Archive for September, 2011

We’re Here! We’re Queer! Our Purchasing Power Is Clear!
15 September, 2011

Rachel Manija Brown wrote in “Say Yes to Gay YA” about an agent asking her coauthor and her to eliminate a gay character in their submission. On the one hand, it is surprising that anyone would be that outspokenly homophobic. On the other hand, it is unsurprising that an agent would prefer to avoid what they perceive as a more difficult sell. I have no experience in the agent’s profession so I can not comment on whether a novel with a gay character is harder to sell than one without.

Brown wrote, “Forcing all major characters in YA novels into a straight white mold is a widespread, systemic problem which requires long-term, consistent action.” Certainly forcing all characters into any mold is counterproductive as it would frustrate the primary purpose of telling a good story. Racism and homophobia obviously should not be tolerated. But publishers are businesses who must be concerned with marketing their products.

Brown added, “The overwhelming white straightness of the YA sf and fantasy sections may have little to do with what authors are writing, or even with what editors accept.” My intuition is that she is correct. SF and fantasy authors are (Orson Scott Card notwithstanding) more tolerant and less racist and homophobic than the general populace. Editors thereof are, if not writers themselves, at least readers of SF and fantasy and show similar tolerance. My experience with marketeers (albeit not in publishing) is entirely consistent with sales and marketing avoiding anything unconventional or out of the ordinary, hence the striking lack of characters who play rugby, for example.

This seems to me to be entirely compatible with the majority of marketing. Advertisements now consistently show different races but just as consistently show only one specific kind of appearance. Despite some companies that target consumers that think differently, most companies focus on the mainstream. Publishers aiming for brick-and-mortar stores and libraries have an economic incentive to avoid the long tail because what is mainstream takes less explaining and sells more easily.

Brown declared, “This does not make for better novels. Nor does it make for a better world.” I oppose making a story worse by insisting that a character be white or heterosexual. I also oppose making a story worse by insisting that a character not be white or heterosexual. (For example, Sarah Rees Brennan writes non-heterosexual characters who are better for it, not worse.) Artists should make the very best art that they can. Not all authors are just artists, though. Those who support themselves with their writing are also businesspeople. As such, they can find themselves balancing the business against the art.

I hope that newer business models will allow authors more freedom from the demands of marketing. For that matter, I hope that newer business models will allow everyone more freedom from the demands of marketing.