Monday, October 12, 2009

Offending Potential Readers

I write young adult fantasy and I've reached the point where I'm querying agents. A large part of my promotion plan is my website, where I share content. I have a few short fiction pieces I'm proud of (one has even won an award), and I want to share these on my site to help show my range across genres. The problem is that the Literary Pieces deal with gay characters. I'm wondering if sharing this content would impact my chances of selling a young adult fantasy novel?

Let me start by saying it shouldn’t; let me finish by saying that doesn’t mean it won’t. I think that if you’re selling into the mainstream YA Fantasy market you won’t have any problem selling to agents or editors. Okay, let me correct that, you shouldn’t have any problem selling to agents and editors. However, when it comes to selling to readers is when you might start to run into problems.

I think you’re wise to be aware of potential pitfalls. When you’re selling to children, no matter the age, the rules change. An erotic romance writer, for example, probably wants to keep her two identities (that as an erotic writer and that as a young adult writer) separate. While Mom might love reading erotic romance quietly at night when no one is looking, she might have issues with her young daughter reading the same author (even if the YA is totally sex-free).

While querying, I would brag about your awards and definitely keep your short material up on your web site. Once you have an agent and/or an editor, talk to each of them about your dual writing careers. How the situation is handled (and by that I mean whether or not you should be writing under two separate names and/or keeping the material on the web site) is going to depend on the market you’re targeting and how graphic the pieces might be. It’s also going to depend on the house, the editor and the agent.


42 comments: said...

Keeping dual writing careers separate, when one of them does not provide a platform for the other, is terrific advice, Jessica.

Another advantage: Should one your careers tank (your actual sales are so lousy that no editor wants to risk real money putting your name on a book again), it won't damage the other career when it comes to future sales.

I don't mean to sound so negative, but crummy lousy crappy sales numbers happen to even the best of writers and this is dreadfully difficult to overcome. Branding is a two-edged sword.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. The questioner didn't say his/her short fiction was erotic-- just that it dealt with gay characters.

I've got a middle grades novel coming out next year with gay characters in it. They're not actually fooling around or anything-- after all, it's middle grades! My publisher doesn't seem to think it's an issue.

Kristan said...

Helpful advice, thanks Jessica! I was wondering about this myself, although not for the same reasons (i.e., not due to erotic or gay content). :)

BookEnds, LLC said...

Anon 9:11:

Correct. I used the erotic example as an extreme example. My advice still holds however that it's going to be something you discuss with your publisher and agent. I wouldn't worry about it for now, but without knowing the nature of the current YA, the publisher the author signs with, etc it's hard to know how to move forward.

I think we need to be honest about society at large and realize that while many of us might not care if you are writing YA fantasy and separate work with gay characters, not all potential readers or, in this case, parents of potential readers, will feel the same way.


Julie Dao said...

This is really true - writing for children and younger readers does seem to be much more restrictive when it comes to sensitive topics. People are much more open-minded nowadays, we would hope, and a book that would have been on the Banned list years ago would be more accepted now, but having gay characters means that you immediately lose a certain percentage of the readership out there. Hopefully a very, very small percentage, but it will happen. I mean look at Harry Potter - some parents won't let their kids read these books because they have witches. People out there will always find a problem with something. I think if the author is accepting of this, there's nothing left but to go for it and publish! We should never be afraid to write about something.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Encouraging self-censorship. Your (Jessica's) reply is dismaying and pitched towards a demographic that has zero interest in the First Amendment.

There was a more creative way - and less homophobic - of answering a question that could have gone the way of open-mindedness and fairness. On this, you fail.

Politically, putting forth this question about gay people - who are, in case you don't know, still the one class of AMERICANS who can be murdered and cannot get married and don't have equal rights across a spectrum of life - and answering it in a way that doesn't subscribe to the endless b.s. gay people deal with every single f'ing day.

I like your blog and your answers are generally good but this one sucks. Reread the question and your answer. I really doubt you'd come up with such a flip and insensitive answer were it any other class of people.

Worried about alienating readers? Well, this one's taking a break from your blog. Blech.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Anon 12:04:

I couldn't agree with you more in many ways. It's an awful thing to have to think about, but it becomes the truth of the business world. Unfortunately every single one of you, upon finding publication, will have to self-censor in some ways. We all do. I don't share my political or religious views or beliefs on this blog or through Twitter. These are personal feelings that I self-censor in the interest of my business.

When you decide you want to become a published author you are starting a business and as this author has wisely noted, starting a business comes with baggage. Do I think this author needs to remove her work with gay characters? My personal belief is that people who have issues with the fact that a YA writer is also writing gay characters in other work should just go...well things I prefer not to say. However, this was not a question about my moral beliefs, this was a question about how an author should handle a potential business decision.

