Friday, April 7, 2017

To Label or Not to Label, That is the Question

I often read and hangout at the Kindle Boards forums for writers. Last week, a question came up about if authors needed to "warn" in blurbs about the presence of LGBTQ+ characters. Having come up from fandom, I have a lot of feelings about this...

Originally, when I was coming up in Buffy fandom and in Smallville fandom, it was the convention that if you were going to be writing a fiction story, you'd warn for certain things for your audience's sake. These included things like if the fic would be NC-17, if it had certain types of kinks in it, if there were character deaths or suicidal thoughts, and in the beginning in some of my fandoms, if you were doing a slash pairing. To be fair, if you were also doing a RPS/RPF (real person pairing), you were usually supposed to give a heads up on that too.

I think as fandom grew and things evolved in the early 2000s and into now, the trend changed from "warning" and listing homosexual or other LGBTQ+ relationships in the "warning" section to putting them in just the overall pairings section. As you can see at Archive of Our Own (AO3), authors always list by pairing so that shippers/readers can more easily find exactly what they're looking for. For example, I'm a big Wynona Earp fan and want to read about Dolls/Wynona, then that ship would be listed and, similarly, in the same overall place, so are Waverly and Deputy Haught, that's listed to.

So to get to the question at the KBoards, to me, it becomes a question of what type of story are you writing? If your story is an m/m romance, paranormal romance for the YA audience, then I think you should label it so people can find it. Some days I feel like reading m/f or other days f/f or some other days m/m or even other combos. I like to be able to find what I am looking for directly, so I think if you are writing a flat-out romance, I want to know the pairing set up the same way I like to know if it's New Adult or Young Adult...etc. or if it's vampires or sci-fi or thriller. It just makes the finding it process easier for the reader.

However, I do feel as a lot of people in the thread did, that if it's just a flat out detective story or urban fantasy or teen comedy...etc., and it's not about the romance specifically, then why do you have to mention it on the blurb? If you're writing a space opera, does it matter if your captain sleeps with men and women while on her mission? If you're writing a horror novel, does it really make a difference if the lead's best friend is ace? I don't think so. I think when the author gets nervous about getting bad reviews after the fact because they didn't "warn" for the inclusion of characters in the book who aren't "the normal default" a la fanfic long ago, then it's a big problem. You meet LGBTQ+ people in daily life as just the fabric of life. Hey, shock, we're out there (no pun intended) so you should just pick up a book and see diversity of color, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation and gender orientation. If  you're an author going out of your way to label about LGBTQ+ characters just to avoid backlash then that's not okay, that's separating them out as "other" and an aspect of the book that makes it restricted (like with the Youtube algorithm debacle lately).

But on the other hand, if you're writing a specific type of romance where the pairing is integral to the plot and is something people might want to know as they're seeking it out (like the difference between m/m and m/f...etc. treated like the difference between a shifter story or a vampire story), then that seems like a reason to mention it in the blurb. Similarly, if your book is about sexual awakening or gender discovery as the plot, then that should be mentioned. 

But if it's just a character who's on a knightly quest but happens to be gay, then you don't need to mention it any more than you would mention if the character were tall or had green eyes. Otherwise, I really think you do readers in general, yourself and the LGBTQ+ community a massive disservice by warning or giving a heads up in a blurb about any gender or sexual diversity that might be in your book. These readers might skip something that if they had no idea going in, they might actually like and that helps them broaden their horizons.

So, yes to labeling romance or coming out stories where that's the central issue so people can find them easily and no to any type of deliberate blurb warnings to avoid bad reviews.

What do you all think?


  1. I think I agree mostly on the "I want to find the gay; please make it easier for me." But you shouldn't have to "warn." It reminds me of the "Warning: Boykisses! TEE HEE!" Insulting and weird, kiddos. Also, in most published work, if it isn't the main focus, the sexuality of the characters might not even get mentioned. If we're assuming Kindle books would be similar to deadtree format...

    1. Yeah like if you're making it easier for me to find lesfic or m/m etc. the way you're making it easier for me to find Urban fantasy or books about truckers...etc., then that helps. It's hard enough to find your way through the millions of books on sites. But yeah, the early fandom days where it was "warning: boy kisses" left that taste in my mouth. If it's not a romance type or a specific book where that coming out or issues around identity are the main plot, then yeah, why would you mention the lead's BFF is ace or whatever. I think the thread it was most people agreed on my take, but I think a few were nervous if you didn't warn upfront for anything "unusual" (grrs) then you, as an author, could face the stray bad review or backlash. Although, I've rarely seen books get downgraded on Amazon or something because there was an LGBTQ+ character in it and it wasn't mentioned up front. Maybe that happens more in YA? but I doubt it.


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