Credit: Juliaf, via sxc.hu
My first review for the Santa Fe Writers Project is up!
Oscar Banks is cookie-cutter perfect. He’s a straight A student, is dating the prettiest, smartest girl in Candor High, and has more friends than a parrot at a pirate convention…[more]
Read it at SFWP.org, then check out some of their excellent fiction!
Everybody’s doing it. Everybody’s looking at me. My hands tremble, lightly at first, then transition into a fully-fledged shake. My feet edge me closer, closer, closer until my gut clenches and I think I’m going to puke. It smells foul. It looks foul. The steam hurts my eyes.
“Don’t be a moron. Drink it. You’ll feel good.”
“Yeah, yeah I know, but…” But what? My parents don’t do it. My grandparents don’t do it. My brother sucks down Jolt and RedBull, but they’re at least, well, sweet, and kind of tasty. This stuff is black and sludgy like the scraps probably festering in our blocked garbage disposal.
Anna pushes the cup into my hands. “The school wouldn’t let us have it if it was bad.”
Maybe. Schools are supposed to keep their students safe, right? And the senior coffee machine, with the senior coffee break, was supposed to be a rite of passage. Every day at 10:45, right after recess, the girls mob the machine, shaking sugar packets and dumping non-dairy creamer into environment-killing styrofoam cups. Brown stains coat once-white teeth, and the air around me is sharp with acrid tang of burnt grounds.
“I can’t.” It’s too gross, I want to say. It’s addictive. Have you seen the webs caffeine crazy spiders spin?
She motions at a girl next to her, Tilly. My gut gives up its comforting clench. Tilly is on the rowing team. And the hockey team. And the rugby team.
Can stomachs suffer from vertigo? Bile rises to the back of my throat.
“She’s having a little trouble with the coffee machine, Til. Think you can help out?”
Tilly nods, a slow, deliberate movement that starts somewhere in her shoulders and works it way up into her neck. I shuffle backward, one step, two step, three step…and into a wall. This is Not Good. Tilly lifts my hands, forces them around the mug. Anna tilts my head, angling it to make the flow easier, to reduce spillage. The other girls still mill around the machine, oblivious.
I purse my lips and spit, but Tilly’s prepared. Snaking one of her hands up to my mouth, she prises it open. The other hand lifts the mug to my lips…
It’s bitter, and sludgier than I imagined. I try not to swallow, but do it anyway. The next gulp is easier, sliding down my throat like raindrops on a windshield. It’s sweeter, too. My head relaxes, and my hands tighten around the mug.
Anna lets go. Tilly steps back. “See?” they say. “Isn’t that better?”
My belly is warm and cozy, and my whole body feels squeezed up, like it’s engulfed in a tight–but loving–hug. Everything seems clearer, too–the girls around the machine are chatting, laughing, alive, not at all the drones I thought they were. Anna slides an arm around my shoulders. “I told you it’d be good. Everyone loves a good cup of coffee!”
* * *
Karim eyed the spool of thread longingly. His father had said no, not today, when he had asked for some of the pink cotton.
He knew that when Abu said no, that it was for The Greater Good. But the thread, sitting in the old sugar box under the windowsill, was taunting him, tempting him, simply begging to be slipped into a pocket.
“I’d prefer it weren’t so pink,” Lateef whispered.
“You don’t have to whisper, Teef.” Karim poked the younger boy in the ribs. “Ammy’s out in the kitchen.”
“I know, but—well, you’re not supposed to talk loudly when you’re thinking about, you know,” his voice dropped again, “stealing. Besides, it makes me feel as if I’m flying a giant ballet slipper.”
Karim eyed his fraying shirt hem ruefully. “Just be grateful she hadn’t run out of black when your clothes needed mending. And does it even matter what it looks like? The point is to fly the kite, not admire it.”
“I suppose,” yawned Lateef, not bothering to cover his mouth. He was proud of how hugely he could yawn, employing it as a party trick, and, in this case, a succinct I’m bored, amuse me now. It was, Karim reflected, a very clever, if pointed, way to change the subject.
