Tuesday, September 13, 2011

who is saying "no" to gay YA f&sf?

There's something odd about Authors Say Agents Try to “Straighten” Gay Characters in YA « Genreville. It's not hard to find gay characters with prominent roles in YA. People have made lists:

Poking Badgers with Spoons - Science Fiction and Fantasy YA novels with Major LGBTQ characters

megwrites | Don't mind me and my big gay book spam!

Now, I've been lucky in my career, so maybe I just haven't run into the homophobes who would've told me to de-gay "Secret Identity" or Elsewhere. I would love to know if Francesca Lia Block faced obstacles selling the Weetzie Bat books, or if anyone told Holly Black to de-gay her work.

In my experience, understanding publishing is easy: it's a business. The notion that YA publishers don't want the next Holly Black is very, very strange.

ETA: The story is more complex: failfandom: essential update on the Rachel Brown and Sherwood Smith story


  1. It's worth re-iterating the point that the linked article is about *agents* not about publishers.

    If publishers print 50% thing A, 49% thing B, and 1% thing C, an Agent is best off repping thing A. From a business perspective, if presented with a B, they slightly improve the odds of a sale and thus a commission (they're commissioned, I assume? At any rate, surely sales are good for them) if they can convert this to an A.

    I'm certainly not in favor of this behavior, and I do not endorse white/straight-washing characters. Also, I don't pretend to know the actual demographics or publishing habits. However, I merely want to point out that pressing authors to white/straight-wash characters might be a rational and understandable -- albeit disagreeable -- behavior, especially in these trying economic times.

  2. I phrased the last sentence in terms of publishers because publishers make the final decision, but only a homophobic agent wouldn't want the next Holly Black or Cassandra Clare. These people make money, and that's what publishing is all about.

    Mind you, that there may be some homophobic agents out there, I don't doubt, and some homophobic editors as well. I am sure Sherwood and Rachel reported everything as they understand it to be. Hell, let me make this unambiguous: I do not mean to imply that Rachel or Sherwood are being anything less than absolutely honest.

    But something's odd. Gay YA f&sf exists, and in some cases, makes a whole lot of money. Agents like that, because they know publishers like that.

  3. It might be the YA science-fictional equivalent of publication bias. (That is, a large percentage of YA science-fiction with queer characters may be getting filtered out in the early stages without most of the writers, agents, publishers, etcetera, being consciously aware that that's what they're doing. You'd still get some of it making it all the way to publication, but not nearly as much as is being written.)

    Or there might be an anti-queer backlash going on at the moment. I know Francesca Lia Block was publishing the Weetzie Bat books in the late 1980's and through the 1990's when diverse characters were getting a lot more popular. It wouldn't surprise me if the pendulum has swung the other way in the YA world since then.

  4. If a backlash is happening, it must be very recent. Isn't Cassandra Clare a relatively new writer, or am I even more out of touch than I think I am?

  5. New enough so that I haven't actually read anything by her. The first Mortal Instruments book was published in 2007.

  6. Cassandra Clare is. . . a weird thing. She's fairly new as an author (last 5 years or so?) but before that she was a very big name fan-fiction writer. "The Very Secret Diaries" LOTR fanfic was her, and she wrote some really famous Harry Potter stuff that I never read because I almost never read fan-fiction. So she actually started out "internet famous" before moving into publishing. Publishers might have been willing to take more of a chance, since she had some name recognition and a (small) built in fan-base.

    However, I'm thinking of a different aspect. I wonder if it was the genre. Post-apocalyptic is a pretty masculine genre. Most of the books on those lists are urban or modern fantasy, which are targeted to female readers. From an agents point of view, they might be thrilled to get a novel about sexy vampires that has full on boy on boy action because their teen aged girl audience thinks it's cool, but if it's a sci-fi/survival book, they think their audience of teen aged boys might not buy that. (And to be fair, they're enough right that it's worth considering from a business stand point.)

    Mini-rant: Self-publishing/e-publishing is only waiting for two things to destroy Big Publishing. It's waiting for a that does the same thing a publisher does: tells people this is decently written and most of the words are spelled right. And it's waiting for talented authors willing to take that plunge. Every time I read authors complaining about the dinosaur that is the publishing industry, and the various ways it works against art, against groups of people, against readers, I want to scream that the answer is right in front of you. And every time they deride 'vanity' publishing, I want to explain that they are on the wrong side in the art vs. money debate.

    But then, I was home schooled, so I think my thinking got a head start on these ideas.

  7. (Oops, this page thought my pointy brackets were code. In my mini-rant, it should read:

    "It's waiting for a (popular blog/seal of approval system/editorial service) that does the same thing a publisher does:tells people this is decently written and most of the words are spelled right."

    Sorry for the extra post.)

  8. Emily, I dunno what's included in post-apocalypse, but Hunger Games was written by a woman and stars a young woman.

    I don't think Big Publishing is going to disappear, but the game is very much changing.

  9. That's true, I did think about that. But the genre is traditionally very masculine. Sometimes even when there's a popular exception, the overall rule doesn't change, particularly in a down economy/tough time for publishers.

    (Twilight proved that people would read abstinence vampires, for example, but most of the books that followed put the sex right back, in the grand Anne Rice tradition.)

    And I don't really expect for Big Publishing to disappear, either. But my prediction would be that they will lose the best books to self-publishing. I expect for it to look like newspaper comics, a few old standby/superstar authors, and a lot of stuff designed to appeal to the broadest audience possible. Anything that might not appeal to the mainstream (art, the newest ideas, things without a proven audience) will be on the web, whether it's self-published, crowd sourced, free with ads, etc.

    Could just be wishful thinking, but things haven't been looking good for Big Publishing for a long time.

  10. Publishing has been ignoring good advice since at least 1970. Change is scary for everyone.