Diversity in 2012 Young Adult Bestsellers, Part 1: Overview – UPDATED

By Malinda Lo

On March 17, Publishers Weekly posted its accounting of the bestselling children’s books of 2012, including young adult titles. PW does this every year, and I’ve always wondered what proportion of these bestselling titles include main characters of color and/or LGBT characters. I’ve always assumed that very few of the bestsellers would prominently feature diversity, but as a former economics major I also know that I really shouldn’t make those kinds of assumptions.

So last week I sat down with the list, some spreadsheets, and crunched the numbers. The results both confirmed some of my assumptions and surprised me. This week, in four parts, I’ll be unpacking my findings. Here’s what I’ll be examining:

Part 1: Overview — Defining the terms of the analysis, plus the top 4 diverse YA bestsellers.

Part 2: Main Characters Only — Bestsellers featuring main characters of color or LGBT characters.

Part 3: The Minority Best Friend — Bestsellers featuring secondary/supporting characters of color or secondary/supporting LGBT characters.

Part 4: Covers and Conclusions — Representation of minorities on covers, and my conclusions.

UPDATED 4/2/13 11:27 am: Someone pointed out that I had not included The Fault in Our Stars by John Green when the characters in that book are disabled. Yes, that person is right, and here’s why I omitted it at first. So now this post and the other forthcoming posts have been updated to include TFIOS.

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Part 1: Overview

Before I get to the top 4 diverse YA bestsellers, let me set the scene for the analysis. You can skip to the first chart (under “Diverse YA Bestsellers”) if you’re not interested in this.

The Data

The PW list is comprised of publisher-provided data on sales. The complete children’s list counts bestsellers in five different categories:

  • hardcover frontlist (new hardcover books, presumably published in 2012) with sales ≥ 100,000
  • hardcover backlist (old hardcover books, presumably published before 2012) with sales ≥ 100,000
  • paperback frontlist (new paperback books, published in 2012) with sales ≥ 100,000
  • paperback backlist (old paperback books, published before 2012) with sales ≥ 100,000
  • ebooks (published anytime) with sales ≥ 25,000

There are some things to note:

  • Ebook sales only need to top 25,000 to appear on the ebook bestseller list. This is obviously much lower than the number for printed books (100,000).
  • A lot of books that made the ebook bestseller list did not make the printed lists. Presumably, those books could have sold up to 99,999 printed copies without landing on those lists.
  • The vast majority of bestselling children’s books were not young adult. Instead, they were board books, picture books, middle grade, or nonfiction titles like Justin Bieber’s celebrity memoir.

What does “diverse” mean?

By “diverse,” I mean: Books in which the main character or one of the primary point-of-view characters is a character of color, LGBT, or disabled. Note:

  • This is a very narrow definition. It does not include books that feature diverse supporting casts, but I’ll address that in more detail in Part 3 of this series. For now, I’m talking about main characters.
  • This also does not mean that these books feature well-written minority characters. They could be chock full of stereotypes, but they are clearly minorities.
  • I could not find any YA bestsellers that featured disabled main characters or supporting characters. I might have missed them, though; if I did, please let me know!

Diverse YA Bestsellers

Here are the proportions of diverse YA novels across all formats that PW tracks (Note: this chart has been updated to include TFIOS):


The “Other Children’s Lit” category includes board books, picture books, and middle grade. As you can see, the majority of children’s books bestsellers are non-YA, except in ebooks, which makes sense. Younger children are currently not likely to read ebooks.

Looking more closely at the proportion of new YA books that were diverse, here’s the percentage of 2012’s YA hardcover frontlist bestsellers (new books) that were diverse (Note: this chart has been updated to include TFIOS):


Honestly, 17% 22% is (a lot!) better than I expected. But there were only 23 titles on the bestselling hardcover frontlist, which means it only took 4 5 diverse titles to make that 17% 22%:


  1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton) — The widely acclaimed novel about two teens falling in love while dealing with cancer and disability.
  2. Stunning (Pretty Little Liars #11) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen) — The eleventh book in the long-running series that is now a TV series on ABC Family. The series has four point-of-view characters, including Emily Fields, who is bisexual and has been since book one.
  3. Fated (Soul Seekers #1) by Alyson Noel (St. Martin’s Griffin) — The first in a trilogy about Daire Santos, a half-Hispanic 16-year-old girl who discovers she’s descended from shamans. Additionally, the book draws heavily from Native American mythology, though it has also been criticized for its stereotypical depictions.
  4. Pretty Little Secrets by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen) — A companion novel to the Pretty Little Liars series.
  5. Burned (Pretty Little Liars #12) — The twelfth book in the Pretty Little Liars series.

That’s right: three of the four five diverse bestselling hardcovers are from the Pretty Little Liars series. There are even more of them coming up in the next posts.

Tomorrow in Part 2: Main Characters Only, I take a look at all the diverse 2012 YA bestsellers across all formats.