The Neiko Saga: The Big Bang Theory Humor Meets Fast-Paced Fantasy Adventures
Today’s post came as a result of testing some things recently as well as others in the past in the ever present experimentation of this thing called ‘marketing’. There is a clear divide about where the Neiko Saga books do well with readers and where they do not. And that’s okay. Not everyone is going to like it, but I can say I have been successful at hitting the sweet spot with my target audience who are older kids, tweens, and teens and with the reviewers who genuinely review books for these audiences. I have picked up a couple awards and quite a few great reviews (which are for the target audience and for the parents of that audience). So, I count that as success, because success is where you find it. In this post I am going to discuss some other observations about society in general in regards to the show and the Neiko Saga in a observational and satirical observation about why soceity ‘says things have to be this way.
With adults, on the other hand, not so much on the success. These books were never intended for adults, so they are NOT the target audience. It’s important for any author to know who their target audience is. The only adults that seem enjoy them are the young at heart or reviewers that review books for children/teens who regard them and their tastes in the review–most reviewers are adults; there are very trace amounts of kid/teen book bloggers. No teen reviewers are professional reviewers that I am aware of. This causes a kind of hit and miss conundrum which is to be expected since adults don’t always have the target audience in mind when giving an opinion (reviews are simply that, an opinion not fact), and they are entitled to their opinion, and there are all types out there. For those that don’t have anything to offer the target audience or their parents with anything of import or anywhere I can improve as a writer, I just disregard and move on. For most of the few bad reviews I have gotten (every writer gets them), not being for the target audience has been the majority of the cases for an adult who is of the “not-so-young-at-heart.”
Reviews are for readers and not really for authors except where improvements as a writer can be made. It’s not really about us. I have seen reviews state something negative about something for an author’s target audience that they saw may be disturbing or unsuitable for that audience that a parent may want to note. That is what a reviewer should do. I have also seen that an author put a book in a book in an adult category and a reviewer may say “may be more suitable for teens” in which case the author didn’t write for the right audience or put it in the wrong category, so the author missed the mark and may need to fix the category or make a adjustments. The door swings both ways. This is how reviewers help authors.
What are authors to do in this case where something negative is said that isn’t for the target audience in mind? Ignore it and move on. But I was able to get a post out of it so it was a win for me in a different way as well as finding out that they resonate with the target audience. This disconnection mostly seems to happen for books for middle graders, tweens, teens, and younger young adult books with adults who pick them up (giveaway, free/discount promotion, or review site) who also expect them to also be for adults–I don’t know how that assumption is made, but it happens quite a bit. The opposing ends of the spectrum for children’s books and adult books don’t seem to have this issue. Books for 5-year-olds are going to be reviewed by an adult reviewer since a 5 year old isn’t going to have a book blog or be a professional reviewer. A parent may be the reviewer in this case in saying that their kid loved the book and wrote the review for his/her child for the other parents out there. This is why readers need reviews from other readers like this.
I’ll reiterate my Dr. Pepper 10 version slogan for this series: It’s not for grownups. It’s for a PG to PG-13 audience and for ages 10-17. NA-17+ (not for adults over 17) unless they are young at heart. Okay, maybe I am making a satirical play on the traditional rating system, but it is proving my point. I felt the need to put a note on my Amazon page by stating who the target audience is and “It is not intended for mature audiences” even though it is in the teen and young adult category with the age and grade range on the Amazon page since there is this assumed caveat that teen and YA books should also be for adults as well. If they’re not, then they are considered “bad” without regards to imaginative or writing quality; the whole thing is simply panned altogether. So, basically, if you are looking for a grownup read, please go somewhere else. There are plenty of YA books who are for the upper end of the YA category and NA (new adult) age group.
Heck, I wasn’t an adult when I started writing this series, and sometimes people use the phrase, “Must have been written by a teenager,” as an insult to the adult author (not on my books, but others); I find this to mean that teen writers are not taken seriously and are bad writers regardless if the books are professionally edited and designed and should be treated with scorn, and it is insulting to the literary elite that books are written by young writers and sometimes published independently like they say, “OMG, what is this world coming to if teenagers can write and publish books, and it not be for us adults?”. Whether or not that is the intended case, I hear the tone and actions speak louder than words. There seems to be a bit of a slight against young writers and readers in the industry that I hadn’t noticed before until venturing out a bit. Are teenagers expected to write like an adult and not from a teenager’s vantage point and tastes? Wouldn’t it be like a teen writing for their teen friends and their younger brother or sister be the point here (that was my vantage point, but I had never intended on publishing or sharing with anyone, but I wrote it as a teen since I WAS a teen; I was talked into sharing). I have also noticed it in author groups and collectives that writers for young readers are left out and pushed to the sidelines as I was a recipient and was out on the periphery with a couple other MG/YA writers and we had a discussion. If you’re/were a teen writer and your book was written by you at that age, you are a freak and your book is not literature. Most marketing plans and ideals seem to cater to books for adults which put authors for young readers/young writers at a disadvantage. The ones who have been successful thus far has found for them something that works–probably by McGyvering like I am having to do and work with things the best I can and disregard the slight and the barbs that don’t cater to my ideal readers. Or they catch the favor with adults so the adults get it, too, but that is for the books for 17 and up in most cases or if the 14 year old acts like they are 25-30.
