Last Tuesday Josh Lanyon wrote a post in the Ins and Outs of M/M Romance series called Taking the Long Way Home, which was about taking a strategic view of writing. There were many revealing comments from authors expressing their concerns about the business of writing M/M and some of them asked what it would take to be heard above the “noise” of everyone else. In other words, how to get their books enough traction to attract readers, and by that I mean readers who buy these books. This is a tough question and I don’t have any answers, but I would suggest that the law of supply and demand is a critical component of the state of the M/M book buying market.
I started reading M/M romances about 7 years ago when there wasn’t much of a selection. Prior to 2003 not many publishers offered male/male romances and the available books in this sub genre were mostly classics. Then Torquere rode up on its horse in September of 2003 and built a whole new m/m epublishing ranch – and gave readers an alternative to hetero romances. To give you a picture of how the M/M market has evolved since 2003 I asked a few epublishers to provide statistics on their releases over the past 3 – 4 years, starting with the top 3.
Torquere has the highest numbers and is currently considered the biggest M/M player. This publisher averages 7 releases a week of which almost half are novels. The majority of TQ’s books are M/M, and this publisher indicated that over 4 years it has released approximately1,400 books. When specials such as the Sip blitzes are factored in, TQ has probably released somewhere in the vicinity of 1,700 to 2,000 books since 2003.
Next up is Amber Allure. Amber Quill Press was launched in 2002 but did not start publishing gay romances until 2007, in response to demands for these books from readers, when the publisher set up a separate imprint and website, Amber Allure. Initially this publisher released one M/M title per week but this has now increased to 3 books most weeks, supplemented with an occasional Amberpax of 4 – 5 books a few times a year. AA’s M/M sales blew everything else they published out of the water, as they went from 100% hetero to 50% M/M in 6 months; within a year M/M was 80% of their releases and they have never looked back. Amber Allure has released about 500 M/M romances plus another 100 menage titles which include gay sex.
Dreamspinner’s numbers are quite impressive and show incredible growth in a very short time. In 2008,164 titles were released; in 2009 – 202 books were released; and in 2010 DSP projects it will release 312 titles – almost 680 M/M titles in 3 years.
These 3 epublishers alone have released over 3,000 M/M titles, and every week they are adding more and more, which creates a bonanza if you’re a reader. To add to the supply side, new publishers are setting up shop like fly by night operators whenever we look around.
I also contacted those epublishers that release mostly het and/or menage and asked them to provide the percentage of M/M books they now release compared to other sub genres. Loose Id indicated that 35% of their new releases are M/M titles. For comparison I’m including data from Total-e-Bound which is a large UK based epublisher that publishes a full range of erotic books and here are the numbers for this publisher: In 2007 – 12 out of 52 releases were M/M; in 2008 – 35 out of 164 releases were M/M; 2009 – 61 out of 208 releases were M/M; and in 2010 (to date) – 73 out of 214 releases are M/M. I’m sure you noticed the % growth in M/M romances compared to other sub genres.
I didn’t include numbers from other epublishers such as MLR Press (primarily print books but recently set up an ebook store), Samhain, Liquid Silver Books, Ellora’s Cave, Pink Petal, Noble Romance, Phaze, eXtasy etc. because I ran out of time.
What does all of this data mean for your books as a new M/M author? In simple terms, the popularity of M/M books has led to a situation where the supply has accelerated out of the gate. Have sales kept pace? Although publishers are reluctant to give sales data, indications are that sales are going through the roof too, but how much of these increased sales can be attributed to established vs new authors is much harder to determine, as new authors compete for readers’ dollars in a market where the supply seems to be driving the bus. Can the demand keep up with the supply? It seems that we readers can’t get enough of these books, but we have become more selective in our purchases unless an author is an “auto buy”, preferring to read several reviews and get word of mouth recommendations before we buy. Many of us also wait until the books show up weeks later at Allromanceebooks where we can get ‘loyalty’ discounts; some publishers are offering loyalty discounts as well.
Have readers reached a saturation point? For many of us the TBR piles are overflowing and threatening to come crashing down. We have books on our computer hard drives or ereaders that haven’t been read a year or 2 or more after they were bought. So how to decide which new books to buy? Mostly we depend on the book blurbs and covers as well as known authors, which is not good news for new writers. To give you an example of how this business has changed in such a short time, I used to update the list of writers whose books we review on the site every couple of months, now it’s closer to every two weeks because there are so many new writers. Christian Otto, our Webmaster, did a quick check yesterday and we currently have 456 authors listed on this site alone whose books have been reviewed. By the end of the year I’m sure that number will reach 500. I have no idea of the overall number of M/M authors but if you’re a new writer it’s hard to be heard with several hundred (maybe even a thousand or more) others competing for the same market. You should also be aware that reviewers will never be able to keep up with all the new books released every week so it’s the luck of the draw if your book (s) ever get reviewed (which might be a good thing). 🙂
So what does the new M/M author do to get his or her books noticed so as to generate sales? I can tell you this as a reader – if your blurb is poorly written or the cover looks like something your 5 year old produced, no matter how great is the product between the covers you may have difficulty getting your book reviewed or sold, unless you are already well known and have a huge fan base. I can’t stress enough how important your blurb and cover art are if you want someone to first of all notice your book, and then consider putting out the cash to buy it. The competition for entertainment dollars is fierce and books are just another commodity competing with movies, a nice bottle of wine, going to a ballgame, or out to dinner. If you don’t put in the effort to create an intriguing blurb after you write that masterpiece, that’s the first strike against your book. Your other job is to try and influence the cover art if you can because you don’t want your book cover to look like something that should win the 6th Ugly Covers Competition on this site. 🙂 If you can’t invest the time to give your book its best chance against the competition you might want to look at doing something other than writing M/M, because the supply might soon reach saturation levels and only the books with the right ‘packaging’ and appropriate marketing will survive. Although there’s no physical “remainder” pile for ebooks there is an electronic one where books go to die, and that’s where your book could end up.
You may have a great product but it takes a lot of effort on your part to give your book its best chance against the competition in this crowded market which will only get a lot worse (or better if you’re a reader) 🙂 over the next 2 years, with the number of writers who will decide that writing an M/M romance is their dream. This is a buyers’ market and readers can afford to wait for sales by the publishers or they buy their books from sites like Allromanceebooks for the reasons stated above. Without name recognition it’s difficult to make it as an M/M author in the first couple of years unless you have a huge hit either through a fluke, or the book is incredible on all levels, or there’s someone influential behind you who helps to pave the way. I’m not trying to be depressing, just realistic. Look at the situation positively – with a few tweaks you just might get over that hump and have your first best seller. 🙂
This is just my opinion of the M/M market as a reader and others may have a completely different perspective. As always I look forward to your comments, both as readers and authors.