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I just read an interesting RTB column (yeah I know, I nearly died of shock too) by Angela Benedetti, called Do You Self Insert? Sounds kinky doesn’t it?

Apparently an NY editor claimed that M/M will only work in print as erotica, not as romance, because women only read M/M for the sexual thrill of seeing two men together, but when it comes to reading them on the basis of a long term monogamous relationship, they want to be able to place themselves in the story.

Angela writes:

So all right, Ms. Buchanan is obviously unfamiliar with the m/m end of the industry and is repeating the common wisdom she’s heard from other important people on the New York end of the romance genre. I’m sure those same people were just as dismissive of the commercial viability of erotic (het) romance before Ellora’s Cave proved that there’s a huge market for it. The larger publishers will figure out how big the readership is for m/m romance eventually, and then they’ll all be scrambling to bring out m/m romance lines. That’s not really what I wanted to talk about, though.

Instead, what I’m curious about is the inherent assumption behind her statement, that all or at least most het romance readers insert themselves into the story, putting themselves in the heroine’s place as they read.

Re the M/M issue? I think the editor is talking out of her arse, but to be honest, I’d rather discuss the self-insertion question.

I can honestly say that not once in all my reading years have I ever tried to put myself in the heroine’s place. I wonder how true that is of other romance readers?

I once knew a woman on a group list who was obsessed with a certain fictional romance hero, so much so that if anybody ever tried to ‘claim’ that particular character, even in jest, she would go absolutely mental. And I don’t mean, in a joking way either. I think she had a bit of a screw loose. I of course antagonised her at every given opportunity, by pretending to steal said fictional character away from her. Childish I know, but oh so much fun.

I think she’d actually convinced herself that she was in love with this particular hero. I’m not talking about jokingly coveting a particular character, because I understand that a lot of readers, have done that at one time or another (Sarah, you know The Rev is still mine right? *g*). No, this woman really believed that she and this fictional hero belonged together. *Shudder*

I guess when I think about some of the RFGs (Rabid Fan Girls) out there, I wonder if the self-insertion ‘myth’ is as much of an urban legend as we think it is?

30 Comments »

  • On the m/m bit: completely out of her ass–I wonder if she has seen the numbers for Suzanne Brockmann’s All Through the Night? Whatever.

    On the ‘self insert’ part of the question… I know I used to do it, back when I was a teen. And not just for books–there were a few tv shows… :grin: I used to think all people grew out of it, but these days I wonder about it too.

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  • bam
    July 11
    12:55 pm

    Hmm. When I first read Perfect Partners by Jayne Ann Krentz, I used to imagine I was Letty Thornquist.

    And the only other book I’d done it for was To Love and to Cherish by Patricia Gaffney. I adored the idea of being in love with the village preacher while married to an evil, evil man. It was ever so dramatic.

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  • bam
    July 11
    12:55 pm

    I feel compelled to add that I was only 12 at the time…

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  • Since I don’t really seek out M/M, I dunno how big it is, or how big it’s potential.

    I know when I do read it, it’s not because of the ‘hot’ factor, but because someone has sold me on the character/story. On the other hand I have the impression (wrong though it might be) that the ‘hot/sex factor’ seems to be *a* primary factor re the enjoyment of M/M for a lot of readers.

    That’s why my gut instinct is that the Ed is right– *at this point* marketing M/M as erotica would be more *financially viable* than as Romance for a large print house.

    As for insertion, well I have to see the characters actions/reactions are reasonable within the framework of their story. I want to be drawn into the story and emphasize/sympathize with with what the characters feeling, but I wouldn’t say that I picture *me*, just dressed up in the heroine’s skin, in the story. Even as a writer, though you want to be inside that character, you don’t want to write a Mary Sue.

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  • Emmy
    July 11
    1:28 pm

    In M/M, which one is the heroine? I forget. It sounds like it would be much more enjoyable to insert one’s self in the middle of the mens rather than in place of one or the other, in any case.

