Increasing Diversity in Young Adult Literature

Young Adult (YA) literature is a growing and thriving market in the United States (U.S.). Between 2002 and 2012, publishers have doubled the rate of YA books being acquired and sold. A study from 2016 showed that of those aged between 18-29, 80% had read at least one book in the last year. Another study reported by Publishers Weekly from 2012 showed that of this same age group, over half of these readers are buying YA books.

Over the last decade, one debate that has gained massive visibility is the lack of diversity in YA fiction. However, diversity in YA has been a topic of discussion since the late twentieth century. An article written by the former president of the International Reading Association Nancy Larrick titled “The All-White World of Children’s Books” discussed the lack of African American representation in children’s and young adult books. This problem is not just one that reinforces and instils the stereotype in children of white superiority, but that diversity of race, sexuality, disability etc. is not something worth sharing.

In a later analysis of the children’s and young adult publishing market, Rudine Sims wrote “What Has Happened to the ‘All-White’ World of Children’s Books?” What was revealed was that there still remained an issue of representation, that young, African American children were reflecting the lack of representation in literature on their own worth in society. However, she remained optimistic that progress was being made for diversity in young adult literature. 

HarperCollins, U.S.

HarperCollins is one of the biggest Young Adult publishers in the United States. An analysis of young adult releases over the last three years shows a gradual increase in diverse stories. In 2018, Epic Reads data showed 111 YA were titles released. Of those 111, 23 or 20.7% featured diverse characters and/or plots. However, of those authors during that year, only 13 or 12.6% were authors of colour.

In 2019, these statistics increased. Of the 108 titles published, 38% or 35.1% featured characters and/or plots that were diverse, i.e. racial, sexual diversity etc. What was also encouraging was the number of authors of colour published in that year, which rose 5% since the previous year; 19% or 17.6%.

Finally, the increase in diverse stories and characters that has been rising each year has been projected to rise again throughout 2020. HarperCollins has provided a list of titles being released in 2020, therefore it is possible to extrapolate data at this early point in the year. Of the numbers collected, 112 titles, 40.2% of books include diverse characters and/or plots. This is a 5% increase since the previous year, and is almost doubled from 2018.

These findings are only preliminary, as 2020 and 2018 spring titles have not been published on Epic Reads. For reference, of the 38 titles recorded for 2019, the spring figures make up 11. It is also unclear whether the missing books have been incorporated into the other lists. Regardless, trends and conclusions can still be made from these findings.

Allen & Unwin, AUS

Diverse books published by Allen & Unwin are quite small. Of the research conducted, Australian books with diverse characters and/or plots from Australian authors made up roughly the same as diverse books published as buy-in’s from America. 

Social media communication and marketing through the Allen & Unwin Teen Facebook page show that American buy-in’s have twice the amount of visibility. Of the Australian diverse books, aboriginal young adult book’s Trouble Tomorrow is featured only two times, and Shauna’s Great Expectations is featured five times. In comparison, American titles The Magnolia Sword is featured ten times and Rebel of the Sands is featured 11 times. 

However, one Australian book by Chinese-American author Wai Chim (originally from the U.S. but currently lives in Australia) has had some marketing success and visibility. The book The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling has been featured on the publisher’s Facebook page 23 times.

Hachette, AUS

From a sample taken from Hachette’s Young Adult and Children’s list, of the 15 diverse books highlighted, 100% of these books published in Australia are buy-in’s from either the United States or United Kingdom. These titles included Heartstopper Volumes One and Two (which focus on LBGTQIA+ themes), Girls of Paper and Fire (which features Asian and LGBTQIA+ themes) and Black Flamingo (which features an African American main character).


In 2018, one author started a movement that has resonated in publishing around the world. YA author Kosoko Jackson tweeted the idea that diverse stories and marginalised characters should be written by those authors who have experienced it (Rosenfield, 2019). For example, Jackson suggests that books or stories written about civil rights and movements should be written by authors from the African American community (Rosenfield, 2019). This began the “Own Voices” movement, which encouraged publishing houses to publish diverse stories by marginalised authors (Rosenfield, 2019).

What this means for the Australian YA market, is the potential for more publishing houses to open up positions to focus on finding and acquiring “own voice” manuscripts. Claire Pretyman, rights manager for Scholastic Australia said that the movement presents ‘a fantastic opportunity for Australian publishing, as US, UK and translation publishers increasingly look outwards for new, authentic voices’ (Dempsey, 2018). 

The research conducted highlights a severe problem in the Australian YA market. The findings reveal a massive disparity between diverse books published in Australia and the United States. Essentially, it is absolutely necessary for the survival of the Australian YA market to pay attention to movements like “Own Voices” and the efforts of We Need Diverse Books. The aim of the We Need Diverse Books campaign was to push the industry to publish books ‘that reflects and honours the lives of all young people’ (Kwaymullina, n.d.). Booth & Narayan in 2018 argued that the efforts of campaigns and organisations have been helpful in the rise of diversity.

The reason why so many diverse books published in Australia come from the United States is because their YA industry is much larger. In 2014, Susannah Chambers, commissioning editor for Allen & Unwin argues that Australian YA literature is full of diverse stories, but they are being pushed out of the way by the American industry . This idea is further supported by my own findings from Harper Collins, Allen & Unwin and Hachette.

Furthermore, Chambers says that YA in America ‘is selling in mind-blowingly huge quantities… The top selling US titles sell in the hundreds of thousands in our market. Australian YA is lucky to sell ten thousand’ (Chambers, 2014). The market for diverse books in the United States is clearly booming, with a number of diverse YA books having film success. The Australian industry, on the other hand, is not making the same strides. 

Reference list

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Booth, E., & Narayan, B. (2018). Towards diversity in young adult fiction: Australian YA authors’ publishing experiences and its implications for YA librarians and readers’ advisory services. Journal Of The Australian Library And Information Association67(3), 195-211. doi: 10.1080/24750158.2018.1497349

Chambers, S. (2014). Is Young Adult literature all grown up?. Australian Publishers Association. Retrieved from

Dempsey, M. (2018). Australian ‘Own Voices’ snapped up. Retrieved 17 February 2020, from

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Perrin, A. (2016). Majority of Americans Are Still Reading Print Books. Retrieved 14 February 2020, from

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Rosenfield, K. (2019). What Is #OwnVoices Doing To Our Books?. Retrieved 17 February 2020, from

Sims, R. (1983). What Has Happened to the ‘All-White’ World of Children’s Books?. The Phi Delta Kappan64(9), 650-653. Retrieved from

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