Friday, July 20, 2007

t.r.i.logy: the study of Teen Reader Insights (#1)

“Excuse me,” one Disco Mermaid said. “This may sound weird, but we write books for teens and were wondering if we could interview you."

Thus began our tour into the minds of our eventual readers. For our first t.r.i.logy, we spoke with four female fifteen-year-old friends (that's FFFF for you acronym lovers!) at a local bookstore.

If you like your honesty with a splash of humor, a pinch of sarcasm, and just a bit brutal, read on...

NOTE: For readability (and because they spoke so enthusiastically it was impossible to record who said what), their answers have been lovingly consolidated. Our side of the dialogue appears in bold text, while the bold text within [brackets] is Disco Mermaid commentary added post-interview.

What are some of the most recent books you’ve read for fun?
The Nannies, Forever, The DaVinci Code, Bras & Broomsticks, Girls Dinner Club, Jane Eyre, and everything Ellen Hopkins writes.

What are some things that make you want to buy a book?
What my friends say about it, like when they say, “It’s sooo good. You can’t put it down!” Also what the back cover says. The title. The theme of the book. I usually read books with high drama. And if it’s part of a series that I’ve read the other books of.

So what are some things that make you put a book down?
If the description on the back isn’t good, I’ll put it back. Especially if it’s confusing. But if the description is intentionally confusing, yet intriguing, even if I don’t fully understand what’s going on, I’ll read it.

Also, I don’t like when there’s too much blunt sex talk on the first couple of pages. Otherwise, I know my mom will flip through it and say, “You are not reading this!” So just be subtle with the sex stuff. And sometimes with sex scenes, I wonder why they put it in there to begin with. [As an example, they share the name of a specific book…but we ain’t sayin’ which one!]

If swear words are used a bunch, I don’t like it. But if one character uses it a lot, and that’s just what that one character does, then it’s fine. Just don’t make it the main character. If the word is needed, it makes sense, but if it’s used a bunch, it gets old fast! [Aren’t these girls brilliant?]

How important is the first page of a book?
Very important! If the first couple of pages…maybe the first chapter…aren’t good, I won’t read it. [Maybe all those First Pages workshops we took were worth it!] Sometimes I like to look at the last page and read the final words first.

Um…we don’t like readers like you.
No, I only do that because it’s fun to watch how the story gets there. [Hmm…maybe we need some Last Pages workshops.]

What makes you pick up a book you’ve never heard of?
If the title and cover are interesting.

What do you think of the cover for Thirteen Reasons Why?
I like it a lot! She looks like an interesting person and it makes you wonder what’s going on with her.

Okay, we like you again.

Do you read all the things publishers use to woo you (blurbs, author bio, flap copy)?
I read the back, but I don’t read what other people say, because I probably have different opinions than they do. Plus, they’re not going to say anything bad about the book.

A lot of times I read the bio after reading the book and sometimes I’m surprised by what the author looks like. Especially if it’s a book with lots of sex. She wrote that book?

I was very surprised to find out Avi was a man! [Avi: I’m a man, bay-bee!]

Where do you get most of the books you read (bookstore, library, friends)?
From friends. Well, bookstores, but then we pass them around and share them. I don’t get books from the library.

You know, Jay works at a public library.
No, I like libraries, I just don’t like late fees. And sometimes the plastic covers make the design on the cover lose its effect…it’s less dramatic. And I like to use that half-page [the jacket-flap] as a bookmark, but you can’t do that with library books.

Well, there goes our librarian audience. Moving on…

What do you see in a lot of teen books that really bugs you?
[All together now…] Stereotypes! Like having a dumb blonde. [And that was said by the lone brunette.] Or if things happen in an overly dramatic way. Or dialogue that’s not believable. I don’t like to see big words that I don’t understand. I mean, I don’t think someone my age would use a word like indubitably in a sentence.

You just did.

Or when I read the back or cover and it says something like, “You’ll like this book if…” or “this book is for people who are in relationships.” But maybe I’m not like that, or I’m not in a relationship, but I might like the book. I don’t want them to tell me what I’ll like or not like.

There needs to be constant description and flow and events that build up to a huge twist at the end. Definitely a huge twist!

And if the book is trying to teach me a lesson, I’m like, “I’m not five!” [And they’re funny, too!]

The character has to be someone you can connect with. It has to be someone I would want to be friends with, or at least someone I can imagine who goes to my school. Even with Harry Potter, the characters seem like regular people you want to be friends with. I used to go to a boarding school because I wanted to go to a place like Hogwarts. But it was nothing like it and I don’t go there anymore.

Are you going to be here at midnight when the final Harry Potter book goes on sale?
Yeah, we’re dressing up!

What would you like to see more of in books for teens?
Books that aren’t typical love stories. More creativity…not stereotypical relationships. Real people, but with something really creative happening.

Do you consider yourself a young adult or a teen?
Teen [said as a quartet]! Young adult is eighteen or nineteen.

Do you plan on reading Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher? It’s a really good book and we know you’ll really really love it!
What’s it about?

Oh, right. [We describe what it’s about.]
Definitely! Of course!