Let me first note that I haven't read any of the works and I don't know, other then YA, what audience this author is targeting. If however you have concerns that what you're doing, writing or have written might alienate readers you don't want alienated then my usual answer to any similar question would be yes. If you fear it might cause problems it very well could.

If you read carefully I think you might see that I said it shouldn't be a problem, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't. The reader asked for my honest answer and that's always what I'll give.

The truth is that there are plenty of people in this world who would not buy a young adult book for their child if they also knew the author was supporting a gay lifestyle by writing about gay characters in other work. Do I support this? Of course I don't support it, however I was answering the question from the reader. Ultimately this isn't something I can answer without knowing all the details of all the work this author is writing and if the publisher and the author's agent sees it as a problem for whatever reason then it might be.

I'm sorry if I offended you, but somehow I knew this question would bring about unpleasantness. To some degree I guess it proves my point. When it comes to the issue of characters being gay or gay rights it is, sadly, still a hot topic.

I'm sorry you felt my answer was flip, but ultimately the reader was not looking for my views on the right and wrong of the question, she was looking for my thoughts on the business end of it.


Anonymous said...

Although I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your response, to couch it in, "the business of this business" and "the author was supporting a gay lifestyle by writing about gay characters in other work" is evasive, weak (not to mention linguistically archaic.)

Um, hello? The word "lifestyle" was retired from LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, the tent under which most progressive queer people gather) several decades ago. LIfestyle implies choice and I about as much as "chose" to be queer as I chose my blue-green eyes.

As for "reading closely," I did read the both the post and your respones: four times, both. Now, please reread my response - both of them - and what I ask of you is to question your heteronormative assumptions and privleges.

One doesn't need to be a writer / reader of "gay" YA (as you inaccurately term it - there are a handful of books with gay characters) but a human being who's been alive for the last twenty-five years, while rights of everyone ie., women, immigrants, workers, the whole spectrum that falls outside the straight boys club, have been attacked and erroded in the name of war and economic disenfranchisement.

You may have missed it, but Urvashi Vaid's speech at yesterday's March on Washington summed up why "gay" rights aren''t isolated from others. It's well worth watching.

I appreciate your willingness to put forth this question because of what it reveals about assumptions and beliefs made by people with whom I (probably) have common ground.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit confused though. She only said that her short stories have gay characters in them. How did we make that leap to erotic fiction? Should we always assume that any book with gay characters must automatically have heavy non-"normative" displays of sexuality? Hm....I'd say that this post is kind of the writing equivalent of a Freudian Slip.

There are a few books that have done well with gay characters, including YA books. Though the gay characters are usually handled in a very shallow way - much like characters of colour - they didn't really stop people from buying. Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan and Holly Black for example were still able to get a sizable following despite having gay characters (and in CC's case, incest). Then again, CC and SRB already had a huge internet following from their days in HP fandom before getting a book deal so that might have been a factor.

If your short stories ARE hardcore erotic fiction, then yes having dual identities might work (although Richelle Mead I believe didn't choose to go that route and is still successful). Still, there are quite a few books that deal with all sorts of things. It'll always turn some readers off, but that doesn't mean you should pretend to be something your not in order to appeal to readers. You certainly don't have to feel like YA fantasy can only deal with certain 'acceptable' topics OR ELSE people will not read them.

Sasha said...

I think the problem with looking at things from the business end of it is that most of the industry is understanding their market - and thus marketing - from a very archaic standpoint, one that doesn't understand the changes going on in society. And I'm not talking about picketing and gay rights and blah blah blah. I mean the industry still thinks that their main target audience is the typical white bread heternormative suburban family who won't read a book if there's even a hint of a character in there that's not straight and who'll probably put down a cover if there's a black person or asian person on the front because 'oh deary me, it might deal with difficult racial issues!' *pearl clutch*

