Please don’t beat me up but I’m running a poll on the site about sex in M/M romances. I know, I know, you hate surveys, but this time your input is very important. We all love M/M romances for different reasons. Some readers love these books because they are wall to wall sex. (Really??? What a surprise!) I’m not sure if those readers are concerned about something like (maybe) a plot, as long as there’s the obligatory humping in every chapter. Others prefer a story with well rounded characters and an actual plot to go along with the hot sex. A few readers just want a good story and don’t care if there is minimal or any sex in the books. With such varying tastes authors can’t please everyone, so a lot of them go where the money is, meaning: they write books that are off the scale hot because they know they are sure to sell. Clearly this targeting works.
Most readers think that M/M romances must be erotic, but is M/M also synonymous with erotica (PWP – Porn Without Plot)? Many digital publishers seem to think so, based on comments by their authors who claim that the editors return their manuscripts if they don’t think there’s enough sex and ask for more, more, more unnecessary sex. On the other hand, some publishers say it’s the authors who make the choice about the level of sex in their books: when they see that books with a heat level of 5 are best sellers, and those with a heat level of 1 go on the remainder pile almost immediately (if there is such a thing as a remainder pile for ebooks), it’s the writers who make the choice to write books that are sexfests. Someone is not being straight with us and the truth may lie somewhere in deep space. Are you proving the publishers and authors right by maxing out your credit cards on M/M romances that are burning hot and ignoring the “sweet” romances with less sex? Are you saying with your wallets that M/M is all about the sex? Based on the evidence, it seems that readers are the ones who set the bar for the heat level in these books. How else can you account for the fact that books which are are rated at the highest heat levels outsell those that are less so by a margin of 10 or more to 1, unless the author is very well known such as Josh Lanyon?
Please don’t think I’m saying there’s something wrong with books that have a high level of sex. I just think that the sex should advance and enhance the plot. OTOH there are times when you might be looking for a short sexy read just before bedtime, not a story that would keep you up all night where you become so interested you forget everything else.
Some genres such as BDSM, by their very nature, seem to require lots of sex. The norm in other genres such as fantasy, historical and science fiction romances is for a lot less sex. But what about the books in the middle such as contemporary gay romances, stories that are mostly about guys meeting each other and falling in love. Do we need lots of sex in murder mysteries? Is it necessary for these books to be wall to wall sex? Is there a middle ground? Are M/M readers setting the bar low for our genre by almost always buying books that are sizzling hot, regardless whether the stories suck, or even if there is no story, as long as the humping goes on between the covers unabated? Can we raise the bar a little by not using our purchasing power to buy books that have the highest heat level? Could we encourage those authors who write plotty books that don’t have much sex by actually buying some of these books? I don’t mean to imply that all books with lots of sex aren’t wonderful stories with lots of plot and great characters – that would not be true as some of my favourites do have a lot of heat. However, it’s a shame that we don’t acknowledge through our wallets the great job being done by authors who don’t write books with high heat levels.
If we’re trying to ”sell” M/M by promoting it to our friends who don’t see this genre as a credible alternative to what they currently read, should we not raise the bar by encouraging our writers to pen books with engaging, believable characters and actual plots, rather than stories that at times seem thrown together just to hang sex scene after sex scene? Authors and publishers complain about the ghettoizing of gay romances because they are all classified as erotic, regardless whether the books are sexfests or have no sex. Perhaps if we reduce the amount of sex in some of these books and market them as “sweet” gay romances they could come in under the radar.
Two years ago I wrote a post called Do You Read Sweet Romances? which is linked. I listed quite a few M/M books that were not rated at the highest heat levels but were considered to be wonderful stories. I also included some statistics on book sales, based on information from epublishers as well as re-sellers such as ARe. Although this data is 2 years old I don’t think the ratios have changed much. Books with heat levels 1 and 2 represented less than 3% of sales while books with heat levels of 4 and 5 together were 83% of sales, which is very revealing as well as damning in terms of our tastes and buying patterns:
Heat level 1- .73%
Heat level 2- 1.9%
Heat level 3- 10.3%
Heat level 4- 32.61%
Heat level 5- 50.57%
A couple weeks ago author Angie Benedetti wrote an essay (linked) on the much broader theme of romance called: What Does Love Look Like? Most of the readers who responded to her post seemed to be leaning on the side of more plot, more romance, better rounded characters and less sex. That’s what you said when your name was on the comment, but what about when you’re anonymous?
I hope the enclosed poll will help to clarify what heat levels you want in your M/M books, if you answer honestly. You can complete the poll in this post or on the right hand sidebar. You can only select two answers that most closely reflect what you think. I do hope you complete this survey, and no cheating.
In addition to completing the survey your comments are always appreciated. I would also ask you to submit recommendations of M/M books that you love which do not just titillate our baser senses but are really great reads, with wonderful characterizations and actual plots, similar to those books recommended in my post 2 years ago. Your recommendations would be helpful to those readers who are interested in a different fare than our usual diet.