I’d like to stop and talk about something a little personal today. It’s going to sound like a rant in the beginning, but I promise that it has a happy ending.
I write a lot of different types of stories. One thing that doesn’t change is that I always include LGBTQIA+ characters. (See the list of all my queer characters.) And I know that there is a whole range of tastes out there, so not everyone loves the same books. Some people love Sarah J. Maas and some people think her books are trash. Some people love Lord of the Rings and other people will roll their eyes if you even mention the name. That’s all great because we are all different people, and I know some people won’t like my books. But the biggest and most common criticism I get of all my work is the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ characters.
Sometimes the criticism is outright bigotry. I love that Small Town Witch has a one-star review claiming that the book is promoting the Gay Agenda. But some well-meaning people have tried to convince me that I am hurting my sales (or reads, or popularity, or whatever) by including LGBTQIA+ characters because that’s too niche. The market for gay stuff is too small, they argue, and I could be much more successful if I wrote something with more mainstream appeal.
I didn’t believe that when I came out in 1998, and you could count the gay and lesbian people on TV on one hand. I didn’t believe that in 2003 when I was in college, and my writing teachers gave me some very harsh criticism “for my own good.” Now it’s 2022 and we’ve already made so much progress on gay rights and visibility. Why am I still hearing the same excuses?
But wait, because here is the happy part.
The novel that I started in 1997 and was too afraid to add queer characters to was Riwenne’s story. By the time I was workshopping it in college creative writing classes in 2003, I was trying to figure out how to write lesbian and bisexual characters. But every teacher and student told me that my work sounded like fanfiction. (I was accused of copying Willow & Tara on Buffy, and they all insisted that lesbians would only be “trendy” for a minute and go out of fashion before I finished the book.)
When self-publishing was new, I wanted to dip my toes in, but I didn’t know what people would read. I didn’t want to slap an LGBT label on my books and have them get ignored. The two books that I wrote and published first were Small Town Witch and A Flight of Marewings. Rosa in Small Town Witch is bisexual, but her love interest in the first book is a boy, and Korinna in A Flight of Marewings is straight and marries a man. I was still afraid of getting caught in a queer niche where no one would read my books.
But in 2018, I finally took the plunge and published Riwenne & the Mechanical Beasts, and I made it as gay as I wanted it to be. It’s steampunk so it rides the line between sci-fi and fantasy, making it hard to categorize. But it’s very gay and I was very clear about that in every description and tag. (Brie in The Reluctant Witch is also very gay, first published in 2020.)
The Divine Warriors series has been building up slowly and steadily in the past four years and I’m working on the final book now. Not only is Riwenne a lesbian and in a romantic relationship with another girl, but there are characters who are bisexual, asexual, nonbinary, trans, gay, and otherwise all over the spectrums for gender and sexuality. It hasn’t had runaway success but it has a small, loyal following.
Until now. I started offering the first book for free, thinking I might get a hundred or so more downloads. It’s been rejected by the biggest ad site whenever I’ve applied (Bookbub, which did feature The Reluctant Witch and Small Town Witch a few times, with moderate success), so I didn’t even pay for a big promotional campaign this time. I asked other authors to help me share the deal, including joining the Mega SFF giveaway last week.
Well, something took off. Right now, over 2200 downloads across all the major ebook sites. At its peak, it was ranked #177 out of all free books on Amazon.com. (It’s farther down the list now, but I’ve been in the top one thousand for a week now–and I’ve never been that high on any book, even with a Bookbub or hundreds of dollars in ads.)
That tells me that this isn’t a niche, weird book that only a handful of people want to read. Thousands of people are willing to take a chance on a steampunk magical girl lesbian story by an author they’ve probably never heard of before. I’m overwhelmed by this incredible response. I hope many readers fall in love with Riwenne and her friends.
But I also hope that I can inspire others to write their weird niche books. Let’s fill Amazon with gay characters and sapphic romances and nonbinary people and asexual stories. Stop worrying if there is an audience for your books, and just write them!
And I’m not going to be afraid of writing the characters and stories that I want anymore. I told someone recently when I was describing my new serial, 90s Girl Cult, that there will be lesbians later in the story. And he told me that “There Will Be Lesbians” is a great tagline. So I’ll take it!
Oh, and Riwenne & the Mechanical Beasts is still free if you haven’t grabbed it yet! Click the cover below to choose your store.