Reaching Queer Readers

The LGBTQ community has historically functioned outside of mainstream culture, but now it is slowly becoming more visible. This is also reflected in the publishing industry: we are slowly starting to see more queer themes and characters in books, especially in young adult fiction. However, the LGBTQ community is still an untapped audience for many large publishers and independent presses. By excluding this group from their marketing and promotion strategies, publishers lose out on a valuable and loyal audience. I am going to share three ways the publishing industry can include and support the LGBTQ community in marketing, promotion, or book development and explain why that is valuable to any press.

In some ways, the LGBTQ community is still largely untapped in terms of promotion and marketing in the publishing industry. Authors and publishers need to make it a point to be more inclusive when thinking about target audiences. The LGBTQ community is most often left out of any marketing or promotion plans for books because it has always been a counterculture. It’s only recently that we have started to see targeted ads for our community in any industry. According to Meg Boeni, “The gay community [is] also perceived to be very loyal to companies that advertise to them and that are seen to ‘support’ the gay community.” Representation and inclusion are powerful. We all know that most of the time, a press’s brand matters little when it comes to selling books. However, becoming more active in the LGBTQ community sends the message that your publishing house can be trusted. That trust and familiarity translates into revenue and an audience that will continue to buy your books.

A second way to appeal to the LGBTQ community is to use what Boeni calls “secret codes.” She writes that “throughout history, the queer community has developed a rich range of symbols and even created its own languages to communicate safely.” Nowadays, the LGBTQ community still has secret codes; however, they function differently because the world is, generally, a little safer for us. These secret codes have just become the vernacular and social fabric of our community. An example of a secret code would be the use of inclusive and gender-neutral language. Learning more about the LGBTQ community and the social challenges it continues to face is the best way to tap into these codes.

A third way that publishers can be more inclusive of LGBTQ audiences is by including or integrating an LGBTQ option into a program or promotion that is already up and running. For example, Gertrude Press is a small queer press that publishes a fiction journal here in Portland, Oregon. Gertrude is a great example of how a press of any size can be more inclusive of queer themes and readers. In addition to publishing queer fiction and artwork, Gertrude has its own book-subscription service called Gertie Book Club. The book club is a quarterly book box that includes two queer books.

A book-subscription service that includes books that have been handpicked by your staff is a great way to promote and support LGBTQ culture and identity. Other presses, queer affiliated or not, can also adopt these practices. Even a small press could implement a book-subscription service that could have a different theme each quarter. By including LGBTQ options, the press could develop a reputation for being diverse and inclusive, which is always a good thing. The press would also become familiar to the community.

The LGBTQ community is a traditionally neglected audience, and presses should be more inclusive of this audience when marketing or promoting books. By becoming educated on this problem and taking steps to correct it, publishers can increase not only their audience but also their social capital and revenue.

Into the Queerosphere: Resources for Finding Your Next LGBTQ Read

To anyone that’s been paying attention to recent trends in young adult (YA) over the last four or five years, the line-up of books slated for 2019 is both timely and highly anticipated. With the push for diversity in literature and media still going as strong as ever (perhaps even stronger than ever), it seems that publishers have finally started to seriously answer the call. Young adult (and middle grade) lists are heavy with POC leads, and the number of books about LGBTQ characters has doubled since the last few publishing seasons (and that’s just looking at books coming out—pun intended—between January and April! The list for May through June is even longer!). This is extra important when you consider that as recently as 2012, just over 1 percent of YA books had any LGBTQ content at all.

Personally, I’m delighted by this statistic, not only because I’m excited to read all the sweet, sweet diversity of POC and LGTBQ content (especially when they happen in the same book), but also because the mere existence of these books confirms a tangible change in the publishing industry. Publishing is a notoriously (and glacially) slow process, so it’s exciting to finally see the response of publishers to the public outcry for more diverse representation, which has been an ongoing social conversation since, well, forever. Or so it feels.

Of particular interest to me are books that feature protagonists who identify as part of the gorgeous rainbow spectrum that is the LGBTQ community. Not only is 2019 chock-full of queer content, but it’s also filling in some gaps in representation from years before, with a happy increase in trans characters compared to the almost nonexistent quantity from 2018, as well as another welcome increase in aro/ace characters. It is, in short, going to be a blissful year of reading for book-loving queers and queer-loving readers.

