Canadian GLBTQ romance author Heidi Belleau explained, “Until recently, queer characters in books were either serial killers or dead people.” Having them now be the heroes of the story, gay authors agreed, is refreshing and long overdue.
Both publishers and authors at the RT convention said that two events have caused the upsurge in gay romance readership: the emergence of e-readers and the social climate in the U. S. E-readers have made it possible for people who read books in public to read whatever they want without comment from people around them. Also the growing acceptance of gay marriage and of gays in general has made readers curious and willing to explore the subgenre.
With over a half dozen sessions at the RT convention about GLBT romance, including panels on what a gay hero is like and why GLBTQ might be readers’ next favorite subgenre, both editors and authors were excited about the enthusiastic response of reader attendees. In fact, author Suzanne Brockmann, the mother of a gay son, exhorted authors and readers to become crusaders for gay romance because the time is ripe for the subgenre to branch out and claim as many new readers as possible. Dreamspinner Press added to reader excitement at the conference by passing out cards entitling readers to one free e-book at their website.
Authors of gay romances spoke about the overwhelming response to their work, giving poignant examples of emails and reactions at book signings and readings. Author Damon Suede talked about how touchy-feely his fans are. He recounted a woman at one of his readings who stood beside him with her elbow gently touching him. The bookstore owner asked Damon if he wanted the woman to be removed, but Damon is used to his fans’ visceral response to him and assured the owner that the woman’s touch didn’t bother him.
Amy Lane, another GLBT romance author, said that often her fans will cry when they meet her because something she wrote moved them. In fact, she added, “People tell me that some of my most injured characters are their friends or their brothers or the lover they had to leave before they fell into a pit of despair, and then they thank me for the happy ending.” All the authors had stories of how their novels had helped readers because for the first time they saw gay characters enjoy happiness and fulfillment, something that other plotless, sex-riddled erotica is missing.
Who is buying gay romances? Both publishers and authors agree that the audience is 60 percent female and 40 percent male readers. The larger picture of GLBT buyers break down into three large groups. Anne Regan of Dreamspinner press says that by far the biggest sales come from their online site where they have 26,000 regular users. Editors and publishers from Riptide, Loose ID, and Samhain agree. The next biggest segment of buyers come from the online booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Riptide publisher Rachel Haimowitz says the third big buyer is libraries that are starting to shore up their gay fiction sections. Anne Regan, who heads the YA and NA Harmony imprint of Dreamspinner agrees.
The editors and publishers also discussed what they would like to see for their GLBT romance fiction lines in the future. Kierstin Cherry of Loose ID says they are looking for more f/f (female/female) fiction including full-figured heroines as well as more interracial gay romances. Cris Brashear says Samhain is also looking for more f/f fiction and multicultural gay stories.
From authors and publishers to fans, everyone agreed that GLBT romance fiction is the wave of the future.