What You Can Do (Yes, YOU!) to Grow the Genre: Part One

The first-annual Gay Romance Northwest was convened on September 14th, 2013, and I hope there will be many more. First, because it was amazing to attend a forum of readers and fellow writers in the genre. Second, because so many vibrant ideas came out of its information-packed program.

Our keynote address was delivered by Marlene Harris, who I had the pleasant occasion to speak with during the after-event Happy Hour, and she gave a call to action that I wanted to bring forward and urge each and every one of you to take up. It is surprisingly simple. Even in its simplicity, it can launch a huge ripple effect, and has the potential for amazing long-term results for our genre.

I don’t know about you, but as a reader of gay fiction, when I want to read something in the genre, I typically buy it. Not necessarily because I am flush with cash (ha, ha) but rather because no matter how much I frequent my local library, gay fiction is very much absent from their shelves. I love libraries! I practically grew up in one. I fondly remember the days I’d ride my bicycle halfway across town, check out a thick stack to while away the summer evenings, and do it all again the following week or mere days later, depending on how quickly I devoured them. Whole new words open up through the printed word, and the library was the best way for me, a young person with very scant income, to satisfy my bookish tastes. Parents who were quick to get me back-to-school clothes and supplies didn’t quite see reading material the same way. Combing through the shelves as I grew older and tried to find gay characters, though, was like turning to my oasis getaway and finding it dried up into a desert.

Why don’t we go to our local library for gay literature? Well, they don’t have it. They won’t carry it, you might say.

But did you ask for it?

In the vein of “if you build it, they will come,” when there’s something that you want to read, you can request it from your local library. There are many ways that libraries decide what gets purchased to put on their shelves, and one of them is reader request. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I wish I could check that book out before I buy it–but my library doesn’t have it,” there’s a simple solution. Ask your library to carry it!

Sure, you don’t get the immediate gratification of loading it onto your e-reader or holding it in your hands right away. But if you’re strapped for cash, the wait is probably worth it if you’re able to get the title from your library in the end.

Suggesting books to your library works on two levels. If you’re a gay fiction reader and want to see certain titles at your local library, ask for them. You may see those titles filtering into the library and onto shelves, amount of time dependant on their process. If you’re a gay fiction reader and you love certain titles and want everyone to be able to read them, you can still ask for them! Even if you’ve already enjoyed them yourself, if you spread word far and wide about good books, the audience grows, the books get purchased, and more books get written and published for the whole genre.

At this point it’s important to tip the hat to the role politics plays in your region. “I ask for books I want, and they get them? It’s as simple as that?” Well, that depends on your library. Some libraries like Seattle’s are open to a wide range of content, and more than happy to work with the gay fiction presses to get their books on the shelves and their ebooks on the roster. Others may be more conservative–in those cases, I’d say it’s worth the effort to rally the local community and get several people writing in to suggest the same titles and authors. Though libraries may have different policies, they are all supported by public dollars, and their public has the right to at least ask to have their reading tastes represented.

The two-part call to action boils down to the first of two things that you, yes YOU, can do to expand our genre and make it more successful. Is there something you want to read or have others read? Ask your local library!

As for the other half of my call to action … that’s to be continued, next Monday. Thanks for reading! I’m going to cover the entire weekend in Seattle as soon as I muster up the brainpower–feels like con hangover, probably due in part to the four-hour drive. I’d do it all again. And will, next year.

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