Marketing the YA Reader

(I should warn you that this is the Web equivalent of drunk-dialing: blogging about writing while in depressing Edit Hell. I apologize in advance for the negative tone.)
I have been thinking I should get a real job.
There’s got to be millions to be made in marketing, but I’ve never been interested in creating consumerism and pandering to corporations. I want to be a writer, and do boring things like connect with people and help YA readers and middle grade kids know that, whatever their home life or school situation is, they’re not alone.
How silly of me.

Today I read Kate Brian’s Lucky T and realize that a ‘real’ job is just inches away. I can now engage in my chosen profession AND siphon some of the cash to be had in marketing jobs. Product placement is the key! Kate Brian is living the dream: she’s a marketing guru disguised as a YA writer.

I knew it by the time I got to the third chapter of her novel. I stopped, picked up pen and paper, and went back to the beginning of her novel, so I could take notes on her awesome huckster technique. This is what I found:

In the first chapter of her novel, Brian mentioned:
Victoria’s Secret, Miss Sixty low-riders, Red Bull, Diet Coke, (Anne of Green Gables, Tolkien, Beauty & the Beast) Hubba Bubba, Hello Kitty & “Micky-D’s.” Chapter 2 listed the Escape Hybrid, Pizza Hut Express, and McDonalds. Chapter 3: American Eagle, FCUK, BBQ Lays, Proactiv, The Matrix, NBA Blazers, (Pier 39 – a place, so that’s iffy) Advil, Cosmo Magazine. Chapter 4 gave me Fudge-Covered Oreos, Snapple, Febreze, Travel Network, DKNY Jeans, Hilton, Discman; Ch. 5 inserted Avon’s Skin-So-Soft, Mack trucks, Kill Bill, and Wes Craven, the movie-maker, and led to Chapter 6 with Oral B Brush-ups, J-Crew, Collin Farrell, NCAA College Basketball 2K3 on Xbox and SportCenter. It goes on. By Chapter 9, I had to get another pad of paper. It included: 49ers, BCBG, Abercrombie, (Captain Underpants) Shape Magazine, Power Rangers, Maxim Magazine, Lindsay Lohan, iPod, WNBA, Tom Hanks,( the movie, Castaway) Ch. 12: Kodak, FedEx, Barbie, Pacific Sunwear, Hollister Co., Haagen-Dazs, The Gap, Yoo-Hoo, Birkenstocks, InStyle Magazine, BlackBerry, Starbucks, Polo Sport Cologne.

It’s so simple it’s blinding. Character-driven fiction isn’t what 13-18’s want to read, anyway. They simply want to be told what to wear and where to get it. And then they can get on with the rest of their fairytales lives and live happily ever after.
Okay. I know that publishers these days publish some novels to be commercials, books not destined for bookshelves longer than a season, thus okay to be filled with soon-to-be-dated pop culture references and this week’s fashion trends. I realize that in many ways publishing is no longer about the book, or, heck, the reader and it’s all about the money and how best to make it fastest. That’s part of being in a capitalistic culture. And I want to state that I don’t think that eliminating all brand names and popular culture references from a novel is necessary. I know that there are some things that are sort of American icons like Disneyland or well-known landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the names of movies and actors, bands and singers, etc., that can bring a little anchoring to your story, and I’m CERTAINLY all for mentioning the titles of books that the characters are reading or have read. But enough is enough. Am I hoping to sell Proactiv to my acne-scarred reader? Maybe entice them to whine for more allowance to try the newest Starbucks drink or scarf down the flavor of the month at Haagen-Dazs or the newest double cheese burger at Burger King and pack on a few more pounds? If I am… why?

I think my mother kind of created a monster when she used to rip the brand tags off my (secondhand, name brand) jeans and tell me that Mr. Levi-Strauss didn’t pay rent to be advertised on my body. (Too bad I didn’t appreciate this point of view at the time.) I can’t do this pop culture thing. I’m too disbelieving and too cynical and frankly, too slow to keep up with the mercurial ebbs and flows of what’s hot and what’s not. Trying makes me feel like a junior high geek (that ill-concealed persona which lurks beneath my urbane adult self) and also seems to make me Least Likely To Succeed as a writer. And, finally, it makes me feel dishonest to think of putting so many products in a story, as if I’ve cheapened the act of creation it is to write a story. I’d feel like a total sell-out. What does Abercrombie & Fitch or Bayer or Tide or Jenny Craig or NyQuil or NoDoze or any other pharmaceutical, cleaning product, food brand or clothing line have to do with telling a good story? And it always begs the question, to me: what’s the benefit for the writer? Are these people paying her somehow?

Every teen I know is already so self-conscious that what they have isn’t the best thing, the right thing, the things that the leaders of the pack have had for weeks and are about to throw away for the next big thing that they’re halfway insane. If you’re writing for kids because you love that age group, why would you help make them crazier by writing them ad copy in lieu of a story that can take them out of the noise in their heads, for just a blessed minute?

3 Replies to “Marketing the YA Reader”

  1. Hee! It’s certainly tempting… I wonder what deal these various companies offered Ms. Brian… and how come no one ever offers anything like that to me!?

  2. Hee! It’s certainly tempting… I wonder what deal these various companies offered Ms. Brian… and how come no one ever offers anything like that to me!?

  3. I always thought it would be fun to do a negative product placement. Call up Coke and tell them that in your next novel, their product is the one substance in the universe that causes Captain Amazing to lose his powers and makes it possible for villains to take over the Earth–of course, you could change it to a generic cola if they donate $5,000 to your vacation fund. Or change it to Pepsi if they make it $10,000.

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