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The State of GLBT Publishing

PBook Coverublisher’s Weekly has a small article about the state of GLBT Publishing. The while the writers of GLBT fiction are strong, the sub genre seems to be marginalized.

In my view, it is clear that today there is less and less visible publishing of gay and lesbian books. Carroll & Graf, Alyson and Harrington Park Press-’in recent years the most energetic publishers of gay/lesbian fiction and nonfiction-’have all either failed, drastically reduced their list of GLBT titles, or have been undergoing serial management/ownership changes. As for what most folks would consider the mainstream publishing houses, they are publishing far less of what could credibly be labeled ‘gay or lesbian books’ than they were 10 years ago.

I don’t know if e publishing is picking up the slack here or not. Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander by Ann Herendeen is a great GLBT book that was originally self published and then bought by Harper and repackaged beautifully.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

21 Comments

  1. Laura Vivanco
    May 08, 2008 @ 08:25:46

    Not that this has a great deal to do with the topic of your post, but Ann Herendeen’s novel is listed as “Currently unavailable. We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock” at Amazon UK. I have no idea why that is, given that it’s available at Amazon.com.

  2. (Jān)
    May 08, 2008 @ 08:41:04

    At the same time yaoi, while not GLBT, is more visible than ever in manga and anime circles, and its readers for obvious reasons often cross over into GLBT books. I’d hope that publishers would learn something from that. I think the smart ones are doing so.

  3. NHS
    May 08, 2008 @ 09:38:18

    I know a few GLBT writers personally who started in Epub but have recently made the transition to print. Where I live we do have at least one gift/book store that does carry a good amount of GLBT fiction across all genres. I think we are seeing it trending up. Even my favorite new SF show, Torchwood, features a lead character who was best discribed by a reviewer as “sexually fluid”.

  4. Tasha
    May 08, 2008 @ 12:22:23

    The epublishers seem interested almost exclusively in gay and bi stories, either man/man or man/man/woman. Lesbian fiction generally doesn’t sell in the ebook world, but there are quite a few small lesbian print presses out there. Some of them (Bella Books, Bold Strokes Books, Bloody Brits Press) were mentioned in the PW list of GLBT books published this year. The smaller ones (usually POD based, quality varies widely) were not.

  5. Lucy Monroe
    May 08, 2008 @ 20:14:01

    I’m a huge fan of GLBT romance and enjoy that theme in some other gengres of writing (particularly nonfiction). Two of my NY pubs sell GLBT fiction and nonfiction, but the number of books published every year under these imprint are nothing like those published under their others. According to editors I spoke to regarding this, it is all about economics. What readers are buying. Hmmm…

    I guess, but I think the market is bigger than anyone gives it credit for being. Maybe it’s the fact that GLBT fiction done by the big houses tends to be lit fic rather than popular fiction? In my opinion, there’s a bigger segment of popular fiction readers who would buy and enjoy GLBT stories than the marketing analysts have speculated.

    Hence the consistent and strong success of GLBT romance in the ePublishing/small press community. If we look at the number of top selling titles that are GLBT from publishers like Torquere Press, Samhain, Loose I.D., etc., it’s pretty clear the market is there. I believe the one-time largely “cottage industry” of ePublishing/small presses *has* stepped in to fill the gap in popular fiction anyway. However, while they publish a plethora of my favorite genre – romance, there is still a dearth of nonfiction.

    In my estimation (and I read A LOT), the variety of GLBT fiction published by alternative presses is growing. It started pretty much as highly erotic romance and erotica and has grown to encompass traditional (or sweet) romance and other genres of popular fiction like mystery, westerns and horror. Since several of the ePublishers also bring a high percentage of their books out in trade paperback, many of these novels are making it into bookstores as well.

    No, POD and small print runs don’t make for the distribution my Brava titles get, but I think their time is coming. I don’t think it’s a shrinking market, but a growing one – just growing from a different direction than anyone expected.

