So– this week I was so fortunate as to be able to meet face-to-face with my target market. Teens. Lots of them. And I learned a boatload of very necessary information from them to succeed as a YA author. Wanna hear what I learned?
First off let me say thank you to my connection to these kids, Ms. Sarah Jacobs, 10th grade English teacher at Noxubee County High School in Macon MS. (also a great big thank you to Dr. Thomas, and her staff, for their wonderful warm welcome and the freedom to be a part of the mighty Tigers for a few days).
On to the kids…
These young people were amazing. They asked questions, goooooood ones. Ones that sometimes made me remember why I am a writer. What keeps me imagining, and staying in the writing chair.
They answered questions for me as well. Many of them admitted freely that they liked certain books. AND one very important note: they all admitted that romance stories were their favorites. Yes, even the guys, but I did have quite a few guys who were into mystery/suspense and HORROR! they shocked me on that.
The main takeaways, I think for me anyway, were that the romance stories like Twilight with the supernatural elements were very high on their list of loves, and that when we worked on crafting a story together, they really knew their stuff. They could pull out character traits like nobody’s business. They can tell you about what living in a small town is like. They DO pick up books based on cover art and story synopsis or blurbs. The things that we would (as authors) like to think doesn’t matter to a reader –does matter, very much.
I think that they would be a lot forgiving toward a story that had a few missed apostrophes but they would not leave a good review if the writer had unlikeable characters. They want to read about kids encountering the same or similar things that they are going through. If you make it real-life, you will keep them as a reader. They are not fooled, so writer beware. Keep it real, and keep it right.
I did encounter some kids who were not into books. They didn’t care to read, and writing was not their bag. It made me a little sad. I wanted to go back in time and find them about age 8 or so and read the wonderful tales that I read or had read to me so that I could see them get carried away to the mystical places those books produced-like a magic carpet ride – I would love for them to have those experiences.
I am not sure that it is too late for them, but I will say getting them to crack open a novel and envelope themselves now might be a tough sell. Many of them are working jobs and going to school, some of them are young parents and going to school, a lot of them are helping with siblings and family at home and going to school. Life intervenes.
So as a writer, after all that I have seen and heard and learned, I pledge to do my part. From now on, when I write YA I am going to have these young people in mind. I pledge to write more romance for them. I pledge to not forget that there are readers out there who need a little escape from their reality and when they get a Kim Smith book, they are not going to give me twenty pages to hook them in. They are giving me one. And I pledge to make it count.
So, this was a fantastic gift the kids and Ms. Jacobs bestowed on me. I learned a lot and it was truly cool to get to go back to school for a few days. I totally want to do more of this. So if anyone out there is in the market for a writer to come and talk to their class–give me a shout!