I mean yes, there are certainly people like that and yes, they probably will be weary of books that aren't white and heteronormative like they are. That doesn't mean that they're the only people in this possible readership worth considering. Take a look at fandoms - Harry Potter fandom, anime fandoms, movie fandoms - and take a look at the pairings that fans (particularly young females - the main target of YA) usually go for. Terms like Ho Yay, Slash and even Bro Yay were created just to put a name to the sheer amounts of male-homosexual relationships (incest or not) that people get into. And I'm not talking about underground closet stuff that main stream doesn't know about. Go to any television without pity page - go to the 'Yaoi Guys' section on tvtropes or any tropes (or Ho Yay or for that matter) and you'll see that this is a big, non-underground phenomena that a huge number of people have loved for quite a while and continue to love. To assume that YA readers may have a problem with buying books with such issues in them simply isn't reflecting the reality of what a lot of YA readers are into, even if they admit it to you at work or not (and remember, not all YA readrs are YA aged, but even the YA aged ones can be slashers and proud to be). The assumption that you and the industry make reflect your limited knowledge of the wider realities of the range of identities within this YA readership. It's unfortunate because from this limited knowledge, you make decisions that only help perpetuate the illusions that help you keep your assumptions (Publisher: well, we can't put a black girl on the cover even if the main character is black because most people don't want to read books with non-white people on book covers. By the way, our assumption is that 'most people', to us = white people, therefore denying the wide array of identities within our YA readership who might actually be attracted to such covers. So let's only market in a way that will attract this very limited portion of our readership and therefore perpetuate the conditions which maintain that only certain types of YA books get published. YAY). And if you're wondering why I used race as an example, it's that the way the industry handled race is very similar to the way it handles sexuality - if it's not 'normative', it probably won't sell as much.

Also, if you're worried that parents won't buy books if they think the author has something to do with promoting homosexuality, again, you're only accepting a portion of the possible readership as THE readership that you must pander too. On top of that, YA books with gay characters or even incest can still get through parental radars (or at least the radars of parents such as these) because it's not like any given YA book with have a big neon sign on the back saying WARNING GAY CHARACTERS INSIDE. RUN SCREAMING.

I don't know, I just think that the industry is using a set of 'facts' that they believe still generally hold true about their readership in a wide, overarching way. The problem is, it may not anymore. These facts that they use to determine their marketing strategies no longer reflect the inticracies of identities within their society. In the end, they just keep on perpetuating this old-fashioned notions.

Eli Eli said...

I'm a queer YA author, my YA novel has queer characters in it.

And my editor still came down on my blog with a big, vicious hammer when I had queer content on it. Salacious stuff like, links to a CNN news story about gay characters on a soap opera, or a link to National Coming Out Day.

It sucks, and it's bullshit, but there's no point in giving Jessica a hard time about it. Yes, it was stupid and straight-clueless to immediately use erotica as the example, especially considering we're still reeling from "Heather Has Two Mommies" being part of the Amazonfail Gay "Porn" Purge.

But the point remains, libraries will opt out of buying your book because of queer content in the book or on your website. Schools will choose not to book you because of queer content in your book or on your website.

If your book isn't ABOUT being queer, your publisher is going to take great pains to shield library and school buyers from your queerness- whether it's fiction, your support, or your same-sex spouse.

Because as a YA author- Stephenie Meyer aside- your major market is not retail sales, but libraries and schools, which trend toward conservative. Whether it's RIGHT has nothing to do with whether it's true- having queer content on your website can affect your career as a YA author.

And you can have a YA novel that has a gay character in it who never speaks, who never kisses anyone, who is simply known to be in love, and still get marked as "Sexual Content" in your listing for Junior Library Guild, and rejected from Scholastic Book fairs for "inappropriate content".

Because the sad, ugly reality is- selling books is BUSINESS. It's not love, it's not art, it's the act of finding as much money, as big an audience as possible, for any given product. Your book is a product, schools and libraries are your market, and yes- having queer content on your site will hurt you.

That said, I do it anyway. It probably has hurt me. My book? Not in a ton of libraries and schools- never gonna be a blockbuster. But I'm willing to sacrifice blockbuster for honesty. I came out of the closet a long time ago, and I wasn't about to go back in to please anybody.

But Jessica's not wrong. If you want your best shot at the most money and the most expansive career possible, separate your queer literary fiction from your non-queer YA fiction. It can only help.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit confused though. She only said that her short stories have gay characters in them. How did we make that leap to erotic fiction?

Anon 12:56, Jessica answered this question in the fourth post: she was using erotic fiction as an extreme example.

Anonymous said...

I'm a published YA author, not gay, but thrilled to be part of the paradigm shift. To this generation's children, the idea of gays being somehow "offensive" will be even more unbelievable than it is to us.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 12:04: Seems Jessica is being realistic, even if you think it's not PC. Why don't you answer the question then? Including gay characters in a book shouldn't change the theme unless it's crucial to the plot.

I have lots of gay friends and they mainly want to be treated like everyone else, with the same rights and opportunities. Nothing wrong with that!

Anonymous said...

The number of anonymous commenters kinda proves Jessica's (unfortunate) point.

Maybe she should've used another example. Politics works well. My politics are somewhere between Bill Ayers and Wade Churchill, but if either of those two fellows wants a career in YA, I'd suggest that he keep his 'A Snortlepig Sleepover' website distinct from his 'America Is Inherently Fascist' website.

