Thursday, September 15, 2011

Guest blogger Joanna Stampfel-Volpe responds to a recent PW blog post on LGBTQ YA

Joanna Stampfel-Volpe is an agent with Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation, where she primarily represents picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction.
On Being Used, the Lack of LGBTQ Characters in YA, and Why It’s Important to Work Together

by Joanna Stampfel-Volpe

It is imperative that Young Adult literature reflects the diversity of our world.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Which is why conversations like #YesGayYA (on Twitter), and posts like Malinda Lo’s “How Hard Is it to Sell an LGBTQ YA Novel?” are so important. This is a topic that should be discussed, and brought to everyone’s attention. We (as peoples of the publishing industry—authors, agents, editors, booksellers, etc) should be working together to promote diversity of all kinds to readers.

Two authors this week published the article “Say Yes to Gay YA” on Publisher’s Weekly’s blog Genreville.

It describes the experience an author-writing team had with an agent who told them that he or she would offer representation if the authors would either make a gay male character straight or cut him from the book all together. Though this may have happened with previous authors and agents, this time it is completely untrue.



We had read the manuscript, and had spoken to the authors to learn more about the story. Later, when this article was posted, we discussed in-house how awful it was they'd had to go through this.



Then we got a surprising call from an agent friend who had heard that this article was supposedly about us.

Initially we thought it was just an unfortunate rumor. 



Then the emails started pouring in

Did we know what people were saying about us?
Why were they saying this?
This can’t be true!

Well. It isn’t true.

Let me repeat this: there is nothing in that article concerning our response to their manuscript that is true.

We spoke with the authors on speakerphone in our office, and the conversation we had with them was very different than the experience they describe.

The first bit of editorial feedback we gave was that they change the book from YA to middle grade, which would mean cutting most of the romance entirely (for both the straight and gay characters). The book included five character points-of-view (POVs). Our second bit of editorial feedback was that at least two POVs, possibly three, needed to be cut. Did one of these POVs include the gay character in question? Yes. Is it because he was gay? No. It’s because we felt there were too many POVs that didn’t contribute to the actual plot. We did not ask that any of these characters be cut from the book entirely. Let us repeat that, we did not ask that any of the characters in the book –gay or straight—be cut from the book. Also, we never asked that the authors change any LGBTQ character to a straight character.

We suggested this editorial feedback, because it’s our job, the initial step of the ongoing author/agent dynamic.

The authors felt differently, and that’s okay. It’s a business, but it’s a creative one. And it’s vitally important that an author and agent be on the same creative page. We have these conversations precisely so we can see if our vision aligns with the author’s before we offer representation. Since it didn’t in this case, we did not offer representation, though the authors of this article say we conditionally did.

Unfortunately, this rumor has reached the point where our clients and colleagues have heard from their peers that this article is supposedly about us. Above all else, our concern and responsibility is to our clients, always. And it is also to our agents.

One of our agents is being used as a springboard for these authors to gain attention for their project. She is being exploited. But even worse, by basing their entire article on untruths, these authors have exploited the topic. By doing that, they’ve chipped away at the validity of the resulting conversation.
And it’s a conversation that should be had.
So let’s continue this conversation, and let’s base it on the truth, which is:
There are not enough mainstream books that depict characters of diverse race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and physical and/or mental disabilities.
Changing this starts with the readers. Scott Tracy has a great post about this on his blog. If more people buy books with these elements, then publishers will want to publish more of them. Sounds simple…yet, it’s not so simple.

How do we reach the readers who are looking for these types of books? And more importantly, how do we reach the readers who aren’t specifically looking for them?

We would love to start this conversation. It is one that our agency believes in and feels strongly about. Let’s discuss.
- Joanna

Note from Colleen: When the PW blog post was first posted, I was asked by several people to retweet the piece help to spread the word. Because this piece was printed in PW, I felt safe in assuming that the facts of the story had been checked.

I made the mistake - as so many people have - of conflating PW with the blogs that are hosted on PW.

In the spirit of righteous indignation, I retweeted the story. Almost immediately I was contacted by several well-respected agents - a couple of whom had already read and rejected the manuscript in question, based on the same editorial concerns - who called into question the facts behind the blog post. I later discovered that not only did I know the agent in question, but that this person was actually a dear friend of mine, someone who most certainly wasn't homophobic. The more I learned about this incident, the angrier I became at myself for reposting it and inadvertently hurting someone whom I respect and admire as a colleague, and whom I care about personally as a friend. This story has now moved beyond the book community online into the mainstream press; every new media outlet that picks up the story is a further insult to this agent's reputation; for that, each and every one of us who helped spread this story should be ashamed.

As a queer woman and a former agent who has happily repped - and sold! - YA with LGBT themes, I think we need to step back, take a deep breath and look at an important fact, one that hasn't yet been discussed.

FACT: Both these writers already have their own agents. At least one of those agents reps YA books. So what does it say when the respective agents for both these well-established writers advise them to find a different agent for the book in question because neither of them wanted to rep it themselves?

It tells me that homophobia was most likely not the reason that this book has thus far not found representation.

Any agent looking at this manuscript - knowing full well that these two writers already had their own respective agents who did not want to rep the project - would see this as a giant red flag and approach the book with a very critical editorial eye.

Does there need to be a conversation about lack of diversity in YA? Yes. Is this the incident to hang it on? I don't think so.

My two cents.

Edit to add on 9/28/11: If you get a chance, you should read this amazingly curated post by Cleolinda Jones over at Livejournal. She has put together an exhaustingly-thorough compilation of pretty much everything related to the original PW post, Joanna's rebuttal, some great conversations on Twitter and links to more great blog reading. Also, YA Highway sums things up rather nicely here, with pointed commentary where relevant. I think it's probably the most balanced view of the whole situation.

Edit to add 10/10/11: Comments for this post have been closed. I don't have time to keep checking to see if there are comments floating around somewhere in the moderation queue. (Actual day job here, folks.)

177 comments:

CJ Omololu said...

Thanks Joanna and Colleen for posting this. Goes to show that especially in the digital age we need to seek out both sides of every story.

veela-valoom said...

I was surprised that the original blog gained so much traction since it didn't seem to have facts backing it up. I guess I studied journalism so I look at everything with a skeptical eye.

Glad to hear that I'm not just a suspicious sort but had reasons to think twice.

Jim C. Hines said...

I'm not clear -- is the comment toward the end taking a shot that "Obviously, the *real* problem is that their book sucks!" from Colleen or from Joanna?

Josin L. McQuein said...

Ugh. It makes me so mad when people lie about things like this. Lying about genuine concerns and problems faced by others not only makes the person being lied about look bad, but it also dilutes the problem when legitimate concerns are raised.

I hate the habit some writers develop where they have to find a reason for editorial feedback other than the reason given. They can't believe the agent didn't think the book would work for YA, so the suggestion to remove the romance and make it MG can't be in service of the story, it *must* be due to an element of the story.

Thanks for the clarification, Colleen, and thank you for posting Joanna's response here. Hopefully this won't have too much negative impact on the agency she works for.

Anonymous said...

I almost never leave anonymous comments. But here we go.

Thank you, Joanna, for speaking up. I've followed both these authors' blogs for a very long time. Just last week, Sherwood Smith was publicly bemoaning the lack of quality YA sci-fi. When I first read the genreville article, I was most shocked to see the genre in which they were writing. It didn't at all match what they've been saying about the apparently poorstate of young adult, or young adult dystopians. Something about the story rang false to me. It felt calculated, not at all like the case of Jessica Verday, who seemed to face her own "straightwashing" as the unfortunate and regrettable experience it was.

The odd thing is that I was a fervent supporter of Verday, am a queer woman, and that I don't doubt at all that cases like these exist. I agree that we need more diverse representation. I write about queer kids in the future myself! And normally I deeply respect Sherwood.

But perpetuating half-truths like this is divisive and harmful to the cause--it gives our enemies fodder, if nothing else. I'm so sorry you became the butt of this terrible experience.

clindsay said...

Jim - the comments at the bottom are mine, and no, I didn't say "Their books sucks." I'm saying that there were other legitimate editorial concerns. Even the best books need revision, and no agent is obligated to rep a book that isn't ready to be shopped.

clindsay said...

Josin -

I don't think it was a lie so much as seeing a slight that wasn't there. This is something that happens to every writer at some time or another. Experienced writers learn to take editorial criticism and work with it.

Jim C. Hines said...

Yes, "Your book sucks" is obviously a paraphrase on my part, but your comment reads -- to me -- as a pretty clear slam on the quality of the book in question, based on the fact that these two authors chose to look for a different agent who could represent them both equally.

My reading could be wrong, and could easily be biased by knowing the authors in question. But it felt, to me, like a cheap shot.

Scott Westerfekd said...

This response leaves the high ground right about here:

"One of our agents is being used as a springboard for these authors to gain attention for their project. She is being exploited."

It seems that there's a huge chance of a miscommunication here, especially on a topic as complex as homophobia (or as personally fraught as critiques of one's writing). I doubt that anyone can be certain that this MUST be a publicity ploy, even if they were in the room when this conference call happened.

But this is the internet, so any hope for nuance in this conversation seems slim.

clindsay said...

Jim -

It's not a cheap shot. I was pointing out something that agents actually take into consideration when looking at a book under these circumstances.

If both of these writers' agents felt that the project was not marketable as is, then there are most likely problems with the manuscript, problems that can range anywhere from having a bloated word count to too many POVs for a kidlit story. All of which can be fixed IF a writer is willing to work with editorial criticism.

Best, Colleen

Jim C. Hines said...

Colleen,

Fair enough. Like I said, that's not how I read it, but I believe you that my reading isn't matching up to what you were saying. Thanks.

Maggie Desmond-O'Brien said...

I find the rapid response of the YA community in situations like these admirable. Unfortunately, as this incident proves, it's also easily exploitable.

As a queer teen who was hugely dismayed and hurt when I read the post and also wrote a post of my own, I'm especially disappointed in myself for not double-checking facts or seeking out the other side of the story. Lesson learned.

In a way, I'm glad it opened up the larger conversation about diversity in mainstream YA, though. It's one that's needed to happen for a long time.

Joseph L. Selby said...

This response leaves the high ground right about here:

"One of our agents is being used as a springboard for these authors to gain attention for their project. She is being exploited."

It seems that there's a huge chance of a miscommunication here,


I disagree. You are correct that there's a huge chance of miscommunication, but if the authors were intent on continuing to communicate with the agent, the issue would be resolved in private. If nothing else, the authors could have stated their disagreement that homosexuality should be excluded from YA fiction in which case the agent could have realized the miscommunication and better specified why the corrections were being suggested.

That didn't happen, though. The authors instead posted publicly (and informed privately) of their apparent victimization. At best it's unprofessional and unfortunate. At worst it's deliberate exploitation. Either way, it distracts from a relevant subject to draw attention to a project that would otherwise have no traction.

clindsay said...

Maggie -

This is an issue that can set off tempers - mine included - all too easily. I also believe that there is a real chance that there a chance that some genuine misunderstanding occurred between all parties. But at that point, it would have behooved either of the authors to clarify their concerns.

jinian said...

While I'm happy to see a response from the agency, particularly one so supportive of YA diversity, I don't think the evident assumption of bad faith on the authors' part is warranted.

Anonymous said...

I'm so tired of the reactionary nature of the internet. This is a case in point of that.

As a reader, I don't want to be force-fed something I'm not comfortable with reading or dealing with. This goes for anything, not just homosexual content.

Do homosexuals exist? Do rapists exist? Do drug addicts and drug dealers exist? Do dark and scary things exist?

Yes. But that doesn't mean I want to read about it. I read to escape and if a book leaves me feeling enraged or depressed or anything that isn't a feeling I want to have hanging over my day or week, it's not a book for me.

It has nothing to do with homophobia or bigotry of any kind.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting perspective, but as someone pointed out, the story left the high ground around the time the word "exploited" came out. Does the agent and his/her boss have an actual solid recall of what exactly was said and how it was said? Because even a throwaway comment on a phone call could convey a world of meaning that, perhaps, the *agency* didn't want to convey, but that was a Freudian slip on the part of the agent. Even the omission of saying something on a subject can convey a world of meaning (as in the case of a freelance project I worked on where the editor ignored everything I said and exclaimed delightedly when one of the men on the project said exactly the same thing).

I don't disbelieve anyone in this case -- it sounds like a trainwreck of miscommunication, and the agency, being the entity of power in the dynamic, bears the brunt of the responsibility for the miscommunication.

pickwick said...

I'm not sure why people are seeing this defense as necessarily "truer" than the original story, and declaring that they shouldn't have believed/ retweeted the original. I'm all for not jumping to conclusions, but if it was wrong to do that in the first place, it's surely equally wrong to "unjump" based on no more evidence.

Pam said...

"Do homosexuals exist? Do rapists exist? Do drug addicts and drug dealers exist? Do dark and scary things exist?

Yes. But that doesn't mean I want to read about it."

Yes, it has EVERYTHING to do with homophobia and bigotry. You are stating all the things that make getting books about GLBT characters published harder. If you were a minority you would want books that reflect you, that you can relate to. Go escape with some calgon and leave the reading to the big girls.

David D. said...

Maybe it's just me, but "The first bit of editorial feedback we gave was that they change the book from YA to middle grade, which would mean cutting most of the romance entirely" doesn't really fit with the statements supporting YA literature and diversity within it. If writers want to write YA work with the attendant emotional and narrative complexity...why not first facilitate that rather than suggest a direction that strips those things away?

estara said...

"Unfortunately, this rumor has reached the point where our clients and colleagues have heard from their peers that this article is supposedly about us. Above all else, our concern and responsibility is to our clients, always. And it is also to our agents.

One of our agents is being used as a springboard for these authors to gain attention for their project. She is being exploited. But even worse, by basing their entire article on untruths, these authors have exploited the topic. By doing that, they’ve chipped away at the validity of the resulting conversation."

I'm addressing these particular points of the rebuttal - not the following opinion of the blogger who offered the platform for it - her interpretation of things is her good right on her own blog.

As can be seen on the posts at Genreville and the LJs of both authors they never mentioned the name of the agency in question, not in the discussions that followed, not in the initial post - so where did the rumors about your agency come from? How did anybody even have the idea it could be YOUR publishing house that was the initial starting point for this appeal - because the post itself only used the situation as an impetus for exactly the appeal that you used the upper part of your rebuttal for - calling for more LGBT YA in general.