I don’t take it personally, but I do find it a bit disturbing these attitudes and ideals. I am 100% sure, because one of my day jobs allows me to read a lot of reviews on Amazon on other authors’ works to see and experience the slight for others as well in addition to my own experimentation and experiences. This has been six years of study and experimentation, BTW.
The first book Neiko’s Five Land Adventure I wrote at 16. Book 2 Escape from Ancient Egypt I wrote at 17. Even though the stories were more fleshed out during editing, everything else (plot, characters) is the same as it was then. They aren’t perfect (what teen written book is?), but I made them as much as they could be but still preserving the teen feel to the story. Oh, how I have grown as a writer since then, but I still maintain my vision as a teen since that is the audience after all.
So what are the adults complaining about? So why are some books for young readers/written by teen writers given a black eye? Why the connection to the popular show The Big Bang Theory for my own stories?
The adults seem to complain about some of the things the characters do that seem “immature” to them. Granted. They are entitled to their opinion. They also seem to complain about some of the language that may seem a bit “childish” to them–well I do want it to be safe for a kid to read, if they choose to since part of my target audience is in the older kids (upper MG) area. I was in 4th grade and read books for teens, so I know perfectly well that some kids read teen books if they can handle the content. Maybe they felt it childish that the characters didn’t cuss? Is cussing more “grown up”? This can also be said about kid/teen TV shows and movies as well.
Neiko and her group of friends are nerds at heart. They do things together that are a lot like the group of friends on the Big Bang Theory, maybe just leave out the sex and sexual innuendos. Think of a more kid friendly version of the show if you will with just the nerdy and sciency stuff and the snark and humor. Of course, the more mature/adult thing is to have the characters go into heat and be more sexually active than just hang out and play a video game and watch a movie.
Also, some adults seem to gripe about the pranks that Neiko and her friends do on others including enemies and that is “so immature”. I’m sure everyone knows an adult prankster somewhere or at some in time or another. Heck, my grandfather was in his 60s and 70s and still played pranks and told jokes. The Big Bang Theory lot also play pranks on each other and their rivals. So really, don’t real people of all ages and professions do this? Unless you have no sense of humor, yes. I also know on kids’ and teen shows that pranks are a big part of the humor no matter the profession or aptitude of the character(s) or the genre. Warriors can be pranksters and comedians, too. Life is not all about sticking a spear/sword in it or hitting something with a tomahawk all the time for everybody all the time. Puns and jokes with the pranks adds more fun, too.
Neiko is the youngest of her comrades. She is a little more naive when it comes to some areas of romance at the start of the series. In the war-torn land of Hawote she sacrificed her childhood for fighting so she holds onto it as long as she can in her late teens and early 20s (I discuss this in Book #1). She learned fighting at the age of 8, so she didn’t have a whole lot of time for romance. She spits in the face of societal norms when she’s going to do what she’s going to do; she’s stubborn and bullheaded, and she will not be forced to do something she doesn’t want to do without a fight. Just what kind of an effect does losing one’s childhood have on someone? I’ve seen different effects on different folks, and refusing to grow up is the most benign of them all.
Just like our friends at the Big Bang Theory are scientists and were bullied a lot growing up, they escape by playing and collecting action figures, games, movies, and comic books. Does that make them less brilliant as scientists? Is maturity the same thing as intelligence or skill at a profession? Does everyone deal with the pressures of every day life the same way? Can’t people do things of this nature outside of the profession, which is in Neiko and her friends’ case, warriors? The nerds on the Big Bang Theory enjoy their games outside of the lab, so Neiko and her friends do this off the battlefield. Some comments by adults beg to differ. I guess Sheldon can’t have 4 PhD’s and still enjoy Star Trek and vintage video games, action figures, and comic books and still be taken seriously as a genius according to adult standards, and that’s what I have basically been told on my work as well by said adults. I know of college age people (I was one when I wasn’t studying or working) who do this kind of thing, and the first two books of the series and the two prequels will follow Neiko from childhood until she becomes 24 forever because something happens to her.
