Who is Reading YA Books?

I found some interesting reading on Reddit today in a thread from early 2019 that I thought was worth looking at. It’s very challenging to find actual data on the sex of Young Adult readerships since the publishers don’t seem inclined to share what they have and individual writers can only work with their reader surveys and collective wisdom.

The collective wisdom says boys stop reading at 14 and jump to fiction for adults if they continue to read at all. It’s definitely true that publishers have been following this logic, because at least when it comes to speculative (Scifi/Fantasy) they know what side of the bread to butter…

There is little hard data to base this supposition on, so I will throw in a survey of 2019 YA speculative fiction releases, put together by bloggers using Goodreads categories and upcoming releases.

They work hard to keep it updated, and it’s quite comprehensive, though most of the bloggers are US based. This list is unlikely to grow substantially, as young adult publishers tend to line up their publishing schedules more than a year in advance. The results of this list are below.

There are 207 non-contemporary/speculative teen novels coming in 2019 (fantasy, horror, sci-fi, historical, etc) with identifiable genders of protagonists taken from the information available. 27 books were not included in the survey, as their blurbs were vague on who the POV character was, or had no content yet.

Of the 207 books:

18 have a male protagonist only (8.7%)

172 have a female protagonist only (83.1%)

1 non-binary protagonist only (0.5%)

16 have protagonists of both genders (7.7%)

Male protagonists only written by men: 7 (3.4%) NB: interestingly, 4 of these are gay male protagonists. A straight male protagonist written by a man is (1.4%).

Male protagonists only written by women: 11 (5.3%)

Female protagonists only written by men: 6 (2.9%)

Female protagonists only written by women: 166 (80.2%)

Non-binary protagonists only written by Non-binary authors: 1 (0.5%)

Multiple protagonists including both genders written by women: 13 (6.3%)

Multiple protagonists including both genders written by men: 2 (1%)

Multiple protagonists including both genders written by male and female co-authors: 1 (0.5%)

Including co-authors, the gender breakdown is as follows:

16 male authors (7.4%)

198 female authors (92.1%)

1 non-binary author (0.5%)

If we include the books where gender of the protagonist was unidentifiable, the numbers are roughly the same:

18 male authors (7.6%)

217 female authors (91.9%)

1 non-binary author (0.4%)

We must also keep in mind here that there is evidence that picture books and younger middlegrade skew heavily towards male characters, and that’s something that we should definitely work on correcting. It’s unfair that young girls don’t see themselves represented in the books they see on the shelves. It’s arguable the same point could be made for teenage boys.


Interesting stuff, especially considering how YA writers, who in this sample are 92% female and writing stories where 83% of the protagonists are female (90% if you include dual protagonists of both genders) are usually the first to herald the cry for “diversity.” Yet they’re writing some of the most un-diverse fiction in terms of gender outside of romance novels (which are likely around 99% female lead).

Not that I can blame them. Publishers go where the money is, and if the ones paying the money are young women who want to see themselves in the books they read and relate better to female characters, then that’s what they’ll publish. So, they actively avoid male protagonists unless the book is really good and has crossover appeal (or is for a gay male audience).

Writer Steven Kelliher had this to say in the thread…

I don’t typically post about this topic because the downvotes are unreal, but I know several authors in the YA traditional published community, and the statistics of male protagonists accepted by YA publishers are INSANELY low relative to the content that is submitted.

Now, many assume that stories with male protagonists simply are not pitched to YA publishers. This could not be further from the truth. Many, many male and female authors submit manuscripts with male protagonists, and they are rejected because the publishers feel that they will not sell to the targeted demographic for YA fantasy.

YA fantasy should be much more inclusive than it is. You can argue the same thing about Epic Fantasy in terms of male protags and male authors, so it’s fair to say the reverse is true in the YA genre. I think it’s something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, where YA publishers largely publish books by female authors (and many, many female pen names) and featuring female protagonists because that’s what sells … but it’s also because that’s largely all they publish.

So, is there a market for male YA fiction? I think so, but most of the audience is online and that’s where it will need to be published. It’s “niche” material that will work best as ebooks and online serials, and not so well as traditionally published work due to the smaller audience.

How Koreans get their Web Novels

Yesterday I had a long and fascinating chat with a recently arrived Korean international student about Korean webnovels. Webnovels (books written specifically for the web) are extremely popular in Japan, China, and of course South Korea, and have become a gateway for new and rising authors in those countries. Recently, I’ve found myself reading some (fan translated) Chinese Webnovels (more on this in another post) and so I was curious as to what Korea’s market was like.

