The hardest part about launching a new novel — alongside the troubling piffles of writing the damn thing, redrafting it, editing it, feeling like you want to set fire to it, the terror of showing it to people, hiring an editor, hoping they like it, sorting out the cover design, compiling the ebooks, formatting the print versions, wanting to die, and writing the blurbs — is choosing what categories to put the damn thing into.
Choosing the right genres, keywords, and subsections for online retailers like Amazon can have a profound impact on how your book performs. Choose the right keyword, and your book can find its way relatively easily into a niche that has a rabid fanbase who’ll be willing to check you out. Get it wrong, and you’re consigned to the dustbin of terrible sales numbers. But whenever it comes to making these decisions, there’s an additional factor the budding publisher needs to consider — the age of their readers.
When I was a wee slip of a lad, I loved reading. I was really into Enid Blyton, the Just William books, Roald Dahl, and all the sorts of things that a growing boy or girl needs to enrich their view of the world. I loved reading, a love instilled by my parents, who have always devoured thrillers at a ridiculous pace.
But it was an english teacher at a provincial boarding school in Kent who would take what was a nascent love of stories, and turn it into something more. A charming english gent who looked like those pictures of J.R.R. Tolkien as an old man, he used to gruffly stick a different book under my nose every week, something completely off-syllabus, something he did with a handful of the kids in my class, those he’d seen with their noses buried in some childish tome.
The Day of the Triffids, To Kill a Mockingbird, Empire of the Sun, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Carrie, these books ranged from political thrillers to established classics and popcorn pulp, but they were all united by a single theme — these were not kids books.
I didn’t like all of them, but I liked a hell of a lot of them, and I don’t think it’d be a stretch to say that those battered, well-thumbed paperbacks changed my life every bit as much as the cassette of Guns ’n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction didaround the same time.
I was probably about the same age then that my daughter is now. She, too, is a voracious reader, and I can’t begin to describe the thrill I get when I discover that she’s under the covers reading by torchlight an hour after her lights have been turned out for the night, begging to get to the end of her chapter. But there’s a huge difference between the books she reads now, and the books I was reading then. The publishing world has seen a colossal boom in the intervening years for books for her age range, books for young adults, books for new adults.
My daughter’s generation are catered to so brilliantly by a publishing world that realises they’re a perpetual money machine, a slot machine that pays out with a much higher regularity than the fickle adults. Which is not to say that the books my daughter reads are bad, far from it. I devoured the Harry Potter series like pretty much everyone else on the planet, but when I look at the Wimpy Kid books, the Series of Unfortunate Events books, and The School For Good and Evil, they’re all brilliantly written, insightful, thought provoking books.
Except, there’s a nagging thought in my mind that wonders if I should be playing the same role in my daughter’s reading education that Mr Gatherum played in my own. Should I be pressing well-worn ‘grown-up’ books into her palms? Almost certainly not, since I doubt she’d have the same receptiveness that I had. Back then I didn’t have the wealth of age-appropriate brilliance to move onto, or if I did, I didn’t have someone to show it to me. She’s perfectly happy reading books that speak directly to her, and why wouldn’t she?
Which brings me back to my own books. If I’m being brutally honest, I’m always writing for one person — me. And not the jaded, bearded hipster that’s clacking these words into the keyboard of his overpriced laptop, but the same boy who devoured Stephen King and John Wyndham and Harper Lee with a fervour bordering on religious ecstasy. Because those were the days when books were my everything, and I always feel like if I could make that little boy with the bad skin and terrible taste in clothes happy, then I’m probably doing alright. And if the things that made him happy — horror, blood, gore, politics, great characters, snappy dialogue, and a sense of a world I could only begin to imagine — are present in my own writing, well then I’m doing okay.
And yet, these are most definitely not kids books. There’s no way I’d be putting Blood on the Motorway (available to buy now, fact fans) into my daughter’s hands. But in a few years? I’d have no problem with her reading it, in the same way that I have no problem having her sit up to watch more grown up films with her Mum and I from time to time. The most exciting parts of growing up are those moments when the curtain to the world of grown ups is pulled back, giving just a glimpse at the world beyond.
So, no, I didn’t list my books as Young Adult, or even New Adult. But I’ll admit there was a moment every time when my hand wavered over the button, remembering that dorky little kid who I hope would have loved to read them.
Blood on the Motorway – An apocalyptic tale of murder and stale sandwiches, is available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and more besides. The sequel, Sleepwalk City, is available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and many more.
Welcome to Discovery Park – the chronicle of my increasingly frustrated attempt to listen to every album on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums of all-time list, is available now on Amazon Uk, Amazon.com, iBooks, Kobo, and many more.