Pub Rants

Nelson Literary Agency Has No Prob With LGBTQ

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STATUS: I’m feeling a tad riled up.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? MY HEART BELONGS TO ME by Barbara Streisand

Holy cow! Can’t believe I missed this article yesterday. I’m so glad an agent friend forwarded to me. Take a moment to read it and tweet it on but in short, it’s an appeal to support literature with gay and lesbian characters and the fact that there are some appalling agents and editors out there who are making requests that the writers make a gay character straight.

Seriously? What year are we in?

I cannot tell you how delighted I was to see a link to a list of YA literature that features gay/lesbian characters and my author Sarah Rees Brennan’s THE DEMON’S LEXICON series was on it.

This author of mine is brilliant. It’s a wonderful series and her new trilogy that I just sold to Random House also has an absolute kick-a** gay/lesbian main character. The first book UNSPOKEN publishes in fall 2012.

Not to mention, I have a Monica Trasandes’ debut adult literary novel coming out in spring 2012 from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. It’s called BROKEN LIKE THIS and features three main protagonists: a bisexual character, a gay/lesbian character and a straight male character (had to throw that last one in there-LOL).

A multicultural author to boot. I’ll tell you right now it was a tough sell but I loved the novel and I sold it.

So add these to your wish lists if you want to show support via your buying dollars. If I had cover art or anything yet for these two titles, I’d post it here but we are in the middle of the cover design and the buy links aren’t available online yet.

And let’s not forget the incredibly brilliant, witty, impeccably dressed and extremely powerful Lord Akeldama from Gail Carriger’s The Parasol Protectorate series.

I must admit it never occurred to me to add to my agency’s submission page that we are open to accepting material with LGBTQ characters because I kind of thought it went without saying but I’m rethinking it now.

Feel free to link to this blog post that it’s a-okay with us and I have NEVER asked an author to change a character’s ethnic background or orientation.

And because we are talking about multicultural too, check out my author Kimberly Reid’s debut YA novel MY OWN WORST FRENEMY. It’s an African-American urban Nancy Drew series. I mean, just how cool is that?

Note: LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning.

Additional Note: As there seems to be some question about the legitimacy of the original article cited and the agent/agency named, in fairness I’m also including a link to the agent/agency rebuttal to the accusation.

33 Responses

  1. Anne R. Allen said:

    Thanks so much for this Kristin. Unfortunately, it needs to be said. I’ve actually had to turn down potential offers from three agents in the past few years because they wanted gay characters eliminated. It seems to be happening more as the extreme right dominates our national politics.

    One of the commenters in the thread of that post said that there are now two kinds of agents: the ones who represent writers, and the ones who represent editors. You’re obviously one of the former. But there are an increasing number of the latter. They basically get a shopping list from editors and agents get prospective clients to rewrite their books according to the editors’ specs before offering representation. Signing with them is often a very bad career move, aside from equality issues.

  2. Stephanie {Luxe Boulevard} said:

    I attend a writers critique group through RMFW and one our group members has a novel revolving around a lesbian couple. While it is not my writing preference, I have often commended her for broaching this, and many other taboo topics.

  3. Angela Brown said:

    Like you, Kristin, it never occurred to me that you would need to literally break that down. I’ve visited agent sites where they may do a break down of what they are currently looking for and what they are not looking for. However, I wouldn’t expect an agent to want to acquire a talent only to have them revamp the story by changing the sexual orientation/sexual preference of characters. That’s just…sad.

  4. Scott said:

    I meant to add, that I sometimes wondered if my query was being rejected because of gay characters. I know, it could be I wrote a crappy query. But, that little, suspicious voice at the back of my mind, kept whispering away that maybe the people I was querying didn’t like the fact that the main characters were gay. I was also told by one publisher that the market was too niche, therefore they wouldn’t consider the material. Yeah, in this day and age. Scratch that one of my list.

    Thanks again for posting this.

