Friday, August 15, 2014

'Why do you write gay romance?' and other dangerous questions. #writing

Those of us who write stories about men are familiar with this question. It's a standard that's tucked away between "When did you write your first story?" and "When will we see your next book?" 

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Some authors roll their eyes at it. Some find it blatantly offensive, though I doubt most bloggers mean it to be. Taken one way it's a legitimate question. Why write gay romance? Why jump into a sub-genre with a limited audience, limited chance for financial success as an author, and a snowflake's chance in Phoenix of ever earning the coveted title of NYT Best Seller? 

Taken another way it's a demand and to some writers an insult translated as "why would you write about gays?" complete with a judgmental sneer. They feel it's rooted in controversy, politics, and religion; an offensive taunt that elicits a response that is at best defensive. Sometimes even hostile. 

How do you take that question? Personally, I don't see it as an attack unless the tone makes it obvious it is. The answer, however, is very treacherous for anyone trying to maintain a professional image. Answering it honestly without pissing anyone off is a test of your skill as a word-slinger.  

It is always bad business...and a huge misstep as an author to slam anyone else's writing, genre, or publisher. It makes you look ill-mannered and unprofessional and in a business where you can either rise through collaboration or sink into obscurity alone, you can't afford to have other authors see you as bitchy or petty. 

It doesn't matter that it's on Facebook where half your followers are your besties. Half of them aren't and anything you post on behalf of your pen name impacts your success. We've all seen the public arguments between authors or the sniping posts designed to turn a private spat into a grand display of bad behavior and most of us know better. What about the ones that happen by accident?

Graphic by Pixabay

For example, saying you prefer the title of "gay romance" over "MM romance" because MM is 'poor quality trash' or that you write gay romance because het romance is 'boring', 'predictable', and 'trite' is just as harmful to your image. You may really feel that way, but truth is a dangerous thing when a single statement like that slaps an entire population of authors across the face. As any public relations expert will tell you, the public forum is no place for the truth when you're speaking as a professional.

Ask the numerous celebrities being clubbed over the head for insulting the LGBTQI community with a careless word or misinterpreted comment. If there's the slightest chance someone out there will find it offensive then don't say it unless you're prepared to deal with the fallout.

You could stand behind the theory that it doesn't matter whether you offend people, your friends and fans will still support you. That's your prerogative but it limits your potential for growth when people outside that circle have a different opinion of you as an author and that opinion puts you on several 'never buy' lists. Why leave your career hobbled?

This business is a triathlon not a sprint. Most of us will be in it for decades and the author you slam today could be in a position to help you a few years down the road. How likely are they to do so when your stinging words still bounce around in their head? 

As professionals, I think it's a good idea to have a non-controvercial response to that question already prepared because it's going to come up...often. We've all seen what happens when someone takes things out of context and uses our words to craft a blog intended to destroy an author's public image. The best way to protect against that is to make sure your answer to the genre question and all the other combustible concepts doesn't strike a match.

Why do I write gay romance? Because I've tried writing heterosexual romance and I suck at it! My submissive women come off too whiny and my strong women come off too butch. In a romance between men it's impossible to be too butch and when I'm writing male characters I'm less likely to make them too whiny. I'm happier with the result. My editors are happier with the result.The readers are happier with the result so I think it's a good fit.

None of that is a lie. That's also not the only reason. It's not even the most compelling reason but it's the safest and it answers the question without turning a blog post into an inferno of scathing comments by people who disagree with my statement. When was the last time you saw someone burning up a blog because they vehemently disagreed that the author wrote terrible unpublished het romance? 

Be a little honest and a lot creative and never forget that they're not really asking you the questions. They're asking your pseudonym the questions and the answer you give is going to be hanging around your neck for the rest of your career. 

Sometimes the problem
is the answer.


  1. "My submissive women come off too whiny and my strong women come off too butch."

    The statement above is exactly why I don't often read het romances. Either the female protagonist is some whiny, helpless little git or, worse yet, an otherwise strong, capable woman who still manages to do something remarkably stupid and knows she shouldn't do while fully expecting (or hoping against hope that the guy read her mind) that the male protagonist will come and rescue her. I get eye strain from rolling my eyes while reading het romance that I don't get while reading M/M, Gay romances. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but they are too few and far between.

    1. Getting that combination right takes a skilled writer, doesn't it? Many women don't want to read the "damsel in distress" books anymore. They want a strong character but it's tough writing a strong woman who doesn't make the male love interest seem irrelevant and unnecessary. The rules of het romance say the guy has to be the champion and it's hard to figure out how to keep him in that role without weakening a character who doesn't need anyone to rescue her.

      Thanks for the comment, Sulien!