    I’m fairly sure I practiced self insertion as a teen, but not so much in the context of reading books. I certainly have no interest in putting myself in a book now. Real life men and women are *so* much more fun to play with. In one sense, I read as a form of escapism, but I run off with the book rather than in it.

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  • As I said at RTB, there’s a big difference between self-insertion and character identification. I can identify with a character (or with all the characters, as long as there’s no serial killer), I can really *get* them and their motivations and feelings, and not want to be one of them or take their place. I’m much more a “fly on the wall” reader–I enjoy seeing the story unfold in front of me like a movie. TBH, I don’t even understand how one would self-insert into a book.

    And I think m/m is totally viable right now in e-pubs. Larger publication? I think we need more of Suz Brockmann and JR Ward laying the groundwork of a few hot gay male relationships here and there before you’ll get some really viable lines of m/m erotic ROMANCE.

    But self-insertion? I do not understand except in the vibrator/dildo manner of speaking!

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  • MB (Leah)
    July 11
    1:40 pm

    When I was a teenager I did imagine myself as Ellen in James Mitchener’s Caravans and Fanny in Erica Jong’s Fanny. I did want to be them and have their lives. But since then or with other books, no.

    I’d say I more or less appreciate a heroine with whom I can relate to or would be friends with. But I never imagine being her.

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  • Nope, never self-inserted.

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  • I’m not sure I agree on the m/m erotica thing. It seems similar to the egg/chicken question. Does it have to be erotic aka hot, explicit sex or is that just what’s being published, so these are the only m/m stories readers get to choose from?

    Pretty much all the m/m I’ve read has been marketed as erotic romance, but the stories that resonated the most with me were romances (and the sex was overall no more or less explicit than in some print romances I’ve read over the last 25+ years).

    Matter of fact, one of the best romances I’ve read since returning to reading romance full time last year is Jules Jones’ Lord and Master, for which a sequel will be coming out before too long. Squee! :) It’s a perfect example of a love story all contained within the characters and therefore intensely *real* to me (as in these guys could be my neighbors) instead of necessitating explosions, terrorists, humor, Manolos, ghosts, demons or other external/extraneous plot elements.

    As to the self-insertion, that’s an interesting question and I think most of that would be happening on a subconscious level. I think I’m more like Sarah, a fly on the wall observer, but possibly I’m inserting myself in the sense of wanting to experience the intense emotions, the commitment/Happy Ending/believing that it’s possible.

    Generally speaking, I prefer m/f/m for my erotic reading, which would lend itself to self-insertion, one would think. Who wouldn’t want to be the focus of two loving males intent on one’s happiness? :) In real life, that seems rather unlikely and the examples I know for working 3-somes are rather on the surprising side.

    Reading romance works as a pressure valve for me. I can live the character’s experience, laugh, cry, feel, all with the reassuring knowledge that however bad it gets, they’ll come out together at the end.

    Interestingly enough, I especially dig story lines which resolve all around trust, the breaking and re-establishment of it (I LOVE Paula Detmer Riggs, just love her stories and I cannot find out what happened to her, sniff). It works in romance for me, but it never would in real life. Once the trust is kaput, end of relationship.

    There’s an essay in here somewhere, but I’ll leave other more erudite folks to do the academic analysis. :)

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  • I self insert and I read mainly M/M. I think a large section of the core M/M market do. I don’t begin to understand why we wouldn’t. If I can imagine being Conan the barbarian, or Fiver from Watership Down, or a sentient spaceship, or anything else in fiction, why not imagine being a man having sex. IMHO that is a large part of the point of M/M almost none of which is written in omniscient.

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  • I’m just patiently waiting for NY to catch up to the epubs with M/M. It’s coming. I’ll have lots of goodies for them when they’re ready to open their eyes. And hey, if they want to start with erotica, I’ve got some of those for em, too.

