A perennial question was raised in a continuing education course I took on critically evaluating young adult literature: do boys read less because of all those “girly” books written by women?
I’ll discuss more on that topic in a separate post. But this question, as well as other discussions about gender and sexism in the young adult publishing world, prompted me to do a bit of number-crunching and research. Part of that involved looking at a data set I had access to: the New York Times bestelling list. This isn’t a perfect measure, but the numbers do shed some light on the issue of power, prestige, and sexism in publishing.
I am not the first person to undertake this type of analysis, and I’m indebted to Kelly Jensen for sharing a set of data she began to compile on the 2014 YA NYT bestseller lists. For more background on how the lists breaks down by gender of author, see her post from September 2013.
So, here’s what I found.
These 41 titles appear on the top 10 NYT bestseller list at least once during 2014.
|An Abundance of Katherines||John Green|
|Being a Teen||Jane Fonda|
|Confessions of a Private School Murder||James Patterson, Maxine Paetro|
|Dangerous Creatures||Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl|
|Eleanor and Park||Rainbow Rowell|
|Girl Online||Zoe Sugg|
|Hollow City||Ransom Riggs|
|I’ll Give You the Sun||Jandy Nelson|
|If I Stay||Gayle Forman|
|Independent Study||Joelle Charbonneau|
|Isla and the Happily Ever After||Stephanie Perkins|
|Let it Snow||John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle|
|Looking for Alaska||John Green|
|Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children||Ransom Riggs|
|Paper Towns||John Green|
|Sea of Shadows||Kelley Armstrong|
|Skink No Surrender||Carl Hiassen|
|The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian||Sherman Alexie|
|The Book Thief||Marcus Zusak|
|The Fault in Our Stars||John Green|
|The Ice Dragon||George RR Martin|
|The Impossible Knife of Memory||Laurie Halse Anderson|
|The Infinite Sea||Rick Yancey|
|The Perks of Being a Wallflower||Stephen Chobsky|
|The Program||Suzanne Young|
|The Rule of Thoughts||James Dashner|
|The Selection||Kiera Cass|
|The Treatment||Suzanne Young|
|The Young Elites||Marie Lu|
|Thirteen Reasons Why||Jay Asher|
|This Star Won’t Go Out||Esther Earl|
|Uncaged||John Sanford, Michelle Cook|
|We Were Liars||E. Lockhart|
|Where She Went||Gayle Forman|
|White Hot Kiss||Jennifer Armetrout|
And these additional titles appeared on the extended “also selling” list but never broke into the top 10.
|Dorothy Must Die||Danielle Paige|
|Endgame: The Calling||James Frey|
|It’s Kind of a Funny Story||Ned Vizzini|
|Live Original||Sadie Robertson|
|Popular||Maya Van Wagenen|
|The 100||Kass Morgan|
|The Elite||Kiera Cass|
|The Eye of the Minds||James Dashner|
|The Fifth Wave||Rick Yancey|
|Through the Ever Night||Veronica Rossi|
|To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before||Jenny Han|
|Will Grayson Will Grayson||John Green and David Levithan|
Of the top ten, 21 titles written by women appear on the list, and 18 titles written by men. When looking in the extended list, 10 titles were written by women and 6 by men. So, does this mean women authors in young adult literature are more successful than men? Is the category dominated by women?
Let’s take a closer look.
In addition to the taking a look at the titles on the list, I also looked at the frequency, each week, of men and women on the list.
When looking at averages each week, over 60% of the books are written by men.
In an average week, 6 of the 10 top ten are written by men.
In some weeks, 9 of the slots are occupied by 3 men.
Many books by women authors pop up on the list for a week or two when they debut, then disappear. Dangerous Creatures by Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia, Panic by Lauren Oliver, White Hot Kiss by Jennifer Armetrout, all only make the list for one week, for example.
Many of the books written by women were also nonfiction by “celebrity” authors, like Jane Fonda’s Being a Teen or Live Original by Sadie Robertson. Esther Earl’s memoir This Star Won’t Go Out popularity can be attributed to its association with John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.
There are a number of books written by author teams; I counted each author, but in the male-female author teams, it is always the male author listed first, and it could be argued that the male author is the “selling” author with name recognition.
These numbers don’t tell the whole story of power and prestige in the young adult publishing world. But it interesting to look at the trends. You can see the full data I used here. Feel free to verify it; it’s quite possibly I miscounted one week.
There are a variety of conclusions that can be drawn from this data. To be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be for women authors when I first began looking at each week’s list. But I don’t think anyone can look at these numbers and draw the conclusion that women dominate young adult publishing.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.