An Analysis of the 2014 Young Adult New York Times Bestseller Lists by Gender of Author

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.

Alliance Mark Frost
An Abundance of Katherines John Green
Asylum Madeline Roux
Atlantia Ally Condie
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
Panic Lauren Oliver
Paper Towns John Green
Sea of Shadows Kelley Armstrong
Skink No Surrender Carl Hiassen
Steelheart Brandon Sanderson
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
Unbroken Laura Hildenbrand
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.

Afterworlds Scott Westerfeld
Dorothy Must Die Danielle Paige
Endgame: The Calling James Frey
Fangirl Rainbow Rowell
It’s Kind of a Funny Story Ned Vizzini
Live Original Sadie Robertson
Popular Maya Van Wagenen
Rumble Ellen Hopkins
Teardrop Lauren Kate
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.

2014 YA new york times bestsellers analysis

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.

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8 thoughts on “An Analysis of the 2014 Young Adult New York Times Bestseller Lists by Gender of Author

  1. I think it may just be a function of John Green’s current popularity skewing the list. Maybe a few years ago, writers like Suzanne Collins, Ally Condie and Veronica Roth would have dominated the lists and it would have shown more of a female bias.

    1. I’d encourage you to look at the linked post Kelly Jensen did at Stacked, and note how the NYT changed the way the series list was handled at the time. There’s no doubt that John Green is omnipresent — but I don’t think he is the only explanation for this phenomenon.

  2. In my experience, a select few male YA authors make up the bulk of the male representation (John Green, David Levithan, Antony Horowitz, Robert Muchamore etc. ) where as there are a lot more female authors who have 1 or 2 books which do reasonably well (Holly Black, E. Lockhart, Jenny Han, Annabelle Pitcher, Jenny Downham, Jenny McLachlan etc.). So, there are more women writing YA, I think, but for some reason their books are not becoming – on the whole – as successful as the books written by men (proportionally, I mean). Maybe this is because boys have been taught not to read books by women, or maybe men are writing better books (I doubt this – it’s more likely that men are writing long series of books with big followings e.g. Rick Riordan, Michael Grant, Horowitz, Muchamore etc.). That’s not to say women aren’t writing series or even popular series, but there are very few men who are writing stand-alone titles compared to the number of women writing stand-alones and I think that could explain the skew of the data you’ve looked at in this post.

    As always, this topic needs a lot more thought. I might have a go at getting my thoughts down in more detail in a future post!

    1. But how do you quantify “your experience”?

      Where is the evidence that there are more women writing YA? (It may be true, but right now it’s just “a feeling.”)

      I admit I’m only looking at a small piece of data of a much wider picture, and agree it needs more thought (and actual investigation, not just people writing about their assumptions).

      1. Admittedly there are many people with a lot more experience than myself, but as a YA reader and as someone who works in/runs the children’s section in a bookshop, I think I have some grounds for an opinion. I admit that I can only go off of what I see on a daily basis and when I look at our shelves there are (roughly – I haven’t counted exactly) more stand alone novels written by women than stand alone novels written by men. That may not be the case across all bookshops or even at all times. That’s just my general impression on sight.

        Whether that is an accurate representation YA at the moment I don’t know. That’s why I suggested this needs more thought – by this I meant finding actual evidence and statistics to back up opinions – unfortunately I didn’t have the time to investigate further when commenting, but it’s definitely something I intend to address in a future blog post when I have the time to do the research properly.

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