I work in publishing, and I’ve noticed a clear trend: while publishers seem more than ready to let LGBTQIA+ people explain their lives in non-fiction, - we’re still lacking in queer fiction.
That’s why when I was part of the planning team for Hachette’s ‘Pride in Writing’ event in June, we thought not just about the diversity of people, but about the diversity of genre too.
It was integral because publishing has been guilty of an over-emphasis on acquiring non-fiction books that seek to explain our queerness. Non-fiction that may have been written for a cis, heterosexual audience, rather than for us.
All these books are great – and a decade ago, they would have been considered unpublishable – but what of queer fiction?
What are we saying if the publishing industry makes more of an effort to publish non-fiction titles above anything else?
Are we saying LGBTQ+ people are worthy only of explaining our lives and re-telling our traumas for others? That we're not worthy enough to be in fiction? Is it because it’s a perceived commercial risk?
In his memoir, Logical Family, Armistead Maupin writes about working on his Tales of the City serial. His San Fransico Chronicle editor did a tally of gay vs straight characters. Before concluding, he should not write any more queer characters because it might damage their readership.
Despite this background, we’re starting to see a change in the types of queer books being published. At the Hachette event, author Laura Kay spoke about the ‘bury your gays’ trope, which sees queer women in fiction doomed to tragedy rather than happiness. Instead, she wrote a lesbian rom-com. Author Tasha Suri spoke about why it was important to write the story she never had: a sapphic love story set in an Indian fantasy world.
The commissioning of LGBTQIA+ fiction is only going to be further fuelled by the Heartstopper phenomenon. We’re only halfway through the year, and Alice Oseman is already number two in the author chart, above both JK Rowling and David Walliams.
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While I feel we’re starting to get there in terms of LGB representation in fiction, we’re not there for trans stories yet.
Just this week, Juno Dawson’s spellbinding Her Majesty's Royal Coven became a Sunday Times No.1 best-seller. A phenomenal achievement; I hope it opens doors for other trans authors.
However, I can’t help feeling that Juno's fiction career came only after she'd proved her literary excellence in numerous non-fiction books: What’s the T?, This Book is Gay and Gender Games.
I want to see more trans authors trusted and encouraged by publishers to write fiction books without having to make steps in non-fiction first.
And indie publishers like Cipher Press show us it’s not only doable - but popular. Now it’s up to bigger publishing houses to take the challenge.
Queer people, especially trans people, should be given opportunities to write about queerness in fiction too. This can only be done with the help of publishers, the people behind the books, encouraging and nurturing queer talent.
Small steps are being taken, but it’s time to see bigger strides.
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