WRITING UNDER THE RAINBOW: THE EXPANDING HORIZONS OF LGBT+ FICTION

12919671_1726719100902137_6644581229784838762_nThe last five years have seen an expansion in LGBT+ awareness, advances (and setbacks), and media representation. There’s been a similar boom in the LGBT+ book world, from genre fiction to indie and self-publishing. Even the mainstream publishing world has sat up and taken notice, releasing many new LGBT-focused titles each year.

As a published author of LGBT+ fiction and facilitator of the Kansas City-based QUILTBAG Writers Group, I am excited about these expanding opportunities for writers. Here are some tips on where to start, what to avoid, and how to (maybe, possibly) find that magical book deal at the end of the rainbow.

  • Read Before You Write. Identify your market and then read like crazy. YA has always been at the forefront of contemporary LGBT+ fiction, especially with the larger publishing houses, but middle-grade fiction is seeing a surprising uptick in self-discovery/peer acceptance stories about young LGBT+ characters. Whether you’re interested in writing a MG transition story like Gracefully Grayson or YA fantasy romance like Carry On, read anything you can get your hands on in your niche. Read outside your niche, too! You might discover a genre you’d never considered before. Romance, fantasy, mystery, and literary fiction are all niches inside the LGBT+ fiction world—the same as with “straight” fiction.
  • Help Is Out There. Reading may be your first, best line of attack, but there are many ways to deepen your understanding of LGBT+ storytelling. The Rainbow Writers of America, a subgroup of the Romance Writers of America, features many of the same benefits as a RWA membership, aimed at LGBT+ romance authors. LGBT+ storytelling is often a compelling blend of intersectionality, with feminism and racial diversity bringing new perspectives to the narrative. We Need Diverse Books champions original stories and sponsors contests, and the Writing With Color blog on Tumblr takes questions from real-life writers and responds with honest answers from a variety of voices. If you’re looking for in-person input and peer feedback, Kansas City-area writers can join QUILTBAG Writers, a monthly group for LGBT+ writers. (Meetings every first Saturday from 2.30-4p at The Kansas City Center for Inclusion at 3911 Main, KCMO.)
  • Warning: Pitfalls Ahead. The more you read and get in touch with media resources, the easier it will be to avoid the yawning chasms of stereotypes and stale storytelling. Flamboyant gay men, tokenism, promiscuous bisexuals, and the devastating tendency to kill off LGBT+ characters are just a few of the tropes we could all stand to steer clear of. (If you’re ever in doubt, just Google “What not to write about ____”)
  • Can “Straight” People Write “Gay” Stories? Of course they can! Some heterosexual-identified writers have an exciting idea for a story about LGBT+ characters but are afraid they aren’t “allowed” to write it. The key is to research any aspect you’re unsure of and talk with actual LGBT+ people about it. Write with respect, but ultimately approach it like you would any story about characters who are not a carbon copy of you—which is probably most of your characters. See? Not that different.
  • Sell Your Darlings. Once you’ve written your story, are you ready to run the rejection gauntlet? It might be easier than you think. With the national focus on diversity and equality, agents and editors are already on the lookout for LGBT+ stories and voices. Smaller, LGBT+ publishing houses like Torquere and Ylva often accept unagented submissions, and run open anthology calls for short stories or novellas.

Write with confidence! Whatever your LGBT+ story—memoir, fluffy romance, badass lesbian vampire cop mystery—the world of books is vast and accommodating. There’s room for everyone under the rainbow, and I, for one, am ready to hear your voice.

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Leah Merrill is a freelance writer and Kansas City native. Follow her on Twitter @la_mer92, and email her at quiltbagwriters@yahoo.com for more information about QUILTBAG Writers Group.

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