Diversity isn’t a fad | The decline of YA book sales

Hi everyone! Today, I wanted to talk about an article that was doing the rounds on Twitter a month or so ago. It’s taken me a while to really think about the issue, and consider what it was saying.

The article was published by The Bookseller, but as it’s subscriber only content, this article published by The Guardian goes into detail about what was said.

So, what’s the deal?

Essentially, the article spoke about the decline in YA book sales in the UK. It stated that they fell dramatically by £6.2 million to £22.5 million last year and now the YA publishing industry are trying to work out why.

Are people buying more American YA than UKYA? Is it because there hasn’t been a big ‘Hunger Games’ type series which made the industry boom? Dystopia, whilst still popular, has definitely passed its peak. Is it due to school’s budgets being cut, and therefore they lack the budget to buy books or to pay a trained librarian? I feel like the list could go on and on. And frankly, I don’t know the answer.

Rainbow coloured spines of books in a spiral. Close up shot, showing the publishers' logos at the bottom of each spine.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know the ins and outs of book sales. However, I do suggest that you check out this insightful twitter thread by Chris McCrudden who seems to know a lot more than me on that subject.

What I can do, though, is talk about why this article worries me

The article in The Bookseller said that one of the reasons for the decline in YA book sales was because the YA publishing industry has a focus on “worthy books” or “issue books”.

That statement scares me because it lumps diverse books all into one category; it brands non-white books as “other”. It’s racist, and it’s just not okay.

It suggests that books which feature diverse characters, books which aren’t afraid to shine a light on racism, sexism, homophobia, books written and published by people of colour (PoC), it suggests that they’re merely a fad. Books have been middle class and white for FAR too long, and we’re finally seeing things move in the right direction, with more diverse books than ever.

However, the publishing industry is still primarily white. A lot of authors experience rejection because their proposed novel won’t be “relatable” – because it’s white people judging what is “relatable”. They only let PoC into the industry if they are writing books directly and only about the current issues they are facing (which is already such a problem). And now, they’re being told that too many of those specific types of books are being published?????? It’s shit, is what it is.

As put more succinctly by the wonderful Mariam on Twitter:

Screenshot of a tweet discussing why the phrase "issue books" is problematic. - because it is positioning PoC stories as other, and implying they aren't the norm.
editor of the newly released book It’s Not About the Burkha, spoke about this issue on Twitter.

It’s not meant to be something that surges in popularity and then just disappears again.

Representation of minority voices isn’t a fad.

This needs to be a fundamental change in, not just the characters, but also in the authors who are writing these characters, the way books are published and who is publishing them. It’s not a surface level problem. It’s a deep and very real issue within the publishing industry; an industry which is primarily white and middle class.

People want to see themselves represented, and not necessarily in an “issue” book. It’s something that needs to change within publishing. I’m worried and scared, that this decline in sales will push publishers that have been making small steps in the right direction for representation, away because of the lack of money. It’s a business, and so of course they are going to be looking at where the money is coming from. But it’s also influencing a whole new generation of readers.

What message would that send?

Rainbow coloured bookshelf, showing a large selection of YA novels.

It’s frustrating as the quality of UK YA books has been getting better and better each year, with more books featuring diverse character and stories, with more diverse authors.

I’m a white CIS woman. I obviously cannot speak from personal experience, and I definitely don’t want to speak over minority voices. I therefore deeply encourage you to go and read what people of colour are saying about this issue, and to really listen and pay attention.

Own voices novels are so important and needed in this industry. This has slowly been getting better, and a lot of really great books have been and are being published this year. There are lots of wonderful people online that are shining the spotlight on celebrating diversity, too.

Do you have any recommendations for diverse authors and bloggers to support? What are your favourite diverse reads? What do you think about the phrase “issue books”?

9 thoughts on “Diversity isn’t a fad | The decline of YA book sales

  1. This is such a great post! I just don’t understand people these days! I’m on a purchasing committee for my library and we try to include books that follow characters with different backgrounds, religions, family types, sexual orientations etc. But it’s frustrating how all this wonderful diverse books are being ignored. Thanks for sharing and bringing a light to this issue. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for using your platform to talk about this. I was frustrated by the article, and also its criticism of ‘issue’ books, which is just so… *rubs temples*. It’s frustrating when queer, PoC, and QPoC experiences are pigeon-holed into ‘issue’ books, when they’re just portraying our experiences candidly.

    But anyway. Thank you for mentioning YARC2019! It’s a project my co-hosts and I are very passionate about, and I’m glad that many people have joined in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words! It really is, it completely negates that everybody is different – the industry has such a problem with trying to fit stories into rigid boxes and it has to stop.

      Thank you for helping to create YARC – it really is a wonderful project!


  3. Pingback: Monthly Wrap-Up: March 2019 – Lori's Bookshelf Reads

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