Does M/M mean erotic romance?

Does M/M mean erotic romance?

A rape fantasy fiction book has made the rounds and started up the controversy of labeling, warnings, and what is romance exactly. There’s bound to be many, many, many posts on this as it’s a hot topic and one I think that bears discussing.

I’m going to take a twist and go for a broader topic than just what is romance and ask if the term “M/M” has become synonymous with erotic romance. I wonder if readers have the expectations when they read “m/m” that they’re reading erotic romance. This may not be correct but I think a lot of readers do actually have these expectations.

I say I review M/M books. To this end I read/review gay literature, poetry, fiction, romance, horror, fantasy, sci-fi, urban fantasy, historical, mystery, western and honestly a wide range of sub genres. I personally think of M/M as synonymous with gay literature. But this isn’t really necessarily true.

The majority of m/m books DO seem to be erotic romance. So much so that it’s hard to separate these terms. There is nearly no romance without graphic sex. Closing the door is a lost art and one many readers are happy for. There is the occasional book without graphic sex but this is definitely, definitely the minority not the majority. Which isn’t to say that’s bad, it’s just the current trend.

So romance is really more equated with erotic romance within m/m and it seems as though m/m is most often linked to erotic romance. If you look at the epublishers that produce the most m/m – samhain, loose id, torquere, dreamspinner, lethe press, blind eye books, amber allure – how many of those produce almost exclusively m/m erotic romance? I rarely even hear Lethe Press or Blind Eye Books considered m/m and in fact most readers put them more in the gay literature column. That’s fine for me I’ll read both but it removes the m/m when erotic romance isn’t present. This is especially true for Dreamspinner, which is having labeling troubles of its own with readers – see Teddy Pig’s post for more.

What do you think? Do you think that m/m is by definition erotic romance? And is that a good or bad thing?

This is such an incredibly broad topic that I’ll likely be doing more posts on it in the future but it’s one aspect of the current wanks going around that I’d love to hear more about.

52 thoughts on “Does M/M mean erotic romance?

  1. Really good questions – especially since I’ve been reading Charlie Cochrane’s Cambridge Fellows mysteries lately, which are mysteries and romances, but not erotic at all.

    I’m not a fan of sex just being in a book to make it an erotic romance. It needs to be integrated into the story. And I’m ok with books like the Cambridge Fellows mysteries. Maybe I’m not a typical reader…

    • I do adore the Charlie Cochrane mystery series but you’re right. There is absolutely no sex at all. They fit the time period and the characters perfectly. In fact I think I’d get embarrassed if Orlando and Jonty got frisky on page. It just doesn’t suit their own fussy behaviors.

      However that is one of the very few m/m romances that aren’t erotic. There are more and the PA Brown BDSM book comes to mind as well. Imagine writing a BDSM book with no explicit sex but it was handled very well.

      My question is simply there are so few of those that it seems m/m romance just equates with m/m erotic romance these days. I could be wrong.

    • Edit: sorry Marie I didn’t realize I’d failed to link to Teddy’s post. It’s up there now.

      DSP has long had a labeling issue. For example the site claims they publish “Quality M/M Romantic Fiction.” However this isn’t necessarily true. I’ve read many, many, MANY books coming out of DSP that don’t fit that tag line. That’s not to say the books are bad but just that they are definitely not “romantic fiction.” Perhaps gay fiction, sure, even menage fiction (which is even more frustrating when that gets thrown into the mix) but there are lots of stories on DSP that are gay mystery or gay fiction and the “romance” is such a small subplot that it’s basically unimportant.

      Now I love DSP and I read their books all the time so while I find the problem annoying it’s not an fatal flaw for me. However I do think it’s erroneous to claim to be a romance publisher and then go ahead and publish a considerable number of titles that aren’t romance without any labeling system whatsoever. It provides readers and buyers with no warning and no way of differentiating the romance books from mystery from fiction from so on. DSP doesn’t believe in labels on electronic books which I disagree heavily with. I’m definitely not the only reader or reviewer that’s made either observation – about the content or the labeling.

  2. I don’t think the erotic is a given to me (although it does seem to be the way of it), it’s nice sure, I’m shallow, yes I am, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a MUST for something to be labeled m/m. However I do think the romance part is kind of essential (for me). If it’s just one gay guy running around saving the world or battling aliens that’s not m/m, that’s … m? Even if he’s openly gay and talks about it and sleeps his way through Orillia 7, if there’s no relationship (using the loosest definition of the term) then to me it’s just fiction staring a gay character and not m/m. There are two m’s there, meaning there has to be some kind of connection which usualy implies some type of relationship (let’s not get into the whole erotica debate).

