There’s been a lot of talk in the YA world this week about an article over at Publisher’s Weekly about the difficulty in selling work with LGBTQ protagonists, and the story is even being picked up by non-publishing outlets. (There’s also now some controversy, seen here on the Swivet, about who the mystery agent is, and if, in fact, they ever said such a thing.)
In the interest of full disclosure, I passed on the manuscript in question. It had absolutely nothing to do with the gay character–in fact, it’s not something that even registered. Perhaps it’s having lived on the coasts for years, or perhaps being gay, but finding a gay character in a book rarely registers. An author of mine recently sent in a new manuscript in which the brother of the female protagonist is gay, and honestly, I wouldn’t have noticed if the author hadn’t mentioned it in relation to a plot point. The guy’s gay. Ok. Moving on. And I’ve sold more than one YA book with an LGBTQ protagonist, including a YA memoir.
The same is generally true when I get in submissions. I’m not looking for gay or straight protagonists, and I don’t pay much attention. I care about the concept, the plotting, the voice, the writing–the sexual orientation of the character is the last thing I’m thinking about. Please send me books with LGBTQ characters; I’d love to see anything good! I think just about every agent and editor out there would say the same thing; it’s it’s good, we want to see it.
That said, we also have to be honest about the realities of the marketplace. There are fewer gay readers than straight readers. “Gay books,” on average, sell less than “straight books.” Readers seem to be more interested in reading about straight people–at least that’s what sales indicate. So publishers thinking about what to publish have to take this into consideration. Despite appearances to the contrary, publishing is a business, and sales matter. But YA books with LGBTQ characters continue to get published, are published well, and find audiences well beyond gay teens. For more on this issue, I really recommend you read Malinda Lo’s brilliant blog post “How hard is it to sell an LGBTQ YA novel?”, which was referenced in the Swivet post above, and gives a great view from an author on this subject.
Publishing has to be one of the least homophobic businesses around. The percentage of gay agents, editors, and other publishing professionals is much, much higher than the population in general (no matter which statistic you’re looking at), and people are fairly liberal. I can almost guarantee that there’s no one censoring gay content. ***
If you want to see more books featuring LGBTQ characters, I have a piece of advice: seek out and buy those books. If publishers are rejecting books with LGBTQ characters because they believe they won’t sell, the way to change their minds is by buying the books when they are published. Publishers are chasing after sales, which is why you see so many copycat books–vampire novels after Twilight, dystopian novels following Hunger Games. Vote with your dollars. The more LGBTQ books you buy, the more you’ll see. And I know that we publishing professionals will be happy to sell them to you.
*** I should have chosen my words more carefully in this sentence. I didn’t mean to say that there was never any suggestion that GLBTQ content be removed from a book; clearly, that isn’t true. I was trying to say that I didn’t think anyone was doing this with a set agenda; I don’t think any particular editor’s or agent’s homophobia (blatant, latent or internalized) is the reason that such suggestions are made.
I also never intended to offend anyone with this post, and while I still don’t think I’m being naive or ignoring a blatant issue, I will certainly be more aware and sensitive going forward. I appreciate your responses and comments on this post, whether you agree with me or not. As so many have pointed out, what matters here is that we’re discussing the subject openly. And that can’t be a bad thing. Thank you.