Given that you have admitted here that you were the example addressed and telling your side of the story, I now have two non-verifiable claims of the occasion that are entirely opposite each other regarding this specific book and the way the concerned parties on each side have handled it.

You do not seem to be able to back your point-of-view up with proof (of course, neither did the authors in question - they made the situation an example to keep it to keep the attention on the topic that was important).

However, in your last paragraph you clearly call the authors liars - "using your agent as a springboard" is in no way a neutral claim.

This makes it very easy for me to decide whose claims I believe and whom I don't believe. My impression is now that someone higher up in the food-chain at the agency decided there had to be some damage control so a different pr spin had to be put on things.

And if your rebuttal was truly aimed at keeping the real topic in the spotlight, why even deign to answer? As Malinda Lo's statistics show it's not just one agency or publisher who has problems with LGBT YA. The focus could have stayed there.

Michelle said...

While some are suggesting that it's just as bad to take what the agent says at face value, I honestly doubted the complete veracity original post. There were quite a few facts missing, as well as accusations that seemed overblown and inaccurate. For me, this post was a confirmation that the first wasn't what it claimed to be.

In that case, it isn't jumping to the opposite conclusion, but a conclusion after analysis of both sides. I'll simply refer to Occam's razor.

That said, I've read and loved several of Sherwood Smith's books, so I say this without prejudice against the authors. It just felt like the story was incomplete and blown way out of proportion, which is why I'm doing what I can to spread word of the other side of the story.

John H. Stevens said...

I'm so tired of the reactionary nature of the internet. This is a case in point of that.

As a reader, I don't want to be force-fed something I'm not comfortable with reading or dealing with. This goes for anything, not just homosexual content.

Do homosexuals exist? Do rapists exist? Do drug addicts and drug dealers exist? Do dark and scary things exist?

Yes. But that doesn't mean I want to read about it.


This is more reactionary than any discussion of queer representation in YA literature, and why it is necessary to talk about it. Your implicit demonization is more inflammatory than any debate over inclusion. If you don't want to read such material, don't. We have not yet invented direct-to-brain transmission to force you to do so. Read what you want to read but don't bemoan what others want to read.

I also agree with the commenter who noted that this appears to be a "trainwreck" of communication. Which means having this extended conversation can be a good thing.

Literaticat said...

I (sort of) know both Rachel and Sherwood through their blogs and work. And I read the book in question.

I have to say, I don't believe that either party was acting in bad faith. I am sure that Rachel and Sherwood really thought they heard the request they say they heard. I am also sure that the agent in question was not making a statement about homosexuality, but rather, an editorial suggestion that could be taken or left alone.

I really just can't imagine they are purposely exploiting or misrepresenting (ha ha) the agent for publicity's sake. There just must have been some unfortunate miscommunication somewhere.

I hope that there can be an honest dialogue about the actual issues and we can at this point leave the particulars of this case out of it.

Anonymous said...

"Does the agent and his/her boss have an actual solid recall of what exactly was said and how it was said? Because even a throwaway comment on a phone call could convey a world of meaning that, perhaps, the *agency* didn't want to convey, but that was a Freudian slip on the part of the agent."

THIS. Part of the problem with anti-gay sentiments is that they aren't always an intentional thing. That's the thing about privilege: When you have it, you don't know it's there until you examine it.

Anonymous said...

For those claiming that the authors should have explained their concerns more clearly to the agent at the time, and thus solved this problem in private, recall this part of the original post:

The agent offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.

Rachel replied, “Making a gay character straight is a line in the sand which I will not cross. That is a moral issue. I work with teenagers, and some of them are gay. They never get to read fantasy novels where people like them are the heroes, and that’s not right.”

The agent suggested that perhaps, if the book was very popular and sequels were demanded, Yuki could be revealed to be gay in later books, when readers were already invested in the series.


So it would seem that according to their account, they tried to object as explicitly as they could. This is a pure he said/she said situation. I don't see how the agency's post suddenly makes Rachel and Sherwood's post invalid unless you have a good a priori reason to believe them. It is possible that a huge miscommunication is involved. It is also possible that one of the agents said something more explicit than they remember saying. At the very least, the above excerpt makes clear that from Rachel and Sherwood's perspective, nothing further could be resolved by discussing it with the agency. They took pains to not name the agency when they went public, to facilitate a discussion of these absolutely legitimate issues of pre-censorship. So whatever else you think they should have done, talking it over with the agency further wasn't in the cards.

And if you don't believe them at all, then, okay. But as someone who has witnessed editorial situations that strike me as clearly racist ("Could we stop this character from talking about black stuff? It's distracting from the story.") when I very much doubt the editor would recall them that way, my money is on Rachel and Sherwood.

CJ Omololu said...

Cries of bigotry and racism where it doesn't truly exist are extremely harmful for those who are actually experiencing it. When things like this happen, people get desensitized and turn a blind eye the next time. I say this as someone trying to teach her brown sons how to live in the world today.

And lumping homosexuality in with rapists? Please. No wonder you posted anonymously.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but "she's my friend so she can't be homophobic!" isn't a valid excuse for you both calling these authors liars.

Try again.

Andy said...

Thanks Colleen and Joanna for contributing your thoughts to this important issue. I am an LGBT author (and a gay man) so I feel a sense of high stakes concerning LGBT literary portrayals, or the lack thereof.

Few people want to be labeled homophobic, and if that's what happened in this instance, entirely inaccurately, it shouldn't have and deserves redress. It's also an awful way to open up a very legitimate conversation, but as both of you say, the conversation has been opened, and now we can make something positive of it.

I think a point that gets missed is the exclusion of LGBT portrayals is a systematic problem. So to say that the solution is in the hands of readers, to prove that there's a market for LGBT books, is short-sighted, and to me, hurtful.

.6% (at best) of all YA books published last year (excluding self-pubbed) had significant LGBT characters. That's not because of one homophobic agent, one homophobic publishing house. That's the way the publishing industry works.

To draw a parallel to other types of inequity, when we talk about the gender wage gap, women making 80 cents on the dollar, we cannot (sensibly) argue that it's the fault of one bad employer, or the fault of women, or the fault of women not demonstrating that they are worthy of earning the same wage as men.

The solution requires change on every level - publishers, marketers, agents, authors, and yes readers. To just toss it back on authors of LGBT YA, or readers of LGBT YA, pretends that there's an equal playing field for all kinds of books. It ignores the inherent heterosexual privilege in the industry.

T-Dogg said...

I'm confused here. The authors haven't identified who it was that told them these things, but also mentioned previous agents they had worked with who provided a variety of other suggestions.

The agent whose response you're currently posting about only ASSUMES that the authors were talking about them.

Have the authors confirmed to you that indeed it was that agent in question? Or are you privy to more information about the agent's identity from the authors that we aren't?

I'd just as likely believe that the agent who responded to this post was just not the agent that the authors were speaking about in their initial post. If that's the case, it's amazing that it went from supporting their claim to immediately debunking it when there is no reason to believe that the agent defending themselves were even the point of discussion to begin with.

Clarifications, please?

Joanna said...

I appreciate all of the commentary here in this post. And as a situation of "she-said, she-said" we know that it is impossible to provide proof.

All I would like to spotlight is that facts were omitted and that there are two sides to this story.

However, I really would like to continue the discussion of how we can promote diversity (and in in this particular case, LGBTQ characters and themes) in YA literature. Let's please do this.

How do we reach the readers? I've seen a number of bloggers reviewing these titles, so I know that the viral book community is behind getting these books out there.

How do we push it one step further and get readers to actually BUY the books?

(I have some thoughts of my own on this, but I'm posing the question to start discussion.)

snott said...

I agree with Scott Westerfield's point, it is very difficult in the giant telephone game that is the internet to parse out what exactly happened especially when the people involved may not be entirely sure at this point.
Perhaps I'm being excessively naive and positive here but I'd prefer to think that both editors and authors merely miscommunicated, that no one meant for anyone's career to be hurt (hence no names) and let it go at that.

I think the incredibly important point that cannot be lost in this whole issue is that there needs to be more dialogue amongst everyone in publishing (editors, authors, and publishers) about creating more content that is diverse and how we can do that, together.

clindsay said...

Estara -

Although the agent's name was not posted publicly, privately it was spread around the YA writer community. I know this because I was contacted by a couple of writers yesterday who'd heard the agent's name associated with this incident; they emailed me to ask if it was true.

Best,

Colleen

clindsay said...

T-Dogg -

Yes, the authors have confirmed that it was the agent in question.

Rhonda Stapleton said...

I deleted my original comment. I want to reword what I said a little bit to encompass my thoughts and perspective a little more accurately, now that I've had time to think a little more.

I'm glad Joanna chimed in with her thoughts and perspective. This issue reminds me that we (myself included!) need to be careful and weigh all sides before jumping on the bandwagon--on either side. What's the ultimate, 100% truth? I really have no idea because I'm not directly involved.

But I do know it's so easy for things to spiral out of control on the Internet.

Like others have said, I hope this opens dialogue and awareness of the larger issue at hand.

Thanks to everyone for the enlightening thoughts and comments!

Justin said...

This is an awesome post. Thank you for writing it! I have (somewhat) exciting news.

I self-published a mainstream gay fiction novel 3 months ago, it was discovered, and is now part of a 3-book deal I signed with a major publisher!

Hopefully this is the beginning of a trend - gay people, men and women, deserve literature that speaks to them and engages them.

(www.GrabGully.com is the website for my book and its subsequent short stories).

Savannah J. Foley said...

If the agency has phone recording perhaps they should re-listen to the call and maybe send a copy to the authors in question.

Angie said...

To tag on a little to what Scott said, the problem is much larger than just "But I know that person and I know they aren't homophobic!!11 They have queer friends and publish other queer books!11" This is all minimizing and basically derailing. The conversation we need to have is, great, good editorial selection! A POV had to be cut. Why, again, was one of them the queer POV? When we, as a community say, "But that had nothing to do with homophobia, it just made sense for the plot!" we ignore the fact that we live in a heterosexist, homophobic society. This is the number one struggle in confronting privilege and that's recognizing we have it at all. We have to ask ourselves "Hmm, does it perhaps seem that it always 'make sense' to have the gay POV cut over four other possible POV? I wonder why that might be?" We have to constantly question and constantly check our assumptions and, frankly, I think this is one worth looking at more closely than saying "we're just being used!!11"

That, along with all the other noise (now added to the cacophony: no one got their FACTS in order before they started RT'ing, spreading the word!) is minimizing.

It's minimizing because now we can all wade around in the details instead of asking larger questions. Like for instance: ALL the romance had to be cut from a middle grade novel? There's no middle grade books with subplots about romance, kissing, dating, and crushes? That seems ... off.

I'm not here to talk about agents and "I know so and so personally so I can vouch..." that ends up in baseless accusations. We need to have bigger, harder conversations.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I knew there had to be more to the story than the initial "outrage" was indicating. Just goes to show how quickly people are willing to pass judgment based on less than all the facts. Glad I didn't fall for it, and shame on those spreading something like this to hide the fact that maybe the manuscript itself wasn't up to snuff. It detracts from real issues, and doesn't help your case at all. Lesson learned...seek out ALL sides of the story before coming to a conclusion. Same goes for almost any conflict really.

Julie Particka said...

I'm a little embarrassed to say that the initial article made me mad enough to post about the topic, and the post went live oh...about 12 hours ago. *head-desk*. I'm not deleting the post because, as Colleen said, it is a discussion that needs to be had, but I will add a link back to the post here.

As for the people asking how rumors could have been heard if the authors didn't post the agent or agency's name...really? Rumors in high school didn't get started because they were blasted over morning announcements either. The writing community isn't so large that the authors telling a couple people couldn't eventually get back to Joanna. Too many people wanted to know who the agent in question was--that's how stories get spread.

Kaethe said...

I'm afraid your response isn't helping. You accuse them of lying, for personal gain, repeatedly, although given the facts you report, and the facts they report there is at most a difference of emphasis. There was a conversation with the authors about possible representation; the authors were advised to drop a gay POV; they were advised to cut the gay romance.

You wish to make it clear than no personal homophobia was involved, but the original article was trying to bring up the issue of institutional homophobia which could also be a severe case of risk-averseness. The authors named no names, and certainly didn't make personal allegations.

Next, you acknowledge that there is an institutional problem in publishing with regards to diversity, and rather than ask whether you are actively promoting diversity, you place the onus on readers. Dumping the blame on someone else does not actually indicate a willingness to have a conversation.

Finally, you close with the "fact" that the book must suck or someone would be willing to rep it. Because it is inconceivable that a work could be good and a tough sell, or that an agent might wish to avoid the problem altogether.

In sum, I am utterly unimpressed with your response. It is hostile, personal, and unhelpful. It is exactly the sort of thing to draw blatant homophobes out in your support. If nothing else, that should tell you how badly you've done.

Joseph L. Selby said...

Do homosexuals exist? Do rapists exist? Do drug addicts and drug dealers exist? Do dark and scary things exist?

Yes. But that doesn't mean I want to read about it. I read to escape and if a book leaves me feeling enraged or depressed or anything that isn't a feeling I want to have hanging over my day or week, it's not a book for me.

It has nothing to do with homophobia or bigotry of any kind.


The fact that you list gays, rapists, addicts, and dealers together makes a statement all its own.

And the point isn't that you don't want to read it, it's that other people do. In your scenario, you don't want to read it so no one else can. In the other scenario, those readers that are interested can read it and you can choose something else.

Seleste deLaney said...

@Angie: In the authors' post they include a comment where they wondered if the agent didn't get that two of the female characters were lesbians. I'm not going to dig it back up to quote it, but I'm pretty sure one of those was another PoV character (at least from the way they made it sound).

Also, if the character whose PoV was suggested to be cut gave minimal impact to the plot, that is the fault of the authors, not of the agent trying to make the book ready to sell.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to remain anonymous because I realize this comment may be controversial on both sides of the table. Try not to hurl ugly hatred at me...

The 'phobic' part of Homophobic means 'to fear,' and to fear because of ignorance. I am neither afraid nor ignorant about homosexuality. I love people just the way they are because I am not their judge. This does not mean I can't disagree with how they conduct themselves sexually. It's like a vegetarian disagreeing with a meat eater. The vegetarian certainly doesn't approve of meat, but there's no effect on the friendship/relationship- no hurling of accusations.

There are a lot of people I love that do things I disagree with. This is why it makes me upset that people would freely cast judgement on an agent- calling him/her a Homophobe like she has committed some kind of hate crime. When all she really did was step away from something she might not be comfortable representing as its best advocate.

