This past weekend I attended YA FEST PA, a book festival featuring YA authors in Easton, PA. I've been to a lot of festivals, and sat on many panels. But this time they did something different.
It was called a Teen Reverse Panel. The organizers asked the teens from the audience to switch places with the authors, putting us in the crowd and the teens in the spotlight. Then... we got to ask them questions.
It was fantastic.
I learned a lot, and I wanted to share a few of the things I picked up.
What They HATE
1) Limitless free time. "I'm in dance twelve hours a week," one panelist said. "I've got homework. I don't have time to just go to the beach and hang out, let alone take a road trip."
2) Absent parents. Real teens have to ask permission to go do stuff. Most of them can't just run out the door or disappear whenever they feel like it. Not without getting grounded, anyway.
3) Text speak. Smart phones have changed the way teens text, and adults need to catch up. "I text in full sentences," one teen said. "When I see something like when r u going 2 b here? I just roll my eyes."
4) Romance. It's true. Throwing in a romance is really starting to piss them off. "There's an area of the bookstore for that," one teen said. "I don't go there." There was a lot of head-nodding on the panel -which, I'd like to point out - was predominantly female.
5) Repackaging. This isn't in control of the author, but publishers take note. Teens like to read series, and they want their covers to match. These are savvy kids - they said they don't like paperbacks that don't match hardcovers, and they want to have the whole series in matching covers.
6) Stylized Fonts. Something else that is out of your control if you're traditionally published, but self-pubs, listen up. A pretty title might look cool, but more than one panelist agreed that an overly stylized font for cover design can make the title hard to decipher, and quite a few of them will pass over that for something more straightforward.
7) Partying. Not all teens are doing it. Noted.
What They WANT
1) Honest Representation. A PoC panelist noted that she thinks white authors are capable of writing PoC characters, but that we must do research and above all - listen.
2) Boys. No, not romance (see above). They want more books written from a male POV.
3) Horror. Yep. While there were plenty of Potterheads up there, at least one said Stephen King was her favorite author, and heads nodded.
How They Find Books
In publishing this is called visibility or discoverability, and it was the question I put to the panel: "How do you find what you're going to read next?"
Guess what? It's not social media.
Nope. They all shook their heads when I mentioned it. Not Twitter. Not Tumblr. Not Instagram. Definitely not Facebook. All those tweets and posts and pics and we've been pumping out into the universe have been finding readers... just not necessarily our target audience.
All of the teens emphatically agreed that they find what they're going to read next through word of mouth. Here's the rundown.
1) Friends. Teens talk. Readers talk. Teen readers talk to each other, and are unapologetically enthusiastic about things that they like.
2) Librarians & Teachers. These are the adults that are suggesting books to kids. And they're listening.
3) Bookstores. It's true. Teens browse shelves. Some are scanning for author names they already know and like, some are targeting genre sections they prefer, and some are just looking for whatever grabs their eye.
Know what doesn't weigh into their decisions?
So stop worrying about those :)