Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Genderfluidity in the query

I finished and polished an urban fantasy novel some time ago and queried for a while, getting a couple bites for fulls and partials but nothing panned out. My novel features a genderfluid character in the lead role, and a part of me worries that might be a turn off for some agents, despite hearing so much about people wanting diverse books. I fear that this is one of the reasons agents aren't willing to touch the novel.

Another worry on my mind is the fact that I am also genderfluid, and I write mostly under my female name. But that name doesn't match my legal name and I wonder if an agent would let something like this name and pronoun business with the author prevent them from offering representation.

I started querying under my male name, stating my preferred name as my pen name, which is female. Later I queried entirely under the pen name but stated in the query that I am genderfluid mostly so they didn't think I was just doing it for kicks. I live my personal and online lives as genderfluid, though my professional life still requires me to generally be male.

I realize this looks like a bigger mess than it probably is, but would you let something like gender confusion be a reason to shoot down a pretty good book?

Short answer: no

Longer answer: you know me well enough by now I hope to understand that NOTHING gets between me and a project I want. Not gender fluidity, not names, not location, not even threats from La Slitherina Herself.

In other words, it's not you, it's the book.

You've gotten some requests. They haven't progressed.
That tells me that something is wrong with the novel.

If you don't have a good crit group, or a tough-minded (but not vile!) beta reader, that's the first step.

The second is to get pro-eyes on it. A good writing class, an agent pitch session at a conference, or any other of a lot of other options is a good idea.

And a side note: you do NOT need to explain your genderfluidity in a query. You are who you are: a writer. Your name and gender are your business. Just tell me what you like to be called and let me how to make out the check. If it's important to you that you explain your name and genderfluidity, that's ok too. Just tell me what you like to be called and let me know how to make out the check!


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

“Just tell me what you like to be called and let me know how to make out the check.”

If only life and writing were so easy. Maybe it is and we just haven’t figured it out yet.
I didn’t know that sitting on a barstool could make a shark so damn smart?

Theresa said...

OP, any agent who recoils at genderfluidity is one you don't want to work with anyway. Get some more eyes on your manuscript, revise, and hit the query trenches again.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Is that what my problem is, 2Ns? I'm not sitting on a barstool enough!! LOL. Thank you for putting a silly grin on my face.

OP: thank you for asking the question. That's always a thought, isn't it? Agents are asking for diversity but will they like this kind of diversity. Yes, other eyes on your pages if you haven't done already.

Did you let the story rest between revisions so that you can see it with fresh eyes? That's how I found plot holes between what ended up being a rough draft and the revisions of my story.

And there are great blogs about the craft of writing, story structure, character arcs, etc. And Janet pointed out, a while back, a great book by Barbara Baig, Spellbinding Sentences. Best of luck,OP. And keep persisting!

AJ Blythe said...

Janet, I've read a lot recently about sensitivity readers, so would OP including their genderfluidity in their query be a positive? Not as a "sorry for the confusion" way (as seems to be the case OP listed), but as a "I know what I'm talking about" kind of way.

Good luck with your novel, OP.

Donnaeve said...

I'm either getting smarter, or I'm able to intuit Janet's mind.


I knew this answer! Yippee for me.

OP, the good news did get some nibbles for your work. As is typical for a writer, you're doing what we all do - questioning anything and everything except that it might be the story. This is hard to go back to when you believe you've perfected it, got something that's ready.

It's a hard fact to face that it might not be ready...and to seek tough/critical feedback. Better now though...and you've got a great plan of action here, courtesy of The Shark!

Good luck as you move forward.

MA Hudson said...

I agree that OP should get lots of eyeballs on this MS, especially those of people from outside the transgender community - just to make sure the gender fluidity isn't confusing for the reader to keep up with.
Well done on the requests for fulls, you must be on the right track.

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

Certainly given the interest that has been shown for your manuscript and then nothing beyond may indicate that there are still problems with the book.

And I appreciate Janet indicating that this is all that matters - the writing, the story, etc.


Inasmuch as agents, editors, publishers, whomever say they want more diversity, it's not off base to also know that straight, white, cisgender etc publishing folk do want a certain POV on that diversity. ie: through a straight, white, cisgender et al audience lens. It's kind of like what Lisa Bodenheim is saying with "do they want this kind of diversity" - but even more specifically, do they want authenticity, or only what they think the dominant population can "understand".

I am thinking along the lines of YA author Malinda Lo's tumblr series about "Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews"

Again - yes, obviously there could be more that is needed to revise the story, and I definitely agree that trying to explain the genderfluid name choices is not the thing needed in the query, but it also might take some time to find that right agent like Janet or Brooks Sherman or Fuse Literary, etc, who will really walk the talk and get that book out to the masses.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

OP, it's the book. Publishing loves diverse characters and writers. See the complete works of constant NYTBS Robin Hobbs. I doubt anyone does character better than her. She is a rare master.