I'm not saying it has happened in this case but I'm sure it has happened, and happens all the time. It happens on the writer's side too, when they're looking for an agent who fits their work.

A gay/lesbian agent would never be charged with such atrocities after letting an author know that their 'right-winged-Christian' YA work might be better represented by another agent.

Tolerance for individual beliefs should be offered by both sides. Because judgement and nastiness is ugly and wrong coming from either side. I hate to be the one to use this obvious cliche, but two wrongs don't make a right.

I also agree with Joanna in the fact that gay/lesbian teens are a reality. They are beautiful and wonderfully made just like everyone else. And avoiding their existence as a writer or an agent is just that- avoidance. I don't think any writer should be afraid to face the Truth of an issue head on, which is why I'm not closed off to it in my own writing.

Kelly McClymer said...

Here's my thought, on the interesting subject: I believe everybody who has spoken on this issue -- the authors, and the agents. I have sat at tables where face-to-face discussions were misconstrued and misinterpreted.

As to what can be done? Perhaps when discussing LGBT issues in a work, it is useful to remember that "codespeak" is alive and well in today's society. If this had been my book, I would have translated "turn it into MG and get rid of the romantic relationships" as codespeak for "ditch the gay character."
I would then have politely asked if that was the agency's problem. Anyone who has ever confronted codespeak (of any kind, not just anti-gay) this way knows what happens next: a complete denial. However, at that point, this particular agency team may have been able to better explain the reasons to turn YA to MG that didn't have anything to do with LGBT characters.

So maybe the answer to shedding light on this issue is for authors to (politely) dig around to make sure the codespeak really is codespeak and not something else.

Will Shetterly said...

Thank you for this. From the beginning, something about Rachel and Sherwood's story smelled wrong. I believe they were honestly saying what they believed, but they misinterpreted what they were told. It's just a thing humans do, as any flamewar shows.

clindsay said...

Thanks, everyone, for keeping the conversation respectful so far.

Much appreciated. =)

Anonymous said...

One issue not discussed: Publishers Weekly displaying a lack of journalistic integrity by not doing any background check on the facts or approaching the agent about the story. A blog post on the PW site should be fact-checked. It is irresponsible and unprofessional to trash a reputation even by proxy and then claim posting a rebuttal or the link to a rebuttal is sufficient to undo the initial damage. They need to take responsibility and not hide behind "larger societal issues."

Anonymous said...

In response to another comment that said,

If this had been my book, I would have translated "turn it into MG and get rid of the romantic relationships" as codespeak for "ditch the gay character."

I have to say I don't understand what "codespeak" you're talking about. My agent has asked me to change one of my novels from YA to MG and to remove the romance, but there were no gay characters involved. The story was simply more marketable as MG, and my agent thought it a good direction to take my career (because of how flooded the YA industry has become). It's very possible (there's no way to know really) that Ms. Smith's and Ms. Brown's novel was simply better suited to MG in terms of character arcs, world building, and plot, and Ms. Stampfel-Volpe simply thought it would be an easier revisions (and eventual submissions) process than trying to keep the book as YA.

Ultimately, if we want to support the LGBTQ community, we should BUY the books. It's a matter of showing publishers there's a market. So let's all go out and buy a book today!

nanobookwrm said...

I'm going to chime in with my two cents here--and I'm mostly making a throw-away comment--even though internet arguments are something I avoid where possible...

I read the original post by the authors, and forwarded it on, because whether it was true or not more scrutiny was the only way anything would be proved. I don't know whether they were looking for publicity, or they were actually 'wronged' by a prospective agent. I don't particularly care either, at this stage.

The larger question is should getting more LGBT books into the mainstream really be a quest? I totally agree there needs to be more diversity in fiction. More characters of every type. But shoving something down the throat of the reading public because they need it isn't likely to do much good, to my mind.
I'm a writer, unpublished as of yet, and I'd like to think if I ever get there it'll be because what I've written is good and not because it's the sort of book the market needs right then. Possibly a pipe dream, but still.

I'm also a straight woman who writes male characters and gay characters and religious characters and whatever else happens to pop into my head. I feel a little crazy when I say this, but I don't decide what my characters are, they do. I'm silly enough to think that's the way it should be.

So...tl;dr. A story is a story and maybe the best thing we could do is stop trying to slap labels on them from the instant they're born.

Jonquil said...

"y it makes me upset that people would freely cast judgement on an agent- calling him/her a Homophobe like she has committed some kind of hate crime. "

That did not happen. The text of the posting says, quite clearly, "This isn’t about one agent’s personal feelings about gay people. We don’t know their feelings; they may well be sympathetic in their private life, but regard the removal of gay characters as a marketing issue."

The text also said, explicitly, "This Is Not About One Bad Apple"

This was not a post about this agency. This was a post about a perceived pattern in the industry. Multiple comments to the post said "This has happened to me". Malinda Lo put together excellent statistics demonstrating, again, that this was an industry problem.

The post by Rachel and Sherwood was extremely carefully framed as being an industry-wide problem. The response here has been reframed as a personal attack on Rachel and Sherwood.

Angela Perry said...

I know nothing about the book other than it's a "post-apocalyptic young adult novel," "Yuki Nakamura is gay and has a boyfriend," and "the main characters are not white. The sidekicks are."

What is the story about? Who is the mysterious gay character named Yuki, other than a gay archetype? What does it matter to the plot that the main characters are people of color and the sidekicks are white?

As part of the bigger picture, how can we expect our society to see gays as something more than their sexual preference, or blacks as something more than their color, when we can't even hold a conversation without stereotyping them as such?

As an author, I would be livid if someone tried to cut my "character who unintentionally brings about the end of the world and then struggles to make amends (who happens to be gay)." That's a reason to resist editorial changes, not just because the character is gay. Making a character a minority does not make them indispensable to the storyline.

Yes, it would be great if books had more diversity. It would be even better if that diversity weren't self-conscious to the point it overshadowed the plot. Which it sounds like it has, for these books at least.

Calluna V. said...

This isn't a response to the issue at large. I think several people, including Jonquil right above me, are doing that well.

This is about the rhetorical trick of turning 'this thing which happened had a homophobic impact' into 'this person is a homophobe.'

I'm looking at--

"I later discovered that not only did I know the agent in question, but that this person was actually a dear friend of mine, someone who most certainly wasn't homophobic."

It's very common as an argumentation strategy. It's also unfair and counter-productive.

For anyone who hasn't already seen it, I refer you to the Ill Doctrine video on how to tell someone they sound racist, which diagrams the difference between the two kinds of arguments and why the shift from the first to the second is something to be wary of: http://www.illdoctrine.com/2008/07/how_to_tell_people_they_sound.html

Jami Gold said...

While I appreciate Colleen and Joanna's attempt to turn this miscommunication/misrepresentation into something positive, I'm not sure Joanna's question is the right one:

"How do we push it one step further and get readers to actually BUY the books?"

I think the wording of this statement, as though it was the crux of the problem, is what caused the reaction of Anonymous 11:38 to say: "As a reader, I don't want to be force-fed something I'm not comfortable with reading or dealing with."

Because the problem isn't about "getting" readers to read something--which could be interpreted to sound rather forceful, like "how do we MAKE readers buy books with homosexual elements"--but rather the problem is about how to reach the readers who want to read these stories.

That's the same issue every author faces. We all want to know how to reach potential readers.

I have no doubt that some agents and editors have refused to accept stories with homosexual elements. But this is a subjective business, and agents and editors should be just as free as readers to say they're not interested in a story for any reason. Might they miss out on a great story? Sure, but they run that risk with many of their rejections. After all, 60 someones rejected "The Help."

I truly hope that with self-publishing and online purchasing, most of this issue will go away. Authors won't have to face potentially homophobic agents or editors, and readers won't have to hope their local store carries it. If the market shows there is a readership, the agents, editors, and publishers will follow.

The one place we should keep an eye on is libraries. Those who wish to find these books and don't have the means to buy them should be able to access them through their library. But of course, libraries and their budgeting issues are a whole 'nother issue. :)

Alma Alexander said...

One of the anonymouses said:

"Do homosexuals exist? Do rapists exist? Do drug addicts and drug dealers exist? Do dark and scary things exist?

Yes. But that doesn't mean I want to read about it. I read to escape and if a book leaves me feeling enraged or depressed or anything that isn't a feeling I want to have hanging over my day or week, it's not a book for me"

To which I say, dude, DON'T READ THE BOOKS THAT YOU DON'T LIKE. That's your right, and your privilege. But your post implies that all you want to read about is a pretty and safe vanilla world, and that is not something you can unilaterally impose on everybody who is NOT you. Yes, the dark things exist - and for some, the response to their existence is to shine a light on them and not, as you apparently wish to do, tuck them even further away into dark corners or sweep them under carpets because they make you "uncomfortable". You say in your post that this reaction is not due to "homophobia or racism of any kind" - but in the absence of those two admittedly loaded and baggage-heavy descriptors, what would you say your response WAS due to?

If all books were published according to how COMFORTABLE they make their readers, we would not have had any number of books that have been treasured over the years, books that have contributed to the making of this world a better place for ALL of us to live in. It is the nature of truth that it is hard, and tough, and often bitter. This does not mean that it should never be spoken, or that YOUR version of truth trumps someone else's to the point that their point of view is wiped from the map because it threatens your own.

I reiterate. Don't read books that make you uncomfortable. But you do not have the right to demand that such books cease to exist. For you, they are "uncomfortable" - which is pretty mild, really, and easily cured by simple avoidance. For someone who is not you, such books may be the lifeline they absolutely have to have in order to survive the misery of their everyday existence. You having to pay a little bit closer attention to what you don't WANT to read is a small price to pay for the things that other people NEED to read to be available out there.

N. K. Jemisin said...

Something I'm concerned about here: like Jim Hines and others, I think there's a sharp logic-swing in this post from "we're being misrepresented/misunderstood" to "the authors are trying to exploit us", and it's an ugly turn. Joanna and Colleen, if you agree that there's a chance of miscommunication here, given that you can't read another person's mind/intentions by internet however much it might seem possible, and given that Rachel and Sherwood have made every attempt to stay on the "professional behavior" side of the ledger (e.g., not naming names, trying to keep the discussion focused on the issue of representation and not any specific actors)... is this aspersion on their intentions necessary? It doesn't make you look good, by comparison.

Because apart from the danger of miscommunication, there's also the fact that this isn't a cut and dried issue, given your description of the conference call. Those of us who are familiar with the dogwhistles of bigotry will often hear X where the speaker intended Y -- often because the speaker may not be aware that Y sounds like all the other instances of bigotry out there. That is, if I'd written a novel with 6 PoVs, three of which were people of color, and you suggested that I make changes that amount to removing all the characters of color and any mention of their existence, it's not going to mean much to me that you didn't intend to whitewash the book. The end result would be whitewashing, and I'd be pissed about it. So by your own description, you suggested things that would "straightwash" Rachel and Sherwood's book. It seems perfectly logical to me that they would conclude you did so intentionally, with the unstated goal of removing the LGBTQ material, because that's the end result. And because that's how bigotry usually works. It's rarely an in-your-face thing; usually it's well-meaning people following longtime habits without questioning where those habits might come from, or how they might look in the wider context of history. Any of us -- even people who are themselves members of excluded/underrepresented groups -- can be guilty of that.

So why not go back to the high ground and acknowledge that this probably is a miscommunication -- which is sufficient to defend your reputation -- and leave it at that? As others have pointed out, the personal attacks on the authors look like cheap shots. Whether you intend for them to look that way or not.

AudryT said...

I'm glad this conversation is happening, regardless of the reason it started, and I'd like to throw in my two bits on the inequality that I believe still exists in traditional publishing (though not as much as it used to!) and how writers, specifically, contribute to it.

I've run into so many writers who are . . . well . . . afraid of writing anything outside of their narrow experience of the world. They're afraid of offending someone who is gay or not able-bodied or intersex or black by misrepresenting them. I suspect this prevents a lot of writers from adding diversity to their casts. I understand the feeling (I had it years back when I was at the beginning of learning how to be a writer), but I think letting fear lead you by the nose is a cop-out, and I think those of us who support diversity in writing need to say so, firmly and repeatedly, and to put our pen where our mouth is -- and write diversely ourselves.

As a writer, you handle all sorts of topics you don't experience personally -- historical periods, murders, supernatural powers. It's your responsibilty to work your butt off to make those things realistic and engaging to the reader. The same goes for characters who are different from you, in any way. It's a matter of responsibility and research to write ANY character well, and using the fear of "getting it wrong" as an excuse not to write about something at all is, simply put, cowardice.

Editors, agents, and authors can and need to encourage more writers to put diversity into casts in logical ways that fit their universe and story -- and also to reconsider or abandon ideas that are designed to leave everyone out but standard white/straight/mainstream characters.

Publishers, and agents especially (with their close relationships to their clients), need to challenge writers with such narrow casts to question their own motives for writing that way, and to ask themselves honestly if perhaps they could have written more diversely, if they had put their heart into it.

Some writers might argue that their book "came out that way" or "feels right that way", but frankly I think that is a very weak argument, and should be challenged. Everything a writer writes is deliberate, even when it feels like it came from "somewhere else." The only other "else" is the writer's subconscious, which belongs to them and is their responsibility.

I think there's a lot that publishers and agents can do to encourage and promote diversity in publishing, but I don't think that lets writers off the hook. Especially those who are a reflection of the mainstream. As long as straights and whites are the majority, the majority of stories will be about them. It is the responsibility of the majority (and the privileged) to step aside and make room for others, to be inclusive of others in their actions and written words, to bring into bookstores and to their faithful readers a wider view of the world.

When you're dominant, you can take the easy way out and aim to please only those who are like you. Or you can take a deep, deep breath, and plunge into the deep end of courage.

That's my two bits on the topic at hand.

Jessica said...

"Do homosexuals exist? Do rapists exist? Do drug addicts and drug dealers exist? Do dark and scary things exist?

Yes. But that doesn't mean I want to read about it."

That homosexuals can be conflated with rapists, drug dealers and dark scary things in a post that claims not to be at all homophobic is impressive. I salute your ability at self deception.

Just because you (or anyone else) doesn't like something doesn't mean it shouldn't be written about. You can choose not to read book that include homosexuals if they make you uncomfortable, but that is not the same thing as saying such books shouldn't be written or published.

