Authors Say Agents Try to “Straighten” Gay Characters in YA

Editor’s note: The text of this post was written by Rachel Manija Brown, author of All the Fishes Come Home to Roost, and Sherwood Smith, author of Crown Duel and a great many other novels for adults and young adults. I am posting it in order to provide a pseudonymity-friendly space for comments from authors who have had similar experiences to the ones that Rachel and Sherwood describe. I strongly encourage all authors, agents, editors, publishers, and readers to contribute to a serious and honest conversation on the value and drawbacks of gatekeeping with regard to minority characters, authors, and readers, and to continue that conversation in all areas of the industry. –Rose


 Say Yes To Gay YA

By Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

We are published authors who co-wrote a post-apocalyptic young adult novel. When we set out to find an agent for it, we expected to get some rejections. But we never expected to be offered representation… on the condition that we make a gay character straight, or cut him out altogether.

Our novel, Stranger, has five viewpoint characters; one, Yuki Nakamura, is gay and has a boyfriend. Yuki’s romance, like the heterosexual ones in the novel, involves nothing more explicit than kissing.

An agent from a major agency, one which represents a bestselling YA novel in the same genre as ours, called us.

The agent offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.

Rachel replied, “Making a gay character straight is a line in the sand which I will not cross. That is a moral issue. I work with teenagers, and some of them are gay. They never get to read fantasy novels where people like them are the heroes, and that’s not right.”

The agent suggested that perhaps, if the book was very popular and sequels were demanded, Yuki could be revealed to be gay in later books, when readers were already invested in the series.

We knew this was a pie-in-the-sky offer—who knew if there would even be sequels?—and didn’t solve the moral issue. When you refuse to allow major characters in YA novels to be gay, you are telling gay teenagers that they are so utterly horrible that people like them can’t even be allowed to exist in fiction.

LGBTQ teenagers already get told this. They are four times more likely than straight teenagers to attempt suicide. We’re not saying that the absence of LGBTQ teens in YA sf and fantasy novels is the reason for that. But it’s part of the overall social prejudice that does cause that killing despair.

We wrote this novel so that the teenagers we know—some of whom are gay, and many of whom are not white—would be able, for once, to read a fun post-apocalyptic adventure in which they are the heroes. And we were told that such a thing could not be allowed.

After we thanked the agent for their time, declined the offer, and hung up, Sherwood broke the silence. “Do you think the agent missed that Becky and Brisa [supporting characters] are a couple, too? Do they ever actually kiss on-page? No? I’M ADDING A LESBIAN KISS NOW!”

This Is Not About One Bad Apple

This isn’t about that specific agent; we’d gotten other rewrite requests before this one. Previous agents had also offered to take a second look if we did rewrites… including cutting the viewpoint of Yuki, the gay character. We wondered if that was because of his sexual orientation, but since the agents didn’t say it out loud, we could only wonder. (We were also told that it is absolutely unacceptable in YA for a boy to consensually date two girls, but that it would be okay if he was cheating and lying. And we wonder if some agents were put off because none of our POV characters are white.)

We absolutely do not believe that all our rejections were due to prejudice. We know for a fact that some of them weren’t. (An agent did offer us representation, but we ended up passing due to creative differences that had nothing to do with the identities of the characters.)

This isn’t about one agent’s personal feelings about gay people. We don’t know their feelings; they may well be sympathetic in their private life, but regard the removal of gay characters as a marketing issue. The conversation made it clear that the agent thought our book would be an easy sale if we just made that change. But it doesn’t matter if the agent rejected the character because of personal feelings or because of assumptions about the market. What matters is that a gay character would be quite literally written out of his own story.

We are avoiding names because we don’t want this story to be about one agent who spoke more bluntly than others whose objections were more indirectly expressed. Naming names can make it too easy to target a lone “villain,” who can be blamed and scolded until everyone feels that the matter has been satisfactorily dealt with.

Forcing all major characters in YA novels into a straight white mold is a widespread, systemic problem which requires long-term, consistent action.

When we privately discussed our encounter with the agent, we heard from other writers whose prospective agents made altering a character’s minority identity—sexual orientation, race, disability—a condition of representation. But other than Jessica Verday, who refused to change a character’s gender in a short story on an editor’s request, few writers have come forward for fear of being blacklisted.

We sympathize with that fear. But we believe that silence, however well-motivated and reasonable from a marketing point of view, allows the problem to flourish. We hope that others will speak up as well, in whatever manner is safe and comfortable for them.

The overwhelming white straightness of the YA sf and fantasy sections may have little to do with what authors are writing, or even with what editors accept. Perhaps solid manuscripts with LGBTQ protagonists rarely get into mainstream editors’ hands at all, because they are been rejected by agents before the editors see them. How many published novels with a straight white heroine and a lesbian or black or disabled best friend once had those roles reversed, before an agent demanded a change?

This does not make for better novels. Nor does it make for a better world.

Let’s make a better world.

What You Can Do

If You’re An Editor: Some agents are turning down manuscripts or requesting rewrites because they think that the identities of the characters will make the book unsalable. That means that you, who might love those characters, never even get to see them.

If you are open to novels featuring LGBTQ protagonists or major characters, you can help by saying so explicitly. When agents realize that LGBTQ content does not lead to a lost sale, they will be less likely to demand that it be removed.

The same goes for other identity issues. If you are interested in YA fantasy/sf with protagonists who are disabled, or aren’t white, or otherwise don’t fit the usual mold, please explicitly say so. General statements of being pro-diversity don’t seem to get the point across. We ask you to issue a clear, unmistakable statement that you would like to see books with protagonists or major characters who are LGBTQ, people of color, disabled, or any combination of the above.

If You’re An Agent: If you are open to manuscripts with major or main LGBTQ characters, please explicitly say so in your listings and websites. Just as with editors, simply saying “we appreciate diversity” could mean anything. (In fact, the agent who asked us to make our gay character straight had made such mentions.) You can throw the gates open by making a clear and unmistakable statement with details. For instance: “I would love to see books whose characters are diverse in all or any respects, including but not limited to gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, and national origin.”

If You’re A Reader: Please vote with your pocketbooks and blogs by buying, reading, reviewing, and asking libraries to buy existing YA fantasy/sf with LGBTQ protagonists or major characters. If those books succeed financially, more like them will be written, represented, and sold. Your reviews don’t have to be positive; any publicity is good publicity. Review on blogs, Amazon, Goodreads, anywhere you yourself read reviews.

An annotated list of YA sf/fantasy with main or major LGBTQ characters is available here, with links to Amazon. Please bookmark this list for reference. It will continue to be updated as new books are released.

Characters of color/non-white characters are often also relegated to the status of sidekicks in YA sff, and are depicted as white on the covers of the few books in which they do star. Please vote with your pocketbooks and blogs to support novels in which they are protagonists.

