Mainstream publishing’s LGBTQ content today resembles the transgressive indie fare of a decade ago. Poet Ocean Vuong’s queer coming-of-age novel, the 2019 Penguin Press release On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, is a book club staple. Last year, MCD x FSG Originals resurrected Imogen Binnie’s out-of-print Nevada, a 2013 novel of transgender searchers; and Detransition, Baby (One World) by Torrey Peters, a novel about trans- and cisgender relationships and parenthood, received a PEN/Hemingway Award.
Even as the big houses lend more support to books by queer and trans authors and with LGBTQ themes, indie publishers, with a track record of being out and proud, continue to lead the charge. PW spoke with editors and others in the independent publishing scene about new queer-centric imprints, international perspectives on queer identities, and the quest for previously unheard voices and unexpected stories.
Making an impression
Grove Atlantic announced an imprint to be led by Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay, who identifies as queer, in 2021; Gay says it’s “a lucky coincidence” that three of her first five acquisitions have distinct LGBTQ themes. The inaugural title from Roxane Gay Books, And Then He Sang a Lullaby (June), arrived unagented from Nigerian activist Ani Kayode Somtochukwu and centers on the relationship between a closeted track star and an openly gay student. “Kayode’s book exemplifies what I want for the imprint,” Gay says. “I want to take chances and encourage and engage with writers no matter where they are.”
The imprint’s second release, Lush Lives (Aug.), by art historian J. Vanessa Lyon, is a queer romance between an ambitious appraiser and an artist who inherits a historic Harlem brownstone, set in the cutthroat 1980s art world. “I wanted to see how the main characters would let down their guard enough to make a connection,” says Gay, who believes publishers have begun “to address history and imbalances [in queer representation]. I’m hopeful it will be sustained and not just for the sake of appearances.”
Mariko Tamaki, another author turned editor, likewise advances LGBTQ voices at her Abrams ComicArts imprint, Surely Books, which released its first graphic novel in 2021. Tamaki, who with her cousin Jillian Tamaki created Skim, This One Summer, and the forthcoming Roaming (Drawn & Quarterly, Sept.), says she is seeking queer titles that are “creator focused”—”stories that comics creators desperately want to tell, and projects we fall in love with.”
She’s also looking to upend the “various notions about what kinds of books equal LGBTQIA books.” Recent releases range from a fictive biography of Patricia Highsmith (Flung Out of Space) to Frankenstein horror (M Is for Monster). This month brings Grand Slam Romance, Book 1, a dramedy by married author-illustrated team Ollie Hicks and Emma Oosterhous. This frothy tale of an irresistible softball player whose presence is kryptonite to opponents will be followed by a curveball into Revolutionary War history, Washington’s Gay General (Aug.) by Josh Trujillo and illustrator Levi Hastings.
Resetting the margins
At the nonprofit Feminist Press, executive director Margot Atwell welcomes—and tries to stay a step ahead of—the mainstream’s embrace of LGBTQ literature.
Atwell sees opportunity in boosting authors of hyper-specific identities. “Even though mainstream publishers are publishing more work by Black, Indigenous, and other people of color and queer and trans voices,” she says, “folks with intersecting marginalized identities are still considered too niche. It’s hard to fit them into a clean box.” She looks for ways to “flip the idea of niche. Specificity and authenticity are so important, and folks will take a chance on something outside of what they might normally read.”
As such, Feminist Press focuses on voice-driven narrative and bringing global work to the U.S. market. These include the collection Happy Stories, Mostly by Indonesian author Norman Erikson Pasaribu (trans. by Tiffany Tsao, June); biracial, nonbinary Gen Z activist Travis Alabanza’s manifesto None of the Above (Oct.); and Wild Geese (Sept.), the debut novel by trans Irish writer Soula Emmanuel.
Queer feminist perspectives prevail at newer, smaller presses too. BLF Press, founded in 2014, amplifies queer BIPOC women, says publisher Stephanie Andrea Allen, “because regardless of what the publishing landscape looks like, very few publishers are celebrating Black queer writing.” BLF’s publications include the 2016 Black lesbian fiction collection Lez Talk, which Allen coedited with Lauren Cherelle. This fall, she and Cherelle will publish Black Joy Unbound (Sept.), a multi-genre anthology of queer Black authors writing about “joy in times of strife.”
Queering the story
For Catapult editor Alicia Kroell, hybrid forms and international perspectives make LGBTQ books especially exciting. “A traditional narrative might not be the best way to tell experiences,” they say. “I like seeing how authors play with form, genre, and storytelling, especially on our fiction side and our globally focused list.”
Catapult’s forthcoming titles include Jennifer Neal’s debut novel, Notes on Her Color (May), which Kroell calls “a classic story of passing, but using magical realism to actualize it for the character,” in this instance a Black, Indigenous woman who literally changes her skin color. Amelia Possanza’s Lesbian Love Story: A Memoir in Archives (May), which PW’s starred review called “an outstanding work of literary scholarship that also delivers a vulnerable, intimate portrait of its author,” considers how to find queer community by researching “people we’ve missed in the past.” Kroell is wrapping up edits on a 2024 title, Musih Tedje Xaviere’s These Letters End in Tears, a novel that reckons with anti-gay laws in Cameroon.
