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Publishing and LGBT Erasure or My Issues with Robo-Boobs

Robot Bikini by Hajime SorayamaI always knew someone would tell me to add a Sexy Lady Robot to my book.

When I first starting writing my novel, Echo of the Larkspur, I set out to write a story that was first and foremost about love. Love between a male human and an omnipotent, genderless robot that identified as male, to be precise. I wanted the story to focus on their slow and steady relationship and explore how love between these two very different beings could bloom. Yet the second I put my finishing touches on my story I knew deep down one day someone would complain that the robot didn’t have Robo-Boobs.

That day was Wednesday.

That morning, in an online writing group, I announced I’d received my 100th rejection letter and asked for suggestions on how to celebrate and/or ease the pain. I received offers from a few published authors (self and traditional) to look over my query and opening pages to see if there was anything I could do to improve my chances of getting picked up. And I want to say, most of them gave wonderful advice that I have taken to heart.

Except one.

I will not say their name nor anything that would identify them. I will say they are a traditionally published author. I know they meant well and were trying to be helpful, even if their advice was…well…

Right off the bat they explained that potential agents (and publishers) would be afraid to pick up my novel because it doesn’t appeal to a wide enough audience, since it is LGBT and sci-fi with heavy romance elements. They broke down how seemingly impossible my book would be to sell.

Gay? But gay romance means there’s going to be hardcore gay sex in it!

Science Fiction, that isn’t hard science fiction? That doesn’t sell!

A Mystery? Romance?! Those two don’t go together!

Romance with a Robot?!?! Only a crazy person would love a robot!

But the biggest problem of all, they helpfully explained, was people into LGBT only want to read about LGBT characters in settings where modern life experiences are relevant. In other words, if there was a gay main character, the plot needed to focus on gay issues, not a mystery or an adventure, or whatever.

“What shelf does this go on in a book shop? I can’t decide.” – Direct Quote

The next part I need to stress is this author had only read the opening five pages of my book. This did not stop them from sending me a long, long list of questions they were afraid my book wasn’t going to be able to answer about human/robot relationships:

Questions

Maybe it’s just me, but it really rubbed me the wrong way that they automatically assumed I not only don’t address any of those questions in my story, but that I never thought of them in the first place. But that was nothing compared to the kicker they ended their questions with:

“I also felt that the LGBTQ inclusion really seems to cloud things” – Another Direct Quote

And there it is.

Why does it have to be gay?

I see it every time a gay character of any type is in a piece of media. Every story, every game, every movie where there’s a LGBT character who does more than suffer and die. Every time the same questions and comments:

“Why does this character have to be gay?” “Why make her a lesbian?” “Can’t they just be open minded instead of bisexual?” “Do we really need a trans actor to play a trans character?” “Isn’t asexuality a disease?” “This is all just PC culture. Unique snowflakes doing it ‘cause it’s popular. It’s just a phase.”

To prove their point they explain in small simple words why my book is impossible to sell. And they did it in the most baffling way possible.

Marzipan Owl

That’s right everyone. My story is a Marzipan Modern Art Owl.

You may think there’s no way this letter could get better than that. Well clearly you don’t remember how this article started.

Here it was. The moment I’ve been waiting for. Advice on how to fix my book and become the next New York Times Bestseller.

Sexy Robot Lady

My favorite part was how they changed SAGE’s gender to make the story not-gay. They didn’t directly address it, just sorta slipped a complete gender change and gay erasure between their grand ideas, which seem to be part Blade Runner and part literally every science fiction story featuring a Sexy Robot Lady ever created. Do you think the Sexy Robot Lady learns what it means to be human thanks to the main character’s penis? I sure do!

The email ends with heartfelt advice that instead of writing what I want I should focus on what’s popular and write only that. After all, no agent or publisher will touch what I currently have. Best of wishes, good luck in your career, signed a traditionally published author. Leaving me with nothing but images of my main robot lead with huge boobs and my pile of previous rejection letters. So I did what had to be done. I laughed my ass off and posted about it on Twitter.

Twitter

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this thread to take off. But it has, and with it an outpouring of love and support from across the internet. I heard from sci-fi fans who spoke about how wonderfully diverse the genre can be. I received messages from LGBT individuals who were crying out for representation and cursing how common this attitude was. Authors both published and unpublished shared their stories of similar struggles on trying to get their own diverse works out there to the world. And there were also people who had no idea that getting a story like mine published could be so hard. I’ve read every single comment and treasure them all.

There’s still a long road ahead of me and not a single step will be easy. I will fight for a future where LGBT elements aren’t considered a risk in the publishing world. Even if I have to scream from the rooftops I will be heard. It’s going to suck but I’m not worried. Because now I know how many people support stories like mine. I’m not alone in this. None of us are.

I’m also starting a band called the Marzipan Modern Art Owls. Catch us next Open Mic Nite!

Title image by Hajime Sorayama.

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Rating: 8.3/10 (43 votes cast)
Publishing and LGBT Erasure or My Issues with Robo-Boobs, 8.3 out of 10 based on 43 ratings
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16 Comments

  1. ‘What I did had to be done… I laughed my ass off and posted about it on twitter.’

    Did you also get back in touch with whomever it was who gave you the advice? Maybe explain to them why you found it so laughably problematic?

  2. I tried! Even sent them the entire first chapter so they could see how the A.I. In my story worked! They never responded.

  3. Aurélie P. Ecchima says:

    It is funny how part of their advice is “Make it a Sci-fi thriller” when only a week before, I (a comic artist) received an email from a scenarist looking for someone willing to draw their story which is, hold on to your seat, a Sci-Fi thriller!!!