  6. Erastes
    May 09, 2008 @ 05:51:40

    I agree completely with Lucy. It’s very much a growing market, (and one that is diversifying) and I predict that some time very soon it will be an obvious bandwagon (it is, already, to a small extent) and then lots of people will be jumping onto it.

    I was pleased as punch when Ann Herendeen sold her book to a mainstream publisher, but it’s still a little bit of a cop-out for the publisher as the main emphasis is still the heterosexual relationship.

    I’ve recently sold my gay historical romance “Transgressions” to Perseus Books which will be published in Spring 2009 – I think that we are on the cusp of matters changing as far as the genre is concerned and hopefully, if Perseus and Harper Collins do well, the other publishers will follow suit.

  7. karma
    May 09, 2008 @ 11:12:25

    I know for sure e-publishers are picking up the slack from NY houses. My own publisher (Amber Allure, the GLBT imprint of Amber Quill Press), is growing by leaps and bounds. Recently one of the owners reported that gay (M/M) stories and books containing M/M/F menage relationships far outsell any hetero erotic book these days and now make up well more than half of the overall book sales for the company. (They reported recently that the company grew by nearly 100% since last year at this time, and this was because of the new imprint.) This is the reason they started the imprint in the first place—they’ve slowly started diminishing the non-erotica titles (they went from releasing about 8-10 per month to about 1-2 per month since for the past three or four years, sales have been virtually non-existent) and they are doubling up the GLBT releases in the next few months while making no increases in the number of hetero erotica releases, since those sales are also way down in favor of GLBT books. According to the same owner, the sub-genres don’t even seem to matter when it comes to GLBT (M/M) books…the non-erotica sells as well as any genre of erotica. It’s quite different than it was just a few years ago.

  8. Lucy Monroe
    May 09, 2008 @ 14:29:02

    Erastes…good luck with your release. If you contact me (there’s an email form on my website), I’ll be sure and schedule you for a guest blog when the book comes out. We all do what we can, right? :)

    Karma…I’ve read most of the authors that write for Amber Allure, so I’m pretty sure I’ve read you (though I don’t know your name). I can absolutely see happening exactly what your publishers have described.

    The market is there.

    Jan…I’ve heard from numerous sources that Yaoi is growing exponentially. Very cool. My son loves Manga of pretty much any type though I am not comfortable with him reading most Hentai. He gets that…as much as a teenage boy will. :)

  9. veinglory
    May 09, 2008 @ 18:53:32

    I love Phyllida but would consider it only marginally GLBT as the central realtionship is the females to the male in whoch she is monogamous and heterosexual. Yes there are also some MM scenes but I think the protagonist sets the genre for the most part?

    I also think the GLBT genre is doing quite well. It has just leaked out of the ghettp rather a lot and many GLBT books and those with GLBT theme like Phyllida are published by non-specialist presses. That would include romance presses that do M/M, but they weren;t counted in this assessment.

  10. Ann Somerville
    May 09, 2008 @ 22:16:50

    What gay authors complain about more and more is that ‘their’ genre is being overrun by straight women. I don’t know if that’s actually true or not, but it is true the vanishing slots in actual gay presses are under pressure from the success of female authors like Erastes (and even me since I’ve sold a novel to a press specialising in GLBT writing and authors, with an open admission of not being GLBT at all.)

    I don’t know enough about the big mainstream publishers but I don’t think e-presses are offering a real alternative for authentic gay writing, since the focus is very much on female readers and authors (I am talking about ‘gay’ here to mean ‘gay male’ because that’s by far the biggest market, whether in e-press or trad publishers.) If the big guys pick up GLBT writing, I suspect the focus will continue to be on what straight women want to read, rather than catering genuinely for actual gay readers and writers. Which is a shame because there are some incredibly talented gay writers out there, and not all of them just writing ‘gay’ issue stories.

  11. kirsten saell
    May 10, 2008 @ 00:47:24

    If the big guys pick up GLBT writing, I suspect the focus will continue to be on what straight women want to read, rather than catering genuinely for actual gay readers and writers. Which is a shame because there are some incredibly talented gay writers out there, and not all of them just writing ‘gay' issue stories.