    I have no trouble reading m/m without sex, I’ve read YA where it’s fade to black, some where it’s more graphic and some m/m that is behind closed doors. I think it’s more the tone of the book that is important to me. There has to be some kind of an optimistic ending, even if it’s just we’re happy to shake hands at the end of the night and say thanks and good-bye. I’m really not into the Bittersweet romance collection at DSP. I know some people love it, but I need to have something more upbeat. Even when I read mysteries and police procedurals exclusively I needed to know the bad guy would get caught in the end eventually.

    Most people have no clue what m/m is. When you say it people are probably thinking “ooks about Eminem?” Most people don’t ask, but I’d likely say gay romance and leave it at that. I don’t need to get into the explanations of the nuances of that nor do I need it done for me. Like any “romance” genre, there are a gazillion variations on the theme, trying to pin it down to one is nigh impossible.

    • *waves her shallow flag* Hey I definitely don’t knock the sex. I am a fan of a great sex scene and I read my porny stories (ala Sean Michael) just for sex sometimes.
      There are exceptions to absolutely every definition but I was curious about those of us who read in the genre and what we use as our definitions.

      I agree that many readers – myself included – can read fade to black. YA is an excellent example and Chris mentioned the Cambridge Fellows books, which is another good example. There are likely dozens more that can be put into that no sex on page category and as a reader that variety is absolutely wonderful.

      I’m asking because more and more I see readers and reviewers comment that this book or that book isn’t really m/m but more gay fiction. Now that’s not a bad comment but what does it mean exactly? Usually this is followed by the information that there is no on page sex and no romance. The romance especially is part of what will get a book in trouble with readers. In m/m the “romance” is definitely implied. Which means when books aren’t romance, readers feel they didn’t get the book they were trying to.

      M/M certainly *can* encompass a wide, wide range of genres, subgenres, themes, ideas and so on. My question is for those of us IN the genre so we simply equate m/m with erotic romance? Perhaps just with romance. But I don’t think the average reader in the genre takes M/M to mean gay fiction. It’s more specialized than that at least to my thinking.

      • Tam says:

        But I don’t think the average reader in the genre takes M/M to mean gay fiction.

        I agree, I don’t. But “romance” is all I’ve known m/m to be. Who knows in 10 years if that meaning with change. Maybe it will all blend or something new will crop up.

  3. Chalk me up as another who has zero issues reading M/M without erotic content. Sounds really weird considering what I write is on the Woo Boy Hot end of the sex scale, LOL, but I think it’s wrong, wrong, wrong to classify/categorize all M/M as erotic. What I write is oceans away from what other writers who go for non-graphic, “romantic elements,” or straight up gay fic/lit has to offer. IMO, that needs to be better differentiated in order for the genre to grow. But I’m a newbie. Sadly, nobody gives a rat’s hairy ass what I think. LOL

    • Hi there! I agree I can read non-erotic things. I may need to clarify my post because it’s not really meant to say no one wants to read non-erotic books. There’s clearly a market.

      I’m just curious because the term M/M *SEEMS* to mean the same as gay erotic romance. Kind of a short hand for readers to know what they’re getting within the larger umbrella of gay fiction. I was wondering if readers in the genre agreed with that, disagreed or what.

      Do you think M/M means mostly erotic romance? Sure we may read way more than just that but when you pick up a random M/M book – what do you expect? From listening to various readers it seems most generally expect erotic romance. Which is what prompted the post.

      It’s good to know that readers are branching out though.

      Ps. I care what you think 😉

  4. I think that the roots of the m/m genre are in erotic romance, and that that’s where the majority of it still is, but I see (I think) a tendency for it to be growing and diversifying out of that. I’ve certainly read more YA m/m with no erotic content recently, and quite a few things where the relationship took a second place to some other plot, so they couldn’t really be called romances. (Though those things may have been classed as gay lit.) It is confusing!

    • Thank you! That’s really what I was wondering about and you hit the topic completely on the head. I guess the roots for M/M really *are* in erotic romance so that may be the majority. But there is a definite ground swell to change that impression and designation.

      I think gay lit is much more expansive and M/M has traditionally been regulated to erotic romance. I’m perfectly fine expanding that definition to be honest while at the same time I’m ok if the definition stays the same. The books I want to read from all walks of genres (erotic, non-erotic, romance, non-romance, mystery, fantasy, historical, etc) all exist regardless of label.

      I was just eyeing the short hand use of M/M and what it generally means. Perhaps too confusing and generalized to really discuss.

