Specifically by people I mean potential readers who would enjoy it. I didn’t know of it until about three years ago – even though I was involved in fanfic, which is practically an apprenticeship for m/m romance. I’d read gay literature for years. When I recently read a book from the 1980s – Ice Wind and Fire by Mel Keegan – the three pink triangles of Gay Men’s Press on the book’s spine gave me a nostalgic moment. (The book was very good too.) But gay literature and m/m fiction and romance aren’t generally the same thing.
Some of the romance reviewing blogs or retail sites are good about reviewing and showcasing m/m romance as well as m/f romance and of course the publisher’s sites show it off. But a significant percentage of the reader audience for m/m say that they don’t like m/m romance. So others who feel the same but haven’t yet found m/m aren’t going to be hanging around on All Romance eBooks or Smart Bitches, Trashy Books to stumble on it that way.
I stumbled on the genre when a Live Journal friend reviewed some m/m historicals. As well as having some laughs about the well-filled trousers on the cover of The Price of Temptation, I came away gobsmacked about the mere existence of these books, which I’d never heard of before. Of course, this was 2008; the genre as we know it now was in its infancy. But there were a decent number of books around that would likely fit into the m/m category now – genre books, with gay lead characters that didn’t fit the “literary” category (maybe because the people in them were happy sometimes and didn’t kill themselves in the end.) Up till then I guess the primary market for them was, and was assumed to be, gay men. The women readers were still an untapped market.
The genre is maturing and still growing – but a lot of that is in the US. How well known is m/m in the UK? Given that a lot of is only available in eBook format, and eBooks are growing more slowly here than in the US, it may take a while for the UK to catch up. Even once eReaders are commoner, how are people who don’t yet know about it going to find m/m romance? There are more potential readers out there, I’m sure. British netizens read slash fanfic too. Characters in gay relationships on TV attract devoted fans – thinking of Jack Harkness and Ianto Jones there. How do publishers reach these people?
Will it take one of the mainstream romance publishers to introduce a m/m line? I personally think it’s only a matter of time before Mills and Boon do, though probably eBook exclusive – which isn’t the same as being cover out on the shelf at Tesco or W.H. Smith. I’d even welcome some of those patronising “those crazy wimminz reading and writing about the gays” articles in the mainstream newspapers, because they might intrigue some readers! I personally first heard about slash fanfic via something decrying it and it at once made me think, hmm, gotta find me some of that…