2 Questions About Book Marketing

Over on Tumblr, I got a couple of questions that seemed to go together:

kayla-bird asked:

Do you have any book promotion tips for young authors? I recently published a book about queer teenage girls who fight evil with magic, and lately I’ve been wondering how more established writers sell so many copies.

endlessdreamer13 asked:

I’m trying to decide if I should keep querying agents or start looking into self publishing. I’ve always wanted to walk into a bookstore and see my book. Self-Publishing wouldn’t get it on the bookshelves, but people would be able to read it. I have no idea how to go about marketing it though and I’m afraid that it would fade in with the thousands of other self-pubbed books. How can I know if it’s my market, my story, or my query that’s the problem?

Here are my thoughts:

  1. The reason that “more established writers” are able to sell books is because they’re established. They’ve published a number of books, built up a base of readers, and continued to deliver what those readers want book after book. There’s no short cut here. A first-time novelist does not have an established track record, so they will have to put in the time to develop one. Just remember: Once those established authors were newbies, too. Everybody starts from somewhere.
  2. If you’re self-publishing your novel, you will have a steeper hill to climb, marketing-wise, than traditionally published authors, because the key to selling a lot of copies is having those copies widely available to be bought on a whim. That is: distribution. Think about walking into a bookstore (or even Costco or Target) and seeing a bunch of books on display. You might be going there to find a particular book, but you’re probably going to be open to browsing. That’s why eye-catching book covers and jacket copy are so important — their goal is to hook the impulse buyer. Self-published books can rarely do that in the real world.
  3. That said, self-published books in some particular categories sell very well as ebooks online. If you’re writing sexy contemporary romance (sometimes known as new adult), the market is thriving online and you may not even need to sell any paper copies. However, I know next to nothing about how to access this market. The good thing is, there are plenty of resources online if you want to self-publish a sexy contemporary romance. Go forth and google — and good luck!
  4. “How can I know if it’s my market, my story, or my query that’s the problem?” This is a question that has made authors freak out for hundreds of years, because nobody knows what makes a book successful. (“Successful” is different than “well-written.”) Sure, you can work your ass off and write a damn good novel, but if your book doesn’t get into Barnes & Noble (not every traditionally published book will be carried by B&N), you’re basically screwed. Sometimes a genre novel doesn’t quite fit the expectations of readers who read that genre, and that can mess things up too. Of course, sometimes the book just isn’t very good — and that’s something that you can only determine by working hard at your craft, reading widely, seeking feedback from critique partners, and listening to how readers respond to your work. It’s hard and can be super anxiety-inducing and frankly, writers are generally an anxious bunch to start off with, so you have my sympathies. I’m trying to answer that question too!
  5. And yes, I do have some book promotion tips, but keep in mind (I’m sounding like a broken record): there are no short cuts. (Unless Oprah relaunches her book club on network television and features you in her book club! One can always hope.) Here’s a post I wrote on how to curate your online presence as an author.

Good luck!

Why can't I buy your book in [name of non-US country]?

Powells Bookstore in Portland, Oregon Source Over the past couple of years I’ve regularly gotten questions like these:

  • Why can’t I buy your book in [name of non-US country]?
  • Why isn’t your book available as an ebook in [name of non-US country]?

It’s happened enough now that I’ve decided I should write this blog post about it for the future. Be prepared: the answer is long, complicated, and messy, but I do have a short version for you if you don’t want to get into the nitty gritty.

SHORT ANSWER

It’s complicated, and it involves a bunch of technical publishing details that I have little to no control over. I’m sorry you can’t buy my books easily in your country; I really wish you could. The only solution I can suggest is to order physical copies from a local bookseller who’s willing to order them in from the US, or to order from a US bookseller who will ship internationally.

LONG ANSWER

The reasons for why my books aren’t easily available around the globe involve English language territories and foreign translation rights. ((A lot of this stuff falls under the the category of subsidiary rights, which is publishing jargon for rights the publisher buys from the author, including but not limited to film rights, audiobook rights, and the right to translate it into foreign language. Here’s a post on why authors and publishers negotiate over subsidiary rights.)) You may think, Wait! What about ebooks? They’re virtual; they don’t need to be shipped anywhere! But ebooks come with a host of other complications.