Intersectionality drives acquisitions at Red Hen Press, where a substantial LGBTQ list is complemented by the press’s annual Quill Prose Award for fiction and nonfiction by queer authors. (Quill winners receive $1,000 and a book contract.) Artem Mozgovoy’s Spring in Siberia, a 2023 release that PW’s review called “superb,” centers on the relationship between two boys—one the child of KGB agents—in 1985 Siberia. Alyssa Graybeal’s Floppy (May) chronicles the author’s diagnosis with a genetic connective tissue disorder that affects her mobility. “We’re looking at queerness and ethnicity, as well as looking for the intersections with disability and neurodivergence,” says Red Hen deputy director Tobi Harper.
Brian Lam, publisher of Vancouver, B.C.’s Arsenal Pulp Press, likewise thinks in terms of multifaceted identities. “In the early days, it was butch, femme, and those kinds of sexual identity parameters,” he says. “The last few years have opened the door wide open for trans and Indigiqueer material,” including Oji-Cree/nehiyaw two-spirit author Joshua Whitehead’s 2018 debut novel, Jonny Appleseed, and the 2020 anthology Love After the End, which Whitehead edited, as well as the speculative Màgòdiz (2022) by Gabe Calderón, who describes themselves as a white settler with Mi’kmaq/Anishinabe ancestry, about two-spirit people restoring a damaged world.
“The audiences for queer titles have changed,” Lam says. “There’s a willingness among readers of all persuasions and identities to be reading books that have universal themes but just happen to be queer.” In When My Ghost Sings (Sept.), Tara Sidhoo Fraser examines how, after suffering memory loss from a stroke at age 31, she rediscovered a specifically queer sense of self. In Transland (Oct.), memoirist Mx. Sly navigates kink and fetish culture from a nonbinary perspective. Edgy titles like these are “where independent presses still can find a foothold on the market,” Lam says, “especially as queer writing becomes more normalized among the multinationals.”
Arsenal Pulp recently returned to print Casey Plett’s 2014 debut, A Safe Girl to Love, originally published by the now-defunct Topside Press. “Trans writers have always been part of our program,” Lam says, “and the quality of the work we’re seeing has been extraordinary. It’s a subject area where there weren’t a lot of precedents” until recently.
Plett, meanwhile, has taken on a role as publisher at LittlePuss Press, in collaboration with editor Cat Fitzpatrick, author of 2022’s The Call-Out. “It’s fair to say it’s a pandemic baby,” Plett says of LittlePuss, launched in winter 2020–2021. Plett and Fitzpatrick started LittlePuss after Topside folded, stranding their trans-centered SFF anthology Meanwhile, Elsewhere. “It won an ALA Stonewall Award,” Fitzpatrick says, “and within less than a year the book was no longer available. We started out by republishing it, and because it already existed [in a formatted, edited copy], the ramping up was easier.”
LittlePuss’s second title, Faltas, an epistolary collection by Argentine American activist Cecilia Gentili, won the 2023 Stonewall Award for nonfiction. (“We have two books and they both won the big gay award!” Fitzpatrick says.) LittlePuss seeks to elevate queer and trans authors, though Plett and Fitzgerald welcome submissions from writers of all identities.
Talking gender, genre, and Gen Z
While LGBTQ voices and stories span categories, genre titles comprise a significant share of the market. Whether in romances, mysteries, thrillers, or sci-fi, queer authors and characters attract diverse audiences with inclusive scenarios.
Sourcebooks publishes queer voices across all its imprints, which include Bloom Books, Poisoned Pen Press, and Sourcebooks Casablanca. Senior editor Mary Altman strives to bring LGBTQ authors and stories on board. In years past, readers interested in LGBTQ fiction could draw upon “a rich history of romance titles in indie publishing and smaller digi-first publishing, but not a lot had made their way through to traditional publishing,” Altman says. “Now we have the doors kicked wide open.”
A few years ago, Altman reached out to rom-com author Alexis Hall. “I’d been dying to work with him ever since he published Glitterland,” she recalls, and they connected “at the perfect time, as romance tipped formats from being predominantly mass market to being strongly trade paper.” Altman acquired Hall’s 2020 screwball comedy Boyfriend Material, swiftly followed by Husband Material and the forthcoming Father Material; another novel in the London Calling universe, 10 Things That Never Happened, pubs in October.
Altman expects New Adult (Aug.) by Timothy Janovsky to appeal to the same young, queer rom-com crowd as Hall. “Speaking in broad generalities, our Gen-Z readers don’t necessarily self-identify as romance readers; they read across shelves,” she says. “There’s a willingness to let genres bleed together in ways that 10 or 15 years ago they wouldn’t have, finding young characters who are discovering the intersecting layers of their identities.”
