Guest feature: editing LGBTQ+ fiction

This week *cue drum roll* we have the first guest feature on the blog!

Those of you familiar with my previous life as a sociologist will know I have a background in LGBTQ activism among football fans in Southeast Europe. For this reason, I was thrilled to learn of an editor, Nick Taylor, who works with the LGBTQ writing community. I asked him a few questions and here is what he had to say about his work – enjoy!

What kind of texts do you edit? What kind of books do you like to read?

Some of my earliest memories are of reading, or being read to. My favourite was Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, a fantasy that works as well for children as it does adults. It was such a clever book that every time I reread it, I discover something new!

I moved into editing and proofreading full-time because of a love of reading. I’ll read most things! As long as the story is good and the first page has me hooked, I’m in! I’ve read science fiction and fantasy, to romance and erotica, stopping off with thrillers and crime novels and a good celebrity autobiography.

Most of my editing work is done with fiction, although I also edit “creative non-fiction”, which includes things like self-help books and memoirs. Genre doesn’t concern me too much, as I feel getting to a good story is a key part of my role. Genre is, in my opinion, just a way for booksellers and libraries to decide where to put the book!

Who do you work with and how long have you been editing?

I’ve been really excited by the developments in self-publishing, from amateur efforts a few years ago to really professional looking books today. I love to support independent authors as they are so passionate about their stories and making everything just right. It’s an investment for them. For too long, publishers have been gatekeepers to publishing but now more and more people are being allowed to tell their unique stories.

I moved into full-time editing at the start of 2020, having done some writing and editing alongside other jobs. Training was key and allowed me to hone my craft, giving my clients a far more professional edit.

In your opinion, what makes a book a work of LGBTQ+ fiction?

That’s a tough one, because it’s more than just having LGBTQ+ characters. I think it needs to speak of something in the LGBTQ+ experience and deal with the “otherness” that is so often felt by the community.

That doesn’t mean it all has to go wrong. It’s not all about discrimination and struggle, rather about identity and how that doesn’t fit with a society that, still, defaults to heterosexual expectations.

Stories like Simon vs The Home Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli, or Lie With Me, by Philippe Besson, that deal with adolescent feelings are vitally important. They show young people that those feelings are entirely normal and whilst they might be hard to deal with at the moment, life gets better.

Where does general fiction stand on LGBTQ+ issues? Is it becoming increasingly LGBTQ+ sensitive?

Whilst the casts of general fiction might be slowly diversifying, there’s still room to improve. Frequently, LGBTQ+ characters are the best friends, the supporters or somehow playing a lesser role. We need more LGBTQ+ heroes!

For a while, LGBTQ+ fiction was read pretty exclusively by those in the community. With the successes of stories like Call Me by Your Name, by André Aciman, we are starting see a wider readership. And that can only be a good thing for everyone.

Science fiction is a genre well known for experimenting with different ways of thinking about society – take Ursula Le Guin’s book The Left Hand of Darkness, which describes a society of people with no fixed sex. Do you work in these genres? Do you think they have played a role in LGBTQ+ emancipation?

Science fiction, speculative fiction and fantasy genres have always been excellent for LGBTQ+ characters. There’s something safe about exploring alternative worlds with characters who don’t fit the present conventions.

A lot of my work recently has been with authors of these genres with a cast of really diverse characters. You can sense how liberating it has been for these writers to create worlds that are far more tolerant and accepting of LGBTQ+ peoples – and species!

It is also a safe way to explore some of the issues that LGBTQ+ people face in the real world. It is, after all, through fiction that we find out about ourselves and reflect on how we deal with the world around us.

What do you think of the concept of a sensitivity edit? Do you offer this service?

This is another tough question! I wonder if because I am part of the LGBTQ+ community, I am more aware of sensitivity issues, therefore I don’t feel the need for someone else to read the text. That said, I do not profess to be an expert in, say, trans issues, so if I felt there was potential for something to be misinterpreted or even offence to be caused, I would seek out an appropriate person and ask their opinion. Luckily, the LGBTQ+ writing community is very friendly and very helpful!

Of course, if you are not from the community you might feel that sensitivity readers are important to ensure that you are not causing offence. But, for me, that’s something a fiction editor should be doing. It’s a path to navigate: if you don’t know, and don’t want to deliberately upset anyone, the best thing to do is simply ask. There’s plenty of people out there who are more than happy to offer their support.

And finally, are there any great books or resources you would recommend for editors and authors interested in engaging with LGBTQ+ concerns?

For editors, The Radical Copyeditor has some excellent advice on working with LGBTQ+ themes, including style guides and a really useful blog that discusses all sorts of language issues surrounding inclusion and diversity.

For writers, the organisation Out on the Page has a great forum and runs some excellent workshops. I was lucky enough to be invited to one, to talk about editing, and it was a delight.

A massive thanks to Nick for taking the time to answer my questions and feature on my blog! If you would like to learn more about Nick or work with him on an editorial project, check out his website or drop him an email (nick@justwriteright.co.uk)