An annotated list of YA sf/fantasy with protagonists of color is available here, with links to Amazon. Part I: Author surnames from A – L. Part II: Author surnames from M – Z. Please bookmark these lists for reference. They will continue to be updated as new books are released.

The usual protagonist of a YA sf/fantasy novel is a heterosexual white girl or boy with no disabilities or mental/neurological issues, no stated religion, and no specific ethnicity. Reading and reviewing novels whose characters break that mold in other ways would also be a step forward.

If You’re A Writer: If you have had a manuscript rejected because of the identity of the characters, or had an agent or editor request that you alter the identity of a character, please tell your story. Comment here, or leave a link to your own blog post. If you would prefer to use a pseudonym, feel free to do so; see this post for more information on Genreville’s pseudonymous comments policy and credibility verification option.

If You’re Anyone At All: Please link to this article. (If you link on Twitter, please use the #YesGayYA hashtag.) If enough people read it and take the suggestions, enormous and wonderful changes could take place.

Who We Are

This article was written by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith. Rachel Manija Brown is a TV writer, poet, and author of the memoir All the Fishes Come Home to Roost: An American Misfit in India. Sherwood Smith has published more than thirty fantasy and science fiction novels, including the adult fantasies Inda and Coronets and Steel, and the YA fantasy Crown Duel. Together, we created an animated TV series, Game World, which we sold to the Jim Henson Company.

Our YA post-apocalyptic novel, Stranger, remains unagented and unsold.

—–

Editor’s note: Please see the follow-up post here.

367 thoughts on “Authors Say Agents Try to “Straighten” Gay Characters in YA

  1. Emblebee

    My first publisher (one of the Big 6) didn’t ask me to take out the gay character. My editor went through and deleted all gay references between my copyedits and the first pass pages without bothering to tell me.

    I pitched a fit and my agent backed me up. The gay character stayed in the novel, as written.

    1. Bennett Madison

      i have had editors do similar things in terms of tampering with my work without telling me. While I’m still pissed off about it years later, it was never related to gay things or anything supposedly controversial. In my case was mostly because of things being rushed, which sometimes was my fault and sometimes wasn’t. I kind of think you should say which publisher and even which editor this was, because if it happened the way you describe– which I admit I find hard to believe– it’s really not okay.

  2. tracykitn

    I truly hope this book finds a home somewhere; I would absolutely read it! I’m always looking for good, interesting, different stuff for myself, and now that my kids are approaching this reading bracket, them. If any of my three are gay, I want them to have characters to identify with on that level. If none of them are, I want them to have something to provide a basis of understanding, that we are ALL different, and different =/= wrong. I’ll definitely be checking out the recommended lists, and hopefully will find books to pass on to my children in a few years.

  3. MM

    What’s really needed is more authors willing to tackle gay-related viewpoints that don’t conform to the mainstream. The views and struggles of those who leave the lifestyle/choose to go on with their lives from a Christian standpoint and not give into gay urges and who are ex-gays should not be avoided or ignored. I can’t blame the libraries on that one, because I have a strong feeling that not many authors are willing to go there. But these viewpoints do exist and they need to be tackled. Libraries shouldn’t be afraid to get the ones that do come out, though, if they really want to be unbiased and cover all viewpoints. The same actually goes for nonfiction as well…there aren’t nearly enough.

    Or perhaps it’s the publishers who need to wake up and accept more such books than they likely do.

    Editor’s note: I’m allowing this comment through because I think it’s honestly meant and not a troll. I request that commenters who disagree refrain from responding directly. Please keep this comments section a space for people to support diversity–even diversity of viewpoints you may find objectionable–and discuss the topic at hand.

    1. Colleen

      Thanks for the diversity-of-diversity comment. It’s true that this is not a topic that I’ve seen in any books, though I do read about it the media. Your point that the non-mainstream-LGBT/Q decision (to try to conform instead) isn’t written much is good food for thought.

    2. PR

      I’m glad that it isn’t only certain sorts of diversity which may be mentioned here. “Mainstream” is such a slippery definition – to one set of people, it means straight white Christians, and to another set of people, it means works which completely avoid religion, and to another it means something else again.

      I’m working on a story with a Christian character which, while true-to-life and positively portrayed, will still not go over with Christian publishers (morality guidelines). I doubt that it will find a home among mainstream publishers either, regardless of how well I may carry it off, because people don’t read Christian characters (and I can hardly blame them – the usual portrayals are rather stupid).

      So it’s nice to see a blog where “Christian” doesn’t automatically equal “troll.”

      (we really have to get rid of this reputation for being judgmental freaks, which is one thing my story is working toward)

    3. Rufus Coppertop

      Yes these viewpoints do exist and could be explored.

      You could also have the views and struggles of those who are actively gay and committed Christians. That would be a challenge!

    4. KK

      It’s not really a YA series, but I read it as a teenager… Orson Scott Card’s Homecoming series features a gay character who gets married and has children, primarily because he is part of a very small group of people who have the responsibility of repopulating Earth and it’s for the good of mankind to reproduce. I’m not sure if there was a religious aspect to the character’s thoughts or not, but the whole series is religious allegory and Card is a well-known Christian writer, so I’m sure that was at least part of the motivation. I don’t really agree personally with suppressing your sexual orientation for the sake of societal or cultural norms, but I found the character identifiable…and there are people in his place in the real world, so it’s a valid perspective to explore.

  4. Amy B.

    Oh this makes me seethe. In YA, too! That’s insane. Thanks, Rachel and Sherwood, for speaking up, and especially for the “What You Can Do.” As an agent, I’m going to edit my website to reflect that I’m not only open to works with characters who are LGBTQ, I’m actively looking for them.

  5. Kate

    As the editor of a small press that’s explicitly interested in non-mainstream characters, I’m ganking that diversity statement for inclusion on our “what we’re looking for” section.

    We’ve got POC main characters, an entire POC-based WORLD, lots of non-straight-in-different-permutations characters, and more. And I want MORE of this. Disabilities. Non-cis-gendered characters. Characters who represent all the different varieties of people out there.

    And I want to READ this, too. Everywhere.

    Totally #yestogayya.

  6. Nina

    I *do* hear this from agents with in the industry and I know it has nothing to do with their own personal feelings or orientation. But it needs to *stop*. We need to show them that it’s sellable and desired.

    1. Clarissa

      Agreed! I enjoyed Malinda Lo’s Ash, have the prequel on my wishlist, and dearly wish for more YA that is, you know, like the actual universe in terms of having GLBTQ people in it. (And people who do not look white, and so on and so forth.) I’d like covers to reflect this, too! I teach ESL students of various ages and backgrounds, many of whom are in a more free environment for the first times in their lives, and I’d like them to see people like them (or like the selves they are discovering) reflected in what they read.

