Connecting Online with YA Readers

funny picturesThe average teenager spends a wopping 30 hours on the internet per week.

So what the heck are they doing?

The average writer spends a wopping 4 billions hours on the internet per week while avoiding work.

So what they heck are we doing?  And why aren’t we connecting with those teenagers?

Hmmmm.  Lets analyze this systematically.


The ambiguous “They” tells us to keep a blog to connect to our readers.  To generate an audience.  To promote our books.

“Okay,” we the writers say.  “I’ll start blogging.”

But have you noticed that most of us write about writing?  It’s what we do, it’s what we think about, so it’s what we end up writing about.  What happens then?

We connect to other writers.

Sure, other writers are a potential readers too, but…  It’s not the audience we initially set out to reach.

I want to connect with young adult readers.  If the online hot spots for my cousins (ranging from ages 12 to 16) are any indication of what young adults read, it sure as heck ain’t blogs.

So I looked it up.  Turns out the sample of my cousins is pretty accurate.  Teenagers just aren’t that into reading or writing blogs. (There will always be exceptions to the rule; I realize this.)

*note: I love reading and connecting to other writers via blog.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s my favorite part about blogging.


Next, the ambiguous “They” tells me I should tweet.  So I set up a Twitter account that I have no idea how to use.  None of my real flesh-and-blood friends are into the twitter-sphere, and I feel slimy and vain whenever I tweet my life-status (because honestly, who cares if I’m sitting at a doctor’s office or waiting in line at the airport?).  So what do I end up tweeting about?

You guessed it: writing. And what else happens?  I connect to other writers and publishing industry people.

In my search for what young adults do with their online time, I found out that teenagers just aren’t that into Twitter.

*note: Again, I love connecting to writers/agents/editors/etc. on Twitter.


Yes, teenagers (and everyone) are most definitely into Facebook.  But it’s a social network they use to laugh at Jesse’s pictures from the party, to drool over their crushes, to flirt, to post prom videos, to whatever.

Teenagers don’t want to connect with me on Facebook because 1) they don’t know who I am, which means that 2) I just come across as this creepy old person.

Besides, I hate Facebook. It angers me and I avoid it.

If I had a published book, the situation might be different.  Then I might give the whole Facebook thing a go.  Maybe.

*note: No connecting with anyone on Facebook. Sorry — nothing personal.

The Natural Habitat

So, if the average teenager spends an average of 30 hours/week on the internet, then where the heck are they?  What is the natural habitat for the elusive young adult beast?

Turns out, first and foremost, teens are watching videos. Youtube, Veoh, whatever.

Okay, cool.  My cousins are definitely doing watching videos, and I can see how video-blogging could be fun…  I mean, lots of people do that these days.  I don’t have a published book yet to talk about; I’m not particularly witty; nor am I anything special to look at.  Yet, one day in the future, I’d be willing to dive into this medium.

The main problem is, I’m not a cute boy, and there’s some pretty steep vlogging competition.

Next up, teens are playing gamesYep, my cousins are definitely playing games.  But does that mean I ought to connect to my readers by making a video game version of The Spirit-Hunters?  Or an interactive fiction of some part of the story?  Or just some mindless puzzle games…?

I have no clue.

The next time-suck is instant messaging or Facebooking.  Yep, that’s true.  Ten+ years ago when I was a teenager, I was all about some ICQ.

Now finally, according to the stats, teens spend an average of 1 hour/week (and, I’m blushing as I type this) looking at porn*.  I’m sure that this stat only applies to some teens, but still…  It‘s not particularly surprising.  Hormones, physical development, curiosity, whatever.  Heck, there’s an awful lot of sex in YA fiction these days.

All the same, I can tell you that that is not the medium I’ll be using to connect to my readers.

Some Cool Tactics I’ve Found

In my search for The Way, I found some interesting sites that helped me understand YA readers.  I also found some people who took really cool approaches to connect with teens.

  • Loser/Queen
    • Jody Lynn Anderson writes scenes in her YA contemporary novel.  People then vote on what should happen next.  She writes up the winning solution in the next scene, and everyone votes again.  So far, it has been successful!
  • Rebirth of a Novel
    • This is just too cool.  Alma Alexander, a YA novelist, has taken an old first draft she wrote when she was 14, and now with the help of four teenagers, she’s going to turn that first, hand-written draft into a kick-ass novel.
  • Spinebreakers
    • This site is part of Penguin in the UK.  In my opinion, it’s really well done.  The layout appeals to the “teenage” (or really just modern day) attention span.  Everything is splattered on the front page in small bursts of info, it’s easy to navigate, there’s lots to do in all sort of different formats (video, written word, etc.), and teens are encouraged to submit their own ideas, writing, drawings, whatever.  It’s cool.
  • Ypulse
    • This site discusses marketing to youths as well as trends in media.  It’s a helpful starting point for understanding young adults’ (from elementary kids to college students) minds these days.
  • Teen Spaces
    • Teen Spaces is actually a book about revamping libraries to appeal to teenagers.  My link takes you to some pictures of “well-done” libraries that appear in the book.  There are some really amazing libraries shown here, and not just for teens!

So, for all you YA novelists out there, what are your thoughts?  Do you think it’s important to connect to our future audience online before we have a book on shelves?  And if so, do you have a method for doing so?


*do you like the nice purple color I chose for porn?  Something about purple makes me think of 70s pimps. I wonder why.