Anica Lewis said...

Eli -

Wow! I had no idea that censors actually labeled books as having sexual content just for containing queer characters. In a pessimistic sort of way, I'm not surprised that they're kept off of a lot of shelves, but I didn't realize that the stated reason would be something so patently untrue. Ye gods.

Thanks for sharing this rather distressing knowledge. I feel huge sympathy for young people who are trying to figure themselves out and being limited by the unreasonable fears of the people in control of their library and classroom book collections.

In the scheme of things, it wasn't so long ago that many cultures persecuted people for being left-handed. I can't wait until homophobia seems just as ridiculous, if not more so.

DebraLSchubert said...

Wow, seems we've hit a hot spot here. I've got a bisexual lead character in an adult murder mystery I wrote, plus a gay, male teenager in my current YA wip. I'm proud to write funny, deep, meaningful characters that are not wholly "straight." That said, I think Jessica's comments are right on. I wouldn't post anything on my blog that I think might be offensive to potential readers. Fair or not fair, that's the way like works.

clindsay said...

Okay, everyone, knock it off.

Jessica answered the question in the way that makes the most sense as an agent advising an author.

As an agent who also happens to be gay, I find it completely inappropriate for some of you to be turning this into a political forum.

Agenting - and publishing - is a business. And yes, sometimes the harsh reality of business is that not every publisher you'd like your agent to deal with and not every reader you'd like to sell a book to will be as enlightened as you might like them to be. This does NOT mean you are free to take it out on an agent who is offering you her time and considerable experience gratis.

It is tempting as a minority to look for discrimination in every piece of text, but the simple fact is that often you're seeing things through chip-on-a-shoulder glasses, if I may totally mangle a metaphor.

If you want to fight for LGBT rights, go march on Washington or donate time at a queer homeless youth group.

If you want to learn about publishing, however, sit back and let Jessica try to share her knowledge with you.

My two cents.


Anonymous said...

@ Colleen, yes and could you please get off your high horse? Jessica admits she doesn't know much about YA (definitely doesn't rep it!) and gay / queer YA is something that's too important TO LGBTQ TEEN READERS to allow her comments to go unchecked.

This whole thing about "publishing is a business" ... um, excuse me, but the condescending attitude that conveys - like, we're not aware of that? - is so insulting as not to be dignified.

But, since the whole discussion seems to hinge on it, what if we apply that reasoning to, "Well, the pharmaceutical business is a business they don't need to be held accountable for: over priced AIDS drugs, overpriced interferon, overpriced psychiatric drugs, overprice breast cancer drugs." Etc.

A whole history (or, herstory) of abuses in this country would have remained were it not for those discomfiting contrarians amongst us. What would our country be without Rachel Carlson having written "Silent Spring"? Or, Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique"? Or, MS. magazine? Or Mother Jones .. the list goes on and on.

You may not care for the responses, Colleen, but that doesn't justify backing up the status quo based on ill-informed comments. Just because Jessica offers her advice for free - and correct all of us, as I know you will, if we're wrong - but she's doing this in a public forum, with an open comment thread, THE DAY AFTER A GAY MARCH ON WASHINGTON. Following a speech by a president that is widely considered a total failure by many in the LGBTQ community. Well, the one's who are politically engaged.

Gay YA - okay, maybe not so important in this context but maybe so, too. The NYTimes Magazine thought enough of the topic to devote a huge, 10,000 word article to the topic two weeks ago.

Queer teens are, FYI Colleen - and Jessica - far more radical a proposition than you seem able or willing to recognize. They deserve books by people who are out, proud and able to give them narratives that reflect their histories and lives. Certainly, any gay person who's raised in America & attends public school has swallowed /heard more than her fair share of heteronormative history to last a lifetime.

And, Colleen, I find your comments particularly bizarre, offensive and ill-considered. Esp. since you represent as an out, proud, queer woman.

Perry Moore (HERO), Francesca Lia Block (Weetzie Bat), David Leviathan (Boy Meets Boy), among others, would all be a good YA authors to have as guest bloggers to speak to this subject. Esp. in light of Eli Eli comments which were, actually, quite informative.

@ Sasha: comments that collapse gay with incest are weird. I'm gay and have no interest in reading fiction about incest.

sue laybourn said...

I thought the blog post was about keeping different and possibly conflicting genres separate and communicating with your agent about how to deal with that issue?

Advice that makes complete sense to me.


Ruthanne Reid said...