      I usually think it’s bad or lazy writing when I see such narrow visions of what main characters can look like, but I guess it may also be bad, narrow-minded, or even malicious editing and publishing.

  7. Lisa Iriarte

    Well, I’m happy to say that I did not have this experience with my manuscript. Now, granted, mine is adult science fiction and not YA, but the main characters happen to be gay. I actually got six offers of representation on it, and no one asked me to change the sexual preferences of the characters.

    I’m so sorry this happened to you, and it does seem to be happening more in YA than other areas. I hope it finds a home soon.

  8. Maija Haavisto

    This may be slightly OT, as in, it doesn’t answer any of your questions/”roll calls”. For me, it has always been important to try to offer a voice to minorities who rarely get one in fiction, e.g. the disabled (I primarily write fiction about disabled people, which I call cripfic), sexual minorities (especially gender minorities like transgender and genderqueer folks, who get even less representation than the GLB, as well as polyamorists etc), old people, homeless people etc.

    I have never been explicitly told I’ve been rejected for this, but it’s kind of annoying that you can never know for sure, since it’s so rare to get anything but a form rejection. One publisher did let me know they felt the target audience for cripfic would be small. Which is true in that some non-disabled people might not buy the book because of the disabled MC (though the novel has got rave reviews from several able-bodied people), but then again, disabled people would be more inclined to.

    I guess there are two somewhat separate problems: “minority fiction” getting rejected because publishers/agents are afraid it won’t sell, and some people actually having a personal problem with such minorities. Which is unlikely to happen with ethnic minorities, but could happen with e.g. sexual orientation. (And then there’s the third problem of writers stereotyping certain groups, e.g. disabled people into “inspiring” cardboard characters etc – who in YA tend to get healed by magic objects – but I guess that’s another issue altogether.)

    (My own novels are in Finnish only, though I am trying to find an international publisher.)

  9. Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    MM, it sounds like you think that in order to have a “Christian standpoint,” the character must “not give in to gay urges.” Unfortunately, this opinion of yours (if it is yours) is widespread, and serves just as readily to erase viewpoints as do the actions of the agents described above. Gay Christians exist. Transgendered Christians exist. Christians who don’t disapprove of QUILTBAG individuals exist. Churches that accept QUILTBAG people exist. And teens need to see examples of that.

    It sounds like your idea of non-mainstream gay perspectives means “people who reject their gay impulses in order to be good Christians.” Unfortunately, pressure on gay teens to reject this core part of themselves in order to remain in their families’ churches is all too mainstream. You’ve got it backwards, and it’s a mistake that can hurt a lot of kids if given the power of an authoritative voice.

  10. Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    I need to apologize to the moderators. When I wrote my post, the editorial request not to respond to MM directly hadn’t yet been made, I think. Sorry.

    Let me just contribute that YA fiction should contain QUILTBAG teen characters in many different religious contexts. The mainstream idea that you can either be Christian OR queer BUT not both is also at work erasing reflections of teens in fiction. I want to see more, not less, characters who don’t have to choose between their churches and being true to who they are. Not only do teens need that example, but also it makes for more interesting fiction! It means different conflicts can come up besides the predictable, tired ones that are limited by repressive mainstream expectations.

    1. JMS

      Yes, please. I would love to see more writing out there by and about people whose religious viewpoints and their QLTBAG sexualities are mutually reinforcing sources of joy, not sources of conflict. Bishops Mary Glasspool and Gene Robinson, for instance, or Rabbi Sharon Kleinman, and so many others, are real-life role models for queer teens who are passionate about their religious identities; fiction is lagging far behind.

    2. Travis

      If you haven’t read it, I recommend The God Box by Alex Sanchez, about a Christian teen coming to terms with his sexuality and realising that you can be gay and a Christian at the same time.

    3. Nurul

      Ooh, is that A in your QUILTBAG stands for asexual? Because if yes then thank goodness, someone remembers us! It seems like the world refuses to acknowledge that we exist.

      Needs more asexual characters too. The only one I’ve explicitly known as asexual is Kevin from Guardian of the Dead, and Karen Healey did a marvelous job portraying a multicultural setting in her novel. I’m starting to think there’s no Muslims in the western world at all due to the absolute lack of mention of Muslims in YA novels (at least in the ones I’ve read. I welcome recommendations!).

      1. Rose Fox Post author

        It sure is! And I know I’ve read a book with an asexual character in it recently, but I can’t remember which book. I will mention if it comes back into my head.

        1. Nurul

          Do tell! It’s disheartening to never read about your sexuality in any books. I almost blew a gasket when I found out that Kevin was asexual and Samia is Muslim. Two representation in ONE novel, woo!

          Needless to say I love Sheldon.

        2. Aramis

          Guardian of the Dead, by Karen Healey is the first book I ever read with an asexual character. It was a so cool cause I have a friend who identifies as asexual and it was nice to see a less common part of the real world reflected in a fantasy YA novel. (Which is very good by the way.)

      2. Cythraul

        I’m speaking from ignorance; those who don’t feel like educating an ignorant n00b should feel free to ignore me, with my apologies.

        What would constitute depicting a character as asexual? Beyond simply not including any romantic material for them, I mean.

        1. T. Arkenberg

          Thank you for asking so sensitively, Cythraul. To my mind, a character who does not have any romantic material isn’t *necessarily* asexual, as their significant other(s) might roll around in the sequel. As an asexual reader I’d feel most recognized if a character specifically identifies as not having sexual attraction to anyone, or as not intending to have any relationships and as being satisfied with that. Sometimes you’ll get a character who doesn’t want romance, but they’re often portrayed as ‘broken’ or coming down from a bad relationship, and they’ll be turned around by the right potential lover. An asexual character doesn’t need to be ‘healed’.

          That’s the answer from me, in any event, and it’s what I try to do when writing asexual characters. Other readers might have their own idea of what they’d like in the way of representing asexuality.

      3. Brown Girl

        I love this discussion.

        Another suggestion: Ten Things I Hate About Me, by Randa Abdel-Fattah. It isn’t about an asexual MC, but it is about a Muslim girl (in Australia).

        And yes, we definitely need more of both! I’m Hindu and am still waiting for more Hindus portrayed well in YA. All that comes to mind is Tanuja Desai Hidier’s Born Confused.

        1. Jennifer Thorne

          I love Randa Abdel-Fattah. I’ve read ‘Does My Head Look Big In This?’, and it was a scream. I especially like her description of her character’s father (typical embarrassing dad who listens to weird music and used to be cool when she was seven, and sort of misses that, but he’s still embarrassing :).

  11. Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey

    As a book reviewer, the father of a 16-year-old, and a known Christian, I’d certainly be delighted to see this book when you sell it! (I’ll probably ask the 16-year-old to review it as well, for obvious reasons.)

