"So what's your new book about?" Trapped at a party, I stir my drink and smile. "It's about a boy who goes undercover at a high school..."
"You mean, the main character is a dude?"
"Uh...it's written in first-person..."
"Why did you do that?"
I scan the room, searching for a shadowy place to hide. "Do what?"
"Write a boy book."
Do books have gender?
I've never been a "pink book" kind of girl. I read Dark Horse comic books in my tree house (which, for the record, was built by my mom). I cruised my Huffy ten-speed around the block with glow-in-the-dark Band Aids plastered to my knees. Most of my friends were dudes. We played Star Wars (I refused to be Princess Leia) and blew up G.I. Joes with bottle rockets. I never believed that boys were a different species than girls.
Talk to somebody who writes in the young adult genre. You might hear a different response.
"It's a tough market out there," they often say. "Wouldn't it be easier to sell a 'girl book?' "
Yes, this is a brutal business. Many editors are afraid to take risks--especially in an unstable economy. They might believe that girls read...and buy...more books than boys. But even if that's true (which I highly doubt), wouldn't boys read more books (especially YA), if they could read about characters they could relate to?
In a recent interview with Galley Cat, literary agent Laura Rennert, says editors are currently looking for smart boy books. Why? Because they don't get enough of them. Sometimes these books climb the ladder at acquisition meetings and eventually get shot down by sales and marketing.
"My own response to this dilemma," says Rennert," is to look for boy books that also have strong girl appeal." If the main character is male, the book might include a cast of female characters to reach a wider audience.
When a "boy book" sneaks past the gatekeepers, I wonder if editors face a certain temptation to make the male protagonist more female-friendly--in other words, a softer, kinder...maybe safer...lead male.
No wonder vampires are so popular. They're not even human.
I chose to write about a male protagonist because it felt right for this particular story. Aaron wants to protect his friends (who happen to be girls), but he can't decide what's wrong or right. He wants to be a hero, but he doesn't believe in heroes anymore. In my new work-in-progress, I switched back to a female protagonist. Again, it felt like the right voice, in regards to that character's goal.
Writers need to make choices. It should come down to one thing: write your best book and let the market worry about itself. Things come and go. Trends change. What's popular this buying season might be out next year.
There should always be a strong, dramatic reason that a book is narrated by a boy. Or a girl. Choose wisely.
My new book is called Narc (Flux Books). It's about a boy. But there are girls in it, too.