Readers: How Do You Like Your M/M Romances?

Please don’t beat me up but I’m running a poll on the site about sex in M/M romances. I know, I know, you hate surveys, but this time your input is very important. We all love M/M romances for different reasons. Some readers love these books because they are wall to wall sex. (Really??? What a surprise!) 😯 I’m not sure if those readers are concerned about something like (maybe) a plot, as long as there’s the obligatory humping in every chapter.   :sex2: Others prefer a story with well rounded characters and an actual plot to go along with the hot sex. A few readers just want a good story and don’t care if there is minimal or any sex in the books.  With such varying tastes authors can’t please everyone, so a lot of them go where the money is, meaning: they write books that are off the scale hot because they know they are sure to sell. Clearly this targeting works.

Most readers think that M/M romances must be erotic, but is M/M also synonymous with erotica (PWP – Porn Without Plot)? Many digital publishers seem to think so, based on comments by their authors who claim that the editors return their manuscripts if they don’t think there’s enough sex and ask for more, more, more unnecessary sex. On the other hand, some publishers say it’s the authors who make the choice about the level of sex in their books: when they see that books with a heat level of 5 are best sellers, and those with a heat level of 1 go on the remainder pile almost immediately (if there is such a thing as a remainder pile for ebooks), it’s the writers who make the choice to write books that are sexfests. Someone is not being straight 🙂 with us and the truth may lie somewhere in deep space. Are you proving the publishers and authors right by maxing out your credit cards on M/M romances that are burning hot and ignoring the “sweet” romances with less sex? Are you saying with your wallets that M/M is all about the sex?  😕 Based on the evidence, it seems that readers are the ones who set the bar for the heat level in these books. How else can you account for the fact that books which are are rated at the highest heat levels outsell those that are less so by a margin of 10 or more to 1, unless the author is very well known such as Josh Lanyon?

Please don’t think I’m saying there’s something wrong with books that have a high level of sex.  I just think that the sex should advance and enhance the plot. OTOH there are times when you might be looking for a short sexy read just before bedtime, not  a story that would keep you up all night where you become so interested you forget everything else.

Some genres such as BDSM, by their very nature, seem to require lots of sex. The norm in other genres such as fantasy, historical and science fiction romances is for a lot less sex. But what about the books in the middle such as contemporary gay romances, stories that are mostly about guys meeting each other and falling in love.  Do we need lots of sex in murder mysteries? Is it necessary for these books to be wall to wall sex? Is there a middle ground? Are M/M readers setting the bar low for our genre by almost always buying books that are sizzling hot, regardless whether the stories suck, or even if there is no story, as long as the humping goes on between the covers unabated? Can we raise the bar a little by not using our purchasing power to buy books that have the highest heat level? Could we encourage those authors who write plotty books that don’t have much sex by actually buying some of these books? I don’t mean to imply that all books with lots of sex aren’t wonderful stories with lots of plot and great characters – that would not be true as some of my favourites do have a lot of heat.  However, it’s a shame that we don’t acknowledge through our wallets the great job being done by authors who don’t write books with high heat levels.

If we’re trying to “sell” M/M by promoting it to our friends who don’t see this genre as a credible alternative to what they currently read, should we not raise the bar by encouraging our writers to pen books with engaging, believable characters and actual plots, rather than stories that at times seem thrown together just to hang sex scene after sex scene? Authors and publishers complain about the ghettoizing of gay romances because they are all classified as erotic, regardless whether the books are sexfests or have no sex. Perhaps if we reduce the amount of sex in some of these books and market them as “sweet” gay romances they could come in under the radar.

Two years ago I wrote a post called Do You Read Sweet Romances? which is linkedI listed quite a few M/M books that were not rated at the highest heat levels but were considered to be wonderful stories. I also included some statistics on book sales, based on information from epublishers as well as re-sellers such as ARe. Although this data is 2 years old I don’t think the ratios have changed much.  Books with heat levels 1 and 2 represented less than 3% of sales while books with heat levels of 4 and 5 together were 83% of sales, which is very revealing as well as damning in terms of our tastes and buying patterns:

Heat level 1- .73%
Heat level 2- 1.9%
Heat level 3- 10.3%
Heat level 4- 32.61%
Heat level 5- 50.57%

A couple weeks ago author Angie Benedetti wrote an essay (linked) on the much broader theme of romance called: What Does Love Look Like? Most of the readers who responded to her post seemed to be leaning on the side of more plot, more romance, better rounded characters and less sex. That’s what you said when your name was on the comment, but what about when you’re anonymous? 😆 :blush:

I hope the enclosed poll will help to clarify what heat levels you want in your M/M books, if you answer honestly. You can complete the poll in this post or on the right hand sidebar.  You can only select two answers that most closely reflect what you think. I do hope you complete this survey, and no cheating. 🙂


How do you Like Your M/M Romances?

