The Gays Versus MM Romance
Are erotic gay romances written by women for women ruining the market for gay authors?
I recently wrote a blog about the phenomena of mm romance and yaoi; straight women writing about gay male relationships for a mainly straight female audience. On some websites where I posted the blog, queer people seemed pretty annoyed that I as a gay/queer person didn’t care about being fetishized:
Listening to more interviews with mm romance authors I found some were naïve about how sensitive and realistic they were being in writing gay men. But when a lady over sixty says that she’s writing about gay sex – I can’t help but think that’s kind of cool. Still, I wasn't aware of some of the negative fallout of mm romance’s success for gay authors. These women’s larger demographic does give them a huge advantage that gay male fiction writers, especially self-published gay writers, don’t have.
I worked out a guestimate of a statistic that there are about 717,500 gay fiction readers in the US reading 1-5 or more books a year. I should add to that these are not the only readers of gay fiction by gay men, about half the readers of my novel aren’t gay guys. It’s hard to work out a similar readership pool of mm romance readers. But 191,000,000 ebooks were sold in the US in 2020 and 45% of those were romance. One thing I know is mm readers are voracious 35% read 3-4 books a week and 24% read 5-6 and another 26% read above that - it almost seems addictive.
Due to this, the Amazon LGBT best sellers list is more or less entirely mm romance mostly written by women for women, occasionally studded with a gay novel from a mainstream publisher. The Barnes and Noble best sellers list too, most of the lists of gay fiction on Goodreads. It is also especially difficult to search for self-published gay fiction without meeting a tidal wave of mm romance. Hot guys with their tops off asking me to read about their somewhat unrealistic relationships.
But it’s not as if they have stolen the audience from the gays. The mm audience is mainly women who like romance. You could definitely say they’ve taken the gay category though. Amazon should do more to separate these books from gay fiction. And mm authors should at least avoid tagging their books in the LGBT literary fiction category. If they weren’t there though, I think the category would fill up with mainly classic gay novels, and gay novels from mainstream publishers. Sadly, from what I see it still wouldn’t be a haven for self-published gay authors (unless they're writing mm romance). But most bestseller categories on Amazon are filled with trash. These best seller lists are not exactly a place to find great fiction, more a list of people churning out book after book and thus securing themselves an income and the title of best seller.
I don’t think any author writes mm fiction just for the money, but the successful ones do seem to be very money orientated. Lucy Lennox talks about her first m/m book making 3 figures in its first month, then jumping to 5 figures in the second month. Addison Cain’s Alpha’s Claim series published by a small indie publisher made over $370,000. This success seems to partly rely on being insanely fast and prolific. Many are able to write a novel in a week. Lucy Lennox talked about having her novel edited at the same time as she was writing it while she was being treated for breast cancer! There now seems to be a fair amount of gay men following these same methods and having some success within the mm romance genre. To some degree this must mean following conventions that are made by another group around your identity. But I don’t know how much that matters to gay authors finding success their own community couldn’t provide for them.
There is a massive difference between the reading habits of gay readers, and mm readers. The average gay reader relies much more on what is on the shelves at the bookshop, magazines, word of mouth, and of course Amazon suggestions. MM readers are much more likely to read self-published works and they are much more forgiving of bad writing. MM author Neve Wilder said in an interview that, 'There's so little that I read that I don't like.' MM authors also support each other, and work together, and have platforms for each other in a way that gay authors don’t as much. What does get to me is something like The Big Gay Fiction Podcast, where gay men have created a forum that could promote published and unpublished gay authors and yet they mostly promote mm romance. I think there are a lot of gay male authors who probably write their first piece of gay fiction and then find it so difficult to sell or market that they give up.
One interesting thing is that gay pulp fiction from the 60s and 70s looks quite similar to mm romance now - with the obvious difference that it was written by gay men for gay men. Then in the 80s gay fiction (especially coming of age) became available in gay magazines and gay bookshops. The current trend among publishing houses seems to be for young adult gay fiction. This is obviously because that’s where the market is; young people discovering their identities. But gay writers are being sandwiched in between mm romance and publishers’ preference for YA. On Instagram gay reviewers mostly promote what major publishing houses put out, and mostly YA. Popular gay reviewers there were grateful for a copy of my book but not in a hurry to review it. I don’t totally blame them; I think most published gay fiction isn’t great and thus some of the self-published stuff is probably worse. Only the most dedicated gay readers are ready to trawl the far-flung backwaters of the internet looking for good self-published gay fiction.
I feel now I should try and offer some solutions. To mm writers, please call your works mm romance rather than gay fiction. Also, read and recommend gay authors outside of the mm genre. I have to give props to the mm authors and readers who have already read and helped promote my novel Two Million. But also to the few gay authors who have read and reviewed my book; Darren Kay of The Brightonians – I’m finally reading your book! Many avid gay readers I've spoken to find new books through author suggestions on twitter and other social media. We probably need to help each other more. I want to start a podcast that focuses on gay/queer adult fiction, and I encourage anyone else to create or promote similar platforms. But I think we can also take advantage of the larger mm market along with some of their marketing tools. Yes, we are at a disadvantage, but I think we need to help ourselves by writing amazing unique fiction that cannot be denied. Fiction that represents our identities and community in new ways that are worthy of breaking through to the mainstream … and please buy a copy of my novella – I only sold two in the last month!