Ms. Lindsay is correct. No one is talking about status quo or misguided political beliefs or court cases that tragically failed to uphold justice. The subject under discussion is how to navigate the difficult waters of publishing. That's all.

Take the advice for what it's worth and follow it, or don't. This isn't the place for a shouting match.

I personall appreciate the post very much. I am unpublished, and my YA works differ dramatically from my 'adult' fiction, which includes some deeply disturbing material. I'm glad to see I'm not the only person who's pondered how to handle it.

Julie Weathers said...

1. Jessica answered the question responsibly. Some of you didn't get it because you were too busy looking for a reason to be offended so you could cut her down to size, anonymously, of course. Her answer was, yes, sometimes what you post on your blog can affect your business.

The questioner wanted an answer and she got a straight one.

2. Colleen Lindsay and I may disagree on some issues, but she is right, knowledgeable about publishing, generous with her time and advice and she is very supportive of gay rights. You might do well to quit snapping at everyone like a bunch of blind dogs in a meat house.

3. I'm a little confused about the statement about gays are a class of people who can be murdered. Well, duh. Anyone can be murdered. Newborn babies to world leaders and everything in between

Colleen's right. Go find a positive way to support gay rights and quit attacking an agent who is simply trying to give a writer professional, and valuable, advice.

And just a bit more advice, sometimes this militant, aggressive bs attitude just alienates people who otherwise might be willing to support and help you.

Anah said...

This fits with general advice I've received from people in the industry since before I had gray hairs. This is also something my writing partner and I are having to weigh going forward with our respective careers and branching into YA. But I'm wondering if there's not a huge difference here between "offending potential readers" and "how to handle one's persona as a writer of YA fiction".

Would the response be significantly different if the writer were talking about moving from writing queer-themed fiction to writing mainstream straight fiction for Harlequin or Tor? Or is the industry as a whole still so choked by the old school that you would have to actively not get the chocolate in the peanut butter, so to speak?

As for my writing at present, under this name, I'm published in that dreaded genre of queer "erotic romance", and I'm openly queer under any name. I'm wondering if life in my little bubble has totally ruined my perspective on the mainstream industry. Because I'm okay with offending grownups with my queerness and the reality of my queer writing. I'm also (as a parent & a former childcare worker) hoping that if I publish YA, I can maintain an age-appropriate, kid-comfortable webpresence that is also honest about who I am and realistic about the world they're living in.

houndrat said...

Thanks Jessica. I found this interesting, especially since I have a gay character in my YA novel and had no idea it was such an issue. Not that I'll be pulling him--it's just good to know ahead of time what I might face if I ever do get published.

Rissa Watkins said...

Wow, I am amazed how deep into rantsville some of these comments go.

The question was would the content containing gay characters impact the chances of selling a YA novel.

Not is it right. Not how do you feel about gays. It was a simple business question. Jessica answered it with tact. Read her very first line people! She says it shouldn't but that doesn't mean it won't.

She didn't say I think YA should not contain any gay characters. She didn't say her preference either way. She said the book might be harder to sell.

It seems like there are plenty of people out there willing to gay bash. Why not go after them? Instead you choose to spew your hate on someone who has not commited any offense.

I really hope this does not discourage her or any of the other industry professionals from sharing the advice.

There are so many writers who appreciate every drop of wisdom we learn from you.

As one of them, I'd like to say thank you and ignore pig-headed comments from people unwilling to post thier own names.

Lisala said...

1. The original letter said that the writer had "Literary Pieces" that "deal with gay characters," and that the author also wrote young adult fantasy.

2. The letter asked "if sharing [Literary Pieces that deal with gay characters] would impact [the writer's] chances of selling a young adult fantasy novel.

Jessica said "it shouldn't; let me finish by saying that doesn't mean it won't."

She's answering a specific question about the business of publishing, or really, the business of selling books as accurately as she can. She's not saying it's right, or the best way for the business to be--but she's acknowledging a reality.

Jessica gave an honest and thoughtful answer; try not to rip holes in her.

She didn't say don't write books with queer characters, she warned that there's a potential problem in terms of branding, if you will, for a writer with two sorts of writing. No where does the original query mention YA books with queer characters. Just "literary pieces"--a phrase that, as genres go, is virtually meaningless. It might be code for erotica, frankly.

It's not as much of a problem as it was when I started teaching, but I've had college students freak at the thought of reading a book with a queer character in it. This is a real issue.

Yelling at Jessica isn't going to help it.

I note too, that she pointed right at readers as the potential difficult area.

I wonder if some of you leaping up in outrage remember the bizarre responses some people had to J. K. Rowling's off hand remark in an interview that Dumbledore was gay?

