Okay, I am going to jump on the bandwagon and talk about the post that has m/m authors in an uproar. I’m not even going to pretend anyone will read this, I’m just going to write my thoughts, because at this point that’s all my blog is about, anyway. So here’s the thing. I made a comment on Amelia C. Gormley’s blog yesterday, and those were my thoughts then, but now I have more.
See, I think the problem with the jessewave thing was in the delivery. It was rude. But honestly, it’s a private review blog, and the opinions or preferences of the reviewers, what they want to read and review, how they feel about “the genre”, are their issue. No one would care, I’d bet, if it wasn’t presented in such an angry, offensive manner. Or maybe they would… because essentially what jessewave said was: I don’t care about your story or your characters, I’m reading for the sex, and I like it the way I like it! You might think you’re writing romance, but really you’re writing smut.
And to a lot of writers, that stings.
But the whole thing got me thinking about why this is even an issue, and the topic of labeling for content came up. As in, we m/m authors should put warnings about what types of sex might pop up in our romantic fiction. A few commenters made the point that this type of labeling is common among fanfic (which I have no experience with) and erotica. And that is what I think the real issue is!
Gay Romance is not the same as Erotica. Erotica is labeled as far as what kinds of sex it contains, because it is basically porn. When you read it, it is for titillation, and you want to know exactly what is in it, to be sure it will be arousing to you. When buying erotica, you require the labels, so you can be sure to get just the type of smut you like. This is good, and natural. But when you are reading a romance, it should be for story, not sexual stimulation.
I have been reading gay romance, and hetero romance, for a long time. I’m not going to say I’ve read it all, only that I’ve read it for a long time. I remember a time (15+ years ago) when there was a huuuge gap between gay erotica and what was basically literary fiction with a gay/lesbian/bisexual main character. That gap has mostly closed.
But still, there is a lingering of that smutty reputation. Gay romance is heavier on the sex, with more graphic, more explicit sex in general. Not always, not “as a rule”, but in general. So much so that if a book has no explicit sex, we feel the need to label it “sweet romance”, in warning.
And the gay erotica tag influences other areas as well, most notably pricing. Check out the contemporary (hetero/mainstream) romance top ten on amazon. Most, unless they are huge name authors, are fairly inexpensive. $3.99 is about average for a 250-350 page book. Now check out the gay romance top sellers. Sure,there are a lot of offerings for $3.99, but mostly that’s for 100 pages, tops. And seriously, if a m/f romance is 50 or 60 pages, even by a relatively well-known author, it would be priced at $.99, not the $4.99 most glbt authors charge. Unless it is “erotica”, or some kind of kink. You can charge a premium for things like: gratuitous graphic sex, bdsm, menage, and various WTF-ery like tentacles and twincest. A loving relationship between two men, or two women, or a trans* person and any gender partner, should not by default be considered a “kink”. It is just two humans falling in love and having sex, seriously.
I keep my prices low for a few reasons. Mainly, because as a reader I think they are fair. I get pissed when I drop 5 bucks on a 60 page book. Also, I refuse to acknowledge that my stories are really that kinky, and I won’t price them as such. Of course I’d like to think my work is worth a higher price…but the truth is, price is one method of “othering” in fiction. I will not participate in that.
So I say this: if jessewave wants to review only vagina-free stories, so be it. There are plenty of review blogs that don’t limit themselves that way. This genre is changing. But it is up to all participants (authors, readers and reviewers) to make these changes positive.
(For my small part, I just went and changed all my “warning labels” to generic sex warnings, just marking my books 18+, without any specific note as to the gender of the participants. I may get more returns, or negative feedback, I don’t know…but it’s done. Or will be as soon as amazon updates the listings.)