  5. This is a tough one! I can see both points of view. Personally if I see the label m/m then that usually means a romance in my thinking. But you are right in saying that increasingly it doesn’t mean romance, but a mystery or SF or UF with one character who is gay and who may have a minor, underplayed relationship with another gay man in the book. In which case does this mean that books like Joseph Hansen’s Brandsetter mysteries are m/m? They certainly fit that description.

    There are some publishers who don’t use m/m to describe their books but instead use GBLT with the separate ‘romance’ or ‘erotic romance’ label afterwards. Perhaps that would be a better way forward for publishers like DSP. If they ditched the m/m and used gay instead, then they can’t be accused of misleading people because they insist on lack of labels (which I have to agree with you Kassa, is annoying).

    I’ve danced around the point here! I do believe though that most people when they see the m/m label think it’s an m/m romance and there is often an expectation that it will be erotic. This then leads to disappointment or even more extreme emotions such as disgust when it turns out not to be the case.

    There are many publishers, and not just DSP who are trying to push the boat with m/m fiction and if they are going to do this then they need to remove the ‘romance’ label from their publisher name.

    • Thank you! Your comment gets to the heart of what I was wondering about. I’m personally not trying to advocate one way or the other about what M/M means. I’m just asking what the average reader/writer in the genre views the designation as.

      I do believe though that most people when they see the m/m label think it’s an m/m romance and there is often an expectation that it will be erotic. This then leads to disappointment or even more extreme emotions such as disgust when it turns out not to be the case.

      That comment is really what I’ve been seeing from readers. I think the majority really DO equate M/M with erotic romance. That may change (and I’m ok either way) but it’s interesting when arguments crop up about whether a book is really M/M and what elements belong in it. Pushing boundaries and expanding the genre or merely sneaking in books that don’t belong.

  6. I’m irritated by this widespread designation because in my experience it promotes books that are merely porn with a fringe of plot. I’m not against porn or hot sex scenes I’m just bored to death, and think less is more. There’s a reason the brain is the largest sex organ! I want interesting complicated mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy etc. A book can be hot without any sex at all.

    • So if I read this right you want your M/M to be more gay fiction? Or perhaps romance with a strong plot (whatever that may be) and not merely fluff erotica?

      Trust me I’m with you on that so I’m not judging, I’m just trying to understand the differences in classification really and what readers expect when they see the term M/M.

      What’s interesting is that I find in M/M it’s just as likely to encounter a totally sex based porn story as it is a well written plot focused book with graphic sex scenes. What I find interesting is the encroaching of non-romance themes in M/M which many readers find questionable.

      Which of course begs the question of what M/M readers expect when reading.

      I definitely agree a book can be hot without any sex at all.

  7. The bestsellers in m/m seem to be contemporary romance with explicit sex scenes, preferrably kink, and so that’s 90% of what we readers get, but I’m totally fine with less explicit stuff. Great post, Kassa!

    • Thanks Val I do think that is the definition of M/M right now. Whether that will change or if readers want a change is probably a whole ‘nother topic.

      I’m actually fine with any designation as long as it’s consistent. I like to read romance, erotic, non-erotic, non-romance, and a whole bevy of things so as long as I can find everything I don’t really care. I’m just curious about the expectations of readers and you helped, thank you!

  8. Does m/m mean erotic romance? In my view, that question doesn’t require debate. It simply requires an answer of “yes.”

    The vast, oh so vast majority of m/m romance provides the intimate physical details of the love between the characters. That, as far as I understand the definition, is erotic romance. I think the same can be said of m/f romance and most other combinations of romance on the market today. Readers want the physical as well as the emotional progression of the relationship.

    I think it’s strikingly clear that m/m is equated with erotic romance in every sector online. There are review sites like Whipped Cream Reviews which will put your m/m novel under a separate “adult” category just because it’s m/m (They put Whistling there, and then had to label it “non-erotic” in the review! That seems crazy to me.:))

    Of course there are m/m novels that emphasize the sex far more than the love, but I think that’s true in m/f, too. Because m/m is a relatively new arm of romance (as opposed to gay fiction), it started out explicit and has only been blossoming from there. 🙂
    There are plenty of m/f romances these days, too, in which the sex seems the main basis of the relationship, and the HEA love feels more like an afterthought. Even those books find plenty of readers. I need the romance in a story, myself, or it just doesn’t work for me.

    I think publishers like Dreamspinner, which are still basically pioneering m/m stories that follow traditional romance tropes, are slowly starting to expand to a wider variety of romance fiction that is not solely about the romance; and in so doing, DSP and other pubs are learning how books in this genre need to be labelled for the benefit of readers. It seems a little unfair to take them to task for what is perceived as mis-labeling, when we ourselves are still asking the question, “What constitutes m/m romance?”

