My panel on Both/And in an Either/Or world was last night. It went realy well. The room was packed (what do you expect with Ursula LeGuin on the panel?) and the audience was just super. A lot of insightful comments and questions.
One thing I found very interesting was the question of how do you present people who may be beyond the common notions or experience and still reach your audience. If your story is too far from mainstream perceptions will people just put it down saying, "I'm not interested in stories about...(insert topic)", or will they say, "Boy! I've never read about that kind of person, how interesting." Is it better to drop the reader right into the middle of the scenario, or sort of ease them into it, sneaking in your stereotype shattering stuff after they are already hooked. We didn't come up with a definitive answer -- after all, it depends a bit on who your character is and who your story is about and who your audience is, and what you are trying to do with the story.
Some of the things we did agree on -- there is the definite danger of being ghettoized if you are dealing with certain topics -- gay characters, or latino characters, for instance. There is the chance that you will be told you have to change the story if your main character is a Muslim named John (or Pamela!). Or that the audience will not react to this story as realistic enough.
The usual objections that you should be true to your art and not worry about the audience or selling the work were raised, and Ursula replied that a book is not just the author writing, it is the author writing for the reader, that the book, ultimately, is created by the two of them together, so you have to write so that you are accessible to your reader. I have to say, I agree completely with her (sorry James Joyce...).