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In addition to completing the survey your comments are always appreciated. I would also ask you to submit recommendations of M/M books that you love which do not just titillate our baser senses but are really great reads, with wonderful characterizations and actual plots, similar to those books recommended in my post 2 years ago. Your recommendations would be helpful to those readers who are interested in a different fare than our usual diet.


I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball


  • I’ve had complaints from readers about my less steamy titles being not steamy enough. How much of this was simply being disappointed because I had somewhat of a reputation for writing 6 flame stuff on a 5 flame scale I don’t know, but apparently 1 short sex scene at the end of a 10 kiloword short was Not Enough.

    So I can understand why authors stuff in extra sex scenes (ooh er missus), and why their editors ask them to. Sex sells. It’s a bit hard on readers and writers who like the sweeter stuff instead or as well, but I know from my own sales figures that if I want to maximise my income I should be writing only the steamier end of my range.

    Of course, the upcoming release is a short with a 1 page sex scene, and the wip doesn’t have actual sex until 20 kilowords in. So I will be very glad if the campaign for showing the sweet stuff some love gets some traction. 🙂

    • You know, in all seriousness, if you’re known for your ultra-sexfest books, then it’d probably be a good idea to start a new pseud if you want to write less sexy stuff. It works both ways — people who buy you because they want the ultra-boinkage would be disappointed not to get it, and people who prefer less boinkage have probably heard that you’re the boinkfest writer and avoid you, so the people who’d like a sweeter book won’t buy it. :/ That’s lose-lose. Starting a new name for the new chunk of audience would be the way to go.


      • I’ve considered it. But given the value of name recognition and my slow output, it may be counter-productive – particularly when you factor in that some of my high smut rating stuff doesn’t actually have a massive porn to plot page count ratio, it’s just that the sex tends to be, shall we say, memorable. A different pseud would not stop the complaints about Dolphin Dreams of all books having too much not-sex page count. 🙂 Yes, seriously. There are reviews complaining about the amount of wordage devoted to what the dolphin boys are doing when they’re not bonking, and I suspect that it’s a reflection of what you’ve suggested. The book has a reputation for being a bonkfest with heavy duty kink, and some people bought it expecting wall to wall sex.

        The issue that made me seriously consider a different pseud is an entirely different problem. My current readership is mostly people who know me for my romance writing, but I didn’t start in romance. The shorts that aren’t romance but are happy fun time porn aren’t really an issue, but the ones that have an anti-HEA could cause me problems with readers who assumed that because it has my name on the cover it must be romance. I spent a lot of time writing the blurb for the short that’s being re-issued by Musa next week, because I need to minimise the risk that people will read the blurb and not realise that they’re not getting an HEA.

        • Right, I’ve had a bit of that, where books in this genre are just assumed to be romances. [wry smile] Figuring out where the boundaries are can be tricky, especially if you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that they’re So Far Out There compared with the boundaries around het romance.


        • Jules

          I spent a lot of time writing the blurb for the short that’s being re-issued by Musa next week, because I need to minimise the risk that people will read the blurb and not realise that they’re not getting an HEA.

          Can’t you just say in the blurb that there is no HEA? Dreamspinner has a whole line of stories with no HEAs and from what I heard it’s pretty successful. I’ve read hundreds of love stories with no HEAs because of the policy that publishers established years ago that books with gays in love should not have a happy ending or they wouldn’t publish them. Yet books like Brokeback Mountain and The Front Runner are still hugely popular. OTOH there’s a writer that I refuse to read anymore because she wrote an epilogue to a book just to kill off one of the MCs. 🙁 It’s all in the writing.

          • There’s a limit to what you can say in a blurb about a 5500 word story without spoilering it to death, and I was asked to pull back a little for that reason. It’s not being advertised as a romance, and it’s not from my usual publisher, so I’m hoping there won’t be too many problems with readers assuming that it’s a fairy tale therefore it must have a HEA ending. (No, fairy tales do not always have a fairy tale ending. Especially the Irish ones, which is what this is.)

  • OK, so on a lighter note, where is all the free porn everyone is mentioning? Sorry, just kidding. Really. Kidding. (I’ll Google.) 😀

      • And none of the sites I had in mind were on that list! LOL! There is a veritable treasure trove of free porn out there these days. Overall, though, I’d rather give up free porn than paid-for romance books.

  • Well, I’m over my snit about the spam filter rejecting me the first time, so I’ll try again. Oddly enough, my first post specifically mentioned Tamara Allen — and I see she picked up on my brain waves, since she posted right after my first try!

    Please forgive me for the long posting below. I do get awfully windy at times!

    What I was trying to say before was that I read romances — ANY romances, mm or mf or whatever — mostly for the emotion and character. S* scenes are also fun, but for me they are by no means necessary. Ms. Allen came into the picture because I’m in the middle of Whistling in the Dark right now — which has no explicit s* at all.