    But I think it’s good that we draw publishers’ attention to issues such as genre labels, so they, too, can work this new genre into the most productive and accessible shape. And it’s utterly wonderful that m/m romance writers are exploring broader and more complex storylines (in the same way that m/f romances have blossomed into a wider mix of cross-genre with paranormal romance, etc.) It’s just a matter of figuring out how to best let readers know what they’re getting in a particular book. If it can be done in m/f, it can be done in m/m, too.

    As far as the rape fantasy issue, that’s been prevalent in m/f romance for years upon years. If it’s romance in m/f, I suppose it must be romance no matter the pairing (though I personally don’t think of it as romance.)

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! There is so much in here I want to address.

      First thank you for answering the question. I suppose it’s so basic there is no debate. The current trend says that M/M means gay erotic romance, end stop.

      From there the definitions get trickier with what belongs under romance and does it make a difference with or without sex. I do agree that the Whipped Cream basis of putting ALL GLBT books in the “erotic” category is just ridiculous. They even make sure to say “anal sex” like that needs to be warned about. Just like Silver Publishing put all gay stories into “taboo.” I’m not sure if they still do but it’s just ridiculous IMO.

      I agree with your comment on DSP and it’s also why I haven’t harped on them post after post. However I think they need a better labeling system regardless. A big frustration with DSP is that they continually claim they won’t label regardless. I’m not questioning what *is* romance, although no doubt that could be a follow up post on its own. I question what DSP labels as romance since many readers disagree. I also question the fact that they refuse to offer any labeling at all. Still insisting that ebooks are no different than a physical book you can flip through to determine on your own. That’s going off on a tangent.

      But your comment dovetails to that because I truly, truly applaud and encourage the expansion of fiction in any and every direction. I just wonder if that is working with the genre or against it. When books are pushing boundaries and genre definitions is that progress or just going to turn readers off? Do you expand the current definitions with better labeling or do you simply shuffle certain books to the broader umbrella of gay lit while keeping M/M to the purist definitions? I’m ok either way but I think it’s an interesting question. I wish I’d posed that one!

      • You can pose that next.:) I think the expansion of fiction can only benefit the genre. But I do agree with you; we’re going to need some basic labels as the expansion continues, because you cannot browse an ebook the way you can a print novel (unless publishers do it as Google books do, where more of the book is available, with big chunks missing from parts of it. Which is really annoying, btw. :))

        Without the labels, readers are reliant on word of mouth or reviewers who are cranky from having had to read a novel that they didn’t, in the end, feel was a romance. As much as I ordinarily hate sticking labels on things and thus limiting or discouraging readers from trying out something that might be slightly outside what they usually read, I think ebooks require at least a minimal clarification so the reader knows, yes, this story includes kink or sexual assault or whatever–or, this story is a police procedural with a romance on the side–or, this story is a werewolf time travel post-apocalyptic thriller with romance elements.
        You know, just the basics.:)

        • I’ve tried Google books and I find it incredibly annoying. It’s not worth the hassle to be honest.

          As for labeling I guess I don’t see the harm in aggressively labeling but I’m also fine if the basics are just offered. As a reader I want to know if something hits a topic I wouldn’t like (for example Tam with blood play on today’s review). An author could say I don’t want to turn away that potential reader but the reader isn’t into that theme. You don’t want to discourage readers but I think there is a feeling that too much honesty will turn away readers. As if somehow “tricking” them into a book they wouldn’t normally read is better? A totally different topic yet again I suppose. So many new ideas just in these comments, thank you!

  9. the perception that it is is definitely there–but this is the reason I hate the tag with a passion. We need to drop the m/m tag ENTIRELY and start labelling the books differently. Gay Romance, Gay Erotic Romance, Gay Erotica, etc. The m/m tag trivialises the genre imo, and shores up the case that only women are reading it and writing it.

    I dislike intensely that because it’s a gay romance it’s automatically labelled as SMUT because it seems to me that hetero “normative” romance is considered *cough* “normal” – no matter how hot it gets – but ALL gay love is erotic, even if the door firmly closes on what they get on with.

    Here’s a good quote by Dr John Corvino that pretty much sums it up: (thanks to Tim Crowhurst on Alex Beecroft’s LJ)

    When we talk about heterosexuality we talk about that wide range of activities; when we talk about homosexuality we focus on the sex part of it… Heterosexual people, we talk about relationships; homosexual people, we talk about sex. We say heterosexual people have lives; homosexual people have lifestyles. We say heterosexual people have a moral vision; gay people have an agenda. The words we use to talk about these things really affect our way of thinking about them.

