Oct 3 2017 2:00pm

The Evolution of LGBTQ+ Representation and How Technology Played a Part

Today we're thrilled to welcome Ginn Hale (The Long Past and Other Stories) to Heroes and Heartbreakers. Ginn has been writing for 30 years and has been on the frontlines of watching queer stories go from no representation to getting a place on the shelves, but it's with the help of technology in the last decade that a true spike in representation was made possible. Ginn is here to talk about that evolution. Thanks, Ginn!

Often when LGBTQ+ authors talk about the growth of queer representation in genre fiction like fantasy and science-fiction we spend a great deal of time discussing changes in society overall. From the Stonewall Riots to the activism of groups like ILGA, Act Up, and Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ+ people around the world have demanded and to some extent gained more and more acceptance and equal treatment. These advances are absolutely necessary to the betterment of millions of lives as well our representation in fiction, without a doubt.

But social change alone hasn’t been responsible for the fact that there is now an entire genre known as M/M or that LGBTQ+ authors are beginning to be sought out by some agents and publishers. Those things are largely down to money, and the fact that it has very slowly dawned upon people that queer stories can actually draw readers from all walks of life and turn a profit. After all publishing—at least in the United States—is a business.

Back when I started writing in 1987 a manuscript featuring a queer-identified character was a hard sell, regardless of the author's imagination or writing prowess. Publishers willing to take a chance on the market for such books were few and far between. Sure every couple of years one would come along and we’d all rush out, desperate to snap up our copies of Swordspoint or Gossamer Axe, fearing that they would go out of print and disappear forever. (Readers who adored Swordpoint would have to wait nineteen years to lay their hands on the sequel, Privilege of the Sword.)

At the time even SFF books featuring straight female protagonists (outside of the newly minted “YA” category) were considered by publishers to be a chancy proposition. Marion Zimmer Bradley had just started her famous Sword and Sorceress anthologies to disprove that theory. But panelists at SFF conventions still asked questions like, “Will men read a story about a woman?” as though reading a story about a woman was some unspeakable burden. But more importantly, they regularly failed to ask the question, “What kind of SFF books do women want to read?” (And if nobody was asking what books any women wanted to read, queer people were out in the cold for sure.)

I worked in a bookstore at the time and like most the other booksellers out there I knew two things that seemed to completely elude straight male publishers. One: women drive fiction sales. I could go days without selling a book to a man, but women and girls were constantly bringing stacks of novels to my counter. (Recent surveys of US, Canadian, and British markets have found that women purchase 80% of all fiction books sold.) And two: small LGBT presses were selling out of the books that mainstream publishers believed no one would buy.

During the '90s, small presses popped up like fairy rings and the number of books featuring positive representation of queer characters increased. Authors like Melissa Scott and Octavia Butler demonstrated to mainstream publishers that not only would men read stories about women—everyone would. But the difficulty of connecting those books to readers remained. Booksellers like myself could try to order some in but distribution chains often prevented us from doing so—and even when we could, we were reliant upon outdated paper catalogues to tell us what had been published. (And to complicate things further the way LGBTQ+ books were shelved often obscured them from the very people attempting to find them.)

But then the powerful search engines that now make book browsing online so easy began to appear. At the same time, the world of social media boomed. Geography was no longer an obstacle to finding a title. Public exposure was no longer a deterrent to purchasing anything—anyone could shop for an LGBTQ+ book and have it delivered to their door.

Suddenly queer fiction began reaching readers in unprecedented numbers. With the advent of digital publishing and self-publishing, it became obvious that there was—and is—a large market of readers who are ready to embrace LGBTQ+ characters. (Regardless of how any person might feel about the pitfalls of self-publishing the fact remains that it is the one area where an author who might have been told that there was no real market for books about queer character can prove that their books can and will sell.)

Romance readers were, of course, the first to embrace the queer love story. About five years ago everybody seemed to be writing or reading an m/m romance, (often with fantasy or science fiction elements stirred in.) And where that romance vanguard goes eventually the other genres follow. Now rather than having publishers ask, “Will men read this?” or even “Will women read this?” we’re beginning to hear them simply ask to publish our books.

And that, my friends, is what I call progress. 


Learn more about or order a copy of The Long Past & Other Stories by Ginn Hale, available now:

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Ginn Hale resides in the Pacific Northwest with her lovely wife and wayward cats. She is an award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy, as well as an avid coffee-drinker.

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1 comment
1. Kareni
Thanks for a thoughful post, Ginn. And best wishes on the release of your new book.
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