There has been a tremendous amount of dialogue this past week about queer books–or lack thereof–in young adult literature. Agents and publishing houses have been vocal in stating their support for publishing books with queer protagonists, which was inspiring and hopeful–but then author Malinda Lo compiled statistics on queer YA books, and the numbers don’t match up with the support. Publishing is about two years ahead of what we see now–books that are being released in this year were probably bought last year or in 2009. The stated support may show us that, in two years, publishing will look very different. Instead of less than one percent of books being queer, hopefully we’ll be able to say that’s changed. I’m eternally optimistic that the attitudes of the nation (more than half this nation wants gay marriage, for example) are part of the influence in the publishing industry. And I’m eternally optimistic that the publishing industry is taking a good, long, hard look at its numbers and saying: “you know what? We probably CAN do better. One percent! That’s kind of crap! We should DO SOMETHING.”
But here’s the very important caveat: the publishing industry is a business like any other, and a business is influenced by numbers and dollars.
There were a lot of people this week who were outraged about authors who said they were asked to de-gay a character. The outrage was palpable, the story spread near and far. People felt helpless and angry–how do you do something about a thing you can’t change, that you have no control over? People talked about it and the dialogues were inspiring and hopeful. I must say that as a queer woman writing queer books, I was elated by the number of agents and publishers who stepped forward and said: we want these books.
Now, getting back to that caveat. I know that one of the major reasons that agents/publishers stepped forward, quickly and decisively to say “we want these,” was because they’re open minded, they believe in these types of stories–all the warm, good stuff. But one of the reasons was also because, in that moment, people were demanding it.
They are a business. They buy books that they know people want–because people wanting books translates to sales. It’s not a “big, bad corporation” thing, but rather a “well, duh” thing. Authors have stepped forward to say “I was asked to de-gay a character, too, because they knew it wouldn’t sell.” Many authors said that.
Yes, completely and totally that’s on the agents and publishers to change. The dialogue about queer books in young adult lit was inspiring and positive, and many stepped forward and said they want these books. That’s wonderful, more are doing that, yay.
But now, as the people who demanded it, it’s on us to follow through with that demand and support gay YA literature.
Are you pissed off that there are so few queer books about young adults? Are you angry that you’re a young lesbian and you have no books you cherish? Are you pissed that you’re a young gay man and you have no favorite gay books? Are you mad that you’re a straight person and really want to support your gay friends and just generally be an upstanding awesome-person and read gay books, but they’re really effing hard to find?
You. Yes, you can change that.
The world is a gigantic place, and we often look at the unending list of problems in it and get really effing discouraged. “How can I change anything? I’m just one person.” But with a group of like minded people, you are not one person, are, in fact, a movement. And movements get shit done. Movements change the world.
You are now part of a movement of people who want queer YA. Congratulations! You’re angry that there aren’t more queer books, you want a world that has queer book choices…that’s a great start. Now, you have to begin changing the world so that it reflects what you want.
How? By buying, reading and talking about queer YA books.
The publishers are looking at the numbers. Now, more than ever before, they’re looking at the numbers, they’re beginning to think “huh. I wonder if there’s something to the fact that so many people are demanding queer books. I wonder if the numbers reflect their wants?”
They’re watching. They’re watching what you buy and how often you buy it. They’re paying attention to the libraries ordering books, they’re paying attention to the conversations on Twitter (obviously, many of the agents and publishers went public on Twitter saying they were looking for good queer books to rep/publish, because of the outrage on Twitter) and the blogosphere. They’re watching and they’re waiting.
You’re angry? Do something about it. There’s a great list here of science fiction and fantasy gay YA books (Note: I AM on that list. I thought I should mention that as I endorse it. ;D), Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey (who actually wrote a really kick ass post about buying gay YA here) just came out. Buy it. If you can’t afford it, ask your library for it.
That needs repeating: if you can’t afford to buy gay YA books, please don’t think you can’t do anything. Ask your library to carry a book you’ve wanted to read. Libraries are awesome. They listen to people who ask.
The world was never changed by people finding injustice/something wrong and then simply pointing at it. Actions lead to consequence, and consequence changes the world.
Do you want gay YA books in the world?
Support them, and it will happen.
Speak up! If you have a favorite gay YA book that you want to share, list it in the comments. If you know of a list of gay YA books that you agree with, post it, too!