The student told me a few interesting things:

  • Her primary reading site of choice is NAVER, which is a popular Korean webportal similar to YAHOO, but which offers Webtoons (comics) and Webnovels as part of its lineup. In 2014 alone, Korean NAVER Webnovels had 3.6 Billion views (that’s BILLION, and remember there are only 50 Million people in Korea!).
  • The comics are more popular than the novels, but the Novels still have a large audience which she said is mostly female.
  • Anyone can write a novel on NAVER, but it sounds like there are three tiers- the stuff that anyone can post, the “Challenge League” and the “Best League”. The latter two being high quality amateurs and professionals who get promotion and profit-sharing with NAVER. (More info here.)
  • Works in the Leagues come out in serialized (chapter by chapter) format, with between 1 and 3 chapters released a week.
  • For the first four days of release, you have to pay for the chapter (using NAVER Coins) but after four days it becomes free for fans to read. (To me, this is brilliant, because human nature says most fans will pay to read early, as apparently the student does all the time. However, the old chapters are still there to help readers catch up and interest people.)
  • Advance chapters cost more or less depending on how popular that story is. So if a story isn’t popular an advance chapter might just be 1 or 2 cents, whereas a super-popular book’s chapter might be upwards of 20 cents.
  • Once a book is finished, after a certain time it is archived, which means the first couple chapters will still be free and access to the rest can be rented (for 1 day/1 week/1 month periods) at a cheaper price than reading chapter by chapter.
  • The Webnovels themselves are mostly written in the Young Adult oriented Light Novel format, which means they’re mostly dialogue driven with lots of spacing and simpler language.
  • The Best League novels not only have covers, but each week there is a piece of art that goes with them showing some scene from that chapter in a slightly iconic style.
  • The Best League novels also have an odd quirk I’ve rarely seen before, when major characters have lines of dialogue without any added exposition they just put a tiny portrait picture of the character. So instead of:
    • Sun-yi said, “I don’t know who I love, Byung-Gin.”
      • it will be…
    • [Tiny picture of Sun-yi] “I don’t know who I love, Byung-Gin.”
      • Which I imagine increases the reading speed a bit, and gets rid of some dialogue tags.
  • They’ve solved the Micropayments hurdles by using NAVER Coins, which is real money converted into NAVER credits. Sometimes it’s a 1:1 ratio, but at certain times of year NAVER will offer better ratios to get people to buy more credits. Users can also win credits through contests, loyalty rewards, and other activities that they can then use for buying digital content on the site.

That was pretty much it, but I thought it was quite interesting. As I said, I especially love the part about offering content early for people willing to chip in a few cents, since most people will do exactly that if they want to read the next chapter badly enough. The student says she spends about (the equivalent of) a $1 a week on buying Webnovel chapters, which doesn’t sound like much, but can add up pretty quickly.

It’s sad that nobody in the English speaking world has made the effort to produce such a scheme, because I think it could be a great platform for authors. Right now your options for getting English Ebooks out is pretty much either give it away for free in some form on a site like Wattpad or sell it as a complete volume on Amazon or Apple iBooks. In theory, you could use Patreon to get readers to support you, and let the Patreon subscribers have chapters a week earlier, but the problem is that Patreon doesn’t work in cents, but in dollars, and it’s pretty clumsy.

What’s needed is a system like this- where vetted authors can make money in a profit-sharing system with the website and not-yet-vetted authors can practice their craft in a place where they get a wide potential audience. (Possibly also having the option of making some money as they write as well, depending on how it was set up.)

In any case, I thought it was an interesting system, and worth sharing. If you’re interested in reading some Korean novel translations, you can find some links here in an older Reddit thread. (There aren’t a lot of them out there, but a few.)

Boys and Reading – Is There Any Hope?

Boys and Reading – Is There Any Hope? – NYTimes.com is a great article about the issue of getting boys reading in an industry dominated by women from top to bottom. I recall in high school where one of our English teachers (a middle-aged woman going through menopause) made us all read The Stone Angel by Margaret Lawrence (about a middle-aged woman going through menopause reflecting back on her life) which as you can expect all we 15 year old boys completely related to. We related to it so well that it (and being forced to read books like it) literally drove me and many of my classmates from reading novels for years, and I didn’t get back into it again until University. (And this was before the Internet was there to distract us!)

Also from the article:

But I think it’s also about the books being published. Michael Cart, a past president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, agrees. “We need more good works of realistic fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, on- or ­offline, that invite boys to reflect on what kinds of men they want to become,” he told me. “In a commercially driven publishing environment, the emphasis is currently on young women.” And then some. At the 2007 A.L.A. conference, a Harper executive said at least three-­quarters of her target audience were girls, and they wanted to read about mean girls, gossip girls, frenemies and vampires.

