Monday, December 3, 2007

It's Not Easy Being Gay

A reader sent in this rejection from Kathy Dawson at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. She says:

"I've had a chance to read [name of novel] and I enjoyed it. [Name of author] has a nice way with dialogue. Ultimately, though, I'm not sure Harcourt would do well with this. It can be difficult to publish a male gay novel successfully, and I wasn't sure that this was quite different or literary enough to stand out in the way that it would need to. I wish I had better news....I really appreciated your thinking of me.
All my best, Kathy"

Hmm? Guess being gay means you have to be better than everyone else. Would someone say this to a straight dude? Seems like discrimination to me that when they stop publishing writers, they start with the gays (unless you're Edmund White or David Leavitt).

15 comments:

TIV: the individual voice said...

It can be quite difficult to publish a married Jewish female from Brooklyn novel successfully. No, no. It can be quite difficult to publish a single Black male from Sudan successfully. No, how about, it can be quite difficult to publish a polygamous Muslim male from Saudi Arabia successfully. No, no.......... I cannot believe she had the nerve to put that shit in writing. No, no.....

SouthernBelle said...

Are you serious?

She's not rejecting it because the *author* is gay, she's rejecting it because the novel's *subject matter* is gay, and she doesn't think the book is good enough to overcome the unfortunate prejudice our society has towards homosexuality (therefore it's not going to have a wide readership, therefore not make her any money).

Of course somebody has to stand up and do it, it just seems like she's not brave enough for it to be her.

As far as saying "if you're gay you have to be better than everyone else," unfortunately that's probably still true in our society, much as back in the day it was true for female writers and then African-American writers.

TIV: the individual voice said...

I'm just saying those are all equally stupid and irrelevent reasons not to publish someone. That it IS the quality of the literature that should matter. Like, I remember when the memoir was supposedly dead. Well, that didn't happen, as people kept producing good ones that readers wanted to read. She absolutely should have given a different reason or none at all. The reason she gave is just plain prejudicial and offensive, but the easiest thing to come up with without much thought.

editor, lapsed said...

In the old days the rejecting editor would have said "the subject matter makes it a difficult sell" -- an oblique refererence that banished the writer's whole work and/or life to something unmentionable. It's possible Dawson's just being more direct than we're accustomed to because she thinks the writer is owed the hard cold facts dictated by the "market" (how publishing magnates rationalize their particular prejudices, sometimes born out by sales, sometimes not). Still, it is jarring to see it stated so baldly. Obviously, if she'd said "Sadly, novels with gay subject matter face an even harder battle finding the strong readership they deserve," we wouldn't be having this discussion. What's saddest of all about this is how it confirms that the gay 90s are over. Far fewer editors today are receptive to gay works -- and those who are are often thwarted by craven and biased bosses. Some might note that, say, Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris were unknown quantities with decidedly unconventional subject matter until someone took a chance on them, and look how that turned out...

SouthernBelle said...

Oh, sorry TIV, I was talking to the author of this blog. Your comment seems eminently sensible.

But if you are going to look at it from a hardcore economic point of view, you probably don't want to publish books that are destined to not have a very wide audience.

You'll make the most money appealing to the lowest common denominator, so lazy/greedy publishers, TV networks and movie producers go for that instead of creating GOOD product.

Does it make them bigots to exploit the bigotry of mainstream America in the pursuit of cash? Oh dear, I think I just depressed myself...

SouthernBelle said...

yeah, what "editor, lapsed" said!

Anonymous said...

While it's unfortunate that she phrased it clunkily, I don't think "It can be difficult to publish a male gay novel successfully" is at the heart of this rejection. What follows, "I wasn't sure this was quite different or literary enough to stand out," seems to be the point. Editors and agents are usually looking for kind ways to dress up "I didn't like this," and they begin cruising toward trouble when they start getting creative. And if Harcourt has had disastrous results with gay-themed books, then she's right, they're probably not going to do well with this. Because that kind of corporate learned helplessness is rampant across the boards, not just in a sexually discriminatory way.

Writer, Rejected said...

