Where are all the guys in YA?

Following up on Miriam’s recent post about writers’ groups being comprised of mostly women, I came upon this piece in The Atlantic about female authors dominating the YA market. It discusses how NPR Books this summer had fans choose the 100 Best-Ever Teen Books and of the 235 books being considered for the list, 147 (63%) were written by women.

Certainly there are many bestselling male authors across all categories, but I think it’s fair to say that the YA market is dominated by female authors. We all know that many of the biggest books and series of the past decade were written by women, including, as the piece points out: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and the Twilight books. Each of these series went on to attract a large fan base that included boys and girls, and women and men, one of the reasons they were able to achieve such huge success. The movies didn’t hurt either.

In our own DGLM stable, we have a handful of male YA authors, including the bestselling James Dashner, Geoff Herbach, Andrew Smith, Danny Marks, and Shandy Lawson, but collectively the majority of our other YA authors are women (all of mine are), which confirms the theory based at least on our small sampling. And when I think about the queries I receive for YA, they are usually from women.

So I’m curious why this is. Is it that women read more YA fiction? Is there, as some suggest, the element of nostalgia for women remembering their teen years? Would you like to see more YA fiction from men? Or does it not make a difference who’s writing the books you read? Share your thoughts, and I’d love to start seeing more YA queries from men! (ps-this is my last post until after Labor Day, so enjoy the last few days of summer!)

11 Responses to Where are all the guys in YA?

  1. D. C. DaCosta says:

    I would suspect that few teen boys want to be seen reading “young adult” books and that the market is largely female. Consequently, a female author is probably better in touch with what the readers want. Rather like the romance market, I would guess: mostly women, writing for mostly women.

  2. K Callard says:

    I write MG not YA, but most of the YA writing advice I’ve seen suggests writing for a female audience. According to “them,” teenage girls read YA, but teenage boys read adult books, and it’s only ok to have a male protagonist if the story is a romance/otherwise aimed at girls.

    I don’t mean to say that men can’t write a female protagonist or write to a female audience, but perhaps some feel more comfortable writing what they know.

    Personally, it doesn’t matter who writes the books I read, so long as they nail the voice. I remember getting a few chapters into a first person perspective novel and suddenly discovering the narrator was a male, not a female. It was very disturbing, and I found I really couldn’t connect with the book after that.

    • D. C. DaCosta says:

      Getting the “voice” is of paramount importance. One of the (many) reasons I disliked “The Outsiders” was that it was purportedly told by a 14-year old boy, but clearly written by a female. Your narrator (whether personal or impersonal) must have credibility.
      I have read a number of books by male authors who have done pretty well telling the story from a female POV; I have not seen more than a couple of women who have managed to do the opposite.

  3. Joelle says:

    You could ammend this to say: 100 Best-Ever Teen Books and of the 235 books being considered for the list, 147 (63%) were written by women…and the rest were written by John Green.

  4. Anon says:

    Most men are out working and supporting families and don’t have time to write anything other than mortgage and tuition checks :)

    Men are more inclined to read and write in genres like mystery/suspense instead of YA…or they prefer non-fiction. When they were YA men didn’t like reading YA. It would stand to reason they have no interest in it when they are older. It’s always been a female oriented genre and it always will be.

    The best part is those men who do write YA tend to get a lot of attention, bless them.

  5. Brian Griggs says:

    As a school librarian with a YA audience, my guys love James Dashner, John Flanagan, and Walter Dean Myers. My question is which came first, the market or the demand? My avid sci-fi/fantasy boys have a myriad of choices to jump to in the adult market. That’s not the case for the ones who like real-life settings/issues. Most of those guys jump to nonfiction. (Thank you, James Swanson, for Bloody Crimes.)

    Go check out the teen shelves at a Barnes and Noble and count how many angsty girls are on the covers. What 14 year-old boy would walk the halls carrying that? The demand is there; the market is not. We can’t just let it sit at “mostly women writing for mostly women”.

    Until publishers take more gambles on male authors, there won’t be more guys in YA.

  6. Stacey says:

    Great responses, all, thanks. I especially like Joelle’s. Very funny.

  7. Stacey says:

    Anon, you too. So, let’s start seeing some high concept YA written by men. I’m ready for my first client in the category!

  8. Jack says:

    I’ve always loved stories for the YA age group, and a lot of the adult fantasy I read growing up had young protagonists. I think that many guys avoid a lot of YA because of the lack of action-oriented stories that don’t focus too much on feelings and the like. Just look at the games and the movies that the majority of guys have all migrated to. If boys are willing to read Harry Potter, it’s unlikely that they’re not willing to read anything at all.

    I know for a fact that the lack of these kinds of action packed stories is why my friends and I jumped from YA to adult — but before we did, we read a bunch of YA, and there wasn’t enough stuff for us. I enjoyed stories like the Bartimaeus Trilogy and the more action-packed girls’ books, but got tired of the prevalence of romance and reading about girls dealing with their feelings about various things, and because I couldn’t get that adrenaline rush I enjoy I shifted to adult fiction.

    So again, I think it’s not that boys don’t like reading, there are just certain stories that the majority of them enjoy reading that aren’t easy to find in the current YA books that are out there. Boys read MG in droves, and boys also read Adult in droves, but very few read YA… so I hope that some day publishers and agents will suss out where the problem lies.

  9. Jim says:

    I agree with Brian. Like Brian I work with teen readers. I see boys thirsty for authentic teen male narrators telling cool stories. It’s a short list of male authors creating male star/narrators. Alexie’s True Diary, and . . . . and . . . . ? John Greene is awesome, but Fault/Stars is a strong girl narrator in love with a strong but doomed (he dies of course) male character. Asher’s 13 reasons–it’s a boy narrator but the real star is the girl via her voice on the tapes. The blog prompt seems to imply “What’s with guys not writing more stuff for boys?” I’d respectfully flip that around and point out that 80% of the gatekeepers (at least, just skimming through pub. marketplace) of this industry–agents & editors–are women, who are awesome, creative, hardworking women, but don’t hear male narrative the same way men hear male narrative. Alexie was 15 years into an already successful lit. fiction career before he tried YA, so True Diary was getting published no matter what. Would it have made it through the door from a first-timer? His agent reps one YA author–him–after she’d already helped him with the 5 previous lit fiction efforts. Interesting to think about . . . . I see huge demand, not much supply. I think it’s going to take a couple more True Diarys, or someone blowing up an e-book self-pub effort. My kids lose their minds over True Diary. The boys want to be Jr’s friend. The girls want to save him & date him. Why isn’t there more of this? I respectfully submit it’s not supply or demand, it’s PERCEPTION of demand. Thanks for the forum & awesome comments from everyone. Jim/Seattle.

  10. Bob the Builder says:

    When you’re a boy growing up, you want help with girls, not romance that tells you of the high expectations that girls have of you. Most of us aren’t the hero type, so we don’t compare well with the young men that end up getting the female protagonist.

    When I was a teen, I would have loved a *realistic* book about teen love. One that would have told me that not only boys want sex (because I always felt dirty and guilty towards the seemingly pure girls I desired). One that would have told me how to successfully go about approaching a girl and that girls don’t find boys ridiculous that are nervous when they approach them.

    I would have loved books by women writing for boys. Explaining girls to me. As it was I switched from Enid Blython’s Famous Five to adult SF&F when I was 13. The only YA book I remember reading as a teen was Ursula LeGuin’s “Beginning Place / Threshold”.

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