Still, with of all this new content (on top of all of the great and fabulous content from the last few years), how is a reader supposed to find the books they’re truly interested in without reading the back cover copy of a million books? Fortunately for everyone, there are several great places to start looking for all this good queer content.

Databases of Books with LGBTQ Characters and Themes

  • Rainbow Books List: An annual list created by the Rainbow List Committee of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association presented as a “bibliography of quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content,” catered to kids aged birth to eighteen.
  • LGBTQ Reads: Perhaps the most comprehensive database, LGBTQ Reads has lists for everything. They’ve broken down the LGBTQ diaspora into genre and then subdivided it several times over for unique searchability. The YA section is broken down by subgenre, pairing, setting, state/province, trope/theme, and YAs with queer parents.
  • YA Pride: (Previously Gay YA) This organization has compiled a series of masterlists organized alphabetically by author. They have lists for seven broad categories within LGBTQ representation: gay, lesbian, bisexual/pansexual/polysexual, transgender (including nonbinary identities), intersex, asexual, and aromantic.

Preliminary Reading Lists for 2019 (Please enjoy the irony of me making a list of lists)

“Straight” from the Source

Great news for anyone with unpublished LGBTQ content! There are many publishers that cater specifically to LGBTQ authors and books with LGBTQ characters and themes. Below are five of said publishers. Another more comprehensive list lives here.

  • Bella Books: The largest lesbian-owned press publishing books written by, for, and about women who love women.
  • Bold Strokes Books: Accepting general and genre fiction, BSB offers a wide selection of LGBTQ content in every conceivable genre and subgenre.
  • Dreamspinner Press: Publishes gay male romances that end in gay or gay polyamorous relationships.
  • Interlude Press: Publishes well-crafted LGBTQ-focused titles ranging from short stories to novels and encourages submissions from authors of all backgrounds.
  • Riptide Publishing: Has three distinct imprints, including Riptide Publishing (adult genre fiction with a romantic or erotic focus), Triton Books (YA genre and literary fiction), and Anglerfish Press (literary fiction with little to no romantic or erotic focus).

Finding Unique Narratives in the Digital Realm

Here’s a common and unfortunate scenario that every reader is familiar with: You’ve accepted a book’s premise and you’re hooked. You’ve bonded with the characters and watched them grow and change during their arduous journey. The protagonist is about to accomplish their goal. It’s that pivotal moment, and just when you think it’s going to happen, they do something stupid that ruins everything. You curse the character, the author, and the book, and then immediately begin to wonder what could have been. The all-too-familiar “what-if” questions flood your mind.
Remembered fondly by anyone who grew up in the 1980s or 1990s, the Choose Your Own Adventure series gave readers the opportunity to rectify this issue. The branching narrative structure gave readers specific moments in which they could choose the protagonist’s actions. These decisions ultimately determined the protagonist’s success or failure (read: death). While an enjoyable romp for children, the series had nothing to offer adults.

Obviously, Carmen Sandiego is to blame for this

Visual novels can be loosely seen as a digital and interactive version of that narrative style. The level of interactivity in visual novels can vary, and, depending on the title, some might be more accurately classified as video games. The line between the two is often blurry and debatable, but visual novels often possess the same qualities (complex narratives, extensive character development, etc.) that readers of physical novels enjoy.
The only consideration for new visual novel readers is the interactivity, which can vary wildly between titles. Some are strictly narrative affairs: the reader makes basic decisions for the protagonist when given a set of options. Others include this mechanic but also add puzzles directly connected to the narrative. As an example, when presented with a locked door in the former, a reader might have to choose between breaking down the door or finding the key. The interactivity is limited to making text-based choices (break the door or look for the key). In the latter, the reader might have to find and interact with a Scooby Doo–style lever to open it.
For those who are interactivity shy, a good starting point is 80 Days. Based on Verne’s classic novel, 80 Days allows readers to chart their own world-trotting adventure while also managing finances and supplies. Its structure encourages experimentation and multiple readings, and the 750,000 word count is sure to keep even the most avid readers busy. For something totally different, try the generally lighthearted courtroom antics of the Ace Attorney series. As spiky-haired lawyer Phoenix Wright, readers are tasked with interviewing clients, investigating crime scenes, and calling out testimonial contradictions. It’s like Law and Order, but without the sadness and gore.
As a final example, I suggest my personal favorite: the Zero Escape series. Each game features a group of seemingly unrelated strangers who are forced into unimaginable circumstances. The games are structured with long narrative sections (with dialogue choices) and escape-the-room type puzzles. Each game contains a massive serpentine sci-fi narrative with qualities reminiscent of Asimov and Vonnegut. It’s a dark, disturbing tale full of ethical dilemmas and violent deaths, and a total absence of hope. It’s a narrative that simply could not be told in a physical medium.

