SYP: LGBTQ and Allies: Identity and Inclusivity in Publishing

On Monday night, in preparation for Pride month in June, SYP London held the LGBTQ and Allies: Identity and Inclusivity in Publishing, a passionate and wide-ranging discussion on identity, acceptance and celebration of new voices in publishing. We heard from Lisa Williamson, author of YA novel The Art of Being Normal, Charlie Morris, Senior Publicity and Marketing Manager at Little Tiger Group and Social Media Manager for Pride in Publishing network, Andrew James, Senior Editor at JKP books and Co-Chair of Hachette UK Pride Network, and Cynthia So, whose story is featured in Proud Book.

The panel was led by Rupert Dastur, Editor and Curator for various publishing organizations, who kicked us off asking the speakers to describe their journey in publishing and their impressions on their LGBTQ experience. They each told very different stories, but there was one big issue raised amongst all of them: the lack of enough stories, and enough variety on LGBTQ and characters in the UK market. There’s clearly demand for this type of fiction and non-fiction, but with this, also a resistance to publish it; is this because publishers think it too niche?

When she was trying to get The Art of Being Normal published, Lisa kept hearing from agents and publishers that they “already had a YA book with an LGBTQ character for that year”. That was 5 years ago, and yet she still struggles when her fans ask her for other book recommendations. At Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Andrew has had the opportunity to work on many books with different LGBTQ subjects, proving that there clearly is a demand for them; maybe publishers fear that these books will only sell to very specific markets, or maybe they weren’t aware of other audiences (he had to fight to convince editors to publish books on intersex).

The advice they gave is that books can reflect an individual experience, but it’s also key that the wider community is represented in an array of characters across different genres to make them as accessible as possible; it’s a publisher’s responsibility to make sure readers at all ages have access to a representation of themselves in what they’re reading. So what else can publishers do to make sure they’re open, especially in regards to submissions?

Mainly, the speakers agreed that publishers should show they’re open to read the book, and that they’re considering it not as an-issue book but a book about LGBTQ individuals. There’s no need to hide the fact that the plot contains LGBTQ characters or issues, but there’s also no need for pigeonholing. Booksellers, authors and publishers should bear that in mind when categorizing and labelling a book, or even when choosing where to display it in a store. It can be difficult to strike a balance between drawing attention to this topic as an issue and normalizing it into everyday content.

Another important thing they pointed out, is that LGBTQ authors should be treated the same as straight authors, especially when receiving awards and praise, and when their books are shelved. As Charlie notes, no author’s experience is going to be the same as everyone else’s within that community, and they shouldn’t feel the burden of having to speak for every other person who share their same identity. That’s another reason to have a wider range of titles which can take the pressure off that one author publishing the one queer book for that year. Andrew wanted people to keep in mind that it’s not just up to LGBTQ people to educate others; we live in the Google era, and people have all the tools to educate themselves. If you don’t know what the Q in LGBTQ stands for, you can just look it up.

As a final tip on how to educate yourself, the speakers gave some great suggestions of organizations whose work focuses on identity and gender, among which where Gender Intelligence, The Diversity Role Models Network, Stonewall, All About Trans, and #Hachette Pride publishing network. All of these organisations work to educate the wider community on this topic, as well as providing a safe space for anyone who needs to talk about anything they are experiencing, and they are all well worth a look!