The taint of Teh Gay

Lesbian short story and novel publishers.

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The taint of Teh Gay

Postby FranW » 13 Sep 2011, 14:26

Sherwood Smith is a fine author who has been publishing YA novels with large publishers for many decades. She's also a very nice person. I'll vouch for her writing skills, her niceness, her integrity, and her honesty.

Sherwood and her co author Rachel Manija Brown wrote a YA novel and shopped it round the big literary agencies. And they snagged an agent -- or did they?
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.


Sherwood and Rachel said no.

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.


And this is the dilemma that so many queer authors face. If they write queer books, they get nothing but rejection letters. Their only choice is to go with the small presses, who often produce a less-than-quality product, and always have poor distribution and poor sales relative to their big-publisher cousins. On the other hand, if they de-gay their book in order to sell it mainstream, how likely is it that they will become so popular they can add the gay back into their later novels? How Big Name do you have to be? After all, there was a lot of kerfluffle when JK Rowling said that Dumbledore was gay. And you don't get any bigger than JK Rowling. (Who, we note, had to use her initials in order to sell, because female authors don't sell as well as male authors. But that's a different beef.)

Sherwood and Rachel said no again. Their reasoning:
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. Forcing all major characters in YA novels into a straight white mold is a widespread, systemic problem which requires long-term, consistent action.


I admire them for this. And I admire them for going public with this. It's just sooooo frustrating that the vicious circle is so never-ending. Because, sadly, as they point out, this isn't an isolated incident:

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.)

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.

http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs ... le/?p=1519

The comments on this article verify that it happens again and again and again....
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Re: The taint of Teh Gay

Postby FranW » 16 Sep 2011, 12:03

Now an agency (the Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation agency) has leaped in to say, "It's us that Sherwood is picking on, but it didnt' happen that way at all and the authors are lying."

We spoke with the authors on speakerphone in our office, and the conversation we had with them was very different than the experience they describe.


Then they go on to attack the authors:
One of our agents is being used as a springboard for these authors to gain attention for their project. She is being exploited. But even worse, by basing their entire article on untruths, these authors have exploited the topic. By doing that, they’ve chipped away at the validity of the resulting conversation.

http://theswivet.blogspot.com/2011/09/g ... volpe.html

Which, I reckon, probably means that they were not the agency in question, but rather one of the many other agencies who also turned the book down for various reasons. Or, perhaps, they are the agency and they're lying. Or they are the agency and both agency and authors got it wrong.

Knowing Sherwood, I don't think she got it wrong.
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Re: The taint of Teh Gay

Postby FranW » 17 Sep 2011, 13:17

If you're following this story, the entire thing -- from all sides, and there are many -- has been encapsulated here: http://cleolinda.livejournal.com/993710 ... #t60785838

And gosh, it's quite a story. We've got the original authors continuing to say "this isn't about one particular book and one particular agent, it's about a pervasive problem in our society". We've got the self-outed agent saying "it's a pervasive problem we need to deal with but those authors are lying cretins trying to exploit us" (with the first part sounding reasonable and the last part sounding very WTFy). We've got way way way too many authors chiming in on comment threads to say "this happened to me, too: my agent/editor/publisher told me to straightwash my book". And we've got one person -- and, in this case, one is way too many -- saying "As a reader, I don't want to be force-fed something I'm not comfortable with reading or dealing with. This goes for anything, not just homosexual content. Do homosexuals exist? Do rapists exist? Do drug addicts and drug dealers exist? Do dark and scary things exist? Yes. But that doesn't mean I want to read about it" -- once again, trying to fly the I'm-not-homophobic and I-have-my-rights flags while conflating homosexuality with rape, drugs, and "dark scary things".

The gist is, though, that there is a problem. There's a reason that you will not find a single Harlequin or Mills-and-Boone romance at Borders which features a lesbian couple. There's a reason that "Heather Has Two Mommies" gets listed as "adult" or "erotica". There's a reason that a genre manuscript with only one sweet kiss on the last page of the book -- but that has gay MCs -- gets turned down by agents as being "too niche-market". There's a reason that Malinda Lo (bless her heart) looked at the frequency of queer YA within YA, and found that it's less than 1% -- probaby 10% of teens are some kind of queer, but sure as shit 10% of YA books don't even acknowledge that queer exists in the world, let alone celebrate it.

Yeah. There's a problem, all right. And small GLBTQ presses aren't going to fix it, IMO. Queer needs to come out of the publishing ghetto.
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Re: The taint of Teh Gay

Postby ElaineB » 17 Sep 2011, 14:36

Wow.

Do homosexuals exist? Do rapists exist? Do drug addicts and drug dealers exist? Do dark and scary things exist?


Speechless.
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Re: The taint of Teh Gay

Postby FranW » 17 Sep 2011, 15:22

Yeah. It's all part of homophobia: "I don't want to read this kind of book and therefore this kind of book SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO EXIST."
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Re: The taint of Teh Gay

Postby Crisco » 17 Sep 2011, 22:16

FranW wrote: And we've got one person -- and, in this case, one is way too many -- saying "As a reader, I don't want to be force-fed something I'm not comfortable with reading or dealing with. This goes for anything, not just homosexual content. Do homosexuals exist? Do rapists exist? Do drug addicts and drug dealers exist? Do dark and scary things exist? Yes. But that doesn't mean I want to read about it" -- once again, trying to fly the I'm-not-homophobic and I-have-my-rights flags while conflating homosexuality with rape, drugs, and "dark scary things".


Aside from everything else that is wrong with this person's statement - how can you be force-fed something by a book? If you don't like what you're reading, don't read it. Did someone put a gun to his/her head and make them read 'Secrets in the Stone'? I think not...
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Re: The taint of Teh Gay

Postby ElaineB » 18 Sep 2011, 05:04

Really. It's not like the blurbs don't give everything away.
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Re: The taint of Teh Gay

Postby Crisco » 18 Sep 2011, 06:15

Well, the blurb may not mention it if we're talking about secondary character being gay, but nothing in the world stops you from putting down a book you don't like.
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