Self-Publishing Teens: Raw Insight and Untapped Talent

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jan 24, 2014 @ 04:21 PM

Self-publishing isn’t new, but over the past few years, more and more writers have been publishing their work online (E. L. James’ 50 Shades of Gray was originally self-published and Hugh Howey’s Wool saga remains one of Amazon’s top-selling ebooks). 

Book AuthorIt’s no surprise that teens, who have grown up in a crowd-sourced, content-sharing culture, are now getting in on self-publishing.  If a teen is one of the 97% who have access to the Internet, he or she can freely publish and sell novels, poems, and short stories.  Recently, a teenage girl sold her Young Adult novel to Random House and the publisher plans to release more of her books in the future. 

Certainly, not all teens write, or even read for pleasure, so what makes self-publishing so relevant? First, these self-publishing sites and spaces, like Amazon Digital Services, provide a place where truly new ideas can be considered. Many of the hottest YA titles over the past few years were written by teenagers, making it clear that the world of self-publishing is a perfect place to find untapped talent and ideas.  Paying attention to the self-publishing world might provide you with a front row seat to the next batch of powerful youth properties.

While we wouldn’t advocate assuming that the teens who self-publish are “representative” of all teens, the titles that other teens gravitate towards will tell you something about the reads that resonate with this group. Without the intervention of editors and traditional booksellers, these self-published works reveal the kinds of stories and topics that truly interest teens and that might be currently missing from the market.  And teens not only write their own novels, but they design their own covers and market their work. How they package their stories suggests both how they perceive marketing, but also allows us to see an aesthetic that’s generated cultivated by teens themselves.  According to librarian Amy Pelman, the self-publishing trend not only shows a lot of potential in terms of sales, but it also allows teens to produce and read books without adults. 

Exploring the stories of self-publishing provides access to talented teenagers who are creative and innovative, whose ideas are fresh and unique, and who are producing material they can’t seem to find elsewhere.  These books, and the world they inhabit, provide insight into what teens currently like and what they are starting to think about for the future.

Tags: Education, book, Youth, Teens, trends, tweens

Mario’s Magic

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jan 17, 2014 @ 01:12 PM

MarioWith the immense popularity of Nintendo’s new Super Mario 3D World for Wii U, we thought it was time to think about what makes Mario such an important and popular character among kids, tweens, and teens (and the namesake of kids’ favorite video game since YouthBeat’s launch in 2008).

For our YouthBeat readers who weren’t around then, Mario first appeared in the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong.  Since then, he has appeared in over 200 video game titles and the Mario franchise games have sold millions of units.  Mario, and the characters and world built around him, have surrounded youth in the form of cartoons, comics, films, toys and countless objects of play and design.

So, what makes Mario (the character and the franchise) so popular?

  1. Mario Lets Kids Learn as They Go.  No matter the Mario title, players are slowly and methodically introduced to the key movements and elements of the game.  Not only does this help players develop skills, but it also encourages players to challenge themselves and push further. With each new level, there are new skills to learn.  And for mastery-loving kids, this chance to get good and test your skills serves as a recipe for success!
  2. Mario Can Fit Many Forms.  Mario has done a lot of rescuing over the years, and he has shown that he can be a hero in any setting.  Whether it’s a classic side-scrolling platform (Super Mario Brothers), 3D open adventure (Super Mario 64), a race (any Mario Kart), or a fighting game (Super Smash Brothers), Mario has the ability to adapt to any type of game.  Mario, an archetypical hero with a rags-to-riches story (he is a plumber who rescues princesses), begs you to root for him in every scenario in which he appears. 
  3. Mario is Familiar. While conventional wisdom might suggest that new is necessary to keep kids interested, Mario suggests another model.  Mario serves as the guide to new genres that kids can explore. He represents a typical hero (he is a plumber who rescues the princess) whose quests are filled with tragedy, comedy, and overcoming monsters (Bowser!).  Within the larger Mario franchise, there are numerous fighting games, RPG games, and racing games.  Everyone can find a game to love in the Mario universe. 
  4. Mario is part of the Family. Mario is about as family-friendly as video games get (little violence, cute images, and simple humor).  With the release of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Nintendo has also been using Mario to bring families together by making the games cooperative.  With Super Mario 3D World, parents and kids can work, learn, and play together.

What lessons can content creators and marketers alike learn from Mario?

