Trends in young adult literature aren’t hard to spot. When a little series called Harry Potter became an international phenomenon, the YA fantasy genre rose right along with it. Twilight came out, and soon every single title imaginable had a vamp in it somewhere. Right now, it’s Hunger Games‘–and dystopia’s–turn, and next, well, who knows? Maybe a new literary phenomenon will give historical its day. Until then, it’s not hard to figure out what subgenre to pitch in order to boost your chances of hooking an agent.
What’s a little more under the radar is what might actually lessen your chances of getting published, and at least according to two authors who posted a piece last week on Genreville, Publishers Weekly‘s blog, that’s exactly what can happen if you pitch a book with a gay character.
“We are published authors who co-wrote a post-apocalyptic young adult novel,” write Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith in “Say Yes to Gay YA.” “When we set out to find an agent for it, we expected to get some rejections. But we never expected to be offered representation… on the condition that we make a gay character straight, or cut him out altogether.”
The post set off enormous amounts of backlash–both from readers angry at agencies and publishers and from agents who swear they’ve never done or seen this–as well as support. As they always seem to do, a Twitter campaign sprang up immediately, imploring readers to tweet with the hashtag #YesGayYA, and both agents and publishers took to the social media platform to declare their willingness and interest in publishing books with gay characters. And, of course, enormous amounts of research were immediately undertaken to observe and report the statistics on YA LGBT publications.
As it turned out, the post may have been a complete fabrication (or at least misinterpretation of events) by the two authors, according to not one but two agents who rejected the submission. Joanna Stempfel-Volpe, of Nancy Coffey Literary Agency, was shocked to discover that her agency was rumored to be the one in question, and she immediately responded on The Swivet, a blog run by (out and proud) literary agent Colleen Lindsay. Michael Bourret, an agent with Dystel & Goderich, also spoke out this past weekend, saying that he passed on the manuscript but not because of the LGBT content, although he concedes that manuscripts with gay content are harder sells.
One thing’s for sure–the best way to ensure that LGBT YA becomes more marketable is to show agencies and publishers that LGBT YA (and other literature, if YA is not your thing, what with you being a grown-up and all) is exactly the sort of thing you’d happily shell out for… by shelling out for it. Not sure where to start? Here are some of the biggest LGBT YA names in the biz:
Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez: This was the first LGBT YA book I ever read, back when I was a wee production intern grabbing everything possible off the gimme shelves, and I remember feeling like it was such a standout by sheer virtue of its normalcy. Granted, the trials and tribulations of navigating the sexual aspect of adolescence aren’t quite the same for straight teens as for queer teens, but that’s only one of the many reasons that people like Alex Sanchez need to be writing the exact sort of thing that already exists in so many incarnations for the hetero high-schoolers. Rainbow Boys is the first in a three-book series, and Sanchez has a number of additional LGBT titles including Boyfriends with Girlfriends about that supposed unicorn, the bisexual male.
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan: One of the most popular titles in the genre, it’s described by the author as being “about where we’re going, and where we should be.” That is to say, the homosexuality in the book is not a plot point–it just is. Levithan’s set a world where homophobia’s not an issue, the gay kids have the exact same dramas and issues as everybody else, the notion of non-acceptance isn’t even a consideration. It’s a teen romance with no boobs involved, plain and simple.
Luna by Julie Anne Peters: Another prolific LGBT YA author, Peters has written this novel about a transgendered teen struggling between his outward existence as Liam and his inward existence as Luna. In a world where only a single scripted TV show on the whole of television has a transgendered character in a regular role, and only one or so books with transgendered main characters are seeing publication, this might be one of the most important book purchases you can make.
Ash by Malinda Lo: Plenty of fairytales have gotten the repurposing treatment in YA Lit, from Beastly by Alex Flinn to Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, but Lo’s taken Cinderella one step further by turning it into a magical lesbian love story with nary a Prince Charming to be found.
(Book covers taken from BN.com)