  5. Pthalo said:

    That’s wonderful. Thanks for posting this.

    I think the best way to put this information on what kind of submissions you’re accepting is to say it the way you say it here:

    “This should go without saying, but our agency is open to material with LGBTQ characters.”

  6. twittertales said:

    That stance was one of the reasons I submitted my book to you. I’ve read a couple of really excellent fantasy epics where the hero had a gay best friend who served them extra faithfully due to unrequited love. They generally died sacrificing themselves. It made me want so very very much to finally have the gay person get the girl (or guy 🙂 ). Not that that’s necessarily my long-term plan for the characters, because that might involve romantic peace and security, and we can’t have that.

    I’d been advised by people I respect in the biz not to have a gay relationship, because apparently straight people don’t have enough imagination to enjoy it. To which I say: Bah. (But also, market-wise, you have a point. Which is why we need books that change the market.)

    Louise Curtis

  7. ryan field said:

    I read this article, too, and posted about it on my blog. My POV was objective because I honestly don’t know how literary agents feel about LGBT material. In my own personal experience, it’s never come up before. So I just posted and linked for information’s sake. But now I’m going back to update and link to this post.

    I’m glad you wrote this post. I was wondering…in a general sense…how agents feel about all this.

  8. Anne said:

    I confess I was a little nervous, when submitting my book, about possible agent/editor reactions to my bisexual protagonist and other gay/queer characters, but no-one has breathed a word about it. OK, so they’re not publicising the fact either, but it’s not an “issues” book – the characters just happen not to be straight. It all seems to be accepted as quite normal, at least in adult SF&F here in the UK.

    @twittertales – the “Bury Your Gays” trope is deeply unpopular (and understandably so) amongst the LGBTQ community, so any book that gives a gay couple a HEA is going to win you a lot of friends!

  9. Mostly Nerdy Creations said:

    I can’t believe some agents actually request such a thing. I never even thought it would matter to professions!

    I’m so happy you are supportive of LGBTQ. Thank you for posting about such an important issue!

  10. Jen said:

    Thanks for standing up and being counted, Kristin! I’m currently writing a YA novel where the main character is gay. I’d hoped it would be as much a non-issue for potential agents as it is for my character, but apparently we’re not there yet!

  11. Suzan Harden said:

    Kristin, the other sad thing is that you felt you had to explain what LGBTQ stood for. *shakes head*

    Not a condemnation of you, just an observation of you having to acknowledge how many people stick their heads in the sand.

  12. Roxanne Skelly said:

    I’m glad you’ve acknowledged your support for LGBTQ* content. It’s a rather important issue for me. I’ve been fortunate that my preferred genre (urban fiction) seems to be ok with sexual ambiguity, but there still seems to be a line.

    You cross it, and you’re relegated to that rarely trafficked Lesbian/Gay section in the back of the bookstore…not in sci-fi, fantasy or whatever.

    Lesbian and Gay characters are becoming more common these days, and are probably not that hard to sell. I suspect the real measure would be to sell, for instance, a trangendered primary character…one who might even develop as a love interest. Without the T aspect simply looking like a gimmick.

    Could one sell that to a non-LGBTQ publisher and get it in the UF shelf.

    Hard decisions for an agent, definitely.

    Oh, and FWIW, I’m currently planning to sell out and keep the transgender nature of my supporting character from the reader.

    Her brutal life is what allows her to survive the transition to vampire (not to mention her experience with changing identity). Her trans background is critical to her makeup, and I don’t want to kill her off, but I just don’t think the audience is ready for this. I plan to be a bit vague about it…mysterious past and all.

