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Who is Reading YA Books?

I found some interesting reading on Reddit today in a thread from early 2019 that I thought was worth looking at. It’s very challenging to find actual data on the sex of Young Adult readerships since the publishers don’t seem inclined to share what they have and individual writers can only work with their reader surveys and collective wisdom.

The collective wisdom says boys stop reading at 14 and jump to fiction for adults if they continue to read at all. It’s definitely true that publishers have been following this logic, because at least when it comes to speculative (Scifi/Fantasy) they know what side of the bread to butter…

There is little hard data to base this supposition on, so I will throw in a survey of 2019 YA speculative fiction releases, put together by bloggers using Goodreads categories and upcoming releases.

They work hard to keep it updated, and it’s quite comprehensive, though most of the bloggers are US based. This list is unlikely to grow substantially, as young adult publishers tend to line up their publishing schedules more than a year in advance. The results of this list are below.

There are 207 non-contemporary/speculative teen novels coming in 2019 (fantasy, horror, sci-fi, historical, etc) with identifiable genders of protagonists taken from the information available. 27 books were not included in the survey, as their blurbs were vague on who the POV character was, or had no content yet.

Of the 207 books:

18 have a male protagonist only (8.7%)

172 have a female protagonist only (83.1%)

1 non-binary protagonist only (0.5%)

16 have protagonists of both genders (7.7%)

Male protagonists only written by men: 7 (3.4%) NB: interestingly, 4 of these are gay male protagonists. A straight male protagonist written by a man is (1.4%).

Male protagonists only written by women: 11 (5.3%)

Female protagonists only written by men: 6 (2.9%)

Female protagonists only written by women: 166 (80.2%)

Non-binary protagonists only written by Non-binary authors: 1 (0.5%)

Multiple protagonists including both genders written by women: 13 (6.3%)

Multiple protagonists including both genders written by men: 2 (1%)

Multiple protagonists including both genders written by male and female co-authors: 1 (0.5%)

Including co-authors, the gender breakdown is as follows:

16 male authors (7.4%)

198 female authors (92.1%)

1 non-binary author (0.5%)

If we include the books where gender of the protagonist was unidentifiable, the numbers are roughly the same:

18 male authors (7.6%)

217 female authors (91.9%)

1 non-binary author (0.4%)

We must also keep in mind here that there is evidence that picture books and younger middlegrade skew heavily towards male characters, and that’s something that we should definitely work on correcting. It’s unfair that young girls don’t see themselves represented in the books they see on the shelves. It’s arguable the same point could be made for teenage boys.

Source

Interesting stuff, especially considering how YA writers, who in this sample are 92% female and writing stories where 83% of the protagonists are female (90% if you include dual protagonists of both genders) are usually the first to herald the cry for “diversity.” Yet they’re writing some of the most un-diverse fiction in terms of gender outside of romance novels (which are likely around 99% female lead).

Not that I can blame them. Publishers go where the money is, and if the ones paying the money are young women who want to see themselves in the books they read and relate better to female characters, then that’s what they’ll publish. So, they actively avoid male protagonists unless the book is really good and has crossover appeal (or is for a gay male audience).

Writer Steven Kelliher had this to say in the thread…

I don’t typically post about this topic because the downvotes are unreal, but I know several authors in the YA traditional published community, and the statistics of male protagonists accepted by YA publishers are INSANELY low relative to the content that is submitted.

Now, many assume that stories with male protagonists simply are not pitched to YA publishers. This could not be further from the truth. Many, many male and female authors submit manuscripts with male protagonists, and they are rejected because the publishers feel that they will not sell to the targeted demographic for YA fantasy.

YA fantasy should be much more inclusive than it is. You can argue the same thing about Epic Fantasy in terms of male protags and male authors, so it’s fair to say the reverse is true in the YA genre. I think it’s something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, where YA publishers largely publish books by female authors (and many, many female pen names) and featuring female protagonists because that’s what sells … but it’s also because that’s largely all they publish.

So, is there a market for male YA fiction? I think so, but most of the audience is online and that’s where it will need to be published. It’s “niche” material that will work best as ebooks and online serials, and not so well as traditionally published work due to the smaller audience.

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