    As part of the people who have to find an editor to get published, I understand your stuggle. Why taking risks and publish something original when they can publish something that worked really well before?

    I hope you will finally find someone open enough to publish your book and that it’ll sell a lot so all the other editors can start eating their nails and wonder if maybe publishing their 16374687th Sci-Fi thriller is a bad idea.

  4. Giulietta Isabella Gassion says:

    As a fellow author who has been told “this won’t work” and “that won’t sell” and “nobody wants to read this” after only as little as a few pages (or in some cases only a summary while talking), I feel your pain.

    If we all wrote what worked for someone else before, who would still want to read a new book? It would be the same old story over and over again.
    That’s not the point of fiction.
    Anything goes. That’s the point.

    I dearly hope that some publisher out there will remember that and give books like yours a chance.
    I’m sure it’s not that a target group does not exist, but that reaching out and making them aware this exists takes a little more work.

    I sure would love more LGBT and romance elements in my Sci-Fi. And anything else, for that matter. Mix the genres up and turn them into something interesting and new.
    Like this novel of yours.

  5. Norfolke says:

    Well I want to read this book. This blog is better than any dust jacket to generate awareness, interest and desire, gold marketing right there – we just can’t act to make a purchase. Any chance of a light prequel serialised in your blog for us to share the doo-dahs out of? There is nothing like a bit of measurable demand to demonstrate worth to a reluctant publisher.

  6. Odd Man Out says:

    Truth is only a small niche of people are interested in LGBT-driven stories. Check out the NYT bestsellers and see for yourself, if you don’t believe me nor that published author who told you so. People want to read stories they can relate to and, given the vast majority of people are straight, LGBT stories don’t have a huge market. End of story.

    • ScarletBea says:

      Well Odd Man Out, you’re in a fantasy site but I’m assuming you don’t read fantasy. After all, you’re not a wizard, a knight, a fighter, nor do you live in a world that doesn’t have current technology, so how could you possibly identify with these books?

      And of course books with straight characters have never been read by LGBTQ people… *roll eyes*

      Please go learn some more about the society you live in!

      • Mantyf says:

        They don’t have a huge market because people like you and that commentator insist that they won’t have and refuse to publish them, thus assuring they will keep having a small market and they can refuse to publish the next story with MOGAI characters because there’s a small market for it, keeping the market small and ensuring they can refuse to publish the next story with MOGAI characters because there’s a small market for it, keeping the market small and ensuring…

  7. Mantyf says:

    The thing I like most about that answer is that the plot they suggest as a solution fails to answer every single one of the questions they said were problematic about making it a love story with an AI, and yet suddenly that love story becomes not only ok, but even good to sell.

  8. J says:

    Wow.
    I mean, I’d totally give this book a go… Would not touch the “sexy confused lady robot” book tho. (It’s a trope, isn’t it? “Born sexy yesterday” right? I’m pretty tired of it.)

    Also, I know some straight ppl and not a one of them has a problem reading a book or watching a tv show or movie with an LGBT lead and relating to or becoming a fan of them. (Just as I somehow manage to find ways to relate to all those straight characters I read/watch, strange and sometimes alienating as they may be…) We all just want something that’s GOOD and not exactly like everything else.

    • Bonnets says:

      Agreed. The whole “sexy confused” cured with penis is a horrible trope that I would never miss if it were to randomly disappear from existence. Augh.

  9. Bonnets says:

    This must be the biggest misconception of all time:

    “But the biggest problem of all, they helpfully explained, was people into LGBT only want to read about LGBT characters in settings where modern life experiences are relevant. In other words, if there was a gay main character, the plot needed to focus on gay issues, not a mystery or an adventure, or whatever.”

    I have heard a lot of LGBT+people say the opposite, that they don’t want to read a book about LGBT+ people being LGBT+, but a good story where happenstance the main character is LGBT+ and there’s not a big fuss about it in the book. Like, it was a totally normal thing? And as a queer person I agree with this sentiment. (And of course there is still room to explore the lives of LGBT+ people being LGBT+ in a contemporary setting, but generally people want interesting and engaging stories).

    Also, seeing how well Ancillary Justice and its successors are doing I would say that the readers are ready for stories that bends common perceptions and rules.

    • Anonymous says:

      As the GT in LGBT, I honestly don’t really want to read stories about being gay or trans. I live that life. I don’t need to read about it too. I’ll take a fantasy story that just happens to have a gay protagonist or a thriller with a trans detective or what have you over that any day.

  10. Shadowkat678 says:

    Hey. I saw about this on Tumblr. I like many others wish you much luck and would LOVE to read it someday!

  11. […] The author expands further on her thread here: Publishing and LGBT Erasure Or My Issues With Robo-Boobs. […]

  12. Kat Goodwin says:

    It’s a strange reality of fiction publishing that an author can write and publish and sell — and still have utterly no clue about what’s going on in the rest of the fiction market and how it works. Everything you got told about types of fiction is dead wrong. (In particular, nearly every SF novel is some type of thriller, including numerous mysteries, and space opera which is not hard SF is a number one seller for SF, just for starters.) It’s quite clear that author has not read a lot of A.I. science fiction — your story is right up that sub-genre’s alley.

    I hope one of the literary agents who were responding to your tweet stream works out for you and that one of the publishers no doubt keeping an eye on that conversation gives you a good licensing deal. The opening of the novel was nuanced and interesting and I hope to be able to read the full book someday.

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