State of the Union by Josh Lanyon

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.

 

177 comments

  • Dani, as one of the bestselling authors in the genre — and someone who writes very few (and never gratuitous) sex scenes — I can say that it is possible to be VERY successful and not pander to the lowest denominator.

    And I publish — and continue to publish — with three of the top epubs out there.

    This is not to discourage self-publishing — I’m taking that route myself (for different reasons) — but simply to once and for all squelch the notion that the best epubs OR the majority of readers are insisting on high erotic content.

    A book will sink or swim for many reasons, but I don’t believe that high erotic content is a single determining factor with anything but a minority of readers. And success is never built on a minority of readers.

    Reply
    • Josh, I agree that it’s possible, especially considering you are one of my favorite authors and one of the reasons I decided to write the kind of novel I wanted to, and not one that catered to the ‘erotic’ nature of m/m.

      I don’t think anything is wrong with that category. I love erotic stories. I even plan on writing a few – later, when the stories roaming my head are published/written. But the problem, for me, is that so many e-publishers are putting erotic stories right next to true romances (or even mysteries/genre stories like yours). And likewise, they’re holding erotic stories up as romances. Is a story that consists of 12 sex scenes and maybe ten pages between those of “plot” really a romance novel? oO

      The last four novels I bought from two certain publishers have all been like that. Not to mention the typos/malapropisms/plot holes/continuity issues that came with it. If I wasn’t reading on my kindle, I’d have thrown it across the room.

      When I read a romance I expect something like Pricks and Pragmatism. That story is so good. I can’t recommend it to enough people. Or even The Christmas Throwaway (while littered with typos/continuity issues, too, it still was a true romance).

      I want control over where my novel fits in. It’s definitely a romance. There’s no question there. But it also is heavily police procedural and suspense. To the point that I researched with police officers and even doctors.

      And, lastly, I wanted control over my novel cover (such a silly reason to self-publish haha), but – hey, I have this image of my characters and what my story is about and it took months to find the right ones.

      PS: I will miss your story-telling. I can’t wait for how you manage self-publishing. 😀

      Reply
  • I’m so late to this discussion. Blerg. No one is probably reading it now lol.

    I’m starting on my journey to self-publishing just because of the crap that’s been churned out from so many e-publishers. At one time I thought I’d submit to them, but the last five books I’ve bought are DNF and these were heavily starred books – “best sellers”.

    I’m incredibly worried that my story doesn’t have enough sex to make it. Not only am I in a small niche (m/m market), my story is a police procedural/suspense novel genre. Top that off with self-publishing and a whopping three sex scenes in 120k words (none of which are penetrative ahem) and yeah… I’m anxious.

    I’m going to chronicle my whole foray into self-publishing and we’ll see how it goes. But it’s taken me a year to get this novel ready and I have no idea how many edits. The process is slow slow slow. Heh.

    I just want to add that I LIKE sex in novels, just not gratuitous sex. I’ve felt for some time that the m/m publishers are just putting out erotica with no plot and then labeling it “romance”. There is a difference. Maybe we’re at a new crossroads. I sure hope so. I’d love to see some real progress and better writing in the m/m genre.

    Here’s hoping!

    Also HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

    Reply
  • Repeating what Josh said above-

    “And for all the objections leveled at m/m fiction — appropriation of culture, exploitation, etc. — one of the positives is its fearless attempt to explore genuinely difficult and sensitive romantic equations.

    I don’t say that it’s always done well, but the fact that it is done at all, is something to applaud. These are themes and sub-genres that are often avoided in commercial fiction. M/M is an intriguing hybrid in that it is both commercial and (attempts to be) socially relevant — even cutting edge in some of its explorations.

    Does m/m have a learning curve? You bet. But there are things to be proud of here and to celebrate. And the conscious effort at cultural and racial diversity (though sometimes awkward and misguided) is still more of an attempt than we typically see in mainstream commercial fiction.”

    This is exactly what keeps me coming back to this genre and the indie product!

    Thanks for voicing what I couldn’t.

    I’m sure there are scholarly papers out there on how fiction helps people integrate new concepts into their lives. Our increasing pluralistic society is wonderful and challeging at the same time.
    Even here on the site we are having an international discussion from our homes- no traveling required. This may seem like a tangent but the indie markets open up a huge market for the reader and the author alike. A lot of energy is generated from this. I find this very positive and exciting. It keeps me coming back for more.

    Reply
    • Even here on the site we are having an international discussion from our homes- no traveling required. This may seem like a tangent but the indie markets open up a huge market for the reader and the author alike. A lot of energy is generated from this. I find this very positive and exciting. It keeps me coming back for more.

      I don’t think we’ve ever had a conversation on this blog that didn’t diverge into some really fascinating other topics!

      Reply
      • I don’t think we’ve ever had a conversation on this blog that didn’t diverge into some really fascinating other topics!

