The Mainstreaming of M/M …. by Josh Lanyon

About a year ago I was invited to be a guest author at JR Ward’s Goodreads group. If you’re not familiar with Ward – and I confess I was not thenjosh logo - martini glass familiar with her work – she writes the enormously popular Black Dagger Brotherhood series about vampire soldiers battling against…well, that part isn’t really important. The important part was that Ward, a #1 New York Times and USAToday Best Selling author of erotic paranormal romance, had decided to give two of her gay characters, Qhuinn and Blay, their own full-length novel love story, and to warm up for the big event, Ward’s Goodreads group invited a series of M/M authors to come and chat about M/M romance to virgin readers.

Now granted, Ward was not the first #1 New York Times and USAToday Best Selling author of contemporary romance to dare to write a front and center gay love story for her mainstream audience (that honor goes to Suze Brockmann for the Jules and Robin storyline in her Troubleshooters series) and, granted, Ward’s series is paranormal, and spec fiction writers have been writing gay characters and gay relationships for decades, but it was still big news – and it continues to be big news.

If Lover at Last — due out March 26th of this year — does well, if a significant portion of Ward’s huge mainstream audience likes what it reads, those readers may seek out more of the same, they may look for other romances featuring male/male relationships, and that could be a very big deal for writers of M/M romance. Particularly writers of M/M paranormal romance.

That’s the theory, anyway.

The timing is much more auspicious for Ward’s book than it was when Brockmann came out with Hot Target. An audience for M/M romance already exists – in fact, Ward’s fan base pushed her to give the Qhuinn/Blay storyline a full treatment and not shortchange them with a novella – indie and epublishers like Carina Press, Samhain, etc. regularly publish  mainstream quality same sex fiction; romance sites like Dear Author — and even Publisher’s Weekly – now review these titles; a GLBT Chapter of RWA exists; and we have an increasing number of writers working within the genre producing professional level work.  In fact, the timing couldn’t be better.

But even with the best timing in the world, is it realistic to expect that a successful M/M release from an already bestselling mainstream author will translate into a boom for indie M/M authors? Won’t much of that enthusiasm be chilled when these readers purchase their first badly-edited piece of schlock from Schnooky-Nooky Press? Is it not likely that these enthusiastic new readers will look for more offerings from already established mainstream authors?

Those mainstream offerings are coming. I recently had the opportunity (“misfortune” sounds so harsh, but yeesh!) to read Lori Foster’s What Chris Wants. Word is Foster was pushed by fans into writing an M/M story for recurring series character Chris Chapey. I guess this infomercial disguised as a novella was her revenge.

Grinning, shirt and shoes in hand, Matt slogged through the water behind him. “I’ll stay.”

“Good.” And though Chris didn’t want to admit it, relief lifted the tension from his chest.

Now what?

 Chapter Two

Dressed in his usual aged and faded T-shirt with comfortably loose shorts, his feet bare and his hair finger-combed, Chris stared at the bed.

Or more precisely, the man in his bed.


I’ve seen reviews where readers took Foster to task for skipping over the implied sex  (this is an often expressed concern about the upcoming Ward book – will she water down the erotic content?), but more to the point, where the hell is the romance? Where the hell is the STORY? It’s one thing to fade to black when it comes to scenes of sexual intimacy. When it comes to what should be the heart of the plot? That’s not okay. It’s not okay to skip the dialog and the getting to know each other and the falling in love. And if Foster’s half-hearted effort is a sample of things to come, our mainstream colleagues may not be doing us any favors by dipping their toes in the genre.

This probably sounds like I’m not thrilled about the mainstreaming of M/M, whereas in fact, I’m both excited and hopeful about the possibilities. But I don’t want to get carried away. There have always been successful standalone gay romance novels, from Renault’s The Charioteer to Laura Argiri’s The God in Flight, but these are literary novels, not genre fiction. Previous attempts to mainstream male/male contemporary genre romance have been, at least by the publisher’s standards, unsuccessful. Remember Time-Warner’s 2004 launch of the Romentics novels? Or how about Running Press’s 2009 foray into historical male/male romance?  These were brave endeavors that crashed and burned because mainstream calculates success on a different scale from indie publishing.

