Hands forming heart with rainbow color overlay

Queer Book Labels: Are They Helping or Hurting Sales?

While cultural movements abound trying to increase queer inclusion and understanding, it’s no wonder that there has been a rise in queer books being published and, according to NPD Bookscan, a rise in queer book sales as well. It seems that being an LGBTQ+ book is a good thing right now, at least for sales. But what if, in some ways, those same labels are losing sales as well?

Consider, for instance, the pros and cons of these queer books ending up on various published “banned books” lists. When a queer book ends up on a banned books list, there is a possibility of the book gaining an audience, rather than being repressed, especially an audience that wants to fight back against this oppression and will go out to buy the books in support. This leads to increased sales of certain books.

Unfortunately, of course, not all books benefit from “banned books” lists in this way. This article argues that many books will just fall by the wayside and be forgotten. This is a tragedy, especially for all those potential readers from wherever they have been banned.

For now, however, many publishers still feel that queer books need queer labels to be discoverable. There are other aspects of the books that can be marketed as well, but according to sources in this article, a large percentage of the audience still finds queer books because they are looking for queer books. And that audience isn’t just queer people, either. This article is from 2020, so it’s a bit outdated, you could say, considering how quickly some things change, but the current trends in LGBTQ+ books being sold suggests this may still be the case.

But, even with this seeming success for the books that are making it, we publishers need to ask ourselves, is this actually what we want? Are these people just buying books because they are labeled “queer” or are they actually going to go home and read the book, process the book, and hopefully even love the book and want more like it? Is this trend actually a sign of cultural change or just a phase that will blow over like so many others have?

There are other things to think about as well, in a less philosophical vein. Are such explicit queer labels on our books actually helping reach our intended audience? For instance, this librarian warns that making queer labels too blatant can scare off some of the very people we are trying to reach because they aren’t ready or feel safe enough to walk around with an obviously queer book.

And what about people who would love these books, but aren’t actively looking for “queer” books? Some people are willing to read books with queer characters, but aren’t looking specifically for queer books. Not to mention, there is more to a book than just being queer. For some books, yes, the main point is being queer, with queer characters, and addressing various aspects of queer life, but for other books, it is the genre, the adventure, the plot, etc. that are more central, with the queer characters/stories being a bonus on the side. Are we doing these books an injustice by labeling them as queer, rather than letting them shine for their more central themes?

For now, yes, it still seems like queer book labels are not only helping sales, but one of the leading causes of their sales, despite whatever backlash might come from that designation.

But, hopefully, someday LGBTQ+ characters will be such a normal, accepted part of culture it will be an expected possibility in the books we read. Someday, we’ll be able to go out, look in any category, and find plenty of queer books right alongside their counterparts because it will be accepted that any book, anywhere, may reflect real life with real characters.

The words "fight today for a better tomorrow" written on a cardboard sign held by someone in a crowd

Remembering Michael Munk, Author of THE PORTLAND RED GUIDE

One year after his passing, Ooligan Press remembers and honors Michael Munk, author of The Portland Red Guide. The Portland Red Guide explores the history of social dissent, labor movements, and leftist politics in the City of Roses, illuminating stories and struggles often overlooked in your average history textbook. Like his book, Munk’s life and writings were intertwined with Portland’s political history.

Born in Prague in 1934, Munk and his family fled the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, arriving in Portland in 1939. His alma maters include Hillside School, Lincoln High School, Reed College, and the University of Oregon, where he earned an MA in political science. In the 1950s, Munk was involved in a variety of leftist political activities including opposing nuclear testing, fighting against the firing of Reed College professor Stanley Moore, and serving as vice president of the Young Democrats of Oregon.

Munk was forced to leave Oregon by the federal government in 1959. He moved to New York where he continued his education and earned a PhD in politics from New York University. Over the next twenty-five years, he taught political science. Munk retired early and returned to Portland in the 1990s.

In a 2016 interview with Ooligan Press, Munk shared how retirement gave him time to further explore his interest in radical history and why the City of Roses was an ideal place to do this.

“The idea of doing it in Portland was inspired by living near the birthplace of John Reed. My idea was that in the same way that all the conventional historic sites related to the dominant narrative of history are considered to be inspiring places (Mount Vernon, etc.), why not try to stimulate people by introducing them to sites that evoke a different side of history?”

The Portland Red Guide was published in 2007 and a second edition was released in 2011. The first edition of the book received considerable praise, as highlighted on its page at Powell’s City of Books.

“Michael Munk is the Lewis and Clark of Portland’s radical past, leading his readers on a voyage of discovery through a long-lost and wonderfully evocative historical terrain. I only wish the Red Guide had been around in the days when I was one of those Portland radicals he writes about with such knowledge (and affection).” — Maurice Isserman, author of If I Had a Hammer: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left

The book includes maps and walking tours, bringing a strong sense of physicality to the exploration of Portland’s political past.

“Going to these addresses can bring to mind what has gone before and perhaps, encourage more resistance today. I had no idea so much has happened in Portland. And reading the names of people who struggled and whom I worked with brought up lots of memories.” — Sandra Ford, former wife of Black Panther Party leader Kent Ford.

Beyond this book, Munk’s writings were published in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, the Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Science & Society, Portland Monthly, and Reed Magazine.

As reported by the Oregonian, Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission president David Milholland expressed last year that “Mike Munk will be missed, and his enthusiasm and influence will be a guiding force in creative and historical circles far into the future.”