Gay, Straight, or Lesbian - Is It Really A Choice?

By New York Times bestselling author Melissa Foster

It is in the literary world, and an important one. There is an ongoing dilemma in the writing world--Should writers write what they feel passionate about or write for the masses? Since first considering crossing genres from contemporary romance into LGBT romance, I learned that this question is driven by much more than sales.

I've always believed that we should write what we feel most connected to, so when I decided to write LGBT novels, I didn't think much beyond the writing. I have a strong contemporary romance readership, and I never imagined that writing LGBT might put that at risk. But as word got around, I was barraged with advice from other authors. The advice ranged from not writing LGBT stories for fear of losing my contemporary romance audience, to writing under a pen name, and more...

Lesbians are a waste of time!

WTH? Recently, an author warned me that writing lesbian themed books was a "waste of time" because the audience was too small to risk losing my readership over. That's when I stopped listening. An audience is too small? I remember when I sold two books a week, and I was thrilled about those two books. There is no such thing as too small of an audience, but there is such thing as choosing greed over passion, and in doing so, perpetuating a stigma that should not exist.


Write Straight Or Lose Fans!

As a writer, the last thing I want to do is upset my readers, and given the advice that was supposedly based on what other authors had experienced, it appeared I had a big decision to make.

Writing LGBT wasn't about "hooking a new audience" or "crossing genres," it was solely driven by the desire to write the voices that spoke to me and develop characters that I connect with. Connecting with LGBT characters was no different than connecting with my hetero characters. People are people. Love is love. But if what the naysayers were telling me was true, then I stood a chance at losing a good portion of my readership by crossing into LGBT--or as I now refer to it, by writing out of the closet.


I've since learned that many readers don't realize authors face this sort of pressure, and I think it's time to step out of that closet, too, and let readers know that these decisions carry weight, and they're scary for writers, but more importantly, the choices we make send powerful messages.

Time to Step Out Of The Closet?

To find my answer, I asked myself one important question: Did I worry about upsetting my readers who are not heterosexual when I chose to write het romance? The answer? Not even for a second. So, why was this an issue? Because readers don't always read book descriptions and het readers might pick up an LGBT by accident. Oh no! [Insert eye roll here]. The answer to the accidental purchase is easy. As long as books are branded clearly and covers indicate the content, then readers can make the decision whether or not to purchase the books just like they do with every book on the market.

Step Back Into The Closet?

Then there was the issue of a pen name, which is a viable option that authors use all the time. In this case, using a pen name would be like living in the closet, and the message it would send would be that I felt something was wrong with what I was writing, or that I shouldn't risk angering readers by writing the stories that meant something to me. Wouldn't that be the easiest solution, though? Just slip another name on the cover and pretend it's not me?

Go LGBT or Go Home!

I think not. Taking on a pen name would promote the stifling mindset that LGBT is off limits. Furthermore, it would validate use of a pen name to hide identities when crossing genres--making it that much easier for other authors to follow, which would be perpetuating the stigma. Prejudice is prejudice, any way you slice it, and I wasn't about to jump on that bandwagon.


What's an author to do?

Gender identity is a hot spot in the news, and LGBT relationships seem to be front and center on a daily basis. Why? Because people like to think that they should decide what's right for others. Okay, it might be more complicated than that, but that's the quick and dirty answer. If I'm to believe the advice givers, then readers will stop buying my hetero work in order to teach me a lesson for supporting LGBT relationships.

Oh, how the rebel in me loves this controversy, second only to the human being in me that wants to prove the advice giver wrong!

It Really Is a Choice.

In the publishing industry, that is.
I had only one choice in this matter--making the right decision. The decision that shows readers that I will write what characters that I feel passionate about. That I won't perpetuate the stigma about LGBT books or culture. I will trust my readership.

Readers READ. They have the ability to understand materials presented to them. If they see "LGBT" on a book description, they can choose not to read those books. If they decide to forgo an author because they write LGBT, well, that's called freedom of choice. And I'm okay with that, too, because if I write for trends and not what I'm passionate about, it'll show in my writing and I'll definitely fail my readers, and failing my readers is not in my bailiwick.


This decision making process validated something that I have always believed. Every single voice can be heard, and the quieter we are, the louder the other voices become. I choose to step out of the closet with my writing, and I never even knew there was a writing closet to consider. What closets are hidden in your life?

Your voice, your choice. Thanks for reading.

Melissa Foster is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of the Harborside Nights New Adult LGBT Romance series, Love in Bloom Contemporary Romance series, and several women's fiction novels.