I don't like horror, I don't like being scared by a book or movie. Some people enjoy being scared. Some people don't like reading erotic, some people love it. Some people think sci-fi/fantasy is a waste of time, some have whole libraries of it.

If people desire to read something (such as a book with a homosexual main character) they should be able to, and people who don't like it can choose to buy different books.

As far as the overall conversation, I don't know what to think of the whole mess, except that I am glad this conversation is happening.

Landon Bryce said...

It is obscene that clindsay does not consider the anonymous comments that use the word "homosexual" and compare gay people to dark things and rapists disrespectful. I think that alone indicates a toleration of anti-gay bias that makes me very dubious about her motives in posting this and writing about it as she has.

Anonymous said...

As an editor, this is a major reason why we just have to say, "Sorry, the book isn't right for our list," instead of give constructive feedback. The fact is that an agent is getting roasted over her subjective editorial opinion--which, whether or not we live in a homophobic society--had very little to do with homosexuality.

The fact is that 90% of the books that get rejected are on the grounds of writing quality. Certainly, people can be wrong about this. But most of the time, they just don't think the writing is good enough.

If unprofessional people want to take that as an insult, and blow a dog whistle on whatever hot-button subject they can relate to the matter, then all they're doing is pushing agents and editors to hole themselves up.

In hindsight, the best thing this agency could have done is give a terse reply, "not for us," and moved on. Unfortunately, they tried to help the wrong people.

This kind of tantrum from authors is not rare. Throwing agencies and publishers under the bus has become a bit of a game online, and people seem all too willing to get their hating in guilt-free. It seems to base itself in this idea that authors are these innocent underdogs and agencies are corporate shills. This view is ignorant of the industry reality.

AudryT said...

Landon, good grief, are you not aware that Colleen is an openly gay professional working in the publishing industry, and a huge supporter of QUILTBAG inclusion in storytelling (I am still getting the hang of that one, so I hope I got all the letters)? Really, I am shaking my head like Charlie Brown right now.

Will Shetterly said...

Perhaps I've just been lucky in this business, but neither my agent nor my publishers have ever given me any flak for gay characters in YA fantasy and science fiction. This YA work includes gay runaways who share a room in a squat near the Elflands and gay superheroes who kiss.

The discussion is important. But it's important to have the discussion without exaggerating the problem. We all like to think our work was turned down for a reason other than its quality, but one of the things the various lists of gay YA f&sf have proved is that you can sell gay YA f&sf. Some of the writers on those lists are bestsellers. Publishers notice that.

Anonymous said...

This:

"In sum, I am utterly unimpressed with your response. It is hostile, personal, and unhelpful. It is exactly the sort of thing to draw blatant homophobes out in your support. If nothing else, that should tell you how badly you've done." – Kaethe

And this:

"This was not a post about this agency. This was a post about a perceived pattern in the industry. Multiple comments to the post said "This has happened to me". Malinda Lo put together excellent statistics demonstrating, again, that this was an industry problem.

The post by Rachel and Sherwood was extremely carefully framed as being an industry-wide problem. The response here has been reframed as a personal attack on Rachel and Sherwood." – Jonquil

And all of N.K. Jemisin’s comment.

Frankly, I had not heard you were involved. Now that you’ve stepped out and waved your arms in the air with the big “Look at me!” and gone on the offensive, I know who you are. And I am unimpressed.

Adele, reader

clindsay said...

Congratulations, Landon!

You are the first person on the comments thread to have brought the comments down to a personal attack.

Good job! =)

A careful reading of that anonymous comment would see that he or she was simply stating an honest opinion, without resorting to a personal attack. I may not agree with that opinion, but I respect that person's right to state it in the context of this discussion.

If you want to end homophobia in publishing, you have to know what you're up against, and that means having conversations with those people with whom you most fervently disagree.

Best,

Colleen

estara said...

"Estara -

Although the agent's name was not posted publicly, privately it was spread around the YA writer community. I know this because I was contacted by a couple of writers yesterday who'd heard the agent's name associated with this incident; they emailed me to ask if it was true.

Best,

Colleen "

@Colleen - I am quite willing to believe that you were contacted by various writers who had heard a name and were asking for confirmation - the distinction I make is that I do not believe that these two authors were the ones who passed the names on.

Otherwise why would the writers ask you for confirmation - Smith and Brown had already written down all that had happened from their point-of-view as the impetus to make their appeal for change - and if they had added the name of the agent there would have been a case of just mud-slinging - which the initial article was never meant to be - I rather doubt Rose Fox would have offered her Genreville blog as a more prominent platform otherwise.

My guess is that this hasn't happened the first time at that agency and therefore it was easy to pin a possible name onto the agency in question, then came the rebuttal here on your site and then came the update posts on Sherwood Smith's and Rachel Manija Brown's LJ linking to the rebuttal and confirming the guesswork.

This is my personal guess, I claim no veracity as to the chain of events.

Anonymous said...

Listen, I know it's really easy to say the reason an MS was rejected is because of homophobia or some other form of bigotry.

But let's consider that PUSH is an imprint of Scholastic, a large publisher. They are run by a gay man, and they publish books with the express purpose of creating a more inclusionary atmosphere for the QUILTBAG community.

This is an ENTIRE imprint.

I understand that people have had bad experiences, but when exaggerating your point to lay blame on an entire industry, one should probably consider that there are a LOT of places a good LGBT MS could go to be published. Namely, every editor who cares more about good writing and good storytelling.

There is not an imprint for disabled kids, Asian kids, dyslexic kids, etc.

When leveling the charge of rampant homophobia, maybe we should consider this.

These authors are grossly out of line here. I'm sorry. They don't get to be standard bearers for an issue that they obviously didn't deal with. There are far too many good gay writers who have had to deal with this problem in the real world.

Sarah Cypher said...

Joanna Volpe wrote, "How do we push it one step further and get readers to actually BUY the books?"

We writers write a good book.

In principle, it's no different from the way we LGBTs gain public acceptance in life: Be out, be a mensch, give our best.

Art is an extension of life, and it's the writer's job to write it well. If one particular extension of life involves gay characters, I'll write it--not because I want to write "An LGBT Book" (i.e., for the sake of doing so), but because gay is part of the story.

I don't have your expertise in the industry, but it seems to me that setting out to sell "An LGBT Book" faces the same issue as writing "An LGBT Book." Defending the project involves too many high horses, with too little attention paid the project at the center--i.e., it just may not be the kind of soultalking, heartchanging, lovely novel that speaks for itself and wins readers on its own.

In other words, the best that blog discussions like this can do is open the doors. It's writers' job to worry about telling stories that matter, and oh, by the way, will sell lots of copies.

Anonymous said...

I suggest that your outright accusations of untruth on the part of the authors are actually *designed* to derail the conversation that was beginning to occur and expand throughout the blogosphere. As many other people have pointed out, there are better ways to cover your asses than what you have done here. Or is this exactly what happened in your phone meeting? You intended one thing and it came off as something else entirely! Hmmmmmm. Possibly worth a thought. And maybe an apology for showing your ignorance so blatantly.

clindsay said...

Anon: 3:19 -

I wouldn't downplay the problem of lack of diversity in YA. Just because Scholastic has an imprint devoted to diversity doesn't mean every publisher is as forward thinking.

I represented Scott Tracey's WITCH EYES when I was an agent. The book is a YA urban fantasy with a gay main character. There is a fantastic love story. I loved this book.

It took us 18 months to find a home for it. And along the way, we were asked by a couple of people to consider making one of the characters female.

So, yeah, this really does happen, and it is a conversation that needs to keep happening.

The point of this particular rebuttal by Joanna, and my comments following it was this: Framing the entire discussion around an incident which appears to be nothing more than two overly-sensitive writers reacting to editorial criticism they didn't want to accept is a bad idea.

Best,

Colleen

Jim C. Hines said...

"Framing the entire discussion around an incident which appears to be nothing more than two overly-sensitive writers reacting to editorial criticism they didn't want to accept is a bad idea."

An incident which appears, to you, to be nothing more than two overly-sensitive writers...

To myself, I see two experienced, professional authors who shared their experience and deliberately avoided naming names in order to spark conversation of an issue they felt was important.

You see it differently, and I understand that. This does not make your interpretation correct.

Jim C. Hines said...

Ack. "To myself"? Bad writer. No cookie for me.

Will Shetterly said...

Estara, the names got batted around because one of the writers shared it with someone who shared it with someone who shared it with someone. That's just another thing that many humans do.

(Knowing both writers, I know which one loves gossip, but while I would bet who shared the name with indiscreet friends, I can't confirm it.)

clindsay said...

Jim -

That's okay - I misspelled my own name earlier. =)

Colleen

Jim C. Hines said...

My favorite is misspelling my own name when I'm trying to autograph a book for someone...

Anonymous said...

Colleen-

Fair enough. I'm certainly not saying that "straightwashing" hasn't happened before.

I take your point not to come off as dismissive of the whole issue.

But my point was simply that anyone who has ever stepped foot in publishing knows that the LGBT population is well represented here (in person, and in sympathy). The number of LGBT editors, agents, marketers, publicists is FAR larger than their national percentage. Far larger than African Americans.

And that's great (except for the African Americans part. We should see more of them too). Having an imprint like PUSH is great.

But it only highlights to me how off-base these two authors are when they lay these claims as systemic issues.

All that said, I'd never belittle the real-world issues around homophobia.

And Jim-

Sorry, while we can say wholesale that no one knows what truly happened, and no one can claim primacy of interpretation, we CAN lay down some basic probabilities.

And while there are plenty of LGBT writers who feel slighted for that reason, what I'm saying is that the number of childish reactions we get to rejections are rather large. The largest probability of ANY rejection is that the agent didn't think the project was good enough to sell.

I know TONS of liberal publishers who publish conservative pundits. TONS of straight editors who edit gay projects. The list goes on and it includes every demographic advocating every viewpoint on the planet. If you wrote me a book about dog fighting, and it was as good as LOLITA, I would publish it. Done. Story over. I would pay you LOTS and LOTS of money to publish it. I'd wine & dine your whole family, just to have the privilege of putting your dog fighting book on the book shelves.

Now, I don't like dog fighting or pedophilia. They're against my code.

So while I can't know anything for sure, I can take the accrued knowledge of an industry, and the fact that agents and editors have to twist themselves into all kinds of pretzels just so we don't say, "The writing. It was awful," and I can reasonably come away with an impression.

The number of vile things said of agents and editors online is fairly high. Most of it comes from thin-skinned unprofessional authors. Or it could be systemic homophobia.

clindsay said...

AudryT -

Good point. It is up to agents to find glaring omissions in manuscripts.

I once repped a book that was set in a major Southern city that, one that has a demographic breakdown of about 80% African American residents. Yet there wasn't one POC character in the book. The writer hadn't even noticed. When I pointed it out to her, she corrected it throughout the manuscript.

Do I think she was racist? No. Do I think she was writing to reflect the (white) faces of the people she probably saw every day? Yes. Do I think she will be more careful in future books because she is now aware of this? Absolutely.

Best,

Colleen

Anonymous said...

Hi Colleen,

Thank you for posting about this! Here is the comment I just submitted to the original PW post, which I'm cross posting here in case they moderate it and censor me:

I am an author. I am not represented by Nancy Coffey Literary, but I have friends who are. I do not think what Rachel and Sherwood are saying in this article is true, and I am very upset that PW allowed it to be posted without fact-checking. I am also upset that Rose closed comments on the follow up post at http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/genreville/?p=1533, but I'm commenting here because I think that it was wrong for Rose Fox to post an article like that without fact checking it, and even more wrong of her to do that as someone who is in a position of power to affect author's careers.

I am afraid to speak out under my real name because I'm afraid PW and Rose will give my books bad reviews because I criticized her for doing this. I know some people will think that is unfair, but since she allowed two authors to post something which could damage an agent's professional reputation without fact checking or any PROOF that this happened at all other than their word, I do not trust her to be impartial in reviews either. I spoke to my agent and she said my fears were reasonable and that she felt the same way but would not say anything in public because she didn't want to risk hurting her clients by having Rose Fox or Publishers Weekly give them bad reviews.

I don't know if Rose/PW will even allow this comment to be posted or if they'll censor it, but if other authors or agents are reading this and share my concern I hope they will say so, even if we have to be anonymous. Then maybe Rose's boss or the powers that be at Publishers Weekly will address this situation responsibly and not allow PW to become a platform for unsubstantiated accusations of this kind in the future.

clindsay said...

Blogger tossed a few of your comments in the spam folder; I just released them. if it was one of yours, I apologize!

Colleen

clindsay said...

Anon 4:09 (and everyone else!) -

Please refrain from making your comments personal.

While I understand your frustration over the situation, something to consider is that Genreville is a blog hosted on the PW site. It is not a PW journalistic article, as much everyone - myself included - sometimes confuse the two. Blog posts are primarily opinion and commentary.

Rose is a good friend and a long-time champion of writers and the queer community; I believe that she felt the writers had something important to say when she posted that piece on their behalf.
Best,

Colleen

Claudia Putnam said...

I think it's a mistake to even ask the question of how do we get more people to buy "these books," as if they were a separate sort of book. Tell a good story that's how. Kids are interested in love, pain, adventure, etc. Do they care if the person is gay, purple, whatever? Probably not. ESPECIALLY not the sci fi and fantasy kids. Come on.

Meanwhile, I refer you all to Julie Anne Peters's work. Not fantasy. She did get shortlisted for an NBA. I think she sells pretty well despite being literary. I know she doesn't have to anything else for a living other than write. So someone is buying those books.

Jeni Decker said...

I can't fall down on a side either way, but I can say that from the excerpt another commenter mentioned, there is absolutely NO WAY this was a miscommunication. This is VERY SPECIFIC:

"The agent offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.

Rachel replied, “Making a gay character straight is a line in the sand which I will not cross. That is a moral issue. I work with teenagers, and some of them are gay. They never get to read fantasy novels where people like them are the heroes, and that’s not right.”

The agent suggested that perhaps, if the book was very popular and sequels were demanded, Yuki could be revealed to be gay in later books, when readers were already invested in the series."

It seems to me, one side is clearly misrepresenting the facts, because the above is obviously a discussion about the homosexual content in this particular story story.

Not that it gets us any closer to the 'truth' here - because it's a textbook he said, she said.

But in no way a miscommunication, to be sure.

clindsay said...

I'd like to remind everyone that asking a writer to remove a POV is not the same thing as asking a writer to remove a character.

