The description that I sent into RWA for the panel application said that “This lively panel of best-selling, award-winning authors, editors, and publishers from both print and digital houses will discuss how and why they write and publish books that include gay, lesbian, and bisexual main characters. They will offer craft tips unique to writing about these relationships, explaining why they write in or publish this subgenre, how is it different from writing heterosexual couples, and how, when, and why they incorporate characters with alternate sexualities into their mainstream romance series. They will also discuss frankly what the market for these books is, where writers should send their submissions, what sales numbers are like, who the audience is, and how these are books received by readers and reviewers. The panelists will respond to the moderator’s guided questions and in the last fifteen minutes, will open the floor for audience questions.”
My amazing panelists are:
· Suzanne Brockmann, New York Times bestselling author (Ballantine)
· K.A. Mitchell, m/m romance author (Samhain and Carina)
· Lauren Dane, New York Times bestselling author (Samhain and Berkley)
· Kim Baldwin, Emmy-winning journalist, author (Bold Strokes Books)
· Heather Osborn, Executive Editor, Samhain Publishing
· Len Barot/Radclyffe/L.L. Raand, author, editor, publisher, owner, Bold Strokes Books
We obviously haven’t had the panel yet, so I can’t say exactly what will happen, but I expect it to be fabulous. This incredible group of women will have insightful things to say about romance and its acceptance of GLBT romance.
Suz, of course, included gay FBI agent Jules Cassidy and his eventual partner Robin Chadwick in her incredibly popular Troubleshooters Inc. series. Jules is in the series from the third book. He meets Robin in the eighth book. They find their HEA in the eleventh book, sharing the book as main characters with a heterosexual couple. The twelfth book is almost an interlude in the Troubleshooters’ universe in which Jules and Robin get married. Suz has also included gay characters in her new series.
Lauren Dane has written many ménage romances that are full triad romances, in which the two heroes are romantically and sexually involved as well as both being involved with the heroine. She is published not only by the digital publisher Samhain, but by the print publisher Berkley, in their Heat line.
K.A. Mitchell is a Samhain bestseller, one of the best m/m romance authors I’ve ever read. Kim Baldwin writes much-awarded lesbian romance for Bold Strokes. Heather Osborn from Samhain will tell us about the editorial decisions in choosing to publish GLBT romance at a digital publisher. Radclyffe fills every niche at Bold Strokes Books and can provide us with multiple perspectives about the possibilities of GLBT romance.
GLBT romance is not going away. It has a large, vocal, dedicated base of readers. The audience for m/m romance might not overlap very much with the audience for lesbian romance, but increasingly, the presence of both audiences is being felt in publishing circles. More publishers are willing to accept GLBT content, more readers are willing to read it, even if they typically only read heterosexual romance (witness the large following Quinn and Blaylock have in J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series).
An academic anthology of essays that I edited was just published: New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction. There’s an essay in there by Kathleen Therrien called “Straight to the Edges,” in which she argues that GLBT characters have long been used in heterosexual romance to indicate to the reader that, hey, the heroine might push some gender boundaries and the couple might push some sexual boundaries, but at least they’re not perverts like that lot over there. But increasingly, another use of GLBT characters in heterosexual romances is to indicate to readers that, hey, the hero and heroine only deserve their HEA if the GLBT characters can get it too. That’s a HUGE shift, folks. GLBT characters go from being the generic villain because they’re gay (or gay because they’re the villain) to being an integral part of, even necessary to, the HEA of the straight couple.
So, while I don’t necessarily predict a “break out” book or author, I don’t think we need one. I think that as long as we have brilliant authors like my panelists writing amazing GLBT romance, or heterosexual romances inclusive of GLBT content and characters and HEAs, then we ARE breaking out, we ARE making a difference.
Despite the prejudices of critics, popular romance fiction remains a complex, dynamic genre. It consistently maintains the largest market share in the American publishing industry, even as it welcomes new subgenres like queer and BDSM romance. Digital publishing originated in erotic romance, and savvy online communities have exploded myths about the genre’s readership. Romance scholarship now reflects this diversity, transformed by interdisciplinary scrutiny, new critical approaches, and an unprecedented international dialogue between authors, scholars, and fans. These eighteen essays investigate individual romance novels, authors, and websites, rethink the genre’s history, and explore its interplay of convention and originality. By offering new twists in enduring debates, this collection inspires further inquiry into the emerging field of popular romance studies.
Sarah S. G. Frantz is Associate Professor of English at Fayetteville State University, NC. She has published academic articles on Jane Austen, J.R. Ward, Suzanne Brockmann, Joey W. Hill, and contemporary popular romance fiction. She is a former recipient of the RWA’s Academic Research Grant and is President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance. She has co-edited (with Katharina Rennhak) Women Constructing Men: Female Authors Write Their Male Character, 1750-2000 and (with Eric Murphy Selinger) New Perspectives on Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays (McFarland, 2012).