    • I’m actually fine with that as well. I’m just one reader but I’d be fine with sub genres of gay lit, avoiding the m/m tag altogether. Thinking about it I guess it’s from fan or slash fiction right? Which I suppose would assume the genre is amateur and not professional. I never thought about it but it doesn’t seem to be the best descriptor.

      I think the whole gay romance equals smut argument is really laughable right now. Well I can laugh because I think it’s utterly ridiculous but it’s also frustrating. It’s not true and also denigrates the *good* erotica included in books as simply porn. Het erotica is not considered porn so the same basic courtesy should apply.

      Thank you for that link.. that’s really a wonderful summation.

  10. I make a clear distinction between erotic romance and romance, and, unfortunately, when I see someone say they are writing ‘M/M’, my default is ‘erotic romance’. This is because the majority of gay romance being mass produced is erotic in nature.

    But, I look at the het counterpart. I started reading Harlequins when I was 14. If you ask me, those were erotic romances even then. The sex scenes might not have been as frank as they can be/are now, but it was clear that there would be sex in the Harlequin books I picked up. Still, Harlequins aren’t labeled ‘erotic romance’, but simply ‘romance’. M/M romance, though, is quite often labeled as ‘erotic romance’ or, worse yet, ‘porn’.

    I find the double standard I see frustrating. I’ve said this in a couple of places before, that I believe that ‘M/M’ should not be it’s own genre, but simply a sub-genre of ‘Romance’, and then have the niche genre of ‘erotic’ applied to it. I don’t like the segregation, personally, and so I tend to identify as an erotic romance writer, not a M/M author.

    • I’d be ok with that. I’m not for or against any particular designation, as long as there is a clear and consistent definition. It’d be nice if gay romance didn’t have to be it’s own genre and could simply be under “romance” but that’s probably even further out than gay marriage.

      I agree the double standard is frustrating and I especially hate that erotica means porn. Though mostly it’s “gay” erotica which means porn. As if two dicks immediately puts it into the soulless category.

  11. First, love, love, love the Hakkai and Gojyo icon. ^_^ That’s one of my favorite pictures of them. I’m a huge 5/8/5 fangirl.

    Moving on to the topic at hand…

    Personally, I don’t automatically put M/M into the “erotic romance” category. I don’t assume there will be erotic material and I don’t assume there will be romance. I do the same for when things are “het” or “M/F”.

    I do this because early on I found out that “romance” had a specific meaning. Perhaps my information is incorrect, but I was told that “romance” meant HEA or at the very least Happy For Now. If the story lacked HEA then it could not be romance. I was also informed that a group of people were trying to make sure “romance” was only allowed to be used for heterosexual stories. I disagree with that.

    I use M/M to indicate that my story contains some kind of “something” between two men. It’s not necessarily a love story. It might be one having an unhealthy obsession with another, a love story, a crush, or UST. This is a label I look for when I go to purchase books and it’s a label my readers look for when they go to make a purchase. Usually it does mean that there is a romance involved, but not always.

    The label “erotic” in my eyes should be used when there’s a sexual scene that is not “fade to black”. I feel that it should be used for heterosexual or homosexual encounters. It does not necessarily mean “romance”. Two characters can have great sex, but not be in love.

    I don’t understand why some stories that depict heterosexual sex scenes lack the label. In my eyes this is a marketing label as well as a warning label. Games and movies are rated for content and I’ve always thought of the “erotic” label being used as the “Rated M for Mature” for books. As I’ve become more exposed to the publishing industry, I’ve come to realize that use of the “erotic” label is neither uniform nor universal.

    “Romance” in my eyes means a lot more than the accepted definition, but I’ve come to accept that it means “a love story with a happy ending”. I feel it should be used for any combination of gender.

    To me “M/M erotic romance” is actually three distinct labels. They’re marketing terms that help readers find what they want and avoid what they don’t want. It would be helpful if we could come to some kind of agreement as to what these labels mean.

    In my own mind while sitting behind my keyboard in the privacy of my own home, I identify with specific labels, but what those are don’t really matter once the book is in the catalog. At that point what the reader uses to find my books is what matters.

    My mother once told me something that I think applies to this situation. “If they only hire me because I’m a woman, then heaven help them once I get in there. I’ll take over.”

    If someone picks up my books because they’re erotic, then heaven help them when they start to read the story. The plot will take over.

    • Thank you! I don’t think the comic is necessarily appropriate but I loved it so much I used it anyway.

      You are correct that romance is defined by a happy ending, either a HEA or a HFN. If it doesn’t end well, it’s not romance. By the same token your definition of erotic is correct too. The same can be said for the broader definition of M/M. While I’m not against your definitions of M/M in general, most readers would call that “gay lit” instead of M/M. It seems that most readers (correctly or not) equate M/M with erotic romance. Whether this is a bad thing or not is left to debate. But it does seem the majority think that way.

