Does crossover matter for m/m Romance?

By crossover I mean in readership. As every article about m/m Romance seems to be at pains to point out, this stuff is written mostly by women and read mostly by women (shock horror!) and that it’s not read by many gay men. Other articles might point out that m/m Romance is not the same as Gay literary fiction – which is a bit like carefully emphasising that cats are not dogs.

This isn’t to say there is no crossover. Some gay men do read m/m Romances, some men write it. But what I want to know is, does it matter if they do? Is it a problem if they don’t? Is it a problem if it’s aimed primarily at women? Why should it not be? Romance books usually are. The senior managers at Harlequin don’t have meetings to figure out how to get men reading their books. They have meets to work out ways to get more women to read their books. They know who the market is for Romance – it’s women!

Now I definitely think it matters if the reason a gay man doesn’t like a particular m/m Romance is because it doesn’t even remotely reflect his life and experiences, to the point it’s insulting and offensive and dismissive of the real problems he has to deal with. (See my post on The two Rs – Research and Respect for more on that.) But if he doesn’t like it because it’s Romance and he’d rather read a thriller with shit blowing up, then that’s not a problem to me.

Do books that are in the Romance genre, a genre almost entirely produced by women and read almost entirely by women, need to be validated in this way by men? Authors of mainstream romance don’t think so – and they write about men too! Is there a problem with something being for women? Precious few things in this world are for women, why not this?

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8 thoughts on “Does crossover matter for m/m Romance?

  1. I’ve never thought for one minute that my work was primarily for women. I didn’t even know that “most slash readers/writers were women” until I started writing it. I don’t think like that. I write stories that interest ME. I’ve never once thought about a target audience, (or I would write VERY different stories) and I hope I never will.

    I looked at the market, and I thought: My God. surely, Gay men must want romance? and if I wrote for anyone (which I really didn’t) I wrote for that market. From my postbag since–99 percent gay men who bother to write (i know that’s not indicative of who reads) then I know I was right. Gay men had porn and they had literature. I know they didn’t have romance and now they do.

    I think the gay literati need to get their head out of their arseholes and join the human race. romance exists, and gay men read it, write it and like it.

    1. I don’t think the writer necessarily has to think “I’m aiming this book at women”, they just write their book. But it if fits into the Romance genre then women are going to be the vast majority of the audience for it.

      It’s interesting what you say about “surely, Gay men must want romance?” Straight men don’t buy Romance books much. Are gay men more likely to do so? Would that be because even if straight men don’t actually read Romance novels or like romance movies, they still see straight romance represented everywhere in books and movies and TV, even when it’s not the main focus of a story. Gay people don’t have their relationships represented in such a wall-to-wall fashion, so maybe they’re likely to seek out something that does show it.

  2. To be honest it annoys me no end that people think that certain types of book are for certain genders. I grew up reading SF/F when it was assumed that only men read it, and it pissed me off to be written out of the genre by everyone who talked about it. I write on the assumption that people will read my books – I wouldn’t know how to go about making them more attractive to one gender or the other, nor would I want to.

    In fact, the great majority of readers who take the time to write to me to tell me that they enjoyed my books are men. (I’m not good at maths, but at least somewhere around the 90% mark.) On their behalf I am insulted by the suggestion that this is a genre for women only. There is nothing wrong with any activity that is largely enjoyed by women – I’m not trying to say that we need men in the genre to validate it – but I am saying that I hate being ignored on the grounds of my sex, and I would not want to be a party to doing the same thing to all the men who read and write in this genre.

    1. I’m definitely not trying to insult anyone. I’m happy with whoever reads my books. Hmm, I think there must be a balance to be struck between assuming 100% of the readers are female and that there there are other readers too. But then it starts getting into trying to write to the audience expectations rather than what the writer wants to write. Tricky balancing act. Maybe writers of straight romance are safe enough assuming the audience is all female, but m/m writers have to assume otherwise and keep that in mind.