A POV is a very specific way of looking at the book, the person through whom we see all the events. Any YA editor or agent will tell you that most YA works best with one or - at most - two POVs. Middle grade works best with one POV. Five POVs in any work of fiction is an editorial nightmare.

Removing a POV means that the character remain in the book, but events are not played out through this character's perspective.

Michael M. Jones said...

Anon 4:09 - As a reviewer for PW, who's worked under Rose for the past few years, I can assure you without hesitation or doubt that there is no personal bias in PW reviews. They are impartial, fair, and honest. I've written dozens of reviews for Rose, and at no time has she ever done anything to edit, censor, or change the meaning of my words to pursue any sort of personal grudge or vendetta against an author. I've covered authors I know personally, and authors whose personal beliefs with which I disagree, and in every case, the review has been honest and fair. We at PW are professionals, living up to a high standard and long history of quality. There's a reason PW reviews are given a level of respect.

While I can't speak for PW in an official capacity, and am only going on my personal experience, I feel I can safely say, "We respect your right to an opinion, we respect your right to disagree with us, we respect your beliefs, and however we might feel about you as a person based on all the usual factors, it won't get in the way of our job."

Like others have said, Genreville is NOT the same thing as a Publishers Weekly review. Don't ever be afraid that speaking your mind or having an opinion will result in a bad review. The only way to get a bad review is to have a bad product. And I'm backing this up with my real name, so you know where to find me if you have any further concerns.

Richard Simpkins said...

We'll know we're in a post-gender society when nixing a gay character is no more controversial than nixing any other.

clindsay said...

Comment moderation has been enabled. Thanks, Landon, for ruining it for the rest of the class.

clindsay said...

Michael -

Thanks for chiming in. =)

Best,

Colleen

beth-bernobich said...

Colleen, Sherwood's and Rachel's agents did not decline to rep the novel. They chose to find a new agent for their collaborations. Rachel mentions the reasons for that on her latest blog post.

N. K. Jemisin said...

Colleen,

"I'd like to remind everyone that asking a writer to remove a POV is not the same thing as asking a writer to remove a character."

Agreed. And I can appreciate that too many viewpoints sometimes spoils the book. (Says the woman who tends to stick with just one PoV.) But again -- reducing the role of a queer central character to that of a background/secondary character (if their relationship arc is also being removed) also fits into the longtime historical pattern of how LGBTQ/QUILTBAG characters have been marginalized. As has been noted by other authors talking about this issue -- some in the contents of the PW post -- many of them have been asked to "background" prominent queer characters, or turn them into stereotypical cliches ("the straight girl's gay male friend") rather than well-rounded characters. This is tokenism. And that's very likely what "remove these characters' PoV" might sound like to authors who are very invested in having those characters put at the center of the story, rather than on its margins. (Not that I can or am trying to speak for them. I don't know them from Adam. Just saying how it would sound to me.)

Anonymous said...

This isn't a response to the recent PW article. It is both disingenuous and insulting to claim otherwise. If the authors of the article gossiped behind the scenes about the agent in question, then that is unfortunate and unethical. On the other hand, the article didn't claim any malice on the agent's part and ascribed to the agent only the crimes of paying attention to marketability and being overly forthright so perhaps they didn't consider naming the agent to be such a big thing.

If outside of the article their tone and content was less honest and professional, I could understand you feeling the need to respond to that. But you don't mention any of that - you assert that this is a response to the article. I'm as much a fan of rhetoric as the next guy, but either you're failing to properly express yourself or you're attempting to derail an interesting discussion with personal attacks.

It's possible that the authors of the original article have behaved badly. It's almost certain that you have.

Anonymous said...

@anonymous 2:54 who said "As an editor, this is a major reason why we just have to say, "Sorry, the book isn't right for our list," instead of give constructive feedback. The fact is that an agent is getting roasted over her subjective editorial opinion--which, whether or not we live in a homophobic society--had very little to do with homosexuality.

In hindsight, the best thing this agency could have done is give a terse reply, "not for us," and moved on. Unfortunately, they tried to help the wrong people.

This kind of tantrum from authors is not rare. Throwing agencies and publishers under the bus has become a bit of a game online, and people seem all too willing to get their hating in guilt-free. It seems to base itself in this idea that authors are these innocent underdogs and agencies are corporate shills. This view is ignorant of the industry reality."

As an agent, I just have to say yes, THIS. I often can't give authors as much personalized feedback as I would like because I don't have time, but seeing a colleague have their reputation trashed in public over what I honestly believe from my own experience had to have been a misunderstanding on the part of the authors will make me more cautious about doing so in the future.

Shelley Souza said...

My first thought (and comment to a writer's group I belong to, where the PW article was posted), was: what about David Levithan? I also remembered Brian Farrey's YA book, With or Without You. Then I found a Wikipedia page that lists several prominent YA writers who have written for teen readers seeking LGBTQ YA. Something about the PW article didn't ring true, and it was confusing to read that publishers only want straight characters. Thank you for clarifying the distortions in the PW article.

Anonymous said...

This whole unfortunate incident shines a light on another issue in MG/YA publishing: internet gossip and mob mentality. So many times controversies have popped up that, thanks to RTs/blogging/etc. grow exponentially, often without all the facts or context available. It's a downside of a community that also rallies together so well.

Some commenters seem to feel that it is the responsibility of publishing professionals to address social issues in their business practice. I don't think it necessarily is--first and foremost their job is to get well-written books on shelves. Of course diversity would hopefully be encouraged, and hopefully most publishing pros would want to be a part of a socially responsible business.

Will Shetterly said...

Not being the POV doesn't mean a thing about how important a character is. Watson is the POV for the Sherlock Holmes stories.

clindsay said...

N.K. -

The question of whether or not the agents perceived the gay character to actually be a central one may be part of the editorial problem.

Agents ask writers to cut characters or POVs only when they lend nothing to the story or do not move the narrative forward in a way that makes sense for the plot. I have asked writers to remove characters for the same reasons.

It may be as simple a problem as the gay character not having been fleshed-out enough or adding to the story in any way. I don't know, as I didn't read the manuscript.

However, I worked in the same offices as the agency in question for three years and am well aware of the meticulous editorial notes they provide, and the thoughtfulness of the suggestions.

My personal experience as a colleague and as someone who watched them work with writers every single day is that this simply *could not have happened* in the way that it was presented by the writers in question.

Beth -

Regardless of the reasons their agents may have given them for not repping the book, this is still a red flag for other potential agents.

Most agents prefer exclusivity with clients. They spend a lot of time developing a relationship (one of the reasons these early conversations about revisions have to happen, actually), so working that hard on something that will most likely be one-off project for an author is not something most agents want to do.

There is enormous potential for conflict, and conflict of interest.

Best,

Colleen

Anonymous said...

Story is important, but so is the representation of a minority. Minorities are still horribly under-represented in YA and genre fiction.

I think it would be good for agents and editors everywhere to try and protect characters who are POC or LGBT, or have disabilities during editorial process until they are as commonplace as straight, white and able-bodied characters in fiction.

If a certain character, who happens to be a minority, doesn't fit in with the story line, then please ask author to replace a privileged character with that character, providing that the replacement doesn't directly affect the story.

Do what you can to keep them in while making suggestions.

Anonymous said...

clindsay - I'd like to remind everyone that asking a writer to remove a POV is not the same thing as asking a writer to remove a character.

A POV is a very specific way of looking at the book, the person through whom we see all the events. Any YA editor or agent will tell you that most YA works best with one or - at most - two POVs. Middle grade works best with one POV. Five POVs in any work of fiction is an editorial nightmare.

Removing a POV means that the character remain in the book, but events are not played out through this character's perspective.


But if the only POV that "needs" to be removed is that of the one gay character, it certainly seems that it means something else, too.

I don't know how you missed it, but the authors said they were also (or maybe it was instead, I don't have the link open) asked to remove references to said character's sexuality. "It can be told to the readers in the later novels!" You know what that sounds like? It sounds like making the non-heterosexual characters invisible. Again. I hope you can see why this is a problem.

Anonymous said...

I just want to point out that from a random observer-- not an 'insider'-- perspective, nobody's reputations were trashed until this post was made.

Also, I thought this issue was about SFF QUILTBAG characters, not QUILTBAG characters in all of YA (despite the cutesy tag), and the argument was in favor of seeing them as lead characters in novels that aren't about their sexuality.

Anonymous said...

As another (different!) outsider, I'd like to point out that the identity of the agent in question was essentially an open secret due to the rumor mill; that Joanna's response specifically mentions the numerous calls and emails from those who knew she was the one accused; and that to discount the power of the rumor mill in the tight-knit, borderline incestuous publishing industry is foolhardy.

Ms. Stampfel-Volpe is entirely within her right to address the rumors implicating her. It's not the moral high road, but then, neither was naming her as the agent, even if it was said in confidence. That confidence was clearly misplaced, and Joanna's reputation is at stake. Or, in simpler terms: they started it.

At least this controversy is raising awareness of the need for better QUILTBAG representation in fiction, one way or another.

-Anonymous L

Anonymous said...

But if the only POV that "needs" to be removed is that of the one gay character, it certainly seems that it means something else, too.

His was not the only POV marked for removal, but one of several. And all romance was marked for removal. These sort of changes are common when adapting a YA to MG.

Anonymous said...

"FACT: Both these writers already have their own agents. At least one of those agents reps YA books. So what does it say when the respective agents for both these well-established writers advise them to find a different agent for the book in question because neither of them wanted to rep it themselves?

It tells me that homophobia was most likely not the reason that this book has thus far not found representation."

This is an irrelevant ad-hominem attack. And I do not believe this agency's rebuttal for a minute.

Anonymous said...

So by your own description, you suggested things that would "straightwash" Rachel and Sherwood's book. It seems perfectly logical to me that they would conclude you did so intentionally, with the unstated goal of removing the LGBTQ material, because that's the end result.

The 'end result card' could equally be used to charge the authors with exploitation, since the end result there (at least initially) was publicity and support for their book.

May I suggest that the 'end result card' not be used by either side?

Will Shetterly said...

Forgive me if this link has already been offered here:

http://www.dystel.com/2011/09/de-gaying-ya/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

It's a post by another agent who turned down the book, who says, "In the interest of full disclosure, I passed on the manuscript in question. It had absolutely nothing to do with the gay character–in fact, it’s not something that even registered. Perhaps it’s having lived on the coasts for years, or perhaps being gay, but finding a gay character in a book rarely registers."

Anonymous said...

7:31 Anon

My point was that it wasn't that much of an open secret because I didn't know it and I'm a nosy person. It might have been spreading person to person but it wasn't spreading in a way that lurkers were going to discover, and we outnumber non-lurkers.

Of course, I also understood the point of the original article not naming names, or thought I did. While I did a bit of obsessive reading, I didn't worry too much because the agent in question wasn't the point and anybody sharing the agent's name would be derailing the topic.

clindsay said...

Anon 7:48 -

I'm stating a fact - that the two writers both have agents that passed on the opportunity to represent the book - which is completely relevant to the conversation at hand.

I understand that one of the agents reps only non-fiction works; however,the second agent has a strong track record with YA. I think it is relevant that he or she chose not to represent this book.

Potential new agents have to take this fact into account if they are to make an informed decision about representation.

Best.

Colleen

Priscilla H. said...

It's extremely easy, based on the agent's own account of what happened, to see how subjective the issue becomes. He said/she said, "they started it," someone's lying, blah blah blah. I understand that the agency wants to defend their rep, and Colleen wants to defend her friend, but that's not the point. The point is that we need to have the discussion, freed from ad hominem attacks in every direction. Let's be grown ups about this.

Gretchen said...

"One of our agents is being used as a springboard for these authors to gain attention for their project. She is being exploited."

Given that they did not name your company or the agent, how is she being exploited?

These authors were very clear in this post that it was not about naming names, but about being asked to make changes that they felt were unacceptable in terms of telling the story they wanted to tell in their YA novel.

I think you have over reacted, both in coming forward, and in trying to discredit them.

All you needed to do about the rumours was make a statement saying that you had seen the manuscript and didn't think it was ready for publication.

Instead, you come across as needlessly spiteful.

Alexandra Erin said...

Even believing the agents' account entirely gives me very little sympathy for them. Being willing to cut a gay character's POV from a book "because it doesn't advance the plot" and "adds nothing"?

Please. Come up with a real criticism. What actual problem is addressed by cutting that section? Is it boring? Is it poorly written? Will the average reader (not an agent, not an editor) in the target demographic get through it and go "Well, that was a waste of my time." Does it fail to engage?

These are problems that need addressing. These are reasons to cut something.

"Doesn't advance the plot?" Ack. Give me a gun on the mantle in the first act and I swear will use it to shoot Anton Chekhov before anybody gets any bright ideas.

This insistence that every detail must accelerate things in a straight line works fine in some genres and styles... but must every story be treated like it's a three-act thriller? Is tightness always a virtue? Don't you think that readers sometimes want to linger, want to explore things from multiple angles?

If the part to be cut added nothing to the story while also not advancing the plot, that would be one thing. But is this the case? Did it show no new details about the world? Did it reveal no new angles of characterization?

Even without knowing the story at all, I can think of one thing off the top of my head that a queer POV adds to a story: a queer POV.

I'm not saying that's more important than plot, but it's important. And there are a ton of books out there that do maintain a laser-like focus on keeping the plot moving, if only because everybody's swallowed the line that this is synonymous with "telling a story".

Here's hoping this book gets published.

clindsay said...

Priscilla -

It isn't simply a matter of wanting to defend my friend.

It is the fact that I worked alongside the people at this agency for nearly three years when I was an agent, sharing a suite of offices with them.

I watched how they interacted with writers, how much time each of them spent on crafting meticulous editorial notes, how hard they each work for their clients, how much they strive to educate their interns.

I have the utmost respect for each and every person who works at this agency, on both a personal and a professional level because my experience working along side them showed me the strength of each of these agents' characters.

Are there agents I don't respect? Are there agents I think might actually try to make a writer pull a gay character out of a book just because the character is gay? Absolutely.

But not at this agency.

Best,

Colleen

Beth said...

Could you cite your source for your claim that Sherwood Smith's agent passed on the project? I know you said that most agents want exclusivity, but that sounds more like an assumption and not a fact.

Anonymous said...

however,the second agent has a strong track record with YA. I think it is relevant that he or she chose not to represent this book.

If the book was in fact more suited to MG than to YA, that might explain the second agent declining it.

clindsay said...

