Coding LGBTQ Content: BISACs, Fanfiction, and Searchability in the Digital Age

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Fan fiction -- Metadata, Sexual minorities in literature, Book Industry Study Group. Book Industry Systems Advisory Committee, Internet searching


After making observations about the fanfiction I was reading, I noticed that fanfiction authors were making room in their fics for queer characters and queer themes. In most, if not all of these fics, the author had used tags to alert potential readers of the represented queerness and other relevant information that did not appear in the description. These tags served as a kind of abstract for non-spoiler events that can be potentially triggering for readers, and are almost always updated by the author at the request of a reader, should the need arise. These tags, in addition to the description, are instrumental in a readers choice to read one fic over another, and can be used to help readers find specific types of diversity or representation. This same pattern of openness, diversity, and support, especially for the LGBTQ community, is something I was not seeing as often in traditionally published work.

As long as fanfiction has been around it’s been a safe space for queer content, and that is still true as more LGBTQ content makes its way into popular media. Certain tropes remain in these society approved works however, like the trend towards tragic lesbian love affairs and the continued invisibility of bisexual protagonists, which has been a constant as recently as 2015.1 Some of these tropes persist in fanfiction as well, but overall the trends in fanfiction are towards a general queering of work and the validation and exploration of queer identity through creative expressions in the context of familiar characters and settings. At its root, fanfiction is a reaction to the straightness of popular culture and frequently serves as a correction or recasting of the source media. Because readers cannot find queer material in traditional publishing, they are making their own, and in doing so have created a new mode of searching for that content. Publishers are limited to BISAC classifications, keywords in metadata, and back cover copy to get their books in the hands of potential readers, but fanfiction published on the website Archive of Our Own (AO3) has its own elaborate search functions that allow readers to see the tags authors are using to make their works more searchable. The purpose of this research is to see how BISAC codes and keyword searches can be used to find traditionally published LGBTQ-related content and compare them to the content available in AO3. Because this kind of study has never been done before, a lot of it will be setting groundwork with potentials for future studies.


Paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Writing: Book Publishing.

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