Where are all my space gays at?
There has been some discussion lately about the lack of perceived marketability of Queer YA novels featuring f/f (female/female) relationships, particularly in the American market. This post will discuss how that affects us here in Australia, how our own Australian authors/publishers have a slightly different trend than our American counterparts and what we can do to bump up visibility and profitability in this sub-genre.
The short version: American publishers give bigger bucks to male/male stories and most other representations of LGBTQIA+ identities are given the polite ‘thanks, but no thanks’, or relegated to some metaphorical back room where only the most determined of readers will ever find them.
My dive into the scholarly side of Twitter (have you been there? It’s wild ride) reveals that this very loosely boils down to an incorrect assumption in the publishing world that nobody wants to read contemporary YA novels without a male romantic interest. And we’re all (rightly so) mad about this.
In Australia, over the last few years, the opposite appears to be true, with less m/m stories being published in comparison with other identities. A lot of our recent books have been of bisexual rep, but also genderqueer/non-binary and lesbian (for starters, Alison Evans’ ‘Ida’, Erin Gough’s ‘The Flywheel’, Marlee Jane Ward’s ‘Orphancorp’ series, Emily O’Beirne’s ‘Future Leaders of Nowhere’ and ‘All the Ways to Here’ and Steph Bowe’s ‘Night Swimming’). Yet, one of our biggest authors is a male whose latest book features a gay male character (Will Kostakis and his novel ‘The Sidekicks’). So, what’s the go? Is Australia bucking the trend on purpose or is there just something different happening in our publishing world?
It is very hard to make conclusive statements about what our ‘trends’ are and even harder to say why, because of the tiny number of AusQueerYA being published. Even the number of non-Queer YA being published in Australia is small compared to the American market. But I’ll try and guess anyways.
Is it possible that we are publishing more f/f novels simply because our smaller numbers mean that the difference in profitability isn’t as great as the American market appears to be, so the risk (from a business perspective i.e $$$) in publishing m/m or f/f is relatively similar? Or do readers of AusQueerYA have a preference for stories with female leads and care less about male romantic interests? Either way, publishers of AusQueerYA are doing some good things in some identity areas (let’s not pretend there is nearly enough representation of the TQIA+ part of the acronym especially, or for non-binary and genderqueer/genderfluid persons).
Australia is doing alright in the f/f category compared to America, but this does not solve the larger problem at hand. Queer books of all kinds are not reaching the audiences they should, or making the sales figures they deserve. How can we start to close that gap?
Let’s be real for a second. Publishing is a business. If we want to be traditionally published, we have to accept this. If we want more Queer books being picked up and read around the world, we need to find new strategies for this, because obviously we cannot just make all our characters men or force all contemporary readers to buy f/f novels (though I’m keen to give that second suggestion a red hot go).
My solution? We need to turn our attention to new markets, find new readers and new income streams. One way to do that: more genre fiction.
Genre fiction plays by a whole different set of rules than contemporary fiction. If readers are not picking up contemporary f/f novels, let’s turn our hand to sci-fi. Let’s write historical fiction with bisexual, non-binary leads. Let’s write epic fantasies with Queer characters around every medieval corner. Gays in space. Wild west lesbians. Trans wizard kids.
There are millions of people who read these genres who would (and already do) happily devour Queer stories too. The beauty with genre fiction compared to contemporary is that everything is already different to the world we live in. A non-Queer person reading a book set on Mars has already allowed themselves to imagine a different planet, so the leap to imagining a different sexuality or gender framework is not so great as a person who is reading about a school that is in every way familiar to them, apart from that one character who might be a lesbian.
Does any of this make sense? This is not a blanket solution by any means. To truly tackle the problem of the lack of Queer representation in YA we need a multi-faceted approach, with changes occurring at all levels of industry, with goals for the short term and long term. This is just one aspect of that overall plan.
For my hardcore contemporary writers: keep going. This is not to say your books aren’t needed, valued or that they won’t be successful. But for anyone who wants to write a swashbuckling Queer pirate adventure, I think now is a really good time.
Got a genre-fic story brewing? We’d love to hear about it!