Nor is every M/M author thrilled to see the big guns of mainstream poaching on our little and already crowded game preserve. I’ve had more than one writing friend express nervous qualms about some big name romance author swanning in with all the might of an HQN or Random House behind her and taking up more than her fair share of cyber shelf. Can we compete against professional mainstream authors? That’s what they’re really asking – and it’s a good question. Some of us can. Some of us can’t. But isn’t that the current situation?

Of course the flip side of that insecurity is M/M authors hoping that an unexpected success with male/male romance by a Ward or Foster or Brockmann will lead mainstream publishers to take a chance on an unknown. And there are promising signs that this may come to pass. In January, ZA Maxfield signed a two-book deal with Berkley InterMix. This is Berkley’s first foray into M/M romance and it’s encouraging. Of course the assumption is that mainstream publishing is where the real money and prestige lie. It may be true about the prestige, but it would require moving one heck of a lot of books to beat the money of indie publishing. Still, being mainstream published offers a great opportunity to lure new readers to an existing backlist and might be well-worth the tradeoff. Assuming there is any tradeoff. Maybe Maxfield will move 50,000 units. I hope she does!

It’s too soon to draw any conclusions, but to me, two things are obvious: our already crowded genre is about to get a lot more crowded. Part of that crowd may – or may not be – new readers. I was surprised to find how many existing fans I had in Ward’s Goodreads group. But did I win over new readers? That, I couldn’t say. The second thing that is clear to me, is that everyone needs to bring his or her best game because here on out the competition for both old and new readers is only going to get…yes, I’ll say it…stiffer.



  • So of course loving J R Ward’s books and now loving your books too, I’ve gone straight to search for the discussion and your name comes up a LOT there, I had to search hard to find the appropriate posts.

  • Dear Josh,
    I’m really a bit excited to post something here, as I’ve been reading a lot of comments here and in other groups and I’m totally hooked by your books and some other m/m fiction I’ve read so far. And I thought maybe I tell you something about my point of view as a german, female reader who has read m/m books for the first time in her life some weeks ago and nothing else since then – like totally addicted to this genre! The funny thing is that I really stumbled upon one book which sounded quite interesting (The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles), being some sort of victorian mystery/ghost story whith a bit of romance. I read a review in a german romance magazine (Loveletter) about this book and gave it a try.
    (By the way, I have to admit that I’m also partly from the publishing business having worked as an editor for a german mostly mainstream publishing house for over 10 years. Well, after my second kid I stopped working there and started to work freelance from home. So I also have some “inside” perspective from the publisher’s point of view.)
    Back to the book I was reading: Suddenly I realized this was a story about two men falling in love with each other (in different times and with even more difficulties and barriers to overcome then nowadays) and thought “Wow, what a really nice surprise!”
    The funny thing is I really don’t know exactly why I am so drawn to m/m stories since then. I read some articles and thought about it and I think there are a lot of aspect involved which make me like this genre: okay, erotic aspects of course, I have to admit I find the sex scenes really hot … ( I like men, so it’s obviously very nice to read about TWO men in love), maybe because it’s something different and new. I read all sorts of different stuff, I like crime novels, fantasy novels and erotic novels, sometimes more literary books, but at the moment I prefer to read more entertaining books, as with working and having two kids life is really quite exhausting most of the time. But in general I am quite open to new genres or subjects and books which are a bit off the normal mainstream. One important aspect though, seems to me that m/m novels often contain a certain atmosphere: a bit melancholic, gloomy or bittersweet, as the lovestories between men often involve a lot of problems gay people have to deal with when falling in love or coming out. And all these struggles with society, themselves and their partner seem to be quite appealing to me – and a lot of other readers as I assume – as they really get under one’s skin. It’s really more interesting to me than reading classical mainstream romance novels, which I do not like so much by the way. Additionally, with the perspective of gay male protagonists in books a whole new world opened up to me – a thing which I really apreciated, as I view lots of things different now and learned a lot (I think).
    Now about the fear that quality m/m fiction is taken over a bit by mainstream fiction: I think that these books really are a big chance for readers to find this m/m genre! As with me who didn’t search for the books before they landed in my ebook-reader by chance. And if readers are hooked or interested enough they will search for more books to read, and they will search for quality books with good and comprehensible stories and characters. And they will search for books which are not only about sex, because this is simply boring without the development of their characters and relationship.
    As I love to read suspense novels, especially crime series, your books containing this and the additional treat of personal development and love life of the male characters – are really a great mixture!!! Since stumbling upon the above mentioned book I found “The Haunted Heart”, the first book from you I read and liked so much, then the Adrien-English-Series (oh. my. god!), Holmes & Moriarity, The Ghost who whore yellow Socks, Lone Star and A Ghost of a Chance. I’m very much looking forward to reading every last bit which is published so far and to reading the sequels of your books.
    So, sorry for all this rambling, but I just had to say this. 🙂
    Greetings from a german bookworm 🙂

