For the Love of Man: Insights into the M/M Erotic Romance Genre by Laura Baumbach


Laura BaumbachRomance writing and erotic romance are competitive niche markets for writers, both for finding reputable publishers with good sales records and for finding a reader base. A rapidly rising segment of those markets is the male/male erotic romance genre.

My name is Laura Baumbach. I’m a straight woman, married, mother of two boys—and I write male/male erotic romance (also known as GLBT genre fiction). I write under my own name—no pen name, no tweaked spelling. Just me.

I won’t spend a lot of lines on shameless self-promotion; read my bio at the end if you must know. Suffice is to say that I’m a successful author in the m/m erotic romance niche; owner of, a promotions and advertising co-op for writers in the genre; and owner/publisher for an independent press, ManLoveRomance Press, an imprint publishing the m/m genre primarily in print—and home to more than thirty veteran and rising authors working in the genre. I’m pleased to share my knowledge of the business of m/m erotic romance if it will encourage new authors and readers to explore it.

The Origin Story

My own writing career parallels the history of fanfic, slash and m/m storytelling.

The root of m/m erotic romance is firmly embedded in slash fanfiction. Fanfiction is stories created by fans of particular TV shows or movies. These fans imagine and write their own stories using characters created by someone else for television or movies. Slash fanfiction grew out of this pasttime.

It started about 40 years ago with the Star Trek phenomena and the first authors who took Kirk and Spock’s platonic—but very close—relationship over the line from best friends to passionate lovers. Stories of this nature were categorized as Kirk/Spock and became know as slash because of the / symbol that denoted the pairings. This was, of course, before the Internet, when authors would attend small fanfiction conferences and covertly trade the illicitly penned slash tales pulled out from under dealer tables and share it in quiet corners and hotel rooms. The stories went from being traded covertly on the side to being sold in ‘zines—and eventually on the Internet, where thousands of Web-based fanfiction writers’ groups and a multitude of fanzine presses sell everything imaginable in a huge variety of fandoms.

Still my career reflected the larger development of fanfic. I learned to write in The Sentinel fandom and then moved to writing slash in a small vampire fandom. Twenty-six of my Sentinel stories have been published in a three-volume collection of ‘zines from DE Press. My first published print book was a single author collection of the vampire work, now out of print. My fanfiction site has over 120,000 hits, and there are more than 330 members on the corresponding Yahoo group, and this is despite the fact I rarely have time to write in the fandom anymore.

Man Love fictionFrom here I moved to creating original works in the m/m erotic romance genre. I’ve found a niche where I’m comfortable and where my muse is most productive. I love everything about writing slash or m/m erotic romance. Love it. I’m more of an affecting storyteller than a skilled author, but I’m never going to stop writing. As any author does, though, I learn how to do it better with each new m/m book I write.

The huge number of slash fans provided the m/m erotic romance market an established audience, mostly female readers and writers who enjoyed the erotic, predominantly romantic fantasies of two gorgeous men together and in love.

Even before the slash phenomenon, many female readers looked for entertainment in the gay erotica market. But, explicit gay books focused on erotica and not erotic romance. Readers who looked for good quality plot and characterization were left with only raw sex to slake their thirst. Plus stories available only in print were difficult to obtain unless you were willing to cruise gay bookstores and porn shops.

Thank Goodness for the Internet

In 2000, Ellora’s Cave opened its doors and brought erotic romance out of the Internet’s shadowy corners. EC’s undeniable popularity paved the way for other e-publishers in the genre, and eventually even NY publishing houses recognized erotic romance as a powerful moneymaker.

Surprisingly, a little original slash fiction wormed its way into erotic romance offerings, now renamed “m/m erotic fiction for women.” It started slowly about three years ago; today, it’s one of the fastest growing genres in the industry. The mostly female slash audience is finding professionally written, edited, and published erotic stories to replace the heartfelt—but frequently amateurish—offerings of fanfiction.