Yeah. Like that. Ever looked at the lists of banned books? Yes, it's wrong, and no, it's not the way the world is, but an agent's job is to help a writer sell books.

talshannon said...

I'm not entirely sure it's necessary for an author to use different names for different genres, or to keep their content strictly divided online, in order to be a financial success -- unless the two genres they write in are as extreme in difference as, say, picture books for toddlers and violent S&M erotica. Even then, there are ways to keep the toddlers out of the erotica section of your website if you don't want to split your personality or hide one half of it.

I agree that subject matter can shrink your audience and in the case of wanting to write for both a niche and the mainstream, separate pen names and sites *might* allow you to reach a broader market. However, I'm not sure GBLT fiction is as niche as it used to be, and I'm not sure that the loss of readership is really large enough anymore to warrant concern on the writer's part.

In my opinion, Sasha has her finger on the pulse of the current YA market, which I've been catering to -- profitably -- for the last five years. Bringing them stories with everything from straight romance to gay science-fiction, multicultural fantasy to steamy incest-but-not-really fantasies has really opened my eyes to how receptive they are to all themes of storytelling. One can definitely make a profit, even a living, off of such an audience without segregating one's website or genres. Maybe there is a bigger audience for something like Twilight compared to something like Burmudez Triangle, or maybe the audience is just waiting for the right "Burmudez Twilight" hybrid to send sales for a GBLT title through the roof, the sky, and the galaxy.

After all, I come from a conservative background where, growing up, vampires were taboo. Now vampires are acceptable to the *exact same conservative group I grew up in, which use to shun them.* And the author who made them acceptable didn't have to divide her conservative self from her vampire self on her website to be a huge, effing hit.

I am a ruthless business beyotch underneath, and honestly, I see just as much profit potential in an author's publicly displaying potentially controversial genres side-by-side as I do in dividing up the genres for the sake of focused marketing. In the end, it's all in how you play it. ;-)

Julie Weathers said...

This post came at an interesting time because I have been considering taking down some of my posts. I'll probably be removing all bits of the wip soon.

I may remove some of my more political posts, not because I am ashamed of what I believe, but, for the most part, I think my views will probably offend some people. Among my writing friends, we're all adult enough to have intelligent discussions on politics even though we have wildly opposing views. Some of the responses here prove having intelligent discussions is sometimes difficult and people like to wear their rage on their shoulders when protected by the anon shield.

Other things, my faith, my support of soldiers, I don't care if people get offended. That's their problem, not mine.

The point remains, as professionals, we have to decide how accommodating to our readers we want to be.

I have a work I've been encouraged to think about revising as YA. It has some scenes in it I don't feel are appropriate so I would take them out even though I know other things in other books are worse. That isn't the point. The point is, what do I feel comfortable labeling as YA.

Jessica gave you an honest opinion of what could happen.

clindsay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
clindsay said...

Anon 12:42 -

I guess you don't know anything about me, then. I do rep YA and queer YA. My last reported sale (if you had bothered to look) was for a queer YA urban fantasy by a talented young gay debut writer.

The reason I reject most LGBT stuff isn't because it's queer, but rather because much of it is A.) badly written, B.) a cathartic excuse for the writer to share what is usually a generic coming-out story, C.) perpetuates bad stereotypes or D.) all of the above.

And don't talk to me about queer teens. I WAS a queer teen. I worked with queer teens. I ran a youth group for queer and transgendered homeless kids in NYC for two years. I know how important good queer YA is, which is why I am thrilled that there is so much of it currently available.

Your ad hominem attacks aren't doing anything for your argument or to counter that fact that you simply don't appear able to comprehend what you read: Jessica isn't a proponent of the status quo; she was merely reminding the questioner of the hurdles that still exist for a fledgling queer writer.

And I reiterate: Isn't that chip on your shoulder starting to get heavy?

Anonymous said...

Claps for Colleen and feels sorry for Anon who has so much anger pent up that he/she feels like an honest answer is a personal attack.

Separate names per genre is usual advice even if the only difference is indentity1 = adult action novels and indentity2 = children's picture books. It helps the author keep track of things and makes sure (especially for genres closer related than adult vs. child) that a reader who has come to expect X type of stories doesn't get a shock when they pick up Y type of story. It in no way means that an author has to disown anything he/she has written.

If a male author normally writes crime fiction under his own name and then decides to write a romance (erotic, sweet, LGBT, whatever)he may choose to publish under a female name because it's an easier sell or to avoid stereotypical assumptions about how well men write romance. Conversely, a woman who writes humor may choose a male name to publish a horror piece so her regular readers don't get a shock when body parts and blood start flying in place of witty banter.

