Please help us welcome author Kate McMurray, who will be blogging with us monthly on LGBT Romances.
THE CHANGING ROMANCE MARKET
by Kate McMurray
I was at a party a couple of years ago when a friend of mine asked me about my latest book. I summed up the plot, and she said, “Oh, so you’re still writing gay romance.” Yes, I said. “You could make so much more money if you wrote something else.” Sure, I said. And maybe I will someday.
Here’s the thing, though: I’m not really sure she’s right.
Since this is my first column, I’ll get the “Why gay romance?” question out of the way. I first discovered gay romance six or seven years ago. I’d stopped reading romance novels for a few years during a pretentious post-college, “I have a literature degree so I will only read literary fiction” phase that I have thankfully gotten over. I’d forgotten how much fun reading could be, and I’d always really enjoyed love stories, so romance was such a natural fit, I don’t know why I resisted it. In the hunt for new books to read, I started following review blogs, and one recommended an m/m book. I had no idea such things existed prior to that point, and I was so intrigued, I bought the book immediately.
It’s hard to explain what it was about that book—and romance novels featuring LGBT characters generally— that I found so appealing. I mean, it was a flat-out great book, but the fact that it had two heroes both intrigued me and gave me a giddy thrill. Why? The stock answer I’ve heard a lot of people give is, “One man is great, but two are better,” and look, I’m a lady with a pulse, so I can’t deny that seeing or reading about two hot guys together is hot. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Part of it is the politics of it, I suppose; I believe whole-heartedly that every person deserves love, regardless of gender or any other factor. But part of it was just that I read a book I really liked and wanted to read more like it.
That’s how I came to write my first published novel, actually. LGBT romance has since exploded, but way back when, it was thin on the ground, at least in the places I was looking for it. I wanted for there to be more books like the ones I had read, so I decided to write one myself. I had been working on a novel with a gay protagonist for a while and not really getting anywhere with it—that book eventually became BLIND ITEMS after many, many rewrites—but I put it aside to write a big, gay romantic suspense—seriously, my working title was “gay cop novel”—that was published at the beginning of 2010 as IN HOT PURSUIT.
In the four short years since, the publishing industry has changed dramatically. In 2010, digital-first publishers were already taking over an increasing chunk of the market. They had lower overhead costs, since they were in the business of ebooks, and so could take greater risks, meaning the sorts of books the Big Six publishers thought were too risky could find homes and, more importantly, readers. This was not limited to LGBT romance, by the way; ménage, BDSM, and other kinds of boundary-pushing erotic romance found its way into readers’ hands, and writers could tell other kinds of stories than what was being put out by the bigger publishers.
When Amazon came along and changed the way everybody reads. It’s not just that ereaders allowed us to read sexy books while fooling other subway passengers into thinking we were reading WAR AND PEACE; for me, the first device I had that allowed me to read all those digital books I was buying on something other than my laptop—something I could actually carry on the subway!—was like a godsend.
And say what you will about FIFTY SHADES, but it took a burgeoning market and made it explode. Mainstream publishing saw what the rest of us had known for a few years by then: there was a viable market for romances that did something differently.
LGBT romance has been steadily picking up new readers for the last five years. There are success stories, certainly, books that found wider audiences, that nipped at the heels of the bestseller lists, that romance readers still talk about. But it’s been a steady climb, too, with greater sales overall. Bigger publishers are just starting to get in on this game, sometimes with new writers—Rie Warren’s IN HIS COMMAND was put out by Forever (Hachette) this summer—sometimes with writers who have been at this awhile—Z.A. Maxfield, whose books were among the first gay romances I ever read, has a series published by Berkley (Penguin). LGBT romance writers are making a splash at big romance conventions like RT. Thanks to the combined efforts of members of RWA’s Rainbow Romance Writers chapter, LGBT romance publishers, and some open-minded editors, LGBT romance is getting reviewed in places like RT Book Reviews, Library Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly, something that seemed impossible just five years ago.
Every time an author I know quits their day job to write full time, I think back to all those conversations I’ve had at parties with friends who suggest I could make so much more money if I wrote about heterosexual couples. Maybe I could. But the stories I’m writing now are the ones that are speaking at me, have characters that I find compelling and want to write about, and they are stories that are populated by romance heroes who happen to be gay. And as LGBT romance finds a wider and more diverse audience, the opportunities for those of us writing it seem endless. Seems to me, we could all have our cake and eat it, too; there’s an audience for the kinds of stories I love and am passionate about, and now that LGBT romance is going more mainstream, there’s an opportunity to make a career of it, and that’s really exciting.♥
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kate McMurray is an award-winning author of gay romance and an unabashed romance fan. When she’s not writing, she works as a nonfiction editor, dabbles in various crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She’s currently serving as President of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter of Romance Writers of America. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her at www.katemcmurray.com.