    • Dear Jutta, Thanks for your insightful comments! (And of course for the very kind words.) I think that one of the attractions for mainstream publishers is that m/m seems to tap into a voracious readership that has little or no interest in traditional romance fare. So a publisher shrewd enough to look at those sales as rather lavish icing on the cake, could be well positioned to establish a small but vibrant m/m imprint and corner this particular market.

      So glad you stopped by — I hope you are continuing to find stories to enjoy in this genre!

  • This kind of reminds me of the Japanese phenomenon where a manga author draws doujinshi of her own work. So, for example there’s the “real” story of Gravitation, but for fun the mangaka draws an alternate story with a different pairing or something.

    (And just as an aside, the Gravitation doujinshi are truly not for the faint of heart. Poor Yuki! The things Murakami-sensei does to him in these little one-offs! :eek:)

    Usually these are strictly self-published fan service items sold at conventions. It’s an interesting thing to do, but its not the same as releasing a, for lack of a better word, legitimate book.

    • Ah. Yes. I see — and those would be considered added value promo items but because of the way they’re handled (or maybe just manga culture) they wouldn’t get in the way of anyone’s understanding of the “real” story/plot line?

      I find this especially interesting given what a strangely delicate balance there is between the writer’s always restless vision and the reader experience.

  • I own all the BDB books in kindle, hardback and paperback (all have different covers) and I have pre-ordered Lover at Last (in Aug of last year… Obsessed much?) But, I have to admit I am worried about the sex scenes. In book 10 she tried a scene between Saxton and Blay but it kinda cut short. Saying that it was still er um sort of… Well it was a trial run I suppose.
    The BDB books are top heavy sex (m/f) and I really really hope she gives Blay and Qhuinn the same treatment. The whole series is very good, with some books better than others (there are 10 of them so far, so some people will like ? And think ? Weaker etc etc)
    Anyway, in all this rambling, I just wanted to say, I nervous! Really really nervous. I like the character Blay very much and I want his HEA. Also in the other books Blay has been having a relationship with Saxton but it fades to black whenever they have sex. You know they going at it like bunnie but DAMN I want in! 😉


    • Tash, I think the consensus is that Ward is *probably* going to give readers what they want — or at least try her damnedest. There’s more pressure on her for this book than the last four.

  • I’ve become less and less enthused with the BDB series. For me, the last couple of books have been disappointing. I’m still at the ‘will I, won’t I’ stage as to whether or not I will buy/read Lover At Last. The NZ$20 (approx US$16) price tag has put me off, and I’m not interested in joining the 240+ request queue at my library!

