Young Adult Novel Authors Claim Agent Asked Them to 'De-Gay' Book; An Agency Responds
An interesting post over at Publisher's Weekly by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith, published authors and co-writers of young adult novels, who claim that a major book agent asked them to change gay characters to straight ones before the book would be taken on for representation.
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.
The authors, who aren't naming names, say the issue isn't limited to one incident:
This isn’t about that specific agent; we’d gotten other rewrite requests before this one. Previous agents had also offered to take a second look if we did rewrites… including cutting the viewpoint of Yuki, the gay character. We wondered if that was because of his sexual orientation, but since the agents didn’t say it out loud, we could only wonder. (We were also told that it is absolutely unacceptable in YA for a boy to consensually date two girls, but that it would be okay if he was cheating and lying. And we wonder if some agents were put off because none of our POV characters are white.)
We absolutely do not believe that all our rejections were due to prejudice. We know for a fact that some of them weren’t. (An agent did offer us representation, but we ended up passing due to creative differences that had nothing to do with the identities of the characters.)
This isn’t about one agent’s personal feelings about gay people. We don’t know their feelings; they may well be sympathetic in their private life, but regard the removal of gay characters as a marketing issue.
An agency is now claiming that the authors reportedly fabricated this whole story to get publicity for their book.
Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, an agent with Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation, says they've been outed from their previously anonymous status because the article below has received so much attention. They tell Publisher's Weekly:
Unfortunately, this rumor has reached the point where our clients and colleagues have heard from their peers that this article is supposedly about us. Above all else, our concern and responsibility is to our clients, always. And it is also to our agents.
One of our agents is being used as a springboard for these authors to gain attention for their project. She is being exploited. But even worse, by basing their entire article on untruths, these authors have exploited the topic. By doing that, they’ve chipped away at the validity of the resulting conversation.