First off, thank you to John for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this wonderful blog. When asked, I wasn’t sure what exactly I would write about. But there is one particular “issue” I’m dealing with at the moment, which I’m going to address: Should a gay author only write “gay” books?
As the author of two gay-themed novels about teens (technically not “YA” but…), like John and everyone else here at Dreaming In Books, I believe that writing books for and about gay teens is crucial to the literary cannon. However… This past week I released my first “Young Adult” novel called Lost in the ’90s. After an entire year of being told by publishers, via my agent, that “kids today” don’t want to read a story that takes place in the decade in which they were born, I opted to publish the book myself via Amazon’s CreateSpace online publishing program, under my own imprint, Woodward Avenue Books.
I had spent the good part of a year writing this story about a teenage boy from 2012 who travels back in time to April 1994, where he meets his teenage parents and helps them fall in love. I wasn’t about to let a group of editors decide for me that my writing career was now going to stall. I’d published two “award-winning” novels, both of which received critical praise, and I’ve heard from countless readers these past four years who have enjoyed the books.
The thing is: my first two novels, Band Fags! and the follow up, Drama Queers!, are indeed gay-themed books. This new one is NOT.
Now I fear, dear reader, that my admitting this in such a public forum is going to immediately alienate you from reading any further – and ultimately from buying my new book – which, now more than ever, I need you to do so. Unlike publishing with a “real” publisher, I received no money up front (an “advance” as they call it in the book biz), and I now have no “real” publicist who is helping me to get the word out about the book. I am a One Man Show, from writing the story, to designing the interior pages (font choice and size, layout etc.) and even the cover art I created with a little program I found for free online. To toot my own horn, I think it all turned out pretty darned good.
Thankfully, I have a loyal “fan base” of readers (to think that I have “fans” is still a concept I can’t grasp) and Facebook friends who have – and I assume – will buy my book. However… When I first announced that I would be moving forward with the self-publishing of Lost in the ’90s, I made a conscious decision to NOT say too much about the book’s plot. Even in the cover copy I wrote for the back of the book I kept the premise a bit vague. Again, out of fear that my LGBT readers would retaliate and accuse of me “selling out” and then not buying the book.
I do like to think that my readers read my books because they enjoy the writing and will read anything I’ve written because of this fact. They don’t just read my books because they are gay-themed. (I’ve personally not read The Help but I’d like to, and I’m not the least bit African-American.) However… When I contacted heterosexual – particularly male – friends to tell them about Lost in the ’90s, I made a point to let them know that it is NOT a “gay” book. Why is there still this fear in 2012 that straight people aren’t going to care about the lives of gay people? Maybe it’s just me, but…
I’ve had several straight friends (men and women) who’ve read Band Fags! and they told me they enjoyed the story – not because I had written it, but because it’s a good, well-written story. It made them laugh, cry, and all the other things a good book is supposed to do.
Too often, we “preach to the choir” as they (whoever they are!) say. There is also a mind set amongst the publishing world that gay people are the only ones who are going to read “gay” books. One rarely sees a “gay” book given the kind of marketing budget or publicity opportunities that a non-gay title sees. If a “gay” book sells 5,000 copies it’s considered “successful.” But if say, The Hunger Games, only sold that same amount, none of us reading this post would have ever heard – or read – it.
I feel that I’m veering off topic, and not truly addressing the LGBT teen readers for which this blog is written, but… I want to point out that just because the readers of Dreaming In Books might be gay teens, we shouldn’t assume they only want to read about LGBT teen characters. And for those readers who dream of someday writing, I will encourage you to NOT limit yourself in the topics and themes in which you choose to write about.
Yes, “write what you know,” as they (again!) say… But also write what you enjoy writing about. For me, after exploring the lives of two gay teen protagonists, I wanted to challenge myself to write something different. I hope my “fans” will forgive me, and that those of you who have not read either of my first two books will check those out, and will also give this new one a shot.
Frank Anthony Polito is the Lambda Award-winning author of Band Fags! and Drama Queers! His first Young Adult novel, Lost in the ’90s, is now on sale from Amazon.com
He resides in New York City with his partner, Craig Bentley.