Article: VG Lee’s experience of lesbian publishing in the UK

30 Jan


Last year there was an article in The Guardian about the lack of lesbian authors in the UK. A few big names have made the mainstream, but lesbian publishing is difficult in the UK, with authors looking to US publishers and indie publishing as some of the few ways forward. VG Lee tells us a bit about how she has successfully had her work published in the UK:

My first novel, The Comedienne, was published by Diva Books in 2000 as part of an exciting new venture to publish quality lesbian fiction. At that time I had an agent who liked my writing but was looking for a ‘straight’ book from me, so I decided to go it alone. Diva also published my second book, The Woman in Beige, before folding.  They were great to work with, run in the main by a wonderful woman, Helen Sandler, who now runs Tollington Press, of which more later. They produced several lesbian anthologies which are still available today and probably made it possible for around a dozen lesbian authors to have books published.

Even thirteen years ago, this is still very difficult.  There are probably no more than two handfuls of British lesbian authors I can think of who are mainstream and also well known: Sarah Waters, Ali Smith, Jackie Kay, Val McDermid, Carol Anne Duffy, Emma Donoghue, Stella Duffy, Maureen Duffy, Jeanette Winterson. This list hasn’t been added to in several years.

After Diva I went to Onlywomen Press which had a solid reputation and been going a long time, but with limited resources. This was not a happy experience for me. Fortunately around that time Helen Sandler was starting up Tollington Press and I was one of her first authors with my short story collection. Tollington does charge for their services but their authors are predominantly lesbian and I felt my book was well looked after. This was definitely a happy experience!

However, having had my work published for over ten years I felt I would like a more mainstream press, which is why I am now with Ward Wood.

I came into contact with one of the directors through Facebook. I live in Hastings on the south coast, and she often holidayed in the town.  Ward Wood is an independent publisher, there are no fees. If they like your manuscript, then they will publish it. I’ve loved working with them and hope they will publish my next book next year.  They are in the process of putting two of my previous novels on kindle and Always you, Edina, my most recent novel, has also been brought out on Kindle.

10 Responses to “Article: VG Lee’s experience of lesbian publishing in the UK”

  1. Rachel Dax January 30, 2013 at 9:03 pm #

    Really interesting article, VG 🙂

  2. Ellen Dean January 31, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    Thank you for sharing your interesting publishing story Val. I share your views on the lack of lesbian authors and the difficulty they experience in publishing their work. I think writing only for the lesbian genre limits the author. Today, unless you are already well established, actually getting your work onto bookshelves in bricks and mortar book stores is more difficult than ever. This is where actually publishing your own work comes into its own.

    My first venture into publishing was when I had the first edition of my lesbian novel, Beautiful Strangers, published by AuthorHouse. I knew absolutely nothing about publishing then, and it turned out to be costly mistake.

    In 2009 I bravely established my own publishing company. I had Beautiful Strangers edited by two professional editors and then republished it with a lovely new cover and a changed storyline. In retrospect I think I should have changed the title, but I have never looked back.

    Yes, I wear all of the hats connected with publishing: editing, marketing, quality control, etc. Wearing these hats doesn’t mean that I do it all myself. Proof readers, editors, printers, etc. all have to be sourced, and all of this takes time, which takes me away from writing for longer than I like.

    I am often asked for advice by new authors who want to publish their own work and always stress the importance of editing. I was given good sound advice on this subject from Kelly Smith (Bywater Books) a few years ago and like to share it.

    Publishing my own work was, and still is, a huge learning curve and learning how to convert manuscripts to ebook was another one. Marketing your work is continuous, as is knowing where to market and how to build your platform.

    I am currently working on the sequel to Beautiful Strangers, called Beyond Midnight, and, as you would expect, it is of the lesbian genre. But another novel I am working on, Vampire Farmer, is a Penny Farthing mystery, and it isn’t a lesbian book, although who knows what characters might pop up.

    Because I love quotes, and find they help me to stay positive and focused, I have published several ‘quotes’ ebooks and a Mind, Body and Spirit ebook. The first one is Famous Quotes by Famous People and has been in the Top Ten Reference books nearly every day since it was published. All of my ebooks are available on Kindle and Smashwords. It also helps ebooks to sell on Kindle if you don’t tick the DRM box. Something else I have learned is that because Smashwords don’t have DRM I sell more copies of Beautiful Strangers on there than I do on Kindle.

  3. happymorn January 31, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    I’m just glad that – despite the difficulties – VG Lee is managing to get her books published one way or another, and that Gay’s The Word is still there to stock the paperbacks 🙂

    • Cari Hunter February 2, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

      Hear, hear, and I think we should all be eternally grateful for Gay’s The Word 🙂

  4. bookgeek February 3, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    I love that this blog does focus on UK writers: there is so much to explore here. And great that the books of VG are made available on Kindle.

    • Cari Hunter February 3, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

      Thank you! We’re doing our best to keep the blog good and busy (and the authors are obliging by being good and busy themselves!) It’s lovely to hear that people are having fun exploring the site.

  5. Adele Ward February 6, 2013 at 1:36 am #

    It’s a delight to edit and publish VG Lee’s novels – which we publish in paperback and on Kindle. Gay’s the Word put on a great event for the reading of Always you, Edina and I agree that’s it’s a fantastic bookshop and event venue. At Ward Wood we have 18 authors on our list and three of them are gay or lesbian – Joy Howard is the other lesbian author. Jackie Kay is another great lesbian author of poetry and fiction, and she was shortlisted with VG Lee for the Stonewall Awards at the end of last year. I was taken aback to hear that there was a problem with publishers when this story emerged in the press and media last year. I can’t think why publishers would have this reluctance and hopefully it has changed. We also publish two university anthologies and I certainly meet a number of emerging lesbian authors on those creative writing courses. I’m just editing one of VG Lee’s previous novels to bring out on Kindle and it will be a free giveaway for 5 days from Valentine’s Day. It made me laugh and cry as I read it today so I’m looking forward to seeing the response to it later this month.

    • Cari Hunter February 6, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

      Hi Adele, good to hear you have a flourishing lgb list, and thanks for alerting us to the giveaway. VG Lee’s novels are always a delight – let’s hope the freebie encourages more people to discover them.

  6. Cherry Potts February 6, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    Like VG I was published by Onlywomen, initially in anthologies and eventually two collections of short stories of my own, Mosaic of Air, and Tales Told Before Cockcrow. This publishing relationship laster 20 years or so before crashing spectacularly leaving me furious and ready to strike out on my own. I now publish short story anthologies (and soon collections and who knows what else) under my own imprint, Arachne Press. Arachne isn’t a Lesbian press, but there are a few Lesbians showcased in our latest book Lovers’ Lies which came out at the end of Januaryand at least one lesbian story in each of our other books so far. We are doing readings TOMORROW at Ealing library and MONDAY at Deptford Lounge for LGBT History month. We are accepting submissions from end April, and I would be very keen to see some high quality work from lesbian writers.

    • Cari Hunter February 6, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

      Thanks for that information, Cherry. It might be a little late in the day to list the reading tomorrow, but if you email ( us the details for the Monday reading, we can add it to the events page for you.

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