Monday, November 10, 2008

A thirteen-year-old boy tells publishers what he and his friends really want to read.

The always fabulous Sarah Weinman turned me onto this: over at Publishers Weekly, thirteen-year-old Max Leone has written a letter to the publishing industry telling them all exactly what he and his peers would like to read. It's a very funny letter, but he also makes some great points:
  • Don't write down to your audience; kids are more aware of the world than you think they are
  • Don't try to use your book to cram morality down their throats; they get enough of that at school and in church
  • Vampires rock, but not romantic vampires. Make them mean again, please! (I laughed out loud at this, because I'm frequently thinking the same thing when I read queries.)
My favorite line (and the one that almost made me suspect that Cherie M. Priest had actually written this letter):
Also good: books with videogame-style plots involving zombie attacks, alien attacks, robot attacks or any excuse to shoot something.
I couldn't agree more, Max!


Travis Erwin said...

He forget to add naked pictures of women. Trust me when I say all thriteen year old boys want to see flesh.

So that being said, a story where Zombies attack and rip the clothes off of women could be a big seller. Especially if a rival gang of evil vampires get in the way of the hero from shooting the zombies.

clindsay said...

This could be a winner! Move over, Harry Potter!

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

I agree. I hate how people think kids should be handled like they're 5 years old, when they're NOT. When I was 10, I was very much into violent movies and serial killers, but I'm not a psychopath.

today Hollywood (and the publishing world) is too afraid to allow children characters to cuss and to discuss sexuality and try drugs in movies/books.


DFortier said...

Maybe somebody should tell them about EE Knight's Vampire Earth series. With compelling characters, lots of action and some frightening bad guys, the books are fantastic. It's like war game meets horror movie.

Good for these guys for standing up for their intelligence.

Amie Stuart said...

What Deaf said...teenaged boys don't need coddling and self-esteem boosts--OMG don't EVEN get me started. Anyway my youngest is a huge fan of Rick Riordan probably for all the reasons the letter writer stated--and I share ALL my YA books with him :).

Crimogenic said...

I second that! No more romantic vampires. We want vampires to be vampires not flower-totting poets... oh, and I'm not even a 13 year old boy :)

DeadlyAccurate said...

He's 13 and in 8th grade? Did he skip two grades?

Regardless, I firmly agree that any book that has an excuse to shoot someone and/or has robots and zombies should be a shoo-in for success.

Amie Stuart said...

Deadly.....Sometimes age/grade can depend on where your birthday falls. In Texas you have to be 5 before 9/1 for that year's kindergarten. My youngest son's 12 and in 7th and hasn't skipped--thus next year 13/8th grade ...he'll actually be 13 in about six weeks! :D

beth said...

Loved this and linked it, thanks for sharing!

On an entirely different topic, have you seen this article in Galley Cat about a book deal for Sarah Palin?

Serenissima said...

I agree with the points in the letter, but doubt it was written by a 13-year-old boy, unless he had help. I mean, what kid uses the word 'florid'?

Merry Monteleone said...

I think a well-read thirteen year old could definitely write this... and hopefully will continue writing for the rest of his life - it was awesome!!! Kids that age tend to be smarter than we give them credit for, and funnier, too.

This was great! Thanks for linking it.

writermom said...

Hey there! I feel compelled to leave a comment because I'm the mother of Max Leone and believe me, he is 13 years old (soon to be 14). And yes, he does use words like florid. Neither PW's editors nor myself changed the piece except for length. This is a kid who devours books (he is now deep into the Discworld series and asked for John Hodgeman's new book for his birthday) and simply loves words. He never wrote for fun until a camp last summer, and now he's been unleashed. This was his first published piece, and he's thrilled.

clindsay said...

Hi Writermom!

Welcome to the Swivet!

And indeed, I never had any doubt that Max was the one who wrote that letter. After all, when I was thirteen, I probably had a better vocabulary than I do now. (Some of that I blame on Catholic school.)

I loved Max's letter, and wish more people would actually engage kids in dialogue about what they enjoy reading instead of trying to second guess them.

And I'm throwing this out there as well: Max has a standing invitation to write about books on my blog whenever he'd like to. It would be a refreshing change of pace. Just have him email me and we'll set it up.

All the best,

Colleen Lindsay

ICQB said...

Thanks for the link. Like you said, what a refreshing breeze in the otherwise stagnant world of "what teen boys want to read."

Anonymous said...

Also lots of good points for how to pick books for boys to read. I think a few present buyers should check this letter before making their choice.

DeadlyAccurate said...

My apologies for doubting Mr. Leone's age.

By the way, he would probably really like A. Lee Martinez's stuff, especially The Automatic Detective, which is about a robot private investigator.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

When I was a few years younger than you I collected in, one summer, - 23 turtles, eight snakes, five pine lizards, two skinks, a mating pair of toads, (who laid a ton of slimy eggs which I watched hatch and grow into tadpoles. LOL, when I first brought the toads home, my Momma said they were fightin.' Yeah, sure)! I made my own Ant Farm and I took in two dogs and was given a Chinchilla.

I know what it's like to shun the bathtub and go to bed every night smelling of sweat and grass stains. It's instinctual freedom when you're all curled up with your bravest dog! I know that copper taste of fear in your mouth when you're facing down an older, bigger boy when he has a baseball bat and all you have is a bleeding nose and your nerve!

I also knew the Love of good parents!

Been there, wish I could go again! Enjoy while it lasts.

Haste yee back ;-)

Abigail said...

Hiya Max! I too am a teenager (although I happen to be a 14 year old girl) and am sick and tired of the YA books. The only thing people can talk about now is Twilight this and Twilight that. Well, I may be a girl, but God knows how much I hated that book. My mom practically shoved the book in front of my face and MADE me read it. But honestly, I prefer the blood drinking, morally void, killing machine vampires that we all know and love. An especially good book with vampires (and one of my personal favorites in general) is Sunshine by Robin McKinley. It starts out slow but once it gets going, you can't put it down.
Also, when it comes to books with teenagers in them, do adults really think that we talk that way? I am fourteen years old and have a big potty mouth. What's wrong with saying damn, or badass? People think that kids don't even know these kinds of words, but I use them almost daily. In most of the young adult books that I read, 'crap' is the worst word in there.
Thankfully though, I have a mother who doesn't give a damn what I read, and a family full of people almost as addicted to reading as I am. For my birthday I got 12 new books, more than half of them adult novels.
Anyway, I just wanted to say "thanks for giving the kids who are unsatisfied with this generations YA books a voice" :D