Naturally, authors are writing for this ready group. The current surge in children’s literature has been fueled by talented young female novelists fresh from M.F.A. programs who in earlier times would have been writing midlist adult fiction. Their novels are bought by female editors, stocked by female librarians and taught by female teachers. It’s a cliché but mostly true that while teenage girls will read books about boys, teenage boys will rarely read books with predominately female characters.

He makes it almost sound like a conspiracy, which of course it isn’t, it’s simply how the industry has shaken out, since they’re making most of their money from a female audience. On the educational side, male teachers and librarians are sadly uncommon at the elementary and middle-school levels these days, so there is a gap there in connecting with boys as well. (Ironically, during the most critical time for making that connection!) So the boys get shortchanged and don’t always get directed to the stories that they will connect with the most. (Which isn’t helped by school book collections that are woefully ancient in their topics and selections.)

This is especially sad when you consider the high divorce rates and nature of modern families often mean there aren’t fathers around to direct young boys and show them that reading is something for men as well. They see their sisters reading, and reach the decision that reading is something girls do, and decide to shun it in favor of X-Box and sports. (Well, those boys who actually play sports, anymore…) Only the more nerdly of boys seem to gravitate towards reading, instead of a general audience who would benefit from it.

A sad state of affairs all around.


The ePublishing Scammers come out to play…

Author David Gaughran has posted an article over on his blog warning about the growing minefield of people out there looking to sell overpriced services to self-publishing authors under the pretense of being real publishing houses. The sad thing is that the real publishing houses have smelled money and are now also trying to get into the game!

Most of this is being done by Author’s Solutions, a modern Vanity Press company David gives these stats about:

1. 150,000 customers have only published 190,000 books, meaning there’s very little repeat business – esp. when you factor in all the authors publishing multiple titles right off the bat. For comparison, the average Smashwords author has published over four titles with them.

2. The average Author Solutions customer spends $5,000 publishing their book, and only sells 150 copies.

3. Only one-third of Author Solutions’ income comes from book sales royalties. Two thirds comes from author services – their whole model is based on making money from you, not with you.

These are leeches preying on people’s hope and dreams, and not giving anywhere near back what they take. Note #2, how they charge $5000 on average to “help” you get your book ready to market. Do you know how much most self-pubbed authors pay reputable services for editing and a cover? $300-$500 for the whole package! (It can get up around $1000 if you want more extensive work done and you hire a high-end artist for the cover.) And actually, many pay ZERO dollars if they have friends and family who can help them do it, since the actual publishing side is free for eBooks (and costs around $40 to set up Print-on-Demand services through Amazon or Lulu).

And no matter how much you pay to whom, you still have to do all your own marketing!

All for average sales of 150 copies. (Lifetime.)

So do your homework.

Real publishers ask for ZERO money upfront, because they pay you to publish your work, not the other way around.

Reputable editors and services don’t charge you thousands of dollars to get your book ready.

Read the linked article, ask around, explore your options, and beware the traps! For there are many, and you will get screwed if you pick the wrong one!


Amazon Purging Reviews?

I happened to wander over to Joe Konrath’s blog today and noticed the top story was about Amazon purging reviews. It seems in response to a recent cry by independent authors for Amazon to police their reviews, they’ve begun using a heavy-handed algorithm which hunts for reviews by people that might be linked to the author and removes them.

This is pretty disturbing, and it gets even worse, check out the blog article below for more details…

So I just emerged from my editing cave (my second draft of book 2 for the PERSEF0NE trilogy is done- whew) to some disturbing news. Digging through a backlog of emails, I came across a few from fans that were extremely troubling. Apparently these fans tried to submit reviews of my book on Amazon, and their reviews either a) never appeared, or b) were abruptly taken down.

via The Kill Zone: Et Tu, Amazon?.

Traditional Publishers are in Trouble

From J.A. Konrath’s Blog:

(Note- Legacy means “traditional publishers” aka Established Publishing Companies.)

Right now I’m looking at the Top 10 Kindle bestsellers in occult fiction.

Every one of them is self-pubbed. In fact, there are only three legacy authors in the Top 30. I count only ten legacy pubbed in the Top 100, and most are brand names.

That’s… staggering.

It also doesn’t bode well for legacy publishers.

Long ago, I said ebooks aren’t a competition. But that only applies when they are affordable. Once an ebook costs over five bucks, readers become choosy. The above list is proof. There are ten ebooks on that list priced more than $4.99.

Bet you can guess which ones. Hint: none of the self-pubbed.

