I love Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone. It’s a wonderful, awesome book. It’s like Harry Potter written by a 19th century Russian novelist. It’s difficult not to enjoy, and it has the same sweeping, romantic feel that a lot of great YA shares with big, enveloping fiction for adults.
But publishers think that only girls will read it.
In fact, they make the same assumption about Graceling, about Incarceron, and about too many other great YA books to mention. What do I mean? Well, the cover art says a great deal, but it goes deeper. When Leigh Bardugo’s new book, Siege and Storm, was announced, I was enormously excited. I wanted to get my 13 year old son to read it. But on Facebook, do you know how the publisher decided to promote it? If you preorder, you get FREE NAIL POLISH. I’m sure that the average 13 year old boy who loves books will be lining up to read something promoted like that.
Almost all of the YA books on the shelves are designed to appeal to girls, even when the stories would almost certainly appeal to boys. Examples? How about Divergent or The Hunger Games, two dystopian YA books that boys universally loved. Notice that the covers of those books did nothing to encourage readers to prejudge the content as being “gendered” in one way or another. But publishers either believe that they need to go over the top in making books sound and appear feminine in order to attract girl readers, or they don’t believe that boys are interested in the first place and they are completely ignored.
Now, I am not disinterested in this phenomena - I wrote a YA book with a male and a female protagonist, and I am explicitly trying to get everyone to read it. But I also spent several years closely observing the Barbie v. Bratz copyright war in a variety of California courtrooms, and I know a fair amount about the way that marketing is focused on gendered assumptions about boys and girls. And the fact that publishers do everything they can to exclude boys from stories they would enjoy (If they don’t think that the story of a female teenage assassin like the one found in Graceling would be unappealing to a 13 year old boy they clearly have no idea what they are doing and should be relieved of their positions immediately).
So, in short: publishers, knock it off! How about trying to sell your books without appealing to the idea that only one sex is interested in a good story.