The only door is also locked. Better think fast.

Much like the indie scene in book publishing, many indie visual novel writers and developers are continuing to push the boundaries of traditional narratives and subject matter. In Marcel Weyer’s This is Where I Want to Die, readers experience the final moments of a man’s life as he tries to remember what happened to him before he dies. Date Nighto’s We Know the Devil features three main characters, but the reader is forced to work through the religious and LGBT-themed narrative in pairs.
While interactivity provides readers with multiple ways to experience a narrative, it also creates tension within the narrative and between the narrative and the reader. If a character in a novel dies, they die; that’s the only option available. If a character in a visual novel dies, that death could be on your hands depending on the choices you made. And make no mistake—the best endings aren’t always the happiest.
It would be easy to write off visual novels because of their technological medium, but anyone who can use a computer, operate an iPad, or—better yet—program a VCR can read one. Don’t miss out on an entirely different narrative experience simply because the medium isn’t paper. A minimal amount of interactivity and narrative control is surprisingly effective at creating new reading experiences.

Digging Through the Past to Help Define the Present

Digging through the Ooligan Press backlist, eager to see the legacy of those who’ve come before me and gone on to complete their degrees, I stumbled across Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity and was immediately intrigued. This collection of twenty-five essays from individuals of all genders, all sexual orientations, and all walks of life proved to be one of the most powerful and insightful books I’ve picked up in many, many years.
Untangling the Knot was heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully crafted. I would recommend this book in a heartbeat to anyone interested in queer rights and issues. These stories represent a diverse group of people with differing ideas on what it means to be queer and how to exist within a world that isn’t set up for their existence. It broke open the slew of topics that have been boiled into the tiny proverbial box of “queer issues” in order to look at pressing issues in the LGBTQ+ community. And though the novel is a few years old, released just before the national ruling regarding the freedom to marry in all fifty states, the same messages ring true today: legal doesn’t mean accepted; straight marriages and queer marriages will never look exactly the same; and “queer” means something different to everyone.
As a bisexual millennial, it was an eye-opening experience to learn the perspectives and stories of so many different people in all walks of life. Growing up with supportive parents and an accepting group of friends, I haven’t experienced many of the struggles that often come packaged in the “coming-out” narrative. This sense of naivety was perhaps the driving force behind my fascination with this book, as I often seek to use my sense of comfort and confidence to help shed light on issues that are so often swept under the rug.
My favorite essay in this collection was penned by Fabian Romero, who describes her experience growing up as a Mexican woman in the United States for much of her life. She was groomed to see marriage as an end-all, be-all—a saving grace from all the things in life that could go wrong. But as a bisexual woman who “performed” her femininity rather than embraced it, that narrative would never be her narrative. She mentions her foray into addiction and substance abuse, noting that she was just one of many queer people of color who chose these coping mechanisms, but also explains that she made it out alive with a refreshed sense of self and society. It is at the end of her essay that she provokes the greatest reader response, as she explains, “I question why gay marriage is talked about as if it will solve various forms of oppression that impact LGBTQIA communities.” She draws attention to violence, discrimination, poverty, and a slew of other issues that exist in the very structure of our society and admits that for her, marriage equality is only a small step forward in the face of equal rights.
One day, I look forward to “tying the knot” with the person I love, be they male or female. But for now, in an age where queerness is becoming more accepted, editor Carter Sickels reminds us that “there is still so much work to be done.” I’m perfectly content to just keep untangling the knot instead.

