Friday, June 18, 2010

I Read The Deathday Letter

I'm not going to review the book because a. I suck at reviews and b. the author has been known to stop by this blog so 1. If I write a complimentary review people (who, I don't know) would say, "Well of course you wrote a complimentary review" and 2. If I didn't write a complimentary review I'd a. feel like a dick and 2. would be lying.

But the book got me thinking, although not about the stuff I was supposed to think about.

It got me thinking about how difficult it is to succeed writing a book like The Deathday Letter. And by succeed I mean selling lots of books, becoming a household name, and then treating people horribly.

First, I should say that Shaun David Hutchinson made it further than I think most books like this do or will. The Deathday Letter, if you do not know, is about a fifteen-year-old kid who receives a letter telling him he's got one day left to live. It's a clever premise; one that's easily understood and tickles the imagination. And it's funny. And it's well written. And there's a serious message, too.

But the book's target audience is unabashedly young adult males. And I love that. I wish there were more books for these kids. I like to read books like this and I like to write books like this so I wish The Deathday Letter all kinds of crazy success. (Seriously, just buy the book. I did. See photo above.)

Unfortunately, the book has and will continue to fight an uphill battle. I bought the book at a honest to goodness bookstore. It was in the YA section which was on the back wall and took me ten minutes to find. I bought it the day after it came out and it was sandwiched between other authors who last names start with H. And there were two copies.

Conversely, I knocked down seven vampire books with black covers and was screamed at by a gang of goth girls because they thought I was disrespecting Richelle Mead on my way to the YA wall. This was because the vampire books were practically placed in the middle of an aisle so that you needed to go out of your way to avoid them.

Now I know Shaun is just elated to have the thing published and out there and there's no way he'll ever complain (I wouldn't either), but let's just look at the hurdles he's had to clear to elbow aside enough books to get his own on the shelf.

  • First he had to write it. This is hard.
  • Then he had to get an agent interested in it, even though the target audience tends to spend a lot of time playing video games and watching YouTube and playing sports and staring at girls. And when they do read, they pick up fantasy novels or books for adults. (I know. I mostly read Stephen King in high school. I didn't even know there were books for high school kids.)
  • And then said agent had to get a publisher interested, in spite of the above challenges.
  • And now I'm skipping some steps, but after all that there were two (now there's one) copies of the book in my local bookstore (and it's a big one) and you pretty much had to be looking for it like I was to find it.

It depresses me. Mostly for selfish reasons because before I sit down to write another novel I will think to myself, "I really want to write a funny book for high school guys, but will anybody read it? And if nobody is going to read it, then do I have a chance of finding an agent? And if I do find an agent who gets it and loves it, which might be kinda hard because 90% of YA agents are chicks, will he or she be able to find a publisher (more chicks) who not only likes it but thinks it will sell enough to make it worth her while?" And I won't be the only one.

So here's hoping The Deathday Letter gets great word of mouth, high school dudes buy a copy, and publishers are suddenly clamoring for more books like it. Because I really want to click on an agency Web site and read, "I'm always on the lookout for books with penis jokes and scatological humor." Because, dude, that's my kind of agent.


Shaun Hutchinson said...

Thank you for reading!

Seriously though, boy-oriented books are a tough sell. Publishers and agents want them, they really do, but when they get them, there are so many obstacles.

For some reason I think books, unlike movies, want to deny how guys think. I mean, guy-oriented books don't HAVE to be all penis jokes, but where are the literary equivalents of Superbad or Euro Trip? Maybe they're not the most intellectual movies of all time, but neither are all those vampire books out there.

Unknown said...

I agree completely. There seems to be a fair amount of reluctance by people in publishing to validate what boys actually like.

Then again, I'm sure their argument would be that if more boys read the books that were already out there they'd publish more of them.

I might agree with them, given the success of the Captain Underpants and Wimpy Kid series for younger boys. I'm hoping something similar (but without the comics) emerges for high school kids. Tucker Max Lite, perhaps.

Anita said...

