Stories where gay love/sex can be present
but they don't fit into the romance box.
Recently, a couple of books prompted me to consider the fact that gay fiction (for want of a better word) needs a better outlet. Some of these stories have gay characters indulging in sex on page, off page, developing deep and long lasting affection and even possibly gaining happiness, but in no way can these stories be considered as “romances”. However they may be stories where love happens.
- In some cases, the two protagonists may end up together, but the journey there might be rough.
- The story behind the characters might be the issue and the characters just happen to be gay.
- It may not tick all the boxes expected of a romance because of the era or society they live in
- Their love may have developed without them even knowing that’s what it was.
- It is a HFN “Happy for Now” scenario rather than a HEA.
Sometimes those books get published by mainstream MM publishers, eg Edmond Mannings’s “Lost and Found” series with Dreamspinner but under the Bittersweet Dreams line which is marketed as: stories of M/M romance with nontraditional endings. It's an unfortunate truth: love doesn't always conquer all. Regardless of its strength, sometimes fate intervenes, tragedy strikes, or forces conspire against it. These stories of romance do not offer a traditional happy ending, but the strong and enduring love will still touch your heart and maybe move you to tears.
But what if the book has a happy ending but not a "traditional" way of getting there. Or what if there are no "romantic" elements present?
They may simply incorporate elements not popular in MM romances, because in many cases, these are stories about love rather than romance.
On some occasions, these books have been wildly popular, but often books like these get poorly rated, which may discourage other readers. Often, the problem has been more about expectations not being met rather than quality of story. Those readers expected a gooey romance and didn’t get it. However other readers might be out there, wanting something different and not knowing where to find it.
Authors do have the avenue of self-publishing, but because they lack access to a publishing houses's loyal databases of buyers, they’re relying on word-of-mouth to sell.
My other concern is that authors who write these stories are being discouraged from doing so because there is no specific outlets for them.
While Cleis and Lethe Press have been publishing these stories for years, when did you last check them for something to buy?
I’m thinking more of current MM romance publishers starting up a separate imprint/genre, which suggests to the buyer: Hey, we think these books might interest you. Because each publisher has a pretty shrewd idea of what kind of books their regulars like. But now and then, a book must crop up on their radar that, if they had this imprint/genre, they could market it to those who want to read outside the traditional romance trope. The adventurous, the brave, the bored, the curious.
So the question is:
"Would you buy non-romances/gay fiction from a "romance" publisher if they were clearly identified as such?"
What is the best way to find out?
First up, I envisaged a poll to see what MM romance readers thought about the subject, so I flicked the concept past a few friends for their reactions.
One said: spinning off a new publishing entity makes no sense at all. It would be caught between the m/m publishers and the more literary houses like Lethe and go nowhere fast. But an existing one could a) provide a place for some alternative content and b) manage reader expectations. I think it's fair that they limit those books to stories that have an erotic component and maybe even require that they have some potential for romance within the story. These should be in keeping with their other book lines and not try to go too far away from their base business.”
Another questioned whether a poll was the right way to go, noting that people can, in theory, be right behind an issue but when it comes to the vote or their wallet, they may not follow through. The problem is that polls are always skewed because the people who might be interested are the ones most likely to want to participate.
And polls are difficult things to formulate. Making them meaningful based on what you want to know from the outcome plus, the question and the answers have to be carefully worded to be able to be interpreted without ambiguity.
More feedback to my initial question was: Contemporary drama? Sci-fi? Paranormal? Mystery? Chick lit? All of these genres can have non romance plot lines but if you put them on a romance publisher, yes people will expect romance to be the main theme and feel deceived when it isn't no matter how many disclaimers you put.
But until gay characters go mainstream, how do authors get these books out there? Perhaps a “No Gooey Romance Imprint” could/should contain indicators to show that there is some level of love/sex?
It is a difficult issue and one that Publishers have probably already considered.
Big publishing houses like Harlequin solve it by having a whole string of sub genres. http://www.harlequin.com/articlepage.html?articleId=538
As one person I contacted stated: If you have a good brand that has a loyal following based on a certain expectation (romance/erotica), messing with it is a huge risk. Sometimes it turns out okay but most of the time, change is so hard for people that you end up with loyal people who become less loyal.
A couple of publishing houses have already started up specific YA imprints. Authors use different pseudonyms. So perhaps this is one way to go.
But first, is there a market? Would review sites cover it? Would book groups read them? Is it worth the set up and cost of new email/newsletter databases and forming new social networking groups?
Would it be just as simple to create a list of books on Goodreads?
“Gay Fiction that might appeal to MM Romance readers” or “Gay Fiction without Gooey Romance”
Because that’s the crux of the matter. Are there MM romance readers who might be interested in such books? What is your view on the issue?