Today’s the day: Zoe’s Tale officially hits the shelves in paperback form. If you’ve been holding off on getting the book until it was presented in this easily transportable and affordable form, wait no longer! Or at the very least, wait no longer than it takes to get dressed, hop into the transport of your choice and enter the bookstore of your preference, find the book and pay for it. And of each of those, I’d put special emphasis on the getting dressed part. I mean, not that I have a problem with you purchasing the book while completely naked. I celebrate your choice. But store employees and taser-happy cops may beg to differ. I’m thinking about you, here.
Moving away from your clothes and toward the book itself, I have to say in many ways Zoe’s Tale has so far been simultaneously one of the most gratifying and frustrating publishing experiences I’ve had. Folks here know that I’m insensibly fond of the character of Zoë Boutin-Perry, in part because I expended so much effort on trying to make her realistically both female and teenage, rather than a convenient teenage girl-shaped version of me. She’s the character I worked the hardest on so far, which makes her special to me (and also, I’m pleased with how she came out, which is not so bad either). I wanted folks to meet her and like her. Beyond this, there was the additional challenge of going back to readers and saying, “so, yeah, remember the last book in the series? Well, this one covers the exact same timeframe. Wanna read it?” Which reasonably might make some readers feel like they’re being taken advantage of. So to have Zoe be both a Hugo nominee and Locus finalist — both science fiction awards voted on by readers — well. It makes me happy, and it makes me feel humbled. And proud of Zoë. I know, I know. Just a character, not a real person. Don’t care.
So that’s the gratifying part. The frustrating part is that one very large chunk of the book’s intended audience — teenagers and in particular teenage girls — have little if any awareness of the book . This is because despite the perception within the science fiction community that Zoe is a YA book, with nearly all the reviews and commentary about the book nodding in that direction, the fact is that the book was marketed as adult SF and shelved there rather than in the YA section. To be clear, this marketing strategy was one I was aware of and which had my approval and involvement, so this isn’t a kvetch about Tor, and I will thank you not to consider it so. They’ve been great with supporting the book. I like they wanted to see if a book like Zoe could help bring YA readers into the adult SF/F area of the bookstore.
The answer seems to be: not so much. Anecdotally, while adult SF/F readers are happy to cross into the YA aisles (note Little Brother and The Graveyard Book, marketed as YA and both also on the Hugo ballot and finalists for the Locus YA novel award), it seems a bit harder to pull off the trick in the other direction. Zoe’s Tale has done just fine in terms of sales and presence within adult science fiction — trust me, I’m not complaining about either of those — but in terms of YA, it’s not even on the radar. This is an interesting datum and a case study for science fiction publishers to consider when they are considering how to lure all the YA readers gobbling up YA-oriented science fiction and fantasy into the adult SF/F section of the bookstore, but it also has consequences for Zoe. I was recently asked what teenage girls had thought of the book; I replied that all three of them who have read it loved it.
Which is, you know, frustrating. I am delighted with and appropriately thankful of Zoe’s success with adult science fiction readers; I would like to see it picked up by younger readers as well. Because — crazy thought! — I think they might enjoy it. We’ll see what happens with the paperback.
That said, allow me to ask you adult readers to consider doing me a favor, which is that if you like Zoe’s Tale, talk up the book to the YA readers you know. Although it ties into the Old Man’s War series, it’s written to stand alone, specifically because we wanted it to be accessible to first-time readers, and younger readers. So if you’d consider talking up the book to YA fans you know, I would appreciate it. Not because it might sell more copies of the book (although that wouldn’t be bad) but because, well. I just think it would be nice for Zoë to make friends with some people her own age.
I know, I know. Just a character, not a real person. Don’t care.