Girl Appeal – Does your YA novel have it?

Over the past year, I’ve queried In the Shadow of the Dragon King to six agents and four publishers. I’ve also participated in countless blogs, entered contests and won critiques with agents and publishers to find out ahead of time if my novel has the umph it needs to appeal to my target age group. Up until the last publisher, I received rejections. The main reason, when one was given, was ‘not enough girl appeal’.

I scratched my head, confused to say the least. My novel wasn’t intended for girls. This was strictly a guy thing. War, guns, kick-A mages, evil sorcerers, despicable dragons, wanna-rip-their-hair-out villains. Throw in a few beheadings, my own fantasy creatures – wedras, the shime and sestras – a few sword fights and the boys were eating out of my hand. My teen beta boys loved it and asked for more. (they also gave me great ideas for the remaining two books in the series). I thought I’d done it. I thought I’d appealed to my target age group.

The pros didn’t think so. I needed ‘girl appeal’.

What did that mean? If that’s not my target group, why do I need girl appeal?

The answer is simple and it made complete sense after the most recent publisher requested a full, then returned it with their comments. Basically, it comes down to this…teen girls, not boys, buy books; therefore, YA books must have girl appeal.

My first gut reaction was if there were more books that appealed to boys then perhaps more boys would buy them. What teen guy wants to read a romance book? Not many, and the ones who do would never admit it to their teen friends.

On second glance, I began to evaluate my novel from an unbiased view (which is very hard for an author to do). I had a secondary lead character, Charlotte. She’s the MC’s best friend and works almost like his conscience. She didn’t have a huge role in this novel because the story wasn’t about her, it was about David, a wealthy kid who has everything he could want at his fingertips, then finding himself in a life-threatening situation where none of the luxuries of life are at his disposal. He has to rely on his ingenuity, strength, survival instincts and faith to get him through, things he’s not used to having or using. It is a story of a boy trying to figure out who he is and what is his purpose in life.

Still uncertain how to come at my novel from another angle, I began to read some of the top YA novels to find how the best-selling authors handled this issue. Most had too much ‘girl appeal’ for my story, but I gained a better understanding about what I needed to do with Charlotte.

I received the publishers comments in August 2011 with a request to resubmit should I decide to make the changes. After several months of reading and evaluating their well-thought out comments, I think I have figured out what I need to do. It has taken me some time to fill in the blanks and give Charlotte a much bigger role. She’s quirky, sensitive, independent and loves to speak her mind. I have to admit, the story is much better because of her.

In my search for ways to improve the story, I also improved myself as a writer. I realized I could have a boy story with girl appeal without compromising the masculinity of the story. Charlotte’s all girl but she’s also a tomboy who can tag along and play like the boys. The story is more vibrant, more dimensional, and all it took was for one publisher to point it out, explain it and let me figure out the rest.

The massive re-write of my novel is almost complete, and you better believe I’m popping this sweet baby back over to this amazing publisher. I’ll keep my fingers crossed they love it as much as I do.

So, does your YA novel have girl appeal? If it doesn’t, you know what to do. Don’t be afraid. Go for it. You’ll be glad you did.