Tag Archives: books

Are gay groups the voice of the gay population?

In a word, no. I’ve never liked the word lesbian or queer but I do include bi women. I can’t speak for trans or men but I suspect some of them will agree.

Much of the talking is done by community leaders, and it’s not the voice of many of us. Note I don’t call rainbow people a community – I think we are diverse and it’s like calling women a community. There are communities about being LGBT etc but not all of us answering to those letters are in them, or feel part of them. We feel in general that a few are speaking for the whole and that those who attend Pride and similar meetings are not reflective of the non-straight population, and so are not the best place to find out what our needs and views are.

I have heard it said publicly that gay people don’t like the gay section of the libraries, bookshops etc. I’d like to counteract that by saying – thank you to those who have one for making books about gay issues easily findable. However, the books and films are of a particularly ilk – often small press/indie film studios which are low quality and the women are quite often depicted as butch and in the gay scene. I’d like to see the much broader range of books about gay people double shelved so that they’re in the main section so everyone can discover and enjoy them, and they are displayed somewhere so gay people can browse easily (same with films). By putting gay books in a gay corner, it means they get a small circulation and so are not very viable. And isn’t (or shouldn’t) the point of many gay media materials be to integrate and be better understood with/by wider society?

I’d like to illustrate with an example from two film festivals, both in the same city over the same summer. The Lesbian and Gay one showed in a 30 seater screen in the arts cinema as one off showings at obscure times, all to ‘visible’ lesbians, and you’d probably feel uncomfortable trying to go to a movie if you didn’t match the sexuality/gender. Then I went to two films at the International festival, also about gay women. The multiplex large auditoria were packed with all kinds of people. As the female filmmakers said in their Q and A, it is a story about love for everyone – but they just happen to love each other. People had come to see a good story, not a ghetto special interest film. Things like Brokeback Mountain and Tipping the Velvet prove how well a gay storyline can do if shown to a wide audience.

I’ve also heard it said that the angst ridden storylines are not reflective of us. Again, I’d like to contradict by saying that sadly for many, it is real and this is ongoing due to the community itself as much as the (happily improving) outside world. I don’t think that all the storylines should be about suffering, but generally – stories are about conflict and tension – it’s what makes them. (I say this as a writer working on publishing a book soon on this kind of subject). First love, coming of age, personal epiphanies are the stuff of stories for everyone. It’s something we can all relate to, but like a religion, it’s true that the content needs to go beyond the initial stage and reflect the rest of lives (ie sermons about conversion don’t help you move forward spiritually once you have come to faith). But for many, it is a vital and ongoing stage that happens not just to teens but people at all ages (also to friends and families).

I don’t have a problem with being gay being classed in the issue section of books; it is one, sadly, for many. And even if all society accepted it, it’s still confusing and it is helpful to know you are not alone and where to go for support should things be hard for you. And that as sexuality is fluid, it’s not a case of come out and that’s it – I say it’s pin not nail the tail on the donkey, and it’s nice to have books and films which reflect those changes too.

What has been hardest for me (and others I know) is the sense of otherness from the rainbow community. Instead of coming home, it feels like another group to have to conform to or be other there too. Despite the talk of diversity, I’ve found the gay communities I’ve met to tacitly expect conformity and to be as didactic as any religious group I’ve been part of. And many have also had prejudices, eg “real lesbians not bis”!!

I feel strongly that being gay (or trans etc) is not an identity, it is not who we are, but just one aspect of our personalities. I have found so many of the rainbow gang want it to be the distinguishing defining factor, the thing we most put forward about ourselves.

And I sense a lot of anger and prickliness from LGB etc people during this transition to greater societal acceptance, and I think that is counterproductive.

It’s also more complex than being simply an existential statement – sexuality and friendship and their changing boundaries are fascinating and not always compatible with the definition of “fact”.

I too would like to see positive resolution to any stressful story, but I also think expecting to be embraced in the short timespace of a teen novel is unlikely, sadly, for some. I know people who’ve been waiting decades for their families to come round, and I’d rather equip people to handle that not everyone is supportive from the start than to expect it and be surprised when it doesn’t happen; but to obviously encourage wider society to offer that support from the outset.

