The Lack of Published Gay YA By Gay Authors? Lets Talk About It
By Kosoko Jackson
Yesterday, I posted a tweet talking about the need for a discussion about how having the majority of M/M YA literature being written by women was counterproductive to the diversity movement. And I said, we’d talk about it so…let’s talk about it.
I’m going to preface this by saying three things:
- This post is my own opinion, not the opinion of every gay male.
- This post isn’t to shit on women authors who do write M/M literature.
- We’re all responsible — every level of literature.
The Curators (Publishers and Agents)
I’m going to first say that I believe that publishing is doing a better job with diversifying its storytelling. What publishing isn’t doing is diversifying the authors who are writing the stories, which is leading to a counterproductive narrative.
But Kosoko, are you saying that publishing is — gasp — homophobic?
No, Kelly. That’s not what I’m saying. A job of a publisher is first and foremost to buy books that make money. And though diverse books make money (a lot of money), the next step in this logical thinking, took a strange turn.
Somehow, buying diverse books about gay men, written by women, is a safer financial gamble than purchasing books by gay men, for gay men.
I think this narrative shift, like many things in publishing, is a trickle-down effect. In adult romance, gay male romance written through the female gaze sells well. When the diversity movement became loud enough to catch the attention of young adult publishers, publishers looked, subconsciously or consciously, at their numbers and what sold well in the adult field and wanted to repeat that. That lead to M/M fiction, through the female gaze. “If it worked in adult, by golly, it’d work in young adult, Jimmy!”
And therein lies the problem.
Publishing has created a Catch-22. By buying more and more books written for the female gaze in M/M literature, it’s created the repetitive statement “what sells is this, not that”. This system makes it harder and harder each year for authentic literature to break out because “it doesn’t sell” or “it doesn’t have the P&L support to prove it’ll sell” or “why should we take a risk on X when we have Y”?
In many ways, publishing has created Frankenstein’s Monster in their hopes of killing two birds with one stone: being diverse and capitalizing financially on diversity. And in many ways, it’s gotten out of their hands. And since agents are the ones who funnel books towards the publishers, they are as much responsible.
So, I ask publishers and agents, are you making these diverse choices based on a financial motive or a diverse motive? And if the latter, why does your diversity not accurately represent the market you’re aiming to benefit from?
The Creators (Authors)
Here’s the thing, I’m not telling female authors they shouldn’t write M/M fiction. And I’m not telling you every choice you make as an author should, at least in some part, have to pass the litmus test of “should I write this story or, in writing this, am I taking a slot from someone else who could authentically tell this story better”?
But I am. At least a bit.
It’s vital that people feel they can write what they want to write. But it’s also important that kids grow up and see themselves in stories, written by people like them — for them. A story written by a gay man, about a gay man, is going to be different (not better, different) than a story written by a straight woman. We can argue technical skill, which different person-to-person, but what we can’t argue is learned experience. That a background as a marginalized person will be more fruitful than those written from the outside looking in. And that richness is what makes stories grand.
But Kosoko, are you saying that people cannot write out of their lane? That’s censorship!
No, Suzy. Write your stories. But you should consider not only why you are writing this, but what are your writing? Does your M/M fiction already play into a misogynistic relationship that many gay men have to continually rebuttal? Are all of your gay men masculine, who perhaps even a little-internalized homophobia, with no feminine men? Are you merely writing this characters to fetishize homosexuality, or to hop on a diversity trend? No, there doesn’t need a reason for a character to be diverse, but when gay men, just like other minorities, are fighting the “there’s already one book like it on the shelve” battle, you do need a reason to take that space — because effectively, you are.
Young adult books are not, and should not, be written for the same reason as adult books. If you want to write a book to make quick cash — don’t write books. But if you are going to write with this idea, then do adult. Not because you’ll make more money, but because young adult books inherently have the burden of being responsible for shaping the minds of youth and the books publishers choose to publish, are significant in the formative of children’s psyche when younger. You cannot look at young adult books like you can adult books as merely a money grab, because when you do, you end up with unauthenticity grasping at success by attempting to replicate something with many different variables at play.
So, I ask writers, in your effort to write diversely, are you writing diversity to make a representative society, or are you writing it because you think it’s edgy, fresh, and will get your book some attention?
The Consumers (Readers)
We’ve talked a lot about writing, and who we’re writing for. But when it comes down to it, consumers are the ones, who dictate trends and have more control than they might realize over what gets published.
Readers are the ones who hungrily read M/M literature. Readers are the ones who create ships (just look at fandoms like Supernatural, The 100, Vampire Diaries, Teen Wolf, etc.), and readers, in many ways, control what gets on the bookshelves.
So readers, what are you doing with this power? Are you only lauding books that adhere to a particular misogynistic dichotomy in literature? Are you shunning books with more feminine, gender-neutral characters in favor for books you can self-insert yourself into within gay literature because you find homosexuality ‘edgy’? Did you forget about F/F literature because when it had its time, it didn’t get as much buzz and feel into the “it doesn’t sell” pitfall, which is as much a publisher’s responsibility as it is a reader’s?
But Kosoko, are you saying that if readers don’t actively support diversity, the movement will crumble?! That’s a lot of responsibility!
Yes, and no, Barb. Readers should understand that reviews, and financial backing of books, like in movies, is what makes movements last. You remember when Wonder Woman was being hyped and people were worried “if this doesn’t do well, it’ll set back women superhero movies”? Such a view pedantic and misogynistic, but it’s true. If you want more diverse books, then you need to support them. If you want more authentic, diverse books, you need to buy them. Publishers aren’t checking your 100 tweet threads lauding diverse books — which, don’t get me wrong, are loved for building up movement — but when all is said and done, they are looking at the reports and seeing what bought.
So, I ask readers, what have you done to support authentically diverse books in the past 365 days?
In The End…
I believe the dearth of M/M fiction isn’t some, inherently anti-diverse conspiracy but boils down to one simple thing: choices. Choices of what to write authors make, choices of what books in their inbox agents decide to rep, choices in what books publishers put forward, and choices of which book people buy.
So the good news, is changing one thing, can have ripple effects. Writers, you have a responsibility to write authentically and understand the choices you make, or don’t make, have effects. Publishers and agents, you have the opportunity to decide which books you’re going to put forward — are you going to uphold the status quo or break it? And readers, you have a choice to decide what — and who — you’re going to push up the ranks, and in turn, affect future movements.
The bad news, is choices, many of which are subconscious and ingrained, can be hard to break. This change won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen with one person — it’s why I made this a three-part blog post — because it’s going to take all of us to create a more realistic — sorry, more diverse literature reflective and accessible to our society.
And I believe we can do it.
PS: please, everyone, buy, write, read and rep more F/F literature. It’s insane how little there is!