Let’s take these issues one by one.

(1) English Language Territories

The World in 1897. The British possessions are colored red.

The English-speaking world has been divided into two halves by the United States and the United Kingdom. This is totally a legacy of colonialism, because book publishing has just existed for that long. The division goes like this:

  • North America — the United States and its territories and possessions (including the Philippines), and Canada ((Sometimes Canadian rights will be pulled out on their own; for example I’ve known Canadian authors to sell Canadian rights separately.))
  • United Kingdom and its former colonies, including Australia and New Zealand ((Sometimes, Australian rights can be pulled out on their own as well.))

Let’s say an author named Jane Wong offers her book (via her agent) to a big publisher named Books Forever, Inc. (BFI), which is part of a giant conglomerate that publishes books not only in the US, but in the UK, France, and Germany, among other countries. BFI may make an offer for world rights, which would mean they’d have the rights to publish the book in English throughout the world — both US and UK territories. ((This is sometimes known as “World English” rights.))

Jane will have the option of saying, OK, sure, I’ll give you world rights. Plenty of authors do this, but this doesn’t necessarily mean Jane’s book will then be published all around the world. When a publisher buys the rights, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll exploit them. (Keep this in mind for the foreign translation section.)

Alternatively, Jane could say, no, I only want to sell you North American rights. If BFI agrees, then it is not legally permitted to sell Jane’s book in the UK. However, then Jane’s agent can go to a UK-based publisher (let’s call them UK Books, or UKB) and offer to sell them the UK rights. If UKB buys those UK rights, they are not legally permitted to sell their UK edition in any US market.

So, let’s say Jane sells both US and UK rights to her book. She’s feeling good, because her book is coming out in both the US and the UK! That pretty much covers the English-speaking world, yay!

However, it’s pretty rare that a book will be published in the US and the UK at the same time. ((Literary agent Barry Goldblatt pointed out on Twitter that UK/Australian publishers "more and more try to pub simultaneously to US, for copyright reasons," which is true. The operative word is "try.")) Sometimes, a book will come out in the US first, and it won’t come out in the UK till some time later. If Jane’s book is published in the US in January, her book might not be published in the UK until May. So between January and May, UK readers will know (via the internet) that the book exists, but they won’t be able to buy it in their home country.

Because of these pesky territorial rights, there’s basically no way around this. UK readers just have to wait for the UK version to come out. The only way to buy a US version before the UK version is published is to order it directly from the US. And we’re only talking about print books here; ebooks are a different matter that will be addressed in part 3.

(2) Foreign Translation Rights

So, all that was just about English-language books. Obviously, the entire world does not speak English. When Jane sold her book to BFI, BFI also had the option to buy foreign translation rights, or the ability to sell her book to a publisher in a non-English-speaking country, which will then translate that book into a different language.

Let’s say Jane sells foreign translation rights to BFI. This is pretty normal; lots of authors do this. This doesn’t mean, though, that BFI will actually use these rights. It takes work to sell a book to another publisher, and most big publishers don’t put that kind of work into every book they buy.

Also, some books don’t work for some markets. For example, my books are about lesbians. I have been told that certain countries simply won’t go there. This is the most direct kind of homophobia I’ve experienced in my writing career, but it’s to be expected (for now), even if it sucks.

(3) The Problem With Ebooks

Parts 1 and 2 are actually rather straightforward, as long as you’re only talking about print books. The biggest mess comes in when you’re talking about ebooks. I get questions like this a lot:

"Why can’t I buy the US edition of your ebook in Brazil? I just want to read the English version!"

"Why isn’t your ebook in the Amazon store in Hong Kong? I just want to read the English version!"

There are many issues that arise with ebooks, chief among them:

The internet is faster than the law. Selling a book involves many parties, among them publishers, printers, distributors (companies that supply books to bookstores), and bookstores, and that’s just for print books. When you add in ebooks, there are even more complications.

