When I think of teen readers, I’m thinking of kids that are looking toward college or careers, but in truth, your real audience will rarely exceed fifteen years of age. Why? Because the teens we’re gearing our material toward are probably already reading adult books, magazines, and newspapers, not to mention what they read online. So, writing for teens is tricky. You have to think like you’re 19, but have the sensibilities of a 15-year-old.
Where does the crossover happen? Hard to say. As I’ve been droning on about for a while now is that kids all develop at different rates. I mean, I’ve seen college kids that are barely 12 in mind and mannerism. Yes, it’s because of a disorder, but the range is HUGE at this stage. You have the very immature of action and reason, while 35 in mental ability.
The girl I’m thinking of is one of my daughter’s old friends. She has Asperger’s syndrome, though loosely linked with ADHD, it is far different. This girl is a true genius, who wants to be a nano scientist and she’s amazing in her mental abilities. However, the disorder caused her to act much younger than her age. Since she’s off on her own and in college now, she’s improved in maturity quite a lot, but parents also play a big role in how far their children are allowed to progress.
However, this isn’t a discussion of mental disorders or parenting, just a window into the range of readers you’re addressing when you write for teens.
All of them want to read about adult life because they’re trying to figure out how they’re going to cope with it. What kind of job do they want? Do they even want a job at all? Some already show signs of entrepreneurial spirit. Look at Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. He was in college when he conceived of this incredibly powerful company. So, he’s another example. Brilliant of mind, and if you saw The Social Network, maybe not so mature in terms of sociability.
These kids are in flux of all sorts, and it’s important to recognize that. Dating, sex, jobs, college, getting an apartment and similar subjects will interest teen readers. Suspense is popular, as is science-fiction and romance that is realistic and modern.
Yet, teen readers’ abilities are widely different, too. Some have difficulty reading, some have the same skills they had in the middle-grades, and some are more advanced. That’s where Hi-Lo books come in. A totally separate genre, these cater to mature illiterates.
The best thing for writers of teenage material — again — is to study the market. Study style and subject matter in books, teen magazines like Young Money, Black Collegiate, Quake, and Tell (not teeny bopper magazines… think Tiger Beat). The newest magazines are attempting to appeal to both boys and girls. Gender differences have become less important. And don’t be surprised to find frank discussions of sexuality and family relations.
Along with subject matter, tone is the most important criteria by which to gear teenage writing. Never talk down to teenagers. Many of them have already advanced to adult material, but even if they haven’t, they want to be considered “adults.” If you talk down to them, it’s an instant turn off. Don’t ever make that mistake.