De-Mystifying Gay Romance — You’re selling it WRONG!

Journey Press author and Hugo Award Finalist Laura Weyr joins us today with a message for booksellers everywhere – and perhaps some interesting information for curious readers, as well! Laura walks us through the origins the gay romance genre, explaining why it’s so incredibly popular with modern women today. Why do women flock to gay romance? How might a bookseller or author reach their target audience?


While participating in an online show with Loganberry Books recently, I received a question that threw me for a loop. It was about my newest book, The Eighth Key, a high fantasy gay romance. “I am a cis-gender straight woman,” said the interviewer, “yet I found The Eighth Key very sexy and very erotic. So, did you anticipate making a crossover romance?”

The question caught me off-guard because the target audience I had in mind when I wrote The Eighth Key was women! 

And booksellers who don’t know that are missing out broad swathes oftheir audience.

Romance novels like Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, which features two men as its primary romantic pairing, are winning awards and making their way to the NY Times Bestseller List. Most of its readers were – you guessed it – women. As a bookseller, you might just be wondering where all this demand by women for gay romance came from.

Why would women like to read male/male romance? Wouldn’t such stories primarily appeal to gay men? This question is often answered with a flippant, “Well, men like to see two women together, right? It’s the same for women!” The truth is, though, that the reasons some women enjoy romantic stories between two men are far more complex, and an in-depth examination is beyond the scope of this blog. But to give you a quick and non-comprehensive sample, consider:

  • There is no ‘built-in’ power imbalance in a male/male romance the way there is in a male/female romance. 
  • Women writing male characters are less likely to be accused of writing one of them as a “Mary Sue” or self-insert character.
  • Many women enjoy stories about men who display emotional honesty and vulnerability.
  • Some women are uncomfortable with depictions of female bodies and female pleasure, but reading about male pleasure gives it enough separation to make it enjoyable.
  • Most depictions of competent characters with deep emotional connections in popular media are male and between two men, so it’s what people are ‘used’ to seeing.
  • And yes, some women enjoy the male form and find the idea of two hot men together to be very sexy!

A LONG TIME COMING

Ever since the original Star Trek aired, there’s been an increasingly prevalent subgenre of romance: male/male romance written for, and often by, women. This subgenre began in photocopied fanzines, privately shared and secretly sold from ‘under the table’ at conventions. Of necessity, it wasn’t published in any kind of traditional format or under any official imprint. Not only was it completely socially unacceptable, to the point where a person might lose their job or custody of their children if they were known to write or consume it, but in many cases, it would have been illegal. 

Yet many people still risked jail time to write and share such stories. There were enough people reading and writing it even back in the Sixties to support the creation of quite a lot of fiction starring Kirk and Spock, so much so that the subgenre ended up taking on a name based on the pairing: ‘slash’ (for Kirk/Spock, or “Kirk-slash-Spock”). 

This subgenre grew and flourished over time, expanding to include characters from other popular media properties and eventually exploding along with the growth of the internet. Modern readers raised on a diet of m/m fanfiction are ready for well-written original queer romance stories. And now that they don’t need to fear for their livelihood or their lives, some authors are stepping up to answer this call. 

VIVE LA DIFFÉRENCE!

How do m/m romance novels written for a target audience of women differ from m/m romance novels written for a target audience of gay men? That’s a tricky question. I certainly worked to give The Eighth Key, as the interviewer termed it, “crossover appeal”. Hearing from gay male readers that I got it right – that they found the story both enjoyable and sexy – is a thrilling compliment. There’s no fundamental reason that gay or straight men can’t enjoy romantic stories just as much as women—only cultural tradition that dictates otherwise. 

That being said, The Eighth Key, like stories by other authors in the m/m romance subgenre, is a romance. It’s a high fantasy story with a strong plot, it’s got erotic elements, but in the end, the emotional core of the novel is the developing relationship between the two main characters. And in the tradition of romance novels, it has a happy ending. 

This is, I think, what many people are looking for when they search for ‘m/m slash’. They want a story of a relationship. They want to believe that the characters fall in love. They want to watch the characters get together and get a happy ending. Whether or not they want erotic elements—and some people don’t—what most want is a romance. They just want to see it between two men (or even two women) instead of the same male/female dynamic they’ve already seen in ten million variations across every form of media imaginable. 

THE BOTTOM LINE

A bookseller doesn’t need to know why someone might want to read about two men in a romantic or erotic context. What’s important to recognize is that this market exists, and ignoring it means leaving money on the table. 

So if you’ve got a customer looking for the latest hot romance novel, consider directing them to works by KJ Charles, Jordan L. Hawk, Harper Fox, or one of the many other excellent authors writing m/m romances. And don’t forget to hand them a copy of The Eighth Key – especially if you’ve got a signed copy thanks to the custom art, signed bookplates Journey Press provides to any bookseller who requests them!

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