  • Some countries, in an attempt to save the print market, have enacted laws that restrict the development of the ebook market.
  • Some countries tax ebooks much higher than print books, because ebooks might be considered licensed software rather than books.
  • Where will people go to buy ebooks? It’s no secret that Amazon is the retailer that pushed the ebook market into the mainstream in the US, but Amazon doesn’t exist in every country. Online retailing for ebooks involves dealing with local laws and local languages, making this a very complicated situation.
  • Piracy of ebooks competes directly with establishing a legal ebook market.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, without specifics. If you’re really interested in specifics, check out this 97-page PDF, The Global eBook Market: Current Conditions and Future Projections.

Basically, the internet makes the world seem more instant, more global, than it actually is. In reality, businesses have to deal with local laws, local technologies, and local practices. So, while I understand why it seems like you should be able to buy my English-language ebooks off Kindle in [name your country], the fact is, it’s way more complicated than it seems.

In Conclusion

As an author, I wish my books were available around the world, at least as ebooks — I really, really do. I hope that this can happen within my lifetime. Unfortunately, there’s very little I can do about it. Meanwhile, thanks to all of you who have made the effort to find and buy my books legally, wherever you are.

 

How to curate your online presence as an author

Last week, I blogged about how it's been five years since I started my career as an author. That post was largely about what I learned on an emotional and creative level. Today I'm going to blog about some other things I've learned over the past five years: How to curate an online presence while maintaining your sanity. I use the term curate rather than manage because I think it's a better way to think about it. A curator puts together exhibits in museums or collections in libraries, and what you're doing online is curating your own persona — a collection of posts, photos, tweets, etc. about who you are. It's ever-changing and it's selective. You wouldn't choose to put everything in an art exhibit; nor should you put all of yourself online.

022513internetseriousbusiness

While I largely agree with Maureen Johnson's manifesto — that she is not a brand and you shouldn't be constantly trying to shill your wares online — there is the incontrovertible fact that if you are an author, you probably want people to read your writing. The internet is a great place to spread the word about your writing. So what do you do? How can you interact with people in this giant network of social thingamabobs and let them know — gently and non-spammily — that they might be interested in reading your books?

Here are five things I've learned in the last five years of being a YA author. I hope they're useful to you!

1. Be the best version of yourself online.

Every once in a while, the YA community online explodes into discussions about whether authors should "be nice" and never say any negative things online, or whether it's OK for authors to mention politics. These discussions basically focus on the question of how you can avoid alienating readers. The problem is, it's impossible to avoid offending everyone, and I don't believe authors (or anyone) should feel like they need to muzzle themselves in order to attract readers. That's a little too mercenary — and too false — for my comfort.

I think you should simply be the best version of yourself you can be. That doesn't mean you should never say anything negative, or that you should only be posting pictures of hearts and kittens. It means that if you're a naturally friendly person, be friendly in the best way you know how. If you're an opinionated political junkie, be the best opinionated political junkie you know how. If you're a bit of a curmudgeon, be the best curmudgeon you can be. Of course, some folks will not enjoy being in the company (virtual or not) of a curmudgeon, but if that's who you are, then own it. There are plenty of curmudgeonly authors online.

Basically, you are a human being with many emotions and moods. The good thing about the internet is that you don't have to express those emotions and moods LIVE 24/7! You can take a few minutes (or hours, or days) to think about how you are presenting yourself. Sure, sometimes you'll screw up and offend some people, but that's not the end of the world. Be true to yourself — your best self. (Cue Oprah.)

2. Interact with your followers and fans.

Developing a following goes two ways. Unless you have millions of followers, there's no real reason for you to not interact with them online in some way. (And even then, plenty of celebrities with millions of followers respond to some of them, some of the time.) I'm not saying that you need to respond to every tweet or every email, but choose a way to respond to your readers in a way that you're comfortable with, and make time to do it.

This might mean responding to select tweets, maybe by briefly thanking folks who tell you they enjoyed your book. This might mean writing back to fan mail, even if it takes months to do so. This might mean liking things that your readers post on your Facebook page. Whatever method you choose, I think it's important to respond in some way, because readers are people, too. They're taking the time to communicate with you, and while you may not be able to respond every time, you should find opportunities to thank them for reaching out. It can take a lot of gumption to send a note to a total stranger.