    Make no mistake, I do enjoy s* scenes — but I get awfully tired of mechanical s* (insert tab A into slot B). What I really want, if there are going to be s* scenes, is s* that expands upon the characters and their emotions. I want emotional passion, not just physical passion. If I just wanted the physical act of s*, I could watch free internet porn instead of paying good money for books.

    As for favorites — I think I got caught by the spam filter the first time around because I mentioned a certain web site that starts with G and ends with Reads. I was trying to say that, of the 300 mm books I’ve rated on that site so far, I’ve only given 5 star ratings to 7 books. They are:

    Life After Joe by Harper Fox — my favorite of all shorter mm stories, it does a wonderfully efficient job of painting an emotional canvas. I would still love this story if you removed all the explicitly s*l descriptions.

    Scrap Metal by Harper Fox — does the same thing as Life After Joe, plus it does a great job of using s* scenes to show intimacy rather than simple lust.

    Death of a Pirate King by Josh Lanyon — I don’t even remember how many actual s* scenes are in this. It’s my favorite of the Adrien English books, which are all great, because of the depth of Adrien’s emotional struggles in this one. Josh is great with character in most of his stories.

    Chase in Shadow by Amy Lane — a great example of the overwrought hyperemotional style of romance writing. This style can make me want to roll my eyes and tear my hair out at times, but she is so GOOD at it that I really enjoy it. Lots of sex.

    Bonds of Earth by GN Chevalier — more people need to read this one. There are not many s* scenes, and it takes a long time to get to them. This is a more literary style, and a historical. I am looking forward to more books by her.

    Shattered Glass by Dani Alexander — this is on my list because it’s so outrageous in so many ways, it had me laughing and gasping by turn. A real surprise for a first time author to do this well.

    Between Sinners and Saint by Marie Sexton — I put this on the list because of the delicate and balanced treatment she gave to both religion and abuse.

    This is all my long-winded way of saying that none of my favorites are chosen for the amount of s* they contain, or for the “hotness” of their sex scenes. I’m looking for other things in those books.

    And btw, the books that I do reread for s* scenes may surprise you. Specifically, the Cut & Run series. Lousy stupid ridiculous plots at times, but the emotional and physical passion between the MCs is — IMNSHO — just out of this world. But note that, even in these books, there IS a plot! LOL!

  • So many of my favorites are low on the sex – not just some by Josh Lanyon, but Andrea Speed’s Infected series, anything by Tamara Allen (wonderful one and all), Jim Grimsley’s Comfort and Joy, and some books that have hotter sex but as a very small percentage of the pages like King Perry or After Ben or Scrap Metal.

    The more I read in this field the more I appreciate plot, characters and books that have sex only when it really advances the story and with an emphasis on the emotional rather than the physical side.

    In the brief time I’ve been publishing, I haven’t ever had a publisher ask me to put in more sex. Either I’m working for good publishers or I’m writing more sex than I realize 🙂

  • I like to read m/m romances on the sweet side. Those aren’t easy to find.

    As far as writing them, I’ve felt pressure to write more frequent and definitely more graphic scenes. I lost out on one publisher because they asked that I include more sex and I couldn’t bring myself to do that. It never felt right for the story.

    I don’t think I’d feel comfortable, writing more explicitly, whether in m/m or m/f. It does hurt my sales. Even with good reviews, I sell very poorly, compared with others writing m/m. Some months I may sell as many as twenty copies, but usually the number is lower.

    I do realize that could just as likely be because plot, characters, or my writing doesn’t appeal. I also really suck at promotion. 🙂 But I do have a number of reviews bemoaning the lack of sex scenes. I have to assume that’s a big part of the reason I don’t sell.

    It’s discouraging, but readers like what they like–so, yes, if you want to sell well in m/m, you are better off including frequent sex (whether or not you include plot. It’s been my impression that even without plot, books that are explicit and considered hot are bestsellers.)

    Makes me kind of sad sometimes, because I really do love writing m/m. I’d probably find greater success with m/f, though. That’s just simply how it is.

    • Mara

      Makes me kind of sad sometimes, because I really do love writing m/m. I’d probably find greater success with m/f, though. That’s just simply how it is.

      What you’re saying makes me sad if we lose a writer of your caliber. So many readers love your books and have indicated this in the comments. If you were to quit because your books don’t have enough sex for the majority of M/M readers, then that would prove what I predicted all along would happen. The writers who refuse to write PWP are being forced out of the genre because of economics. After all, there’s no point writing for a small fraction of readers who love your work. If we don’t buy books by authors whose writing we appreciate we will lose them.

      I can’t imagine not being able to buy new quality books like Downtime and The Only Gold. If you stop writing for this genre we would all be the losers.

