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What's going on with #yesGayYA
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cleolinda
I have been writing (good) and having health issues (bad), so I've been quieter than I would have liked. However, before I can get to a number of other things, we have a publishing kerfuffle to discuss. Yes, another one. It's gotten pretty bad.

The short overview from the Guardian: YA authors asked to 'straighten' gay characters: Authors say agent offered them book deal conditional on making a character heterosexual.

The long version: Pack a lunch, you'll need itCollapse )



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The best solution to this whole thing seems to be showing publishers, editors, and agents that there is a large and reliable demand for LGBT content. Publishers are in the business of making money so, as a certain movie made popular, "Show them the money!" The more "legitimate" reasons we eliminate, the more we can all focus on the other reasons.

I do want to caution everyone though. This must lead to a steady, reliable uptick in sales year-round. Why? Because statisticians will ignore an anomalous surge in sales; for example, the surge from "Buy A Big Gay Book for Orson Scott Card Day". There's no official holiday (i.e. Christmas) or unofficial one (Black Friday). Thus there is no reliable way of reproducing the results*. It's "surge sales" without a noticeable and well known reason. Even if it does lead to an increase in sales, any numbers much above the "planing out" of those sales will usually be ignored; the statistician will note the surge as "interesting", and a good one will inquire about the cause, but it won't be factored into the calculations for that year's sales trends.

Don't just buy some novels with LGBT content today or tomorrow, keep buying them all year round. Make a point of asking your local bookstore if they have more novels with LGBT content (and if they don't, ask if they can get some). If you order on-line, make a point of searching for novels like this, if you can. If it's not a search option, politely (but frequently) ask for it to be included.

Publishers don't "trust" surge sales because they're simply unreliable. They do trust yearly trends. They really trust 3-5 year trends. So we all really need to start making a significant increase in those trends. Show a reliable increase and publishers will respond by actively seeking out LGBT content. The effort to get more LGBT content on bookshelves is as much our responsibility as buyers as it is the publishing industries responsibility as marketers/sellers.**


*It could be reproduced, but I'm pretty sure most people would be 'reluctant' (to say the least) to do so. It doesn't do one's reputation any good at all to be the instigator of something like this.

**Also, I think this is my longest post on cleo's journal, ever. Sorry about that.

Even checking YA out from the library and requesting books makes a difference, as I understand it, because people keep track of that, and they'll base their future acquisition (read: buying) habits based on what people check out now. I mean, for a sustained length of time, like you're saying.

I love you for putting this together in a fairly clear and concise manner that doesn't really lean one way or the other for interpretation - you leave it up to us. I appreciate that liekwhoa.

However, that last link :( My poor wallet really doesn't like you right now for helping me to discover a bunch of books that I've ordered from various booksellers. So many amazing books that I cannot wait to read. I just wish there were more. I definitely just voted with my wallet as I spent my entire book allowance for the month in about 2 shopping carts.

Anyway - much appreciate the links and the write-ups.

I don't know about that--I think it's probably pretty clear whose side I'm on. Although I genuinely do not want to believe either side lied--it's Stampfel-Volpe who draws the line in the sand and says that their two truths are mutually exclusive (even though she never actually denies that the character's sexuality was separately discussed, and refutes something the writers never said happened). I would mostly like to think that the initial conversation happened with good intentions, and the aggressiveness of the rebuttal is coming from people who care about that agent, and the further we get away from the actual people involved, the harder it is to get accuracy. I mean, apparently Colleen Lindsay made a logical leap from "We wanted a joint agent for this project" to (paraphrase) "Their agents rejected the book because it was so bad and everyone else in the industry would see that as a red flag." I'd rather believe she sincerely inferred that than knowingly invented it.

But what I would like to think isn't based on fact, either. So I guess I do try to keep as much of that out as possible, yeah.

This just makes me want to buy nothing but GBLT books. 90% of my reading these days (and I am not happy unless reading two or three novels at once) is M/M fanfiction. Slash fanfiction has a huge and enthusiastic following, and some superb authors. I read it (and write it) because while I am damn sure people are writing superlative and epic fantasy novels with GBLT protagonists, I can't find them on the bookshelves.

