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!
princessofgeeks: (Default)

From: [personal profile] princessofgeeks


Also, remember she only looked at books published by major publishers. There are several niche publishers that now do YA LGBT which were not on her list to be counted. So maybe things are a tiny bit better than they seem?

Of course I totally understand than when doing a count like this, it's impossible to look at ALL publishers. Goodness. You have to draw the line somewhere to keep the enterprise manageable.

But clearly there's a huge gap here, and as she says, everyone, keep writing! :)
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore


Well, she says "mainstream" is split out both from the Big 6 and publishers specializing in LGBT books: "Mainstream: Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic), Arsenal Pulp, Bloomsbury, Candlewick, Chronicle, Flux, Hyperion, K-Teen (Kensington), Kensington, Marshall Cavendish, Orca, Running Press Kids, Scholastic, Tu Books, Walker & Company."
ironed_orchid: pin up girl reading kant (Default)

From: [personal profile] ironed_orchid


Your guesses about genre are similar to my guesses about genre.
daedala: line drawing of a picture of a bicycle by the awesome Vom Marlowe (Default)

From: [personal profile] daedala


I have an additional theory: that there's a sort of "weirdness limit," and sf/fantasy is already so far from mainstream experience that adding in minority characters pushes it over some invisible line and it's too far.
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore


Wow, that is really interesting. And yeah, genre fiction often seems to me to be well behind even mainstream/non-genre/whatever we call it fiction in terms of social justice issues.
owlectomy: A squashed panda sewing a squashed panda (Default)

From: [personal profile] owlectomy


I suspect, too, that there's an assumption that YA fantasy/SF skews younger than YA realism; there's plenty of realistic YA books that are very dark or "mature," and I can barely think of any YA fantasy/SF where the same holds. (Margo Lanagan's books, yes; maybe Patrick Ness's "The Knife of Never Letting Go" et. al.; but even with all the death, "The Hunger Games" never felt dark to me till the third book, and it's certainly chaste.) I think that's partially because teen SF/Fantasy fans tend to switch to adult books earlier than teens who read realistic fiction.

(This was definitely the case when I was in school, though I know the market has changed a ton since then.)

And I think there's still an assumption that gay characters automatically make a book more "mature," even in a book without sex, even in a book without kissing or romantic relationships.

Obviously that's a bad assumption. Given that we're starting to see gay parents in non-issuey picture books and middle grade novels, hopefully it's an assumption that's changing.
daedala: line drawing of a picture of a bicycle by the awesome Vom Marlowe (Default)

From: [personal profile] daedala


A coworker took her son to some appointment or other, and the Pride March happened to go by, so they stayed to watch. Her husband apparently that the kid was "too young to be exposed to that" (and I don't mean the BDSM type floats, either).

Fortunately for our working relationship, my coworker just rolled her eyes. But...yeah.

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] green_knight - Date: 2012-07-03 11:03 pm (UTC) - Expand

From: [identity profile] marzipan-pig.livejournal.com


TAPIR ANSWER SYNDROME:

"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."

Breaking 1.00% down into 70% and 30% is easy, .70% and .30% respectively.

If we round 'up' to 2.00%, that's 2 x .7 and 2 x .3 = 1.4% and .6%

We know 1.600% should be b/w those two!

1.6 x .70 and 1.6 x .30 = 1.12% YA fiction is mainstream/realistic queer, and .48% YA fiction is fantasy/sf queer


From: [identity profile] livejournal.livejournal.com

Malinda has statistics! I have theories!


User [livejournal.com profile] raeraesama referenced to your post from Malinda has statistics! I have theories! (http://raeraesama.livejournal.com/199608.html) saying: [...] Originally posted by at Malinda has statistics! I have theories! [...]

From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com


Your theories seem reasonable to me.

