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Katiebabs is currently writing an F/F romance, and over on her blog, she’s talking about the decision to step out of her comfort zone in order to navigate those wildly risky waters.

She writes:

few weeks ago while I was on Twitter some editors and agents were discussing the need for more gay romances. From that moment I decided to try my hand at writing a gay romance…

Why the need to write a lesbian romance? I feel that the M/M romance market has become so big and close to mainstream that I wanted to prove that lesbian romances can be just as popular as the M/M romances I have read. I have wondered why there aren’t more F/F romances on the market, and I was told they simply don’t sell well. I am here to prove that I can write a F/F romance that people will want to read. Reading a romance whether it be gay or straight is about the connection a reader will have with the characters. If your two main characters connect emotionally with the reader, you have accomplished something. And perhaps I can write some nice hot and steamy girl on girl action.

Now I admire Katie’s efforts to write outside her comfort zone, and I applaud her for having the balls (or should I say vagina?) to dare to be so bold, but I think that she’s onto a loser before she even starts.

Wanna know why I’m of this opinion?

Because as much as we ( and I mean the ‘royal we’, as in Romanceland Regulars) are happy enough to try something different in terms of our romance reading, I think outside Blogland/Romanceland, Average Jane Reader isn’t too hot at stepping outside her comfort circle.

I think that F/F romance will have the same trouble that African American romance has had for years. Yeah some people will read it, but will they be the majority? I think not.

I believe that the ‘average’ reader won’t embrace lesbian romance simply because she won’t want to.

But didn’t people say the same thing about MM romance I hear you ask, and yeah, they did, but if you look, how many mm romances have achieved best-seller status on any of the main lists?

Not bloody many. I’m not sure Brokeback Mountain counts as a romance, seeing as one of them ended up dying (at least in the film they did) but did the book actually reach best-seller status? I think it did, but I’m not entirely sure, and quite frankly I can’t be arsed checking.

In the main, MM romance does well within the ebook community, but I still think it’s a niche market that will have a handful of stand-outs in the future, but no more than that. (Wow, isn’t that a bold statement?) I’m here to be corrected if there have been other stand-out MM romances (in terms of sales) that I’ve neglected to mention.

The problem that I see with a pure FF romance is the absence of a penis in any shape or form. The thing is, I think the majority of readers are mostly interested in the hero, and gay romance at least provides that, whereas FF romance does not. Plus I think two men together is probably more appealing to the traditional het reader, than two women together.

African American romance has suffered from a lack of Average Jane Reader for years because AJR mostly wants a caucasian hero (seriously, sheik heroes don’t count, cuz for all intents and purposes they’re pretty white) and FF doesn’t provide a hero at all.

Just like the majority of people who read AA romance are black, I believe that the majority of people who will read FF are either going to be bi-curious or straight out gay. That may sound a little un-pc, bearing in mind that the majority of women who read MM are mainly het, but I think there are different dynamics at work with FF.

I recall my one and only foray into FF romance a few years ago, and the problem I had was that I may as well have been reading an Male/female romance, alpha hero and all.

The main heroine was so butch that she may as well have been a bloke. I think that she actually had a moustache as well, which quite frankly annoyed the crap out of me. Susanna Valent what the fuck were you thinking?

In a market where Harlequin Presents still sell remarkably well, despite the number of Mary Sue heroines and irritatingly uber alpha males, I think the future of FF looks about as bleak as that of a bunny rabbit stuck in a cage with a lion.

So yes, Katiebabs is brave for going where so few romance writers have had success before, but I think in order to rock the status quo, she’ll have to overcome a whole lot of resistance from Average Jane Reader. AA romance anybody?

What say you?

68 Comments »

  • So basically, write an f/f romance that isn’t necessarily seen as a romance?

    Well, most of my own books have a fairly strong secondary fantasy/adventure/suspense plot, and I’ll admit those kind of books appeal to me more as a reader. I want some kind of story outside of the growing relationship–something external that brings the protagonists together, and something they have to get through and survive. That’s why so many contemporaries are just “meh” for me, no matter what the configuration of the relationship. Even if the romance is the meat, I kinda want a substantial side dish or it isn’t interesting to me. And with m/m, f/f and menage, yeah, the difficulties of a non-traditional relationship can be part of that external conflict, but if that’s all there is, it’s like a 10 oz porterhouse with three grains of rice and a greenbean. Not enough to satisfy me.