Now profession and race have nothing to with this scenario. Neiko and her friends deal with people a lot worse than school bullies even though they may have dealt with them, too during their time at school or elsewhere. They have their nerdy fun off the battlefield like I mentioned earlier. Does this make them less of warriors? They have wit and snark in the heat of a battle; Neiko uses her snark to get into the skin of her opponent which makes them attack in anger in a lot of cases. She is defiant and is not afraid to show it no matter where–or when–she might find herself. It also doesn’t matter if it’s an immortal evil, a dominant historical figure, or a familiar enemy, Neiko will make a wisecrack or turn a phrase. I would also like to add that Native Americans like scifi and fantasy just like any other person–I know this because I met a Native man online who liked Final Fantasy, Star Wars, and Star Trek just as much as I or anyone else I knew. Natives don’t live like the Amish and stay trapped in the 1800’s. The ones in the story hide their lives so they look just like another teenager to the outside world. That was the whole point and it protects their heritage even though some things inadvertently blend in just like with real Native Americans especially those who venture off the res. Neiko and her friends have access to the same wonderful things as any other teen/twenty-something.
Neiko and her friends are teens and twenty-somethings of the ’90s and 2000’s–the same age I was when I started writing the books when I was 16 (in 1996-97) which was about a decade before the show came out in 2007, so you can plainly see this connection wasn’t planned when I sat to write for the first time. In some ways the very geeky things in these books and the popular show were very real things in my life. I didn’t want to let go of my childhood; I still don’t. Being a grownup is overrated. I want my childhood back. I am a kid at heart, and nobody is going to take that away from me. People will look down their nose at me and judge me, but that’s fine; they always have for other things as well besides that, so I am used to it, but it does still get very annoying.
Even though I and the characters in the Big Bang Theory don’t have as awesome of lives as Neiko and her friends, I have some things in common with the nerds on the show. I played games and action figures to deal with bullying and PTSD, so I could escape a painful reality (I will write more about this on another post). I love science. Not everyone deals with PTSD the same way as others. Just because I escape in imaginary worlds and video games doesn’t make me less of a person or less intelligent, so why say that about an imaginary person who is based on real people? Yes they do exist.
Some of Neiko’s naivete in some romance situations mirrors those of the nerds on the show, especially Sheldon. She gets the basic idea–a little more adept than Sheldon, but she usually isn’t looking for it. I was the same way, and I sometimes still am. She didn’t have a lot of time to focus on romance on the battlefield except when it is directly in her face and a motive of the opposing force. She gets a major crash course in her predicament with Ramesses II, and wises up real quick, and she finds out something else in Book #3 of why she seems to find herself in these kinds of situations.
Adults have a tendency to believe that people of a certain age should ALWAYS act the same way. They should ALL conform like nice little soldiers or suffer the consequences. “Real people at X age don’t act like that.” Really? How do you know? How do you know what goes on behind closed doors? There are real people from the teens, twenty-somethings, and sometimes thirty-somethings that do. I know quite a few people–and I am one myself–that don’t conform to what is “normal” or “accepted” by the societal police. I suppose now they will give me a ticket. People in these latter generations seem to hold onto their video games and comic books longer than they did in the elder ones. There have been outliers in all generations who didn’t conform to “growing up”. Of course, they were always looked down on even if they succeeded at something.
Does anyone know of someone who is successful at something but still enjoys video games, role-playing, Com-icon, comic books, D&D, etc as opposed to playing golf, getting hosed on the weekend, or hitting the night club? Action figures and video games can be enjoyed off the battlefield as well just like the lab or the other day job or instead of golf or the wild party.
Here is another scenario to consider: the midlife crisis. In case anyone didn’t know that is when a 40-50-year-old is going on 15-20. They revert back to their teen or twenties. Is it because they were forced to grow up too fast? It doesn’t look the same for everyone. So, why is holding onto one’s childhood looked down on when having the midlife crisis is more “acceptable”? Wouldn’t allowing those who choose to not grow up until they’re ready maybe prevent a midlife crisis? Why can’t people–real or imagined–be themselves? All my life I have never been free to be myself without naysayers putting me down either, so I suppose it’s natural that my imagined characters can’t either by the same naysayers. Just like in real life, not everyone will agree with what someone is doing or the choices they make, and that’s okay. Case in point, not everyone likes the Big Bang Theory TV show, but I love it. Seems like people should be able to be themselves, but society wants us all to go into the cattle chute. If a cow get’s rowdy they are tried to be roped and prodded into submission. In society the rope and cattle prod are mean-spirited criticism and bullying.
