Literary agents tell you not to write to the market, but then you'll find tips all over Twitter that ask for stories featuring more diversity.
The subject of diversity came up at a book group discussion recently. Our book was one of those ridiculous New York fairy tales featuring a wealthy woman of privilege who then must face an unavoidable decent into genteel poverty. The author's idea of genteel poverty sounded pretty plush to our group of genuinely struggling women who share one book among them because it's not financially feasible for all twelve to buy the same book.
Diversity came up because there were some token gay men in the story. Their sexuality had nothing to do with moving the narrative, they were more like window dressing. Look, diversity. Look, gays being just like the rest of us.
Well, yeah, so? The gays I've met are just average working guys, involved with boosting the local business community. They're not out there clubbing every night or jumping from partner to partner.
Then I looked at a manuscript I am polishing and started to wonder. What if I made my characters more diverse in that same way? Homosexual window dressing, some gay people living and working amongst us just like the couple who run the boutique in town.
If I wrote to the market, instead of just writing what I know, would I generate more literary agent interest in the manuscript?
In a way, I would still be writing what I know, but writing to the market as well.
What I know, of course, is what is shown to the public by the handful of homosexual couples I have encountered in my life. The way that the gay characters moved through the book club novel, I'd say that the author didn't have any more insight into the lifestyle than that. But why wouldn't lesbian couples with children share the same concerns as their straight sisters about schools and nutrition and after-school activities? Isn't that what an agent would look for, this evidence that equality is right because we are, at heart, equal?
You can't call it a theory if you haven't tested the hypothesis. I'm going to rewrite the manuscript and make a few subtle changes, to alter the sexual orientation of a character and see if that improves the odds of getting a piece of women's fiction on a bookstore shelf.
This is a test. This is only a test.
I can't wait to see the results of this fun little experiment.