      I like to read m/m romances on the sweet side. Those aren’t easy to find.

      As far as writing them, I’ve felt pressure to write more frequent and definitely more graphic scenes. I lost out on one publisher because they asked that I include more sex and I couldn’t bring myself to do that. It never felt right for the story.

      This is exactly what shouldn’t happen and I feel badly for you. You write exceptional books and yet you’re not appreciated.

      • I think (and hope) that as m/m readership continues to expand, there will be more readers willing to give less explicit stories a try. Writers who produce a more low key type of book just need to keep hanging in there (if they can afford to,) on the chance we’ll find more of an audience later on.

        Sometimes I do feel it’s not fair to come down so hard on the m/m genre, since books in every market (except Christian inspirationals) sell better with explicit scenes (or at least that’s my understanding.) M/f has had the advantage of being around for ages and so possesses the widest range of romance, from sweet to eye-openingly explicit. M/m (as opposed to gay romance) got going in an era where explicit scenes were the norm, so why wouldn’t the majority of it be explicit? (Not the most obvious reason, but it makes me feel better. :))

        I’ve heard from a few m/m readers who’ve been willing to give sweet romance a shot and they generally say they’re surprised they enjoyed it. I think your post may encourage a few more to give it a chance (I hope!) so thank you.

  • Weighing in late on this, but I’ve been thinking the same thing lately because I’ve participated in several panel discussions about it lately. It seems to me there are three necessary arcs in a romance novel: plot, emotional intimacy, and physical intimacy. I read for the emotional arc, and the books that get my vote and the authors who get my money, are those that lean heavily on the falling in love part of the equation.

    If I’m not in the mood to read a sex scene, I still read sweet romance, or I read a different kind of book than the type of m/m I usually buy. I still skip a LOT of sex scenes when I’m reading.

    I’m not saying I ever achieve a good balance when I write, but I have in my mind this idea that a good romance novel is a triangle, and the plot has to support the emotional side and physical intimacy side. I believe when you enter a sex scene, for the most part it has to show the development of physical and emotional intimacy within the context of plot.

    I remember reading a number of regency romance novels that began with a really erotic scene in which our rake is in bed with his mistress. Of course we see what a magnificent lover he is, but he’s jaded and he’s bored, and she’s irritated so she throws a hairbrush or a vase at him, and on the way back to his London townhouse he decides to make arrangements to buy her something pretty and set her aside.

    I used to ask myself what that scene was there for? This chick will never show up in the rest of the book and I didn’t need those intimate details.

    I think as writers sometimes we take that “show don’t tell” thing a little too far, and I wonder why a writer couldn’t just say, “Our hero was bored. Bored, bored, bored,” and leave it at that.

    On the other hand, I enjoy well written erotica if I’m in the mood for it. It’s pleasurable and can act as a sort of mood setter.

    As usual, I couldn’t be more indecisive. I know what I like to read, and all the writers mentioned here (and those who have written in) are generally auto-buys for me.

    One funny story. I wrote a fan letter to Josh Lanyon at two in the morning after I read Fatal Shadows, and I hope he didn’t mind that i was a little facetious. I gushed, of course because that’s a terrific, terrific book, and went on to say “Thank you for including a plot in your novel. Readers love that.”


    • Hi ZAM

      “Thank you for including a plot in your novel. Readers love that.”

      That was so funny. I wonder what Josh thought. 😕 Did he ever reply? 🙂

      I agree with a lot of what you said. I love the emotional intimacy – these books are supposed to be romances after all. Empty sex scenes turn me off unless I’m reading a book I know is PWP, then I don’t mind. However when a book is marketed as a romance that’s what I expect to get, but more and more M/M romances resemble erotica or PWP, which is not what I think I should be getting when I buy M/M romances. Hell, I know where to get porn and it’s free.

      The heroes in most of these books hardly talk to each other before jumping into bed or sucking each other off so I never get to know them, and if I can’t relate to the characters then I can’t love the book.

      There is room for everyone’s tastes to be met in this genre. However, it seems to me that readers who are looking for a romance, with protagonists with whom they can fall in love and go on a journey of discovery, are being ignored in favour of those readers who don’t care about anything but the amount of sex in these books.

      Sex is wonderful in the hands of an experienced and skillful writer, but most of the new writers are playing follow the leader, and it’s just tab A into slot B. I love well written sex scenes that move the plot along which express the physical intimacy between the heroes, but I can’t stand those sex scenes that are thrown together to extend the length of the book or give it 5 flames instead of 3. Most of the readers and even authors are saying that they skip the sex in these books (I find most of it boring) so why are we getting so much badly written sex?

      I’m hoping that a lot of the concerns expressed by others will make a few authors rethink their strategies. If not, the ghettoizing that we complain about will be hardwired into this genre and there will be no turning back.


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