      Therefore the odd reader may be upset when picking up a book that doesn’t end well with no labels other than M/M. Again, good or bad is up for debate but judging by the comments and what I’ve heard that is the current expectation. Perhaps it’s something we can change.. or perhaps not. I don’t think writers ever intended for the M/M term to be so narrow but it seems to have stuck.

      • I don’t think writers expected M/M to have that narrow of a meaning either.

        If the majority of readers expect M/M to be “erotic romance” then we may need to consider this when slapping genre labels on books.

        Genre labels are marketing tools and if the majority of readers considers a label to mean something then we have a choice. We can change the industry’s idea of what it means or we can change the general public’s idea of it. One would be much easier than the other. (Case in point, Kleenex and Xerox are still trying to get the public to not use their brand names for all tissues or all photocopies.) It might be in our best interest (as far as the business side is concerned)to adjust our view of the label.

        However, we need to determine what the public expects when they see that label. Discussions like this might be the best way to do that.

        Therefore the odd reader may be upset when picking up a book that doesn’t end well with no labels other than M/M.

        That’s why I like to use several labels. I want to make sure I’m reaching my audience. I, personally, identify with the label “yaoi”, but I know that will miss publishers and readers. I also don’t want to open the can of worms that goes along with “wester yaoi”. Is it REALLY yaoi? What is “real” yaoi? Can yaoi even be in non-graphic novel format? Can it be in non-manga? I don’t even want to go there. Haha!

        So, when it comes to genre labels, I always remind myself that it’s marketing. It’s where the book would be shelved in a store. Where would it fall in an online catalog? If that means a book gets labeled with “M/M gay erotic paranormal religious erotica” then so be it.

        At the end of the day, I don’t really care what people call my stories as long as they’re called “good”.

        Except “porn”. Them’s fightin’ words.

  12. Well the first thing you will notice about the term “Homosexual” is the fact it contains the word sex.

    About the only thing I might have in common with a gay guy in Russia would pretty much be we both like men sexually.

    So I think the very subject matter of Gay Romance tends to reflect that men are sexually more aggressive which makes the erotic aspects more convincing and more likely to be sexually attracted to such things as highly masculine traits which might address the preponderance of Alpha characters.

    So is there room for what many people think of as Sweet Romance in this genre? Sure and frankly I have read shorts that moved very close to this direction because of their space limitations and the author wanting to focus on the relationship building and not the sex.

    The thing is that when moving in that direction of more traditional Romance you are falling closer and closer to Gay Fiction which as you know has been making a lot of noise about straight writers and has a great many gay authors mining those fields. It seems a little harder to me to jump into that genre there if you ask me since they tend to have such cards as “authenticity” they want to play and so on.

    Erotica along with Romance has always been out of the purview of your typical gay literary types. It was below them. So I like how Erotic Romance is becoming an “in” for so many good writers to focus their talents.

    • Erotica along with Romance has always been out of the purview of your typical gay literary types. It was below them. So I like how Erotic Romance is becoming an “in” for so many good writers to focus their talents.

      That’s a really excellent point Teddy (Ted?). I totally agree that the genre was once looked down upon as merely porn or worse and now has become an actual legitimate field of writing. Which I think makes it even more interesting when books seem to be crossing over in both directions. Gay lit being found on “romance” publishers and M/M being found on Gay lit publishers. There seems to be more intermingling which suggests that the term isn’t strictly used for erotic romance. Or at least that it’s being expanded from an author/publisher standpoint.

      I’ve yet to see the readers follow suit but when the writers go there, I think readers follow.

      • Well, I am not one of those readers.

        I am very familiar with good Gay Fiction or Gay Lit writers and pretty much think it’s been there done that and it’s a mess right now honestly and I would rather be spending my time in exciting and new territory here than reading the same old same old that basically wound up boring me to tears.

        I do not think of Romance or Erotica as less valid forms of writing and I personally find the idea that Gay Lit somehow validates or authenticates a writers talent or having sex in a book ruins it for the reader or publishers trying to expand out into what is basically a dead market as silly.

  13. I would definitely say that all M/M does not have to be classified as erotic romance.

    M/M writers have the same plots as M/F writers, why should it all be called erotic?

    Great post

  14. Has the term “M/M” become synonymous with erotic romance?
    For me personally, yes M/M is synonymous with erotic romance for the most part. I say for the most part because the majority of m/m romance books out there are explicit (to varying degrees) in respect of sexual content. However, I believe this is indicative of the going trend within the entire romance genre in general, including m/f and f/f romance and not specific to m/m romance only.

    There was a member of a readers forum that I belonged to awhile back that coined the term “romantica” (a mixture of the traditional romance and erotica) in reference to the going trend of increasingly explicit sexual content across the board in the het romance genre and I think that this term is also very much applicable to the gay romance genre, or as you put it erotic romance. This is not to say that all m/m romance books have explicit sexual content, but based on my reading experience I’d say the vast majority do.

    No value judgment on my part in associating m/m romance with erotic romance. It simply is what it is and doesn’t bother me in the least.

    Personally, I do make a distinction though between m/m (erotic) romance and gay erotica just as I do between m/f romance and het erotica. The distinction for me is that erotica in its purest form requires no love relationship story and all that goes with it, e.g. HEA, etc., the sexual and sensual journey of the protagonists is the focus of the story and not the “romantic” relationship between/amongst the characters. Personally, I enjoy well written erotica in its purest form as I do “erotic romance” so it’s all good. In other words I love smut just as much as the next guy or gal on both counts.

    Is M/M synonymous with gay literature?
    For me m/m is not necessarily synonymous with gay lit but rather a sub-genre of it. Without getting into a discussion of what is literature (a separate post in and of itself) my personal definition of literature is a simple one. For me literature globally encompasses both fiction and non-fiction works, so along this trajectory if we’re discussing fiction then it is the umbrella that houses the sub-genres of romance, erotica, horror, mystery, fantasy, etc.

    In reference to the term “literature” I whole heartedly agree with Teddypig’s comment that “Erotica along with Romance has always been out of the purview of your typical gay literary types. It was below them. So I like how Erotic Romance is becoming an “in” for so many good writers to focus their talents.” But would venture further to say that this snobbishness is not exclusive to the gay literary types but includes the “het” literary types as well. In fact, most literary types (gay and straight) look down upon the sub-genre of romance and erotica.

    On a final note, because I too read both fictiona nd non-fiction and across sub-genres it doesn’t really bother me if a book is mislabeled by a publisher. If I happen to pick-up a book that is categorized as a romance, but is really a general fiction story with romance elements then so be it. If the story is well written that’s all that matters to me as a reader. But I do understand how and why the misrepresentation by a publisher can be very frustrating for those that only read certain sub-genres.

    Great post Kassa and much food for thought.

    • Great comments Indigene! Thank you so much for taking the time out to share your thoughts.

      I do agree that the generalization is spread across more than just male on male or gay romance subgenre. I focus on that because of course that’s what I read and the community I belong to. But the concept or issue is definitely more wide spread. I also tend to agree that I like high quality smut just as much as I like high quality romance just as much as I like the NYT best selling literature fiction. I read it all as long it’s well written. I do think that the term tends to designate a specific set of books within the larger umbrella of fiction or gay fiction and apparently there’s a whole ‘nother debate about whether it should or not.

      Some feel that M/M should broaden to be closer to gay lit while others like the purity offered by keeping it erotic romance. I’m not sure I care either way but I do think it’s important for proper labeling. While like you I read across genres and topics, I tend to get in the mood for a certain kind of story. It definitely affects my enjoyment – and ultimately my view – of the book if it turns out not to be the book I’m looking for. If, for example, I get a mystery when I’m craving a historical romance that will change how I feel about the book. Just like if I’d like to read an M/F romance and get say M/M or F/F.. thats not exactly what I wanted so perhaps I won’t enjoy it as much.

      That’s not even counting those readers that prefer to stay within their comfort zones, reading wise. So while I don’t mind whatever the designation means to readers, I would like it to be consistent and easy to understand.

  15. Something just hit me. Fanfiction circles don’t have this label problem at least not that I can recall.

    Why is it that amateurs aren’t dealing with this too? What are they doing that we’re not?

    • They’re labeling *-*. Fan fiction (I believe, I don’t read a lot of it but the few I’ve seen) tends to label aggressively so people know exactly what they’re reading.

      Physical books you can pick up and flip through, get an idea about the book and see if you like it. Also if it turns out not to be the book you wanted, you can return it. ebooks fall into a gray zone where they refuse to label and you can’t peek inside.

      • There are all sorts of a labeling conventions with fanfiction. Some fandoms even have codes for the character names. At one time I was very involved with one fandom, but something is going on overseas with that show and it’s not making its way here anymore. The fandom is kind of dying out.

        They do label aggressively. Maybe we need to take this as a hint especially when it comes to e-books.

      • A lot of people ask me that and I really need to come up with some cool story, but the boring truth will have to suffice for now.