Beth -

I'm not sure what more you need than the fact that she was shopping for an agent while she was currently represented. If her agent wanted to represent the book, she would not have been shopping for an agent. I doubt she failed to tell her agent about the book; it would have been a breach of her agency agreement.

It is rare for an agent of author as established as this author is to pass on a project of any kind by his or her own client if that agent sees commercial potential.

Best.

Colleen

Anonymous said...

Pruning and simplifying from YA to MG is reasonable, and usually characters other than the protagonist are the ones demoted from POV status.

So this may be a consequence of the choice of a non-gay protagonist in the first place.

Heather Hawke said...

Seems to me this issue is getting such a strong response in the publishing community because the vast majority of participants are vehemently not homophobic. I doubt the original article would have made many waves in a lot of other industries.

mmm said...

When I first read the post by Brown and Smith on Rose Fox's blog and the ensuing comments, I was impressed with the civil level of discussion about the topic, even when people insisted their experiences with LGBTQ YA lit had been different. When I went to your blog and saw Joanna Stampfel-Volpe's post and your follow-up comments, I was dismayed—not by the different account of what happened, but by the accusations that the authors were lying and "using" the agency for their own agenda. Perhaps the players have come away from their encounter with a very different sense of what happened, but the conversation didn't get ugly until Stampfel-Volpe's response was posted. Ending the post by saying that until readers are interested in LGBTQ books, they're going to be a hard sell doesn't really bolster the idea that the agency would never ask an author to alter a character's sexual orientation.

Anonymous said...

I really don't see the statements from the two authors & the agent rebuttal as really being all that different.

The author claimed they were asked to either make the character straight or remove his point of view. In this rebuttal, the agent did say he asked the author's to remove the gay character's viewpoint.

The author's claim that they were asked to remove evidence of the gay character's sexuality. The agent in this rebuttal says they asked to move it from YA to middle grade which translates to me as making a book less sexual.

The only difference seems to me is that the agent is claiming he/she was not making these requests due to homophobia but for literary editorial reasons. Perhaps. But I find it odd that someone would request a book change from YA to middle school & that one of the POV singled out for change had to be the gay character.

It makes me more suspicious of the agent's account. This is not to say the agent is homophobic, as not even the authors have accused them of this. But rather the agent wants to market a book & probably did see one with a gay character point of view as less marketable and perhaps did not even realize how what they were saying could be interpreted.

I appreciated the two author's not naming names & trying to bring an issue to the public's attention Their blog just came across as more professional. This one just comes across as let's cover our butts.

beth-bernobich said...

Colleen, So it's all assumptions then. Thanks for confirming that.

I'll only add that I've known Sherwood for almost fifteen years. She's honest and professional to the bone. I tried to picture her, to use the words of some commenters, throwing a tantrum over a rejection, or trying to exploit someone. Maybe in opposite world, but not here.

I do think we need to have a conversation about diversity in YA fiction, in all fiction, but let's leave out the insults and snide comments.

clindsay said...

Beth -

It is not an assumption that the author's agent chose not to represent the book. The author herself told the agencies where the two of them were shopping the book.

To not do so would have been unethical.

If I were still an agent, and an agented writer of some renown came to me shopping a book, my professional instincts would tell me that either the writer was shopping a project behind her own agent's back or that the current agent chose not to represent the book in question and gave the writer permission to shop it elsewhere.

In both cases, a red flag is raised: In the case of the former, I would question the ethics of a writer who would go behind her agent's back (which these two did NOT do), and in the case of the latter, I would question the quality of the manuscript.

There is nothing snide about this; it is the agent's job to question these things.

Best.

Colleen

Beth said...

Well, yes it is an assumption. There might be any number of reasons for seeking separate representation--different genre, fiction vs. nonfiction, foreign rights, or in this case, an agent to represent a collaborative team.

The reason I stress this is because it's misleading to present something as fact, when you do not know what took place between the agent and her client. For all we know, Val might be ready to retire and is cutting back on her work. (Which is purely an example. I haven't communicated with this agent for a few years.)

My comment about snide was more a general one, in reaction to the several posters who implied that these authors were two overly sensitive speshul snowflakes who can't handle criticism.

vnend said...

t-dogg and clindsay: Thanks for asking and answering that question; I was wondering the same thing.

The OP includes: "Changing this starts with the readers."

Wow, talk about Catch-22! "The readers" need to start buying more YA that includes LGBTQ characters so the industry will give them more of it to buy? If, as Andy at 12:07 reported, only .6% or so of YA includes LGBTQ characters then 'the readers' have their work cut out for them, yes?

Two questions that someone with access to the information might be able research:

1. How do YA books with LGBTQ characters sell compared to YA books without (in general, or comparing authors with similar track records, etc...)?

2. For authors with multiple sales and books in both categories, how do the books with LGBTQ diversity sell vs the books without (ideally looking at things as a sequence; say comparing the less common type book's sales to the sales of the books before and after it)?

(Oh, and everyone down on anon.11:38 and their list of things they don't want to read: Perhaps you are correct and the other things they don't like to read does reveal some (not so) buried vein of homophobia. But if we replace 'homosexuals' in their list with, say, 'couples making out', would you consider that a sign of a neurotic issue with affection? Sometimes a list is just a list...)

Stacia said...

The post by Rachel and Sherwood was extremely carefully framed as being an industry-wide problem. The response here has been reframed as a personal attack on Rachel and Sherwood.

Thank you, Jonquil, I have been struggling for a while trying to say what I felt, when I find you already said it and much better than I could have. This entire rebuttal is nothing but a tactic (intentional or not) to dismiss and misdirect from the problem.

Joanna and Colleen claim to want to talk about the "real issue" while at the same time bashing Sherwood and Rachel -- the two who brought up this discussion about the real issue, that LBGT characters are not represented. You both called them liars, said they were exploiting innocent people, just wanting publicity for their book.

And you said all this because you got a few emails with a rumor that this was about Nancy Coffey Representation. All because of that, you slammed, undermined, and belittled two authors in a public forum. Two authors who gave you the gift of anonymity when THEY posted their concerns, might I add.

Oh and by the way, Rachel's agent, the one you implied turned down the YA book because it sucked, is her NONFICTION agent. They never would have been her agent on a fiction YA novel anyway.

Love Colleen's passive-aggressive swipes, like when she says it wasn't a lie but criticism, and "experienced writers learn to take editorial criticism and work with it"... implying Sherwood and Rachel aren't experienced.

These slams on Sherwood and Rachel are entirely unwarranted.

Stella Omega said...

One question that I have is: why did you suggest to the writers that this YA book be simplified and turned into an early teens book?

And another question is:

Why did you decide to jump up and down and scream about how it was you? Until you did that, I would never have known.

A third question: You say that the readers have to provide the proof to the publishers, that books with gay, POC, disabled et al, MC's will sell. How can they do that when they cant find those books because the publishers don't publish them? As I say ALL the dang time in a slightly different context-- I cannot buy what isn't on the shelves.

swan-tower said...

If this was a matter of a misunderstanding between the agent and the authors, there were far better ways to handle it than this rebuttal. Example: Agent goes to Authors and says "I read your post, and wow, that isn't what I meant by my comments at all. Let's try to clear this up." Discussion ensues, and once everybody has sorted things out, Brown and Smith post a follow-up discussing how it's possible for such things to be intended one way and heard another, but they have now resolved the matter to their satisfaction.

Instead, we get this, which stops just shy of accusing the authors of full-on lying about what happened for their own profit. It does nothing to clarify the matter; it just drags the incident toward the gutter, in contravention of Brown and Smith's attempt, in their Genreville post, to make it about the problem (barriers to minority characters) rather than the people. In short, this post makes it pretty clear that the incident isn't based on a misunderstanding: someone is misrepresenting what happened. And on the available evidence, I'm not inclined to give the agent the benefit of the doubt.

Anonymous said...

I've been following this discussion with great interest, as it has been an issue that has directly affected me in the recent past and needs to be addressed by the industry.

I'm not going to get into this she said/she said debate about who is telling the truth in this instance, as I feel it is sidetracking a very important issue, and that IS the perception of books with gay characters as being unmarketable.

To this end, I'm pasting an actual email rejection I received from a reputable agency before I found my current agent, which I think pretty much speaks for itself regarding the systematic marginalization of Young Adult literature with gay protagonists. The agency name and the title of the book have been removed:

"Hi *******,

I really appreciate your sending the manuscript for ******* my way. I had a chance to read over it, and you really have a talent for writing YA with a paranormal/fantasy bent. The story was fast-paced, original and witty. I found myself laughing at numerous instances during the book, and there is definite series potential there. It's hard to make a book like yours stand out from the crowd, especially with the paranormal YA market as flooded as it is. You have accomplished this with *******.

Now here comes the hard part (and I'm sure you're no stranger to this feedback at this stage in the game) ... I love your story, but I just don't see a large enough market existing for ******. To begin with, readers in the YA market are primarily female, so generally speaking, it's harder to publish a young adult novel with a male protagonist. As much as I hate to admit it, young men just don't read as much as young women. In addition to this, your protagonist is not only male, but he's gay as well. Even if ****** could command a significant male audience, the element of a homosexual protagonist would reduce this demographic to a mere trickle of readers. Any YA books that have incorporated homosexuality as a major theme have not sold well, either (such as Between Mom and Jo by Julie Ann Peters). Publishers take note of these sales trends, which affect any their future decisions to purchase similar books.

Believe me when I say that I loathe grouping audiences in categories like this, since there are numerous exceptions to the rule and it makes no room for individuality. Unfortunately, selling a book to a publisher is a business transaction, and this means that publishers choose to follow general market trends when deciding whether or not to purchase an author's book. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the general market trend for YA audiences is straight and female. I regret it (as I'm sure you do), but market circumstances are just not favorable to selling a book like *******. As a result, I'm going to have to pass on offering you representation.

I really hope that this doesn't discourage you from continuing to write, because you do have a gift (and you can rest assured that agents DO NOT say this lightly). Please keep my agency in mind for future submissions. We wish you the best of luck in your writing career."

I'm not exactly sure how the above could not "discourage" me.

There were some more thinly veiled rejections, but I think this one spells it out in no uncertain terms.

Luckily, I have since found a wonderful agent and editor who believe in diversity and my first novel featuring a gay male protagonist will be published early in 2013.

That being said, I feel like I am one of the lucky ones, and this dialogue MUST be continued, and not swept under the carpet by accusations and fingerpointing.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:36 list is not quite just a list as the things he/she didn't want to be force fed include: rapists, drug addicts, drug dealers, dark & scary things and oh yeah, homosexuals.

Which just brings us to crux of the matter. The more gay characters are included in these books, the less likely someone would associate being gay with dark & scary things.

As for the main issue, what the agent supposedly said can easily be translated & interpreted as ditch the gay characters or minimize their importance & make sure there's no kissing/romance. People in this type of business are probably experts in this code speak, so that they can have plausible deniability later. It happened when networks didn't want black characters or hispanics or disabled characters etc. and it's always couched in terms of 'this doesn't work for the sake of the story.' when they really mean we don't think anyone is going to pay to see an all black cast in a movie.

Even Joanne in her later comments asking how to get people to buy books with gay content kind of shows the two writers point. There's a definite hesitancy there showing that she wants buyers to raise their hands FIRST before even attempting to sell the books. This isn't going to happen that way. Someone has to have the courage to just put it out there & hope the audience finds it.

Anonymous said...

The original bloggers are standing by their report, and I believe them. Their post wants to discuss YA fiction and LGBT characters; your post takes potshots at the bloggers without furthering this discussion.

The authors instead posted publicly (and informed privately) of their apparent victimization. At best it's unprofessional and unfortunate. At worst it's deliberate exploitation.

I don't see the authors claimed to be victimized; they declined to make changes to their story and seek out other agents.

Unprofessional and unfortunate?

No, that would be your cheap shot about the quality of the book without having read it.

it distracts from a relevant subject to draw attention to a project that would otherwise have no traction.

No, this post is the detrailing tactic.

Chris said...

So, like, if this was a big publicity ploy on their part and they're just exploiting your agency, why didn't they just respond with "What do you mean? We weren't talking about you guys at all."

I mean, I'm not a psychological master manipulator or anything, but that seems like the obvious response if they were deliberately twisting the story, really. There is absolutely no good reason they would confirm that this was the agency unless they honestly believed they had represented what happened accurately.

clindsay said...

Swan-Tower -

Thanks for sharing that letter. It's unfortunate that the agent chose to take that stance, but as we've all agreed, it does happen. I'm sorry it happened to you.

I'm going to repost a bit of a comment I left over on an LJ post, one that I think may help you and other writers as you seek out LGBT-friendly agents:

I am a queer woman and I was an agent for three years. When I was an agent, I repped books with LGBT themes and characters. The one thing I had to keep trying to teach writers was that they needed to stop saying "This is a gay YA." or "This is a queer urban fantasy." (Or really, ghettoizing their books in any way that detracted from the actual STORY. I had a woman once get vehemently angry when I suggested she stop calling her book "a Native American novel" and just call it "a novel". Because, ya know, that's what it IS.)

In reality, books don't *have* a sexual orientation - they have plots.

And your book isn't gay - it's a YA with LGBT themes or characters.

Believe it or not, framing your novel in the right way accomplishes two things.

1.) Agents and editors become much more receptive to them

2.) [and this one applies particularly to adult fiction] Your book is much less likely to get shelved in the dreaded "gay section" of any bookstore, where it will be segregated from the vast majority of your actual readers, readers who are over in the YA or fiction or mystery section looking for a good story.

In the end, it comes down to the story: is it compelling? Will it make people buy books? Will it make people love it so much they will talk about it online? Can I sell a sequel? Will I make my numbers? This is what editors are worrying about.

Thanks for contributing to the discussion. Cheers!

Best,

Colleen Lindsay

Anonymous said...

I just have to comment in support of Colleen Lindsay's professionalism and experience. She's a valuable resource and a tireless advocate for diversity in fiction--and for professionalism.

Everything she's said about how agents operate, how the publishing industry operates, is true and accurate. The facts of how things happen and why is incredibly important when having a debate about representation to avoid operating from flawed foundational assumptions. Ideology of any kind--left or right--can create an unuseful interpretation of facts.

It was important and valuable to provide a space for the agent to respond--it is important to thave that statement--and I know Colleen didn't do it lightly. I hope readers of this post will have respect for that.

Jeff VanderMeer

Stella Omega said...

