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Popularity vs. appeal

January 17, 2008

The William C. Morris YA Debut Award is a new award sponsored by YALSA and will be given for the first time in 2009. It “celebrates the achievement of a previously unpublished author, or authors, who have made a strong literary debut in writing for young adult readers.” I love the fact that, like the Printz, it is not limited to American authors and specifically states that “original young adult works of fiction in any genre, nonfiction, poetry, a short story collection, or graphic work” will be considered. But two things in particular about this award caught my attention. First, a shortlist will be announced in December, which I’m sure will fuel Printz Award speculation as three (four? does American Born Chinese count?) Printz winners have been debut novels and several other debuts received a Printz Honor. Second, take a look at the Criteria section at the bottom of the the policies and procedures page:

3. Popularity is not the criterion for this award, nor is the award based on the message or content of the book.
4. The book must have teen appeal or have the potential to appeal to teen readers.

One of the things I struggled with as I read the Cybils nominees was exactly this difference between popularity and appeal. Ultimately, this is what I came up with: books that are popular with teens obviously have teen appeal, but unpopular, or not yet popular, books don’t necessarily lack teen appeal. And just because a book has teen appeal does not automatically mean it will be popular. Appeal is based on what’s actually between the covers, but popularity can be influenced by more superficial things, such as covers. Some books are more popular in certain areas, but that doesn’t mean teen appeal is lacking just because it’s not circulating/selling in other areas. The way I see it, the teen appeal is still there, but there may be factors limiting its popularity in those particular locations.

So how do you, oh blog reader, separate appeal from popularity? And, yes, I know. If I was smarter, I would have asked this question at least a month ago.

Bonus link of the day: Meg Rosoff’s What I Was in the New York Times

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2008 7:34 pm

    I’m interested in this discussion too, as I’m judging these puppies.

    My personal concept of popularity and appeal:

    Popularity = number of kids who have read it, are reading it, or want to read it. This is heavily affected by the Jones Kid syndrome, in which every kid has to be reading the cool, hip book (or be seen with it, or know something about it).

    Appeal = qualities about the book (characters, dialogue, setting, action-packed, emotional impact) that would *make* a kid want to read it (aside from the Jones Kid syndrome).

    So I guess popularity is a bit more group-oriented and appeal is more individual. Or popularity is more numbers-derived and appeal is created by intangibles.

  2. January 18, 2008 1:40 am

    A book can be appealing without being poular, but it can’t be popular without being appealing.

    It is cruel, yes, CRUEL, to award the Newbery to books that are not appealing to the intended audience. I don’t care how innovative or well-written they are. Adults apparently like lots of introspective navel gazing, quirky dysfunctional families, and not much action, but few of my students share these views. I’m not saying that Lemony Snicket or even Anthony Horowitz should win a Newbery, but as frequently as award winning titles are published and foisted upon children, there should be something in them that appeals to actual young people.

    So glad that Jon Scieszka has come out and said that we should all stop forcing children to read books that are “good for them” and let them have some fun! Amen!

  3. January 18, 2008 6:09 am

    This is a deep one. Of course we had this issue, too, with SF/F books — and I think we handled it pretty well. Right now, urban fantasy is popular, and so it’s the it-thing to read. In our group, we wanted to highlight some other appealing books that maybe haven’t gotten as much press simply because they’re NOT urban fantasy. I think what’s fun about the Cybils is the chance to put forth a balance of both. I love finding kind of ‘sleeper’ books that sort of knock me between the eyes with their coolness. I like to talk them up, and hope their popularity increases by word of mouth. It’s sometimes something as simple as cover art or genre/topic that keeps them from being at the top of the popularity scale… but, as a kid who was more geek than popular anyway, I know my tribe exists, and I try and find books that will appeal to those not in the mainstream, too.

  4. January 19, 2008 11:51 am

    I think of popularity v. appeal in these terms:

    – a facade often created by the publishers / media to encourage profits or attention.
    – difficult to guage because of infinite variables (why is it popular? who is it popular with? a book could be very popular with parents – or award judges – because it has an anti-pregnancy message or the like).

    – a quality that is earned by making a real connection with the reader.
    – often independant on the author’s technical skill, grammar, et al.

    everything i just wrote i determined within 5 minutes of reading the original post. it sounds slightly cynical now that i read back over it… in fact, it sounds a little like bullsh**, but it was the opinion of my instinct and gut, so it couldn’t be denied.


  5. January 19, 2008 7:33 pm

    I am so excited to hear that they will be honoring a YA debut. I will be interested to see what ultimately gets nominated and selected. I love that they are aiming for appeal rather than popularity. I do hope that the content matters SOME – how can it not? – and that they honor quality books.

    I constantly urge readers, customers, and friends to read books which interest them, to look beyond the cover, to form opinions on their own rather than on those of their friends or sales rank.

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