Today I’m back interviewing Sarah Waites, whom I interviewed earlier this month to talk about her kickass cover design and now we’re here to talk about her work maintaining the Queer SFF Database. You can find the database on Sarah’s website, The Queer Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Database, and you have a variety of options to narrow down exactly what you’re looking for. Like most of Sarah’s work, her database has an especially strong focus on intersectionality between identities.
S.L.: I’ve always found that the more intersectional your search terms, the less likely it is to find books with representation, so let’s start with something very positive: what has been your most pleasant surprise in finding intersectional representation for the database?
Margins and Murmurations by Otter Lieffe. It’s a struggle to find books with trans women protagonists, books with aromantic protagonists, and books with elder queer protagonists. Imagine my delight to discover a book that had all three!
S.L.: I can imagine, yes! That sounds amazing! One of the things I’ve noticed about representation, especially queer representation, is that it feels like every other month or so someone will lament how there is absolutely no representation for X. This frustrates me no end because it’s so often not true unless someone is specifically looking for multiple identities in the same book. So my second question is: how do you find out what books to add to the database?
Sarah: Lots of different ways! I’m pretty tapped into queer SFF spaces, so I’ll often hear about new books through social media. I also have a form on the website that allows people to suggest books, and I’ve gotten some new titles from there (although please note, I have a tremendous backlog of suggestions so nothing gets added soon!).
I’ve also looked at what gets shelved as LGBT on Goodreads and checked various queer book blogs and reviewing sites for what they’re covering. I’ve found a lot of books through The Lesbrary, Lambda Literary, Bogi Takács’ reviews and Tor.com column for queer SFF classics, LGBTQ Reads, and similar sites. I also keep Goodreads’ lists for queer SFF published each year, so every once and a while I’ll check and see what’s getting added to those as well.
Finding new books is often less of a problem than finding the time and energy to add them all to the database!
S.L.: Fair point. We’ve still got such a long way to go with book publications in general, but I find it really heartening to know how difficult it is to maintain databases like yours because the issue is finding the time to update them rather than struggling to find the books. Speaking of struggles, I remember when you first had the idea for the database and were worried about how to organise it. Now that you’ve got a pretty solid set-up, do you have any plans for the future beyond adding more titles? Anything you’d dearly love to do if time/finances/coding skills allowed?
Sarah: I have not been great about doing consistent updates over the last few months, so I’m planning eventually setting up a volunteer team. My hope is that once I get all the set up work done, managing a volunteer team would be less work overall than doing all the entries by myself.
My current plan is to cap volunteers at ten people and to ask each to take charge of a certain type of queer representation or story and to submit one entry per month. I figure that’s a pretty low workload, especially since it’d most likely involve working with some of the close to three hundred entries that are currently unfinished. I basically just need people who can help look for reviews and fill out the appropriate tags!
I’ve got ideas of how this would be organized, but I still need to finish drawing up documentation and “how-to” guides. I hope to have something together soon, but who knows with 2020!
S.L.: I’ve noticed that your age group category (currently?) doesn’t contain any middle-grade fiction. Was that a conscious decision or one based on a scarcity of titles? And since we are getting more explicitly queer middle-grade in general, do you have any suggests on where readers could look for those?
Sarah: It was a conscious decision and an attempt to limit the scope of the database. The project already covers so many books that I drew some boundaries around the project to help make it more manageable. I don’t include graphic novels, comic books, or web-only short fiction for a similar reason. Out of all of those, middle grade is the one I would most like to add in the future, but I don’t have plans to do so anytime soon. If you’re looking for queer middle-grade, my suggestion would be to check out LGBTQ Reads, which is a fabulous site for finding queer books in general!
S.L.: That makes a lot of sense in terms of the limitations. There are a lot of books. I’m glad to hear that your reasoning for the boundaries on middle-grade books is down to sheer time and effort rather than a dearth of books, though! In contrast, you did decide to explicitly include self-published works as well as traditionally published titles. How important do you think it is for anyone promoting literature with marginalised characters by marginalised authors to make an active effort to be aware of and include self-published titles?
Sarah: I think it’s very important, since marginalized authors are much more likely to have difficulties accessing traditional publishing, especially trans authors and authors of color.
I do think there’s reasons someone would be looking for something traditionally published over self-published (primarily, traditionally published works are much more likely to be in libraries and thus accessible to wider audiences), but quality is absolutely not one of them. Great books can be found both by traditionally published and self-published authors, and indie authors are often just as serious and professional (if not more so in some cases!) than traditionally published authors.
Part of the stigma against self-published books is that since they haven’t passed the gatekeepers of traditional publishing, then they must be of lower quality. This is absolutely false and ignores all the other reasons authors might chose not to go the traditional publishing route or how gatekeepers are often biased against marginalized authors!
Ignoring self-published books often means ignoring many, many authors who helped build our community.
S.L. Thank you so much for your time and thoughts, Sarah! I’ve greatly enjoyed chatting about your database and the efforts that go into running one. To remind everyone, you can find Sarah’s database at The Queer Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Database. You can also follow Sarah on Twitter and her blog The Illustrated Page. (Plus she specialises in designing diverse fantasy and historical book covers, as well as a specific focus on f/f covers! You can find her designs at The Illustrated Page Book Design.)