Okay. Everyone, hold on to your butts…
As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been reviewing M/M and F/F baseball books for MLB All-Star Week. It’s been a challenge to post 7 reviews in 7 days, but baseball and romance are two of my favorite things, so I’m a happy girl.
As it stands right now, there is only one lesbian romance in the group, Heart of the Game by Rachel Spangler. I loved it and you can read my review HERE. I planned on a second one for today, but I could not find any that I liked enough to review. I do have 2 in my DNF folder that were just awful. The others I found were either YA/NA (read high school or college girls) or erotica. Neither holds much interest for me, so that’s not happening… One would think lesbian softball/baseball romances wouldn’t be quite so thin on the ground, but here we are. Before I started, I assumed there would at least be a semi-popular F/F series based on an LGBT or rec league baseball/softball team that would save me, but as far as I know, it doesn’t exist, which is a shame.
Spending all this time searching for F/F romances started me thinking about F/F as a genre and doing a little research. In case you missed it, I am a bisexual woman who’s been in a relationship with another woman for most of my adult life. I am also a voracious reader of romance, mostly M/M these days, but I venture out into most of the sub-genres. This is a long way to explain, how strange it is that I’ve never been able to get into F/F.
My conclusion is that there are three major reasons for this…
- The overall quality isn’t great. I’ve read some wonderful books over the years, but in all honestly, a huge portion of F/F romances are so bad I can’t even finish them. I keep trying tho… My suspicion is that there aren’t enough high-quality authors, publishers, and books out there to meet demand, so the genre is backfilled with a lot of crap. Anyway, adding a book to my DNF folder pisses me off. I don’t like wasting time or money, and books I don’t finish do both.
- Speaking of money, F/F is, by and large, overpriced. A cursory look at the Amazon top twenty best sellers indicates that the average price of lesbian romance is almost twice that of gay romance ($5.67 to $2.74). I read A LOT and have a healthy book budget but $9.99 for an ebook is too much.
- I’ve also found it very hard to ferret out which F/F books are worth my time and which aren’t. There just isn’t a strong enough F/F reviewer or author promotion network to drive sales toward better books and weed out the worst books/authors/publishers. In industry jargon, discoverability in lesbian romance is terrible.
The whys are pretty straight forward… conventional wisdom is that F/F doesn’t sell and relative to M/M—it doesn’t and never will. Romance is primarily driven by straight women and for obvious reasons (ie the distinct lack of men) F/F is always going to be a tough sell for them. Those facts scare a lot of romance authors, readers, and publishers away from the genre needlessly. Just because an overall market is smaller doesn’t mean there isn’t money to be made. Plenty of F/F authors/publishers do just fine. I truly believe that if more straight/bi women found their way to high-quality F/F romances they’d enjoy them and continue to buy, but until F/F figures out how to shepherd more readers and authors into the genre with better books and broader promotion opportunities nothing will change. I also understand why F/F books are more expensive. Authors and publishers don’t have the benefit of higher volume to lower costs and boost their bottom lines. At lower volume, folks in F/F need to make more per sale to earn a living, so prices are higher. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of expanding the reader base.
As a reader (albeit with an MBA in marketing) and an outsider, I have some ideas on how to help lesbian romance’s discoverability problem and a lot of it is in the hands of F/F authors. First, F/F authors have to do more to champion books they like, and not just their friends. Cross-promoting a good book by another author grows the genre and helps readers find books they’ll enjoy which will bring them back to your blog/site/social media over and over again. I don’t mean reviews, that’s a landmine-filled row to hoe for authors—just noting books you enjoyed and linking to them is enough. No need to be critical of anyone. And for the love of God, don’t recommend an author or book you haven’t actually read and enjoyed. It will bite you in the ass, sooner or later.
Second, F/F authors need to build bridges into the M/M community. Right now, there’s a huge concrete wall between M/M and F/F without any effort being made to break down the barriers for readers to cross over from one genre to the other. M/M readers are numerous, largely female, LGBT-friendly and already willing to step outside of traditional M/F romance which should make F/F an easier sell. Bringing the two genres closer together to create a more inclusive LGBT+ romance community will also increase opportunities for readers to get more gender/orientation/cultural diversity across the spectrum.
How? I have some ideas there too…
F/F authors should reach out to some of the M/M review sites and maybe ask to submit a guest post tailored to M/M readers… Others will have better ideas, but something like “An M/M reader’s Field Guide to F/F” or “5 Reasons M/M readers should try F/F romance” promoting the author and their latest release at the same time. Many of the M/M review sites are willing to review any variety of LGBT+ romance (but rarely get asked) and would even welcome guest reviewers of F/F books on their site. It’s certainly worth asking. It would also help if F/F authors engaged the F/F reviewer community more and assisted even the smaller, newer blogs in getting more reader exposure, including the broader LGBT review sites. F/F desperately needs more, bigger, stronger, faster promotion venues.
And here comes the heretical part—M/M authors should be encouraged to write F/F. The genre needs more quality romances and wooing established, relatively well-known, M/M authors into the fold could help on that front. I know there will be a learning curve for some, but isn’t there always with new authors to the genre? People will counter my arguments with things like lack of authenticity and preserving own-voices, but the majority of M/M authors are women and not-surprisingly a significant percentage of them are bi. Plus, they are already sensitive to issues of problematic representation in the LGBT community. The goal is to create a rising tide to lift ALL boats. M/M authors who cross-over occasionally to F/F wouldn’t be taking anything away from the hardworking, talented people who have been toiling away in the lesbian romance word mines. In fact, they would be delivering a bunch of new F/F readers to the genre’s doorstep and the increased competition will improve quality across the board. Everybody wins, especially readers.
I’m not going to ramble anymore but I do want to know… What do you think?
* I switch back and forth between the terms F/F romance and lesbian romance, but I mean the same thing. F/F is the more inclusive term, but it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. In either case, I am referring to a romantic pairing between two female-presenting people, be they lesbian, bi, trans, queer, intersex, ace or any other color of the rainbow.