I think we are in a transitional time and there’s often clunkiness and imbalance while things change, just as equal opportunities and political correctness goes too far, they are trying to address important matters. I think some gay people are expecting too much of a change too soon, and if they came out long ago, or benefitted from more supportive modern attitudes, it might be that they cannot understand the need for some of these story lines. I’d ask them to be patient as society continues its vast shift towards acceptance.
I’d also like to ask that communities don’t dish out otherness and judgement to their own. Rainbow colours really are about the whole spectrum, so we should move on from simply shades of pink to embracing and listening to all the shades, instead of creating a double bind that causes marginalisation and confusion to continue, even in countries where diversity is openly celebrated and protected.

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Why I’m disillusioned with the publishing world

Although many publishers and agents claim to want to champion the work of writers (I am sure genuinely)…

We are told that 98% of agents reject submissions, and without one most big publishers will not look at your work.

Yet the publishser takes a bigger cut than the author, who gets only 8-10% of book sales, meaning that for 100,000 copies, (and all those years of soul inspired work), you’ll get minimum wage. (Agents take their commission out of the author’s royalties).

This is making me ask: why go that route?

I was against e-publishing and pro bookshops, but it occurs to me that it’s book chains who are damaging the book trade. They can discount too far and they stock only what they consider will sell. I know from being a former bookseller that where once the shop staff had the power to order their own stock, this is moving more to head office level. Range is sacrificed to large numbers of sure sellers.

This does not help the independent bookshops who cannot command the same discounts. It also affects small publishers.

And this affects what is written, or allowed to be publicly expressed.

Agents and publishers tell you you need an agent because it gives the agents work and saves the publisher doing it. They tell you there’s no kudos in self publishing, calling it “vanity” to degrade it. Self publishing and e-publishing tell you you don’t need agents; they will remind you of the tiny cut you get, the rights and control you may lose, and how hard it is to be published.

But if 80-90% of submissions are on the slush pile of what agents consider no good, what do those writers do with our talent and hard work?

I think some writers feel that agents are intimidating: there’s a huge disparity of perceived power. You the writer must do exactly as they say and if they deign to chose you, you must remember what gold dust of a chance you’ve been given and be submissive. There’s the feeling that agents are handlers, in every sense of the word.

Some agents want to know if you submit elsewhere. Considering the odds against being chosen and that agents take months to reply – “of course” is the answer! Would I be expected to say if I had applied to other jobs? If I need a job then I will diligently apply for them until I am offered what I want. If I wish to date, I will put a profile on as many sites as a I wish and chat with as many individuals as I wish. It’s only when things became serious (ie an offer is made) that exclusivity and openness cuts in.

Yes, we can only have one agent (though many people have several hats and lots of agents can’t represent acting, scriptwriting, and literature). And we need to get it right. This is a mini marriage, the person that looks after our babies. Which parent would allow a nanny more power and say over their child than themselves? Would they not feel the right to ask questions and withdraw an application if they felt unhappy?

We should never be in any unequal relationship, feeling we are so lucky to have a chance that we have no rights and say.

Agents and publishers need authors to exist. But we can write without them. Just as employers need to market themselves to new employees, so agents need to let writers know why they should submit to them. Yes we as writers need to know what an agent seeks and we need to do our own wooing. But who dates, feeling it’s all about their profile and they should have no choosing power of their own? It’s equally about being sold to, not just selling yourself – and remember the phrase – the highest bidder? That is not just in monetary terms, but care and empathy.

The culture of the agent (publisher/director/producer etc) having all the cards needs to change. With the internet, self publishing of all kinds (including music and video) is very easy and prominent, and understandably so.

It needs to be mutual from the start. And those who do not get chosen, rather than feeling crushed, should find other outlets. No one should be even thinking they have the right to destroy the career and confidence of another. Of course “you are no good” means “I think you are no good”. It is always a subjective statement, but hearing it once or twice can be enough to cause even suicidal feelings.

How many of us struggle to see the worth in a much lauded established piece of work? How many of us, as editors or producers,  would’ve passed over something that’s famous?

And how many famous people were constantly passed over?

The crushers need to be more aware and take responsibility for that. Of course, some who hear harsh words end up doing well and then publicly repeat these statements of woe, to the discomfort of those who said them.

(And in case you’re wondering, no-one’s said that to me, not that I would believe them anyway).

Here’s a review of a book that literary agents say they admire. You’ll see I don’t agree

http://www.bookstove.com/Drama/Enduring-Love-A-Review.273477

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