  12. Alexandra

    Bringing diversity into popular youth fiction, and even middle-grade fiction, is the mission of all writers and editors in this day & age. When children turn to fiction to inspire their dreams, and their reading material is suggesting that situations and emotions they’re encountering in their own lives are “wrong” or “irrelevant” or too unimportant to address, it’s an irreversibly negative message. Kids will seek out material with which they can identify, and if schools, libraries, and even parents want to make access to that material more difficult, there’s not much the publishing world can do to prevent it. Putting material out into the world that fairly represents diverse characters to inform, support, encourage, and motivate is our job.

  13. postapocalyptireader

    I’m white, straight, and male.
    I’m not a writer, or in any way involved in publishing, but I am an avid and voracious reader.
    I love science/speculative fiction, particularly post apocalyptic stories, and though I’m probably a bit old to be reading them, i find those categorised as YA tend to be some of the most enjoyable and richly imaginative available. I believe a story with multiple viewpoints should at least try to reflect the spectrum of backgrounds and lifestyles of people who may read it. Some people reading the story will be non-white, LGBTQ etc., so there should be characters they can identify with and root for, regardless of the audience’s age bracket. Any white, straight readers will just have to risk becoming a little more open minded since, surely, that is at least one good reason to be reading such literature in the first place?

    @Emblebee Good on you for sticking to your guns.

    @tracykitn Agreed, I’ll be keeping my eye out for the title.

    @MM Also agreed, moreover, authors should be willing and able to tackle any and every issue, that is a reason more books get produced. The responsibility of people in all other levels of publishing is simply to get the work into its audiences’ hands surely ?

    I’ll be honest, I think anyone in publishing who attempts to whiten/straighten literary works to reflect their personal or prevailing social viewpoints, or even just for the sake of marketing should be named and shamed. I know some might consider that counter productive, or even as bad as those peoples’ actions, but I do believe something should be done to prevent or at least curb racial/ethnic/gender bias in publishing. A good story should stand on its own and be given the chance to find its audience.

  14. Laurie McLean

    I am currently pitching two YA manuscripts with gay teen male protagonists to the mainstream publishers. One is a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy and the other has the potential to become this generation’s Catcher in the Rye. These two authors are as vastly different as their writing styles. I have had nothing but positive reaction from the YA editors to whom I’ve pitched these two novels. So, while the authors you are describing, Rose, may have had a problem with an agent, I feel the reality of the situation is quite different. One editor turned the manuscript down because he felt it was too close to something they were already publishing, but told me that he’d “love” to have a YA novel featuring a gay male teen protagonist. When I sell both of these incredible stories I’ll let you and your audience know.
    -Laurie McLean, literary agent with Larsen Pomada Literary Agents in San Francisco (I’m straight and have been married for 16 years, but I think the time is ripe for a gay teen protagonist in mainstream YA fiction! Yet I did not commit to these two authors because they wrote gay teen protagonists. I committed to them because they are FANTASTIC writers!)

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  16. Ted Lemon

    @postapocalyptic: the authors have done one better than naming and shaming. They’ve basically put any editor or publisher or agent who does not explicitly indicate an interest in seeing novels with gay protagonists on notice as implicitly saying that they do not welcome such novels. I think it’s an interesting move, and I hope it bears fruit.

    Rachel and Sherwood, you did miss an opportunity, though. If you had a link to an Amazon page with your ebook version of this novel, I suspect you would have made a lot of sales today. It surprises me, given the dysfunctionality of the publishing world at the moment, how few authors go this route with their unconventional books. I realize it’s a PITA, but breaking new ground is always a PITA. That’s why it’s described as “breaking new ground,” and not “coasting into new territory!” :)

    1. Marie Brennan

      It surprises me, given the dysfunctionality of the publishing world at the moment, how few authors go this route with their unconventional books.

      Taking the opportunity you describe would mean abandoning the opportunity to make this book not unconventional: to stick to their guns, find a royalty publisher who understands there’s an audience for this kind of story, and get the book out into the mainstream world of bookstores. Self-pubbing it as an ebook would, in a sense, be accepting that this is only of interest to niche readers, that there isn’t enough of an audience to support it being published in the usual manner.

      I think they made the right choice.

      1. N. K. Jemisin

        This. It’s the same reason I chose not to self-publish my fantasies with PoC protagonists and a diversity of sexual orientations and presentations. It wasn’t about “breaking new ground,” because brown people aren’t new. Queer people aren’t new. Both groups are part of society. Always have been.

        Ted, self-publishing has many benefits, and you’re right in that niche targeting is one of those; it’s a great idea for some concepts, genres, forms of artistic expression. But categories of people are not niches. Thinking of them as such is caving to bigotry, not fighting it.

        1. jennygadget

          “But categories of people are not niches. Thinking of them as such is caving to bigotry, not fighting it.”

          This is such an excellent way of putting it. I hope you do not mind if I steal that phrasing often (with credit).

      2. Elizabeth Moon

        Agreed, Marie. In order for it to become mainstream-acceptable to have diversity in fiction (both YA and adult), writers must push for mainstream publication of texts that present minority (of any sort) characters. Just getting sales from what will be seen as a niche audience is not getting that job done.

      3. Ben Trafford

        I can’t agree, Marie.

        Self-publishing as an ebook does not automatically mean that one is marginalizing one’s work. Self-publishing is becoming increasingly mainstream, especially among the ebook crowd.

        If it were a choice between publishing what I wanted to say myself, or not publishing it at all (or waiting years to find the right publisher), I’d publish it myself.

        I agree with Ted — the authors could have used this as very positive marketing and self-published. It would’ve made a lot of sense.

        1. jennygadget

          “increasingly” = / = “is” Especially when one is talking about YA sales.

          I don’t know what the actual numbers are (I would be very interested to see) but I suspect self-published YA books have a built in disadvantage compared to traditionally published books, since a significant amount of the sales in that genre is still made by schools and libraries.

          I also have serious doubts as to how well self-published ebooks (that aren’t by Cassie Clare) sell to teens, who tend to have few problems finding free content online to entertain themselves with and who also tend to have high standards when it comes to assessing the packaging – and using that the guess as to the quality – of the content that they do pay for.

    2. zvi

      Self-pubbed books don’t get into libraries, and if you want to give the most kids self-recognition, you’ve got to have library sales.

      1. EPeterson

        Agreed. For an adult audience e-books are a great option but it is still a relatively small group of children and teens that have ready access to e-books. Libraries are how most voracious readers are going to discover new YA…..

  17. W. H. Horner

    I’ll definitely add that diversity statement to the list of updates for the new Fantasist website, as well as to the SpecFic.net site once it’s up and running.

    It’s not something I ever considered needed to be said . . . but I feel rather shortsighted now, considered that we’ve never included a statement like that in any of our calls for submissions.

