I am, generally speaking, an upbeat, optimistic person. I have dark moments—we all do—but for the most part, I try to keep a positive attitude.
But lately I’ve developed a complex about this.
This post is about to get kind of rambley, so apologies in advance.
First, an aside: A coworker of mine announced a few weeks ago that she was only going to read YA and not read literary fiction anymore. I am personally not a YA reader and have struggled to figure out why the genre is so popular among adults, but my coworker summed it up in a way I appreciated: YA is optimistic. Even in the darkest, most violent post-apocalyptic books, the teenage characters tend to have hope and optimism in the way only young people can, and my coworker liked that hope more than the sometimes depressing stories found in the literary fiction section of the book store.
And I said, “Why do you think I read romance novels?”
Romance is an optimistic genre. There are dark books and fluffy books and deeply emotional books and sweet books and basically anything that will hit your emotional sweet spot, but the key to the romance genre is the optimistic ending. Love will conquer all, the characters will end up together (at least for now), and good will triumph over evil.
I find that reassuring. There’s hope in the world, you know?
So back to my complex. I’ve been working on an article that I want to pitch to a magazine about how having a positive attitude can help with book marketing. The gist is that getting bogged down in negativity—which publishing is rife with in the form of things like rejections, disappointing sales figures, bad reviews, and the like—could affect both your approach to self-promotion and how you come across to readers.
And I wrote a post for the new Rainbow Romance Writers blog about thinking bigger and LGBT romance breaking out of its niche to go mainstream, which I think a lot of people don’t realize is possible, but that I think totally is now in a way it never has been before.
But then I thought, Wow, do I come across as a ditzy cheerleader or what?
I believe every word of what I wrote. I believe that new opportunities for writers of LGBT romance open up every day. I believe that our little community does not need to be relegated to the ghetto, that readers are out there who want to buy our books in droves, that editors want these books.
Just showing up is not enough. There’s still something of a disconnect between mainstream publishing and what indie/digital publishing has been up to for a while. The Big Five still aren’t really sure how to market LGBT romance, or aren’t sure how to acquire the good stuff. We’ve got a ways to go there.
I choose to view the fact that many editors I’ve talked to over the last few months are open to new things: Big Five publishers want LGBT romance; digital-first pubs that have only ever put out m/m are interested in the other colors of the rainbow. (Guys, a Big Five editor just told me this past Saturday that she’d love to see a good lesbian romance. For real!)
But maybe you are not so optimistic. And so I have a complex. Because I think maybe I’m coming across as the insane person, but I do believe, deep in my gut, that there are opportunities here for those willing to put in the effort to take advantage of them.
On the other side of the coin is the effort it takes. LGBT books won’t win major awards if none are entered in those contests. There won’t be LGBT panels at the big conventions if no one submits workshop proposals. The Big Five say they want LGBT romance but I get the impression some editors aren’t sure where to look for it, so we should bring it to them. It means pitching to editors or finding an agent, maybe, or taking a risk and trying something new. And, dude, I know, it’s not easy. Just writing a novel is a lot of work, and doing all this on top of it, putting yourself out there? That’s tough.
And, yeah, sure, for every editor on a panel at a conference who says she wants an LGBT YA book, there’s somebody in the audience who says, “Good luck with that. I hope you’re ready to lose readers and get threatening letters.” (This actually happened at a panel I attended. I was like, “Way to rain on the parade, lady.”) It’s also true, unfortunately, that not every writer who wants one can get a Big Five contract, that some writers will just never catch on with readers, that some books are too niche-y and weird to ever gain mainstream attention, or even that real life will get in the way of a budding career before it takes off.
So I guess my point is not to be all Mary Sunshine about this but to just say that these opportunities exist.
And I know there’s been some criticism of romance’s “culture of niceness.” It’s not limited to romance; I think this is something endemic to spaces dominated by women. Perhaps in some cases it can stifle legitimate criticism—the pressure put on reviewers to be nicer, for example, which I don’t think they are under any obligation to do. But there is also something to be said for professional courtesy. I view it this way: I treat other writers the same way I treat my coworkers at my day job. I try to be polite and respectful, basically. I want to foster creativity and create opportunity, not tear people down.
So I don’t know. Perhaps what I’m trying to say here is that I’m aware of the challenges because I’m well-informed and not delusional (…as far as I can tell), but at the same time, I can’t help but be hopeful. So I’ll keep churning out these cheerleader posts and hoping that some of what I say will stick and we will enter a brave new world where gender and race and those kinds of things matter not a whit, when the majority of readers just want a good story and that drives the market instead of vague inaccurate perceptions of what readers are really looking for. (Okay, now I’ve gone over the edge with the optimism, but I think the point holds.)
Being the president of Rainbow Romance Writers gives me a platform, and I choose to use it to inspire others because I want to see LGBT romance (and multicultural romance and anything else that people want to write that is considered outside the “mainstream”) prosper and succeed, not even for personal gain but just because I think these are stories that should be told and deserve an audience. I want to see an LGBT book win a RITA, be a New York Times bestseller, be that book that everybody is talking about. I want us writers to be taken seriously because we work hard at what we do and we deserve respect.
I want a lot of things, I guess.
So… Go team!