Friday, August 14, 2015

Only The Protagonist Is Gay

Tipping the Velvet: Can it be a one-off for an author?
What makes for literature aimed at the non-straight crowd? It's a question for those who write novels that feature ordinary people as characters. The sort of people you know, or the sort you encounter in everyday life. If you put one of them into your manuscript and that person is gay, does it make your book something more LGTB than general fiction?

If you are looking to be published by one of the Christian houses, it's quite straightforward. That is to say, everyone must be straight if you want to see your book in print. Maybe they would accept someone converting from the homosexual lifestyle to happy heterosexual marriage, but not everyone writes fantasy.

Those who use New York City as their setting can toss in the requisite gay character with ease, and never consider the genre dilemma. For these novels, the homosexual character is part of the wallpaper, a bit of scenery to add authenticity or show support for the equality movement. See, here's high-end New Yorkers socializing with the owner of the art gallery. So hip. So trendy.

But what happens when that art gallery owner is made the focus of the story? Do you have something of LGTB interest? Can you query agents who say they are looking for such things?

It is always best to check the agents' websites to help clarify a murky situation.

Some will tell you that they are looking for that piece of erotica featuring two studly males, and that would mean your romantic comedy isn't at all what said agent is seeking. Others will include LGTB as a genre they accept, and there you are. What do they mean, exactly?

You don't want to be pigeon-holed and become the popular author of LGTB fiction if you have other stories to tell that don't include a subset of society. Sure it's grand to land a publishing contract but do you want to be squeezed into one particular box when that box does not fit your long-term plans for your writing career? Sarah Waters has done well with lesbian historical fiction, but not everyone wants to write about the same types of people over and over again.

Traditional romantic comedies can be given a fresh perspective if told from the point of view of a lesbian couple, but in reality you are still writing general fiction aimed at women. The plot is essentially the same, if it's girl meets boy or girl meets girl and the formation of a couple runs through the narrative. There's no need for hot steamy sex in such books, which are not romances in the mommy porn vein. The characters are just people facing some challenge to be overcome. Bridget Jones could have kept a diary about Ms. Darcy as well as Mr. Darcy, and the story would have been essentially the same.

Would such a small tweak make such a big difference to an author trying to figure out which agent to query?

Ask literary agents that question and you'll likely get as many answers as agents responding. It's all so subjective, isn't it?

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