I suspect there are some YA editors who are all for acquiring books with LGBTQ protagonists, but who are wary (consciously or unconsciously) because of what might happen if they buy such a book, give it a big push, and then it doesn't meet expectations. There are of course all sorts of reasons why a book might not perform well, but if a book has anything unusual about it there are people in the industry will seize on that aspect as an explanation: "YA fantasy with gay characters doesn't sell - X House tried it last year and it flopped" - that sort of thing. (The people giving this explanation might not even be uncomfortable with LGBTQ protagonists - people like having explanations for things.)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


I bet you're right. I can even see people thinking, "If I buy this book and give it a big push and it fails, it will set the cause back by twenty years. So I just won't buy it."

I had someone tell me, during Yes Gay YA, that I had set the cause back by discussing it: because I had broken the silence on That Which Shall Not Be Names, editors and agents would now reject all queries which mention LGBTQ content lest they be falsely accused of homophobia when they rejected an LGBTQ manuscript which was simply bad.

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 07:03 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 11:33 pm (UTC) - Expand

From: [identity profile] mrissa.livejournal.com


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.

This rings sadly true to me.

I think one of the reasons it does is that I used to have to talk people out of books with female protagonists being all about how sexism sucks, and by people I really do mean people, both teen-boy-people and teen-girl-people. And so the idea that teen-white-people and teen-non-white people would be going, "I don't want to read another book about how racism sucks, I just want swords," strikes me as sadly plausible.

Also this gives me hope that we will be getting past it soon. So there's that.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Yes, this all used to apply to female protagonists as well, and now (so long as they're white and straight) it usually doesn't any more. At least in YA. In adult (non-urban) fantasy and sf, it still seems to be a big issue.

I wonder what changed with girls in YA? There must have been some tipping point. I don't think it was Hunger Games; the trend predated that by at least five years and probably more like ten.

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] sartorias.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 06:40 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 06:44 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] sartorias.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 06:46 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 06:55 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 06:55 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] lady-ganesh.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-03 03:33 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] telophase.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 10:32 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] naomikritzer.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 08:16 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-03 04:17 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] green-knight.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-04 01:47 pm (UTC) - Expand

From: [identity profile] mme-hardy.livejournal.com


I think your "any novel with a minority character is automatically a problem novel" insight is bang on the head. In my own case, I shamefully put off reading a particular book by a black author (which, when I got to it, I enjoyed very much) because I expected that the book would make me feel guilty. Not that the author would *intend* to make me feel guilty, nor that that was the purpose of the book, but that I would feel guilty. And then I read the book, and (of course) it wasn't about me and my issues at all.

I think that if you have any guilt/shame about how people of any minority are treated in our world, then that guilt/shame can transfer into reading fiction about those people, which in turn leads to the complaints about "I want my fantasy to be light". The lack of lightness, of escapeness, is as much (more) in the reader as in the writer. That may only be me and my particular bigotries.

So the next question, assuming this is widespread, is how do you get past that as an author, and as a publisher? And, in particular as a publisher, how do you keep from projecting your own limitations on to the customers, and how do you help the customers past the limitations you see in yourself?

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


That is a very interesting point. I think you're on to something there.

What's more, I have heard people saying basically the same thing, but in more veiled language, to explain why they don't read books with anything but straight white non-disabled and, in some cases, male protagonists: "It will be depressing!"

Really? Zahrah the Windseeker is depressing? Hero is depressing? Well - if thinking about the very existence of people who are oppressed in the real world depresses you, then maybe they are!

The ultimate answer is desensitization. It was shocking the first time Morgan Freeman played the President of America. Then people got used to it. If enough people start representing and publishing and reading books in which people of all sorts have adventures and fluffy romances and so forth, eventually everyone will get used to it.

Besides, a lot of the "oh no! a problem novel!" comes about because there really is or was a preponderance of problem novels.

There was such a preponderance of Holocaust and anti-Semistism novels when I was a teenager, and such a lack of fictional Jews doing anything but getting persecuted, that I developed a sort of flinch reflex any time the back cover of a book started with something like, "Rivkah, a Jewish girl..." Poor Rivkah was almost certain to end up in Auschwitz.

