My name is Pab Sungenis, and I write books for boys.
That may surprise you. If you look at the “young adult” shelves at your local bookstore, how many books do you see there that are aimed at boys?
Not many, I’ll bet.
You know why that is? Because boys don’t read.
I’m serious. Stop laughing.
I know that for a fact because I’ve been told it on good authority by people who supposedly know. I’ve been told it by a number of literary agents (including one who once signed me, then told me she couldn’t sell one of my novels because, and I quote exactly, “boys don’t read”) and at least one editor from a major publishing house.
That’s why all you see on shelves are romances with female protagonists. Or if there’s one with a male protagonist it’s actually a male that’s designed to be cuddly and non-threatening because they want girls to read it and fall in love with the boy. They do this because, of course, “boys don’t read.”
Never mind that the first young adult novel ever, The Catcher in the Rye, featured a male protagonist, was written by a man, and has a reader base that is largely male. Then there’s The Chocolate War, where you can count the female characters on one hand. Critically acclaimed novels that created modern young adult literature.
And neither would get published today, because “boys don’t read.”
Of course boys read. But they don’t read young adult literature. And do you know why?
Because no one will take a chance on books for boys. Because “boys don’t read.”
This is called a vicious circle. If you’ve never heard it before go look it up.
Boys don’t read YA because there’s almost no YA published for them. So publishers look at the sales charts of YA titles and see title after title all aimed at girls. So why aren’t there any titles for boys on the charts? They don’t think it’s because they don’t publish any books that boys want to read. It’s easier for them to assume that boys don’t read.
Even when a publisher takes a chance on a book for boys, guess what happens then? Bookstores don’t stock it. Libraries don’t order it. No one gets a chance to buy it. Why don’t they order it and stock it?
Because “boys don’t read.”
Well, guess what? Boys do read! I used to be a boy (back in the dark ages before the internet) and I read everything I could get my hands on. There are boys out there right now who love to read, but their choices are limited because agents, publishers, and bookstores have all bought into the stereotype that boys don’t read.
So how do we break them of this misconception? We have to show them the uncomfortable truth they refuse to accept: that boys do read.
First, let’s give them some visual evidence. If you’re a boy who reads, and are between the ages of 12 and 17 (the target audience for young adult literature) I want you to to snap a photo of yourself holding whatever book you’re reading at the moment. If you’re reading it on a Kindle or Nook, photograph yourself with the title page on the screen. Then post it to Facebook, or anywhere else you hang out on-line with the caption “I’M A BOY AND I READ.” Feel free to E-mail it to me here or post it as a comment, too. Let the publishers and agents know that you want them to give you something to read.
Then we need to give them something even harder to deny. On Saturday, April 27, 2013, I want every boy who reads to descend upon the nearest bookstore at 1 PM local time. You don’t have to buy anything (although it might help our argument if you do) but I want you to make an appearance. If you can make yourself a T-shirt that says “I READ” to wear while there, all the better. Let those bookstores see that you want them to stock books for you, too.
Reading is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not something to hide away from everyone else. And until all you book-reading boys come out and show your faces, your reading options will continue to be severely limited. So show your pride. Shout it out loud.
Just don’t shout it while in the library, please.