Wednesday 1 June 2022

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The LGBTQ+ YA Section at Foyles

A photo of thd LGBTQ+ YA section at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, face on. It consists of two bays/bookcases. Over it are the words LGBTQ+ YA Section at Foyles in black, with a transparent white background.

The LGBTQ+ YA Section at Foyles

Happy Pride Month, everyone! Today, I wanted to talk about something very close to my heart. As some of you may know, I’m a Children’s Bookseller, and I look after and curate the LGBTQ+ YA section at Foyles, Charing Cross Road.

The LGBTQ+ YA section at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, face on. It consists of two bays/bookcases. The first bay on the left has LGBTQ+ teen non-fiction, multiple identities, gay, and lesbian. The second bay has the last lesbian books, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, trans, non-binary and other genders, and drag. There are various staff pick shelf talkers on the shelves recommending books.

We have two bays (bookcases) at the beginning of our YA section dedicated to a permanent LGBTQ+ YA section. It came about at the end of last Pride, when I was clearing our YA Pride display. I noticed that the books that hadn't sold as well were in genres besides contemporary and romance. It's wonderful to see the increase in queer books in other genres - fantasty, sci-fi, horror, thrillers, and so on - where the story isn't about being queer. Contemporary coming out stories and romances are still very important and have their place, but there’s more to the lives of queer people than just coming out and being in relationships. And it’s brilliant that queer readers now have so many different kinds of stories they can see themselves in, too, just like cishet readers have. However, because these stories aren't necessarily about being queer, the representation isn't always mentioned in the blurbs. These were the books that didn't sell so well.

As I was clearing the display, I was considering what could be done to help readers find these books and the representation they were looking for. I came up with and discarded a few different ideas that just weren't feasible for a bookshop. But a few weeks later, someone I followed on Instagram shared in their stories Waterstones Ashford's post of their own LGBTQ+ YA section. I thought it was brilliant that it existed, and realised that doing something similar could solve the issue. So I went to my manager with the idea, showing him Waterstones Ashford's post, and suggested shelving it by identity, so that readers can easily find the rep they're looking for, even if it's not mentioned in the blurb.

My manager gave the go-ahead. Space was made at the end of YA, laminated dividers for the various identities were created, the books were picked, and put on the shelves. First, it was just one bay, without a great range of titles, and so I got to work curating it. I requested more titles; backlist I already knew of that we no longer had in stock, more copies of newer titles, and more of certain titles I thought would do well based on what was already selling. And then I got stuck into research to improve our range. It didn't take too long before the section grew, and it became clear more than one bay was needed. More space was made, and it was moved to the start of YA.

It's a constant work in progress; the research is neverending, but I love it! I discover older titles, as well as newer releases, to add to it all the time. I have to give massive thanks to Dahlia Adler for the wonderful resource that is LGBTQ Reads, and all the time and effort she puts into promoting queer books. I turn to her blog time and again, and it has been instrumental in making the section what it is, and my job a hell of a lot easier.

A photo of the two LGBTQ+ YA bays taken at an angle from the left, so you can read the laminated dividers, with the identities on for the subsubsections.

The section isn't perfect; sometimes it's difficult to find the exact rep in a book when the it's described as sapphic, queer and f/f, for example - does it go in Leabian, Bisexual, or Pansexual? - and there are subsections that are smaller than I'd like. I'm always trying to improve our range; it's so exciting when I find a new-to-me (and the section) YA title featuring pansexual, asexual, trans, or non-binary characters, or characters of other genders especially, that I can then add to the section. It's not always easy; a lot of the books published - particularly those with characters who are trans, non-binary, or other genders - are published in America with no UK rights, so we can't order them in. But every now and again, I'll find one that does have the correct rights, and I excitedly request copies.

But the section is there, and it's working. Titles we had only single copies of before the section was put in, we have in bulk because they're selling so well now that readers know they're queer, and what the specific rep is. Readers who don't wish to out themselves to a bookseller in order to find recommendations no longer have to. But if readers don't feel comfortable or safe browsing the section in the company they're in, any book they notice that they might be interested in, they’ll be able to find in the general YA section, too; the books are shelved so that there is at least one copy of each also in the general YA section.

The LGBTQ+ YA section is just going from strength to strength. It's so beautiful to hear customers exclaim in delight when they discover it for the first time, and we now have customers who come back regularly and head straight to it. It's such a joy to know from the sales numbers, by how the quantities of individual titles increase when they come back in stock, that these books are being found. In the great scheme of things, it’s not a big deal, but it feels like I'm doing some good for these teens, getting the right books into the hands of the right readers.

And the section continues to blossom and grow - as you can see, it's getting tight and we're going to need another bay soon - and it's just wonderful. But this isn't the end of it, there's other beautiful things to come - follow me on Twitter and Instagram for my announcements in the coming weeks - and I'm just thrilled. It's not even been a whole year yet, but it's doing so well! TikTokers take videos of it; authors love to see it, and have also shared photos on social media; and when I tweet about it myself, my tweets go viral. We'll have customers come up to us to ask if we have a certain queer YA book, because we're now known as a bookshop that might stock it (though mostly they're ask for the previously mentioned US titles we can't get in, sadly). It takes a lot of time to curate the LGBTQ+ YA section, but honestly, I love it and am so proud of it. It's bringing so much joy, and I'm so looking forward to seeing how far it will have grown by this time next year.

So maybe, as part of your Pride Month celebrations this year, you’ll consider popping into Foyles, Charing Cross Road in London, and head to the Children's Department to browse our LGBTQ+ YA section. We'd be thrilled to see you!

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  1. This is brilliant! Well done, Foyles is lucky to have you.

    1. Thank you so much, Jenna! I really appreciate it!