Monday, February 17, 2014

When the little things aren't so little

Back in October I picked up a stack of advances at a trade show. Most of the titles were YA spring releases and they all sounded really good. Last week I started reading one during lunch. I'm not going to say which book nor by whom because it was that disappointing.

I had high hopes for this book. It was by an author whose previous work had received praise on a prominent morning show, the title filled a much neglected area of the market, and the author possessed the expertise to make the unique nature of the story work. The parts of the story that fell within the author's expertise were great, and exactly what I'd hoped they would be. So why the disappointment?

Because the author doesn't understand modern teenagers.

Oh, the book had the angst, the relationship drama, and mischief elements right. What the author erred on was how teens use of technology. In one scene the protagonist and friends headed out to their favorite hangout for an afternoon of fun. On the way they turned on the car radio. Now, most of the teens I know would plug in the iPod or connect to their favorite internet radio station on either the in-dash system or on their smart device. I'll admit that it's not out of the realm of possibility that they would tune into the local popular music station on a car radio. Unfortunately, the author didn't have them listening to a music station. No, they were listening to an NPR news report.

Maybe the teens the author knows are different, but all the teens I know wouldn't listen to NPR news for love or money. It's not that they don't care about world events, it's that they don't have the patience or the desire to listen to the persistent monotone of NPR's reporters. Heck, I don't have the patience or desire and I'm twice their age. If teens want information they're going to look for it on the internet. Even if they're on the go, they're still going to turn to their phone or tablet before they even consider TV or radio.

Teens are smart. I mean, scary smart. I recently stumbled across a photo of a High School classroom. The teacher had put information on the overhead screen and gave the class permission to take notes. Rather than use pencil and paper, all of the students were taking a photo of the screen with their phones.

Like I said, scary smart.

I don't know how teens may react to this scene. I suspect it wouldn't be any better than mine and given how tech savvy and connected most teens are it probably wouldn't be long before their dislike was posted for the whole internet to see. That could potentially damage the author's career. I hope it doesn't because as I said earlier, the premise was quite good and there were some very well executed scenes. But this certainly illustrates (at least it does to me) how important it is to understand your audience.

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