But maybe Harcourt, instead of giving up, should do a little better job at finding gay readers. (Advertise on gay/lez sites and in gay/lez mags, etc.) According to advertisers, gay people are book buyers, new car drivers and vodka drinkers. Seems like a gold waiting to be mined.

Anonymous said...

This is weird. Gay stuff is everywhere now, everything is gay gay gay pro-gay. Gay publishing is its own special world. Every bookstore has a huge gay section. There are gay clubs, gay magazines, gay nieghborhoods, gay vacations, gay hotels, gay this and that, no straights allowed. It's become a taboo to be anti-gay, or pro-straight, or to not want to have "Gay" shoved in your face and all over the place. Every lit mag and story comp has got something gay in it now. I'd say the real discrimination is for writers who don't agree with the Gay agenda.

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes...the sinister gay agenda and it's ever-powerful, far-reaching abilities to keep the good, gay-fearing folk down. In what world are you living?

Writer, Rejected said...

Uh...dude....last I checked: our world.

Anonymous said...

Do you realize you sent your submission to a children's editor? More people accept alternative lifestyles, but some parents still are hesitate when it comes to their children, who are still in the exploratory phase, could be influenced by literary works.

Look at how librarians and some parents freaked out with the mention of "scrotum" in the High Power of Lucky. That one little word had the book banned from libraries.

Everything is controlled by the mighty dollar. Do you know how much money the publishing houses spend in the first run of a book. Sometimes, maybe more often than not, they lose money on a book.

If an editor does not feel a subject matter is not approached in such a way that the book could sell, they won't take a chance. A lot of work goes into bringing proposals to an editorial meeting and pushing it to publication.

There is nothing in that statement saying that being gay is bad or that your being gay is bad. She just said that she didn't think the novel would be successful because 1) it isn't different enough from other gay novels on the market 2) it needs to be more literary to be successful.

More literary means less commercial, more thought evoking.

You received a personal rejection. Regardless of how it's written, the editor is "saying" your writing has some merit. She said she enjoyed your novel. If she didn't think so, she would have just thrown in a form letter with a little box checked.

I am not an editor, just another struggling writer, but I think you took this as a personal attack when you should not have. Instead, you should focus on the points Dawson made. 1) Study the other "gay" novels on the market 2) examine the novel on a literary novel --> increase the emotional depth.

-another writer

Writer, Rejected said...

This comment was sent in by an anonymous author who did not complain about the rejection bashing him. Also, I believe it was a gay YA book, which is a genre in publishing now, though I'm not 100% certain. Plus, the editor was responding to an agent, which means it would never be a form letter response, though I suppose the rejection could have been more generic.

But as this blog attests, a lot of editors are just plain wrong about books. (Check out the famous category on this blog for more ino on this topic.) I like it better when we assume as much, rather than defending the rejector, but that's just me.

Anonymous said...

Quote:
"Hmm? Guess being gay means you have to be better than everyone else. Would someone say this to a straight dude? Seems like discrimination to me that when they stop publishing writers, they start with the gays (unless you're Edmund White or David Leavitt)."


Ah, so "writer, rejected," you are the one who decided it was a gay issue. If the writing isn't there, it doesn't matter if you are a one-eyed flying purple-people eater. You won't get published, unless of course, you are a celebrity, but that is another matter.

Yes, "Gay" is accepted in YA, and kids that ager are buying their own books. But in anything that deals with sex, there are limits to how edgy a publisher wants to go. That goes for novels with traditional boy-girl relationships too. AND, if there are competing books with more clout, your book is going to sink.

Also, different editors have different preferences, and the same can be applied to agents. Look at how many times A Wrinkle in Time was rejected. I've also heard stories from successful published authors about their blockbusters having been turned down by many only to win major awards once they were published. Look at J.K. Rowling.

I am not familiar with this person's work, but I thought the editor's rejection was constructive. She said what didn't work for her and how she thought it could really shine. But again, that's one editor's opinions. Too many cooks can ruin a stew, and in the end the writer needs to make the final decision about his work.

Writer, Rejected said...

Seems like a lot of readers are editorial apologists lately.

I stick by my original assertion that the whole gay issue is dealt with foolishly in this rejection, and I think gay people everywhere should rise up and protest this literary outrage.

Or not.