Welcome to the first in what will be a 14 day event highlighting the Lesbian genre from the authors who write Lesbian fiction, the publishers who publish it and the bloggers who read it and promote it. Every day leading up to January 21st, there will be at least 2 posts a day promoting the Lesbian genre and why it's so amazing.
To start off the event, please welcome, Radclyffe, well known Lesbian romance author and president of the LGBTQ publishing company, Bold Stokes Books, Inc...
The Five Big Lies About Lesbian Fiction: Debunking the Myths by Radclyffe
As a surgeon, I've learned that numbers do not lie. Facts have no agenda—no preconceived notions, no hidden prejudices, no allegiances, no biases, no obligations of any kind. As an author, I have twelve years of experience writing and publishing exclusively lesbian romance and erotica. As the president of Bold Strokes Books, Inc (BSB)—an independent LGBTQ publishing company—I have eight years experience publishing LGBTQ fiction [350 titles (70% percent lesbian fiction) and over 1.5 million books sold]. As an avid reader of queer fiction for nearly half a century, I have my own likes and dislikes and my own hopes and desires for the future of queer publishing. This blog is not about what I think, but what I’ve learned from looking at the “numbers.” As with all data, there are no absolutes—every conclusion is relative to the data pool. The experience I report is not necessarily the same as that for every other author or every other publisher, but our experience at BSB does allows us to address some of the great myths and “lies” about lesbian fiction with facts.
The Five Great Lies About Lesbian Fiction:
1. Lesbian fiction doesn’t sell.
Anything other than mainstream fiction, regardless of genre, is by definition, a “niche” market. This is certainly true for LGBTQ fiction, whether it is m/m, f/f, menage, bi, trans, or, as I will refer to the broad scope of LGBTQ fiction, “queer.” For every market, much like in Field of Dreams, what you build determines who will come. Readers, like all consumers, search out the marketplace for the goods they seek. If a publishing company primarily releases m/m fiction, they will create a readership, or consumership, interested primarily in m/m fiction. If that publisher then adds a title or two that is f/f or f/f/m, the readers either will overlook it because that’s not what they seek or the readers who might be interested won’t know to frequent that particular “marketplace.” As a result, that publisher will state “lesbian fiction doesn’t sell.”
As a publisher of LGBTQ fiction targeting a LGBTQ readership (although decidedly not exclusively targeting the LGBTQ market) I can state unequivocally that lesbian fiction sells. No queer fiction sells in the same volume that “straight” or mainstream fiction sells, because the readership is vastly smaller. Nevertheless, our midlist unit sales are in the thousands. What is unique to our marketplace and critical to our success is the long tail—unlike mainstream works, romances in particular, our titles remain available for months to years as opposed to weeks. This allows for robust backlist sales when new releases come out. In addition, there is a healthy and consistent demand for lesbian fiction internationally, comprising 5-8% of sales. Our titles have been translated into Dutch, French, Spanish, Russian, and Hebrew.
2. Lesbian romances are all the same.
As in the mainstream, romance rules in queer fiction. Every genre has its defining elements—that "fact" is fundamental to the concept of genre. In a mystery, there is a crime to be solved. In a thriller, there’s an adversary to elude or defeat. In paranormal fiction, an alternate reality and otherworldly characters are expected. As defined by the Romance Writers of America, a romance is a work of fiction with a central love story and an emotionally satisfying ending. Those are extremely broad guidelines that allow for a tremendous variety of romances in terms of sub-genre, themes, and plot. Of our 2011 titles, 55% of new releases were lesbian romances, 15% queer fiction, 10% mystery, 10% erotica, and 10% young adult. Of the romance published, traditional romance titles (character driven stories in which the courtship and commitment are the focal point of the story) were 39%, paranormal 26%, romantic intrigue 18%, erotic 11% and fantasy 5%. In terms of lifetime sales, the top 25 titles were equally divided between traditional romances and romantic intrigue. In the last year, paranormal romances have increased in popularity and are now the number three selling romance subgenre.
3. Lesbian romances are dated—no one cares about coming out stories anymore.
Like all literature, queer fiction parallels socio-cultural evolution in terms of issues and themes. In the 1970s and 1980s, at the height of the gay liberation movement and the heyday of independent lesbian publishers, coming out stories were frequent. Many of today’s works feature protagonists who are comfortably queer, pictured dealing with the issues of daily life that face any individual in modern society—professional challenges, issues of gender and sexual identity, family and religious pressures and challenges, and of course, the search for love. Nevertheless, authors still write coming out stories, we still publish them, and readers still buy them, because in this country and throughout the world, realizing and embracing one’s sexual identity is part of growing up, and for LGBTQ individuals, challenges remain in terms of dealing with familial, social, religious, and professional issues. These stories are still timely, and presenting the trials and triumphs of coming out as queer is still a critically important form of validating and affirming the experiences of our readers, young and not-so-young. In 2011, 11% of our romances featured "coming out" stories. Their sales were on a par with other lesbian titles.
4. Lesbian romances are just beach reads—and not very well written.
Nowhere is it decreed that popular, entertaining, accessible works of fiction can’t be well-written or have meaningful messages, and nowhere is that more true than for queer fiction, romances in particular. Quality and entertainment value are not mutually exclusive. To this day, mainstream avenues of publication are nearly non-existent for authors writing queer fiction. Fortunately for independent LGBTQ publishers, we have many fine authors writing all forms of queer works. Readers of popular fiction are as sophisticated and demanding of quality as readers of “literary” fiction. Legitimate publishers select for quality writing in terms of character, plot, theme, and style. By presenting works that appeal to a broad market, authors of popular lesbian fiction explore serious themes while providing satisfying entertainment. In 2011, BSB titles were finalists and winners of LGBTQ awards as well as mainstream independent awards such as the IPPYs, Benjamin Franklin, and Foreword Book of the Year awards.
5. There’s no money in writing lesbian fiction.
As I noted previously, the market is smaller for queer fiction than for mainstream fiction. There’s no question that the best selling authors of lesbian fiction earn less than the best-selling mainstream authors. It is not true, however, that there is no money to be made in lesbian fiction. As noted on the BSB publishing FAQ sheet, we offer an advance on all works ($1000.00 on average). Over 90% of romances earn out and as authors build a list and expand their readership, income rises.
Numbers aside, those of us who write, publish, and read queer fiction know lesbian fiction is alive and well, and as we continue to promote and publicize works of quality for, by, and about the LGBTQ community, we will ensure a long and satisfying life for our literature.
Radclyffe/L.L. Raand (Len Barot) brings more than twenty years experience in both writing and publishing to Bold Strokes Books, one of the world’s largest independent LGBTQ publishing companies. She is a retired surgeon and full time author-publisher and has published over forty novels, dozens of short stories, and has edited numerous anthologies. She is an eight-time finalist and three-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award and an RWA FF&P Prism award winner. A member of the Saints and Sinners Literary Hall of Fame, she was a 2011 finalist for the RWA Gayle Wilson AoE, RWA Colorado Romance Writers AoE, RWA Passionate Plume award, WisRWA, EPIC award, and Foreword Book of the Year award. She has contributed as a workshop instructor, moderator, and presenter at the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans, the York Lesbian Arts Festival in the UK, the IBPA 2011 Publishing University, and Publishing Business Expo 2011.
Visit her websites at www.llraand.com and www.radfic.com. For more information on Bold Strokes Books visit www.boldstrokesbooks.com.
Leave a comment here by Saturday, 1/14 for your chance to win any Bold Strokes Books title of your choosing. This is open to everyone!