2012 LGBT YA by the numbers

During the course of my YA Pride series, I've been keeping track of the number of LGBT YA books being published in 2012. The year isn't over yet, but given the long lead time of most publishing I think I have a mostly accurate list of 2012 LGBT YA. I might be missing a few, but I think I've got most of them. I've been posting these lists every Friday this month, and though the last list doesn't post until June 29, I have a handy spreadsheet behind the scenes, which has enabled me to do a little number crunching in order to put these titles into perspective. First off, some basics:

  • 55 young adult books published in 2012 include LGBT main characters or are about LGBT people

  • 11 of those 55 books are anthologies or short story collections that include one or more essays/short stories about LGBT main characters

  • 44 of those 55 books are novels about LGBT main characters or about characters dealing with LGBT issues

Among this sample of 55 books, I was interested in a few different things that I thought would be best illustrated with … pie charts!

Who is publishing LGBT YA in 2012?



I divided the publishers into three categories as specified above. The Big 6 publishers are conglomerates that include many different imprints, and the "mainstream" publishers range in size. If you want more detail, here's the breakdown of the publishers in each category:

  • Big 6: Balzer & Bray (HarperCollins), Delacorte (Random House) HarperTeen (HarperCollins), Henry Holt (Macmillan), Knopf (Random House), Little, Brown (Hachette), Margaret K. McElderry (Simon & Schuster) Random House, Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster), Viking (Penguin)

  • LGBT: Bella Books, Bold Strokes Books, Harmony Ink Press, Lethe Press, Queerteen Press, Tiny Satchel

  • Mainstream: Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic), Arsenal Pulp, Bloomsbury, Candlewick, Chronicle, Flux, Hyperion, K-Teen (Kensington), Kensington, Marshall Cavendish, Orca, Running Press Kids, Scholastic, Tu Books, Walker & Company

As you can see, LGBT publishers publish 37% of the LGBT YA released in 2012. I've gotten the impression that this is a relatively new phenomenon. I don't believe LGBT publishers used to publish much YA fiction, but it seems like they're getting into the market now. I'm guessing this is because in the past, the LGBT market was predominantly adults, but now people are increasingly coming out as teens (and younger).


I was also interested in tracking whether the 2012 LGBT YA novels featured male, female, or transgender main characters. Gender is always a complicated thing to quantify, and I recognize that the categories I'm using here are imperfect. The chart is divided into "Male," "Female," and "Transgender" characters, with further explanations noted in the legend.



A few more gender notes:

  • For those who aren't familiar with the term, "cisgender" is a word that describes people who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth (Source: Basic Rights Oregon).

  • The words "male" and "female" indicate biological sex, not gender.

  • According to HRC, "transgender" is a term that describes "A broad range of people who experience and/or express their gender differently from what most people expect — either in terms of expressing a gender that does not match the sex listed on their original birth certificate (i.e., designated sex at birth), or physically changing their sex."

I was heartened to see that this year, for the first time in basically ever, the number of books about female characters was essentially on par with the number of books about male characters. Yay!

Several of the 19% of books that include multiple male, female, and/or trans characters are actually short story anthologies. The fact that so many short story anthologies this year include LGBT characters is also great. I have no proof, but I think this is partially a result of the de-gaying issues that arose last year around a Running Press anthology. Two of the anthologies with LGBT YA content being published this year are from Running Press, and both of those (Brave New Love edited by Paula Guran and Willful Impropriety edited by Ekaterina Sedia) have multiple stories with LGBT YA characters.


Something I noticed as I was compiling my 2012 list of LGBT YA was the low number of genre books being published — that is, fantasy, science fiction, and historical. So of course I made a little chart:



Some notes:

  • Two of the titles within the 70% of books that I categorized as "contemporary" are technically sort of historical: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth, which takes place around 1990, and Gone Gone Gone by Hannah Moskowitz, which takes place in 2002. However, I think that when most readers think "historical" they think of something at least 30 or 40 years in the past, so I categorized them as "contemporary."

