Yay, a pun! I’ve been seeing these strange posters around town on busses for the last couple of weeks. “The Hunger Games” they said. I’d never heard of it so I thought I’d better check it out. It turns out that the Hunger Games is a massivley successful young adult science fiction series. It got me thinking about where the money is in writing. The answer, it seems, is in young adults, especially women.
Why do I say young women are where the money is? Nothing scientific. From personal observation I see a trend in what sells well. By well I mean in the hundreds of thousands or millions of copies. Here is my top x attributes of a massively successful book / series.
- Broad target audience: This seems obvious. The wider the audience of a novel, the larger the market. But it is difficult to come up with a story and characters that will appeal well enough across a large cross section. The most important factor to address is age. The novel needs to be accessible to people (women especially, I’ll get to that) from about fifteen through to sixty (or more).
- Romance: You need to have a romance. Some are more obvious and some less so, but if you don’t have romance in your story you’re in trouble. In particular you want a love triangle where no mix or match would seem to work out. This adds angst and I recon (again, no science here, just me) that’s what the teenager in all of us wants.
- Alternate setting: The world has to be significantly different to our own so as to offer an escape. Books set in the here and now do well enough, but it is hard to name many that have had runaway success. You probably want to make sure the alternate setting is pivotal to the love triangle. Without the alternate world there would be no angst in the romance.
Yes, I’m biased. But, though there have been a couple exceptions, for the most part young adult, alternate setting romance wins the day. There is a place in this for woman oriented mystery books too, but they get less rock star treatment.
Now I’m desperately thinking how I can alter one of my books to be a young adult romantic thriller. The West Queen is about a young woman. She does have some issues with regards to marrying a prince but I think the story is a little masculine in nature. The core conflict arises from monsters attacking a nation entering a civil war. It would probably do me well to at least revise book one to highlight the romantic nature of various elements, but maybe not. Maybe that would weaken the core? I have another two novels still in their infancy that could be pushed into young adult territory. Well I think only one. Danica Straughn somewhat relies on a mature woman. But Angel Bones is about a young man discovering he is a super hero and discovering the world is in peril. I’ve already written a love triangle in. All I have to do is make the hero a little younger, say eighteen instead of twenty eight. Introduce a little more teen angst and self pity and presto I’ll be a multi-millionaire with a series of movies made from my books.
Now, back to women.
Women are an important demographic because they have the time, money and inclination to buy big. Take a walk around your local retial centre (mall). Have a look at who is working and who is walking around. Women. My parents used to own a coffee shop and I worked there on my university breaks (13 hour days for weeks at a time to pay for uni). The other workers consisted of three teenage girls aged fifteen, seventeen and eighteen. There was a more mature woman who acted as manager when I parents weren’t there and a single mum who worked shifts. The muffin shop behind us was a similar story as was the bakery across the way and the icecream store on the other side. I served coffee and cake to hundreds of gray haired pensioners and retirees. All women. Wandering the halls of the department stores in the mall were more teen girls and women. It seemed at times the only men I saw were being dragged around by their wives and girl friends. Oh, the only other guy, other than my father, who worked at the coffee shop was about as gay as it was possible to be without actually being a cartoon charicature of a gay man. My wife was fifteen when she started working. She saved up and bought her own car two weeks before she had her licence. She bought her own computer back when computers cost as much as a car and then she bought her own house by the age of twenty one. What about me and my male colleagues and friends? Penniless moochers the lot of us. So if you are going to produce a cultural product and you want it to be consumed by the largest number of paying people? You produce something attractive to young women and acceptable to older ones too. Justin Bieber anyone? Every guy (well almost) derides the lad and makes fun of those who like him. But who likes him? Fifteen year old girls who have jobs to buy his albums, shirts, videos and go to his concerts. That’s who. And who facilitates all of that? Mums. Who buys all the Stephanie Myers Twilight stuff? Is it forty year old men? Well maybe some. Is it eighteen year old men or fifteen year old boys? Nope. Girls and women. Same with Amanda Hocking and initially J.K. Rowling. I have to retarget my books. Sure, Steven King does well, but then you’ll probably find his largest market is still women. Dan Brown? Also probably women. Likely the only authors who have done really well who don’t target women to one degree or another is Tom Clancy and Grisham. But maybe I’m wrong with them too?