Get some pro eyes on your work and good beta readers. Also, read books that have successfully tackled such diversities. There are lots of these. Invest in at least having those first pages thoroughly edited by a professional. There are good deals for this all the time. Watch agent and editor feeds on twitter. A good workshop would not go amiss either. Most of all keep at it. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.

Good luck, OP. You got this.

BookEnds Literary Agency said...

I hope this person is querying BookEnds because this sounds exactly like the project and author so many of our agents are looking for. #ownvoices is incredibly important to us.

If you've already tried BookEnds and it's a pass it has nothing to do with genderfluidity and everything to do with your book. Like Janet, that's all we care about.

DLM said...

Okay, that comment by BookEnds ... kinda epic, OP! You're getting some great sources for excellent advice.

Barbara said...

OP, it very well may be the book, but perhaps on your next few submissions, use the name you want to use, and don't mention your other name or genderfluidity. No one's going to send you a check at this stage of the game. If the book still gets a pass, you'll know it has nothing to do with who you are, and you won't spend a lot of time worrying if it's you or the mss. You'll know it's the mss.

And when an agent says I want to represent you/this book, then you can explain your situation if you choose, or do what Janet said. Just tell them which name goes on the check.

And if they change their minds at that point, it's neither you nor the mss. It's them.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

BookEnds, way to go.
Love this.

Colin Smith said...

*waves* Sorry--not as responsive this week... I'm in a class, and I've got a work deadline... but suffice to say, it's always about the story. And, I hope, it's always about the story, not your politics, your faith, or anything else about you. Let's face it, writers come in all shapes, sizes, proclivities, oddnesses, etc. (speak for myself!). All that should matter is whether the story is good, and people will read it.

Baneff18 said...

Hi, I'm the OP... And I want to say thank you all for the wonderful comments and tips and everything.

BookEnds, I may very well take you up on that.

I know the manuscript isn't perfect. I do not have the money for a professional edit, sadly. With the initial interest but then rejection I did worry that it was me, not the book.

I am working on a new draft to tighten up the story and intend to find a mythical beta reader or critique group for this one.

Again, thank you all, and especially you Ms. Reid. This post has gone a long way to assuage my fears.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

LetterWriter- Congrats on writing the book! I know the advice is a little ouchy. Rejection of the story that is your heart and soul is a different hurt than rejection because of your identity.

Good luck!

DLM said...

Baneff18, BookEnds' offer isn't a "may" - it's a MUST! Maybe after a polish and some beta reading (you should not have to pay for an edit if you find good crit partners and give it real effort), but definitely query them, and remind them of this comment/thread!

Way to go!

Casey Karp said...

Baneff, thanks for commenting. I always like to have a name to attach to a question. It's part of what makes this a community.

I can't really add a whole lot to what others have said, but I will toss this in: if you don't have the dollars for a professional edit, don't despair. Having one is a good idea, but it's far from a requirement.

What is a requirement is to get more eyes on the manuscript. There were a lot of good suggestions recently for finding beta readers. And if you haven't already, I'd also advise you to spend some time at Absolute Write. I've gotten great advice about my first few pages there, even without getting a long-term CP.

Claire Bobrow said...

Find a critique group, Baneff18, and keep polishing. You'll get there. Good luck!

BJ Muntain said...

Yup. The cheque is the important thing when you're dealing with pen names. You'll either have to use your legal name - the name your bank account is in - or set up some understanding with your bank that you also do business as your pen name. (Hint: The former is easier, and that name won't be appearing in public, anyway.)

I agree that a good critique group can make all the difference. Find one that understands your genre.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Baneff18 ... BookEnds! BOOM!

Laina said...

I wonder if perhaps after some editing/betas, one thing to try along with queries would be the diversity themed pitches on Twitter? Seems like a good fit for something like this.

Steve Stubbs said...


Ms. Reid is right. If you did not get requests for fulls, you would know the query was not working for you. If you did get requests for fulls, the query definitely does work. If you did not get a contract, the book does not work.

I am sure I won't hear anything, but if you want a critter, send it to: stevestubbs1 AT and if I can see anything that may be shooting you down, I will tell you privately what it is (after first getting your permission.) Whatever it is, it is almost certainly not what you think. It is also easy to spot. My opinions are free. You get what you pay for.

I have belonged to several crit groups and have read lots of unpublished MSS. From what I have seen, you are wise NOT hiring an editor, unless you have an enthusiastic referral from someone you trust. Blindly sending thousands of dollars to some Joe Schmuck who puts out a classified ad is a Bad Idea. If you do hire one, go through Writer's Digest. And be prepared to shell out. Ms. Reid could probably also give you a good referral.

Good luck. I have a good feeling about your prospects.

Colin Smith said...

cheque... awww, BJ's Canadian is showing. ;)

BJ Muntain said...

Colin: You better believe it! And I just left a comment on another blog, using the word 'dialogue'. Because Canadian spellings are full of STYLE. :)

kathy joyce said...

