Author and editor Matt Cain has been trying to get The Madonna of Bolton published for 12 years, only to receive a pile of rejection letters.
He says that the book has been rejected not because it’s bad, but because publishers think it’s too gay.
To be clear, it sounds really, really gay:
On his ninth birthday, Charlie discovers Madonna, and falls in love. And this obsession sees him through some tough times in life: being persecuted at school; fitting in at a posh university; a glamorous career in London; finding boyfriends; getting rid of boyfriends; growing up; and family heartbreak. Madonna’s music and videos inspire Charlie, and her fierce determination to succeed gives him the confidence to do the same. Ultimately, though, he must let go of his reliance on his idol and learn to find his own voice.
He said that publishers thought the book was “too working class, too 80s, too immersed in pop culture, and too gay.” One also said that Madonna is a “turn-off” now because she’s an old woman.
“I have more than 30 rejection letters and emails. Most of them say the novel ‘isn’t commercial enough’ or ‘too niche’ and then an editor tells my agent off the record that gay doesn’t sell,” he said. “Nobody comes out on email as saying it’s too gay, it’s kind of dressed up – the thing about homophobia is it’s often covert. When my agent has phone conversations, they don’t say, ‘We don’t like it,’ they say, ‘It just won’t sell.’ I just don’t believe that that’s the case.”
He said part of the problem is that publishers thought that a gay book should be more intellectual to appeal to sophisticated readers, as if the people who read grocery store novels are uniquely homophobic. One publisher told him that it was a good book, but that it needed “a more serious slant,” like “Edmund White or Alan Hollinghurst.”
“There’s a real fear of this not selling, they’re assuming it’s only the very intelligent in society who read literary fiction who understand and accept gay people,” he said.
Cain, who has written two other published novels and is the editor of the UK LGBT magazine Attitude, decided to take his book directly to the people. He is using Unbound, a crowd-funding website for books.
The Madonna of Bolton is on track to become the fastest-funded book on that site. It was just posted this past week, and it’s already at 85% of its funding goal.
Katy Guest, an editor at Unbound, said that bias against lighthearted gay fiction is old in the publishing industry. “EM Forster said about Maurice that he knew no publisher would let him publish a gay love story with a happy ending,” she said.
“Well, isn’t it a bit crap that publishers are still saying that Matt can’t write this funny, flirty, lighthearted novel because gay characters are only a subject for ‘serious’ fiction.[…] They can’t just have mates and dance to Madonna and fall in love and live happily ever after?”