  • Incorporate learning and growth.  This allows entry-points for all ages and skill levels. 
  • Think outside the box.  Moving across different platforms enhances appeal, not detracts from the franchise’s DNA.   
  • Think about family.  Cooperative play not only encourages family time, but also makes games more social and fun.

Now, who’s up for some real life Mario Kart?

Tags: youth research, Gaming, play, culture, youth media

Giving Back at the Beginning

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jan 10, 2014 @ 01:27 PM

We often hear about great causes and organizations at the end of the year. But since kids, tweens, and teens don’t care about tax write-offs, we see little reason why January 1st can’t be the start of their support of people, places and products/brands/companies that are making a difference! We know that this group of youth care about the world outside their neighborhood more than ever. They feel connected to others through many means. And they are prepared to solve the world’s biggest problems in ways that we might not always notice, but that, nonetheless, make them one of the most entrepreneurial generations ever to walk the earth! The organizations below sometimes include youth, but often serve their needs. Either way, we think these organizations deserve some recognition and also provide some valuable lessons for youth marketers.

Capes for Kids

We believe in kid empowerment, and certainly, no kids need or deserve to feel like superheroes more than kids who are sick. The Hero Project, which provides pediatric in-patients with customized superhero capes, understands that visible symbols of strength can go a long way towards making kids feel better, or at least braver in the face of unthinkable challenges. This group recognizes that one way to catalyze donations is by getting donors to give of their creativity, not just their money, as they encourage groups of friends, family members, etc. to get together and create capes as a collective.

Project Night NightProject Night Night

For victims of homelessness, having a snuggly toy or a care package offers more than just physical comfort – it gives a glimmer of hope and assurance that they matter. Project Night Night creates Night Night packages designed for children under five years old, “who can’t articulate their concerns overcome the anxiety, emotional and mental stress that comes with home displacement.” The project also offers a secondary benefit – keeping slightly used toys out of landfills. Project Night Night reminds us that there’s no place like home for small children, and when it’s not a safe space, kids need significant signs and symbols of well-being to help them carry on.

Room to Grow

The first “100 days” of a child’s life are incredibly important to their cognitive, social and emotional development. Room to Grow assists women living in poverty by providing them and their children with resources they need, including baby gear and clothing, along with an actual place where they can find support and community. This idea grew from the notion that many moms have baby gear that they didn’t want to go to waste. We think this is a great example of an organization that responded to an asset and found a deserving group of moms who needed it. This makes us wonder, who could benefit from the gifts your organization has to offer? How will you give with authenticity and integrity?

Imagination Library

Who knew Dolly Parton would make our list of kid philanthropists in 2014? We think her idea – to provide preschoolers with a specially selected book, via mail, each month - is both ahead of its time, but also taps into many timeless truths about youth. First, getting something in the mail might make kids feel more special than ever before! A physical book can still feel like a gift to a child who has few. And bringing good-for-you content to kids is more effective than expecting them to come to you. We love this idea, which began in Tennessee, but is reaching the rest of the country rapidly.    

Donors Choose

Many of us are lucky enough to live in places with great schools, and almost all of us can remember a teacher who went above and beyond. You’ve likely seen statistics about the amount of money that teachers spend out of their own pockets to make their children’s learning environments live up to their own, and to kids’ expectations. Donors Choose also solves a frequently cited dilemma about non-profits – people often want to act locally, but most organizations that they can easily find are more national or global. But on the website, you might even find a well-deserving school or classroom close-by that you can help in other ways than just donating your time. And everyone loves a thank you – which the teachers and students agree to send to supporters of their cause. Speaking from experience, there’s nothing more gratifying that receiving a card created by a grateful teacher and appreciative kids after providing them with something that truly enhances their learning environment.

Teens Turning Green

There’s no question that kids, tweens and teens are capable of compassion. But what we like about teens Turning Green is its competitive spirit! Games and contests (not of the random winner variety) appeal to youth who are often up to challenges. Like dieting (speaking of New Year’s resolutions), doing good is often easier when it involved a few friends. And these events – like a 30 day sustainability challenge or a “green your dorm room” contest - are also chic. It’s no surprise – this organization isn’t run by adults for kids, but was actually founded by students striving to change the world.

In 2014, we think youth brands can give as much as they get. We recommend you follow the lead (and fuel the good work) these organizations are doing – let’s begin!

Tags: Education, Social Issues, Youth, culture, youth media