    I think you have a real point there. Because of the enormous potential for profit in the market, there is a trend of the genre being annexed by straight women, both as authors and readers, and a danger of there being nothing left for actual gay readers who want their kind of stories. It makes me wonder if there needs to be even more division of the subgenre. ie: marketing books toward their intended readership, rather than merely by the sexual orientation of the characters.

  12. Ally Blue
    May 10, 2008 @ 16:36:57

    Obviously I can’t speak to anyone’s experience but my own, but nearly all the fan mail I get is from gay male readers. What I’ve found — again, only my own experience here — is that the straight women tend to buy my ebooks more, while the gay men tend to buy my print books. Interestingly, my print books so far seem to outsell my ebooks, and those sell pretty well. Interpret it how you will, but that’s what my own sales seem to show.

    I’m sure some of the gay male readers and writers DO resent us females writing “their” books. But it’s encouraging how many gay men have shown enormous support to myself and many other female authors of gay romance. Certainly more support than existed a few short years ago. There seem to be a lot of gay men out there looking for romance in their fiction, and at this point in time women seem to write more romance than men, whatever the genre. I think that is changing, and will continue to change. At least I hope so. I think it’s wonderful to see more integration in ALL genres. More men are writing straight romance now. That, to me, is just fantastic :)

  13. kirsten saell
    May 10, 2008 @ 18:56:14

    Obviously I can't speak to anyone's experience but my own, but nearly all the fan mail I get is from gay male readers.

    Maybe they’re more appreciative of how you get it right. There’s plenty out there that appeals to a straight female readership, but if the choices for gay men are more limited as far as what they want in a story, they would probably be more demonstrative in their praise.

    I find it odd, though, that GLBT seems to be all about the G these days, and the LBT get kinda forgotten. Is that because lesbian and bi material is generally seen as more “mundane”, for lack of a better word, than the m/m stuff, whereas the trans is still waiting for its heyday? I mean, if we’re talking about m/m, why are we still labelling it GLBT?

  14. Tasha
    May 10, 2008 @ 20:58:28

    I find it odd, though, that GLBT seems to be all about the G these days, and the LBT get kinda forgotten. Is that because lesbian and bi material is generally seen as more “mundane”, for lack of a better word, than the m/m stuff, whereas the trans is still waiting for its heyday? I mean, if we're talking about m/m, why are we still labelling it GLBT?

    That’s the point I was trying to make, at least with regard to epublishers. While there is a growing GB presence, the LT presence is negligible, and the few epublishers who used to publish f/f are no longer accepting those stories. The straight female readership is behind this, I’m sure; they’re far more likely to buy ebooks than lesbian readers seem to be. Most of the so-called GLBT ebooks I see reviewed are written by straight women for straight women, which is why it’s all about the boys.

  15. kirsten saell
    May 10, 2008 @ 21:16:56

    I’ve never really understood straight women’s reluctance to read f/f fiction. Is it that they believe if they enjoy it, that makes them lesbians–as with many straight men’s reluctance to read m/m?

    I know a few ramrod straight women who enjoy f/f, and a lot of women who would consider themselves bi-curious who read it. But this whole phenomenon of popularity with m/m is intriguing to me. Is it because it (m/m for straight women) was virtually unknown before? Is f/f simply passe, and will possibly one day enjoy a resurgence of popularity, like skinny jeans and wedge heels? Or is this the beginning of the end forever?

    I really like f/f, and have a growing affection for m/m, and variations on the two. But I have noticed it’s the story, the characters, the author’s voice and treatment of relationships and sex, that makes me love a book. If you give me that, I don’t much care which tab is going into which slot.

  16. Ann Somerville
    May 11, 2008 @ 01:27:11

    Tasha, the comparative lack of popularity of f/f even in the fanfiction crowd is something that puzzles a lot of people. The majority of fannish lesbians write m/m, not f/f, even in fandoms with strong female characters. I’ve never understood that at all, unless it’s simply because the majority of the audience want m/m and if you want readers, as all authors do, you pitch at the majority taste.