  18. Pingback: #YesGayYA | Scott Tracey – Young Adult Writer

  19. B. W. Kuhn

    As an aspiring YA writer, this disgusts me. I don’t have any gay characters in my current novel (or at least, if I do, they haven’t come out to me yet), but reading this makes me tempted to change that. I’m not going to, because want my characters to develop naturally as I write them. I’ll write a gay character if it feels right for them to be gay. I won’t force a straight character to be gay any more than I’d force a gay character to be straight. It’s not good for the character’s development.

    But I’ve read stories about gay teens suffering, often committing suicide, and the idea of keeping stories that might help them cope with their situation is repugnant. I’m not using hyperbole when I say that a story like Stranger might very well save somebody’s life.

    1. S.O.

      Allow me to point out that YOU are the writer; your characters are not in charge.

      I would far rather read a character who has been “forced” as you put it, into gayness, than not read any gay characters at all.

      1. B. W. Kuhn

        I’m a “discovery” writer. I need to let my characters and plots flow naturally. Trying to force characters to grow in a specific way can disrupt that. If I force a character to be gay just for the sake of having a gay character, it’s going to show, especially given that I’m still learning the trade. Simply put, if I force one of my characters to be gay, my story will suffer for it. And I’d rather have a good book that doesn’t happen to have a gay character than a mediocre book that does.

        In my last story, now shelved, one of the characters was gay, although it wasn’t going to come up in that particular book (the viewpoint character didn’t know and he wasn’t about to tell her). This came quite naturally into his character and helped iron him out in my head, so I never had to worry about it feeling tacked on.

        1. S.O.

          At this point in time, I would rather read mediocre work that treats queerness as a fact of life, than finely written novels that ignore my existence. Life is tough when you’re invisible.

          J.K Rowling recently mentioned that Dumbledore was gay, that she always knew that, but it didn’t really matter to the plot of the books so she never mentioned it. Did you know that he was gay?

          I sure didn’t. Dumbledore *is* straight, to millions of readers. Nobody would ever think to question that.

          We always assume that someone is heterosexual, unless we are given evidence otherwise. If you keep your character’s gayness a big secret, then– he’s straight. One more gay man has been erased.

          Just something to think about. :-)

          1. B. W. Kuhn

            I understand what you’re saying, but at the same time, I’m trying to get published, and for that I need to write the best book I can (and even then, I’ll probably have to write a few more books before I get published). If I a gay character ends up in my book, I won’t let any agent tell me to remove him or her, any more than I’d let them white-wash one of my characters, but I won’t ruin the integrity of my book by forcing it. Simply put, if I write a mediocre book with a gay character, you won’t ever get to read it anyway. Better to focus on improving my writing skills for now, so when that gay character does show up, be it in this story or a couple down the line, I’ll have a better chance of getting that book on the shelves where you can read it.

            Editor’s note: I believe this exchange has gone about as far as it’s going to go, and people are starting to repeat themselves. Please let this end of the conversation drop and move on.

        2. J. Andrews

          I understand what you’re saying. However, I think you might find more of your characters are gay or bisexual or trans if you read and watch more books, short stories, TV shows, where there are GLBTQ characters.

          What we output as writers is very much influenced by what we take in as input.

          Read more diversely and it will be more natural to write more diversely.

          1. B. W. Kuhn

            Oh, definitely. Since realizing most of my story ideas are YA, I’ve started reading more YA. After reading this article, I’m going to try to find some good stories that have GLBTQ characters (I’m welcome to suggestions). If nothing else, it will help me do those characters justice when they do show up in my books.

            1. Rose Fox Post author

              There’s a great list of GLBT YA SF linked from the main post. That’s a good place to start.

          2. T. Arkenberg

            I am very much a “discovery” writer, too, and I can testify that J. Andrews’ advice works. After reading up more widely on sexuality, romanticism, and gender, my characters became much more diverse. Some of them did “come out” as different sexualities or romantic orientations (as some of them are asexual) in time, but I have never “forced” a character into an orientation that didn’t feel right–this also means that LGBTQA characters are LGBTQA even if I might have more luck finding a market with straight ones.

            I wish you lots of luck with your future writing, B.W. Kuhn.

    2. branewurms

      I find that when I want a character with specific characteristics, I usually only have to give some light, sort of back-of-the-mind focus to that intent, and within a week or two the character comes. (If only this worked with plots.)

    3. Tancid Everlost

      “I’m not using hyperbole when I say that a story like Stranger might very well save somebody’s life.” — B.W. Kuhn

      A friend linked me to the article above, and when I read your comment, I was uncharacteristically moved to respond. (Leaving comments on random articles just isn’t something I normally do, as I don’t often feel like I have anything worthwhile to contribute. However . . . .) What you say is so true, and I know this because somehow I was fortunate enough to have brought about that very thing.

      No, I am not a published author; I drowned in rejection slips long ago, my will further sapped by chronic health issues (not to mention chronic self-doubt). But a few years ago I stumbled into a sort of niche market of my own: a comic-creation website. I found a home there in the drama section, bringing some of my old, unpublished novels to life as serial comic strips.

      This past spring, I decided my next project there would be to convert my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel to graphic form. My inspiration for that particular piece was the horrific rash of real-life GLBTQ young adult suicides last autumn (which resulted in some 11 deaths over the span of roughly a month’s time), and the book deals with a gay male teen in similar circumstances.

      I began to publish daily episodes of the book on that site . . . and was quite surprised and humbled when one of the young ladies there spoke to me one day of a friend of hers, who had been reading my work and had been so deeply affected by it that it completely changed him. She told me he had been acting depressed for a long period and had confessed to suicidal thoughts, but that reading the first few chapters of my story — where my character was going through a situation so like his own — made him think long and hard about his own life and what he was doing with it. She said he was like a different person after that, and she literally told me that my story had saved his life. (And that, to me, was far better than a thousand publishing contracts could ever have been.)

      At any rate . . . I just wanted to relate that little tale, because it proves your point. Reading about characters with whom they can identify DOES make a difference to these kids. It DOES make an impact; it IS important. And yes, it really CAN save lives. It has already happened, to me. I don’t know how I came out with the right words and put them in the right place at the right moment to touch that boy’s heart; I just know I’ll always be grateful that somehow I did. Now just imagine what could happen if more writers could get such words out into the public, where more kids could find them — if more agents and publishers would just take that chance. Think how many more lives would never be thrown away . . . .

  20. Scott Tracey

    I empathize with the writers of this post. I’ve been in your shoes, in one form or another. Happily, my experience worked out for the best, and I hope yours will as well.

    About four years ago, I wrote an urban fantasy novel told from a gay character’s POV. When I queried agents, I had a couple tell me there wasn’t a market for a gay book like this, or they wouldn’t know how to market it in the first place. Luckily, I DID find an agent who liked it. From there, it went to editors, some of whom suggested that the book might work better if…one of the boy characters was changed to a girl or if the romance angle was dropped and the book reworked into a straight girl/gay BFF novel. But it worked out for the best, because my book went to a publishing house that has a strong interest in publishing books of all voices, including LGBT characters.

