I write gay character-driven YA contemporary romances. They’re not coming out books. The prose in my latest manuscript is experimental, which has led to a lot of my beta readers calling it “literary” (which I absolutely love but feel weird describing my own work as). They’re almost always dark in premise—SWEETEST DOWNFALL deals in part with a best friend’s suicide, and in my WIP the love interest is recovering from a self-harm habit—and lighter in execution. They have hooks, sure, but nothing huge.
All of this is to say I don’t write for money. I’m writing some pretty great stuff, if I do say so myself, but my books are not Red Queen. They’re not An Ember in the Ashes or All the Bright Places.
So maybe I write for awards? I mean, yes, it would be incredible to win something, but those shiny stickers on book covers have always seemed even less out of my control than the market. You can, to some extent, study and predict the market; you can’t study or predict what book will get what award, especially with rotating committees.
Prestige? Nope—as loyal readers are well aware, my ego’s big enough as it is.
To prove to myself that I can? Nay, good fellow. I’ve written six manuscripts. I’m represented by one of the top New York agencies. I know I can do it.
Stubborn determination? Well, I mean, probably to some extent—I am a Taurus, after all. When I really want something, giving up is not so much an option. Not even when I want to give up. But what’s underlying that? Why am I so stubbornly determined?
It’s not for me. It’s for you.
I work day in and day out to be published because I want my book to reach people who need it. Not in some “my book is the best, most sacred artwork ever composed and it will heal the sick” kind of way—I mean for whatever reason someone might need it, no matter what it is. If buying my very queer book that I will fight to wear a very queer cover might be a stepping stone for a teen to talk to his parents for the first time about a guy he likes, I want it to be there. If the back cover copy detailing how my gay main character falls for his demisexual love interest validates for a grown woman that she can, in fact, write about people who love the way she loves, I want it to be there. If reading about a queer teen with anxiety whose life has been impacted by suicide but who still manages to make his own happy ending helps literally anyone, I want it to be there.
Some parts of my book are very much #ownvoices—I’m gay, I have anxiety, and I’ve been suicidal. The thing about #ownvoices books—books about marginalized characters written by authors who share those marginalizations—is that they have significant cultural impact alongside personal impact. Every time there’s a Black man or a hijabi woman in the author picture in the back of the book, every time the bio ends in “She lives in New York with her wife,” that matters. Representation is absolutely vital for teenagers—not just inside the books they read; in the identity of the author too. I hid my grin every time I walked by David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing in Barnes & Noble when it came out a few years ago. I didn’t buy it until after I came out to my mom, but I remember going home, Googling David Levithan’s name, and smiling and smiling and smiling so much I came close to tears.
My manuscript matters. My book will matter. Maybe it won’t get the money or win the awards or hit the lists. Maybe I’ll be a midlist author for my entire career. Maybe I’ll sell a couple hundred copies.
Maybe it’ll mean the world to some teenager I’ll never meet.
Maybe that makes it all worth it.