You may recall YA fantasy author Malinda Lo's statistical breakdown of how many YA books have any LGBTQ characters, out of all YA fiction published in the USA in the last ten years. It turns out that it is a depressing 0.6%.

That 0.6% includes books in which the LGBTQ character is a minor supporting character.

As part her month-long blogging for YA Pride month, Malinda has once again crunched the numbers, this time for 2012, producing her trademark pie charts. The entire post is well worth reading, since she analyzes all sorts of things, but I'm pulling out her extrapolated percentage on YA fiction with LGBTQ characters for the year 2012: 1.6%.

1.6% includes anthologies with a few stories featuring LGBTQ characters, and the vast majority of the stories featuring straight characters. (11 of the total 55 books are anthologies.)

Of the total 1.6% of all YA fiction, 70% is mainstream/realistic, and only 30% fantasy/sf. Someone more mathematically minded than me will have to do a breakdown on what percentage of the total that is.

During the month, Malinda had a number of interviews with authors. The majority of them hadn't had much or any difficulty getting their books published. This was quite different from the experience of the authors who came forward during Yes Gay YA, and I wondered why a) there was such a split, b) why, if so many authors had no trouble, there were still so few books being published.

I have some ideas.

1. Fantasy vs. Mainstream

Most of the authors who came forward during Yes Gay YA to say that editors or agents had required or requested them to change their character's sexual orientation, race, disability, or gender (so the romance would be straight) were authors of fantasy or science fiction. Most of the authors Malinda interviews who had no issues with that were writing realistic fiction.

This is borne out by the statistics: of the tiny percentage of LGBTQ YA fiction being published at all, 70% is realistic.

I think that sf/fantasy YA publishing has more of a problem with LGBTQ characters than does realistic publishing. And I don't think it's because the former is more homophobic.

My theory is that historically in YA publishing, being a member of a minority is seen as a "problem." Characters who are not white, straight, able-bodied, Christian, etc, most commonly turned up in "problem books," in which the story is about how much prejudice you face and how hard it is to non-white, Jewish, disabled, gay, etc.

Fantasy, however, is perceived as escapist fun. Even dark dystopias are seen as an escape from real-world problems. If your identity is itself perceived as a problem, then you cannot be the hero of a fantasy novel.

Hence, the never-ending whitewashing of fantasy novels with protagonists of color. I don't think that's caused by someone thinking, "I hate black people! Make her white!" I think it's a combination of the thought that readers are racist and won't buy the book if the hero is accurately depicted, and the thought that if a person of color is on the cover, readers looking for fantasy will incorrectly perceive it as a novel about how much racism sucks, and not buy it.

Therefore, LGBTQ characters are an easier sell to the mainstream, because they fit into a pre-established genre. (Even if the actual books don't really fit it. Many don't.)

2. Books About Being Gay vs. Books with Gay Protagonists

This is often a matter of focus. You could write a book about a lesbian ballet dancer who faces homophobia, and have it primarily be about the struggle against homophobia, or her slow realization of her sexual orientation, or her romance with another dancer, or her obsessive drive to succeed.

My guess is that books with minority protagonists are the easiest sell if they can be perceived and marketed as primarily about the experience of being a minority. (Even if not about the problem of being a minority.) Lots of people do want to read about that experience, because it's their own experience. You can openly advertise the content, and the people who want to read it will buy it. It's irrelevant if people who don't have that identity ignore the books, because they're not the market.

Books which are not primarily about the experience of being a minority, but have a minority protagonist, are probably a harder sell. In theory, they could appeal to anyone who likes that particular story. Scott Tracey's Witch Eyes, for instance, is a paranormal romance with a gay protagonist, not a novel about the experience of being gay while having paranormal experiences.

However, publishers often believe, correctly or not, that people who like that genre in general but are not specifically interested in gay themes - a larger group than the group of readers specifically looking for a "gay experience" book - will refuse to buy the book if the hero is gay. Then they feel like they're losing most of their potential audience. And so they ask, as Tracey has stated he was asked, for the gender or sexual orientation of the protagonist to be changed.

Ironically, the more a book has the perceived potential to appeal to an audience which does not match the identity of the protagonist, the more difficulty the author may have selling it as written.

3. Who Got Interviewed?

Malinda interviewed authors who sold their books. The authors who got so much pushback that they gave up or self-published did not get interviewed, because she never heard of them. The entire publication process selects against books which get the most resistance, and for books which get the least.

(This cuts both ways: Sherwood and I specifically asked for authors who had experienced pushback regarding their characters' identities to come forward, so we were selecting for the people with that experience.)

Many books are rejected for being bad. But I find it very hard to believe that, out of all submissions, the books with LGBTQ characters are so much worse than the books with straight characters that 99% of all published books are the latter.

NOTE: None of this, obviously, applies to publishers who solely or primarily publish LGBTQ books. This is about the rest of the publishers.

Discuss! Argue! Theorize! Go to Malinda's blog and check out her complete list of all LGBTQ YA published this year!
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