ZA Maxfield was at the Romantic Times convention last week and bagged herself a NY literary agent. I don't have all the details and I couldn't be more pleased for ZA. I had the honor of meeting (and shopping and dining with) her in New Orleans this year at EPICon and I immediately fell in love with her charming and self-effacing personality. And from what I've read of her work, I know she's deserving of excellent and big-time representation.
But this blog isn't really about celebrating ZA's latest career accomplishment. It's about a stipulation I heard about that was attached to ZA's signing with this agent. I got the news about ZA's coup from my publisher (who also publishes ZA), who said in an e-mail:
"...let me mention that our own dear, sweet, adorable, fabulous ZA Maxfield bagged a NY agent this last week and she wasn't even trying. Nor does she have a manuscript. YES, she's that good!
They don't want her to write m/m, but they want her and her writing talent, style and voice. How awesome is that? I'm so very proud of her!"
After I got over the feeling of pride and happiness for my new friend, I thought: "wait a minute. What was that part about they 'don't want her to write m/m'?" I confirmed with ZA, who loves writing m/m (or gay) romance and says that she now needs to come up with a "het" book.
And that made me pause. It's not an earth-shattering revelation to me that the NY publishing world is much more equipped to deal with and welcoming to manuscripts that feature straight characters and like their love stories between one man and one woman. It's not even a surprise to me that if you want to really carve out a more lucrative living for yourself as a writer of popular fiction, you are probably better served by keeping your gay characters secondary (if they exist at all) and your "het" characters at the forefront. I know this from my own experience. My first book, a straight horror novel called Obsessed, still has sold more copies than all of my other books put together. I realize that more factors play into Obsessed's success than straight vs. gay characters, but it still made me think about how the old guard--NY publishing--still for the most part embraces heterosexuality in its offerings.
And before you cry "homophobia" I will say something that might surprise you: I understand their "het" leanings...it's a business decision, not a socio-political one. ZA's agent is not being homophobic when she says she wants her new client to write straight romance, she's being realistic. Don't kid yourself, agents aspire to make money and while they may work with literature, the almighty dollar is their first priority. And straight romance sells.
It's interesting this news came along when it did, because just last week I was becoming acquainted with another writer of gay-themed stuff and he said, "I feel the homophobia in publishing is pretty pervasive. Not in the traditional sense but more in the literal sense -- they're "afraid" of gay content because they're "afraid" they don't know how to handle it and they're "afraid" publishers will be "afraid" of it and not buy it."
The sad thing, I suppose, from my perspective is that New York is still, for the most part, afraid to give gay themes and major gay characters a chance to even see how well they sell. I know from experience there is a hungry market out there for gay fiction, yet it's really mainly very small presses who are publishing it to any great extent. Maybe it's a niche market with no crossover appeal and I have no idea what I'm talking about. Maybe the average Jane in Peoria, IL likes her romance heavily peppered with "he" and "she" and couldn't care less about two men in love.
Whatever. The bottom line for me is I'm happy for ZA Maxfield and wish her amazing success; I know she deserves it. And perhaps if she becomes a household name for writing straight romance, people will go back and pick up her early work, great m/m books like St. Nachos, Notturno, Drawn Together, and others and they'll see that gay love stories really have a lot in common with straight ones...and she will help open the door to making a niche market more mainstream.
Well, I can dream, can't I? And in the meantime, I'll continue to write my stories about my people. It's what I care most about...even if the potential for big money might not be the same as if I wrote about straight characters.
Success isn't always measured in dollars.
What do you think?