On the Lack of Lady Lovers

I am not Triinu Hoffman. I never went to church; I never had a goth phase; my parents never blithely recited poetry to me in their spare time (how quaint!). I am certainly nothing like Triinu Hoffman in the overarching sense of the word. But we do have something in common, and it’s something both deep-seated and important—something that, before this last week, I had never before seen portrayed in a young adult novel. Forgive Me if I Told You This Before is the first novel I have ever read in which the protagonist is like me, a girl liking a girl and not apologizing for it. It’s just a girl who likes girls and goes to school and tells her parents and loses her footing but, ultimately, finds her way.

The power of representation in book publishing is an underutilized force. There is something quintessentially powerful about seeing yourself in the novels you read. It’s as if you need to see yourself in black and white before you can internally breathe that sigh of relief, that recognition that “oh, there is someone else out in the world like me.” Particularly in those impressionable YA years, it is critical that one sees themselves represented in those moments when they are floundering and wearing goth makeup and lanking their way through a perpetual awkward stage. Those are the years in which a foundation is set for the future, and without a sense of community and inclusion, how can these poor, lost, incredibly awkward souls find their way?

I never had the privilege of representation. Of course, my race was represented. My middle class upbringing was represented. Sometimes even my mixed cultural upbringing was represented, too. I connected to novels in different ways—in countless ways—but never recognized that there was a big piece missing. I tried to figure out, quite fruitlessly, why something about these girl-meets-boy tropes just didn’t settle well with me. Because I was never exposed to it, I couldn’t put a name to the feeling. I’d vehemently argue that because of the lack of lady lovers set before me, it took me eight years too long to venture my way out of that closely confined closet’s door. I’d also argue that I am not the only one for whom this has been true.

As writers, editors, and publishers, we have a brilliant opportunity to promote exposure. We have the means, the methods, and the drive to get things done. We hold the keys to inclusivity and representation for the masses. They seem like big shoes to fill, but this is the true power of the written word. Too many Buzzfeed slideshows and Tumblr rantings have jaded us; we have forgotten what it feels like to find yourself within the stories, and how it feels to see your life laid out before you in a 5″ x 7″ page. That it took me, a voracious reader, twenty-four years to find a character that reflected me is unacceptable. How many other closet doors remained closed because in every YA novel “Jane found love (and herself!) through meeting Michael, a strong and mysterious man who showed her it is okay to cry sometimes”? I know that these are the stories of many. But they are not the stories of all.

I found myself ripping through the pages of Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before, like I used to tear through books when I was small. I found myself connecting, even through the stark differences, and feeling like an old, deep-set hole in my heart had finally been filled. I am certainly not Triinu Hoffman, but I connect so intently to what Triinu represents. As I read, I found myself finally feeling positive, feeling that this lack of lady lovers could one day be just a thing of the past. And when that day came, Jane and Elizabeth could live happily ever after.

Forgive Me Nominated for the Lambda Literary Awards

Ooligan Press is pleased to announce that Oregon native Karelia Stetz-Waters has been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award for her young adult novel Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before, published October 2014.

Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before is nominated in the LGBT Children’s/Young Adult category. The book tells the story of small-town high-school student Triinu Hoffman, who must navigate through bullies, first loves, and the upheaval of LGBT rights in 1990s Oregon.

Now in their twenty-seventh year, the Lambda Literary Awards are the nation’s preeminent award for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender books. Lambda Literary takes submissions for books all over the United States. Karelia Stetz-Waters has been nominated alongside writers published by the likes of Simon & Schuster, Candlewick Press, and Harlequin Enterprises. Karelia has been invited to a ceremony June 1, 2015, in New York City, where winners will be announced.

Though Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before is Stetz-Waters’s first young adult novel, it’s only one of her LGBT novels. Her other books—The Purveyor, The Admirer, and most recently Something True—all feature lesbian protagonists. Triinu Hoffman’s story parallels Karelia Stetz-Waters’s own adolescence. Like Triinu, she grew up in Oregon in the 1990s, when the political upheaval around Ballot Measure 9 tried to change state law to classify homosexuality as a sexual deviancy on the same level as pedophilia. Karelia would show her support for Queer Nation by sporting a sticker that said, “Don’t hate me because I’m queer; hate me because I’m beautiful.”

