Publishers are businesses and so need to make money. Nobody disagrees with this. As Dan D’Addario said in Salon last year, “Publishing is not a charitable endeavor.” Publishers choose book manuscripts to publish and market to a public that it hopes will buy, so the publisher can make a profit. But this is difficult. How can you be sure that you know what the public will buy?
In 1912, Marcel Proust submitted the first volume of In Search of Lost Time to the Parisian publisher Eugene Fasquelle, who turned it down, saying “he didn’t want to risk publishing something ‘so different from what the public is used to reading.’” (Lydia Davis, “Introduction,” Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust, ebook, Penguin Books, 2002). Fasquelle’s fears neatly encapsulate the whole process of publishing.
We have the writer, the book, the publisher, and the reader. Here, the publisher is afraid of not giving the reader what he wants, which is admirable. But it is not clear that the publisher knows what the reader wants. A best seller? Something new and utterly different? Something major? In the 100 years since In Search of Lost Time was first turned down by a fearful publisher, it has been all of these things, sometimes at the same time. What is clear is that if the publisher asks that the manuscript be a “best seller,” then small minorities like LGBTQ are not going to be able to make it be a “best seller” without significant help from other minorities or the dominant culture. The point here is that all LGBTQ books that get published are going to have to be, to some extent, cross-over books.
This is where we are now, and it is a terrible place for us to be. Our LGBTQ writers cannot write for us without also writing for a certain percentage of straight people. The financial demands put on each book by the publisher make it impossible to publish a gay novel. What if what the writer wants to say amounts, in effect, to a severe criticism of the straight community? Or, what if what the writer wants is to write a book for us alone.
Dan D’Addario summarized what the publishers want in a manuscript: nothing controversial. Controversy reduces sales, apparently. They want cross-over books. And they don’t want gay characters who are angry. Reading that, I thought, Ah ha! So that’s why no publisher bought any of my books in the last twenty-five years. Since I believe that many gay people are angry—and have deep reason to be angry—that’s what I write about. And here is the reason that New York agent said, “This is a wonderful book. But no publisher in New York will publish it.”
Holy shit. What’s to do? Ebooks. It may happen, in this current surge of support for the LGBTQ community, that eventually other communities aside from our own will come to understand our anger and therefore give us access to American publishing. Until that happens, we can do it ourselves. Ebooks. And we can learn how to explore our own lives and to discover that our lives are more than merely coming-out stories, more than merely adolescent fictions, more than merely beach reading.
As I said two days ago in my last post,”We are serious people. We confronted AIDS. We survived Reagan and Bush (1) and Bush (2), we have learned to work the political system, we have gotten gay marriage in some places, and we have fought against DADT and are fighting against DOMA. We are transforming what marriage means in this country and what this country considers a family. As gay people, we have fought in the great battles of our time. We have been heroic and successful. We have been fighters. We have preserved those aspects of ourselves which were unique. But our literature doesn’t reflect those things.”