Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Not cool

So here's a link to a Publishers Weekly article by two YA writers who were offered representation... on the condition that they turned a gay character straight. Not cool, right? 

Having worked in the publishing industry for a few years I feel I can quite confidently say that this kind of thing happens ALL the time. The agent in question may well have nothing against gay characters in a book, but they may think that editors will have a problem with it, and the editors may think that Sales & Marketing will have a problem with it, and Sales & Marketing may think that bookshop buyers will have a problem with it, and bookshop buyers may think that customers will have a problem with it. You see the issue here? Everyone trying to second guess everyone else. The status quo is maintained.

Here's my plea: ENOUGH WITH THE SECOND GUESSING. Give people a chance to make up their own minds. Simple.

I have a great deal of respect for the two authors in question for refusing to 'straighten' their gay character. I reckon a lot of writers would feel they HAD to, in order to sign with an agent.

So what about you? What would be your deal-breaker? What would you do if you were asked to change the sex/race/sexuality of a character in your manuscript?


  1. Interesting question, because on one hand I know that if I were asked to change the sex/race/sexuality of a character in a book I'd written, I wouldn't. No question.

    However, I'm guilty of the second-guessing thing. I've had tons of ideas for stories with gay protagonists, but I generally conclude that nobody would publish them because they'd think the potential readership would be limited. I should probably snap out of that.

  2. Are there any LGBT characters in Entangled?

  3. I read that article too and thought what the frack? Who even cares where someone's leaning sexually provided the portrayal is believable? Plus I would point out that unless the bookshop sticks a CAUTION CONTAINS GAY sticker on it to alert wary homophobes how on earth will people know just by looking at it? (Much the same as with people.) Utter nonsense. I don't like the furtive paranoia which the publishing industry displays on the matter of 'propriety' (aka censorship) - respect your readers and they will respect you.

    Although, ahem, I do work in a small publishing company where I worry more about integrity than selling bajillions of books.

  4. Great post Cat. I know that I want to read books with diverse characters and that I'm far from alone in this. I just wish publishers would get it at last and realise that for the small number of people who don't want to read about diverse characters there are so many more who do.

    I'm only just starting to write seriously with a hope of publication one day but I feel confidant that I would want to keep my characters the way they are rather than changing them to fit into some idealised mould.

  5. Great post Cat! And my answer is: no I wouldn't. I'd sooner run my MS off my husband's work's lazer printer and hand it out of card boxes in the street.

    @anonymous: I don't think the question here is whether or not Cat would or wouldn't of changed any LGBT's in her breakout novel. If you read the content of the post, it's obvious what her stance is.

  6. Hello hello! Well, obv I'm all for LGBT characters in YA (in fact, in all children's books). And I myself am running a little one-woman campaign for more of it... I am trying to get Stonewall to come into the office to give a presentation about the massive positive impact portraying gay characters in fiction/ picture books can have. Have yet to see whether the HODs are up for that... and editorial are championing several ideas focusing on sexuality, both in fiction and non-fiction. But yet again, sales don't think they're commercial enough.

    Also, Sarah are I are working on a YA idea together, featuring three characters we initially developed for a sit com pilot. One of these characters is gay. When we were trying to decide which character should be the voice of the book, we decided not to use her, because it would make it a more niche book. She's still in it, but not as the main protagonist. So there you have it - maybe I'm a total hypocrite. Kate D xxx

  7. I'm a reader rather than a writer, so your questions doesn't actually work for me, but I find this absolutely disgusting. I would much rather read an author's book the way it was intended to be rather than a "fixed" version because the people who make the book happen are worried about what I might think about cerain elements. How about letting me - and all other readers - be the judge of that? I think we're all intelligent enough to make our own decisions about whether or not we like a book, and I'm pretty sure that the majority wouldn't have a problem with sex/race/sexuality/religion/age/disabiity and so forth. If they dislike a book, I'm sure it would be for other reasons.

    And I also think it's ridiculous for an author to be asked to "straighten" a character anyway - they might as well write a completely different book. Sexuality is integral to a person's identity - change their sexuality and the way they act, think, the decisions they make, etc, will probably change too - in which case some of the events of the book might change entirely. It's just ridiculous.

  8. Hey Kate D and anyone else thinking about this from a publishing POV isn't it irritating getting LGBT into a book is a 'thing'? It can't just be the way it is.

  9. Catnip - drives me crazy! But then, it seems it's hard to get anything through these days, so if people feel like something isn't reaching the broadest market possible it has even less of a chance. Massive shame. Let's keep fighting the good fight. x

  10. I am SO MAD at this, truly considering a blog post on the question *rants*

  11. Thanks for the comments, lovelies. And it's good to hear there are editors out there (Catnip and Katy, I'm looking at you) who are trying to do the right thing.

    Also, Anonymous - there are no LGBT characters in ENTANGLED, but there are in my next two books. And for the record, my agent and editor have no problem with this whatsoever.

  12. Wow I just read the article and it raises some really important points. There aren't many heroes/heroines of different sexual orientation/religion/culture in many YA books. And as a reader in the demographic that YA books are aimed at, I don't really pay attention to the characters invovled until I actuall read a book funny enough. I've read planty of books where there are gay supporting characters and they fit great into the story of the book. For example, The Immortal series by Alyson Noel, I've only read the first three cause I couldn't stand to read anymore, my honest opinion is that they are terrible, it had absolutely nothing to do with the gay supporting character, but everything to do with the white female straight main character and the poor writing. Another example, the House of Night series by P.C. and Kristen Cast, I find it a brilliant take on vampires and I'm always on the edge of my seat with the twists and turns. The gay supporting character fits perfectly into the book because he has been written into the story by a brilliant author.

    What I'm trying to say is that when reading these books, and other books I've read, it's the author's writing skill in pulling me into the story and their character's lives that makes me enjoy a book, and I must say that it's something I loved about Entangled. How I became so invovled in the story and the characters, so much so that I wanted to hug Grace and I cried a few times (Thanks for that btw). So as a YA reader in the demographic it's not who the characters are that matter, it's how they are written into the story.

    Sorry for my little rant but I tend to talk a lot about topics I care about. I love reading and my best friend is gay and his like my brother. So take this from a YA reader, I only care about what the author writes and if that includes characters of different sexual orientation/religion/culture then thats fine cause its part of the story. If any of what I've said is useful in anyway you have my permission to use it to make a point.