        I’m trying to figure out why that is. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Is it you? You assured me that this post would be a piece of cake and now look where it landed. Damn!! There are too many international visitors here – I have to figure out a way to change that. Not really – I love the wonderful discussions we have and the topics that all of the posts generate (especially yours, because mine are easy peasy and no one takes offense at them) 😎

        Reply
  • This is really an interesting post.

    Here’s another thing to be happy about: Yaoi-Con is still going strong 11 years down the road. Now I realize that yaoi is a niche of a niche of a crossover niche, related to m/m but not exactly the same,but there’s still fans to be found and books to be enjoyed there. Also, I think I heard that they’re moving it from the Bay Area to someplace near Los Angeles so that means that those of us who attend can experience the selection of Marriotts and Sheratons and Hyatts located in the greater Los Angeles area, now that we have sampled the delights of San Mateo, Burlingame and Millbrae. 🙂

    Reply
  • Publishing in general is glutted. It’s very easy for anyone to set up their own publishing company. Sadly, many are clueless about what it takes to put out a good book. They go into this business seeing dollar signs only.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that even some of the more established e presses aren’t so great either when it comes to their editing. I can think of one that’s mainly MM with high sales that’s downright terrible when it comes to it.

    Reply
  • Great post, Josh.

    I too am one of those who have bought more books since having an ereader.
    I think I bought more ebooks last year than I bought in my life time, so far. (Of course I was a major library fan in my teens, so I didn’t buy that many books to begin with)

    I think the inclusion of short stories and novellas in the ebook industry is a positive thing.
    Yes, I love to read novels, but short stories you can read when you have little time, make it so appealing to buy them.

    As for the market being glutted … as a newbie writer, I’d rather hope it’s not. But with some publishers now focussing more on quality, the market will probably be all right.
    We’re in some sort of transition, and time will tell.

    Reply
    • As for subgenres of m/m.
      I’ve always seen gay romantic fantasy, mystery etc, as subgenres of romance, fantasy and mystery etc, instead of them being subgenres of m/m … but that’s probably just me.

      Reply
      • Yes. M/M is a sub-genre of romance fiction. So the categories within M/M (be they military or interracial or historical or all of the above at once) would be sub-sub-genres.

        Just as noir is sub-genre of hard-boiled which is a sub-genre of crime/mystery which is a genre within fiction.

        Reply
    • I think the inclusion of short stories and novellas in the ebook industry is a positive thing.

      Great one, Blaine. It’s true that this format is seeing a comeback, and for those of us who love to read and write short stories and novellas, it is absolutely good news.

      Reply
  • Great post Josh. Here are the top three positive trends I’ve seen in the past year…

    1. As many people have testified – the GRL conference was tons of fun. I had a blast chatting up authors and follow fans. Having an annual conference lends legitimacy to an industry, so I hope this one takes root.

    2. Amazon started letting people loan out Kindle books this year. I’m part of the Kindle Lending group on Goodreads and I’ve had several people who are not part of the M/M Romance group contact me to try a book and ended up becoming fans of the genre.

    3. Retailers (like Amazon) started offering some “free” m/m titles each month. Again, I’ve met people who have sampled books this way and have become fans. I truly believe m/m romance would hit the mainstream if more people just knew it existed.

    Reply
  • I think if mainstream authors begin to tackle m/m pairings, more people will become intrigued by books featuring m/m pairings and they might hunt more books to read. Since mainstream books haven’t got large enough titles to satisfy some readers’ craving, eventually they will stumble on this genre and our niche genre will become bigger.

    At least I hope so. 😀

    Btw, Wave, I LOVE the grinning pumpkin, banner, and the smilies. I especially love the pumpkin though. It looks like an evil overlord of all the pumpkins. 😮

    Reply
  • Oh I will be repeating the points that commenters already brought up, but hey the more the merrier. I think that for me the best thing is that my favorite authors still write books and that no matter what I discovered three or four new writers this year that had become an autobuy for me. There is no significant change in me as a reader, really, while I was a bit more tolerant when I just started reading mm (original works, not Harry Potter slash that I had been reading for years before 2007), I still wanted good editing, great characters and story. Wicked Gentlemen set the initial bar for me and when I was not able to find the books that were as good as that one for few months I was annoyed, but then it really did get somewhat better in a sense I found out that there are authors who write well despite many publishers doing crappy work and publishing anything under the moon. I guess another good change for me is that I can see that some publishers appear who tend to care about the product they put on the market and I hope it will continue and improve upon.

    I love that mm spreads out in subgenres, I really do not need all mm to be romance, I want mm mysteries, mm fantasies, scifi, which are not just window dressings for romances, but scifi, fantasy with love story in the background. There are books like this, but not nearly enough if you ask me. I love romances too of course, but I have very eclectic tastes 🙂

    So yeah, there are some good things happening for sure, thanks for the great post.

    Reply

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