    Good luck to both of you!

  21. Maris

    I, for one, will add books to my to-read list if they have well-portrayed queer characters, ESPECIALLY if it’s not specifically a romance novel.

    1. T. Arkenberg

      Good point, although seeing as it’s an uphill struggle to get a book published that just has one LGBTQA viewpoint character, I can’t imagine what it would be like to try to get a YA LGBTQA romance published. Adult and erotica, certainly. But I wouldn’t be surprised if LGBTQA (or POC characters, for that matter) are even rarer in YA romance than in any other genre.

      1. Marie Brennan

        I can’t imagine what it would be like to try to get a YA LGBTQA romance published.

        There is still a really disturbing tendency in some places to see non-straight romance as automatically being “kinky” and therefore Not Appropriate for Children. Even if the description isn’t any more graphic than it is for a heterosexual romance in the same book; even if it’s just a kiss. “Gay” immediately translates to “anal sex” (or whatever) immediately translates to “kinky and R-rated.”

        I wish I were making that up.

  22. Alex Kahler

    I’m a YA writer. My current project is a post-apocalyptic series featuring gay male protagonists.

    I thought I’d have a hard time finding representation–I thought there would be a push against gay characters. I thought maybe I should straighten things out. I was wrong.

    I am now represented by Laurie McLean, who wouldn’t let me turn my chars straight if I begged her. Not that I would. In the first week of pitching we’ve received nearly a dozen requests–some unsolicited–to read the book. The responses have been unanimous: editors (Big 6 included) are excited for gay protagonists.

    I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but the support for gay characters has been overwhelming. Twitter has been on fire with #YesGayYA — authors, agents, editors, readers, are all sharing their support.
    Things are changing in the publishing world and beyond. I think we just need to stay persistent in pushing that change forward.

  23. Pingback: Say Yes to Gay YA « Joely Skye

  24. Phoebe

    Oh wow, this makes me really glad for my agent, Michelle Andelman at Regal Literary. My book (YA, sci-fi) has a major pro gay marriage message. When I asked her if she thought we’d have any problems with that, she told me that I wouldn’t want to sign with a publisher or editor who would want me to change it, anyway.

    So authors: query Michelle. Michelle is awesome.

  25. slee

    I just pulled my tween aside to ask her if she’d ever read a novel with a lgbt main character. She said “no, but one once had a gay friend.” We’re going to have to remedy this in her reading. Diversity in literature is something I think everyone needs a little more of.
    It also occurs to me that in any of the novellas I’ve written, there have invariably been non-straight and non-white characters in the forefront, and as such, I had forgotten to pay close attention to what I read elsewhere. I’m paying attention now.

  26. Deb

    As a high school (science) teacher and adviser to our Gay-Straight Alliance, reading things like this infuriates me. I read quite a bit of YA lit, to keep up with what the kids are into and your assessment “The usual protagonist of a YA sf/fantasy novel is a heterosexual white girl or boy with no disabilities or mental/neurological issues, no stated religion, and no specific ethnicity.” is spot-on. I would love to read more books (in any genre) that present a more diverse character set. We are encouraged to keep telling the kids “it gets better”, but here is another example of where they are at best marginalized, or at worst cut out completely. And unless you are reading in the LBGT genre, mainstream adult lit really isn’t much better.

    I know you want a publisher so get the book out for sale, but have you considered putting a few copies up on LibraryThing for review? It would at least get it out there and hopefully generate some positive buzz. I know I would certainly be happy to read it & post reviews. Good luck!

  27. Notanyani

    As an adult, white, lesbian reader of YA, I am thrilled to find YA novels that have minority characters of any ilk. As the mom of a pre-teen, black son, it’s not just fun for me to find him books that represent more than straight, white people who have no disabilities–it’s imperative.

  28. amy lane

    In my teaching days, students could find any level of sexuality in the school library–from polite kisses to extreme sex to casual ‘let’s do it because we’re bored’. They could find books on gang life, books validating gang life and violence, and books glorifying in violence. They could find books that defended drug use and that exploited the people whose lives had fallen apart from drug use and lots of books saying that if they made one sexual misstep or drug related misstep their lives would fall apart and they would probably die.

    Books that treated a gay or bisexual character just like every other human being on the planet were few and far between. Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist comes to mind–and uhm… well…

    I knew MANY gay, lesbian, and bisexual students–and a few transgender or genderqueer students as well. I’ve always believed that fiction is where we get our model–our hope–for how we should behave as a society, for how we should treat each other, for the things that are wrong with us that should and could be addressed, and yet this one issue, this issue that effects as many as 10-15% of our students (which is, by the way, a far greater number than dyslexia and ADHD combined).

    It should NOT be any more disturbing for us to see a gay character than for us to see a post-apocalyptic world. (In fact, it should be fairly obvious that it should be a lot LESS disturbing!) And it SHOULD be a lot easier for our LGBTQ population to see fictional mirrors who could be just like them.

  29. Pingback: Straightening YA Fiction « Merry Shannon

  30. thisisme

    This is so depressing.

    In 1988/89 I was getting rejection letters from editors that said (I paraphrase): “I’m not homophobic and I’d publish it… except for this gay relationship presented as normal”.

    It did get published, but little enough seems to have changed since then.

  31. Janet Reid

    Done.

    FAQ and QUERY info pages on my blog now carry this paragraph: I would love to see books whose characters are diverse in all or any respects, including but not limited to gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, and national origin.

    Publishers Marketplace page has it as well.

    I’m just sorry this is happening right in the middle of a query hiatus for me, or I’d post it on my blog in Big Red Letters.

  32. Anastasia

    I have been wishing for a post-apocalyptic/dystopian YA novel with non-white, non-straight protagonists for a LONG TIME, so it makes me really happy to know that y’all have written one! I’m seriously disappointed that the pubs/agents can’t see that something different from the mass of white/straight/triangular romances is a GOOD thing, y’know?

    Can’t wait to read Stranger when it finally finds its home. :)

  33. Lori

    I won the opportunity to work with an agent through a library contest. (okay, I didn’t win it but the person who did graciously gave the opportunity to me for reasons.) After reading the entire manuscript, I talked with the agent and felt as if he really got the intent of the story. He had a few suggestions one being that I change the main characters sexual orientation. And here I thought he got the story. The MC is not a lesbian, though she is in a lesbian relationship, for reasons he should have understood. It’s a pivot point in the plot and one that a good part of the plot revolves around. He said it would limit the publishers he could approach. I laughed because this would limit the possibilities but the fact that she is also promiscuous with men, apparently wouldn’t. There are two scenes in the book where the characters kiss and one where they are lying naked in bed together, those needed to be taken out but the several where the MC is in bed with men, doesn’t. Really?