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  • I don’t self-insert and never have. It seems like there are plenty of folks who do, and plenty who don’t, and as usual it’s pretty much impossible to generalize. I do love to get deep into a POV character’s head, both as a reader and a writer. The best books to me have always been those where I’m taken inside a character’s heart and soul. That goes for m/m, m/f, f/f, whatever. I’ve read all pairings before, and if I care about the characters and the story’s engaging I’ll like it. I just don’t put myself in the hero/heroine’s place, is all :)

    I think there’s way more of a market for m/m romance in print than a lot of folks think. Erotic and not-so-erotic both. Mine sell pretty well. I’m not gonna be rich anytime soon, but it’s hard to actually make a living writing anyway.

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  • DS
    July 11
    2:58 pm

    I think that the editor on m/m has forgotten the popularity of mainstream bestsellers in the past like The Frontrunner (yeah, happy gay ending were sparse on the ground in those days) and Mary Renault’s Alexander books including the Persian Boy. Neither had explicit m/m sex but both seemed to have a large readership of men and women across the sexual spectrum. Someone could always say that they read Renault for the history but the fact was I read it because I was interested in the relationship between Alexander/Hephaestus.

    I cannot remember ever self inserting, even as a preteen, but there seems to be a bit of it on the internet– and some of it is bugfuck crazy. However the craziest I have seen is where the person actually images they have a relationship with the fictional individual and develops a whole theory of the existence of fiction as one of an infinite number of possible realities so in some reality Harry Potter is not fiction and someone can interact with people (characters in a book) from another reality on the astral plane. Try wrapping your head around the two women who both think they are married to Snape for HP on the astral plane.

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  • I never insert myself as the heroine (or hero). I empathise with characters in books or movies and I may extend in a personal fantasy what I’ve seen or read (ie. fanfiction, anyone?). But I’m always an observer not a participant.

    The same in my writing. I get into some character’s heads more than others, but I hardly feel like they’re a part of me. They’re story characters! I appreciate stories, always have. I appreciate the way stories pull emotion out of people and the way they examine the human condition, but they are just constructs after all. They’re not real life.

    As for m/m being inaccessible as anything other than erotica. M/m can be very romantic. I learned I can write a m/m couple as easily as a het couple because in the end it’s all about the romance–two people who supply something for each other that no one else is able to. (Although I don’t honestly believe in soul mates and the “one perfect person” nonsense. There are plenty of people a person could be perfectly happy with.)

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  • Gotta fess up here. I can easily identify with the characters in M/M erotic romance–far more easily than identifying with romantic heroines, since they invariably make me feel inadequate! “Inserting” (hate that expression, by the way) where gay male characters are concerned is like a massive personal makeover, a leap into pure fantasy.

    The springboard? Penis envy. ;-)

    I certainly hope NY catches up with epubs in the arena of M/M erotic romance. If they don’t, my big, fat, gay urban fantasy will end up stuffing either a pillow or my woodstove.

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  • sallahdog
    July 11
    6:52 pm

    I am just different. In books or series I really love, I insert, but not in the heroines place… I think up another character that can play in that world… This is how I did fan fiction for many years, till I realized I couldn’t write for shite…

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  • The Profane Angel
    July 11
    7:19 pm

    I don’t know quite what to label this, other than the entire universe laughing its ass off, me included, but maybe it could, just possibly, be called a certain form of self-insertion. (Caveat: I hate name dropping, but it’s unavoidable in this context, and if I get ratted out to a certain person, I’m changing my name and moving to Canada) I’ve mentioned that for fun and devilment I write “fan fiction” – OK, that’s embarrasssing enough, but — I have just learned that the actress who played Claire Kincaid on Law & Order has my novel – and on the fanfic sites, I’m referred to as the Second Coming of Claire Kincaid, because of what I write. I will never live this down if I get outed somehow, but I have to admit, it’s funny as hell. So y’all tell me, self-insertion, or the greatest cosmic joke ever played?