    I’ve read f/f and while I can appreciate the writing and the relationship, as romance, it doesn’t appeal, which isn’t surprising. I wish I could offer some solace, but I can’t.

    We will happily review f/f at Uniquely Pleasurable, as well as bi or trans stories, but we just never seem to get sent them.

  17. Jules Jones
    May 11, 2008 @ 04:27:01

    I’m a straight woman, and I read m/m because, hey, one hot man is good, so two hot men is even better. I don’t read f/f because given a choice between two hot men and no hot men, I’ll take two hot men, thank you. I’m not worried that f/f will turn me lesbian — it just doesn’t do anything for me.

    There are also other reasons to read m/m besides “hey, *two* hot men!”, and they tend to favour m/m rather than f/f, even for bi and lesbian women. I’ve got a draft essay on my LiveJournal that summarised a long discussion from an sf writer’s group about this. The comment thread expands on the original post, with some comments specifically on lesbian women and straight men who enjoy m/m fanfiction.

    Which doesn’t mean that I won’t read books about a lesbian couple. It’s just that if the point of the book is erotic romance, there are going to be a lot of pages I’ll find deeply, deeply boring to read.

  18. Anne Douglas
    May 11, 2008 @ 11:56:20

    I wonder if the mm over ff preference comes more from the conflict factor? As in with two women we know there will be drama/cattiness/emotions/tenderness/happiness etc etc just because they’re women, whereas with two men there is a lot more of a physically wrenching journey to get them to the story/emotional resolution. Men as a stereotype are supposed to not be as emotional/wearing their heart on a sleeve, so to see that happen pulls the reader in more?

    I also wonder if the concept in general of women loving women has been more socially acceptable over the ages (especially when viewed from the men are the superior sex standpoint), whereas men loving men has until just recently been tarred with a much darker brush than their sapphic opposites? So, although it might not be concious choice, women find the concept of two men intriguing because in the past the concept has been very well hidden, whereas a ff relationship has been more than just a fantasy for men for a long time now and is more of a staple and has reached a level of acceptance?

  19. kirsten saell
    May 12, 2008 @ 00:10:27

    I also wonder if the concept in general of women loving women has been more socially acceptable over the ages (especially when viewed from the men are the superior sex standpoint), whereas men loving men has until just recently been tarred with a much darker brush than their sapphic opposites?

    That could be the case. A large part of the thrill I get from a lot of erotica/romantica is the taboo factor, and lesbians just aren’t so much. But as I’ve said here and elsewhere, as long as I like the story and the characters, I don’t care who’s doing what to whom.

  20. MB (Leah)
    May 12, 2008 @ 09:26:28

    As a reader who likes to read f/f, for me it IS the taboo factor. I also like to read m/m, but it doesn't have the same kick for me that f/f does for the very reason that m/m doesn't personally affect me on the level of something that is for me personally, taboo. Although on a purely intellectual and moral level, I don't feel f/f love to be a taboo.

    I will agree with Kirsten in that it's all about the story and how an author presents things. I have read some f/f that definitely was a turn off. And I will also agree with her that for some straight women it's probably uncomfortable to read f/f because there still is an ingrained taboo about loving one own sex romantically and sexually, even if one is very open and has no judgments about it on the surface. It might be a scary place to go for many straight women.

    And I will agree with Anne D as well, in that maybe because f/f love has been more acceptable and maybe because in every day life women can be more affectionate and intimate with each other without it being sexual is why it's not that interesting for straight women to read f/f. One can feel more comfortable with one's own sex and allow more intimate forms of affection because there isn't the threat of sexual overtures. So maybe it is kind of boring for straight women to read it. Who knows really? Since it's not really that popular, it doesn't seem to be that big of an issue for most people.

    Why lesbians don't write more for lesbians though is something very interesting to me.

  21. Tasha
    May 12, 2008 @ 20:09:06

    Why lesbians don't write more for lesbians though is something very interesting to me.

    They do. Just not for epubs.

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