The solution is clearly not less problem novels, since they have value and lots of people want to read them, but more novels of other sorts. To this day, I could probably name you every book I've ever read with a Jewish character who doesn't get persecuted.

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] mme-hardy.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 07:16 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 07:21 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] sartorias.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 07:21 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] naomikritzer.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 08:39 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] torrilin.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 10:58 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-03 03:56 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] serialbabbler.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-07 08:30 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-07 09:12 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] serialbabbler.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-07 10:31 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] naomikritzer.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 08:25 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] sartorias.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 08:29 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-03 04:12 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] naomikritzer.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 08:34 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] telophase.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-02 10:40 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-03 03:58 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] naomikritzer.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-03 04:02 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-03 04:56 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] marzipan-pig.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-03 02:54 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] ejmam.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-03 04:13 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-03 04:19 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] ironed_orchid - Date: 2012-07-03 04:27 am (UTC) - Expand

From: [identity profile] megfuzzle.livejournal.com


I think they're showing up more and more... but either as specialized fiction (non mainstream), or as side kicks.
As a note, Terry Goodkind had a lesbian character in his fantasy books (one of the girls in red leather, lol), and I think he handled it really well.

I don't mind reading about them, but I don't necessarily seek out fiction with that theme in it. It's all about the story for me. If the story is a good one, and it happens to have someone of a different race/gender/sexual orientation and it's a part of the story, that's what's important to me.

From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com


Your theory is intuitively appealing! I think you have something there: I do think that the majority community (vis-à-vis any given minority--obviously you can be in the majority in one instance and in the minority in another) tend to assume that if minority characters are featured, then the book is going to have to do with their minority-ness.

With regard to sexual orientation and gender identification, I'd have thought that at least in science fiction it wouldn't be that way because, precisely, of playing around with different sorts of possibilities for how sentient beings can interact/relate/etc. ... But I guess it's one thing to have Those Weird Aliens having interesting, different, and maybe fluid paradigms and a whole nother cup of tea if you try to talk about that with people. And anyway, that still makes gender and sexuality the central topic instead of just something that's incidental.

From: [identity profile] cat-i-th-adage.livejournal.com


And in the world of fanfic, there is so very, very much same-sex romance. Kinda weird.

From: [identity profile] lady-ganesh.livejournal.com


I don't think it's weird at all. Some, but not all, fanfic authors and readers are obviously seeking out what they don't get in pro fiction. No one can tell you your story won't sell if you're not selling it in the first place.

From: [identity profile] psocoptera.livejournal.com


Do you know, or does anyone know, how the statistics for YA books compare to adult books, or if that's too big a category, maybe just adult SF and fantasy?

I would maybe naively have thought that YA books might be doing better about this than genre in general, given that young people are statistically less homophobic than older people (I think?), and my (false?) impression that YA authors slant a little younger than authors in other genres. But I did a quick tally of books I've personally read so far this year, and there was much more GLBT representation in the adult books than the YA, and obviously that's a tiny sample size skewed by my own reading tastes, but it was enough to make me doubt my intuition on the topic. (Nine adult books, mostly SF/fantasy, two with GLBT main characters, three with GLBT secondary characters, two or three with GLBT minor characters (memory fuzzy); nine YA books, one with a GLBT main character, one with an asexual secondary character, one with GLBT minor characters.)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Statistically, I don't know. Anecdotally, adult sff is WAY more open to LGBTQ content.

If you look at the sticky post on my LJ, I have listed every American YA sff novel I'm aware of with major LGBTQ characters. If I compiled a similar list for adult sff, it would be, at minimum, three times as long.

I think the difference is not in the readership, but in the agents, publishers, and booksellers. (Anecdotally, yes, it is also my experience that teenagers are, on average, less homophobic than adults.) I think it's a combination of (clutch pearls) "Think of the children!" and the better chance of bigger bucks in YA.

Also, as is discussed in DW comments, non-straight orientations are often themselves perceived as "mature/explicit content," even if there's no actual sex involved.

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] psocoptera.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-17 01:07 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-07-17 01:11 am (UTC) - Expand
.

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags