Sunday, January 4, 2009

Gay publishing: interesting trends!

I got myself into a discussion the other week, and found myself defending an indefensible position. My point was that gay science fiction was a viable marketplace; the man said, although he said it kindly, "Keegan, the squirrels have made off with that peanut you call a brain, you just haven't noticed it's gone yet."

Well, I was mildly perturbed about this. I think I'd notice if my brain had been purloined by fuzzy-tailed rodents --

Also, I still believe gay science fiction is a viable medium ... although I admit, the evidence to the contrary is stacking up alarmingly.

When's the last time you looked at the Alyson Books online catalog? I just did, and the stats are alarming. Alyson Books have their finger on the pulse. They read the market keenly -- they've survived decades in a publishing environment that'd have a warthog shot, skinned and on the barbie before you can blink. So you can confidently use their catalog as a barometer. They've done the research; all a smart-alec like Keegan has to do is interpret the stats.

Their catalog is very neatly organized into categories, which made it easy to derive these data:

General gay and lesbian fiction: 27 titles
Gay studies: 28 titles
Gay (male) romance: 4 titles
Gay science fiction: 3 titles (all lesbian; a series)
Gay (male only) erotica: 35 titles

(Verify the stats for yourself here:

Uh ... huh. That's 97 titles in all -- close enough to 100 to round it up and make the rest of the math a piece of cake.

A third of all gay books fall into the porn bracket. The porn outsells general gay fiction by better than 25%. It outsells gay science fiction by a factor of almost 12:1 ... while gay SF accounts for about 3% of what's being published; and none is gay male. There's no gay fantasy in the list at all. To make the point even more poignantly, porn outsells romance by a factor of about 9:1 ...

Loooooooong pause for reflection.

Can't say I wasn't warned! Times have changed.

When Ice, Wind and Fire came out in 1990 it was called raunchy, and I copped hell from a number of critics, one of whom said he sincerely hoped it would be Mr. Keegan's last book. These days, there's nothing noticeably raunchy about IWF, and even if there were, this quality would simply plunk the novel into the top-selling bracket!

I find it interesting to see the way the market has swung in the last 20 years -- since, say, 1980, when Richard Dipple at GMP was asking for and approving rewrites on IWF. Go back ten years earlier, and you had writers tippy-toeing around their sensual scenes, trying to say "the two guys jumped in the shower and bonked their brains out," without actually saying this.

These days? Gay publishing is heading in a curious direction. If the trend continues, you soon won't be able to give away a gay novel if it doesn't sizzle with candidly-stated sensuality! This is not necessarily a bad thing -- but it's a curious trend, in a world where you have TV networks still refusing to show Torchwood, and quoting, as their reason, the gay sensually of it all...

Not so long ago, publishers were saying that the "crossover" novel was something like the holy grail of publishing: a novel that was gay enough to interest gay readers, but underwritten enough to be acceptable to the mainstream market.

Well ... I think the goalposts just moved, all by themselves. Gay readers seem -- as an observation based on the data! -- to want sizzling-hot seduction scenes, while the mainstream audience isn't even ready to accept Torchwood and the new independently filmed Trek episode with the gay storyline.

Which means the "crossover" novel, like the holy grail, is more elusive and impossible than ever. Let the market mature through another decade or two, and see if the mainstream catches up with us! (Good golly, I'll be how old by then?!!)

Got to go back to work, guys. Let me know what you think of the Infolinks which are appearing in the text now. Leave a comment if you have something to say!

Ciao for now,


Erastes said...

I know that Alyson has been going through a rough patch in recent times, and I hope, with the new chap at the helm, that things might move on. In the light of Haworth's demise, I was hoping that someone else might pick up the gay sci-fi ball and run with it, especially as you say, Torchwood, Dr Who, star Trek and other series embracing gay and bi storylines. (being shown and loved over here, in the UK at least!!)

There's certainly a hell of a lot of gay sci-fi erotica, and sadly a lot of it is one big sex scene thinly enveloped in a plot - what I'd certainly like to see is something like "The steel remains" by Richard Morgan (fantasy) in the sci-fi genre, where the main character is gay, and he has to deal with that on an everyday basis, but it doesn't define him, and he's not leaping into bed with every sentient being who looks twice at him.

Perhaps we'll just have to write the damned things ourselves, eh, and hope there's a mainstream publisher willing to take them on. after all - if gay historical romance can go mainstream, i have hope anything's possible.

Mel Keegan said...

Absolutely. One lives in hopes. I have a cherished fantasy about a group of talented writers who get together and build a list so strong, so successful in the "DIY marketing" field, that the whole list catches the attention of a mainstream publisher. This publisher wants to target a large niche readership and has been wondering how to do it without spending years winnowing weat from chaff (and learning the difference), and the whole list is bought, or optioned, as a going-concern.

Well ... one can dream! I'll be finishing my Hellgate series this year, and with the whole thing complete I'll be marketing the heck out of it. I'll blog about what happens!

Very best of good fortune to you and your teams for 2009!


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