Do You Love Queer Books?

Thanks to an outpouring of support, we made our fundraiser goal in JUST FIVE DAYS!!! Thank you if you’re an A+ member or if you donated. This support means that Autostraddle can survive through January, that we’re okay for now. But as we look ahead to an actually pretty scary 2023, we have to acknowledge that we need more monthly A+ members on our side in order to continue to keep this space around. So many of our incredible writers and team members wrote posts for the fundraiser, and we’re going to run them through the 12th, during our Monthly A+ Member Drive. If you sign up at the $6/month level or higher as a monthly member before the midnight PST on the 12th of November, you’ll get a bonus pack of 4 stickers, too, on top of the usual perks. So, what do you say? Will you join?

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Do you love queer books? My guess is if you’re here reading this on Autostraddle, you probably do. Perhaps you used to secretly read queer books before you were out. Or read/write queer fanfiction before you were out. Perhaps you loved the library as a kid, a place where you could be quietly, subtly yourself. Perhaps, as a kid, you also frequently stayed up past your bedtime, little plastic reading light casting a glow across your face and the page, letting yourself get lost in the wonder and magic of a really good book. Perhaps now as an adult you Google things like “new queer books” or “trans memoirs” or “gay short fiction.” Perhaps those searches once brought you to an Autostraddle list, review, or author interview.

I am the managing editor of Autostraddle, but I’m also the editor of our Literature section. This was, in fact, a priority I stressed during the application/interview process when vying for this position. I said I wanted to make our books coverage some of the top LGBTQ+ literature coverage there is.

I came into this job with a lot of goals. But at the top of those was my vision for expanding Autostraddle’s book coverage and our place in the literary world. How can we support LGBTQ+ authors, especially as the publishing industry continues to be a racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist space? How can we support the writers on our team who also write poetry, fiction, and creative work for places beyond our pages?

With in-depth, expansive books coverage.

I want us writing about YA, literary fiction, short story collections, poetry, experimental books, self-published books, sci-fi and fantasy, romance, memoirs, essay collections, history, niche nonfiction, all of it. I want us interviewing queer and trans authors about their craft, their dreams, and weird shit that maybe they don’t get to talk about in other publications. “I’ve been waiting for someone to notice that almost every single story in this book has a sex scene!” K-Ming Chang said in her interview with Autostraddle about Gods of Want. You can always count on Autostraddle writers to point out when queer work gets horny.

And all jokes aside, that’s very important to me. Earlier this year, I read a review of a book about lesbians written by a straight woman. Do I think straight readers can engage deeply with queer books? Sure. I don’t think straight people should be banned from reviewing gay books (though, this does seem like something I would say after like 1.5 martinis but like AS A JOKE). The review was, like, fine. But there was something…off. The words “queer,” “lesbian,” and “gay” were never used once. I cannot stress enough how explicitly, textually gay this book was. It was like the critic was hesitant to name it as such.

I don’t think I’m overreacting when I say that scares me. It’s easy for us to point to overt things like Don’t Say Gay policies as inherently homophobic and regressive, but there are insidious forms of homophobia and transphobia like this that are just as silencing and erasing of queer experience and queer art. This review was published in a major newspaper. It no doubt was more widely read than the review we ran of the same book for Autostraddle. And what worries me even more is that I wouldn’t be surprised if the publisher and marketing team behind the book were more excited to flaunt the coverage from that mainstream publication than the queer as fuck review we ran of this queer as fuck book.

We just met a major fundraising goal in a record amount of time, and that’s huge. I’d say I can’t believe it, but I can. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from running the books section, it’s that people value really good, smart, complex, layered queer writing. The passion I see for books is the same passion I saw during the fundraiser. People want to support queer writers in meaningful ways. LGBTQ+ authors are well acquainted with having to do a lot of the work when it comes to promoting and championing their own books. I want Autostraddle to be as useful for them as it is for the readers seeking out their books.

