Twenty-five years ago, when I began writing queer SF, there were over a dozen gay bookstores in the United States—New York had two, you could drive up and down the East Coast and patronize Calamus and Lambda Rising and Giovanni's Room, or fly to California and visit another Lambda Rising (yes, a gay bookstore chain, now unthinkable)—and if you didn't find what you were looking for on the shelves, you could learn about new books in the pages of Christopher Street or The Advocate or the gay newspapers that every major city in the United States supported. Of course, back then most of the gay books came from small presses, especially Alyson, which published work by the mysterious Jeffrey McMahan (author of the weird fiction/horror collection Somewhere in the Night and the novel Vampires Anonymous, both of which are out of print) and Cleis Press, home to many erotica anthologies with speculative elements (usually more vampires, because Anne Rice had revived the gay reading public's love affair with bloodsuckers with her first novel, Interview With a Vampire, in 1976). Mainstream publishers did offer occasional gay titles: the Violet Quill in New York produced some of the more powerful books of the AIDS-era through William Morrow, Dutton, and Viking, and science fiction was never the same after Samuel Delany's Tales of Nevèrÿon was published in 1979 by Bantam; likewise fantasy owes a debt to Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner released in 1987 from HarperCollins. I can mention so many more authors, one would think homophobia did not exist in those days. But it did: bookstores were vandalized, patrons were thankful for paper bags hiding the books they bought, and if you were not a young white male who moved to San Francisco or New York City, you likely found a distance between yourself and the characters in the books.
Nowadays, while independent bookstores are recovering, gay bookstores are all but extinct. So too the daily newspapers, the print literary magazines, where you could discover a good book. Alyson died a painful death, as did so many other gay presses, and Cleis has been defanged. The technology that slew print news media, that changed how gay men interact socially, has also empowered individuals: in 1986 a man in a small town in a conservative state might happen upon a book in the library or if he traveled to a large city, but now he can purchase any book from Amazon.com with the confidence of anonymity. And how many choices he has! The titans of queer publishing are gone but, as with any niche market, newcomers emerged. New publishers, new authors, now the number of gay-themed books published in a single calendar year could fill the shelves of the old Lambda Rising.
So there are greater opportunities for writers of gay fiction now than ever before.
I'll mention the elephant in the room: no, you do not have to be a gay cis-gendered man to be a successful author of gay fiction. This has never been an issue. Kushner considered herself straight when she wrote Swordspoint. Mary Renault had a tremendous following for her historical novels (and likely still does). Annie Proulx and 1997's "Brokeback Mountain" . . . need I say more? Do not think either your gender or sexuality limits your writing.
Now, though there are greater opportunities available to writers, publishing gay fiction can still be tricky. If it's short fiction and literary or more mainstream, the print options are limited. Every year a magazine is born and three fold. The competition is fierce. Lambda Literary Foundation (www.lambdaliterary.org) often posts calls for submission for short fiction. Be warned: most of these venues do not pay. Gay anthologies are rare and most are romance-themed because that reaches, arguably, the most readers, who also do not happen to necessarily be gay men. The genre of m/m fiction has become a popular one, and its target audience is not gay men but female readers, many of whom identify as heterosexual.
General gay fiction novels remain a hard sell. Yes, the big New York publishers do still publish work like Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You and Michael Golding's A Poet of the Invisible World, but small presses and university presses publish the vast majority of queer-themed books.
Since this is a SF magazine, most of you who are reading this essay obviously have a preference for speculative fiction. Good news: the chances of quality gay-themed SF being published are better today than twenty years ago and not because there are more magazines and sites publishing short fiction (if you're focusing on pro sales, there aren't), but the vast majority of editors working in the field today are without prejudice towards gay characters. The first story I sold to SH was a lesbian-themed tale and my latest story with SH was a gay one. Asimov's Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Tor.com all have published wonderful gay fiction. The only two major venues that are unlikely to purchase such a story are Analog and Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show; I have been editing a year's best of gay SF since 2008 and have found both very heteronormative.
There are opportunities to publish queer SF with publishers large and small. Obviously larger publishers are more mindful of the marketplace and most of their output remain heterosexual. Small presses continue to offer the greatest diversity in authors and books.
Unfortunately the SFF community is often unaware of these books. Locus Magazine's recent list of forthcoming titles into 2017 did not list a single book from a queer press like Lethe or Bold Strokes Books or Dreamspinner despite these three presses combined publishing over fifty titles a year with SFF content.
No, there is an unfortunate schism between readers and reviewers who are gay and enjoy occasional books with SF content (the occasional space opera, a zombie apocalypse, dragons, usually the standard tropes) and the readers and reviewers who are SF-oriented and welcome the occasional gay character. The only dedicated reviewer of queer-themed content on a major site is Brit Mandelo at Tor.com and even their output has diminished of late. You may have written a wonderful gay fantasy or science fiction or horror novel, but if it comes out from a small press, you will have to work doubly hard to bridge this schism—gay book review sites are rarae aves, often devoted to romance and erotica titles; SF review sites just do not cover the majority of gay-themed books regardless of genre. My advice is to make sure your publisher sends notice of the book to the widest possible range of sites, gay- and SFF-oriented; send ARCs to Lambda Literary the GLBT-Roundtable of the American Library Association as much as you do to Locus or Publishers Weekly and Kirkus (Indie) . . . and cross your fingers. Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, is full of authors trying to promote their own books. Rather than shout into the abyss an Amazon.com link, start a meaningful dialogue about gay life that your book touches upon.
Other issues: do you fret about your book having too much erotic content? Obviously among the small presses, some are more tolerant of sex scenes than others. But I don't know any gay man who has ever said, "Whoa, there is a penis in this book and I found I had to stop reading." Delany's latest novel, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, is probably the filthiest book, figuratively and literally, published in the last twenty years. Are you worried that you'll be pigeonholed? Don't be. I can give you the names of dozens of acclaimed authors (Laird Barron, Kelly Link, Holly Black, Paul Tremblay) who wrote the occasional gay-themed story; most times these are published in books and magazines aimed at the traditional SFF reader.
My final piece of advice is, of course, to ask yourself why you are writing a gay-themed story. The answer may be for you, as it is with me, because I want to write a tale where I can see myself as the protagonist, where gay men can have adventures, find love as well as heartache. Or maybe you want to explore fiction's role in providing diversity, showing how clichés can be rewritten to explore sexuality and gender roles. There are other valid reasons for writing the Other, if you aren't gay, or exploring your own sexuality through storytelling, if you are. I ask for honest portrayals. Honesty does not always mean sympathetic, but it does mean a significant measure of empathy. Too often gay people are confronted with negative representations in media and entertainment. You have the opportunity to change that depiction, and today is as good as any other day to try.