3. Share your interests, because they make you human.

Readers are human, and so are you. You're not all about promoting your book(s) — and you shouldn't be. You have other interests, too, and that's what makes you interesting. I know I find it really interesting when authors share what they enjoy online, whether it's delicious food photos or Buffy screencaps or intriguing bits of research. I think this is because a person's interests really do inform the kinds of stories they tell. When I follow an author, I want to know more about what they like because I'm interested in the creative mind behind their books.

So much of social media is about sharing things you like, whether it's Pinterest or Tumblr or Twitter. These are great, fun ways to become more of a three-dimensional person online, rather than simply the author of a book. Of course, you should only share what you're comfortable sharing. You don't have to tell the world everything! (See rule number one in case you're wondering how to figure out what to tell.)

4. Do not over-promote.

We've all seen the authors who are a constant stream of promotional messages. This gets old really fast. How much promotion is too much? Unfortunately, there's no hard-and-fast rule. Sometimes, for instance during a book launch, you might want to promote more often than you normally do. If you've been presenting the best version of yourself online, and if you've been interacting with your fans and sharing your interests with them, your readers will likely be okay with you doing a promo blitz for the brief period of your book launch. But on a day to day basis, you should not be constantly haranguing people with your book.

While it's tempting to try to come up with a rule, like X% of posts/tweets should be promo-related, Y% should not, I'm not going to do that. I'll suggest this instead: Follow some of your favorite authors on their social media sites. Get a feel for how often they promote and how you feel about it. This is a highly personal thing. You'll need to tailor it to your own identity.

5. Try to not take perceived slights personally.

If you've been on the internet for longer than five minutes, you'll know that there are endless potential situations for being slighted. Whether someone unfollowed you on Twitter or de-friended you on Facebook or simply didn't re-blog your awesome gif on Tumblr, you could spend all day being annoyed or frustrated by people you hardly know. Here's my advice: Forget about it.

Do not measure your worth as an individual by how many fans/followers/likes/comments you're getting. That way lies madness. If someone unfollowed you, that's okay. You can unfollow them if you want to; all of this is purely voluntary. But I'd recommend paying no attention whatsoever to the specifics of who is following you. Sometimes these things truly are technical glitches, but even if Mysterious Disgruntled Fan purposely unfollowed you, what are you going to do about it? Answer: Nothing at all. It's their prerogative to follow whomever they wish, and any attempt to change that would be, well, embarrassing for you.

Your time is better spent putting the best version of yourself out there so that New Fan #1 and New Fan #2 will be able to find you.

* * *

Ultimately, I think it all comes down to rule number one. Sometimes, you're not able to be the best version of yourself online. In those situations, you might want to take some time off from the internet and regroup. That's perfectly fine, too.

I've found the internet to be a wonderful, supportive network of friends as well as a fascinating pool of inspiration and information. But it can also be a cesspit of awfulness, and if you're feeling overwhelmed by pressure to be this way or that way, or if you just can't stomach the negative vibes you get from being online, then take a break. I think social media and the internet should be fun, because even though I believe it can be an effective marketing tool, there's no evidence that having X number of followers will translate directly to increasing book sales. So if it's not fun for you, it's not worth it. Good luck!

Five Years Later

Five years ago today, the thing I'd been dreaming of my whole life happened. Five years ago today, my agent, Laura Langlie (who had been representing me for only a couple of months at that time), told me that Little, Brown Books for Young Readers had made an offer on my as-yet-unpublished manuscript, Ash. The book cover for ASH by Malinda Lo, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, showing a girl in a white dress lying curled up on the grassy groundI'd received other offers already, actually, and I was already in an "I can't believe this is happening to me/OMG my dreams are coming true!" daze. But it was the Little, Brown offer, in retrospect, that changed everything, because this is the publisher I chose to publish Ash. This was the first time I really thought: This editor named Kate Sullivan could edit my books.

That's why today I'm marking the five-year anniversary of what I consider to be the beginning of my career as a novelist. Although I was already a published writer, it was fiction that fueled my dreams as a kid. And five years ago today, I realized that my dreams were coming true.