Jessica's response was in no way an attack on anyone, just sound business advice. (And the idea that Colleen doesn't rep LGBT is nuts considering she's tweeted about the need for more good LGBT for teens and blogged about why straight teens reading LGBT is a step forward.)

Tes Hilaire said...

"I really hope this does not discourage her or any of the other industry professionals from sharing the advice." -as said in Rissa Watkins comment


Thank you Jessica for continuing to do this, even after comment days like this. Your advice is truly appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Commenting anonymously but I promise to be sweet about it (or, as sweet as I get).

Are there potential pitfalls if a YA writer signs with an agent who reps both YA and erotica? I, personally, have no problem with erotica but was curious.

Eli Eli said...

BTW, Colleen, totally looking forward to Witch Eyes!

Jaym Gates said...

If anyone wonders whether publishing and America really do have that much prejudice still, just look at the recent mess with Justine Larbalestier's 'Liar'. A perfect example, since it is YA, with something that should be even more innocuous. (If you aren't familiar with the events, it's worth taking a look at.)

As someone who works (a bit) in the publishing industry as a writer and assistant for a genre magazine, it was interesting to see. Eventually, it was satisfactorily resolved. But a huge blow had already been dealt to many people's perception of the publishing industry.

No, it isn't right that anyone who is labeled as 'different' or as writing 'different' characters has to keep their opinions to themselves. Unfortunately, it happens. School teachers, military, writers, all these groups have to handle LGBTQ support, advocacy or even mentions more carefully than most people. America still won't face up to this discrimination.

I grew up in an environment where my family talked quite openly about the 'plague of the gay sinners', and how they should be 'exterminated'. Books were carefully censored, whether for erotica, gay issues or anything dealing with the 'occult'. I didn't get to choose what I read, and I can be pretty much sure that the parents are still going to be looking at their teenager's novels before buying them. So yes, you do have to pander to the parents if you want to be successful. And, unless you want to self-publish, you'll have to please a publisher as well. Caution is a virtue, seriously.

As a queer woman, I'd love to see more characters openly gay, openly transsexual without being labeled. As a writer, I understand that not everyone has caught up to the concept of acceptance. Therefore, I, and every other writer who deals with LGBTQ issues or even death and sex, has to choose when to compromise just a little bit.

It sucks, but it's true. So for anyone who says 'it isn't fair'? That's life honey. We're in an ongoing struggle, and you sometimes have to play it smart.

Jessica and Colleen take a huge amount of their valuable time to talk about things that can help you in your career. Instead of dragging this into politics, maybe we should be thanking them before they decide it isn't worth the trouble.

jurassicpork said...

My novel, American Zen, is getting roundly rejected by every lit agency in the galaxy. In a business where the turnaround time for queries is 3-8 weeks, agents seem to target my name and reject me sometimes within minutes of sending off my proposal (Since last Sunday night alone, I've gotten 6 from agents who claim it'll take at least 2-3 weeks for a response). And I'm beginning to suspect that the reason they're breaking their necks to immediately reject me is because two of the characters in my novel are gay (a married gay couple, actually) and the narrator is technically bisexual. And the gay element in the book is only a plot device. It's a book that's about redemption, the durability yet the fragility of friendship and what one man risks in the name of love, salvation and redemption. American Zen is not a gay porn novel.

That said, I'm not so sure that the agent side of the business isn't averse to homosexual characters. Agents and editors alike do not look at a property to see how good it is: They only want to know one thing: How well will it sell, i.e. "How much money will it make me?"

Editors and agents are human, like everyone else (although some writers would disagree) and they're guided as much by prejudices and other idiosyncratic biases as anyone else. That's a factor you have to consider when you submit to even the most approachable and appropriate of agencies.

Anonymous said...

@Colleen & others: anon didn't attack Jessica but pointed out she doesn't - by her own admission - represent YA or know about the genre. And she's reitereated this, in other blog posts, on her blog, in her FAQs. So unless, Colleen, you are Jessica, no one ever said you don't rep YA or gay YA. It's not clear why you're taking comments which are only tangentially intended for you - who inserted herself into a convo late in the thread - is telling in itself. And don't flatter yourself about anon's "not knowing anything about me"; people know a lot more than you might think. Your blog isn't exactly hard to find.

The sum of comments "defending" Jessica/Colleen are distractions. Jessica's response was lame. Some people agree, some people don't. And to characterize those disagreements as "ad hominem attacks," is stupid. What's more telling is how any discussion on a comment board that's in disagreement or "fails" to tow a party line, immediately becomes categorized as a "rant."

@ Julie Weathers, to clarify. A gay person can be murdered and the "gay defense" ie., "s/he came onto me" remains a viable legal strategy.