“Take it,” Lateef whispered, nudging him.
“You take it. You’re younger, they won’t yell at you.”
Lateef shrugged. “You’re older. And you’re not clumsy.” He looked at his thick ankles and clunky feet gloomily. “I’ll just get to the window, trip over the sewing box, and smash my head into the table or the windowsill or something, then Ammy will keep us both here and you’ll get roped into helping lay the new floor.”
Karim looked about, taking in the peeling, cracked tile. All their cousins and aunts and uncles would be there soon, stoking the fire and chatting as they worked; Riyaid uncle would be handing out lollipops and chunks of paw paw, trying to bribe the children into helping.
But Karim hated collecting the cowpats, smushing them flat, tossing them into the fire to harden into tile. The smell crept up his nose, lodging itself inside the top of his nostrils, staying with him for days, destroying the good smells of khichiri and pickle, Ammy’s talcum powder, and fresh-snapped mango stems.
Being kept in was okay when she was around to play games and tell stories and let them make messes in the kitchen. But re-doing the floor—not even all Riyaid uncle’s lollipops were worth that.
“Fine,” he said hoisting himself up off the rug. “You beg the flour and can and matches from Ammy, and I’ll meet you by the creek in—” he glanced at the clock over the door “—ten minutes.”
Karim shuffled toward the windowsill. Behind him, he heard the crackle of old tile, and knew Lateef was gone.
Just three feet, Karim thought to himself. Three feet to the sugar box, then three feet to the door. Just keep thinking in threes.
His heart pounded, battering his chest, stealing his breath. This is silly. It’s just cotton. Ammy lets us have it all the time.
He padded closer. Just two feet to go. Two feet, three feet.
I don’t see how it matters to Abu anyway. His shirts don’t need mending, and Lateef’s getting new ones for school soon. And it’s just thread. Just silly pink thread.
One foot to go.
Klink-klink, tink-tink. Ammy was tipping ice cubes into the big pitcher; the others would be arriving any minute.
Half a foot.
“We don’t need much, anyway,” he muttered to the tiles. “And we’ll bring it back. We won’t even keep it long. Honest.”
The box was right in front of him now. The lid’s hinges glinted menacingly—goosebumps tickled Karim’s skin. He put his hand out—hesitated—then, clasping it tightly around the reel, he whipped the thread out of the box, dropped it into his left pocket, and dashed the remaining three feet.
* * *
News sheets whiffled in his hands as he sped down the hill and toward the back fence. It was already two-thirty; twenty minutes since Lateef had left! Finding the newspaper had been the problem. The sheets had to be the flimsy, double spread sort, the ones people usually kept for wrapping food. Catalogues were too thick and heavy, and the gloss on their pages made them hard to glue. He’d rifled through three garbage tins just to find these ones. They smelled a bit like coriander and bhajia, but Karim didn’t care. This smell—this good, happy, smell–would get lost in the wind, making nostrils everywhere happy.
Lateef waited under a patch of trees, just up from the creek. Twigs and rocks were already gathered into a pile waiting to be lit. Lateef was bending and flexing green twigs.
“Where’re the matches?”
“Couldn’t get any. Ammy already had to borrow some to do the floor, and aunty’s pretty grumpy.” He nodded toward the fire. “There’s a couple of really dry bits of wood over there that’ll probably do.”
Slipping the news sheets under a nearby rock, Karim gathered up the twigs and worked at them, rubbing them together just like Abu had taught him.
Lateef measured flour into the empty can, jammed the tied off left-overs into his pocket, then loped off to fetch a bit of water from the creek.
It was a fiddly business, but worth it, Karim thought, as the twigs came to smoke-stage. He pushed them harder, his hands growing dry and scraped with effort. By the time Lateef returned, the fire crackled like seaweed on a sunny day.
They set the flour-water mixture over the fire and sat back to wait. The sun was dropping now: only a few inches remained between the creek and the horizon. At home, a bigger fire would be burning, and Ammy would be passing out drinks.