But to keep doing what we’re doing in the books section, we need not only reader support during fundraiser periods but also year-round, monthly support. Becoming an A+ member is one concrete way to provide consistent, lasting support for the work we do. Plus, there’s a goddamn BOOK CLUB for A+ members now! The Read a Fucking Book A+ Book Club is one of the other myriad ways we hype LGBTQ+ authors. The private Discord setting of the book discussion makes it so that authors can speak more freely, and the text-based format is accessible and low-stakes for authors who might be understandably burned out from virtual events where they have to appear on camera. Of all the perks that come with being an A+ member, book club is one of my personal favorites. What’s better than talking about a book with a bunch of queers?

We’re making strides toward becoming more legitimate in the literary world. More and more of our reviews are being aggregated on Bookmarks, the Rotten Tomatoes of books, if you will. Blurbs from Autostraddle reviews are showing up on paperback releases of major novels. PR and marketing folks are blowing up my inbox with information about upcoming books although, admittedly, sometimes those marketing folks are also cagey about saying whether work is queer or not, sometimes making me have to do that work myself. And I’m willing to do it! I want to cover as many LGBTQ+ books as we can, but I also know that perfect completion in this arena is an impossible goal. There are, simply, too many queer books for us to possibly write about — a “problem” I warmly embrace. There once was a time when Autostraddle could cover just about every LGBTQ+ book that came out in some way, but that was a Real Problem. That meant there weren’t enough of them.

But I want fewer queer books slipping through the cracks. When the Lambda Literary Awards finalists are announced in early 2023, I’m hoping that most of the books on it will have been written about by Autostraddle in some way already. And if they haven’t been, then I want to make it happen before the awards ceremony in the summer. But book reviews and author interviews take a lot of time. Most of the writers on the Autostraddle team who contribute to the Literature section can only really afford to take on one book a month. I pull in outside freelancers when I can, but it’s difficult to fairly compensate for book reviews when reading an entire book takes so much time and care. I’m excited about some recent rate increases we managed to implement for our writers, because I think that’s going to make an immediate positive impact on our books coverage in terms of what people are able to take on. When we say your dollars remain 100% gay, this is what we’re talking about. We’re talking about your investment in Autostraddle going directly to queer and trans writers to review LGBTQ+ books and to literally make a huge impact on what we’re all reading, on the careers of LGBTQ+ authors, AND on how we as a society and culture talk about queer books. When we put it like that, your $4 or $6  or $30 is really doing a lot, isn’t it?

In the past year, I’ve had so many queer authors reach out to tell me that Autostraddle’s review of their book was the review that made them feel truly seen, that made them feel like their book was reaching the people they wanted to reach. What matters the most to me right now is not necessarily how we’re viewed by the publishing industry but rather how we’re viewed by queer authors themselves. But ultimately, those things do go hand-in-hand. If Autostraddle is more widely respected as a place for thoughtful literary criticism and books coverage, the queer authors we write about benefit from that, too.

It makes me so fucking happy every time I hear from LGBTQ+ authors about what Autostraddle’s reviews and book coverage mean to them. Because I won’t lie: Running a lit vertical is hard! I know this is true everywhere. It’s hard enough to sell books, and getting people to read about books is tough. Traffic for the books vertical is never going to look like traffic for our film/TV vertical. Still, our recent reader survey revealed that lit coverage is hugely important to our readers, even if the traffic numbers don’t really reflect that. I get it! But I’m also hoping to further challenge the notion that books coverage is inherently stuffy, inaccessible, or strictly academic.

We’re producing smart, layered work, but I also think we’re putting out sexy, funny, immersive, and surprising work. And I’m striving for more books content beyond interviews, reviews, and lists. We recently published a piece on one indie author’s choice to take the self-publishing route; we have a biweekly column on comics and graphic narrative now; there’s also a biweekly column specifically for queer lit news that includes Bookstagrammers and social media happenings as well as longreads!!!; perhaps you erroneously believed our horror package Horror Is So Gay would only feature horror film/television and NOPE we had multiple pieces on horror lit; Queer Naija Lit is the only monthly series about queer Nigerian literature in existence as far as I can tell; queer authors are writing original pieces for us; and we snagged an exclusive excerpt from a queer anthology by none other than Carmen Maria Machado. Like, we’re doing some very cool shit.