Neiko still matures some over the arc of the series because her adventures and enemies apply the pressure. She lays down her action figures because the worlds she imagined are real and can have real adventures there. However, Neiko and her friends still have game night, movie night, Friday pizza, and the arcade when there isn’t a battle going on. If the nerds were beamed upon the Enterprise or teleported to the Star Wars Galaxy or the realm of Dungeons and Dragons after work on real adventures, would they decide to put some things down? Absolutely. That’s what happens to Neiko and her friends become immerse in that world as well later on. But adults find that to be unacceptable behavior.
I have also noticed that tongue-in-cheek humor (or any humor), wit, snark, and satire are oftentimes misinterpreted or taken the wrong way or just simply slammed as being “immaturity”on an author or character’s part. Have this done for kids or teens, and the baby gets thrown out with the bath water. It almost seems that in adult audiences that there is “no humor or immaturity beyond this point”. Adults also seem to forget what it’s like to be a kid or a teen, and they put limits on imagination for the sake of realism–I wrote a whole post about adults and their limits and rules, so that why I don’t write stories for them. Sure, make the fantasy world “real” for the kid by giving them the rules of the game, because if they don’t get it, they won’t play. Grownups won’t play because it’s “childish” or “stupid” or “what will other people think?”
Having some immaturity in the characters for older kids, teens, and the younger end of the YA spectrum gives them room to grow in the story/series and makes them relatable to that audience because that is all part of being a kid/teen. Why do ALL teen and 20-somethings have to act like they’re 30? What is making them too young even mean? Too young for a grownup to stand? Immaturity is like nails on a chalkboard for some adults? If that is the way the character is truly made to be mature early in life, that’s fine, but don’t dookie on ones who may not be, because not all teens and young adults are created equal in the maturity department. Not everyone at those ages are at the same maturity level in every area. If they act too mature, then it’s a no go for a kid reader, or they may not relate. Is Southpark or Beavis and Butthead or the Simpsons kid/teen friendly because it’s a cartoon and the characters are more mature and liked by adults better than Scooby Doo? Of course the rhetorical answer is obvious, but this is almost what seems to be expected by the not-so-young-at-heart, so how does that make sense? Or, are kids and teens to be expected to sit up nice and straight with their hands together on their laps, face the front, and don’t smile or laugh because immaturity is not tolerated, and you must be an adult even when you read stuff. If you authors or movie producers put anything immature in your material, then you will suffer the consequences. Are the not-so-young-at-heart critics like being sent to the principal’s office to face the strict schoolmaster with a ruler just ready to thwack the author or producer in the head for acting up by adding in some immature content for the kids and teens? Bad and unacceptable behavior in that will not be tolerated, so you are now in detention! I read movie and book reviews from time to time so I see this a lot.
Who has watched TV shows and movies for kids and teens? Aren’t they worlds away from adult ones? Wouldn’t the producer find it a compliment if a show for teens or kids was called “childish” by a not-so-young-at-heart critic? So wouldn’t it be the same for books? Well, my film/book is for kids, so of course it’s childish. I didn’t make for adults, did I?
I may be 36 at the time of this writing, but I am still in touch with my inner child, and she’s alive and well. If you write for kids and teens, you must be in touch with your inner child unless you want to write for the audiences over 17, but there is another world under the age of 17 and that’s the place I’m at home.
At the beginning of it’s run, the Big Bang Theory received mixed reviews because of the exact same elements that I have written about because of the young-at-heart VS the not-so-young-at-heart cleaved it down the center until the viewers voted by watching the show and telling their friends about it. That, my friends, are the people who really matter. Sure, the book and film industry dictate we have to give a pass at the critics, but in the end it’s the regular every-day folks who make something successful. I can think of many examples of movies, TV shows, and other books that the critics rip to tiny shreds because of something that is “immature and won’t be tolerated”, but the public said something different and blew up the box office. After the public made the show popular (the regular folks are really who make or break anything) some of the dissenting critics from the not-so-young-at-heart crowd warmed up to the show–maybe, but they may still have had some inaudible grumbling along the way.
About the Author
AK Taylor is an award winning YA author who has been writing novels since age 16. Beekeeper, outdoor sportsman, avid adventurer, and animal lover. Taylor lives in the backwoods of Middle GA where she continues to write stories.