The rejection letter is pretty specific. It wouldn't matter one iota if he had called it a YA novel or a gay YA novel, the agent says that the gay elements within the story are why they won't represent it.

Colleen, your advice that writers pretend that a work does not treat specifically with non-heteronormative experience might conflict with the request you've made for queer readers to show their support by buying and reading queer-themed novels.

clindsay said...

Stella -

You wrote "your advice that writers pretend that a work does not treat specifically with non-heteronormative experience might conflict with the request you've made for queer readers to show their support by buying and reading queer-themed novels."

I am in fact saying nothing of the kind. I am trying to point out that writers do themselves a disservice when they ghettoize their own work during the query process.

For example, Scott Tracey's WITCH EYES is a YA urban fantasy with a gay main character. It is NOT simply a gay YA urban fantasy. It also deals with alienation, handling disabilities, first love, an attempted murder, relationships between kids and authority figures, parental estrangement, age old secrets, etc. The book is ALL of these things. Reducing it to merely "a gay urban fantasy" diminishes everything that makes WITCH EYES so wonderful, including the gay main character.

But I see writers doing this all the time, because they aren't looking at their own work like and agent or editor would.

You should read Nicola Griffith's excellent blog post on the subject.

Best,

Colleen

Stella Omega said...

so what you are saying, I think, is that a queer writer would do well to soft-peddle the themes that relate to their personal identity, in order to get it through the gate.

From what I'm reading, that's probably very practical advice. Exxcept that--

That agent said, very specifically, that the writing was *wonderful* but that the protag was gay and he couldn't shop a gay protag. Didn't matter how the writer labelled his book, that's what the agent found within it.

Matthew MacNish said...

I just want to say that this is a conversation that needs to he had. Thank you Colleen and Joanna for giving us a place to have it.

I'm also really glad you mentioned Scott Tracy's WITCH EYES. I haven't read it myself, but I've heard great things.

Another book I would like to mention is Stick, by Andrew Smith. It comes out next month and that one I have read. I don't know if I'd call it LGBTQ lit, but it is YA, and it does have an amazing character who just happens to be gay.

Thanks!

Stella Omega said...

Okay, now I'm angry.

I just now read the sample chapter of "between Mom and Jo"
http://www.julieannepeters.com/files/ExcerptMomJo.htm
which is a perfect example of what I would call a "didactory novel."

Didactory, angry, propagandist novels never sell well. there's the choir to which it preaches-- who may or may not want to be reminded of why they are so angry-- and there's the perpetrators of the problem who most assuredly don't want to be told of the effects of their actions.

In no way can that book be compared to any urban fantasy. To do so is insulting to both books, as well as to gay writers and readers.

Except in the "all you queers look alike to me" way.

clindsay said...

Stella -

Errr.... who exactly is comparing a Julie Peter's novel to an urban fantasy on here?

I think perhaps you've gotten off track of the discussion somewhere.

Best,

Colleen

Stella Omega said...

ooops... Forgive me! I was referring to this comment:
http://theswivet.blogspot.com/2011/09/guest-blogger-joanna-stampfel-volpe.html?showComment=1316150239110#c5450808499920151356

Which includes an entire email from an agent, and I quote:

Any YA books that have incorporated homosexuality as a major theme have not sold well, either (such as Between Mom and Jo by Julie Ann Peters). Publishers take note of these sales trends, which affect any their future decisions to purchase similar books."

clindsay said...

Stella -

Thanks for clarifying! =)

Best,

Colleen

Anonymous said...

Firstly, I wanted to say well done to Colleen for moderating this (in her spare time). Wouldn't want that job for all the money in the world!

On that note, I don't mean to derail, but I have concerns about the amount of negativity this whole situation has created across our community.

I've often worried about bandwagon jumping and the reactionary nature of the YA community. We don't know the full facts in this situ and only those involved know what they *think* and *remember* being said (starred to point out that both parties probably think they are in the right and I'm not going to disagree with either). There are a lot of anon commenter's, in support of the agent, being nasty to the authors and a lot of the author's supporters being nasty to the agent.

All this bad feeling stemming from an obvious miscommunication....it doesn't sit well with me. These are real people with feelings and whatever the outcome, this will have an impact on their careers and lives.

Our community has just published the Dear Bully anthology and I think we should all take time to think about that and reflect on how we are acting.

Again, I know this is a slight derail, and I totally agree that the conversation about Gay YA is a very important one. But it would be better to have it without us also resorting to an immature playground mentality ourselves.

Andrew Trembley said...

(I posted this over at The Outer Alliance's blog entry, but I figure it's relevant here)

I’ve been watching this unfold, and it just keeps getting weirder.

I have no doubt that the agency thought it was acting in good faith, and I understand how Smith and Brown could come away with the impression “we can’t rep this unless you get rid of the gay.” I have to wonder, though, if the agency’s track record in selling YA with LGBT themes lives up to Stampfel-Volpe’s stated commitment.

The comment threads and follow-ups, particularly the threads involving publishing professionals, have been a tangled mess. A lot of assumptions are being bandied around, and I’m sure some of them aren’t valid.

One of the knots to untangle is the question of “YA lit” and “gay lit” and “genre lit.” The publishing industry loves to pigeonhole works because they’re easy to sell to small niches, but then publishers and agents say the “gay” niche is too small within these other niches to support a market.

Colleen Lindsay suggests that writers not package their submissions as “gay YA” and a commenter complains this is a suggestion that writers soft-pedal a part of themselves. I get that, but I think it’s an odd fight to pick. A story with significant queer content isn’t less queer because it’s not pitched or marketed as queer lit. The fight is to get the stories and characters out in front of as large a market as possible. Genre YA is ghettoized enough without subdividing it even further.

This tangles with another knot, the assumption that readers are only interested in reading about people like themselves. Malinda Lo’s statistics show that half of the LGBT representation in YA is gay boys, but as she points out YA readership slants strongly female.

What gives? Is it the male-dominated publishing industry? Maybe. But straight girls don’t just like reading about straight girls, many of them like to read about gay boys in love. Some of them like reading about boys in the first place, and some of them like reading about lesbians. These books can and do sell to buyers who aren’t just like the major characters.

Fiction with LGBT themes and characters might just have a bigger market without the “gay fiction” marketing sub-label from publishers. If the publishers don’t ghettoize gay fiction, it’s much more difficult for booksellers to do so.

It’s not like queer readers need the labels anyway. We’ve been finding books about us before there was a marketing category, and always finding the mainstream titles with queer characters. There are queer lit blogs and communities to help spread the word now. The only thing faster than the speed of light is the speed of gay gossip.

Maybe it’s time. It’s time for writers and agents to start insisting that good stories with LGBT content stop being shoved in the gay fiction ghetto.

Anonymous said...

Just so we're all clear. This is a bit off topic, but there are many LGBT people who don't care for this new "Q" thing at the end of LGBT. We are respected professionals, we pay taxes, own property, live in all kinds of communities, and we don't like being called "Queer."

I suggest the "Q" be used on its own, to refer to one small segment of society. And leave the rest of us out of it.

shinetheway said...

"Do homosexuals exist? Do rapists exist? Do drug addicts and drug dealers exist? Do dark and scary things exist?"

I don't care who's "right" and who's "wrong". That comment right there is why I believe the authors and not the agent. The authors feel it's important to have a gay character in their book for the sheer fact of the gay character's existance; the agent feels that gay is a nice element, but one that can and should be removed if it will make the book uncompetetive. Gay isn't going to sell to people who compare being gay to being a rapist or a drug dealer, and agents who make their money based on finding what the market will like (and are not that interested or personally invested in *changing* what the market will like) will push a straight POV over a gay one, a while POV over a non-white one, a boy POV over a girl one.

"It has nothing to do with homophobia or bigotry of any kind."

It has EVERYTHING to do with homophobia and bigotry of any kind. And thinking that this type of attitude or statement ISN'T homophobia and bigotry is what allows agents to have conversations with authors where they recommend cutting (for whatever reason) the only gay character in the piece. If there are too many POV, why didn't they recommend cutting all the straight characters? Thinking that the straight characters are "default" and the gay character involvement is optional is what gets us to this point.

I don't know how the conversation went. I'm sure this agent has many lovely gay friends and considers herself very tolerant and non-bigoted and I'm sure she was horrified and appalled and offended to realize that she was being accused of homophobia on the internet. (Anonymously, I should add; the fact that we know know the agent in question is a woman at Joanna's agency is not the authors' fault.) However, just because she's appalled and horrified and offended doesn't mean that it isn't true.

Stella Omega said...

Andrew, you pointed out:

A story with significant queer content isn’t less queer because it’s not pitched or marketed as queer lit.

Quite so.

My point was that Colleen's advice has NOTHING to do with the fact that gay content is hard to get past certain agents-- as the evidence of that particular correspondence (anonymous, just below a comment by Swan-Tower) makes quite clear. Any agent is going to read before they rep, presumably. And once they do-- the content will be what they address. Not the author's pitch.

Anonymous said...

The 'perhaps subconsciously' card could also be played by either side.

An author very concerned about the issue of gay characters, might subconsciously misinterpret some technical issues as being gay issues.

Some selective attention does seem to be happening in some of the comments, here and elsewhere. For example, the facts that several characters would be demoted from POV and that all romance would be excluded (or perhaps put off till later books?) are forgotten or never noticed.

Again, such cards are better left unplayed by either side, imo.

Anonymous said...

It might have been a good idea for the agent to contact the authors privately to try to sort things out. It would also have been a good idea for the authors to have privately sent the agent a copy of their post before making it public.

These are all good people. It's too bad that a possible misunderstanding has grown into accusations of lying, and everyone's reputations are being damaged.

Joanna said...

Anonymous @5:58pm 9/16/11 - You're right. There are real people with real feelings and real careers and on both sides of this mess. Thank you for that reminder. I hope that others take that to heart.

Andrew Trembley - You bring up some very good points here that are what *should* be the discussion.

YA doesn't separate their genres like the adult side of the industry does. Only recently did they create a totally separate fantasy/paranormal YA section in book stores, and I still don't know how great I feel about that. As far as I know though, I've never seen YA books with LGBTQ themes shelved in a separate area in the YA section of a bookstore. (I'm referring to specifically Young Adult books here--I do know that this happens on the general fiction side). Though if someone has seen this, please correct me!

When I've pitched stories with LGBTQ characters/themes I don't always mention that detail--it just depends on that particular story and how involved the themes are in the actual plot, which is what I'm pitching. The plot. It also sometimes depends if an editor has specifically told me that they are looking for books with LGBTQ characters/themes. Then I will certainly mention it. Just as I would mention any detail that I knew would catch that particular editor's attention.

That being said, I understand completely what you're saying--why does it need to be a category for marketing at all?

And that is a good question.

Joanna said...

Matthew MacNish - Thank you for the book suggestion! I love Andrew Smith (as I've gushed on my blog before) and was eagerly awaiting this next one.

Chrystoph said...

It seems to me that you are making capital from a posting which very specifically went out of its way not to name names. To me, that makes your entire post suspect.

Additionally, and with a bit of research, some of your own points are easily refutable, like the fact that one of the agents you USE to defend your actions ONLY publishes non-fiction. Hmm, spin doctor much?

I cannot help but think that, if you are going to use "facts" in defense of a position you have not been accused of, you ought to actually present all of the fact, not some carefully edited piece (referred to as, Lying by Omission 1).

What this really amounts to is a defense of reputation, not an addressing of the issue; more commonly referred to as a flame war and an appeal to your own ridicule 2.

1. http://www.choice101.com/19-lies.html#LiesOfOmission

2. http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-ridicule.html

Anonymous said...

Andrew said: " Is it the male-dominated publishing industry? "

I can't think of a way to disagree with this statement without coming off as personal, so please take this with all due respect, Andrew. Children's publishing is the diametrical opposite of a "male-dominated industry." Off the top of my head, the top editors at Abrams, Harper, FSG, Houghton, Dial/Penguin, Harcourt, and several divisions of Scholastic are women." A male editor or designer at ALA is practically a novelty item.

On the Adult Trade side, the numbers are much closer to parity, and the Sales divisions start to look more like other industries (where men traditionally hold the majority share of executive positions).

All that said, I think MUCH of this conversation about "systemic issues" have been drive by people who simply don't know the realities of the industry. When commenters can call Colleen LGBT unfriendly, then we know we're dealing with an information gap here.

Cozza said...

While I understand you're a company and have to present a good face, you've definitely gone about addressing this issue all too wrongly. The original article was addressing a much larger issue and remained void of any company names. But now, instead of concluding this whole confusion - if that's what it is - in good taste, you've went and thrown nasty words which otherwise imply the other party's lack of integrity (to which I disagree). Beyond the petty squabble between both parties, they raised extremely valuable points in the YA publishing industry in regards to LGBTQ titles. Points that can, and have, been backed by facts. Now, because of your approach to this issue, that bigger picture that they were trying to promote will be entirely discredited by your followers.

(I just want more YA novels featuring love and characters of all forms. :D)

Will Shetterly said...

Just-to-be-clear Anonymous, there are many folks who have embraced "queer" just as suffragists embraced "suffragette". While no one has to accept a name given by someone else, those who have should not be excluded for their choice.

I'm growing fond of QUILTBAG because it's easy to spell and very inclusive.

clindsay said...

Anon 10:03 -

Thanks for pointing this out I think the general public doesn't understand just how female-dominated trade publishing is. It was one of the things that most surprised me about the industry when I first started working in publishing. My first job in publishing was in 1991, and the president of the company was a woman. She was succeeded by another woman, who was succeeded by another woman, who was succeeded by another woman who is still the head of the Random House Publishing Group. My current job at Penguin? I report to women. My boss, one of the youngest VPs in the business and her boss, who is the president of the company.

Additionally, publishing is PRETTY GAY. Like, whoa. At my last full-time publishing position, there were maybe - MAYBE - four straight men on the whole floor.

So saying that intolerance in publishing is the fault of straight white men is indicative only of someone's real ignorance about the industry as a whole.

Best,

Colleen

clindsay said...

Shinetheway -

My apologies. If I gave you the impression I didn't think that anonymous commenter was homophobic, I misspoke. What I intended to say and still stand by is this: This is one of your potential readers. This is someone who represents the thousands of other potential readers. THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE UP AGAINST. So it behooves all of us to listen to them, to know what their arguments are. The more we hear them, the better we can counter their ignorance and try to change their minds. Because frankly, I'd rather this that anonymous commenter purchase a YA book with queer themes because he or she was able to take away some insight from the conversation being had on this blog and so many others.

