If you think that finding a traditional publisher for a first-time, unknown author is hard, think of scaling that up to ascending Everest when it comes to LGBTQ+ writers. Equality has given us much, but in the world of publishing, over the past few years, it has bizarrely reduced our chances. While most of the top publishing houses these days have LGBTQ+ authors and books in their catalogues, they are reticent about taking on too many, and this certainly applies to first-timers.
Publishing, like any business, is driven by profit margins, and since LGBTQ+ themed books are limited in their revenue appeal, though this might be shifting, any manuscript landing on a publisher’s desk with a rainbow plot or sexually diverse characters stands even less chance than the thousands of others already in the slush pile. While stigma around books with narratives that deal with sexualities and genders other than the ‘norm’ has declined, still the readership for such books is relatively small and therefore does not translate into large enough profits for mainstream publishers, who supply the high street and airport shops. Historically, it has been left to a few independent presses to print small numbers of such books, which at least got them onto shelves tucked away at the back of one or two bookshops.
Changing times for queer publishing
However, things might be about to change. If you’re wondering what percentage of book sales are LGBTQ+, according to research in the USA, LGBTQ+ themed sales soured to five million units in 2021, double that of the previous year, and sales of LGBTQ+ fiction increased by 39% in the first half of 2022 alone. YA LGBTQ+ fiction is the fastest growing market, closely followed by adult LGBTQ+ fiction.
This is encouraging news indeed, but the battle to get your book in front of sympathetic eyes, either publisher’s or bookseller’s, is still very real.
Currently, there is a scarcity of LGBTQ+ specific bookshops and other spaces in the UK that make browsing for gay-themed genres safe and inclusive. A disturbing fact given that there is a general openness towards diversity. Gays The Word in London is the oldest and most well-known, and there are other independent bookshop owners who champion LGBTQ+ authors, such as Dial Lane Bookshop in Ipswich. But more of these places are needed, if only for book lovers to mix quietly with other LGBTQ+ people.
We should celebrate and award independent book shops that support and encourage LGBTQ+ authors and readers alike, and the agents, editors and publishers who push for gay genre manuscripts, and take risks on unknowns. It is just as important that we do not play to the gallery and write what we think the market wants. It is our duty to tell our stories with authenticity, to write LGBTQ+ characters that are real and flawed and get our books out there, even if an agent or publisher believes it won’t sell.
Selling just one copy of a LGBTQ+ book has a positive effect on someone who is desperately looking for just such a thing, as I once was. We don’t need the mainstream to make that happen.
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