Authors: We Won’t Straighten Out Gay Characters for Sales


When authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith wrote a young adult novel called Stronger and started to query agents to try and get the book representation, they expected some rejections — it’s a tough business after all. What they didn’t foresee was being told by one agent that if they just deleted the fact that one of the five main characters is gay and has a boyfriend they would greatly improve their salability.

Fortunately,  Brown and Smith decided to take a stand and say no. They’ve now written about their experience along with a rallying call to not let this keep happening.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Rachel replied, “Making a gay character straight is a line in the sand which I will not cross. That is a moral issue. I work with teenagers, and some of them are gay. They never get to read fantasy novels where people like them are the heroes, and that’s not right.”

The agent suggested that perhaps, if the book was very popular and sequels were demanded, Yuki could be revealed to be gay in later books, when readers were already invested in the series.

We knew this was a pie-in-the-sky offer–who knew if there would even be sequels?–and didn’t solve the moral issue. When you refuse to allow major characters in YA novels to be gay, you are telling gay teenagers that they are so utterly horrible that people like them can’t even be allowed to exist in fiction.

LGBTQ teenagers already get told this. They are four times more likely than straight teenagers to attempt suicide. We’re not saying that the absence of LGBTQ teens in YA sf and fantasy novels is the reason for that. But it’s part of the overall social prejudice that does cause that killing despair.

We wrote this novel so that the teenagers we know–some of whom are gay, and many of whom are not white–would be able, for once, to read a fun post-apocalyptic adventure in which they are the heroes. And we were told that such a thing could not be allowed.

The pair are keen to stress this isn’t a problem of one rogue agent but, they believe, an endemic issue that this one agent was at least willing to be blunt about.

Agents are in the business of marketing books to publishers and in Young Adult fiction it would appear that a sizable proportion have decided this means white, straight, gender conforming, fully able bodied protagonists that adhere to conventional relationship types and don’t stray too far from those lines are what is needed to secure those elusive contracts. But at what cost? This is the question Brown and Smith explore in some depth in the Publisher’s Weekly post above and I recommend you read it in its entirety.

Now, the authors freely offer that they do not believe all their rejections were a result of agent prejudice, but they do wonder how many times manuscripts have been returned with an ask to delete LGBTQ elements, and potentially how many authors desperate for a sale — because this is a tough business with little reward — have, with a heavy heart, done so. The authors say they’ve spoken to many writers who have been faced with that choice, so this is not an isolated case by any means.

Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith have offered a list of several things that you can do to try and combat this problem. The list applies if you are an avid reader or, alternatively, if you yourself are a writer or agent. Their chief ask is that readers vote with their wallets and consider browsing this list of LGBTQ books and perhaps making a purchase or two. That’s just one item on their list. Click over to see the full thing here.

You could also visit  Brown’s and Smith’s websites too and perhaps consider learning more about their writing endeavors.


Related Reading:

Equal Writes: An LGBT Summer Reading List

The Endangered Language List

Books From Borders Donated To Chicago Schools

Image used under the Creative Commons Attribution License with thanks to


RobynRobyn Brice
Robyn Vorsa5 years ago

colleen p, I write fan fiction. Green star sent. :-D

RobynRobyn Brice
Robyn Vorsa5 years ago

Bravo to the authors for not bowing to pressure and staying true to their story. It is important that gay teens have characters that they can relate to. I just hope that cowardly agents and publishers will see this and start showing some courage by publishing these works. Remember, Dumbledore was revealed as being gay,

Brenda Gilbert
Brenda Gilbert6 years ago

I was a teacher many years ago and we had several books in the school library with gay characters. Surprisingly there was very little reaction either for or against from parents, students or other teachers. These books were just several more in stock - exactly as it should be! Students read them, enjoyed or didn't enjoy them - just as they might any other title.
The reaction of the agents mentioned here is based on fear - which is sad as well as unnecessary. Publishers who have taken risks with books , whatever the reason for the risk element, have made headlines - and money!!! - as well as opening minds and hearts to new and different experiences, ways of thinking, ways of writing and so on. All of this can only enrich our lives. This is what literature, indeed any kind of Art, ought to be about.
I applaud the writers for their refusal to compromise and wish them great joy and huge success in their work. Surely their agents must know by now that all publicity is good publicity?

colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

maybe if they know how to write gay characters. and not assume to make the dude " a chick with a penis" hopefuly doing it right without sterotypes an clice

clara H.
Clara Hamill6 years ago

Good for her I don't see why a character can't be gay.

Emily Drew
Emily Drew6 years ago

Bravo to the authors for taking a stand! It's horrible someone told them to change one of their characters simply because he is gay. That is an insult.

Don Go
Don Go6 years ago

This is stupid. This is terrible. (It's almost funny because I have an online webcomic with a gay man named Yuki. Coincidence!) But mostly it's just exhausting.

I can't believe people are still so hung up on homosexuals, so much so that even FICTION is feeling the burn.

Art is controversial, literature is an art. People are all about business nowadays, but the best sellers are books with some controversy in it. It's how people EVOLVE.

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Robert Tedders
Robert T6 years ago

Disgusting. This is nearly worse than simply banning their books. It's an insult to the author and their hard work.

Gina P.
Regina P6 years ago

Yay! Congratulations to these authors for having courage to keep their characters as they are. You can't change a gay person - why should you be able to change a gay character? And especially not for money. Money rules the world too much now.