I have numbers! Stats on LGBT Young Adult Books Published in the U.S. - Updated 9/15/11

On Monday I noted that in light of this post from two authors who were asked by an agent to de-gay their book, I was planning to do some statistics wrangling and see if I could quantify some of what's happening in LGBT YA publishing. Apparently my latent economics major is raring to go (or else I just really want to procrastinate, which is a distinct possibility), because I spent last night making pie charts. To get my data, I used this bibliography of LGBT YA compiled by librarian/researcher Christine Jenkins, which lists books published in English from 1969-2009. I supplemented that bibliography with information for 2009-2011 kindly given to me by researcher Michael Cart, who specializes in LGBT children's and YA books. Mr. Cart's data for 2011 was incomplete because the year isn't finished yet, but because I've been keeping track of LGBT YA novels for Diversity in YA, I topped off the list with a number of books I know have been published or will be published this year. ((After I compiled all these lists together, I sorted through it to identify trends/gaps. The bibliographies provided by Ms. Jenkins and Mr. Cart feature LGBT characters as main characters, as supporting characters, as parents, and sometimes they feature LGBT issues as a backstory. But I noticed when going through the original 1969-2009 bibliography that it omitted several major fantasy series that include LGBT secondary characters. I think this is because LGBT characters have only recently appeared in genre YA. In the past, they only appeared in realistic "problem novels." Since the bibliographies already included books with secondary LGBT characters, I went ahead and added in those major series, as well as a few contemporary YA novels from the past few years that I've read and know contain secondary lesbian characters, but were omitted from the original bibliographies. Finally, when I went through the books from 2000-2011 to determine the percentage of books with boy vs. girl main characters, I removed the few middle-grade books and books published by non-American publishers that I found.))

The ultimate list of 371 titles is, therefore, as accurate as I could make it. I'm sure I missed some titles, but hopefully not too many.

The data showed that from 1969 to 2011, the number of LGBT YA novels has risen somewhat steadily, with a few dips in various years.

The most notable recent dip occurred in 2010, in which only 11 LGBT YA titles were published, compared to 36 in 2009 and 25 in 2011. This might be a reflection of the economy, which crashed in 2008, and most publishers shrank their lists in 2009. It's nice to see, however, that the trend continues upward once again this year.

Then I took a closer look at LGBT YA published from 2000 to 2011, first splitting it up by publisher.

The category "Other Publishers" includes independent presses like Foglight Press and Alyson, as well as medium-sized publishing houses such as Disney Hyperion, Bloomsbury/Walker, Amulet, Candlewick, and Flux.

When the number of books published from 2000-2011 are added up, this is the distribution of LGBT YA among American publishers:

As you can see, 30% of LGBT YA is published by non-big 6 publishers, with Simon & Schuster leading the pack of the big 6. However, this data doesn't conclusively prove that S&S is the the most gay-friendly publisher, because it doesn't take into account the percentage of LGBT YA published by a publisher in relation to the total number of YA titles published by that publisher.

For example, let's say a hypothetical Big Publishing House published 300 YA titles in 2010. If only 5 of those YA titles were LGBT-inclusive, that amounts to 1.6% of its entire YA list. On the other hand, if Medium Publishing House published 150 YA titles in 2010, and 5 of those titles are LGBT-inclusive, that's 3.3%. If I had about a zillion more hours, I'd try to figure out the proportion of LGBT YA published by each of the major publishers in order to get a more accurate picture of how gay-friendly they are. ((I'll note here that I'm published by Little, Brown, which in 2011 has published 4 LGBT YA titles, three of which are about girls, and one which is about an FTM trans boy.))

I was also very interested in seeing the proportion of LGBT YA books that focused on boys, girls, and trans characters. The common wisdom is that books about gay boys vastly outnumber those about gay girls, and the numbers prove this:

I also discovered that a number of LGBT YA books weren't actually about an LGBT teen, but rather were about a straight teen and his LGBT parents or adult guardians.

Adding the 2000-2011 YA titles together and splitting it out by gender brings us this handy pie chart:

This shows us that 50% of LGBT YA books are about boys, with only 25% about girls. I find this extremely depressing, especially considering the predominant readership of YA is female.

Even more depressing is the fact that only 4% of LGBT YA books are about transgender or genderqueer characters. The only light at the end of the tunnel about this statistic is that since 2007, every year has seen publication of at least one trans/genderqueer title, and in 2011 we have three (including one book that includes both trans and lesbian characters).

Finally, according to Harold Underdown's YA Books Are Booming--but not That Much, there were approximately 4,000 YA titles published in 2010. That same year, only 11 LGBT YA titles were published. That amounts to 0.2% of YA books. That fraction is frankly too small to make a pie chart out of.

The numbers aren't much better for this year. If we assume no growth and stick with 4,000 YA titles, we have 25 LGBT YA titles within that, which amounts to 0.6%. That means:

Less than 1% of YA novels have LGBT characters.

My takeaways from this number crunching are:

  1. I often hear people saying that publishers aren't willing to publish LGBT YA, or that each publisher only publishes one LGBT YA per year. This, statistically, isn't true. Every one of the big 6 publishers (and plenty of smaller ones) publish LGBT YA titles, and several of them do publish more than one per year.
  2. However, the proportion of LGBT YA to non-LGBT YA is so tiny as to be laughable.
  3. The good news is, the numbers have continued to increase over time, and other than the dip in 2010, the increase has sped up since 2000.
  4. The bad news is, the G in LGBT far outpaces L, B, or T.

I think, overall, it's a two steps forward, one step back kind of situation. And I think that true growth in the number of LGBT YA novels will only come through active effort on the part of agents, editors, and publishers, to seek out and acquire LGBT YA novels. ((Some people will see that negatively as affirmative action or quotas, which is also disheartening because that misunderstands the purpose of affirmative action entirely.)) I know that change happens one person at a time, but simultaneously, it's hard to not be discouraged by the stats.

Updated 9/15/11:

Several people have asked me to share the bibliography of books I used to make these lovely pie charts. The bibliography for books from 1969-2008 is available online here at Christine Jenkins' site. For 2009-2011, Michael Cart shared his list of books with me, and then I supplemented it with my own list. I combined our lists into this handy PDF of 2009-2011 LGBTQ YA titles that you can download.

I can guarantee you that this list of probably not complete. Someone on Twitter yesterday told me I'd omitted the Pretty Little Liars series, and after reading her tweet I realized I'd also omitted the Gossip Girl series. This is true! My question is: Does every book in those series count? Do they all contain LGBTQ main or secondary characters? Also, sadly I should note that even if I double the number of titles on the list, the total percentage of LGBTQ YA will still only be approximately 1% of all YA books.