  • Within the science fiction category, one book, Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand, falls more into a speculative fiction feel. The book takes place in both 1978 and 1870, but also apparently involves some kind of time-blurring that allows a kind of time travel. That's why I put it in science fiction, but it's certainly hard to categorize.

  • Finally, the one book that comprises the "historical" category is Willful Impropriety edited by Ekaterina Sedia, which is an anthology of stories set in Victorian England. Some of those stories contain fantastical elements, but because this was basically the only book that truly felt like a "historical," I put it in "historical" rather than "fantasy."

Overall, I think my main conclusion here is that I'd love to see a lot more genre in LGBT YA! Thirty percent isn't too shabby, but as a genre reader I personally am starving for more genre fiction with LGBT main characters. More please!

Cover Copy

While I put together the 2012 lists, I read a lot of cover copy in order to figure out if books included LGBT main characters. It's kind of hard to depict LGBT characters in cover images without being extremely stereotypical, so the best way to get across the fact that a book is about an LGBT character is to say so in the cover copy. However, that does not always happen.



Some further details:

  • "Yes" means the cover copy clearly uses the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, or indicates in other ways a romantic pairing that is same-sex.

  • "No" means the cover copy completely avoids any words indicating the book is about an LGBT character.

  • "Maybe" means the cover copy uses phrasing to hint that there might be an LGBT character in the book.

Out of the 55 books, 35 of them had clear cover copy that indicated YES, this is a book with LGBT characters. So that's a clear majority; only 18 had "No" or "Maybe" cover copy. But it gets really interesting when you take a look at which publishers are putting out "Yes" vs "No" or "Maybe" cover copy.

All the LGBT publishers had cover copy that clearly indicated a book had LGBT characters. That's probably not surprising; these are publishers who only publish LGBT books and they don't want to hide that fact. They're selling directly to a market who wants LGBT books.

But among Big 6 and mainstream publishers, the "Yes" and "No"/"Maybe" cover copy is pretty evenly divided. Half the books published by Big 6 and mainstream publishers have clear, "Yes" cover copy, but half of them are either "No" or "Maybe." I don't know why this is the case, but I'm guessing it's because there's a perception that a book might garner a wider audience if the cover copy doesn't fully reveal the LGBT content.

I've been reading cover copy and writing about LGBT stuff for a long time, so I'm kind of used to scrutinizing coded phrases like "a secret is revealed" and "her life goes in a totally new direction after meeting this girl" for gay content. There are other ways to indicate LGBT content, too. For example, a blurb from an author who has written LGBT YA before can hint that a book is also about LGBT characters. But I tried to categorize books into "Yes," "No," and "Maybe" based on the assumption that a reader is coming to the book totally cold — in the bookstore or online, picking it up and reading the cover copy.

The three books I thought fell into the "Maybe" category were:

1. Kiss the Morning Star by Elissa Janine Hoole (Marshall Cavendish)

When Anna sets out on a post high school road trip toward an unknown destination with best friend Kat, she thinks she's prepared for everything. Clipboard in hand, she checks off her lists: Set up tent. Study maps. Avoid bears. Feelings are not on any list. For the past year - ever since her mother's sudden death - Anna has shut down her emotions and shut out the people who love her most.

Kat is a different story. Clutching a well-worn copy of Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, she radiates enthusiasm. Maybe, she thinks, this road trip will shake Anna back to life. Zigzaging across the Northwest, the girls encounter fellow travelers of all kinds. But throughout their journey, one question haunts Anna. It begins like a gentle rain and then becomes a raging storm: What place does Kat have in my life? Are we good friends? Or something more.

The coded phrase here is obviously: "Are we good friends? Or something more." Is that enough to get you to think gay?

2. Happy Families by Tanita S. Davis (Knopf)

Teenage twins Ysabel and Justin Nicholas are lucky. Ysabel's jewelry designs have already caught the eyes of the art world and Justin's intelligence and drive are sure to gain him entrance into the most prestigious of colleges. They even like their parents. But their father has a secret-one that threatens to destroy the twins' happy family and life as they know it.

