A number of years ago, I started a series I called “Ten On…” where I asked young readers of a specific age what they liked to see in books (usually after bribing them with cupcakes). For example, for one post I interviewed a group of ten-year-old girls, and in another, I put thirteen-year-old boys under the spotlight. Each time, answers were collated and listed in order of importance to the group (sometimes after much debate between individuals).
I thought I’d revisit this concept by bringing together a group of readers in the middle of their young-adult years, a group starting to earn their own money – and wanting to spend it. So last week, I sat down with eight fifteen-year-old girls and asked them one question (well, two questions, depending on how you look at it) :
What makes you want to read a book (and actually finish it)?
Now all I can say about these girls is that they are astute, know what they want – and eat a lot of cupcakes.
Here are their top ten responses, counting down from tenth to first:
10. Action – not the type you see in a going-on-a-quest adventure (“They’re for young kids,” one said). More like the action you find in battle (“Girls like them too”) along with running-to-escape or hurrying-to-solve-a-problem scenarios.
9. Blurb – those words on the back of the book must be catchy and creative.
8. A strong supporting cast of characters – they must be “as interesting as the protagonist.” I LOVED this comment! Supporting characters must also have a pretty good reason to be in the story.
7. Title – like the blurb, the title must be catchy and creative. There was general consensus among the girls that too many books have similar – even the same – titles, which is confusing and boring.
6. Cover Page – needs to match the story (“There’s nothing worse than liking a cover but finding out it has nothing to do with the story.”) Realistic covers were preferred over animated/cartoon (“We’re not little kids.”)
5. Plot twists – this groups yearns for the unexpected (“I hate it when I guess what’s going to happen.”)
4. Identifiable settings – real-world settings are in. The number one choice of setting was the school environment, not boarding school but “regular school”, as one put it. Out-of-this-world or epic fantastical settings did not make the grade at all (see what I did there? 😉 )
3. Sixteen to eighteen-year-old protagonists – the protagonist should be no younger than twelve and no older than twenty. Sixteen to eighteen was the sweet spot, which fits in with the generally-accepted writing rule that readers tend to read a couple of years up. An interesting aside: When it came to the protagonist, no one had a preference for one gender over another. I wonder if a group of boys this age would feel the same???
2. Romance – ahh, the wish for love interests is kicking in with this age group, but also with a caveat: Any romance must be relevant to the story. (“No kissing just for the heck of it.”) Smart girls!
And (drum roll…) the top answer was:
1. Elements of fantasy – not what I was expecting, but the group was clear: They LOVE seeing fantasy elements in real-world settings in stories. Magic systems in OUR world are officially cool. “But what about contemporary stories?” I asked. Answers ran along the lines of, “We get enough of that at school”, “Contemporary can be boring”, “It’s okay but…” and one girl simply screwed up her nose and shook her head.
So for those saying YA fantasy is out with readers…um, maybe it’s not? Not if it’s set in our world, anyway.
An important point to remember: While this was a culturally-diverse group, it was very small in number. Only eight, in fact. But the responses are quite interesting, don’t you think?