This is a good anniversary. :)

Since February 19, 2008, I've completed four novels, six stories, hundreds of blog posts, and almost 16,000 tweets (eek!). Five years ago, I did not know I'd be writing all these things, although I did have an idea of what my second novel would be about, and I knew that I'd be blogging. But back then, I didn't know much about Twitter; I don't think I was on it yet. I had absolutely no idea that I'd be writing any short stories. And even though my first job out of college was working as an editorial assistant at Random House, I had very little idea of what life would be like to be an author.

One of the most important things I learned was what it was like to work with an editor. Yes, I'd been edited before too, but having a novel edited is incredibly different than having an article or essay edited. I'd gotten some hints of what it might be like when I took writing workshops in college, but in the last five years I've realized that having a good editor is invaluable. And Kate is an excellent editor. She seems to really understand where I'm coming from as a writer, and she pushes me to get there more efficiently and more directly. She somehow manages to convince me to completely transform my books from first to second to third drafts in a way that I had no idea I could do before I began working with her. Working with Kate on four novels has changed me as a writer. I really do think about fiction differently now, and I'm grateful that I've been able to work with her for four books!

Over the last five years, I've also learned how important it is to have a literary agent who understands you and your work, and who knows the business and will explain it to you. I feel really lucky to have had Laura on my side for the past five years, especially because sometimes publishing is a really strange business that makes no logical sense.

It's been eye-opening to see how different publishing is as an author than it was when I was on the inside. I was pretty green when I was an editorial assistant, but I can see now that there was a sense of stability on the publisher side that does not exist on the author side. Publishers are these giant, bureaucratic, old (sometimes very old) corporations that feel like they've been there forever. Things are done a certain way because that's the way things are done. (Obviously, this leads to trouble when, say, technology up-ends traditional publishing models.) Yes, some books are bestsellers and some are flops, but there are so many of them that things sort of even out.

But for authors, things are rarely stable. Each book you write is inextricably linked to your worth as an author. Each book is judged on its own, and each book can fail in multiple ways. You might not last four books at one publisher, much less four books with one editor. There is very little stability as an author, and definitely no financial stability.

I think this instability can be harnessed for creative motivation, but not everyone can handle the same amount of instability. It can be paralyzing for some. I've been extremely fortunate because I've had the same agent, the same editor, and the same publisher for the past five years. On top of that, I've had the same partner, who provides a whole life's worth of emotional and financial security.

That relative stability didn't happen overnight. From the time I graduated college until I was 33 years old, I had unstable relationships, unstable finances (being an editorial assistant doesn't pay much, and graduate school pays even less), unstable insurance (freelance writing doesn't come with benefits), and unstable creativity (depression takes a toll). So, for those eleven years between college and the Little, Brown offer in 2008, I learned how to deal with instability.

After I began my career as a novelist, I tried to apply the lessons I'd learned about dealing with instability to my life as an author, but I've constantly been surprised by the challenges of this job.

For one thing, my dream of becoming a novelist did not encompass lists! Every year, librarians and booksellers and the media put together lists of "best" books. There are tons of lists, and each list can feel like an opportunity for failure, because there's no way your book will get on every one. And then, in addition to those literary lists, there's the New York Times list, which excludes all but a tiny handful of the thousands of titles published every year.

I'm pretty realistic, and I know that my books aren't going to make it onto the vast majority of lists. But I had no idea how destabilizing it would feel to even acknowledge that I had close to no chance of getting on some of them.

This is when it's tempting to think about what kinds of books I could write so that I can get on some of those lists. I think the fact that I write books about queer characters compounds this temptation. I see the books on the various lists and I wonder: If my books had straight main characters, would they have a better chance? Being realistic, I have to admit: Probably.

This is a depressing feeling. After five years in this business, I know for a fact that many publishers do embrace YA with queer main characters — and that's a wonderful fact. But I also believe that right now, heteronormativity is likely to prevent all but the most exceptional exceptions (e.g., if you're David Levithan and/or John Green) from becoming big commercial successes. Additionally, I believe that most consumers of YA (straight women and girls) are more likely to identify with/adore gay boys than gay girls. And I believe that publishers are most likely to put their money behind what they think is a sure thing, and that's not a book about queer girls.