Recently, intensive marketing efforts outside traditional romance communities are helping a gay male readership establish itself. Straight female readers, no longer bound by conventional constraints on their sexuality, and gay men, who can now speak realistically of gay marriage abroad and in the US, are bringing m/m erotic romance fiction out from under tables and dark corners to find acceptability—and a demanding, growing audience.

Titles have moved from e-book publishers’ Websites, where they continue to sell very well, into print with small print publishers like ManLoveRomance Press. The small press makes it possible for these popular books to turn up on bestseller lists on retail sites like Amazon, Fishpond, and B&N. They can be found on GLBT bookstore shelves and, recently, even in the romance sections of large chain stores like Barnes & Nobles and Borders, or Canada’s Chapters Indigo.

Recognizing the Market, Penetrating the Market

M/M is a highly profitable category in which to write. E-publishers profit hugely from the genre. They were the first to recognize its popularity and to capitalize on it. All of the top e-publishers have extensive offerings in the GLBT category. At least one publisher releases 50% of new titles in the m/m genre.

But is m/m erotic romance making the grade in print as well? Even acknowledging a slight crossover readership, print audiences and e-book audiences are not the same audience. While e-publishing grows daily, it still constitutes only a fraction of book sales.

According to Book Industry Trends 2008, print publishers sold 3.13 billion books in 2007 with net revenue of to $US37.3 billion.1 (All figures are in US dollars.) Romance fiction was the largest share of the consumer book market in 2007 with $1.375 billion in estimated revenue. But only 2.9% of that number is in the erotic romance category.2 The m/m genre in erotic romance makes for an estimated 40-50% of that 2.9%.

Teleread reports American e-book sales in 2007 by a dozen to fifteen trade publishers totaled $31.7 million, 23.6% higher than in 2006, but still just a fraction of the billions of dollars from paper books.3

But even with the e-books admittedly slowly growing popularity, Zogby International and Random House research shows 82% of readers still prefer curling up with a printed book.4

Do a Google search for e-book publishers and you’ll see just how many there are out there. But beware. Check a publisher, any publisher, out thoroughly before taking a chance on it.

Any publisher who researches the current industry trends and who listens to the feedback from readers knows these are clearly two separate markets.

In response to the growing popularity of erotic romance and the documented readers’ preference to hold a book in their hands, some small presses have ventured out into print with the m/m genre with varying levels of success. Most of these publishing houses have their roots in e-books but they quickly learn that what works in e-publishing doesn’t work as well in print publishing.

Marketing has to be expanded past the borders of the Internet. Publishers, even established and successful e-publishers, need to identify their target audiences and find cost-effective ways to reach those readers. They have to develop relationships with distributors, bookstore owners, reviewers, PR managers, sales representatives, and their fellow print publishers. But, most of all, they need to gather a stable of quality authors who know their craft and love their genre. Authors are the heart of any publishing house.

Unlike e-book publishers who accept manuscripts in large quantities to feed a voracious market that looks to publishers for three releases or more each week, it’s imperative that print publishers focus on the very best quality manuscripts and authors that they can find. The cost of producing a print book and of buying one must be considerations. Consumers of print books expect—and should get—a high quality product for their money, and publishers must recoup their investment if they are to stay in business and publish more quality books.

There’s no argument that e-books pay an author more in royalties than do print books. Many e-published authors see from 30-50% royalty for their work. There are authors who support themselves completely on their earnings and others who barely make pocket change. It all depends on the author and the publisher for which they write.

While print pays considerably less, anywhere from 7-12% of retail to 10-15% of net, there is nothing like holding a book in your hand—especially one with your name on it. Print is still the industry standard; it’s the mark of an author whose talent and creativity are deemed worth the larger investment of time and money by others knowledgeable in the industry. Whether it’s a tangible reward for greater skill, or serves only to stroke the ego, for the moment, print remains an author’s holy grail.

While you can make five figures or more in e-book publishing if you work very hard at it, an author will not get rich in print with a small press. Landing a huge contract with a NY publishing house is still necessary for that. If you write in the m/m, genre the odds on that happening in the next three to five years are slim. Very slim. While most of the NY houses publish erotic romance, and a few publish gay erotica and gay fiction, all of them decline m/m genre erotic romance now.

