Hello, Cole, and thank you so much for hosting us today.

Thanks to both of you! I found this post really interesting (especially from an author’s view) so I’ll be adding my thoughts to the comments 🙂 But I’ll leave this part open, so everyone can get to the post!

Just a Note: Elin’s comments are in Blue and Alex’s are in Green, though their names are also marked.

This post is an attempt to express a little of the frustration experienced when writing one thing but finding that it is being marketed, and therefore judged, as something else.

In February the Library Journal posted an article about the sudden popularity of erotica, inspired by the success of Fifty Shades of Gray. The author of the article also devoted a couple of paragraphs to M/M:

“Another growing subgenre in erotica to watch is that of M/M fiction, … Particularly popular authors are Josh Lanyon, K.A. Mitchell, Alex Beecroft, and Heidi Cullinan.”

Katie Dunneback, Feb 11th 2013 http://reviews.libraryjournal.com/2013/02/books/genre-fiction/erotica-full-frontal-shelving-genre-spotlight/

Elin: There’s no such thing as bad publicity but surely it’s even better if it is accurate. True, the heat levels in most of K A Mitchell and Heidi Cullinan’s excellent and entertaining work are scorching but I wouldn’t have described any of Alex Beecroft’s work as erotica, nor those titles of Josh Lanyon’s that I have had the pleasure of reading.

Alex: I know that I was at first very pleased just to be mentioned in as august a publication as Library Journal. But at the same time, I feel like I’ve been fighting all my writing career against the presumption that what I write is erotica. When Captain’s Surrender came out in 2008, it was automatically listed by various sites as erotica, and I had to write to them all to say “look, there are three sex scenes in 200 pages, and each scene takes less than a page. That is not erotica by anyone’s standards.” So to find that five years later, after constantly saying “please don’t be misled by the labelling, what I write is pretty mild,” I was still being (mis)listed as an erotica writer… it was very grieving.

Elin: So, why are you described as erotica writers? Could it be because you write LGBT characters in relationships? Is it simply that any book with, say, two men in a relationship must be classed as erotica just because they are two men rather than one man and one woman, even if the sexual content is limited, discreet, or not actually on page at all? It seems to be the case at Fictionwise where all books featuring same sex relationships are filed under erotica no matter the level of sexual content. This strikes me as being both extremely unfair and homophobic.

Alex: I agree. I can’t think of an innocent reason why the heat level of an m/m or f/f book should be treated as different from that in an m/f book, based on number and explicitness of sex scenes. Either there’s some kind of underlying assumption that they’re more transgressive in some way – more shocking, something that OMG we must keep away from the children. Or there’s an assumption that their readers couldn’t possibly be reading them for the plot, because who would ever care about or believe in a same sex romance from the perspective of the love story? Neither of which are good assumptions.

To be fair, I suppose they could be saying that same sex sex is automatically better than straight sex. If so (and to be frank, I think it’s unlikely) I’m not sure what they base that assumption on either.

Elin: It’s also poor marketing to label a book as erotica when it only has one or two sex scenes, there because they are vital to the plot rather than to titillate the reader. Readers who have bought a book because they expect it to be erotica will be disappointed when they don’t find what they want. Readers who prefer less sex with their plot will see the erotica tag and won’t buy.

Alex: Well, that’s right. You disappoint everyone, you drive away readers who are looking for sweet m/m romance (because they can’t face wading through all the sex to get to what they want to read) and you get disgruntled erotica readers who wonder who thought they would find hundreds of pages of battles and sailing at all stimulating.

Elin: At this point I should make it clear that erotica is a fine thing and I enjoy reading some of it, but I am absolutely rubbish at writing it myself. Since there is nothing much worse to read than badly written sex I’d sooner fade to black but that’s just personal preference. Well written erotica is something to be celebrated and that certainly shows in the sales figures.

Jessewave quoted some figures in a post about readers’ buying habits according to “heat rating”.

Heat level 1- .73%
Heat level 2- 1.9%
Heat level 3- 10.3%
Heat level 4- 32.61%
Heat level 5- 50.57%


Apparently fiction with heat ratings of 4 or five account for 83% of sales. This seems to be bourn out by the results of her reader preference poll where only 11% of voters said they were as happy to read low heat ratings as high. For many readers, it seems that M/M is ALL about the sex and any book without/with less is viewed as short-changing them.

Alex: I’m not a big fan of erotica myself. For a start, I’m asexual (but not aromantic) so to me the sex part is pretty uninteresting unless it’s doing something necessary for the plot. In erotica the plot exists to further the sex, so that’s not really for me. I respect erotica as sometimes a beautiful and certainly a highly skilled thing to write. But in general erotica only points up to me how profoundly I’m not like normal people.

When I started in the genre, I thought you had to write sex scenes, and they had to be explicit, so my earlier books – though still mild by the standards of the genre – are more sexy than my more recent ones. I knew, in deciding to write sweet romances nevertheless, that I was probably going to sell a lot less than I would if I went hotter. But there’s a point where you’ve got to be true to yourself or everything you write starts to be fake. That’s why I decided to go sweeter regardless.

Elin: Yet in comments to Wave’s post, many readers said that they frequently skip sex scenes unless they are particularly well written or relevant.