I have two books with gay/bisexual main characters, Monette and Bear's A Companion to Wolves, and Ellen Kushner's 'Swordspoint' (both of which I re-read.)
Two books?
The publishers are not giving me what I want, so I support the fanfic writers who do.

But now I will actively seek out GBLT books, YA or adult, and only them. Anything else will be from a charity shop or the library. And oh yes, ask the library to order them too.

Thank-you for putting together this thoroughly absorbing post, which is also something of an eye opener to me.

Edited at 2011-09-17 07:29 pm (UTC)

Most welcome! Actually, I think libraries count as well--secondhand sales can't be tracked, but borrowing and/or requesting at a library can make a difference, AFAIK.

I hope this isn't me just thinking up some excuse or rationalising badness, but in trying to think of a way that both sides might have misunderstood, I wonder, is it possible that they wanted Yuki cut due to size or pacing issues or somesuch?

I mean, as the author's said, if his being gay is something which has an important role in the story, then presumably it's addressed within a significant amount of his POV. If, for example, instead this vital point of character was BMX-ing, and the agent had said "I'll take you on, but you need to remove that cycling stuff", then it's possible that might be an equivalent - instead a "remove that homosexual stuff" would be (and certainly pings my radar) as being inherently a matter of Yuki being gay, and not Yuki breaking up a story with a lengthy subplot, or something along those lines. Even the suggestion that him being gay could be made sense of in that way - it's not something that fits in this book, but it might in a future one; likewise how his being gay could be specifically cited as an issue that should be removed without it being a matter of his homosexuality solely being the problem.

This is probably just a desperate attempt to find an explanation that means no wrongdoing on anyone's part. And probably moot, depending on what the agent said - if one of the options had been, for example, "Yuki has to be straight, but otherwise you can keep the entirety of his role and story as is", then this explanation falls apart.

I like the take on the word "homophobia." It's something I figured out a few years ago: If you want to rant at people for the benefit of a third party who's listening, then use dramatic words. If you want the person whom you're addressing to change his or her mind, then you have to make it easy for him or her to do it.

I believe that these people asked for the changes for job-related rather than personal reasons. It's their job to get the book to sell. However, it would be best for society if books depicting gays in their proper, visible, participatory place in said society were published. This is one of those times when someone—hopefully only the first few people to try it—will have to accept lower profits to do the right thing.

Oh, great googaly moogaly!

**sigh**

Like so many, I, too, thought - haven't we had to fight this battle already? Just this year? So many great points were made THEN! But this has just all reminded me that fighting any prejudice is an ongoing battle, one you have to keep your "weather eye" open for at all points, at all times.

And, like many others here as well, I have also remembered a time when I found myself thinking/saying/etc. something which....at first glance ... did not appear to be prejudicial, but upon second thought has brought me up short and caused me to correct my actions/words/etc. to reflect an all around better response. We can ALL be a little more aware, right? Having said that - for the record - I fall on the Brown/Smith side of things. It just rings a bit more true to me.

Four other comments: 1) thank you Cleolinda - your presentation of all this here is like a cool glass of water on a hot summer day - refreshing, basic, and just what we (the internets) all need....common sense. so rare these days.

2) Strangest ripple in the world of Twilight - it led me back to YA lit., which I have enjoyed more than I think I did back when I was a YA myself (I'm a 48 **cough-cough-where-is-my-walker** year-old now). How weird is that?

3) One of my favorite books back when I WAS YA (not just YA at heart?) featured a young teenaged main character who was gay and falling in love, and coming out. The book is still a keeper when you want an inspiration (even to little old hetero me) about staying true to yourself!

Lastly - after that last "down with this sort of thing" this year, I went out and found Ms. Verday's books. I did not think they would be my cup of tea (original cover - very "if you liked Twilight")....but it quickly sucked me into the story. I'm a sucker for early American lit. and it the Sleepy Hollow influence was fun. While at the time my finances forced me simply to check out the earlier books from my local library, my finances and timing is a bit better now and right now I am awaiting my Amazon order of her latest. I will DEFINITELY be using the various links to guide me in future purchases - ALWAYS vote with your dollars (and not just with lit.!).

The best thing about this situation is that it's opened up a dialog about LGBTQ characters in fiction, and the previously-unspoken acceptance on behalf of authors, agents, editors, publishers etc. is finally being said.

I have to say that, the higher representation of male/male gay relationships doesn't surprise me. The thing about lesbian relationships, particularly in YA, is that I can see a publisher wanting to skirt the issue due to the virtually pornoraphic reputation lesbianism has in our society. It's practically staple in a lot of porn that lesbians are *hot stuff*. If you're trying to publish books for young people, that means there isn't lots of sex and scandalous stuff. But people will leap on anything without hearing out the whole story. Take reactions to Monty Python's Life of Brian, the shout-downs espoused by the far right in America on the topic of Obama's healthcare plan, the voting in of a tax-cutting majority anywhere in the world or my own experiences as a fanfiction writer with people only reading parts of a sentence.

It may be that publishers worry that posting a lesbian anything opens them to, "You're just trying to sneak erotica past the censors," sorts of criticisms.

Bisexuality is another thing open to kneejerk critiques by people not paying attention. Because of how Western society tends to treat things as binary (you're male *or* female, not both, you're gay or straight, not both), there's going to be, again, a worry that bisexuality will be seen as, "You're trying to sneak in titillating stuff," or even worse, people misunderstanding a bisexual lead as being actually homophobic by similarly knee-jerk people from the LGBTQ community. I can very easily picture someone from there *who does not bother to pay attention* (since there are people of every creed, colour, etc. etc. who pay no attention {people will be stupid no matter who they are}), going, "Your gay character ended up with a woman, obviously you're saying that a gay man can be 'straightened' by the 'right' woman."

I wrote a fanfiction like that once. I'd based the premise of my bisexual male lead on the notion that, in his early life, all the girls he knows are creepy, evil and frightening. He just stops being attracted to girls because those experiences colour his perception of women. When he finally meets girls who seem to be normal, sane, nice people, he undergoes a certain amount of internal turmoil on discovering that he can go both ways. As a fanfiction author posting on the internet, I was able to post disclaimers up and down the story, making it clear that I was trying to write about perception and attractiveness. I was also able to post to a very specific community with a very specific readership.

You can't do that in a published novel. You're trying to publish and you're trying to get as many readers as possible. A publisher has to be wary of more than just the out-and-out homophobes. They have to be wary of perceptions from the militant branches of The LGBTQ community who aren't paying attention to anything that's actually said or written, as much as to the religious right that's been declaring LGBTQ to be anathema.

And as far as public perceptions go, going back briefly to my comments on dichotomies, don't even get started on the transsexual issues. That screws with the either-or public view even more than bisexuality does. It's complex. This isn't a worry about kids not being able to figure things out, about there not being an audience. It's about the fact that writing about the world of human sexuality in all its complexities requires a complex worldview and there are people who refuse to accept (on all sides of the fence) that there is complexity, because it would make them think.

To be continued for length of post . . .

Continued from above . . .

It's a battle that the publishers don't want to deal with because they're in it to make money, not foment social revolution. If they can cause some revolution, I suspect a lot of them are okay with it, but not if it's going to cause them to get shut down.

And if what I've written here seems overburdened with parentheticals, it's because if there's one I learned, it's that people don't pay attention, and if I'd written this without disclaimers and explanations every two lines, someone would reply to it, under the impression that I was saying that publishers are evil or that gay people are evil or that lesbians are sexual predators or something else that would have nothing to do with what I'd written.

Because readers (and I hereby descend to all-caps because I want the emphasis and don't know how to code) DON'T ALWAYS READ EVERY WORD.

In a nutshell, I think that some publishers don't want to deal with the misinterpretation of lesbians as erotica, bisexuals as, "you can straighten them if you just try real hard", Transsexuals and cross-dressers, "You're just being weird to be weird" and all the other I-can't-be-bothered-to-actually-read-the-whole-book complaints that will come from ALL PORTIONS OF THE SPECTRUM, FROM CRAZY RELIGIOUS RIGHT-WING TO LGBTQ.

Thank you for putting up with my all-caps. I'd learn to code properly in these things, but I can't be bothered to read that much.

This is very well done and helpful--not only informative but easy to follow. Thanks especially for the listing of folks who have had the experience.

Well, I guess that settles it.

I have a number of manuscripts in progress; a couple of them are YA, my favorite of which could either be written as a novel (or maybe a trilogy) or as a graphic novel if I find the right artist. In my "ideal" version, of the five "main" characters, there are: the "main character", a teenage heterosexual male, a teenage lesbian-to-bisexual (with multiple romantic prospects incidental to the plot), one teenage heterosexual-to-bisexual female (with eventual designs on the "main" character), and two gay male characters (one a teenage classmate of the "main" character, one an older mentor, both with their respective romantic lives). Yes, the "main" character might be a heterosexual male (and the eventually-emerging co-lead a heterosexual female), but I've always considered it a matter of providing a positive model for how the heterosexual majority of young adults can act towards those of us who aren't. (My heterosexual leads will be the good heterosexuals, dammit!)

Now, I have an advantage over most writers (including myself in my 20s): I have an academic career leading to a professional career which will make my potential career as a writer an option rather than a necessity. Since I have this freedom, I think it's safe for me to say this: I'd rather let my work go unpublished than "straighten" the main characters. Any artist I might develop a "proposal chapter" with will be expected to adopt the same attitude. There are no more excuses -- those of us who have the luxury afforded by a day job have no excuse to accept the hetero-supremacist tendencies in the publishing industry. At worst, I'll be just another unpublished author; at best, I might produce something good enough that an agent or an editor will make an exception and help open up the market for all the wonderful would-be YA authors with fabulous QUILTBAG characters. (Seriously -- y'all would have made my adolescence much easier, so the best I can do is hope to let you play that role for the next generation.)

This is a pretty late comment, but this
There is a difference between "I am gay," "my friends are gay," "my relatives are gay," "I would never do or say anything homophobic," and "I don't think this really good book will sell if the characters are queer." The latter is a far more subtle, widespread, insidious problem.

reminded me a bit of Jay Smooth's video <a href='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Ti-gkJiXc" target="_blank">How To Tell People They Sound Racist</a>, namely the emphasis on centering the conversation around actions rather than whatever intentions led to those actions.

ummmm.....I'm not sure what happened to the HTML there, but...oh I see.

video here!

This was a fantastic, well-thought-out, and deliberately fair post, and I just wanted to thank you for putting it together and taking the time to hunt up all of the different viewpoints, not just the one you personally endorse.

Bravo to you, and I will be linking.

Cleo, why did you have to publish such an awesome and thoughtful post on a topic so dear to my heart the exact day I went out of town for five days with limited online access?

So, I guess I'm confused. I am not an expert in the publishing industry, and I will defer to the judgement of you and other knowledgeable commenters that 'an agent repreenting a bestselling book in our genre' is a small enough pool to create a 'short list' of 'suspects', as it were.

That said...If I had a conversation with someone a month ago about topic X, and a month later they said they'd had a conversation that was completely different in every way from our conversation except also being about topic X (this is what JSV is stating, correct?), I would assume they were, you know, TALKING ABOUT SOMEONE ELSE. In this case, another agent (especially since the authors clearly state they had conversations about the book with multiple agents).

Maybe I just don't get the publishing industry, but this immediate certain knowledge that they were the ones under discussion? Makes me suspect that the conversation as described by Sherwood and Manija was a lot more consistent with the 'real conversation' than JSV claimed.

I didn't want to editorialize too much, but yeah, that is an extremely telling bit of logic.