  34. MJLocke

    I had an agent once express discomfort with a gay character, but the agent backed down when I insisted on keeping the character as is. This was in the early nineties.

  35. Georgina

    I would read that book in a HEARTBEAT! I’ve been thinking for years that there need to be more non-straight non-white characters in YA SF/fantasy (especially fantasy ’cause I’m not as big on SF)! And cheers for the list, I will definitely be checking a bunch of them out.

    @Lisa: It probably wasn’t rejected because it wasn’t YA and unfortunately even though there are plenty of gay young adults, gayness is considered an adult topic/theme by entirely too many people even without describing physical affection.

  36. Pingback: Straightening Gay YA characters, a rant. | L. Anne

  37. Kara

    These are the kinds of stories I want to read, and these are the kinds of stories I hope to write someday. And there are so many people who need these stories; gay, straight, white, brown, able-bodied or not…people need to realize there are viewpoints out there different than theirs, and that it’s a GOOD thing.

    I have so much respect for you for not changing your character(s) to suit publishers needs. I look forward to the day your book gets published, good luck and I hope it’s soon!

  38. Nicola Griffith

    I fired my first agent because she didn’t like the protagonist of my outlined novel being lesbian, said “This is not a selling outline.” (Story told in this video.)

    The novel, Slow River went on to win the Nebula Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and others.

  39. Lady

    This really makes me sad. I mean, of course the lack of LGBTQ characters in YA already suggested that authors were cowed into not writing about them, for whatever reason, but I find the agents’ fears unfounded. I am MORE likely to be happy when I see that there’s a gay character in a book. Like, I’d already enjoyed Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments, but when I reached the end and found out that Alec was gay, it made me love the series more, and look how popular it and some others are! It’s being made into a major motion picture, which we fans will delight in watching, and I really want that to occur more often.

    Also, this novel of yours sounds amazing! More gay and lesbian kisses for us all!

  40. H. Scott Beazley

    I’m the author of NOWHERE, EXCEPT IN BETWEEN, a YA novel just going out to major NY editors. The protagonist is gay, but it’s not a “gay story.” The fact that he is gay is essential to the plot and to the actions and development of each of the principal characters in the book, but, ultimately, it is only one aspect of establishing a self-identity and determining one’s place in the world–universal issues with which all adolescents must deal. Based on the experience of the authors of this blog, it would seem that New York publishers are more concerned about the potential negativity of gay characters than teenagers, who are intrigued by diversity and by the similarities and differences among themselves and others. Personally, my agent has not encountered any editorial objections to my gay protagonist, who is both a high school athlete and an accomplished actor, which is good news for all of us.

  41. R. K. MacPherson

    Ridiculous. If there’s any sort of control to be exerted (A big IF), it resides with the parents (We should be so lucky that they pay attention to what their child reads). Writers tell stories. Stories with relatable, realistic (fantastic is fine, just has to be realistic) characters are more interesting and engage the reader more. I’d be a lot more annoyed at poorly written characters than I would be that there are gay or lesbian (or any variant!) characters in YA fiction.

    Boggling that this continues in the 21st century! Children meet gay children in school. It’s okay (hell, it’s great!) that that read about them.

  42. Pingback: It’s More Complicated Than #YesGayYA « Robin Talley, YA writer

  43. Michele

    As a 40+ adult, and aspiring librarian, I have to say this disturbs me. One of my favorite series as a teen was Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series. These books still have a favored place on my shelves. While I am not gay, the fact that the main character was was comforting to me. As a geeky, D&D playing girl, I identified with Vanyel and his being different and shunned by his peers. The fact that he was gay didn’t bother me a bit. To think those books may not have been published because an agent was more concerned with salability then integrity is upsetting. So, to authors I say gender, handicap, or otherwise break the mold, if that’s how the story goes, and to the agents and editors, remember your audience has a lot of disposable income, and not always a lot if supervision. They *will* buy these books, and it just might teach them they’re not alone, or give them a little more tolerance towards those that don’t fit the mold.

    1. Winter

      I must confess that this issues in publishing puzzles me a bit exactly because of the Vanyel books. I just looked them up and the first of those books was published in 1989, and has been in continuous print ever since.

      It’s staggering to me that queer leading characters in mainstream YA fantasy is still a controversial subject 22yrs after Mercedes Lackey’s successful trilogy was so frankly blunt about it. Hell, there was more openly acknowledged gay sex in those books than even in YA books aimed specifically at LGBT audiences today.

      1. John Williford

        I agree completely! Also, in case you’ve never read it, Elizabeth A. Lynn’s Chronicles of Tornor trilogy (the first of which won the World Fantasy Award in 1980) was equally open and frank in depicting same-sex relationships – and predates the Vanyel books by ten years. So yeah, I find myself asking “What’s all the fuss? We were past this a very long time ago…”

        1. Robin Ramkissoon

          I agree too. The Vanyel series was a great read in my opinion, and I really hope we can move on past this being thought of as still being an issue.

          1. Robin Ramkissoon

            Respectfully, Michael, the Vanyel books are regularly marketed as YA, whether or not that was the original intent of the writer (which I can’t vouch for myself).

            I just took a look on Amazon.com and found both of these listed as “Reading level: Young Adult” by way of verifying my opinion expressed here:
            http://tinyurl.com/6cjtksp
            http://tinyurl.com/67x7yca

            1. Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey

              Amazon? I wouldn’t trust anything about a book I found on amazon! If they told me Stephen King wrote THE SHINING, I’d suspect that Peter Straub was really the author.

              1. Lenora Rose

                Lackey at least knows for a fact that her audience is strongly skewed to YA, and that she has a disproportionately high number of readers between 13-18 years old. (She kept fairly close tabs on her main fan club, for one.) The chances of her agent and publisher not knowing the same is pretty low.

                That being said, no, her publisher is not a YA imprint.

    2. Jessica

      This.
      I was introduced to Lackey by ‘stealing’ the Vanyel trilogy off my uncles book shelf. It was also my introduction to homosexuality. I didn’t hear the term ‘homosexual’ until Ellen Degeneres came out, years later. When she did, my reaction was ‘what’s the big deal’ precisely because of how naturally Lackey treated the subject.

      Like Michele I was a geeky girl who didn’t fit in anywhere, and Vanyel’s survival and triumph, even eventually acceptance by his parents, taught me that it can get better. I can’t imagine how much more meaningful that must be to a young adult who is gay or lesbian and going through what he went through.

      We need to see more books and series like this, and I’m glad to read that there are authors who are writing them.

    3. Emilia Quill

      I also identified with Vanyel, I was bullied in school for being odd. It lasted from 4th grade, to high school until I switched schools. Now that I’m college things are looking better.
      The Valdemar series gave me hope, you could survive the horrible loniless that derived from being different and even find someone who love’s you because of it. Nervermind that I was bullied for being shy, dressing weird and practising singing during recess and Vanyel because he was gay, he went through hell and survived. Maybe I could too.