The Readers

The people who can change publishers’ resistance to m/m erotic romance are the m/m target audiences, the people who read m/m erotic romance—straight women and gay men. The popularity of this genre in e-books is well documented and the e-book romance community is almost, but not entirely, made up of female readers.

man love fictionSome female readers say that reading gay erotica has been their guilty pleasure for years, sometimes decades. New female readers feel free to ask for what they enjoy.

Gay male readers report they are thrilled they can find well plotted stories, compelling characters, and excellent writing and editing, along with sometimes explicit, sometimes mild, sensual intimacy and lovemaking scenes that are hallmarks of erotic romance. Before gay erotic romance, the only reads available the gay male audience had been the traditionally sex-driven gay erotica written primarily by gay men. Gay erotica is not m/m erotic romance.

Another indicator of the attractions of m/m erotic romance for straight women is the list of authors writing it. Not every author whose name appears to belong to a man in the m/m erotic romance genre is actually a man. In truth, there are very few men writing m/m erotic romance.

Based on my personal experience as an author of exclusively m/m erotic romance, a promoter, and a publisher of the genre exclusively, (I’ve never written a romance outside of the genre nor published outside it), I estimate less than 5% of authors writing m/m erotic romances are male, regardless of the pen names.

While the perception of the author’s gender might be important to some readers, it seldom affects the popularity of a book or an author. I write under my own name, which is obviously female—as am I. Modesty set aside for illustration of a point, I am fortunate enough to have my books rank consistently in the top ten bestselling books in GLBT categories on both Amazon and B&N5 and have received numerous writing awards for best in GBLT categories. It is the ability of the author, not his or her perceived gender, that makes for a satisfying, believable, hot, m/m erotic romance. These gay male and straight female readers are savvy. They understand this, and they don’t let a perception keep them from an enjoyable adventure in erotic romance.

I asked several gay male authors what they thought of the m/m erotic romance genre and the fact that straight women are reading and writing it. Here’s what a few of my colleagues say:

“When I read a novel or a story, I couldn’t possibly care less about the author’s gender or race or the color of his/her hair. My concern is the quality of the writing. …I do realize that there are differences between books written by women for women, and books written by men for men, though I am inclined to think rather more has been made of the differences than they warrant. Yes, women readers are more interested in the romantic than the erotic elements, and women writers could be said in general to write more romantically than erotically; and the reverse could be said for male readers and writers. There are so many exceptions to those rules, however, as to render them mostly pointless.”
—Victor J. Banis, gay publishing icon, author of over 150 gay books

“What do gay men think of women writing stories about gay men? I approve! Women, on the whole, write wonderfully emotionally deep men. Think of Mary Renault—Laurie and Ralph in The Charioteer are profoundly imagined three-dimensional men, and their love for each other is entirely convincing. It’s the woman’s POV of male-to-male relationships that first drew me to slash. Men are often too inclined to focus on the sex, as if that was the most important part of the relationship. Women see into the emotional wellsprings. I like that.”
—Nigel Puerasch, owner of Forbidden Fruit magazine

“Women write m/m fiction? Damned right they can! Since there seems to be more women reading m/m fiction these days than men, women can often do a better job for their readers than we males can—seeing as how I (can’t speak for all male authors) find it more enjoyable to go more for hot and heavy sex than for emotional involvement. … Unfortunately, I suspect there will always be those who prefer readers and writers stay in their particular little niches, including sexual niches. … A lot of people tend to look upon their sexuality, male or female, as something exclusive to their own gender, completely forgetting about the male side of each and every one of us. As if being male and being female are two totally different clubs that only reveal inner secrets to those who do or don’t possess a penis.”
—William Maltese, gay publishing icon, author of over 200 gay books

“Gender of author is irrelevant. Ability of author to pull reader into the world created is what matters. That’s what the customer expects when he or she forks over the money.”
—Jardonn Smith, author of I’ll Never Talk: Erotic Tales of Defiant Men

