Some thoughts on QUILTBAG YA

Tess Sharpe was talking about the challenges she’s faced publishing queer YA. I have a compelling interest in the topic, so I Storified her tweets (go read them, I’ll wait). They struck me also because in some ways, her experience differs quite a bit from mine.

I’m hugely fortunate: I’ve never had to explain or justify queer content to agents or editors. Nor have I been asked to tone anything down or make anyone straight, and I’ve been at this for a while. That said, I’m certainly not a book-a-year author, and my tendency to write less explicitly than some readers might want has perhaps worked in my favor.

But despite my overall positive experiences, I absolutely agree there are challenges.

If you work with supportive agents and editors, you may still struggle with the publicity, marketing, and overall positioning of your work. Or maybe you’re happy with your relationship with your publisher, but find it hard to book the school visits and writing workshops that provide an income stream for many YA authors. (You may have noticed that I have not quit my day job.) I’d love to see more authors getting paid honoraria & travel to visit schools via Lambda Literary’s LGBT Writers in the Schools or similar programs.

Once your work is out there, I do think ebooks are changing some aspects of the game. If a reader is on their phone or other device, nobody can easily see what they’re reading. So if that reader doesn’t feel safe carrying a physical book with queer content, they can get an ebook or downloadable audiobook — both of which are also getting easier to check out from libraries — and no one has to know unless the reader wants to tell them. Even if a queer title vanishes quickly from bookstore shelves, it can also have a longer life in electronic form. (However, the questions of whether readers can easily discover the titles and who has access to the devices to read them on are also important to consider.)

In terms of reader desire for more queer YA, I’m very aware that at this point we have at least a couple generations of readers who’ve grown up with fanfic and self-publishing, both of which can cater to what readers want with a high degree of specificity, including but certainly not limited to queer content. If readers have had numerous opportunities to read (or write!) about their ideal POC genderfluid ace hero’s adventures, why would they want anything less from ‘mainstream’ publishing?

I don’t have any grand conclusions, except that I think it’s always important to share stories: it allows us to compare notes and strategize about how to advocate for ourselves, each other, and marginalized voices more generally.