A good read, worth checking out-
via A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing: Self-Pubbed Author Beware.

Free Book Marketing Podcast Series

Friesen Press seems to be a former small publisher that are currently marketing themselves as a service provider for self-published authors. It’s not a bad approach to the business of publishing, as the role of the publisher is rapidly changing, and as the e-book market is exploding with people who want to self publish but need varying degrees of help in getting their books out there.

Last night I came across their new podcast about book marketing for self -publishers, which I started to listen to today and found pretty informative. It made me think about a few approaches to marketing my future releases that I hadn’t considered and gave me ideas that I definitely intend to put into place. Yes, this podcast is ultimately a piece of marketing for Friesen Press, but there is more than enough meat there to make it worth a listen, and it’s also free, so you get what you pay for.

Why this may be the last chance to become a Kindle Author before the Indy eBook Apocalypse

What does the new launch of the Amazon Kindle Fire and cheaper versions of the regular Kindle mean for eBook authors?

Well, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is that it’s very likely that as of this Christmas the Kindle (in all it’s versions) is about to go mainstream in a major way. The Kindle may very well be THE stocking stuffer for this fall, with some people predicting up to 5 million Kindle Fires alone being sold in the next two months. That’s just the Fire, and the regular Kindle will probably also sell like hotcakes.

So the very good news for writers who have eBooks on the market is that there’s going to be a flood of readers looking for content over the six months or so following Christmas. I say six months because that’s a reasonable guess of the time casual users will keep playing with their new toy. After that something else may well come along, and it won’t be so shiny and new anymore, so it’s very likely that surge in readers will drop.

Still, lots more people in the system buying books. Yay!

So, what’s the bad news?

The bad news is that in those six months while the number of readers is slowly dropping, the number of writers entering the Kindle marketplace will surge beyond belief.

Think about it- once everyone hears how many people are hopping on the Kindle bandwagon, and at the same time how much money is being made by Kindle authors, everyone and their Aunt Petunia will be rushing to produce content for the Kindle. Why shouldn’t they? It’s free to put stuff up, and the only barrier to putting stuff on the Kindle is figuring out the submission process.

So the end result of this is that starting in March at the latest (and probably February) the Kindle Marketplace is going to be flooded with incredible amounts of crap. This is going to make the “good” stuff even more difficult to find, and make it much harder for writers to find an audience who appreciates their stuff. To paraphrase Cory Doctorow- the greatest enemy of a good Kindle author is obscurity, and suddenly everyone who doesn’t have a big promotion machine behind them is about to get even more obscure.

While this might turn out to be a boon for traditional publishers, this is going to destroy the self-publishing market, and most of the smaller eBook Indy presses, and anyone who hasn’t built up a following before March is going to have a much harder slog in trying to find people to read their stuff.

On top of that, we may even see Amazon trying to fight the flood by charging people to register to put up their works on the Kindle, or they may start requiring minimum sales to remain in the catalog. Neither of which will be good for Indy writers.

So, if you’re an author with a book in the ready right now  I’d be trying to get my product on the Kindle ASAP, because this may well be the last chance to get your foot in the door before it slams shut! I know I am!


What do I do with my novel based on a popular podcast?

So I have a bit of a quandry.

I’m in the process of novelizing (and finishing) my epic space opera Twin Stars. Twin Stars was my attempt to do an massive space adventure story in Audio Drama format, and I produced two seasons of it for a total of 20 episodes of full cast science fiction adventure. Thanks to my actors and some dedicated fans, Twin Stars was nominated for a Parsec Award, and my podcast has had over 250,000 downloads- the bulk of them people listening to Twin Stars.

I ended up stopping the show after two (of the planned five) seasons for personal and professional reasons, but the show stops at a natural breakpoint that isn’t the end, but could be called “the end of the beginning”. I want to finish it, but it will be in novel form, and that’s what I’ve been working on.

So now the question- should I bother to even try to market it to a traditional publisher? Or should I just go directly to the self-publishing e-book route? Or, should I try something in between like a small press publisher?

My concern with doing the traditional publisher route is that I’m not sure any of them will touch it because of the audio drama. They seem to be pretty skittish about works with a history, especially one which involves new media, and technically two fifths of the story is already available for free. (Although the novelization does expand on the audio drama quite a bit, and could be considered the proper version of the story while the audio drama was the rough.) I think this would make it a tough sell, and possibly waste time that could be better served doing the eBook route.

Of course, then there’s the smaller press publishers, who might take an interest in it and help it along quite a bit. Hmmm…Still working on the first novel right now, but these are the thoughts that are bouncing around in my head as I work.