Thursday, March 15, 2012

Remember how I said my brain was back?

And how I was really happy about it?

Well, turns out it's only back sometimes. The rest of the time I'm in a fog of staring at the wall and not being able to think (or do) anything. Good times.

So it may be a week or two before I get to the "resonance" principles. (And actually, I really don't know when the fog will lift!)

[Post-edit Note: It's 2015 and my brain is a lot better, but I've never been the *same.* Which is the only excuse I'm going to give for the fact that I never actually did write that "lengthier explanation!"]

If you can't wait, here are a few super-summed-up basics about resonance:

[First, a caveat. Marketing was the #1, hugest, biggest predictor of sales. Magnitudes more important than any other trait. And the things that will get you more marketing are sometimes in direct opposition to some of these. Following *only* principles of resonance and not considering marketing will end up in a more resonant book, sure. But it won't get you more sales. At *best* you'll sell slightly higher than they expected you to. But no author in our study who didn't have good marketing--no matter how resonant their book was--had a "breakout" book. No one. Zero. Not, like, 0.01%. Zero. Which is why I was sort of surprised y'all wanted to know about resonance first. But all authors are a little deluded, I guess. That's how we got into this profession in the first place!]

1. 80% of the YA market is female. Write for them. Don't try to write something that appeals to both girls and boys, write to girls. Leave the 20% of the YA market of boys to the 30% of YA authors who are men. (And if you do write to the 20%, expect to have 80% fewer sales.)

[Post-edit Note: As of 2015, these numbers have shifted rather dramatically with the wild surge of popularity for YA Lit in the last decade. (Note: I was a fan BEFORE IT WAS COOL. :) Now, only 65% of YA audiences are female.  (I think. I don't want to look that up. I'm reasonably sure that's about right, though.) This may invalidate what I say in #2 about teen boys and their brains, or it may just show that the preference was, indeed, more culturally-based. "Cultural Constructions of Masculinity and Femininity" my grad school head-voice is yapping at me. Whatever *that* means.]

2. I know some of you are freaking out about #1 because you think it might say something about boys and literacy and OMG why aren't boys reading?! It doesn't. Boys are extremely literate by the time they go to college--as literate or more literate than the girls are. When they're younger, they do tend to lag behind the girls, but it's likely that's just a developmental thing. Teen boys are literate in many, many genres of writing. They just don't seem to like the novel so much. Now, before puberty, they love a novel as much as any girl does. (Harry Potter, for example. Coincidence that Harry was 11 at the beginning? Not so much.) After puberty, they start leaning toward more "visual" genres. Comic books, magazines, non-fiction with graphics, how-to manuals, the internet, etc. There have already been a bazillion attempts to write novels that appeal to teen boys. They never seem to work. There's a (strong) possibility, that the novel is, itself, a more "female" way of telling a story. Whether that's culture or nature, well, you'd have to ask the neuroscientists. Probably 20 years from now.

3. Emotion. Emotion on every single page. Every single paragraph. Teens--hell, who are we kidding--all of humanity lives off this stuff.

4. Relateability. Teens want to see characters that are like them. 99% of them do NOT have a million dollars and go to super-exclusive schools and buy outfits that cost $2000. More strikingly, 44% of the under-18 population in the US is of a non-white race. However, we only found non-white protagonists in 5% of our sample. Teens want to be able to put themselves right into the role of the protagonist. (Maybe explains why the 1st person was weirdly more effective than any other.)

4. Write about normal teens doing extraordinary things. Not about extraordinary teens doing normal things. Or extraordinary teens doing extraordinary things. Normal teens. With amazing potential.

5. Ask Big Questions. (This was the biggest predictor of resonance. The only relationship that scored higher was that of marketing to sales. That should tell you something.) Teens aren't much different from most of us. They want their lives to matter. They care about morality--right and wrong, good and evil. They don't like nuance so much, though they're OK with ambiguity (because so much of morality, when you really think about it, becomes ambiguous). The point is, they're not shallow. They care deeply about things that are deeply important. Self centered? Sure. But not shallow and not amoral.

6. Give them imagery of the female divine. That maybe sounds preachy and/or like something a Wiccan would say. But it's important. YA readers (mostly girls) have this deep... yearning is the best word for it. (In fact, the word "yearning" as a descriptor was correlated to increased resonance.) They want to see themselves in the eye of God. They want to know that they have divine potential. They DON'T want you to preach to them or get all "teachy." (They will throw your book in the trash and spit on it if you start preaching or overtly teaching.) But they do want to know that their existence matters... cosmically. Again, they want to see themselves in the image of God. (Maybe that's why it sounds Wiccan. Wicca has tons of goddess imagery. Christianity, for all its goods, typically fills its heavens--even its scriptures--with divine men. Girls aren't as satisfied by this as we'd think they would be.(Yeah, slight sardonic undertone there, sorry.))

There are a million other little things. Estrangement from parents, atonement with father figures, plot structure, pacing, polyvalent story lines, sex talk (but no swearing), romance, relationships, descent into the underworld (figuratively), and ton more.

But those are the basics. For now. Let's all hope my brain comes back soon. I miss it.

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