      I’m still figuring all this stuff out anyway!

  3. It’s interesting you’ve posted this in the week that Ellora’s Cave have announced they’ll be setting up a new line of romances targetted at male readers. It really got me thinking about whether there is any difference between male and female readers. I can’t say I target my writing at either gender; I’m not sure I’d know how to in any case – not without pandering to dubious stereotypes of women wanting melodramatic emotion and men wanting fast paced action.

    It’s definitely true to say that the romance readership is overwhelmingly female, but I’m willing to bet that that the m/m genre has a much larger proportion of male readers than the het romances do. Is that because gay men are more likely to challenge the assumption that men don’t read romances? Or is it because m/m romances tend to have more grit and explicit sex, with less of the sugary melodrama?

    Personally, I don’t have any problem with the majority of romance readers being female. What I do have a problem with is when the genre as a whole is dismissed because it’s just “women’s writing” or pointless fluff. It would be great to see love stories given more respect and academic attention, regardless of the gender of writers and readers.

    1. Yes, I saw that announcement about Ellora’s Cave. But to me, at least from the coming soon web page, it looks more like erotica than romance. Hard to know of course until there are some books out. Will it be purely erotica, or will it be erotic romance? And it will be interesting to see what it is that’s different about the writing in that case to make it appeal more to men than women. There are plenty of erotic novels about men and women, so what will be the unique selling point of there ones? Will the stories stick with the man’s POV rather than the woman’s for example? Anyway, the proof will be in sales! It will definitely be interesting to see how it pans out.

  4. First: There are quite a lot of men writing m/m-romances. Granted, the majority are women, and this seems to annoy some gay men, for reasons that are beyond me.
    I’m with Erastes on this one. I mainly write for myself. I publish, hoping others might like my books.

    That being said, I was rather surprised, very pleasantly surprised I might add, by the warm reception they got by women, mainly the yaoi-crowd and the m/m-romance reader. They regularly point out in reviews that they are not ‘typical’ m/m-romance though.

    I know some gay men read my stories as well. Now I hope to attract the readers of historical (fantasy) romances. (I have no idea how to go about this.)

    “Is there a problem with something being for women? Precious few things in this world are for women, why not this?”

    Some would say, because you are objectifying men for your own, ahem, purposes. Wasn’t that something women didn’t like about some kind of literature? Also, does this mean we’re OK with those romances in which the empty-headed, though stunningly beautiful damsel gets in distress through her own weakness and general silliness, and needs to be rescued by the smart, handsome, strong male in whose muscular arms she then proceeds to melt away, realizing this is the only way a mere woman can be fulfilled? It would just be for straight males. What could the harm be?

    I think trying to fence off certain parts of literature for one group — any group — is not very healthy, and doomed to fail anyway. A good story is a good story is a good story.
    I would argue that m/m-romances can accomplish the opposite. Instead of erecting mainly artificial and culturally defined barriers between women and men, they can show that the macho-image some men try to maintain is not universal or ‘what nature intended.’

    As for the gay literati… oh well, let them be. Electronic publishing is changing the landscape. My books are red in Malaysia and Estonia, often in countries where being gay is still a huge stigma. The opinion of the literati, gay or not, or of any kind of self appointed would be gatekeeper doesn’t matter.
    Not anymore.

    1. Thanks, Andrew. Really interesting points there. What you say about your books not being typical m/m romance is a good point, because I think that’s also true of Alex Beecroft’s and Erastes who both have a lot of male readers. Their books are to me often more historical drama focusing on a relationship than conventionally romance, and I’d still be as keen to read their books if they didn’t have the happy ending that allows them to be classified as Romance. So I wonder if the books that are more unusual in that way have more crossover readership than those with a more conventional romance structure.

      As the m/m genre diversifies and doesn’t get automatically classified as romance and erotica then there could be more crossover.

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