Creating a link between two different ideas i.e., "publishing is a business" and "writing about gay/queerness on a blog" is called a syllogism. In this case, the argument seems to be, the syllogism is false.

Liz said...

Have read Jessica's post and it is good solid advice. I have one piece of short on my writerly website which I am proud of. It is neither adult nor YA - it just is and can be read by both age groups.

I've just written a short story for a romance anthology. I'm writing that under a pseudonym because even though I enjoyed writing it, I know it won't be age appropriate for my YA/MG readers which I would one day like to have.

I've skimmed the comments and can only shrug and say that I found the answer and the question very interesting and pertinent to my own situation.

So thank you Jessica for being honest about it all. It matches a lot of advice I have received in the past. It's only common sense.

As for all else said on here: be brave enough to comment with your name and not anonymously as it isn't fair to everyone else who posts under their own name.

Lisa L. Spangenberg said...

There's an enormous, bitter irony in the high percentage of Anon posters castigating Jessica and Colleen, (mostly for things neither actually said) regarding difficulties selling YA fiction when one has "Literary" stories with queer characters on a public Website.

Err . . . Anon? If it's so very repressive to suggest it behooves a new writer to think about presentation of self in terms of selling books, WTF are you posting as Anon?

Colleen isn't. Jessica isn't--but my golly, Anon, you sure don't want your opinions to affect your professional presentation of self now, do you?


Franny Pants said...

I think my whole problem with people defending Jessica's sound advice, as realistic as it is, is that we all seem to be saying "well that's just the way it is." It's just so...defeatest. That's just the way it is. That's the way it'll always be. Things will never change so just work within the system. Don't try to change it, even in small, ity bity incrimements, because you might potentially lose money and financial/economic success is really all that matters.

Dude, people thought like that back in the 19th century, I'd be picking cotton in some southern 'gentlement's' plantation right about now.

I understand the idea of navigating and working within the system. I just hope that some day there are people who are brave enough to risk maybe a couple hundred more dollars to try to and change it bit by bit. Even if it's just a small dent. Because it's easy to see things in terms of money and economic success and ignore the faces of people really being hurt by such 'tow the line, perpetuate the status hegemonic quo' thinking process.

Still, we should all appreciate Jessica giving her honest opinions about this sort of thing. Then again, I'd be surprised if Jessica didn't expect that talking about such a subject would lead to comments such as these. I'm sure she anticipated it so I don't feel paritcularly inclined to rush to her aid or anything. We're just having a discussion. Plus, if she can't handle something like this than what's she doing in publishing?

JeniontheFarm said...

Wow! What a thread.

People might not like Jessica's advice, but that doesn't make it any less true.

As a writer of an LGBT book being published next year, I understood this going in, though. Getting an agent would mean that I'd probably have do do/change things to my work that might make me feel like I was compromising it.

So, I went straight with an LGBT publisher. My second novel explores sexual paraphelia.

Am I a commercial writer? Not so much. But I know that going in. So I write what I want, shine a light were I want and then take the finished product to a publisher who I think it would fit.

But I'm not likely to sell millions of copies, either.

We all have choices. You just have to decide what's best for you.

Lambasting the bearer of an unpopular truth isn't going to change that truth, no matter how loud you yell.

Peace to Jessica, and everyone else.

Lisa L. Spangenberg said...

Let's actually look at the "advice" portion of Jessica's response:

While querying, I would brag about your awards and definitely keep your short material up on your web site. Once you have an agent and/or an editor, talk to each of them about your dual writing careers. How the situation is handled (and by that I mean whether or not you should be writing under two separate names and/or keeping the material on the web site) is going to depend on the market you’re targeting and how graphic the pieces might be. It’s also going to depend on the house, the editor and the agent.

Note that Jessica doesn't have enough information about the "literary pieces" to know how important (and how queer)the pieces are; all the OP says is that they have "gay characters."

Jessica says, essentially:

* Keep the pieces on the site,
* Brag about the awards
* Tell your agent and editor for your YA about your other writing.
* She notes that in the future the OP might need to discuss with the YA agent and editor keeping a separate name (this is a branding /marketing issue) and/or removing the pieces on the Website.

There's nothing there, at all, anywhere about "tow the line."

1. She's not saying "Don't have queer characters."
2. She's not saying "Don't have queer "literary pieces" on your site.
3. She issaying:

How the situation is handled (and by that I mean whether or not you should be writing under two separate names and/or keeping the material on the web site) is going to depend on the market you’re targeting and how graphic the pieces might be.

How on Earth can anyone possibly parse that into "tow the line"?