I have no statistics, really, to support this. I hope I'm wrong, wrong, wrong. And I also believe that things are changing — slowly but surely. Still, right now, it can feel a bit depressing.

This is why I've sometimes wondered if I should write a book about straight people. It would probably reach a broader audience. But you know what? I'm really ornery. Whenever I start to feel pressure to do A, I pretty much always want to do B.

So five years into my career as a novelist, I'm more committed than ever to writing books about queer girls and women. I've received so many amazing, heartbreaking and heartfelt emails from readers around the world who have shared how my books affected them. I still think there's a distinct lack of books being published about people like me, and I'm not finished telling stories about us yet.

Five years ago, though, I didn't realize how important the issue of diversity would become to me. I had spent years working in LGBT media writing about the representation of queer women in entertainment, but I'd been surrounded by LGBT folks. There was a comfort there that is absent in my YA author world, where I'm largely surrounded by straight people. They're allies, and I absolutely appreciate them, but I'm a minority in the YA world in a way I wasn't when I worked in LGBT media.

I think that's why I've discovered that advocating for greater diversity in YA is so rewarding to me — not only in regard to sexual orientation, but race as well. I'm Asian American, but because I'm also queer, I've always felt as though I had to choose between one identity and the other. When I was a queer entertainment reporter, the queerness predominated. Over the last five years, I've begun to think much more consciously about race, particularly in terms of how that affects my writing. It's become startlingly clear to me how few Asian American lives are represented in YA fiction. This is also something I want to see change.

But don't get me wrong: The last five years have been truly amazing for me. I've made so many unexpected friends along the way, and one incredible benefit that I never expected was that I now get to meet so many of the authors I admire. I've gotten to drink cocktails with them and eat Thai food with them and go on retreats with them! And along the way we've commiserated about things that have gotten us down, and brainstormed about exciting new ideas, and discussed what makes a novel work and what makes it work better. Overall, it's been a joy, and I'm so happy to have had these experiences.

So, five years in, I'm in a good place. I'm thinking about what comes next, and I do have many ideas about what I want to write. However, I hope that five years from now I'm surprised by what I've created. I hope that five years from now, I've written something that I had no idea I'd write. I'm so thankful and happy that I have this to look forward to.

Last but not least, thank you for reading my writing! Not only my novels and stories, but my blog posts, my tumblr, and those nearly 16,000 tweets. There's more to come!

How hard is it to sell an LGBT YA novel?

I have been doing a lot of interviews lately since Huntress was just published, and I almost always get a question along these lines: Did you have any problem getting your gay YA novel published? Have you experienced any homophobic backlash to your books? I always find these questions a little jarring, because from where I stand (in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2011), I basically live in Gay Utopia and homophobia only pokes its head up in my life when I file taxes and am unable to file federally as married. So: Yeah, homophobia exists in my life, but not in my professional career, only in my personal life. ((And yes, it really pisses me off.))

In my professional writing career, I got my start in LGBT journalism, which means I was paid to write about queer people for years (and particularly queer women). I worked for lesbians; I went to their events; I promoted them; I interviewed them; I eventually got to a point where I could hire them. I went to parties where everybody was queer and the biggest question was who was the hottest. This is Gay Utopia Living at its finest.

Because I started my writing career in Gay Utopia, I went into mainstream book publishing with a kind of double vision. I was accustomed to my sexual orientation being treated as totally normal (and even cool). But I did have some residual, pre-Gay Utopia fears that straight people might not think that way.

When I began writing Ash (before Gay Utopia) and realized I had to turn it into a lesbian Cinderella, I did think it would make it unsellable. But as I worked on Ash, I also began that career in Gay Utopia, which ultimately taught me that: (1) there are tons of queer women out there in this world, and (2) they really want to read books/watch movies/TV that feature queer women. Essentially: Go for it and who cares what the straight people think!

In retrospect, I'm really glad I sold Ash while I was still working in Gay Utopia, because it gave me the nerve to have that "go for it" attitude.

