I’ve looked at stories, characters, plot devices, layering, the writer’s mission, and some of the tropes around gay YA and genre fiction this past month or so, but left to examine among many other aspects of writing is audience. Not all writers seek publication, and that’s fine, but for those of us who want to get our words communicated to the world outside our heads should understand our options, the market, and readers’ expectations. In no particular order:
Get your work in line with your mission—Looking to write crossover or mainstream YA novels? Then there needs to be cross-market appeal. But if sticking to LGBT themes and characters is your priority, be prepared to work only or primarily with smaller niche markets. I had a novel (I’ve since trunked it for a later day) that used santorum the substance, not the politician, and was told by a very big, helpful editor, that I needed to change it if I wanted to get big markets to go for it, or stick to gay publishers. We’re the writers; we need to see these moments as the choices they are.
Learn the lingo—Colleen Lindsay, who was an agent for years and now works on the Book Country project out of Penguin, told me that they’re not “LGBT” books, they’re “YA books with LGBT themes.” This signals to potential agents and editors that we’re professionals and we know how to market our projects and work with the folks in publishing. Conferences and agent blogs are a great way to pick up the ways in which the industry categorizes its products.
Be a good writing citizen—Sure, there is plenty of evidence that if you start a blog, it shouldn’t be all about writing, although I resist the notion that avid readers aren’t interested in how we do what we do. I know they’re out there because they’ve tugged at me and waved. Let’s make sure we don’t swing the pendulum too far against writing about writing. If we share some of our experiences—meaning our failures and successes—we create a better writing community than if we isolate ourselves in our endeavors. Consider being a beta reader for someone else’s project, and eventually, you’ll make some trusted writing friends. Also, there are too few avenues into publishing not to share our connections with each other. Supporting other writers helps us take a little more control in our own hands for gaining advocates for our own work.
Listen more, talk less—Watch conversations like #litchat on Twitter, which runs MWF at 1PM Pacific Time. Sure, throw in your opinion from time to time, but pay more attention to what others are saying online. Follow your favorite agents and editors in the social networking sites they frequent. Don’t barrage them with questions; the last thing an emerging writer needs is to make a bad name for herself, so that when the agent sees the name on the query, she rolls her eyes in fatigue. That guy who sends out the same query every day to 200 agents—yes, he exists—is NEVER going to get an agent. Learn what’s going on in the industry beyond the doom and gloom narrative—maybe a part of your writing time each week could be spent reading Writer’s Digest, or Writers & Poets, or Chuck Sambuchino’s blog, for example. They give very helpful, actionable advice.
Find LGBT-inclined markets—Canonball blog, Expanded Horizons, Original Plumbing, and other journals feature or prioritize LGBT stories and writers. Duotrope dot com lets writers search for relevant markets and manage when they’ve querying and what outcome they’ve received. You’ll also find out via my earlier points where the LGBT-friendly folks are, and meet the audiences who are reading these markets. Let hyperspace be your guide. What do these journals list on their blogrolls? Are there other Web sites associated with any commenters to short stories you like? Check them out and their submission guidelines, and get involved in some of those conversations. This also has the added benefit of keeping you on top of contemporary LGBT-themed fiction, what kinds of fiction different markets produce, and where your work may best be accepted.
Remember you’re part of the audience—Be willing to look at your own writing with a critical eye. Have you criticized a book’s opening when you have a similar beginning in one of your projects? We know more than we think we do. I know it’s challenging to be confident when you’d rather give up, but not exaggerate your capabilities. If you know what you like as a reader, chances are there are many other readers who like that same kind of thing. Sure, writing is a process and a labor of love, and sometimes it’s part of our social agenda. But it’s also a product, and if we’re seeking a route toward traditional publication, we need to understand our projects need to be sellable and marketable by publicity agents (and ourselves). So turn your reader’s eye, not your nervous writer’s eye, to your work when it’s time for rewrites, and it will come out a lot cleaner when it’s time to query.
Find whatever outlets for your writing that you can manage to support—Is there a call for unpaid guest bloggers? Think about throwing your hat in the ring; you’ll likely find new readers. Then engage people who respond to your posts with replies, making the readers feel appreciated and the editors taken seriously. Does one of your writing buddies need a last-minute 500-word post? Write one up. Paid blogging or writing gigs are even better. Once you’ve established a solid reputation, you can use your connections to see if larger markets are interested in an idea or pitch of yours.
The good news is that even in this economy book sales—especially ebooks—are still doing reasonably well, and more titles than ever are on the market. There is room for us in Gay YA. We need to be our own, friendly champions and if we stick with it long enough, our hard work will more than likely pay off for us.