I think a lot of teen girls would read a book that's primarily targeted for boys, just so the girls could get a look inside a boy's head. Does that make sense? For example, I once memorized every lyric of an Ozzy Osbourne album, just because some guy I liked liked Ozzy.

Something I think would be great is for a male/female writing team to write a YA with male/female characters...the male author writes the male POV, the female author the female POV.

Hmmm...I'm used to getting my books for free...will have to dig deep into my trust-PMM soul to purchase.

Anonymous said...

I'm really looking forward to reading The Death Day Letter. I write with a boy-audience in mind. My novel is on submission now. Lots of obstacles out there, as you say, but we need to write the stories that speak to us.

I taught English in an alternative school for fifteen years. 95% of my students were boys. I loved finding books that they connected with.

And, I loved your description of finding The Death Day Letter in the bookstore!! Thanks!

Kelly Polark said...

I agree with Anita (I tend to), and I was a girl (and still am) who told scat and dirty jokes, so there may be even a small female audience out there.
I'll check this out. I have a sixth grader who will be a potty mouth high schooler one day.
And I thought Superbad was hilarious.

Unknown said...

The publishing industry has an identity crisis. They want boy books, like Shaun and Paul said, but then they don't market them at all. Seriously, get some balls publishers and make a stance that says "Here's some great books about what boys REALLY like, take it or leave it." It will take a real campaign, like that of Jon Scieszka at As a former fourth and current sixth grade teacher, most of those boys do read. Much after seventh or eighth grade, it's a lost cause, with few exceptions.

Unknown said...

PMM - looking svelte in the face region. Nice work.

Anita said...

Ah, yes, he does look thinner. But is that a cavity on a back molar?

Ray Veen said...

After I leave this enlightening comment, I'm going to order The Deathday Letter. For serious, yo. That's how much I trust PMM's taste in books.

Mike Winchell said...

Gotcha on that, PMM. All your points are valid. But here's the cool thing that CAN turn those potholes into a filled-in, freshly-tarred highway to success. First off, YOU bought the book, and the others on this comment section did or will. And then there's me: a high school English teacher who bought the book, and then told all the students who I know are craving a book like this, "Go buy the friggin' thing." So, I guess what I'm really saying is: I'm more important than all of you. Kidding, of course. I do that.

But here's why Shaun is destined for success. I sent Shaun a straight-up "you seem to have talent, my man" email way back when (before the book was released) for no other reason than I had visited his blog, read his posts, and then visited the DDay Letter website and read his awesome excerpts. I loved the premise and loved the voice in the excerpts. All signs point to: guy's got talent, so why not send an email letting him know that I recognized it and was rooting for him. Shaun turned around and, after he said "thanks," sent me some cool bookmarks, which were passed out to the students who I knew (not "thought" because I'se gets to know my kids, y'all) would be interested in the book. Now, I know at least 10 of those kids have bought the book (out of about 70).

"Ten?" you cry. "Surely he jests? There's no way this guy thinks ten books sold = success." No, I realize ten books does not a blockbuster make. But...that's how things get going. Because the reality is, the possibility of more copies of DDay being sold looms in Shaun's favor as a result of YOU, ME, and those who pass the word on. We are the ones who need to put the word out there, and PMM has done his roll on this blog. I have played my part with my students and with my colleagues.

Now the rest of the world needs to follow us and do the same. I mean, we're teachers, right PMM? Who better to follow than teachers?

Heather Kelly said...

I agree with MS above--sometimes success can be a grass roots thing, or at least start that way. Especially when there is a hole in the market, as there seem to be with YA boy books, you know, the hole that publishers are half heartedly trying to fill... Maybe with the kindle and iPad, more teen boys will read books if they don't have to flaunt that they are reading them...

I'll be checking out this book. PMM has good taste.

Anita said...

Since you aren't posting, I hope you're working in your book and querying like nuts.

Jonathon Arntson said...

Anita should be working in the marketing dept: "Girls, buy this book for a look inside your crush's head."

Anita said...

JONATHON: You are a smart man.