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  • I only fantasize I’m the guy in M/F and my wife is the heroine, ’cause I’m a MALE who likes having sex with WOMEN, and specifically MY woman.
    ’nuff said :)

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  • I’ve never put myself in the position of any character in a book.

    When I read, I’m watching their story unfold, like watching a movie. I’m merely the bystander interested in seeing what happens. So it makes no difference to me what sex the characters are, since I’m not them.

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  • eggs
    July 12
    1:22 am

    I like to daydream, always have. I never self insert while reading a book, but I often fantasize “fanfic” type scenarios after I’ve finished a book, as in “if it were me in the book instead of character X, how would I react and what direction would the story go in then?” I do this for male and female characters in all genres, but I never imagine myself to be an actual character from the book. I guess my inner Mary Sue is too strong!

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  • TPA, do you mean to say that your self-insertion involves somewhere in Jack McCoy’s bed? ‘Cause…I’ll fight you for it. *grin*

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  • The Profane Angel
    July 12
    2:26 am

    TPA, do you mean to say that your self-insertion involves somewhere in Jack McCoy’s bed? ‘Cause…I’ll fight you for it. *grin*

    Shall we step outside and settle this like bitches in heat?? :) Hey, if I’m writing this embarrassing crap I can most certainly put myself in Jack McCoy’s bed! And I do it very well, even if it is crap and I publicly deny any knowledge of it. Let’s just say it beats the hell out of drinking to excess after a long day…

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  • Shall we step outside and settle this like bitches in heat??

    Love it!!! Indeed, we shall. LOL

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  • The Profane Angel
    July 12
    4:53 am

    Love it!!! Indeed, we shall. LOL

    You want a real hoot, MoJo? My cousin, whom I’m very close to despite our age difference, went to Groton with SW. Sees him from time to time. Nick, who is very clever at tracking me online, came across my little ventures into fantasy ala JM, and there went my introduction to SW. Sigh. And all I did, I said, protesting my innocence, was try to think like Claire Kincaid. After he stopped laughing, he said he’d reconsider, and then I offered to trade him a DVD of “Carrington” for the experience and that sealed the deal – he and I are both suckers for Bloomsbury. So, after we go a couple of rounds over Jack McCoy, want to go a few over Hugh Laurie (I WILL win that one, LOL). TPA (Who will politely buy the beer when all is said and done)

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  • Uhm, Hugh Laurie no can do, so I’ll let you save face on that one and say you won him fair and square, mkay?

    *ahem* /threadjack

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  • The Profane Angel
    July 12
    5:19 am

    Apologizing for thread hijack…but…sexy men, romance blog, witty respondents, insomina…oh well. TPA

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  • I remembered Karen! *G*

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  • Well, that’s good to know Sarah, I can’t wait till October! No pressure or anything. *g*

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  • [...] As Sarah Frantz explains, . . . there’s a big difference between self-insertion and character identification. I can identify with a character (or with all the characters, as long as there’s no serial killer), I can really *get* them and their motivations and feelings, and not want to be one of them or take their place. I’m much more a “fly on the wall” reader–I enjoy seeing the story unfold in front of me like a movie. TBH, I don’t even understand how one would self-insert into a book. [...]


  • Ack! *clutching throat* No pressure at all. LOL!

    Actually, it’s not nearly as bad as trying to learn to function in Second Life. SPICE is having a virtual rodeo with prizes and all this Saturday to celebrate the launch of Sam’s Creed. I had no idea I’d be such a klutz as a Prim. But, not wanting to look like a dweeb at my own event, I’ve been practicing. I’ve even got a coach. (Pity the poor soul!) I’m so bad at walking (always over shoot and end up being a VERY close talker or else running people over) I thought I’d try flying. I’ve mastered take off and flight, but I can’t land which means I pretty much tumble out of the sky… You guessed it, on top of people.*sigh* I think they should register me as a lethal weapon!

    Ah well, at least my hair has kick ass streaks. *Lol!

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