Best,

Colleen

clindsay said...

Anon: 9:27 -

You're right; it is off-topic. But I am also a respected professional, I pay taxes, I'm happily queer and I'm using the Q word on my own blog.

Please stick to the topic at hand.

Best,

Colleen

Anonymous said...

Colleen-

Four straight men on a floor would have been a meat market in any editorial department.

Look at our matriarchs! McElderry, Nordstrom, Riley, Buckley, Massie...and these are women kicking ass in the field 50 years ago! While Don Draper was mistreating Peggy a few blocks away, Nordstrom was deigning to give Sendak a contract.

clindsay said...

To those of you who are denouncing the agent for using the word "exploited", let me just say this: if someone FEELS exploited by something, and feels genuinely hurt by that exploitation, those are legitimate feelings, regardless of whether he or she is misunderstanding the situation. Try to keep this in mind.

Best,

Colleen

Adam Lipkin said...

Colleen, without in any way disputing how the agent feels, there's a not-insignificant difference between saying that "she feels exploited" and "she is being exploited." I don't think people would have been nearly as bothered by the former, but the latter reads like an accusation of intent.

clindsay said...

Anon 11:34 -

Agreed. I wish more people would educate themselves about the industry they're bashing.

I'd also like to point out something else that I was mulling over last night in the haze of my dental surgery numbness.

Another major gatekeeper for books in the United States are the booksellers themselves. I know; I was a bookseller - more importantly, the BOOK BUYER and INVENTORY MANAGER - for many years at several independent bookstores.

A writer can write a YA w/ LGBTQ themes, an agent can rep that author and sell that book, an editor can buy that book and get it past the marketing department, the marketing department can get it past the sales department, and the sales department can take it to the buyer at the bookstore. But if the buyer or inventory manager doesn't agree to stock that book, there isn't much else the writer, the agent or the publisher can do.

Already I'm imagining that I'm hearing the protests of indie booksellers everywhere: "But we love gay YA! We support gay YA!"

An the truth is that these booksellers probably do.

At first.

But the harsh reality of the book business is this: if a title by a particular author doesn't sell, the buyer doesn't bring any more by that author into the store. If a book on a particular topic doesn't sell, the buyer doesn't bring any more on that particular topic into the store. To do so would be fiscally irresponsible.

My point in bringing this up is that it's easy to point fingers at agents, or editors, etc, but the problem is so much larger, so much more complicated and involves so many more players than that.

Best,

Colleen

clindsay said...

Adam -

Point taken. Perhaps it was ill-chosen phrasing on Joanna's part, but the sentiment behind the words is the same: the agent was deeply hurt by the allegations.

Best,

Colleen

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that now it's come out that Joanna was not the agent who spoke to the two authors but that it was someone who worked for her. In addition, Joanna has admitted she was not in the room when the conversation took place. So this post of accusing the two authors of all kinds of things is worse than a case of she said/he said.

Also as an outsider to this industry, the two writers are just more believable. They had the most to lose by bringing this public (look at the current besmirching of their name being done here) Their post was professional, impersonal, did not name names & was bringing an important issue to the forefront.

This blog effectively derailed the conversation. If you read some of the response it's now more like, whew, I knew we weren't homophobic, those writers just exaggerated, everyone is gay, disability, race friendly out here. Lets get back to business as usual. I'm a little shocked that a person in the LGBT community put up this blog response considering that was the net effect.

This is not to say that the publishing industry & agents are filled with villains. But let's face reality. You have to know that some out there do not want minority, gay & disabled characters because they don't believe it sells well, get shelves in bookstores etc. You have to admit what the author's have written sound totally believable given that reality.

Also, you can't expect a book to sell if you don't even take a chance & put it out there. I know for a fact that the most innocuous gay YA books are not available in my very large, suburban public library. These kids aren't choosing these books because they don't know it exists.

The argument that this is a girl dominated industry also doesn't wash. Who do you think is doing all the slashing fan fiction out there. Who was the most excited about the gay characters in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series except girls. Who reads the most m/m romance books except females. I think publishers and agents are missing the boat on a market that's set to explode given the right 'hot' book.

Anonymous said...

I'm a queer woman (not the cutesy QUILTBAG, thanks), I work in US trade publishing, and I am sick to death of the self-congratulatory "our industry is so open-minded and female-dominated and non-homophobic!" backpatting that goes on in publishing and is being used to bolster the argument that nice liberal literary agents would NEVER think of straightwashing a book. There are a lot of powerful female editors--this is true. However, if you move up the chain and out of editorial departments, the picture starts to look a little different. Look at the heads of companies and of major divisions (e.g., the US divisions of major houses like Random House and Penguin). Mostly men. Since Penguin was brought up, here's a list of their executives. There's one female name on a list of nine. Random House and Harper don't have readily locatable lists, but their president/CEOs are male. And departments such as sales, marketing, art, and production are often still male-dominated, and while they're not buying the books, they're controlling important aspects such as to whom and how books are marketed and what's going on the covers. Finally, the homophobia issue. I have never experienced homophobia at work, and for that I am grateful. I have, however, felt like the only one of my kind on the entire floor--and it's a big floor. My company offers benefits to domestic partners--although they are more expensive than benefits offered to spouses. I've attended many weddings of straight colleagues, but never a same-sex wedding or commitment ceremony. And so on. I don't feel discriminated against, but I do (despite the fact that I'm out) feel invisible.

clindsay said...

Anon 1:48 -

I wasn't being "self-congratulatory" - I was merely stating a fact: trade publishing in the U.S. is predominately female-operated. And there are probably a larger percentage of openly gay employees working there.

That doesn't negate the fact homophobis/racism/add-you-own-ism exists and is still evident in places.

I'd like to also point out that CEOs, and most C-level senior executives at publishing companies and zero to do with what is acquired.

I have, actually, been on the receiving end of extreme homophobia at one major publishing company. It was an ugly incident, very public, and left a sour taste in my mouth.

But it didn't sour me on all trade publishing, because I understood that the ugliness was coming from a specific person and not the industry as a whole.

My comment earlier was to clarify an error that an earlier commenter had made.

Certainly, when it comes to corporate mergers, strategic partnerships, etc, etc, then yes, you'll find a lot of men at the very top. But when it comes to who makes the actual decisions on the ground as to what gets acquired, marketed and sold, well, it's still primarily women.

Best,

Colleen

PS: I can't even say QUILTBAG with a straight face. No pun intended.

Will Shetterly said...

Anonymous @ 1:48 PM, male execs are vetoing books with queer protagonists that have been approved by female editors-in-chief? Do you have any evidence, even anonymous evidence, that this is so?

I first worked in publishing in 1980 as an editorial assistant to a female editor and a female editor-in-chief. I listened to the gossip and sat in on meetings with the male publisher. There was never a hint of the publisher over-riding the editor-in-chief. The division of responsibility was clear.

Mind you, I'm sure that has happened in the biz, and I may even remember an incident later today, because everything happens eventually somewhere. But to suggest male execs are commonly vetoing books with gay protagonists does not explain the success of the bestselling authors on this list:

http://tanuki-green.livejournal.com/329393.html

Anonymous said...

I cannot find again a later statement from Rachel saying TAIQ gave them three alternatives. The first was that all romance of all characters be removed from the first book but Yuki's orientation might be revealed in a later book.

This might suggest the possibility of a series in which the characters age (as in Harry Potter). Or it might suggest that later books might broaden their focus to include romance, after the first book's plot began to play out.

Andrew Trembley said...

Colleen: Dammit, I was going to respond to that anon with "...get used to it."

Colleen, Joanna, Anon: I see you found my little nugget of absurdity. "Male-dominated industry" is the standard answer to why men are usually over-represented in pick-your-industry. I figured it was worth trotting out for at least a laugh. I'm a smart-ass. I do that sometimes.

The fact that publishing and in particular YA/children's publishing doesn't look like a stereotypical male-dominated industry and is loaded with women in positions of power puts an interesting spin on Malinda's statistics about representation.

What that spin is, I'm not sure. Again, the arguments are made that books won't sell because major characters are different from the target buyer. But not only does the proportionally large representation of gay boys in the admittedly small chunk of YA that includes queer subject matter not match up with the target buyer's gender or orientation, it sounds like it doesn't match up with a representative publishing professional's gender.

What's the take-away of editors acquisition patterns? Does it suggest that there are cases in which professionals and consumers are enthusiastic about reading about people who are, in a particular way, not like them?

Jim C. Hines said...

"Anonymous @ 1:48 PM, male execs are vetoing books with queer protagonists that have been approved by female editors-in-chief? Do you have any evidence, even anonymous evidence, that this is so?"

Will - I've read the 1:48 comment three times now, and I'm not seeing anywhere that they make the claims you're asking them to defend.

Will Shetterly said...

Jim, perhaps I saw an implication that was not intended in "Look at the heads of companies and of major divisions (e.g., the US divisions of major houses like Random House and Penguin). Mostly men. Since Penguin was brought up, here's a list of their executives. There's one female name on a list of nine. Random House and Harper don't have readily locatable lists, but their president/CEOs are male. And departments such as sales, marketing, art, and production are often still male-dominated, and while they're not buying the books, they're controlling important aspects such as to whom and how books are marketed and what's going on the covers."

That "controlling important aspects such as to whom and how books are marketed" looked to me like she was saying men have the final say in publishing. If that wasn't her intention, color me baffled, because if that wasn't her point, I don't see how her observation is relevant to a discussion about publishing queer YA f&sf.

Anonymous said...

As to "over sensitive writers", rather than over sensitive in general, or avoiding the work of revision, they might just be especially sensitive to gay issues -- thus seeing criticism as anti-gay which was really technical.

Sylvia Sybil said...

I think the confusion over whether the publishing industry is female-dominated or male-dominated arises from multiple definitions of "dominated". Because numerically, women greatly outnumber men. But the men outrank the women; the average woman's salary is $65,000 while the average man's is $105,000.

Anonymous said...

Look, back when the two authors first posted their article, I didn't know what publisher they were talking about, nor did I care. In fact, they were pretty clear in the article why nobody should really care about that.

Having read this post, though I'm inclined to avoid this publisher in the future. Not because you were homophobic - I don't know who's right about that. But I do know that regardless of what happened, this post is extraordinarily passive-aggressive and unprofessional, and chooses to make the issue personal after the authors themselves were very careful to frame it as a matter of institutional prejudice, and I don't have much respect left for anybody involved in writing it.

You might want to rethink your approach to damage control here.

Old Folkie said...

"So what does it say when the respective agents for both these well-established writers advise them to find a different agent for the book in question because neither of them wanted to rep it themselves?"

This part does sound a lot like a cheap shot where one tries to represent to us personal bias as a fact.
Just saying. :)

But on a more serious
note, following the post above and some of the comments made here, and after having read Malida Lo's post featuring actual numbers of books presenting gay characters, I have to ask:

Is our consensus to say, or to at least imply as some of the comments seem to do, that these low numbers are based on the fact that books featuring gay characters are in tendency worse written than other material and therefore are less published?
Are authors at fault then, which may be to concerned with pushing issues and not enough with writing interesting characters?

The question does arise, thought looking at some of the wonderful, positively entertaining books that do get published featuring strong and realistic homosexual lead characters, this doesn’t seem to be the truth.

Or is the problem lying with too reluctant publishers, not interested enough in niche markets?
Or are we readers proving to be to picky when it comes down to it, demanding more diversity from publishers but then turning out to be reluctant to leave our comfort zones?

Most likely the truth, as always, lies in the middle of it all – and we are focusing too much on finding somebody to hang the blame on, instead of working on to solve the problem at hand.

clindsay said...

Anon 1:29 -

In my experience, passive aggression is most frequently displayed by those leaving anonymous comments.

Also, clearly you haven't actually read through any of the posts very carefully - neither the authors' original blog post, Ms. Volpe's rebuttal nor my own comments, nor any of the comments following either post.

If you had read them carefully, you would have noticed that the authors did not, in fact, mention a publisher, because they weren't talking about a publisher.

You'll also note that both of the authors and Ms. Volpe had the courage to sign their actual names to their posts, despite the knowledge that doing so would probably result in backlash for all three of them.


Best,

Colleen

clindsay said...

Anon 8:20 -

Yes, that could be a distinct possibility. All of us have hot-button issues that, once raised, blind us to the rest of the conversation being had around a topic.

I once gave editorial feedback to a YA writer, asking her to either turn her book into an adult novel or to make the second protagonist the appropriate age for a YA.
The protag was 24; his love interest was 17. YA really needs the main characters to be 18 or below for the story to work.

But what she heard was this: "You have written a novel about pedophilia!" which floored me. She was absolutely convinced that I thought her book was about pedophiles. She was determined to see it that way, despite the fact that it simply wasn't true.

Everyone has this hot-button blindness at some point in their life. (At least I know I have!)

Best,

Colleen

Anonymous said...

It's very interesting to see the agency's side of the story. Thank you for sharing it.

But with all due respect, if Sherwood Smith were really trying to create a publicity kerfuffle to help sell her novel, wouldn't she have posted about this on her fan community on LiveJournal, Athanarel? It's a fairly active community and she regularly interacts with fans on there, but there are no posts about the issue there -- not by Sherwood, and not by anyone else.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:40 p.m.
It definitely is posted on Sherwood Smith's LiveJournal. Check out her posts on Sept. 12 and Sept. 15. http://sartorias.livejournal.com/.

Anonymous said...

This agent response could have been far more graceful...and shorter. No one really cared about who she was anyway. People were more focused on the topic at hand than learning names. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot for nothing.

Sylvia Sybil said...

Anon 12:56

The previous anon said LJ community, not the personal LJ. There are different types of journals on LJ.

Will Shetterly said...

Sylvia Sybil, I'm trying to stay out of this now, but the idea that an LJ community based on an author would ignore the author's LJ is very silly.

That said, I don't think Rachel or Sherwood are primarily in it for self-promotion. The issue is as important to them as it is to almost everyone in this discussion. However, they do want to sell their book, and YA publishing in the US is mostly a for-profit operation, so Rachel and Sherwood should forgive those who suspect them of self-promotion.

Sylvia Sybil said...

Will Shetterly,

*shrug* I have no information on this author's fandom, other than what Anon 1:40 has said: there is a fan community Livejournal with no posts about this issue.

I was simply clarifying the difference between a personal LJ and a community LJ, since Anon 12:56 conflated them in their reply.