#YesGayYA Winds Down

It’s been ten days since the original “Say Yes to Gay YA” post went up, and a lot has been said and done since then. Probably the best of the wrap-up posts is Cleolinda Jones’s. If you’re attempting to explain the whole conversation to someone who wasn’t in on it from the start, that’s the link to send them.

I also wanted to note a couple of other link lists, one by holyschist and one by qian, that highlight some long, thoughtful posts on QUILTBAG representation in YA and related matters. Once you’ve caught up on the general conversation, take some time to read those posts, especially the ones by oyceter and Alaya Dawn Johnson.

Finally, crucially, Malinda Lo has done an absolutely heroic job of compiling statistics on queer characters in U.S.-published YA fiction. The most depressing stat is the one that’s been quoted a lot elsewhere, but it bears repeating:

Finally, according to Harold Underdown’s YA Books Are Booming–but not That Much, there were approximately 4,000 YA titles published in 2010. That same year, only 11 LGBT YA titles were published. That amounts to 0.2% of YA books. That fraction is frankly too small to make a pie chart out of.

The numbers aren’t much better for this year. If we assume no growth and stick with 4,000 YA titles, we have 25 LGBT YA titles within that, which amounts to 0.6%. That means:

Less than 1% of YA novels have LGBT characters.

So we have our work cut out for us. I hope readers, writers, agents, publishers, librarians, booksellers, and critics will take a serious look at these numbers and the outpouring of support for YA with QUILTBAG characters, and will collaborate on creating wonderful books featuring queer teens–including books that aren’t “issue books”, including books where those queer teens aren’t white cisgender American boys, including romances with happy endings–and getting them into the hands of anyone and everyone who might appreciate them.

4 thoughts on “#YesGayYA Winds Down

  1. Kristin

    Has anyone from sales or marketing at a publishing house addressed this issue? While editors and agents pushing for these titles is extremely important, at the end of the day, the decision about whether or not these books can be acquired and then sold is up to them.

  2. Pingback: Susan Dennard » Blog Archive » Publishing Industry Lowdown (Sept. 19-23)

  3. Hope

    Deepad’s post that pointed out that a lot of the books that appear on QUILTBAG lists contain really poor representations of the marginalized community came closest to my point of view on this.


    Writing is hard. Or at least, there are many more people who write than there are people who write anything worth reading. Someone’s earnest desire to produce a book with a whole quilt full of diverse characters does not mean they’ve written anything I want to read even though I would dearly love to diversify my reading. I balk at buying bad books for the social justice cause. In fairness, I can see why agents or publishers would do the same.

    But it’s apparent that this attitude reinforces the status quo, so I am open to arguments on how we can get better books with better representation so I can have my cake and eat it, too.

    Agents are in the business of shining it on. They say, “We are so excited about your book,” when they think it might possibly earn back it’s advance, if it’s a small one. They do not say, “Your heavy-handed earnest characterization of this person is patronizing.” They say, “Hmmm, I’m not sure that this character contributes to the story.” NK Jemison is quite right that this is codespeak, but how can an author who believes in his or her own work know when an agent is trying to save hurt feelings and when it is codespeak for prejudice? Most of the discussions linked here start from the assumption that all such comments stem from prejudice. I don’t think that moves us towards better books.

    I think it boils down to a sense of trust between the agent and the author. The agent has to trust the author not to be a special snowflake and the author has to trust the agent enough to know that if it there’s codespeak it’s only about protecting people’s feelings and not a cover for prejudice.

    I would have liked to have seen more discussion on this point, though. Because I can see the harm that comes from no-trust: no one speaks frankly. I can see the harm of too much trust: people feel comfortable saying racist or sexist or anti-QUILTBAG things trusting that the conventions of the publishing world will keep those comments confidential. How do we steer a course between these?

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