I know my audience, and you’re in their way.

I love Tap Out  and I believe that it is relevant to today’s teenage boys while also being one that they will read. Because of the language, violent sport that is MMA and the dark situation that is Tony’s life, your book will probably never find its way to a school’s library. It wouldn’t surprise me if it found it’s way to becoming a banned book. Does that bother you?

The above question is one I am answering for a blog interview that will appear early next month, but I had to post it here, because it focuses on the exact issue I’ve been turning over since Tap Out was released.

It’s all about audience. And mine is teens. So how are they ever going to get their hands on a book that adults are afraid of?

I have no idea.

That fact frightens me, because of the missed opportunity. Tap Out is not a suitable fit for every teen. No book is. But to shoot it down because of the language, violence and darkness is a disservice to teens for whom the novel is a reflection of their lives, as well as for teens who would benefit from a bit of perspective broadening.

I have a friend who is a high school principal in a district wrought with poverty and at-risk youth. He purchased multiple copies of Tap Out, not just because he’s a friend, but because after reading the novel knew it would service his students. And it has. His in-school suspension room–ironically monitored by an MMA fighter–has copies on hand for students who come with no work, a common occurrence. They sit and they read Tap Out and they are glued to the pages. Others come to my friend’s office and he puts copies in their hands. One boy in particular sat in the middle of lunch, not eating, ignoring his friends, who usually help him get in trouble, and he read. He LOVES Tap Out.

Without the audacity to believe that his students can handle a piece of fiction, these students would most likely never have read Tap Out. They would never have had the opportunity to learn about how Tony fights through the language and violence and darkness of his world toward something better. He is the embodiment of the maxim: Never give up. What student couldn’t benefit from that message, especially one that emerges from such dire circumstances?

I am certain my novel will be banned, and that makes me angry, but more, it frustrates me. I have trouble grasping how other YA stories that are rife with all the unsavory qualities of contemporary teens are deemed appropriate and Tap Out is not. I think it’s the honesty of the portrayal. Tony and Rob and Charlene and Amy exist. They are not too-quirky characters that you want to date. They are hardcore, rough and tumble and genuine. Their stories have value, even if they’re disturbing. If we as readers, librarians, teachers and writers dismiss a story because it is filled with an unsanitized portrayal of the cast-offs in our society, what are we saying? What are we teaching?

You can’t handle this.

They don’t matter.

I couldn’t disagree more. I know my audience. I wrote this novel for them, because these characters, they do matter. Without certain luxuries of life, we could all be one of them. Or as the saying goes, “There but for the grace…”

So now, everyone who is in my readers’ way, please, step aside.

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Audience

As anyone who is trying to connect with the world knows, audience is key. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, musician, artist, or businessman, it’s all the same. The connection to those people who you believe your “product” is for will make or break you.

I’ve been thinking about this because of recent chatter about the negative vibe between authors and reviewers on Goodreads. I’m not entering that fray. People more knowledgeable than me have already addressed the issue. My takeaway, however, is that somewhere there is a disconnect with the audience. The people who the author wants to read his or her work either are not, or are, and are behaving inappropriately. It’s a sad state of affairs because often a good review can elevate and enough negative can achieve just the opposite.

This, of course, has forced me to think of advertising and marketing and what I know of the “business model”. I am an educator and a writer. I do not hold an MBA, yet I am faced with these principles of business every day. Education is changing towards this end and writing books is a business. Therefore, I must market, I must advertise, I must reach that audience who is everything. But how do I do that? How do I reach the teens who I know will be changed by Tap Out, or whose eyes will be opened, or those who will be able to hand my work to someone and say, “This is my life”? How do I achieve this and at the same time avoid those who will shoot down my work because it’s uncomfortable?

The short answer is that such is an impossibility. The long answer comes from Seth Godin’s blog this morning. I’ve included the image from his post below:

For me, it’s the story I must now build. Not the one I’ve written, but the one around Tap Out. Why does Tap Out matter? How is it different? Why should anyone care? Fortunately, I’m gaining help with this. Below is a review from the School Library Journal that says it all:

DEVINE, ERIC. Tap Out. Running Press Kids, September 2012. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780762445691.

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Gr 8 Up—Tap Out by Eric Devine is the memorable and heartbreaking story of Tony, a boy whose mother has constantly been dating a variety of abusive boyfriends throughout his childhood. Even though he wants the abuse to stop, Tony knows he can’t win a fight between any of them. When Cameron, one of the worst abusers, comes along and gets his mother to start doing drugs again, Tony knows he needs to get rid of him. After agreeing to go to a mixed martial arts class with his best friend, Rob, Tony instantly falls in love with the sport; it helps him relieve his anger at his mother, Cameron, and his terrible living situation in the trailer. When a drug problem arises in the neighboring trailer, Rob and Tony unwillingly become tied in as well. While Tony and Rob both share problems, each deal with their own by themselves. Tap Out deals with social status, teen pregnancy, heartbreak, and drugs, all situations today’s teens might relate to.

Starting with the first page, Devine instantly captures your attention and holds it until the very end. Something is always going on whether it deals with drugs, fighting, or just what the characters want to do with their lives after high school. When I first read about mixed martial arts, I thought it would be a story that only guys could relate to, but after reading it, I realized that both genders can enjoy the novel equally. However, I didn’t like the ending. It was good as far as the plot, but the outcome was terrible. Overall, I thought the storyline, the drama, and the characters were all thoroughly put together. Personally, I’d recommend this book to any of my friends.—Sarah A., age 15

This article originally appeared in School Library Journal‘s enewsletter SLJTeen.

Thank you, Sarah.

To my audience:

I’m here and I’m trying to reach you. I’ll keep trying, I promise.

To those for whom Tap Out is not for:

Please, do me a favor, pass it along to someone for whom it is. Build the story of my work. You have the power.