Saturday, January 21, 2012

2012 Lesbian Fiction Appreciation Event: Debra Hyde: A Humble Manifesto

Two-plus years ago, Lori Perkins stunned me by saying, “I want you to write a lesbian version of Story of O and we're gonna call it Story of L.” The idea of completely recasting an S/M classic and modernizing it floored me, but by the time I righted myself, I knew I'd write the book. The idea was irresistible.

Story of O is a seminal work. It won both public scorn and literary awards upon its release in 1950's France. It was, if I remember correctly a hit as a book club choice two decades later in America, placing it in nightstand drawers across the country. The late Susan Sontag even composed a essay arguing that O was as literary a novel as anything in the stuffy institutional literary cannon, raising eyebrows everywhere in either scowls or elucidation. (Harold Bloom be damned!)

Which told me this: I had to write Story of L as if it would become a legacy work. And Story of L had to reflect the queer leather world as contemporary to our here-and-now as O was in its time. It turned into a two-year challenge that I was determined to see right by.

Mid-2011: Story of L debuts at Ravenous Romance. Unlike other Ravenous lesbian tales and to my surprise, it wasn't a smash hit right out of the gate. I quickly realized it needed visibility and I instituted a multi-pronged publicity campaign. One facet in that plan: Securing reviews for the book.

To date, Story of L has earned solid and, at times, stellar reviews. But the majority of that critical acclaim hasn't come from websites spotlighting erotic romance. It's come from lesbian/bisexual reviews sites and erotica reviews sites. I've sent L (as we fondly call it here at Ravenous Romance) to every erotic romance site with a GLBT segment I could find.

The result? Punch that field-of-crickets sound effects, please. (Thank you, Fire Pages and Guilty Indulgence for being the exceptions.)

I can't help but wonder that, if not for the historical tie-in to Story of O, would L have garnered even that much attention?

If it takes a village to raise a child, then maybe it takes a community to bolster genre books. And it may take more than one community to do so for smaller segments of the book industry. Yes, queer book blogs do a good job, taking care of their own. But I'm unconvinced that erotic romance book blogs are actively being as inclusive.

Keyword here: actively. And we all have a part to play in this, from review websites to readers to authors and publishers.

Review sites: If you have a GLBT designation at your site but your reviews are overwhelmingly for gay or M/M books, actively recruit about your review staff to stretch their review interests. Actively look for GLBT authors and invite them to review a book now and again for you. (Why not guest reviewers, I ask?) Heck, I'd love to review bisexual, pansexual, and transgendered book for a website, keeping lesbian titles at a distance only to avoid a conflict of interest.

Reviewers: Actively engage in reviewing beyond your default preferences. It's understandable that gay or M/M titles are popular, given its slash fiction origins that date back a good thirty years. (Spock/Kirk fanzines, anyone?) But if you claim to be a GLBT reviewer and you're only reading one segment of that acronym, you aren't serving all authors – or readers for that matter.

Readers: Read across gender and orientation lines. Be a rainbow of a reader! And let authors know how much you appreciate their work. We work in solitude and, even worse, self-perceived obscurity. Nothings makes us more productive and committed to our work than knowing we have appreciative fans! And be sure to visit places like Amazon and “like” the books you read and any accompanying review. It's a key action that will boost a book's visibility at those sites.

Editors and Publishers: Actively commit to furthering lesbian fiction in all its forms. Don't let it fall by the wayside if you aren't seeing good submissions. Keep on it. Agitate for review notice if you have good rapport with review websites because visibility is everything. As an acquiring editor for Ravenous Romance, I'm committed to building its lesbian line of titles and actively recruit authors at conferences around the country. I don't ignore my other obligations to Ravenous' product lines, but I've committed myself to bringing all voices to the publishing table.

Authors: Offer to blurb lesbian titles, regardless of what you write. A good story is a good story and deserves recognition. Offer yourself to websites as a guest reviewer and invite them to send you a GLBT title of their choice. Never forget to pay it forward. Just today I “liked” Logan Belle's Blue Angel and Fallen Angel books over at Amazon and the minute my editorial workload eases up, I'm leaving quick reviews there as well. Why? Because Logan's smart books entertained me. Especially with their many bisexual/lesbian sex scenes. Yum!

It may well be that the only way we can put the “lesbian books don't sell” argument to bed (pun optional) is to actively work to bring more visibility to lesbian titles. Maybe we are lost in the shuffle. But we don't have to be. Not if we each play some earnest karmic part in promoting GLBT work in all its rainbow colors.

Remember that keyword: actively.

Debra Hyde is an erotic romance author and editor, with most of her work at Ravenous Romance. Her current novel, Story of L, is currently a Lambda Literary Award nominee. Debra helps curate Ravenous Nights, a monthly NYC erotica/erotic romance reading series. She's a confirmed New Englander, erotic adventurer, and bibliophile who writes for everyone, across the gender & orientation spectra. Leave a comment and she'll reward one of you with epubs of all her Ravenous Romance titles!

Visit her at!/debrahyde and while her website is undergoing reconstruction.


Catherine L. said...

Excellent post! I've been noticing the review and publication bias too. I'm thinking it's past time to do a quickie survey of both presses and review sites that say they take GLBTQ work and compare it with what they actually publish. What I'm seen so far is very little LBTQ, other than menage, from the romance presses, part from the ones which are exclusively lesbian/bi. Do you mind if I reference this post when I get this together?

Debra Hyde said...

Catherine: Feel free to! And I look forward to seeing your results.