“Being fairly new to the m/m erotica genre I was really impressed by the romantic side of the sex scenes that I’d read. Imagine my surprise when I found out they were written by women!”
—J.P.Bowie, author of the Portrait series and the Nick Fallon mystery series

“When I first found out, a couple of years ago, that women (and straight women in particular) were reading and writing m/m romances, I was kind of surprised. I knew of the prurient interest some men have in lesbian relationships, but had never come across women who enjoyed reading about the romance and erotic elements of a relationship between two men. Since I am a gay man and personally write about such relationships myself, you might think I have a territorial interest in pointing out how wrong this is. But nothing could be further from the truth. At heart, I believe a good storyteller is a good storyteller and the gender or sexual orientation of the author (or the reader) doesn’t really matter. What does matter is an understanding and sympathy for the unique HUMAN dynamics that go into love and sexuality. So gay, straight, male, female, the bottom line is it doesn’t really matter who’s doing the writing or reading. What does matter is the human connection. And we’re all in the same boat there.”
—Rick R. Reed, author of IM and Orientation

There is undoubtedly a segment of readers who oppose women writing m/m erotic fiction. However, telling a writer, any writer, regardless of their gender what they are allowed to write is an exercise in complete futility, as it rightly should be. Freedom of expression belongs to everyone and creativity is a talent that knows no barriers, gender or otherwise. Many male authors write heterosexual romances and skillfully portray the female half of the equation including the female characters’ thoughts, emotions and actions during sex scenes. It is the caliber of the author’s writing skills, not their gender that makes or breaks a story.

Publishers Galore

Authors writing or thinking about writing in the genre have several resources available to them. There is a healthy list of e-book publishers who release m/m erotic romances. The largest are:

Preditors and Editors publishes what it describes as “a guide to publishers and publishing services for serious writers,” an exhaustive listing of e- and print publishers, and their business reputations. Fantasy author Piers Anthony has earned an award for his similar and detailed listing.

Authors looking to familiarize themselves with the top seller in the marketplace for m/m erotic romance should read a variety of titles available and look at the catalogue pages for many more. Some of the popular names in the m/m erotic romance industry are J.L. Langley (My Fair Captain), Josh Lanyon (Death of a Pirate King—an Adrien English mystery), Laura Baumbach (A Bit of Rough), Jet Mykles (Heaven Sent), and Sean Michael (Jarhead series). They also represent a variety of styles and voices.

Promoting the Genre

Marketing presents its own challenges within the m/m erotic romance genre. Not all avenues open to authors of heterosexual erotic romance are available to the m/m genre. Most online romance review sites—but not all—review m/m erotic romance.
Authors can submit their e- or print books to these review sites:

However, larger print romance review magazines have issues with the m/m erotic romance genre. Affair de Coeur states it will accept m/m erotic romances for review, yet no such reviews have appeared, despite appropriate submissions. Romantic Times magazine refuses to accept m/m erotic romance for review. Both publications, however, accept advertising dollars from m/m authors and publishers.

There are several Yahoo groups specifically for GLBT works:

Marketing outside romance loops is trickier. It’s hugely expansive and expensive, and it’s difficult to decide what opportunities will yield the best coverage for the money. After several years of trial and error, I developed an authors’ co-op,, to help defray the cost and to promote the entire genre in more traditional advertising venues.

man love unites over 50 authors in the m/m erotic romance or gay fiction genre. During three campaigns a year, the group members share the cost of advertising in larger, more expensive venues in both the gay community and the romance community. It arranges booths and advertising opportunities at events like Book Expo America, West Hollywood Book Fair, Gay Erotic Expo, Yaoi Con, RWA, RT, and romance review sites, as well as running banner ads on fanfiction sites to attract the slash audience, and big ticket venues like and the Advocate. has done print ads in MEN and Venus magazines.

Reaching both gay men and straight women is the key to being successful. There’s a large existing and potential audience for m/m erotic romance. The readers just need to know where to find us.

Laura Baumbach
October 2008


“For the Love of Man” © 2008 Laura Baumbach. All rights reserved.

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