My husband told me I can use any part of our own relationship in my books.
While all my books do include a love story, they are not traditional Romance novels. But somehow, if you write about romantic themes as a gay author, this is how you are often caterogarised.
At a recent forum, I was on stage with Romance writers.
I felt like a fish out of water as sub-genres were mentioned I had no idea about. Don’t get me wrong. This has nothing to do with the genre itself, or its authors. But even some friends believe I write queer erotic or romance books, and can’t get their head around the fact that LGBT fiction comes in different flavours.
Swiss author, Hans M Hirschi, has a similar problem.
We chatted about it online recently and I invited him to write a guest blog for me. Here are his thoughts about trying to be noticed when gay romance is not the genre you write.
How did I end up here? That is a story for another day, but thank you, Kevin, for the opportunity to write a little bit about “difficulties for non-romance literature to be seen” as he put it in a message to me. It is something that occupies a lot of queer authors given the ocean of romance novels (primarily gay ones) out there. Romance permeates every genre, from sci-fi to urban fantasy.
A couple of years ago, there were around 130,000 queer-themed books on Amazon, the vast majority of which are Romances. The Romance genre is the biggest book genre out there. Romance books have been available for purchase at supermarkets, convenience stores, even gas stations for decades, and it is the genre where most writers can make a living. When gay romance became a thing, some writers moved over to abandon their “FM” books for “MM”, some do both.
On Amazon, you won’t find romance under sci-fi. Romance is a genre of its own. Sadly, that isn’t true for queer lit. In order not to be lumped into the brand “LGBT” category, self-publishing authors and publishers use several sub-genres to differentiate their books from others, so they pop-up in both the romance category and a separate genre category.
It’s a mess and with so many books out there, those of us who do not write romance disappear in the crowd. Picture finding the famous needle, or the drop in the ocean. Not easy.
Another challenge is that as a community, with recent advancements in equality in the west, relationships, families and “romance” (as an experience, not a genre) are important topics for the queer community, and oftentimes our books are also misidentified as romance. I once had a reviewer attach a “heat-level” (typical for sex-driven romance books) to a book I wrote about Alzheimer’s! Yeah…
My very first novel, to this date my most widely sold one, deals with many of the concepts above, love, romance, relationships and building a family. The theme is a kind of classic for a gay book, non-accepting parents, LGBT homelessness, but also hope and an ending which to me was very important. The epilogue in that story is what makes the novel “queer” and not “romance”, and it is, therefore, the book has garnered many negative reviews from readers who had expected something else.
It’s a two-way street, as romance readers will stumble across books that aren’t “aimed” at them for the same reasons we can’t find them.
Another challenge for queer literature is, of course, the fragmentation within our community. As we all long to read stories that speak to our own experiences, we might not be interested in reading more books (besides all the straight literature shoved down our throats compliments of our heteronormative education systems) that aren’t about “us”. Lesbians may not want to read gay books, gays may not wish to read about trans experiences, etc.
Then there is the fact that even though there is a lot more queer literature published by the big traditional publishers these days, these books are still the exception to the rule. Most queer literature is published by small presses or is self-published, and without the financial, marketing and distribution power of a large publisher, it’s almost impossible for a book to make a dent on the market.
Which is why queer blogs, and increasingly podcasts are so important. I applaud Kevin’s initiative (Pride Reads Podcast) because even though there are a couple of other queer literary podcasts out there, they all have their specific focus, they all showcase different authors, topics and experiences.
There are, of course, also queer literary events taking place around the world, but the audience they reach is limited, even in cities like New York and Washington which host some of the world’s largest events. Who flies to attend or exhibit at an event elsewhere? For our community and authors, the cost is often prohibitive.
The market place changes. A few years ago, many would do blog tours, but as blog reading is (sadly) decreasing, those have been in decline. Right now podcasts are on the rise, and we all struggle with our social media presence, finding a niche that fits us, our personality and our comfort zones.
There is no right answer for queer literature to gain higher visibility. If there were such a thing, someone would’ve cracked the code by now. Instead, we all struggle and try to find our unique way to be seen and heard. I think helping others is one good approach. If we all showcase each other’s work more often, we can create a social network to increase the reach of all of our work. Maybe not all the way to the New York Times bestseller list, but it’s a start.
Are you with me? If so, reach out to me and I’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and if your book interests me, I might even review it on my blog.
Thank you Hans M Hirschi for today’s guest post. And if you feel compelled to review one of my books on your blog, I won’t stop you.
You can find out more about Hirschi from his socials: