What exactly makes a "gay novel"?

Question: I'm curious... I've heard of "gay literature" as its own genre. I'm seriously curious of what qualifies a novel to become a gay novel. I like writing fantasy/sci-fi types of stories, and I would actually be thrilled to write a story in which the protagonist just so happens to be homosexual. But would that automatically take my book - no matter how many robots or demons or wizards or zombies or clones or whatever that I put into it - into the genre of "gay novels"? Any input would be great!

P.S. I want to make it perfectly clear I'm not anti-gay or anything! It's just that I never understood what constitutes "gay literature". That's all. It's like "women's literature" or "Christian literature". I don't have anything at all against any of them, it all just sounds more like target audiences to me, not actual literary genres. Thanks again!

Answer: You're quite correct that, when we talk about Christian, women's, children's, young adult, gay, or LBGT fiction, we are talking about books targeted towards a particular audience.

The "targeting" generally consists of

1. Dealing with issues of particular interest or concern to the target group.

2. Having a main character who is a member of the target audience, so the readers can identify with the character's perspective, concerns, and inner conflicts.

3. In the case of children's books, adjusting the vocabulary, style, and book design to match the reading level.

Of course, you could have a novel with a gay main character that is not specifically targeted to a gay audience, just as you can have a Christian main character in books intended for a general audience. It's a question of how much the character's sexual orientation or spiritual beliefs matter to the story and the thematic message.

For instance, you could decide to have a gay main character because you want someone with an outsider's perspective on the heterosexual relationships in the story. That would be different than having a gay main character because you want to explore issues affecting gay men.

Apart from audience designations, you can also categorize genres by things like setting (e.g. historical, science fiction) or type of story (crime romance, fantasy, literary).

Most types of story can be written for any audience. So you can have many different combinations such as Christian romance or children's fantasy, or LGBT mystery, etc.

It can help to be aware how your book will be classified, because if your book does well the publisher will ask for more of that type. For instance, if you have a passion for gay paranormal and you want to target that audience, go ahead and write a main character who lovers of that sub-genre will also love.

But if you just want to write paranormal, you may want to save your gay main character for a later book, after you've established yourself as a paranormal writer. Otherwise, if your portrayal of the character is really good, you could get designated as a writer of gay fiction and disappoint your readers when the main character of your next book is straight.

Of course, considerations like these take a backseat to the primary consideration of writing the story that you feel most desirous to write. Sometimes that's not the type of story you usually read and love personally, or the type you ever imagined writing. Muses can be so vexing that way.

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