More on the GLBT YA issue

There have been some new developments in the discussion about YA fiction with GLBT characters.

In the past few days, there have been several great posts in response to Sherwood Smith’s and Rachel Manija Brown’s original post at Publisher Weekly‘s Genreville blog such as these posts by Scott Tracey and Malinda Lo, who also offers some hard numbers regarding YA novels with GLBT characters. Both Malinda Lo and Scott Tracey have written and published YA novels with GLBT protagonists. There is also a response from an agent (not the agent who asked for the sexual orientation change) who urges people to buy more YA fiction with GLBT characters.

Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown were careful not to name that agent who asked them to change a character’s sexual orientation in their original post. But now agent/editor Colleen Lindsay posts a response from agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe who claims that “No, it didn’t happen that way” and that the issues her agency had with the book in question were not the GLBT content but that there were too many POV characters. There is an unpleasant passive aggressive tone throughout the post and several not so subtle hints that the two authors are lying and that they are exploiting the issue of GLBT fiction for teens for their own ends.

Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown respond in their respective livejournals, while Rose Fox responds at Genreville. A brief look at the usernames cropping up in the comments in Sherwood’s livejournal makes me feel sorry for her for having to moderate that mess, because even a relative fandom outsider like me knows that several of the commenters hate each other’s guts.

Marie Brennan also responds to the response.

In the interest of transparency, I’ve known Sherwood Smith online for quite some time now. I’ve encountered Rachel Manija Brown online, though I never interacted with her in any significant way. I met Colleen Lindsay years ago and sometimes interacted with her on a long defunct messageboard where she used to post on occasion. I doubt she remembers my name. I have never had any interactions with Ms. Stampfel-Volpe at all.

Without having been present during the conversation in question, it is impossible to say what happened and who really said what. However, Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown behaved a lot classier than the agent. But then I find a lot of online behaviour by literary agents (e.g. making fun of easily identifiable queries) not particularly classy or professional.

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7 Responses to More on the GLBT YA issue

  1. I was always only 50/50 about using agents – more because I felt uncomfortable with the idea of a business partner than anything. I made a last-ditch push to get one before self-publishing, I guess because I felt I should, and it was those tweet-fests and blogs featuring agents mocking submissions (in the name of ‘education’) which contributed most toward me ditching the whole agent idea.

    The one thing the current drama has made me wonder is the response of publishers. There’s been a bunch of strong statements of the “we want GLBTQ” books, but I don’t see any of them opening to non-agented submissions.

    • Cora says:

      I used to view agents as a sort of necessary evil. I didn’t like the idea of giving some person 15 percent of my earnings and I didn’t like the idea of an agent telling me what to write, but since most publishing houses don’t accept unagented submissions, I’d have to go with an agent.

      That said, I find the suggestion of Kristin Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith to hire an IP lawyer a lot more logical. I work as a business and tech translator and so I translate a lot of contracts. Sometimes I’m asked to flag potentially problematic points for the customer (because I’m probably the person who understands the original contract best), but it’s always submitted to a lawyer for review, too. Hence, the idea of signing a major business contract without having a lawyer look it over is strange to me. As for how anybody could sign a contract without reading it first – well, I don’t understand that at all.

      As for the publishers, I suspect a lot of the current reaction (from agents as well) is lip-service. Oh sure, we do want GLBTQ books, but we only want good and marketable GLBTQ books. And once again the blame for a book being rejected is shifted to the author, which is pretty much what is happening to Sherwood and Rachel Brown now. “Oh, if their book had been any good, we would have bought it”.

      • There were definitely some jabs aimed at undermining credibility in the responses. Which resulted in comments clearly based on the idea that these were new, young authors looking for a little publicity – aimed toward Sherwood Smith of all people!

        • Cora says:

          That’s actually what angers me most about this issue. Not just that it happened, but that the authors are now experiencing a backlash from various quarters for speaking out. Every agent seeker in the world suddenly agrees with the agent (because agents always speak the truth, duh, they’re like Vulcans) and even the infamous Will Shetterly has gotten into the act. I don’t know Rachel Brown particularly well, but Sherwood definitely doesn’t deserve this.

          • I’m glad that Sherwood and Rachel explicitly stated that their current fiction agents were perfectly willing to represent this work but they wanted new representation for valid reasons. Like many middlemen, agents close ranks instantly upon the slightest perceived threat. It helps them maintain control as gatekeepers.

            • Cora says:

              It was always pretty obvious to me that they wanted a different agent for this project to keep it separate from their other work, particularly as Rachel writes in a very different field. But it’s good that they explicitly clarified that point.

              I see this as a closing of the ranks as well. Literary agents are under pressure at the moment with more and more authors self-publishing and others hiring a lawyer rather than an agent.

  2. Pingback: Author versus Publisher – the Female Edition | Pegasus Pulp

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