The bright pink cotton burned in Karim’s pocket; he touched it, reassuring himself that Ammy wouldn’t mind, that she would have said yes if Abu hadn’t already said no. Across from him, Lateef prattled about the new Tin-Tin at the library.
They would use it all, he decided, keeping it on the reel. Then it would be easy to spool it back up, scrape off the paste, and slip it back into the sugar box, no harm done. The Greater Good would remain intact.
Lateef poked the contents of the can with a twig. “It’s done,” he announced, using his toes to wriggle the tin out of the flames. Burnt rubber smell permeated the air. Karim winced, but said nothing. There wasn’t enough time to worry about Lateef’s shoes now. They lay two news sheets flat; Lateef knelt over them, tacking them to the ground. Together, they flexed and arranged the green sticks, then Lateef held them in place, too. Karim dipped his fingers into the can: gooey warmth slipped over them. Dripping, he lifted them out, then passed his fingers over the twigs, over the paper’s edge, deftly filling corners and cracks.
Lateef wriggled off the kite; they pressed the remaining news sheets down. Another coat of paste; together, they folded the sheet edges over, pulling them tight against the frame.
Now for the thread.
Karim took it from his pocket, holding it between his thumb and forefinger. It wasn’t fine cotton—the grain was coarse, hard, like undercooked rice. He unspooled a little, dipped it into the tin of paste. “What are you waiting for?”
“N-nothing,” Karim stammered, punching a hole in the paper with his finger. He slipped the cotton through, tied it off, glued the ends down, and, finally, rubbed the remaining paste off on to the grass.
Silent, the brothers stared at their handiwork. Only one more inch, and the sun would disappear for the night. Karim lifted his chin at the kite. “Go on, then,” he murmured. “Take it. And be careful with the thread. We have to return it.”
Lateef needed no second invitation. He was off, charging down the slope. The paper fluttered behind him, bobbing over currents and updrafts, steadily lifting higher and higher, thread unravelling with each lift…
* * *
Darkness seeped over the grass. The wind was dying down now; dew prickled Karim’s skin, raising goose bumps and making him shiver. Taking the reel from Lateef, he tugged the kite downward, carefully re-spooling the cotton. There hadn’t been time for both of them to fly it, and he was older, he could wait ‘til next time.
Finally, the kite lay in front of him: he untied the knot, pulled the thread, rubbed the remaining paste on the grass. There, he thought, slipping the reel back in his pocket. No harm done. No fun done, either.
“C’mon, I’ll race you home!” Lateef yelled, kicking dirt over the remains of the fire. “Last one back has to clear the dishes!”
The unmistakable smell of toasting cowpat wafted toward them; Karim sped off, suddenly desperate to win.Read More
Sweat beads on the drum, catching on my fingers, coating them in rough animal smell. “It’s deer,” the dealer tells me, ”from hunters in the north. They don’t waste nothin’, them hunters. Meat for summer, jerky for winter, leather an’ all for me.” He leans in close. “Betcha you can guess who gots the better deal.” I try not to gag at the stench of ale on his breath; it isn’t hard. After ten years of Ewan and his drink, I’m used to it. I was used to it the day after we were married.
Handing over my coin, I take the drum and head home. In my other hand are instructions, fresh from Herself. The words are hard to make out, the paper streaked with smoke and charcoal stains. I scratch at them with my nails, but they’re too ragged to make a difference. I set the drum down carefully, then beat the tattoo ‘til blood rises to my cheeks and I know it’s time.
Kicking up clouds of umber, I follow the instructions, stepping left then right, kicking forward, forward, back. Herself’s sketches are crude, but they do the job. Sinking farther into the movements, I start to enjoy myself. Storm clouds scud across the sky. My heart races.
I wonder if he’s feeling it yet – if his heart beats with mine, if his skin is growing ruddier with the effort of each breath. In the house, there’s a thud, followed by a low groan.
I go home.