    Unlike a lot of people, I never bought into Butch and V as a couple. Yes, the deep, deep love for each other is there but for me it is a strong friendship that may seem to be a pseudo-sexual relationship but it doesn’t actually go there.

    I definitely want to read about Quinn and Blay and their HEA but I’m not sure that I want to read any of the secondary plot lines. To me that is just going to be a whole lot of clutter full of product placement, bad slang and female characters that just never seem to be strong enough for their mates.

    My biggest concern Is that JR Ward is writing this simply to pander to the fans out there that want her to write an m/m book. In previous books some dialogue and some of the male/female character interactions have appeared stilted. JR Ward doesn’t necessariy write great female characters anyway so maybe with an m/m plot she may just pull it off. Perhaps she should have been writing m/m right from the start!

    I’m sure I will get around to reading LAL at some stage but just not right now. If mainstreaming m/m means hefty price tags for the eBooks, then count me out. I spend my book budget very carefully and it doesn’t include hardcover prices for eBooks. There are more important priorities, such as the much longed for 3rd book in the Holmes and Moriarty series!

    • I have to agree with you … a little bit.
      The last BDB-books just hadn’t been as good as the first ones. I’m still reading because I want to see Blay and Qhuinn.

      And these two are the only ones I’m willing to spend so much money on.
      Every other mainstream series I’ve been reading I have stopped because I hate when they suddenly go from paperback to hardcover and demand the hardcover price for the ebook, too.

      And I soooo agree about “The Boy with the Painful Tatoo” 🙂

      • The whole pricing thing is such a puzzle to me. As a reader, I honestly have no self-control. If I want a book, I don’t even look at the price. I just don’t care. Now partly this has to do with buying fewer books, so I’m not guilty if I overspend here and there. It all balances out.

        As a writer, I really try to keep my pricing fair — but realistic. I charge $2.99 for a short story. Period. Any creative work by a professional writer should begin at $2.99. That’s the base point, in my opinion. Right there you’re paying for education, experience, and a professional quality product. So I charge higher than some for a short story, but on the other side of the scale — when we get to novels, etc. — I’ve yet to charge over $6.99 for an ebook.

      • I’m happy to pay a fair and reasonable price for an ebook, but I just don’t understand the ‘hardcover’ and ‘trade’ pricing for them. For me in New Zealand, geographical restrictions also push the prices up if the only edition I can purchase is supplied by a UK publisher. Prices for UK editions of ebooks are generally a minimum of NZ$5 dearer than a US edition. I certainly won’t pay NZ$15+ for an ebook if I can purchase the US edition for around NZ$10! I became very selective about the authors I purchase when the only edition available to me is published through a UK publisher.

        If there is no UK publisher and if the US publisher does not have (or utilise) worldwide rights then the ebooks aren’t available to me. There are several authors I no longer read because their ebooks are not available to buyers in NZ – Ilona Andrews is one that comes to mind. I know that there are other authors unavailable to me but I can’t recall who they are right now. When geographical restriction were enforced several years ago I moved onto new-to-me genres and new-to-me authors. Those authors have now replaced authors that used to be my favourites.

        • I moved onto new-to-me genres and new-to-me authors. Those authors have now replaced authors that used to be my favourites.

          This is where I think it’s all changed, and where some publishers are misreading the situation. Now days readers have endless options — no one is irreplaceable. Behind every popular, bestselling authors is a long line of talented hopefuls waiting to move up.

  • Ward should write the Vutch story. That’s the only thing I want to see.

    Qhuay always felt to me like a poor substitute, a teenager version of the real m/m love story in the BDB. It also has a certain bitter aftertaste… I don’t know… Like she only does it go give m/m fans something and make the Vutch fans STFU (which she won’t achieve) and to jump on the m/m bandwagon.

    But hey, the most important thing is that Butch gets it regularly… 😉


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