    I’ve suffered over this decision, and I feel quite dirty. Perhaps I’ll grow a backbone and change my mind at some point, but selling my writing is important to me…

  13. Cat Moleski said:

    Yesterday I stood out in the extreme NC heat on the lawn of our state legislature as it voted 30-16 to put an anti-LGBTQ initiative on next year’s ballot. Today I signed a petition to censure Rep. Sally Kern of Oklahoma for saying “gays are more dangerous than terrorists”. Reading that article just broke my heart. It is not just gay teens who become disheartened. Someday I hope my writing is good enough to be represented by your agency, but today I just hope I can stop crying long enough to get some writing done.

  14. SWILUA said:

    I once had a publisher drop my book when I made a (non-central) character gay. No asking me to change it, they just dropped it cold.

    What happened to the 21st century, right?

  15. Colleen said:

    I’m sure I’m going to be the lone commenter here who asks this, but…if only 10% of the population is gay, and the VAST majority of the people who will read these books are straight, wouldn’t it just be smart business to focus on the 90% who read the books, rather than aim to please 10%?

    I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with gay characters, but if you are trying to attract teen girls in the throws of puberty, maybe having a gay lead character isn’t something that would make them pull that book from the shelf.

    I’m not sure this is homophobia as much as it is a business-driven decision.

    You advertise for the majority, not the minority. If only 10% of people are buying those books, you are missing the other 90% that would turn a profit.

    Let the flogging begin.

  16. Sarah Laurenson said:

    It’s an interesting point, Colleen. I think the logic has some flaws though. Do you really believe that only gay people will buy books with gay characters? That seems to be the underlying premise.

    The basic idea, to me, is that we are all shapes, sizes, colors and orientations and it’s way past time to recognize that. We are all “other” in some way and there is relatability in that.

    I love reading about characters of color but I am white. I also grew up in an inner city black neighborhood, so my cultural background is not evident in the color of my skin.

  17. Kimberly Reid said:

    Colleen, before I was a writer, I was in corporate management at a publicly traded company where my performance was tied to sales and how well my unit did on the Street, so I understand what you’re saying about sales. But 10% of 315 million is a whole lot of people to disenfranchise. African Americans only make up 12% of the US population, so if this was the position my publisher took, Kristin wouldn’t have that cover posted above (love it and my publisher for putting all those beautiful faces on it, BTW). One reason I wrote this book is because there weren’t many options like it when I was a teen, no covers like it on the bookshelf. I felt marginalized. Yes, in terms of numbers and dollars, marginalization makes sense. In terms of people, especially young people learning who they are, wanting validation and confirmation that who they are is okay, I think there is room enough in a free market of 315m for 10%, or 12%, for books that speak to them. This isn’t meant to be a flogging at all, just another perspective, one from the 10 or 12% that have a hard time being heard over the 90%. It’s okay (and lucrative)to let us in — we add some flavor to the party.

  18. Roxanne Skelly said:

    I think there’s an assumption out there that LGBT* characters will cause a net reduction in the market for that book. I suspect this is wrong, for most minority characters, and the assumption insults the readership.

    I’m fairly certain that everyone feels they’re somehow ‘different’ deep down. There are very few ‘muggles’ down there, but most of us are skilled at hiding our differences, hence appear to be ‘muggles.’

    Stories give us a chance to experience ‘difference’ in a positive way. And in a private way.

    I’ll also point out that other ‘industries’ have experienced a positive effect of opening their doors. Corporate America is starting to embrace LGBTQ* folk, as they’ve experienced a net gain in loyal employees. Loyal is the key word.

    Imagine vehemently loyal readers…if you write more than one story.

    (yah, this conflicts a bit with what I said before. I suspect we still have a way to go as far as tolerance)

  19. Leslie Deaton said:

    *CHEERS* all around for the continued excellence coming from your agency, your staff, and your blog. People are people are people, regardless of who they might crush on, love, marry, or date. Great post.