To be completely frank, having more monthly A+ members means we all get to spend a little less time doing what I’m doing right now: asking for help. And if I have more time, it means that when I maybe don’t have a writer who is available to cover a book, instead of letting it slip through the cracks, I can write about it myself or ask another member of our senior team to write about it.

What pulled me into Autostraddle in the first place during all those years of freelance writing was the collaborative nature of the editorial process here, being able to develop really close writer-editor relationships that last, that feel like more than just a transaction. Keeping in line with that, I’ll be spending the final months of 2022 building a designated books team much like Autostraddle has a designated TV team. This might sound small, but it’s actually huge. It means we’re finally producing enough lit coverage to warrant having a team, and it means I’ll be able to invest more time, resources, and organization into the writers making books content. Of course I want the AS books writers to write for me, but I also want to see them writing about books for NPR, for The New York Times, for Vulture. I absolutely want Autostraddle to be a go-to place for robust LGBTQ+ literary coverage, but I want more queer and trans book critics getting major bylines and gaying up lit crit as a whole. And if I have to read a weirdly dull and dodgy review by a straight reviewer of a gay ass book, then I at least want to be able to offer up an alternative option for readers here at Autostraddle. Becoming an A+ member is also like joining a team, one that provides funds for all the other teams part of our Autostraddle league, like this upcoming books team.

I believe we’re a necessary part of the queer literature ecosystem, I really do. If a book is gay, we’ll fucking say it. And if a queer book has some problems, we’ll also say it! We’re here to provide honest, authentic, complex criticism. But we need your help to keep this gay books dream alive. If you’ve ever bought a book off of Autostraddle’s recommendation or engaged with one of our reviews or wondered if a book was queer but had a hard time figuring it out, we’ve got you, and now we need you to have us. I want to keep giving as much individualized care to the writers I edit when they share their hard work, and I want to keep making sure gay books don’t slip through the cracks. Help me catch them?

Join A+!


Before you go! It costs money to make indie queer media, and frankly, we need more members to survive 2023As thanks for LITERALLY keeping us alive, A+ members get access to bonus content, extra Saturday puzzles, and more! Will you join? Cancel anytime.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 458 articles for us.

32 Comments

  1. The book coverage on this site lately has been so incredible. Most of my TBR, book purchases, and library requests are from Autostraddle. I’ve loved the interviews (and that CMM excerpt was to die for!). So excited about the book club and future coverage.

  2. The very first article I read on AS was about books (Riese’s article about sick lit) and I’ve been really excited by the increased book coverage.

    I used to read every single book article on AS and now there are too many for me to keep up with! Just as there are too many lgbtq books to keep up with. It’s a good problem to have.

  3. Agree that the increased book coverage has been a huge thing for me! I’ve watched a handful of lesbian movies this year and a couple tv shows, but I’ve read 25 lesbian books so far this year. Years ago when I started reading Autostraddle regularly it felt like the one thing missing for me was more in depth books coverage! And I’ve noticed in the past three years ago that it’s really grown and I’ve loved it.

  4. Yay books! I love this. Would also really like to see some coverage of SFF short fiction, which is a very queer space. Like, look at this list of just one month’s queer short stories: https://www.patreon.com/posts/some-queer-short-74089401 (full disclosure, I wrote one of them). It can feel pretty discouraging putting short fiction out in the world; it’s very hard to know if anyone is reading it, or if it’s reaching the people you really want it to reach.

  5. I used to work in a publishing-adjacent job, and having easy access to information about queer lit coming down the pike is one of the only things I miss about it. So I rely on AS’s books coverage to fill that void for me, and I’m eternally grateful for it.

    So excited to see where the book club goes!

  6. Hooray! Autostraddle has awesome books coverage. When are you going to renew Parallel Hells by Leon Craig by the way? It’s a collection of super queer gothic short stories full of messy dykes, demons & kink!

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