Today’s Friday “Why?” was originally going to be, Who puts a big picture of a girl’s face on the cover of their book that seems like it’s directed toward teenage boys?
But then Anita Miller gave me the opportunity to ask John Green this myself over at her blog. Thanks, Anita!
Q: Did you or your publisher worry that by having two of your three book covers feature girls you would be limiting your audience to female readers?
A: Yeah, I think we both worried about it. But with “Paper Towns,” it’s very hard to look back and feel anything but total elation, because the book has done so much better than anyone expected, and I think the cover designs helped. There will be a different, more gender-neutral cover for the paperback, and I think we may move toward repackaging “Katherines” as well in a more post-gender way. The problem, to be frank, is that publishers believe (and to an extent their evidence is unassailable) that 16-year-old guys do not purchase books. Now, I’m all for marketing to guys and convincing them that books make a better investment than (say) video games. I believe that all of us who love books and work with teenagers need to be out making that case every way we can. But I don’t really buy the argument that the only reason guys don’t buy books is because book covers don’t do a good job of appealing to them. So I think we have to take a broad focus in our outreach to male readers (which is a big part of the reason why so much of my creative work is made for youtube).
So, answers to my question above:
1. John Green does, that’s who.
2. Who says these books are directed toward teenage boys anyway?
On the latter, I see the point — even as I was writing the question I thought, I bet it’s all girls and women reading John Green’s books — it’s just that they still seem like such boys’ books to me. Part of this is the kind of alpha nerdiness that I’ve spent my life being angry is considered a male trait; but part of it, like I wrote about in my AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES review, is that he seems to really get male friendships. And I can totally see why reading about that appeals to females, because it does to me, but if teenage boys don’t also enjoy it, then that’s kind of sad, isn’t it?
I actually think the point about YouTube outreach is really fascinating. And, in fact, it’s how John Green got his start. * His own quirky, nerdy personality is what really comes across in his writing. The thing I always feel reading his books is that — while they don’t always fully work for me — I think he has an immensely enthusiastic fan base because he is speaking to an audience and a set of experiences that are not necessarily otherwise well represented in teen fiction. And they seem to me very gendered male experiences, but now that I’m thinking it through, I wonder if it’s actually girls to whom having those experiences represented in fiction actually appeals most strongly.
But yeah, so my new question: Why are all John Green books about a boy who’s obsessed with a girl (and discovers himself through the process), and is he going to keep that up?
* Tragically, I have not yet been able to watch this, because something is wrong with the my crappy computer-You Tube interaction. When I say this is tragic, it’s because I love YouTube more than anything else in the world after butter and my best friends.