Updated: Oct 22, 2020
As a junior in college, I was told that teens no longer like reading, and that there was no point in writing a book for them. Here's what I learned from ignoring that advice and doing it anyway.
Just because teens don't like the books that are currently available to them, that doesn't mean that they don't like reading. Maybe it actually means that no one has adapted books into a style that fits their needs.
The book industry hasn't been updated for the modern reader. The only way I've seen written content progress in the past 10 years is by integrating it with technology. Which is cool and all, but just because you've made something available to read on a phone, that doesn't mean you've innovated the actual content. It's just the same words, in the same format, available in a different place.
Let's look at video as an example of true content evolution. I don't know all the facts and figures, but essentially we have movies, TV shows, YouTube videos, and most recently TikTok (or Instagram Reels). Today, people like short videos. That's not to say they don't watch movies, but most of the teens I interact with are on TikTok watching 15 - 60 second videos for hours every single day. Maybe you could compare Twitter to the written version of this?
Regardless, let's focus on TV shows. They are an extremely popular form of visual storytelling. Many people prefer these short snippets of a storyline told within 20-45 minutes that tie together over an entire season.
Where's this concept for books?
"Books have series too, Maeve" you might say. True, but those have a completely different structure than TV. Series in a book (except some for like 3-5th graders) are their own complete story. Books following the first in a series, though they might have the same characters, usually have their own plot and are just as lengthy.
But what if books had a similar structure to TV series? They would be short and to the point. The main concepts could be spread out among many books, rather than just one. Imagine if you got a new book in a series (i.e. episode) sent to your mailbox or phone every week or every day. You could read it at lunch, and then get excited for the next one to come. Imagine that, being excited about reading!
These are some of my favorite books growing up. I distinctly remember the reason I liked them was because the chapters were short so that with each one I finished, I felt like I accomplished something and then felt encouraged to read more. I also liked them because they were so informal and personal. Many of the journal style books made me feel like someone was talking directly to me.
Now you might think, okay, well those books are for kids, because they are short and simple to follow. Maybe, but why can't we have that for young adults and adults too?
By presenting the same information in a different format (using multiple books to communicate your message) you wouldn't have to compromise the integrity of your content, you would just be splitting up your message to make it to more digestible for the reader. It's almost as if you're offering a built-in a feature that helps your reader cultivate a healthy reading habit.
Look at what apps like Instagram and TikTok have been able to do— they have people hooked. Innovators in the video space keep going shorter and shorter, which intensifies the content, increases engagement, and keeps people coming back for more.
How have we done that for reading? Created Twitter, news headlines? That may be the TikTok equivalent, but what about TV series? What do we have in that area for books? Maybe there is something out there that I'm not aware of, but it sounds like the teens I'm working with haven't found anything other than my book.
It shouldn't be that way. Why aren't our youth addicted to reading rather than watching videos?
Umm... I think this might be why. Adults present teens with the same old types of books that are 300+ pages long, aren't relatable, and have a bunch of fluff. Yet at the same time, they blame kids for not liking reading.
Why should kids like reading!!!??? The way traditional books are written can be BORING. So much time and money has gone into advancing video to the point that it is so entertaining. It makes sense that they choose TikTok over a book.
what I will say though is that I've received countless comments from teens telling me that they hate reading, but really liked my book.
How is this possible? I truly believe that while young individuals may connect to my story, the real magic is in the short chapters and personal writing. I really think that authenticity is the most important element in 2020. Most books have gone through so many editors and publishers that they end up sounding overly perfect and predictable. My book reads like a conversation, you can even identify the inflections you would hear in my voice. Best of all— I end the chapter right when they are getting interested, which makes them want to jump into the next one.
Before they know it, they've finished a book! Then they tell me, "Wow, that's the first book I've finished since 3rd grade." A sense of pride follows, they start to believe in themselves, and they think... "Huh, that's kind of weird, I actually liked that book." They want more, so they ask me for another book, on confidence, on social media, on breakups, on whatever they most want to hear about.
That's how you get kids to want to read. It's really not that difficult. The thing is, most people jumped ship and invested everything into video. By thinking innovatively about how to increase engagement with written content, I believe that there is still untapped potenital to connect with youth through writing and reading.
Though addicted to social media, people are genuinely tired of the fakeness they see and the hollowness they feel from it. Words, contrary to video, are solid, unchanging, and comforting when presented in the right way. You can hear someone's personal thoughts without making judgments about their appearance. Reading allows the audience to connect at a deeper level with the creator. Video can be so matter of fact that there is no room to dream. Reading leaves room for curiosity.
The problem is, people are bored by traditional books. I even find myself thinking this. Though I love reading and aquiring knowledge, I haven't been able to get through an audio book for the past 4 months.
When a young adult reads any one of my books, I want them to feel inspired and craving more. To do this, I keep my message concise and leave room for personal reflection. Before they know it, they'll have finished an entire book. And the next in the series will be making it's way to them.