Over the course of spring break, Ysabel and Justin will be forced to come to terms with their dad's new life, but can they overcome their fears to piece together their happy family again?

The coded phrase here is "their father has a secret—one that threatens to destroy the twins' happy family life." Would you get that this means their father is transgender?

3. Adaptation by Malinda Lo

Yes, I'm putting my own book in this category. You can read the cover copy here. I was very much involved in writing the cover copy, and I purposely put in two sentences that I felt indicated a potential for LGBT content:

Reese and her debate team partner and longtime crush David are in Arizona when it happens. ...

When Reese unexpectedly collides with the beautiful Amber Gray, her search for the truth is forced in an entirely new direction...

Is that enough for you to guess? I also admit that I did want to invite readers who weren't looking for an LGBT read to pick up the book because being gay isn't the big story here. It's a sci-fi thriller.

Ultimately, I think that coded cover copy is an interesting thing. I think that some people definitely will turn down a book if they know that it has LGBT characters. At the same time, I think people who are seeking out LGBT characters risk missing a book if the copy is too coded or if it hides the LGBT content. I know that what I do find troubling is when LGBT content is coded behind a "shocking secret." Aren't we past that yet?

The Broader Context

So, I've found 55 YA novels with LGBT main characters being published in 2012. Is that a lot? Is it hardly anything? To figure that out, I had to determine how many YA books in general are being published in 2012.

As of June 2012, the year is only half over, so there aren't any figures for the total number of YA books published in 2012 yet. What I could do is find out the number of YA books published in 2011 and extrapolate from that. To begin, I started at American Libraries Magazine, which referenced the Library and Book Trade Almanac and listed a figure for 2010. Then I went to Twitter because I know there are a bunch of librarians on Twitter and asked for further information. The Young Adult Library Services Association (@yalsa) tweeted back with updated data:

@malindalo the new data: in 2011 there were 2,561 hardcover YA titles published, 49 YA mass mkt paperbacks & 2,291 YA trade paperbacks

— YALSA (@yalsa) June 15, 2012

@yalsa Wow, thanks for that info! I'm guessing some of paperbacks were reprints of previously published hardcovers? And none self-pubbed?

— Malinda Lo (@malindalo) June 15, 2012

@malindalo The chart doesn't specify, but it's safe 2 assume many of the paperbacks were reprints. There's no info at all about self pubs

— YALSA (@yalsa) June 15, 2012

Then I made a bunch of assumptions to come up with a guess about how many new YA books will be published in 2012:

  • I assumed there would be no growth in 2012 because since 2008, the number of children's and YA books has decreased slightly each year (see comments here).

  • I assumed that the 2,561 hardcover YA books published were new releases (never previously published).

  • I assumed the 49 mass market YA books published would be reprints.

  • I assumed that some of the 2,291 YA trade paperbacks published would be reprints, and some of them would be new releases. I guessed that one-third of the trade paperbacks (764) would be new releases. (Note: If the number of new paperbacks is higher, the percentage of LGBT YA will go down.)

  • Given these assumptions and guesses, we have 2,561 + 764 = 3,325 new YA releases in 2012.

  • Doing some math (55/3,325) brings me to:

1.6% of YA books published in 2012 will include LGBT main characters.

Is 1.6% a good number? It's better than before. But is it representative of the percentage of LGBT people in the United States?

According to an April 2011 report from the Williams Institute at UCLA, 3.5% of the U.S. population identify as lesbian, bisexual, or gay, with an additional 700,000 transgender individuals. But it's not that simple. Apparently 8.2% of Americans report they've engaged in same-sex sexual behavior, and 11% say they've had at least some same-sex sexual attraction.

I believe that 3.5% is a conservative figure, especially given those other, higher percentages. Whether 3.5% of young adults are LGBT … I don't know. What I do know is 1.6% is not enough because you have to remember it's only 1.6% of books published in 2012. Centuries of book publishing before 2012 have certainly not fairly represented LGBT people. 1.6% of books in 2012 barely makes a dent in the vast number of books that exist in the world. We need more. More!

So that can only mean one thing: Write more, people! And I'd better stop making pie charts.