Thursday, August 25, 2011

Are Teen Guys Under-Represented in Young Adult Literature?

I've been following the debate over the relative dearth of young adult novels targeted specifically at guys. I blogged about the subject last month. Robert Lipsyte decried a lack of edgy novels targeted to teen guys in the New York Times recently. Saundra Mitchell responded with an excellent list (I'm being self-serving here, given the first title on that list) that includes numerous edgy YA novels featuring male protagonists.

My reaction? I went looking for data. I didn't find much, so I gave some thought to how I might compile some. R.R. Bowker's Books in Print database was a bit daunting (I'm trying to write a blog post, not a dissertation. I'll leave the dissertations to the other, smarter half of my household, thank you very much.) Finally, I hit on the idea of using NetGalley. I classified every book they had listed under "Teens & YA" on 8-26-11. Note this is not very scientific. To keep my own bias to a minimum, I accepted publisher definitions of what constitutes a book for "Teens & YA." (Board books? Really? Shouldn't publishers know the difference between a board book and one teenagers read?) Also, NetGalley is mostly large publishers and lists only recent and forthcoming titles. So it's a rough snapshot of what traditional publishers are pushing for the YA market now. Here's what I found out:

NetGalley Books Under "Teens & YA" on 8/26/11 (n=240)

# Auts # Prots. % Auts % Prots % Teens
Female 161 121 67% 50% 49%
Male 79 55 33% 23% 51%
Non-fiction - 64 - 27% -
Black 3 5 1% 2% 15%
Hispanic 4 4 2% 2% 15%
Asian 2 2 1% 1% 5%

Both male authors and male protagonists were under-represented in this sample. A current YA book on NetGalley is more than twice as likely to be written by a woman and about a female protagonist than by or about a guy.

As I've written before, I don't blame the publishing industry for this. If I were working for a New York publisher, I'd be privileging YA targeted to girls, too. That's what sells.

It's important to put the problem in context. Racial minorities are underrepresented far more severely than guys. Minorities are represented in the teenage population between 6 and 12 TIMES more heavily than authors or books portraying them were in this sample.

What do you think? What can we do to address these problems? Let me know in the comments, please.