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Talking to Teens

Over the past few weeks, I got to spend time with a diverse group of teenagers from the Leave Out Violence organization and Writopia Lab, and in doing so I realized how little I interact with teenagers on a regular basis. Yet, my job and career revolve around making books for them. How can I possibly be making the best books for today’s teenagers when I don’t even know them?

Well, this was my chance to get to know them and find out what they loved, hated, made them passionate, and totally turned them off about books. And what I learned really surprised me and made me re-think the way I imagine the readers for my books and YA novels in general.
With both groups, I spread out a whole bunch of YA galleys to get their takes on covers. The galleys ranged from fantasy to historical to contemporary, from photographic to iconic to illustrated, from type driven to image driven. Almost unanimously, no one liked photographic faces on the cover – they all wanted to picture the characters in their own ways and didn’t want to be told right from the start what someone looked like. Fantasy fans told me our fantasy covers looked too much like everything else out there and didn’t tell them anything about what the story was actually about. Romance readers were put off by images of single girls in pretty dresses – again, this was something they’d seen too much already. They were put off by the New York Times bestseller headline because every book they see has that. If a book was trying too hard to appeal to a teen girl, they wanted nothing to do with it.

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