Young Adult and Children’s Literature: Do Women Truly Dominate?
by Kekla Magoon
For the past four years, VIDA has tallied the rates of publication between women and men in many of the most prestigious literary venues that cater to adult readers. But for those of us within VIDA who write and publish young adult and children’s literature, the annual VIDA Count raises the nagging question: what would such numbers for our industry look like?
When we decided to expand the Count this year to look specifically at children’s literature, we immediately found ourselves grappling with a different set of central questions, and radically different numbers from those we find in the adult VIDA Count. Young adult and children’s publishing is not only friendly to women writers—it is often considered to be female-led, since women occupy the majority of jobs in the industry, as authors, editors, agents and more. Yes, it’s true that being female is not nearly the barrier to initial publication for us that it often is in the adult literary landscape, but as this year’s pie charts demonstrate, being male still seems to carry some particular advantages when it comes to recognition, prestige, and awards for literary merit.
The Children’s Literature VIDA Count differs from our adult VIDA Count in a few important ways. First, we had to think differently about WHAT we were going to count. Unlike the adult literary market, there are few venues in which to publish articles, short stories, and poetry that lend any particular prestige to children’s literature authors. Certainly there are numerous children’s magazines in print, and a few literary magazines and journals that cater to our market, but by and large children’s literature is a book-centric industry. Recognition and respect comes primarily from publishing a novel, a book-length work of non-fiction, or a picture book. The epitome of critical acclaim and success results from winning major literary awards for such publications or appearing on any of several “Best Books” lists produced annually.
Consequently, we chose to count ten of the most prestigious awards in our industry, going back five years, and seven of the most prestigious Best Books lists for 2013. Inclusion in these categories directly results in increased book sales, as well as publicity in the form of speaking engagements and exposure at national conferences for the authors.
Readers unfamiliar with the children’s lit industry may be surprised by the degree of gender parity in the charts below. Those more familiar with the industry will likely be surprised too—by the significant representation of men in our overall numbers. For a relatively small percentage of our authors, men are very well represented among our award winners and list-mentions.
Here’s another unique element of our count: The presence and profile of picture book illustrators also has a big impact on sales, awards and attention paid to books for our youngest readers. We examined the relationship between authors and illustrators by gender, and found a significant disparity in the number of books illustrated by men versus women, and a particularly strong presence of books by male author-illustrators.
In lieu of a magazine byline count, we considered alternate ways to deliver an overall count of children’s lit publications by gender, but achieving an accurate count of books published by even just the major five houses proved to be a difficult and unwieldy task, given the labyrinthine nature of online and print catalogs produced by these publishers. In addition, not all the books published for children reach the general public market; publishers produce many books specifically for the school and library market. These books cannot reliably be judged against one another, and determining the market potential of each book really only happens behind the scenes inside each publishing house. We couldn’t access all the information we would have needed to accurately count every title published in the past year.
Finally, we realized it would be necessary to provide a bit of context for these numbers, as we’ve just done, since many followers of the annual VIDA Count are not familiar with the world of children’s literature. We look forward to discussing what these numbers say about gender parity/disparity in children’s literature. We’re eager to hear your reactions to these charts and to compare these results with the rest of the 2013 Count, posted here.
We invite you to join the conversation.
Kekla Magoon is the author of four young adult novels: Camo Girl, 37 Things I Love, Fire in the Streets, and The Rock and the River, for which she received the ALA Coretta Scott King New Talent Award and an NAACP Image Award nomination.