In a new essay on the New Yorker blog, cheekily titled "How Much Gay Sex Should a Novel Have?" Caleb Crain samples a century of gay fiction, from Henry James to his own Necessary Errors, and tries to dissect the widespread publishing myth that gay novels don't sell. Yet for some reason he does not mention E. Lynn Harris's many, many gay novels that charted high on the NYT bestseller list and Justin Torres's gay literary novel on the NYT list and Colm Toibin's gay literary novel on the NYT list and David Ebershoff's gay literary novel on the NYT list and Armistead Maupin's gay literary novel -- last month! -- on the NYT fiction list. Nor does he mention any lesbian literary bestsellers, like Sarah Waters, or new-form hybrid stars like Alison Bechdel. Although Crain's topic is novels, any discussion of publishing's claim that gay literary content cannot sell needs to confront the super-phenom called David Sedaris, whose very gay essay collections have given Little, Brown eight consecutive NYT bestsellers, most at #1.
Another aspect worth exploring is the raft of gay bestsellers by non-gay authors, like John Irving's In One Person and Michael Chabon's several books that feature gay characters in major, co-starring roles.
There's a gap between Crain's observation about popular entertainment:
"After all, homosexuals went on to flourish on television, to become ubiquitous on the Internet, and to prosper in the courts."
and this minority mindset when it comes to books:
"...But capitalism is a numbers game. Self-identifying homosexuals are not an enormous population, and, in general, they don’t buy literary fiction about themselves at a rate that would compensate for their small numbers. It can’t have helped that AIDS decimated the generation of gay men who, in the nineties, would have been in their forties, fifties, and sixties—prime ages for reading and buying books. It might also be the case that AIDSbrought the attention of straights to gay voices in the eighties and early nineties...and that interest in the gay novel faded in tandem with journalistic coverage of the AIDS crisis. Whatever the cause or perceived cause, I suspect that, nowadays, a mainstream publishing house rarely takes on a gay novel unless an editor believes that the book will find straight readers, too. Because some straights still find homosexuality disgusting (cf. comment trolls across the Internet) and a larger number fail to find gay characters 'relatable,' a gay novel faces steeper odds from the start."
Some cultural thinker needs to get at the heart of why gay characters on tv are relatable and gay characters in novels 'aren't.'