I decided to do a little survey of my own by trawling around the net for quotes from blogs and requesting opinions from other authors:

“I want to know what the heroes of a book are up to, either mine or when I am sitting back, reading a good M/M romance. I want to know what they like, what their preferences are, what turns them on and if they are vanilla or run to kink. Why? Because I think it tells us more about the characters.”

And re: Jessewave’s survey:

“53% wanted a balance in their books, a good story but liked hot sex as well. 37% said they think they should advance the plot, but otherwise it’s just porn. I was relieved. I was afraid the poll would fall under the fade-to-waterfall side, or the plot-what-plot side. By at least one poll, me and the readers see eye to eye. It was a good guide on what to write.”  B G Thomas

“Romance is not, as a genre, defined by erotic content. It is defined by emotional content and the focus on meaningful relationships. Male male romance is simply romance featuring two male protagonists. To classify all m/m romance as erotic is as ridiculous as claiming all contemporary romance must contain erotic content or that all erotic romance must contain elements of BDSM. Or, to follow this to its logical conclusion, that all historicals must contain swords fights and all Amish romance must feature a bake sale. One possible element does not define a sub-genre — any more than it defines a real life romance.”  Josh Lanyon

“When I started writing m/m a couple years ago, I was thrilled to be able to include graphic sex because, up until then, as far as I knew, no one was doing it. Of course, I was wrong. Authors had been breaking this ground long before I discovered the genre.

My first releases included graphic sex, and at that time, it was fun to write. Hot, sexy, the edgier the better. But not every story had sex scenes in it. I remember being extremely nervous the first time I submitted a story that had no sex in it at all. I thought the publisher would reject it instantly; that’s how ingrained it had become by that point to include sex in a story. But it was accepted and went on to earn me a nice little sum, proving that m/m didn’t have to offer graphic sex to sell.

It’s still the norm today, however, to include graphic sex in a m/m book. Some authors write it very well, but after reading many, such many scenes, I’m bored with it. There are only so many ways one can write sex, and now I find myself skimming those scenes, anxious to get back to the story. It must also be noted that few authors write sex well. Those that can’t do it, but include it anyway because they think it’s expected, even required, simply make reading it painful.

Readers do equate m/m with graphic sex. That will only change when authors stop force-feeding it to them.

Sex is part of life, I’m glad we can include it in our stories, but I no longer want the blow by blow action. If it doesn’t further the story, why is it in there? And where is it written it has to be presented graphically?”  Theo Fenraven

“What I’ve never liked about the “romance” tag is that by simply putting romance (and now, m/m or so it seems) it already TELLS me how the book is going to end and I hate that. I like a satisfying ending along with most people but for me it’s the journey – I don’t want to KNOW how the book is going to end before I’ve even started it.

I’m not against sex scenes, but there are so many other rules that go along with the tags. The protags should meet straight away, there should be some conflict keeping them apart – there must be no infidelity and so on and so on. I love a book that chucks all that in the bin and does its own thing. If there is sex, it needs to be integral to the plot and not just shoehorned in – which is still the case in so so so so so many m/m books.

And it feeds itself. If all m/m books are about sex, then people expect that – some joyfully and others “oh – that’s gay fiction – that’s only about sex.”  Erastes

“I get frustrated as both writer and reader when same sex stories (particularly in e-book) are labelled as badly written, badly edited porn. There is no doubt that those exist (and I know of one reader whose first experience of m/m was just that and it put her off reading any more). But I want to spread the word about all the stories where plot and quality are more important than “yet another sex scene”. And I want to discover more of those to read.”  Charlie Cochrane

Elin: I get very frustrated too. If one writes romance one can label ones book ‘sweet romance’ and that will be understood, but what about the authors who aren’t writing romance? Science Fiction, Fantasy, Crime, Historical Drama, Thriller, Horror are all legitimate genres in the mainstream and may or may not have sexual encounters between protagonists. In LGBTTQ fiction, of the authors writing in a similar vein, some are just so good that they are regular bestsellers while others write terrific stories but become discouraged by bad reviews from disappointed erotica readers and comparatively poor sales. The 11% of potential readers who might be interested in their work are very hard to reach.

At the beginning of March we set up a couple of groups, LGBTTQ Fiction: Passionate About Plot, on Facebook and Goodreads in the hope of reaching those potential readers. A good number of authors have joined both groups and a few readers and reviewers have joined on Goodreads. The general consensus seems to be:

“I think you really need to have as many types of literature as possible, so it’s fantastic to have a group that reads/writes LGBTQ fiction and doesn’t necessarily need to have romance or sex included.”  Anne Brooke

Elin: To wrap it all up, I think more choice, more variety, more accessibility, reaching a greater audience, has to be a good thing.

Alex: I’d second that! I can’t see how having more accurate labelling, and the separating out of sweet from hot GBLT romance, just as it’s done in m/f romance, can possibly do any harm.

(Just to sidetrack for a moment ‘sweet’ only refers to the amount of sexual content. It doesn’t refer to other things like violence. I would say that Captain’s Surrender was a ‘sweet’ romance despite the fact that someone gets his head blown off with a cannon-ball in it.)

But certainly, if the people who wanted to read less sexually graphic romance could easily find it, and the people who wanted more graphic romance could more easily avoid it, both sets of people would be happier. And a more visible presence of plot-heavy/sex-light books in the genre would (I fervently hope) go some way towards dispelling the idea that it’s all so much more scandalous than the straight equivalent.


Follow Alex Beecroft here and Elin Gregory here.