Burston: big publishers see LBGT books as 'niche'

Burston: big publishers see LBGT books as 'niche'

Big publishing houses still have the perspective that books about LGBT characters or dealing with LGBT experiences are “too niche for a big market”, the founder of the Polari First Book Prize has said.

The longlist of 12 for this year’s prize, which awards books examining the LGBT experience, includes just one book from a major publishing house - The Palace of Curiosities by Rosie Garland, published by HarperCollins. Prize founder Paul Burston told The Bookseller that in the prize’s four-year history, most submissions were from independent publishing houses, then self-published authors, and finally big publishing houses.

Burston said: “There are the odd books [from big publishers] that buck the picture, but I think that on the whole bigger publishing houses tend to be more conservative. We have been in a recession and there is a lot of change in digitisation so I can see why bigger houses are more wary and have to make safer decisions.”

Last year’s Polari prize was won by Mari Hannah’s The Murder Wall, published by Pan Macmillan. But, speaking at the Theakston’s Old Peculier crime writing festival last month, Hannah said: "My protagonist Kate Daniels is gay and that was a perceived risk – it was not easy to find a publisher."

And Burston told The Bookseller: “The fact that Mari Hannah’s books were rejected so many times does speak volumes. It is not a coming out story, it is not pornographic, the protagonist just happens to be a lesbian."

Among the books on this year's longlist is Fairytales for Lost Children by Diriye Osman, published by independent Team Angelica. Editor John Gordon said literature about LGBT issues and characters faced the same problem “a lot of black literature suffers from”.

“There is a perception that it’s easier for people to relate to a story about the plague in a medieval village than to relate to a black person and their experiences,” he said. “People seem to be less comfortable going there and it is the same with gay issues. People seem to find it harder to relate to.”

But Adele Ward of Ward Wood Publishing, whose Stephen Dearsley’s Summer of Love by Colin Bell is on the longlist, said the reason for the high number of entries from independents could also be because the prize did not charge a high entry fee, and was therefore more accessible to smaller publishers.

“I think this year's Polari longlist certainly shows that independent publishers can compete with the major publishers when the main criterion is quality rather than who can pay an entry fee,” she said.

Lisa Milton, m.d. of Orion General, commented: “We just buy the best book, if that explores an area or character in that area [LGBT] then we would go for it [if we liked the book]. I think there are areas of publishing we feel are underpublished, but we don’t segment in that way. We segment into literary fiction, or sci fi, but all authors are marginalised in some way, and we have to work together to get books to the attention of readers.”

The Bookseller recently noted an upsurge in young adult fiction featuring LGBT characters and themes.