At Kensington Publishing, another indie with a longtime LGBTQ commitment, “we launched what was called our gay and lesbian fiction program at the turn of the millennium, in the summer of 1999,” says senior communications manager Michelle Addo. “This year will be one of our biggest in queer fiction.” On the docket: Robyn Gigl’s Remain Silent (May), the author’s third legal thriller starring Erin McCabe, who like Gigl, is a transgender attorney. (See “Trans Formative Literature,” for interviews with Gigl and other trans novelists.) Kensington also publishes “quozy”—queer-cozy—mysteries including CJ Connor’s Board to Death (Aug.), about a Salt Lake City game store where danger is afoot, and Frank Anthony Polito’s Rehearsed to Death (May), a mystery about a gay Detroit couple, their home renovation show, and community theater hijinks.
“Kensington’s fiction list is built on escapist feel-good fiction, and sharing diverse voices has been a key component from the early days,” says publisher Jackie Dinas. “We want queer characters and voices in all categories—suspense, romance, cozy mystery, thriller. There’s a real hunger in the marketplace for happy fiction that shows queer people in every corner of our country.”
At fiction publisher Bold Strokes Books, editorial consultant Ruth Sternglantz views LGBTQ publishing as “a changing landscape. Tropes that were fresh a decade ago are now stale, and not just because of the market, but because of how queer life has changed.” Founded in 2004 by Len Barot, who writes lesbian romance under the pen name Radclyffe, Bold Strokes emphasizes own voices stories, Sternglantz says.
“We’re looking for contemporary queer stories, evidence of a spark, and craft competence.” She’s looking forward to A Calculated Risk (Oct.), a crime thriller by U.K. paramedic Cari Hunter; An Independent Woman (Sept.), a polyamorous, nonbinary romance by Kit Meredith; and Aurora Rey’s Roux for Two (May), a transgender foodie romp. Sternglantz finds that “authors themselves are reinventing what they’re writing,” with daring representations of gender and sexuality.
Catherine Lundoff thinks along similar lines. She founded Queen of Swords Press in 2017 and is down for fantasy and lesbian swashbuckling, even though, she says, “when I open for submissions, I don’t get as many babes-with-blades stories as I’d like.” She takes chances on unusual work like New Zealand author A.J. Fitzwater’s The Adventures of Cinrak the Dapper, about a lesbian capybara (Lundoff calls Cinrak “our best all-ages title, very trans affirming, with a nice environmental message and animals solving problems”). This year, Queen of Swords is releasing new editions of Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold’s fantasy-mystery duology, originally published by Lethe Press in 2013 and 2014: the Lambda-winning Death by Silver (out now) and its sequel, A Death at the Dionysus Club (Dec.).
We’re here, at last
Android Press stands at a crossroads of queer voices, SFF, and horror, with a forthcoming list that represents queer writing from the African continent. Among its offerings are Nigerian author Dare Segun Falowo’s Caged Ocean Dub: Glints and Stories (June), which PW’s review called a “transporting debut collection,” and South African author Xan Van Rooyen’s cyberpunk-aetherpunk novel Silver Helix (Sept.).
“As a trans person, I want to tell stories that highlight queerness and transness,” says Justine Norton-Kertson, who founded the press in 2021 with the goal of expressing “radical hope” in solarpunk and cyberpunk titles. “Queer folks have lived as a marginalized population for so long that our whole lives have been speculative, dreaming about how things could be different.”
In Hamilton, Ont., three-year-old Stelliform Press likewise publishes speculative fiction, with a focus on climate and on historically marginalized identities. Stelliform publisher and editor-in-chief Selena Middleton explains that “queer voices are part of our mission to amplify the voices of people who are not part of a dominant culture, and to imagine how different intersectionalities are impacted by climate pressures.” She leans toward community-oriented stories, avoiding despair: “Our stories respond to climate in a way that is generative rather than nihilistic.” Forthcoming Stelliform titles include E.G. Condé’s Sordidez (Aug.), set in Puerto Rico and the Yucatán, and the eco-horror novella Green Fuse Burning (Oct.) by Mi’kmaw author Tiffany Morris.
That search for community, found family, and future potential resonates with LGBTQ-focused indie publishers, who don’t shy away from anthologies that unite authors around identity. Neon Hemlock’s annual We’re Here volume of queer speculative short fiction echoes the “we’re here, we’re queer” Pride shout; the next volume, edited by Naomi Kanakia and Charles Payseur, pubs in September. Global voices shine at the four-year-old publisher, among them Indo-Caribbean author Premee Mohamed, whose And What Can We Offer You Tonight won the 2022 Nebula and World Fantasy Award for Best Novella, and Afrofuturist visionary Shingai Njeri Kagunda, whose novel & This Is How to Stay Alive concerns Kenyan identity and time travel. Neon Hemlock publisher dave ring says the press, which launched in 2019, focuses “on acquiring boundary-breaking queer novellas that might be difficult to find a home for at mainstream presses while creating space for nuanced writing, queer and otherwise, that tells underheard stories.”
As with others PW spoke with, ring emphasizes the importance of acknowledging characteristics beyond gender and sexuality. “People move through the world based on not only their queerness but with all aspects of their identity,” ring says. “Part of the role of small presses is pushing back against the idea of monolithic identities and showing the breadth of what these experiences can look like.”
Read more from our LGBTQ Voices in Publishing feature:
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