2023 is the final year of our project: ‘Discovering a ‘Good Read’: Cultural Pathways to Reading for Australian Teens in a Digital Age’. Earlier this year we published a newsletter providing an update on our research activities in 2022 and a preview of some our findings about how much Australian teenagers read for pleasure and the types of books they enjoy reading.
In this paper we investigated whether there might be structures within the book industry that mitigate against publishing a greater quantity of diverse stories, or that might hinder a search for more diverse authors or a diverse readership. We interviewed a range of Australian publishing representatives. Through our questions we sought to understand how readers are understood or imagined by publishers, as well as the industry processes by which young adult titles are acquired. We found that two processes contributed to the lack of information about audiences: the over-riding value of the “good story” as a criterion for publishing a title; and the reliance on sales data as evidence of reader demand. Missing are mechanisms that provide insight into the preferences of real readers. Without this market feedback publishers are more likely to imagine readers, and readerships, to be “just like them”. This creates barriers to the creation of new and more diverse readerships and, thus, to new markets.
In this paper we examine the effects of the #ownvoices movement in the market for, and consumption of, young adult fiction through a focus on the promotional strategies and critical reception of a single book: Australian author Craig Silvey’s most recent young adult novel, Honeybee. Our data included author and publisher media interviews, social media reviews, and literary reviews in mainstream publications. Honeybee was selected as a case study because it has the hallmarks of a nationally influential Australian cultural product: its author has previously written novels that explore themes of discrimination and his works have been adapted for the screen and are considered suitable for study in Australian schools. On the other hand, Silvey, a heterosexual man, made the controversial choice to write from the perspective of a young trans woman. Our analysis found that the identity standpoint of the reader heavily influenced their judgement of the aesthetic quality of the novel, not simply the ethics of appropriating the voice of a marginalized other. Some self-identified LGBTQI+ readers also advocated strongly for a new kind of allyship in the book industry, one that platforms more diverse creators and thus redistributes opportunity in the creative industries.
The Teen Reading project is working with secondary schools in WA, NSW, QLD and VIC to survey Australian teenagers about their reading behaviour. This research aims to better understand how teenagers choose, read and discuss books, to ensure that they are better able to find the books they want to read and to keep them reading for pleasure.
To learn more about the survey, you can watch this short video