First the bad news. The market for M/M fiction is glutted. I know. This is not really much of a news flash. We’ve been talking for months about the fact that more m/m books are being written and published than readers and reviewers can keep up with. It goes without saying (though I’m going to say it anyway) that there are not enough insatiable fans of m/m fiction to turn every book into a hit. There aren’t even enough fans to turn every release into a moderate success. By now, the vast majority of m/m stories are falling into a vacuum.
And so are a number of publishers. The implosion at Aspen Mountain Press is the latest epic fail, but the last five years have seen a number of e-pubs crash and burn. Glancing over the publisher index at the back of Man Oh Man: Writing M/M Fiction for Kinks & Ca$h, I see that ten out of forty-one publishers are now out of business. Three of the remaining publishers are vanity presses.
Granted, new m/m publishers are springing up all around us, but an unnerving percentage of them seem to fail within one to three years. Start clicking down any online listing of e-publishers. It’s not a pretty picture.
So that’s the bad news, and I know you’re tired of hearing about it. Therefore, I thought maybe we’d do something different this month and focus on what’s right in our little corner of the publishing world. Not in an effort to candycoat hard realities but because, despite the glut, there are a number of legitimate things to feel good about whether you’re an author or a reader of m/m romance fiction.
And I’m going to throw the challenge out to the readers of this blog to contribute their own observations on what’s working and maybe even getting better in m/m romance. Or, as one of my readers at Goodreads put it: What good things are you seeing in the genre these days? New voices, new audience, risks taken, anything? What’s out there to get excited about?
1 – Let’s kick off with the first ever GayRomLit retreat. The conference offered three days of writers, readers, reviewers and publishers hobnobbing and networking in New Orleans. By all accounts a good time was had by all. I wasn’t there, so I’m going to have to rely on those of you who were to fill us in. So what happened at GayRomLit? Was it worth your money? Would you go back again? Share!
2 – Next, Carina Press’s inclusion of m/m romance and gay fiction on their acquisition list. Now I’ve heard people try to spin this a variety of ways, but in my opinion Carina is about as mainstream as an e-pub gets, and making room for same sex romance on their publishing list is an indication that m/m is here to stay. If that isn’t reassuring news, I don’t know what is.
3 – Perhaps one of the most encouraging developments is the ongoing dialog about the importance of professional editing — both content and copy — in a genre that has typically relied on eager amateurs paid for their services with free books. New publishers like Riptide are emphasizing that their releases will be of a comparable quality to mainstream titles.
Given how competitive the m/m genre has become, it seems inevitable that those publishers who can put together the best package for readers — that irresistible combination of quality art, superior writing, and enticing pricing — will thrive.
4 – Speaking of thriving, e-publishers across the board (well, those that didn’t go under from mismanagement) saw record profits this year thanks to the boom in Kindle and Nook and ibooks. According to PW reporting on the July Harris Interactive online survey, 15% of adults in the United States have already purchased an e-reader and another 15% plan to do so within the next six months. Hey, and the holidays are coming.
It gets better: 36% of e-reader users said they read more than they used to, whereas 24% of adults who don’t use digital devices reported that they read less than a year ago. Ebook authors were vindicated with nice, fat, royalty checks, and m/m authors did especially well. Partly because this is a niche genre and we’re not, unlike writers of paranormal or steampunk or mystery or name-your-genre, competing with mainstream authors. And partly because a large segment of “traditional” gay readers who had previously been sticking stubbornly to print format, were gifted last holiday season with electronic devices and thus became aware of thousands of books featuring gay men (and women) enjoying every possible adventure known to genre fiction.
Those readers in particular are slowly but surely going to reshape this genre. How so? Because their buying habits are not the habits of devotees of a sooper-sekret offshoot of niche-niche fiction. Their buying habits mirror mainstream buying habits — because they are mainstream buyers. They do not live online. They do not belong to internet communities or take part in the fun at Goodreads or Bloglandia. They buy e-books exactly as they chose print books — only more of them. They buy books for their train and plane commute and for their holidays in Cancun. Once past the initial astonished delight that there was SO much to choose from, they are returning to these normal buying habits and only investing in those books and those authors that compete favorably with mainstream titles. You see, they take mainstream production values for granted.
Those readers, who number in the millions, will make some of us rich.
5 – Part of how they will make us rich is a mixed blessing, so I’m not sure if this goes under good news or not. For authors, Amazon’s entry into the publishing game — with Barnes and Noble and other 3rd party sites following suit — is good news. For publishers, not so much. As Russell Grandinetti, one of Amazon’s top executives, pointed out in an interview with The New York Times, “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader. Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.”
CreateSpace, Smashwords, and especially Amazon, have given authors the tools to go it alone and thrive. The publishers who survive this paradigm shift will be the publishers who can offer authors something above and beyond business as usual. It remains to be seen how many publishers, used to being chased and courted, will rise to the challenge.
Next year, I’ll be sharing my own adventures in self-publishing on this site.
6 – And one final piece of good news. In August, the Lambda Literary Foundation restored the Lammy guidelines to reflect the organization’s decades old founding mission: to recognize literary merit and significant content relevant to LGBT lives. Period. Though opinion remains divided within the community — and always will — the 2009 decision to restrict the awards to authors who self-identified as LGBT resulted primarily in confusion, division, and the loss of sorely needed revenues at a time when public funding was already at an all time low. Furthermore, the sheer logistics of trying to regulate and police the private lives of authors were both impossible and thankless.
No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
No battle for social equality has ever been won without the support and goodwill of a significant portion of the opposing class. M/M may indeed be the red-headed bastard child of gay letters, but it is still part of the family.
So that’s six fairly significant pieces of good news for our genre and our writing community. And they call me a curmudgeon! Let’s open it up to the readers of this blog. Share your observations of positive trends, encouraging signs, and just plain old good news for our genre.