  20. Anonymous said:

    I’m with Colleen on this one! Wow! LGBTQ role models in YA books for our young girls and boys? Kristen, you surprise me, really. And Anne R. Allen – this has nothing to do with the “extreme right dominating our politics” as you said. It is not a political issue, though LGBTQ is trying their best to make it one, it is a morality issue. Sorry, but it is. Being in the 21st century does not mean sexual deviation is acceptable. And let’s keep politics out of this, all right? Leave it to a liberal to make a political issue out of EVERYTHING!

  21. Anonymous said:


    1. Colleen was talking about how LGBTQ elements would influence sales. She was not talking about “morality.”

    2. Politics comes from the greek world Polis, or city/state. It simply means matters of the city/state. Matters that affect the people in the city/state. To be blunt, everything *is* politics.

    3. On the morality front. The use of the term “Sexual deviation” assumes there is a norm which people are deviating from. And not simply a biological norm, since biologically speaking, people deviate from the norm/average all the time (in terms of height, weight, appearance, intelligence, etc.) But rather, you are assuming the existence of a moral norm.

    Where is this moral norm coming from? God? Prove god exists and then we can discuss his thoughts on the matter.

  22. P.N. Elrod said:

    Kristen–you may want to read this as it offers another view of what’s going on with that issue.

    The link you gave was to a blog that’s on PW, not a PW article.

    To quote:

    “Note from Colleen: When the PW blog post was first posted, I was asked by several people to retweet the piece help to spread the word. Because this piece was printed in PW, I felt safe in assuming that the facts of the story had been checked.

    I made the mistake – as so many people have – of conflating PW with the blogs that are hosted on PW.

    In the spirit of righteous indignation, I retweeted the story. Almost immediately I was contacted by several well-respected agents – a couple of whom had already read and rejected the manuscript in question, based on the same editorial concerns – who called into question the facts behind the blog post. I later discovered that not only did I know the agent in question, but that this person was actually a dear friend of mine, someone who most certainly wasn’t homophobic. The more I learned about this incident, the angrier I became at myself for reposting it and inadvertently hurting someone whom I respect and admire as a colleague…”

    Thought you’d like to check an update on the issue! 😉

    I’d love to see more diversity in YA lit and plan to go for it myself when I get around to writing one. Hopefully it will not be held up by editorial issues, which seems to be the core problem here.

  23. Matthew J. Beier said:

    Hi Colleen and Anonymous,

    I don’t typically parade my sexual orientation around, as it’s only one facet of who I am, but I felt it necessary to comment on this.

    I’m not going to flog either of you for your opinions, but your posts pretty much illustrate why I felt so damned alone when I was growing up. Colleen, you have a valid point about “good” business, but that “good” business is part of why I had absolutely no role models to look up to during my teenage years, when I was coming to terms with the fact that I was sexually attracted to other males. It was one of the most confusing experiences imaginable, because all I knew was that “feelings like that were gay, and gay was bad.” If you have never experienced the feeling not just of being different but also of knowing that such a difference could get you harassed, hurt, or even killed (not an exaggeration), then you may not appreciate just how important it is that our society has opened up and LGBTQ children can now have solid role models. All I had when I was twelve years old was the internet, and we all know what a quick internet search of “gay men” can bring up. Oddly enough, I credit the internet with helping me realize who I was.

    Kristin, thank you for this post, and thank you for being one of the lovely agents who doesn’t bat an eyelash at LGBTQ characters. It is so important that art be allowed to imitate life, so that people of all sorts have something to relate to. And yes, we 10% of gay people are part of life.

    To Anonymous, I hope you’ll check out my book “The Breeders,” which is coming out this November. You might enjoy it!

  24. Amy said:

    This is an old article that was the first result on a Google search for lgbt friendly literary agents. I first chose Nelson Agency as my “dream” agency when “The Demon’s Lexicon” was first in production, and then I sort of fell off the publishing bandwagon for a while. Now that I’m dipping my toe back into the idea of submitting, I’m so grateful I found this article!

    Thank you, Ms. Nelson, for reminding me why I chose your agency as my dream six years ago. This post gives me hope.