  44. Pingback: Publishing Links September 13, 2011 « Champagne and Socks

  45. Ray J.

    I have ocular albinism (which leaves me legally blind and with visibly crossed eyes) and am self-diagnosed with Aspergers after 50 years (with several factors confirming that self-diagnosis after the fact). Both of those things would have sent me straight to a death camp in Nazi Germany. So I grew up thinking of myself as an “outcast”, eventually even as an “outcast among outcasts”. I don’t take issues like this lightly.

    I’ve seen a lot of opinions on this and similar topics, and I tend to take a moderate view. I am not a fan of suppressing certain viewpoints, but I’m not sure if that is happening here. You see, I’ve also been a letterpress printer, and so learned the reality of the statement “freedom of the press is for those who own one”. However frustrating I may find aspects of this culture (and those of us with AS are about as misunderstood as it gets – the formal diagnostic criteria describes how we appear to the rest of the world, but distorts what we’re like inside), I can’t expect every agent and publisher to go against what they see as the practical realities of that culture.

    If you work in the publishing industry, are uncomfortable with this situation, and see a way to change it, by all means, go ahead! But for all the frustrated writers who say their voices are silenced, why not try self-publishing, which is becoming a lot more respectable and more viable lately? Why not band together and form a small publisher to bring out the books you think the world needs? If you can make money at it, I can pretty much guarantee you other publishers will take notice.

    I do believe it is a good thing for the widest possible variety of opinions and viewpoints to be published. To take that belief to its extreme, even the vilest bigotry is better aired in the open than whispered in secret, so we can all see it clearly for what it is. But I also think those who are most convinced a viewpoint is worth putting forward are the ones who must, as a practical matter, be the ones to put it forward. That’s the only way a free marketplace of ideas can really function.

    In this instance, aren’t there people who might be willing to finance a small publisher to come out with books such as this YA title that was turned down? (If even the neo-Nazis can somehow get funds to put their semi-literate rants in print, I should think the answer would be a resounding yes.) Aren’t there those who would be happy to give publicity to a title so unusual among the genre? (It seems most of the commenters here would.) And aren’t there many who would buy such a title once they became aware of it? (Well, a lot of people are saying they’d like to buy it.) And isn’t that the single most effective way to get everyone’s attention – to take that which they rejected, and turn it into a success? Maybe that small publisher will even grow into a mid-sized one, or eventually even a giant, if the others ignore the lesson long enough…

    1. Brown Girl

      I deeply disagree with the idea that the oppressed and those who want to represent them have to back down. Why shouldn’t their stories be told by the big publishers, too? They live in the same world as straight, white, able-bodies characters. Why should only those characters make it through traditional publishing’s hoops?

      If someone chooses to self-publish, that’s one thing, but why should that be the only option?

    2. J. Andrews

      Self-publishing is great if that’s what you want to do. It’s not great if that’s what you’re _forced_ to do.

      It makes it darned unlikely and near impossible to get your books into libraries (especially if you’re only publishing ebooks), into review journals, and nominated for awards.

      And you have to do the marketing yourself. Which takes time, energy, and learned skills to do effectively. Meanwhile the writers with straight characters have moved on to writing their next book? Hrrm.

    3. RadFemHedonist

      I have aspergers too, and ADHD (I’m officially diagnosed with both), and I don’t agree with what you’re saying, it is not right that oppressed people should have to end their oppression entirely or primarily by themselves. The big publishers should be publishing far more novels with main and major characters who are not straight, cisgender, white, currently non-disabled and thin/otherwise conventionally attractive, not to mention not assuming that books with female main characters can only be marketed to female audiences whereas male characters are universal (still a widely hold prejudice both within the publishing industry and in society more generally and one that that both is generated by and generates misogyny). The idea that oppressed groups should take the prejudices of the privileged as a justified challenge to prove that the oppressed are as equal to the privileged by working twice as hard to get anywhere near as much recognition, rather than insisting that the barriers (prejudice and discrimination) that make them have to work harder and suffer more to get the same results or even any good results at all be removed, which is a goal that all of us need to work on rather than just expecting the oppressed group in question to stop other people from oppressing them.

  46. Lu Hallulat

    I know this kind of stuff happens a lot, but I want to speak up in praise, pointing a spotlight on one young agent–the newest at the Donald Maas Agency, Ms. Amy Boggs–who is specifically looking for GLBT, feminist, and multiracial scifi and fantasy (YA and adult), and who loves and fights for her books/authors with an amazingly intense loyalty and joy.

  47. Robert Sloan

    This explains something that’s puzzled me for years. Where are GBLT readers of color? Why did SF and fantasy, where antidiscrimination themes go back as early as Bradbury and Asimov, turn off people of color and the gay community?

    This might be a long standing pattern or something that only goes back as far as 9-11 and the conservative backlash. I don’t know what it is. I do know that a feeling this happens is what has kept me from even writing YA up till now. I didn’t want to fight with the parents, I trusted that young readers would go ahead and get adult books from the library.

    Now I can see how important this is, so I’ll be working on some new books with GBLT themes. I’m disabled and bi, so I felt that lack in most of what I read as a kid – except Heinlein, where I could imagine myself as a Starship Trooper easily with loads of cool cyberware making up for my physical lack of capacity.

    Disabled people grow courage. No matter what they were like when it happened, it takes that to get through what they deal with every day. A disabled GBLT hero or heroine is going to be someone with grit. There’s plenty of inherent conflict to make good story and there’s high stakes for everything in their lives from just taking a bath to saving the world.

    These are good stories being tossed along with the minds of young readers. I hope we can change this pattern. I’d lay odds certain editors would love to get manuscripts like this if approached directly.

    1. J. Andrews

      Where are GLBT readers of color?

      Online – Google ‘racefail’

      At cons – Wiscon ftw!

      At work/on the bus/in the movie theatre watching Harry Potter — you might be able to see someone is a person of color, but it’s not always easy to tell someone’s a sf/f fan, or glbt. Doesn’t mean GLBT fans of color are not out there.

      It’s hard enough walking into an all-male space to try to share a common interest in something geeky. I really can’t well imagine what it’d be like if I wasn’t white, was disabled, or if I looked (more) genderqueer. It really does take a certain amount of energy, will-power, and even courage (especially if you’re an introvert). So small wonder a lot of these spaces remain looking white, straight, and cisgendered male.

      But yea, when you’re reading sf/f and all the main characters are white straight males, you definitely can start to think… and with society helping you along the way to think it… that sf/f is for white straight males. No matter how much you love it! And with teens still figuring out who they are, if their interest in sf/f isn’t strong, they might drop it in favor of doing what their parents and peers think they should be into. Or in favor of types of fiction where they can find people ‘like them’.

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