Sometimes, now that I'm working in a predominantly heterosexual industry (commercial book publishing), that attitude is hard to maintain. Especially when everybody asks me whether I have faced or am facing homophobic reactions to my books. Basically my answer is "no," but the questions do get me thinking about whether I'm mistaken. Am I missing something here? Is the world really so homophobic?

Sometimes I start to search for homophobic stories to tell to reporters and bloggers. This, I realize, is a little weird. But it seems like that's what people want to hear about.

So, yes, a few times I have experienced some homophobic responses to my novels. Once there was a librarian who told me her students couldn't come to my event because their parents objected to my biography (this has always been so weird to me, because I guess they objected to the fact that I won an award from the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association). Once a newspaper did a story about me featuring an illustration of two Disney princesses dancing together, and a bunch of moms wrote in complaining that the illustration meant they'd have to talk to their little girls about gay sex. (This was unrelated entirely to my book, but still, WTF?) And of course there are some one-star reviews on Amazon that object to Ash because of the lesbian relationship.

But largely my reaction to these situations has been: So what? They're so marginal to my daily experience of being a writer or being a lesbian. They're kind of like blips on the side of the highway; they make me look, but then I just keep going.

I would like to advocate this as an attitude that writers of YA novels with LGBT characters should adopt. Because I think it's better to go into the business expecting the best than expecting the worst. Usually, you find what you expect to find.

I know that homophobia still exists (especially in my personal life, see gay marriage situation), but in publishing, well … Commercial publishing in the United States is so gay-friendly it's practically Gay Utopia. I mean, children's book editors are, frankly, notoriously liberal! (Or else, open secret, they're gay!) And they live and work in New York City, which is second only to San Francisco in Gay Utopicness. ((I say this because I love San Francisco; I'm sure New Yorkers would object and claim the No. 1 spot on the list of Top 10 Gay Utopias.))

Yes, sometimes there are exceptions, such as the recent debacle with the Wicked Pretty Things anthology, but I actually think that is an exception that proves the rule. The response to it pretty much shows that most publishing folks do not tolerate homophobia. However, you also have to be realistic.

Here are some things to keep in mind about book publishing and LGBT issues right now in 2011:

1. There are fewer LGBT people than straight people. That means a book with LGBT characters/themes is likely to be seen as potentially less commercial than a book focusing on straight people. Why? Because there are fewer LGBT people to buy it.

2. Straight people, on the whole, are probably less likely to read books that are advertised as "gay books" because they might assume that the book is not for them. Do I blame them for this? No. Honestly, I'm less likely to read books that are advertised as "straight books." ((That would be all those aggressively straight YA romances selling love triangles featuring hot straight boys and/or societies that mysteriously do not include a single gay person.)) I do read them because it's hard to avoid them (they are the MAJORITY OF BOOKS), but I do seek out queer novels.

3. Smaller potential audience for a book = lower potential sales = lower profit for the publisher. If the publisher is acting like a rational player in a capitalist economy, it will probably look very hard at an LGBT YA novel it's considering acquiring, because in a way, it has to outperform a heterosexual one in order to make money.

Do I like No. 3? Hell no! But I don't think it's active homophobia. I think it's reality. ((Which, yes, is based on centuries of homophobia, so you could argue against me, but I do believe there is a difference between active bigotry and dealing with institutionalized homophobia.))

That doesn't mean I think we should sit back and accept the status quo. There are many ways we can change No. 2 above ((I don't think we can realistically change No. 1!)), which would lead to changing No. 3. My favorite method of change? Writing awesome LGBT books!

In this area, I find inspiration in authors such as Sarah Waters and Jacqueline Carey, who have turned out massively successful novels about queer women that are also read by tons of straight people. Obviously not every writer is going to be Sarah Waters or Jacqueline Carey, but it's important to have goals, right? And I like to aim high.

That's all we can do, really, as writers. Aim high and try our best to hit the target. The target will always be a good story, straight or gay. If it's good enough, I believe that readers will read it, no matter their sexual orientation.

P.S. Don't forget! Huntress signed bookplates available here until May 1.