Her connection to the story is evident in the way she describes Forgive Me on her website:

Triinu Hoffman has one hope for high school: that the bullies who tormented her in junior high won’t find her in the crowded hallways of her new school. When she accidentally stabs a lecherous youth minister with a Bic pen and gets branded a lezzie Satanist, she realizes there is no way she is going to escape their torment. Moreover, Triinu has started noticing a beautiful girl dressed in all black, and she begins to think there may be something to the accusations of lesbianism.

Since its October release, Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before has steadily gained a larger audience. At Ooligan Press, we can’t wait to see what else is in store for the book. For more information about Ooligan Press, Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before, and Ooligan’s other titles—and to see how Karelia does at the Lammys—visit our website.

In the Meantime

Our manuscript is typecoded, our interior design call was sent out, and an interior designer has been selected–Zach Eggemeyer! Now the manuscript is in his hands, along with our design specs and Allison’s photos, and as he goes away to work his magic on it, we’re going to get busy with other things. On the menu this month: marketing, marketing, marketing. We’re building a list of reviewers and publicity media to start going after as soon as we have galleys of the book–or sooner, if they accept electronic review copies. We’re hoping to get a lot of attention, particularly from blogs and publications that focus on reviews of works from small presses, by women, and by members of the LGBT community. We’ve also been brainstorming some fun, indirect ways to get our title in front of people’s eyes–the internet is a big, busy place, and it never hurt anybody to produce a little clickbait (that conveniently mentions our book, of course).

Last month, we reached out to writers looking for blurbs, and we got several absolutely glowing responses, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’ll get a few more! It was a really good feeling to see other writers responding so positively to The Ghosts Who Travel with Me. I’m looking forward to printing the praise we received on the cover of our book so the world can see that some very smart, successful people believe in it as much as we do.

Stumptown Comics Fest: Searching for Greg Rucka

By Sarah Soards
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I arrived at the Stumptown Comics Festival. Maybe some live reenactments of Superman’s death? Were catgirls going to be trolling the booths looking for hugs? I had been to an anime convention a few years ago, and was shocked to see cosplayers lined up in the hotel hallways with cardboard signs saying “Hug Me” in thick black Sharpie. Luckily, I was saved from having to give any hugs to strange, sweaty teenagers dressed up like Snake from Metal Gear Solid.
Booths were packed like sardines into the event space—it was a veritable comic book-filled labyrinth. It took a little getting used to, but once I figured out how to navigate the narrow aisles, it became less overwhelming. Dark Horse, Oni Press, and Top Shelf were just a few of the companies that filled the room at the Oregon Convention Center. With my trusty press badge around my neck, I plunged forth into a sea of comic books, graphic novels, merchandise, paintings, and chapbooks.
Know Your City
Now, I love comic books and graphic novels, but I am certainly no connoisseur. I can generally tell if the art is not so great, and I can separate a good story from a bad one. But there were so many amazing comics to look at and choose from! A bit overcome, I stumbled into a booth where a man declared that he had created a new type of superhero graphic novel.
The story follows a young man as he battles the forces of evil in order to save his city from destruction. The young man also happens to be gay. The comic’s creator explained to me that as a young, gay teenager he enjoyed the action and storylines of comic books, but was never fully able to relate to the protagonists. So he created his own superhero that he and other people in the community could connect with. He stressed that the comic still contained non-stop action and all of the standard superhero tropes, but that the lead character just happens to like men instead of women. It’s a story about a modern superhero for a modern audience. We had a great conversation, and I realized that this man was not the only one writing LGBT-themed comics.
I walked around a little longer, breathing in the stale air and smiling like an idiot. I ended up purchasing two graphic novels, even though I had told myself that I was attending purely as a press person. But there was so much excitement and hope squashed into that little room, how could I not buy anything? It’s an incredible community—they constantly support one another, which is how they have been able to keep growing over the past few years.
There weren’t any hugs, catgirls, or people yelling in Japanese, but there was still a sense of giddiness. There are so many paths that the industry can take—the possibilities are endless. Whether it’s a web comic or a perfect bound hardback, the comic book world will continue to push and explore boundaries, and that is something we can all look forward to.