The Independent in the UK recently published an editorial by Katy Guest which takes publishers to task for marketing books as specifically for boys or for girls. She cites the success of books such as Harry Potter or The Hunger Games as proof that we should just publish books as books, and not try to aim them at specific genders.
David Farland takes a similar view. Discussing what makes best-sellers popular, hour e includes having a cast of characters with broad appeal as one common factor. You don’t necessarily have to have a half-dozen demographically-targets protagonists, but mixing things up a little may help more readers to connect with your book. For example, Harry Potter includes a lot of different nationalities in the Hogwarts student body. And even though Harry is a boy, there are several strong and interesting female characters to relate to.
But Guest seems to take the idea even farther. Don’t assume because your protagonist is a girl that boys won’t be able to relate, or vice versa. Certainly the Mr. Putter and Tabby books I read to my children don’t turn them off because the main characters are really old (or a cat). We may do our children a disservice in assuming they can’t relate.
But can this be taken too far? Should writers of teen romance, for example, take great care to present a cover that will somehow appeal to both boys and girls? Would you be able to get boys to read romance books? Will readers be resentful if they get pulled into a book only to find it’s full of material that doesn’t really appeal to them?
For that matter, is it even okay to write teen romance for girls, regardless of how it’s marketed? Is there any harm in saying “I just want to target middle-grade boys, and if any girls like it too, well, that’s great, but who cares?” Do we need to to homogenize our writing in an attempt to appeal to everyone? Does there come a point when that could even be detrimental?
I suppose that’s something for every writer to answer for themselves. There is much to be said for simply writing the story you want to tell and letting the readers decide for themselves if it’s for them. Perhaps we don’t need to purposely go out of our way to broaden our appeal, but then perhaps we shouldn’t limit ourselves unnecessarily limit ourselves, either. If there’s no reason why a character couldn’t be a different gender or nationality, why not try it?
I’m one to believe political correctness can and should only be taken so far. But perhaps Guest has a point. Why limit our audience if we don’t need to. Most of us are wanting to sell books, and as many as possible. Why not consider casting as wide a net as possible?