I understand the concept that it's all about "the story." There's more to it though. Which story? The one I wrote, or the one you're reading?

There is only one set of words, but we all read "the story" differently. That's why today's question and the answers are so important. Baneff18 is asking, "Might agents reject my words because who I am discolors the story for them?"

Beta readers help make the words better, but they also explain how others interpret the stories we're trying to tell. It's the same with agents, except they're trying to predict how others will interpret (and pay for) the stories.

We can't write to all the speculation; we just have to write the stories our hearts and souls dictate. Then we have to research agents to find one who will understand. We also have to bring the readers who can understand to the story, or take the story to them.

The more I write, the more I understand ideas I once thought were cliches: be true to yourself and your story, do your research, find an agent who believes in you and your work, writing is a career, you are your brand.

Good luck Baneff18!

Donnaeve said...

Bookends, y'all!

My Expression

Hey Baneff!

DLM said...

One thing to note which is unquestionably loathsome, but does point to odds, if nothing else, is the advantage men have in querying:

(Link is cis/binary-centric, culled from a Google search for "querying as a male author versus female".)

I won't get deeply into my using "DLMajor" or "DLM" as an online identity (my full name and gender are hardly a secret), but it's not incidental to note that I have an assertive voice in text, and how frequently people online, including right here, take me for a man.

Just sayin'. Not advocating.

kathy joyce: "we can't write to ... the speculation" - YES!!!!

Donna - aww.

And as this is my third post today, I will close with renewed hurrahs for Baneff18. Woo-wee!

AJ Blythe said...

Baneff, as soon as you've had crit/beta eyes on that book get it to BookEnds. Their #mswl and blog posts echo what was said here about looking for #ownvoices. In fact, it was commentary I've read at BookEnds that made me ask my early question about using your own genderfluidity as a selling point in your query.

Donna, exactly! (love that owl)

Colin, you had me stumped for a moment with your comment to BJ.

Baneff18 said...

ugh, the downside of working all day. It's hard to hold conversations on things like this.

Being a Canadian myself I concur with BJ that Canadian spellings are full of style. Awesome style. Awesome snow-covered icicle style.

It got cold up here today.

I read that article, DLM, when I was first questioning with this topic. It's hard to find instances of male writers writing under female names outside of Romance novels. Sure, I look and sound male, but the truth is much more complicated than that.

Laina, I actually pitch during #DVPit the last couple time, and it got me a couple favorites. Two of these are actually the full requests I'd gotten before.

Casey, I am on Absolute Write, but probably don't use it as often as I should.

anyways, off to second work, but again thank you so much to everyone. This thread has gone beyond anything I even considered when looking for opinions.

LynnRodz said...

Wow, Baneff18, and BookEnds, no less!

Colin Smith said...

BJ and Baneff18: Of course, I comment on the spelling as a former Brit, who was once well-practiced in the art of colouring his spellings with extraneous letters. ;)

BJ Muntain said...

AJ and Baneff18: I think Colin misses his own British origins at this time. I thought I heard a sigh in his comment about my Canadianism. :) And I know Aussies use the proper stylish spelling, too. :)

Baneff18: It's chilly here in Saskatchewan, but mostly due to the wind. Wow, did we ever get a wind today. Gusts up to 85 km/h (about 52 miles/hour). I understand there are trees and branches down, and power out here and their in the city. The dog and I stayed inside today. Little Girl Dog would have been blown away by that wind - literally!

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Yes, we Aussies colour our spelling the same way our Canuck cousins do. Also, it's chilly here too. This morning hit about 6C, with dew.

Baneff, don't make too big a deal about your genderfluidity. Yes, it's an #ownvoices consideration, and one that, when gently mentioned, will be a benefit for you. But don't overthink it. After all, genderfluidity is your normal, and why make a big deal over normal?

Books are judged by voice and style first, then by plot and characters, then worldbuilding, and politics last. If a book is rejected, it will be for reasons more in this order, rather than genderfluidity. I've read books with genderfluid characters (The Ilario series by Mary Gentle, fr'ex), so it's not like they can't be published, and the market isn't saturated with them, so that's another point in your favour.

I echo everyone else's advice to find a crit group or a few good beta readers. Freelance editors are better suited for tightening polished works, than for correcting apprentice mistakes.

If this is your first book, your mastery of the craft might not be as refined as is needed if you want a career in writing novels. A crit group or even a workshop can help with that, not just in getting your work critted, but by you critting the work of others.

And read. Widely and variously. Read stuff you might not normally read. Make notes.

And write. Don't get stuck on this book. While it's mothballing or being critted, be working on the next novel. Nothing improves the craft so much as writing.

And definitely take up BookEnds' offer to query them, not only with this book, but any subsequent books.

First book doesn't always sell. The second one often does.

(And that's my three comments of one hundred each gone in a single post.)