The review blog All Things Urban Fantasy recently published a piece regarding their refusal to do reviews of self published books. The author of the post said that she has had negative experiences with authors who have reacted unprofessionally to critique. She further went on to cite amateurish covers, as well as grammatical and spelling mistakes in the books. Obviously we believe that the owner of each blog should have autonomy over their own spaces and so we respect the right of the owners of All Things Urban Fantasy to place limitations on which books they will cover however, in our space, our policy is quite different.
At Fangs for the Fantasy, we accept all books with the only requirement being that they fit our specified genre (and we have been known to bend that – albeit not often). If the book has a protagonist of colour, a GLBT protagonist, or a strong female character it is more likely to end up on the top of our to read list. Together, Paul and I negotiate a number of marginalizations and such, we want to see ourselves reflected in what we read. We further recognise how important is to children who come from historically marginalised youth to see positive representations of themselves.
Publishing companies, just like any social organizations, have inbuilt biases. This means that privileged people are far more likely to get publishing deals and books that support a narrative in which historically marginalised people are either erased or subject to negative portrayals are more likely to be published. The idea that traditionally published books are simply a marker of professionalism are missing the fact that agents and publishers act as gate keepers and like all gate keepers their role is to support the active oppression and silencing of historically marginalised people. As reviewers contributing to the attention a book receives, our reviewing police can risk enabling the gate keepers or becoming gate keepers ourselves
Rachel Manija Brown, author of All the Fishes Come Home to Roost, and Sherwood Smith, author of Crown Duel and a great many other novels for adults and young adults published a piece Publisher’s Weekly this past September about the suggestion that they should remove a gay character from a book that they had written.
An agent from a major agency, one which represents a bestselling YA novel in the same genre as ours, called us.
The agent offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.
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. (source)
This is an example of gatekeeping in action. You’ll note that the agents issue was not with elements of the story but simply the fact that the authors dared to have a gay teen and one whose relationships matched that of their heterosexual counterparts. I know that there are those who will argue that there is already some gay representation in the genre (though erasure is far more likely to be the norm), but to that I must point out that the addition of a gay character does not necessarily mean that the role is affirmative in any way. What we tend to see are the gay best friends or gay uncles who are usually celibate and fulfill every trope associated with gay men. These men love to shop, they sashay, are limp wristed and catty, and practically fart unicorns and fairy dust.