        Back in the early 90s someone was introducing me to this nifty new thing called “the internet”. I remembered the days when one would have to put a phone in a special cradle and dial a special number, but this was different. My friend was going to show me something interesting called “chat rooms”. The username field had eight characters and I happen to have a cup of coffee on the desk. The name stuck.

        Flash forward a few years and I found myself writing a piece of fanfiction. It was bad. It was awful. Horrible. But! The readers stayed with me as I grew. I started writing m/m and the feedback was so very encouraging. People came to me asking me if it’d bother me if they wrote fanfiction of my fanfiction. If it was OK if they drew fanart of my fanfiction. One person got the name of one of my fanfics engraved on the inside of her class ring. “Blown away” doesn’t cover it.

        A reader who has become a dear friend made me promise that I’d write something original and try to get published. I wrote something and submitted it. It was accepted, but there was one problem. I needed a first name to go with my penname. Apparently some catalogs get a bit wonky when an author only has one name.

        I brainstormed some ideas and decided to let the people who gave me the courage to try to decide on my penname. They voted and “I.M Cupnjava” won.

  16. I tend to see the label “m/m” as signifying something that is a romance, and will probably have explicit sex scenes (although I don’t consider that necessary). I get the impression from discussions I’ve read over at Lambda Literary, that the gatekeepers there would like to see m/m as a distinct category from gay fiction – they use it to label books that are usually written by and for straight women, whereas gay fiction or gay romance is written by GLBTQ authors.

    So, if m/m romance writers are branching out into non-romance plots, but with gay characters, I foresee an oncoming storm as those who write/review/read in the m/m and GLBT genres argue out just what constitutes what.

    • Oh that’s great – I didn’t know that about Lambda, what utter literary snobbery. So what happens when a GAY GUY is writing gay romance that is indistinguisable from m/m – is that Gay Fiction just because he’s got a cock? Or me, who’s so genderblurred its not funny and don’t seem to fit either in the glbt fiction label or the m/m one?


      • Yeah, I’ve never been able to figure out what the official LL position is on bisexual women writers writing gay male romances. I tend to refer to what I write as m/m just so I don’t unintentionally draw the ire of the self-appointed glbtq fiction police. I’m sure that there are plenty of people out there who would argue that I’m not a proper bisexual as I’ve never had a romantic relationship with another woman, but as far as I’m concerned it’s to do with attraction, not who you fall in love with 🙂

        I’ve no idea what the politically correct term is for the romance written by gay men – they mostly seem to happy enough with the m/m label in that it’s a helpful guide to readers to signify that this is likely to be a traditional romance, in the sense that the plot will be mostly centred around a relationship and will have an HEA or HFN ending.

        • And here I didn’t know M/M meant by straight women for straight women. *rubs eyes* I thought it was a writing genre not about the lack of cocks (which considering the subject matter, that’s ridiculous).

          I can understand LL’s point of wanting to promote GLBTQ writers but I think expecting authors to submit some kind of sexual checklist proving their sexuality is a bit much. Not to mention within M/M you still have female authors lying and pretending they’re gay men. Not as many but they definitely still exist.

          I’m not sure why if a woman writes a romance it’s M/M but if a man writes it it’s gay lit. What if a *gasp* straight man writes a gay erotic romance. Would he just be thrown out because there’s no box for it?

          • I didn’t mean to imply that LL send out some kind of sexual checklist for authors – just that I know that there is hostility towards the very concept of bisexuality from certain more outspoken parts of the GLBTQ community. You do have to be a GLBTQ writer to be eligible to enter your work to them now, though. Perhaps it’s because they know or suspect certain “male” m/m writers to be female (perhaps even ones they’ve given awards to in the past), therefore the whole lot have become suspect…

            God knows how you’re meant to prove that you’re actually GLBTQ yourself, though. I know they check biogs, but it would be easy enough for people to lie.

            I have certainly seen posts and comments on the LL blog and on other gay fiction blogs where the writers make it clear that they want m/m to kept in a separate little ghetto, away from “proper” gay fiction. I’m not clear if it’s the romance element that most bothers them (because it’s not “literary” enough), or if it’s the sexuality of the writers that does. Presumably, they’d be as hostile towards a straight man writing gay romance as they are towards women doing so…

      • My honest opinion of LL is…

        Puritanical sexless “has beens” who cannot handle anything beyond the occasional AIDS memoir which they cling to as validation that the role they want to portray as gatekeepers of what is in their opinion “real gay lit” has any meaning to anyone.

  17. Steve Berman says:

    I’m totally cool however people want to categorize a Lethe title. I do put Marketing info on the back of most books so gay bookstores know where to shelf the title. So I have used Gay Erotica or Gay Romance.

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