Well, for taking the time to sit down with us and answer some questions, we’d like to buy you a book. Whatever you’d like. Discuss amongst yourselves.

[They pick out several books, form a huddle, then decide on Uglies, the first in a series by Scott Westerfeld. And like true friends, they plan to pass the book around and share it. Hmm...kind of like a library!]

[Finally, we'd like to acknowledge our four intelligent, insightful, and hilarious volunteers. Thank you!]


Sara said...

This is awesome. I'll be following along for ALL the installments.

Hélène B said...

Excellent post. Excellent blog!

I just stumbled upon it last night. Looks like I have a lot of posts to catch up on. :-)

Little Willow said...

Great idea and great execution! I hear my customers in a lot of this.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Nice. Good respondents, good questions.

Colorado Writer said...

Sounds like you had fun. Didn't talking to teens make you nervous? They seem so wise. Of course the one in my basement just rolls his eyes when I ask him questions, but even so. Ya'll kick ash!

Kelly Fineman said...

Those girls are made of awesome -- and that was a terrific interview. Although I wish you'd have shared the title of the unnecessary/huh? sex scene book.

Disco Mermaids said...

Hi, Helene! Glad you found us!

CW: I find it so much fun to talk to teens. I used to be a teacher so the relationship wasn't always fun. Now, I adore talking to them because they'll tell you anything...but I suppose it's only because I'm not holding a red pen!


Ellen Hopkins said...

Wow, I feel honored. I truly love and respect this generation. They know so much more than they let on! I especially love the comment about no sex on the first few pp because of Mom checking up on their selections. I'll have to remember that.... :-)

cynjay said...

How much do I love this?!? Not to be a spoiler, but did you talk to any boys? A few of them do occasionally read something (I just had to ask my son how to spell occasionally - I couldn't get it right).

Once I've got a pretty finished draft, I always get a kid that is in my audience range to read it. I always promise them a shout out in the acknowledgements (and usually a gift certificate to a local bookstore). I also only get kids that I haven't met - kids of teachers or friends of babysitters. That way, they are less likely to be nice, and more likely to be honest.

Disco Mermaids said...

Unfortunately, there weren't any boys around to speak with. But we're hoping to find some for our next interview (which, by the way, will take place at a library!)

- Jay

Jen said...

Fabulous idea, beautifully done. This is valuable stuff; I hope you'll continue with it.

Cheers to Disco Mermaids!

Emily Jiang said...

Teens are so great! Mermaids are great for sharing!! Can't wait to hear from the boy readers, too. I'm struggling to find multicultural books for boys.

cdb said...

Hey, Jay,
I wasn't around back when you won, but wanted to congratulate you on your success.
Been reading bout you on Verla's
and your book intrigues me. I look forward to reading it, even though I write only pbs.
I know this post is off the subject, but just wanted to jump in and say,

a. fortis said...

Fantastic first installment--I love it! Great interview subjects, and all of y'all were very, very funny. Can't wait for the next set.

I'm always sort of petrified to talk to teenagers about books. I have some friends with teenage children who have indicated an interest in reading my ms., but that thought makes me want to hide under my desk.

Marissa Doyle said...

This is great stuff--will be forwarding the link!

david elzey said...

That is freakin' brilliant field work. I think this kind of thing needs to be done more often by authors and especially editors. After every book.

And, yeah, I second (or third, or whatever) the need for boy respondents.

LindaBudz said...

Insightful indeed. Good questions, great answers. Thanks for doing this!

TadMack said...

This is a truly great idea, and I look forward to what else you come up with. You know, some people can talk to authors and stand around for autographs, and are freaked out by teens -- but, man, give me teens any day. Especially now that I'm not teaching (I feel ya on that one, Jay!) it's easier to just hang and be and not have expectations. And they do have such funny (and weird) answers to questions.

Can't wait for more!

Anonymous said...

that was great!! i'm even happier now that i don't have curse words and sex scenes in my novel. really interesting idea--please do more!

Rilla said...

Good stuff. Interesting to know that kids don't want to be told what they will like by the blurb on the back of the book...which brings me to a question...who writes the blurb on the back of the book? Is it you the author, Jay? Or is it the publisher's marketing department? Clueless in So Cal ;)

Disco Mermaids said...

Regarding the text on the back of my book, it was all about collaboration. I gave Razorbill a brief description of what I thought it should be, then my editor added aspects she thought were important to bring to the attention of readers. Then the marketing people changed it up a bit to incorporate some of their amazing design ideas.

The interesting part was hearing what everyone else thought were the intriguing elements of the book.

- Jay

Rilla said...

Thanks, Jay. Every stage of the process sounds like at least as much fun as writing the book in the first place ;)

Anne Bradshaw said...

I enjoyed this blog and am definitely returning for more. Thanks for posting.

And you're another Jane Eyre fan! I'm from England and that book's been my favorite forever.

Teens are GREAT! My latest book is dedicated to them. And my contest is even more dedicated to them :-) It's called "Spotlight the Youth," and there are some fabulous prizes.

Janette Rallison said...

Wow, what insightful teens you ran into. Thanks for passing along the information to us.

Heather Brewer said...

Excellent all around! You've got me hooked...