    Right now, I’m writing an f/f that almost isn’t an f/f, because one of the heroines lives as a man (and the other heroine doesn’t discover the truth until after she’s fallen in love). She’s definitely not a man, though, and I wouldn’t call her butch or anything. She lives as a man, but she thinks and feels like a woman, she still has a softness and vulnerability that’s very feminine.

    I think there’s a lot of good fodder for conflict in that as far as who she really is vs the face she presents to the world. It was one of the aspects of her character readers (male and female) seemed to respond almost overwhelmingly positively to in two of the books I’ve already had published–that and the fact that she’s unapologetically bisexual and doesn’t end up putting on a figurative dress to get her HEA (even her het one).

    And the thing is, I’ve had men (straight ones) tell me how much they enjoyed my first book after their wife bought it for them or suggested it to them, and I wonder if they even realized they were reading a romance. So the spinach in the smoothie can work for them, too. *g*

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  • Louise van Hine
    April 21
    8:30 pm

    Funny, I just got finished reading an F/F romance-adventure that got some mainstream press as a good seller, “Above All, Honor” by Radclyffe, a lesbian writer. I learned reading that story that Radclyffe’s women’s anatomies do things I never knew they could! – and I’ve been female for decades now! There’s a strong political plot, some good supporting characters, and the romance and erotic content was absolutely a nonstarter. If that’s one of the “hot selling” F/F’s I won’t buy another. And I think it does have a certain amount to do with the attempt to break out of sex role stereotypes, which M/M stories don’t have to be concerned with – men are men, after all. I know I am not interested in reading about women hitting the glass ceiling and their limited choices in life ON TOP OF homophobia, it’s like a double whammy downer for escape literature.

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  • I know I am not interested in reading about women hitting the glass ceiling and their limited choices in life ON TOP OF homophobia, it’s like a double whammy downer for escape literature.

    Well, I wouldn’t want to read an m/m where the only external conflict was “my mom disowned me because I’m gay, and my boss is a homophobe who won’t promote me, and no one accepts my relationship with the man I love,” either. Likewise, if all the characters in the book are gay (think Carol Lynne’s Cattle Valley books), or the only straight characters are assholes.

    Lesbian fiction aimed at lesbians is often really politicized, and if you aren’t interested in that, it can be tiresome. And some authors writing GLBT romance for a more mainstream audience make the mistake of following their lead–they make everything about the implications of being gay. I’m sorry, I’m just not hugely invested in GLBT political issues, despite the fact that I’m one of the Bs.

    Not that the intolerance/taboo thing can’t add something to the tension in the story–one reason I like m/m historicals. But no matter the gender/orientation of the protagonists, a romance alone is almost never enough to keep me interested in any novel. Give me a villain (and not just a stalker ex, unless you’re gonna put a gun in his/her hand) or a murder investigation, or a plot to take over the world, or some bad guys trading in human flesh, or an alien abduction. Geez, give me anything, and dang it, make it exciting! That’s all I ask.

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  • But no matter the gender/orientation of the protagonists, a romance alone is almost never enough to keep me interested in any novel. Give me a villain (and not just a stalker ex, unless you’re gonna put a gun in his/her hand) or a murder investigation, or a plot to take over the world, or some bad guys trading in human flesh, or an alien abduction. Geez, give me anything, and dang it, make it exciting! That’s all I ask.

    Kirsten, have I got an unpubbed SFR for you 😉 OK, blatant and premature self promo aside, I totally agree that there has to be more than the orientation issue, more than even it being a romance, to keep me interested too. Maybe that’s one of the stumbling blocks writers of f/f need to hurdle, letting Average Jane Reader know that there is a fun story in there, not an agenda.

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  • Lorraine
    April 22
    1:45 am

    As an Average Jane Reader I wouldn’t have a problem reading a F/F. Like many have said, it’s the relationship and the emotional connection to the characters that counts.

    I’ve always loved the HEA monogamous tropes found in traditional romance stories. I would have an easier time reading M/M and F/F over menage stories, simply because it fits better within my mind set of a happy one-on-one relationship.

    That being said, I’ve heard great things about menage stories and have wanted to read one for quite some time *in fact, I’ve surfed Kirsten Saell’s website and boy, do your books look awesome girly!*

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  • LOL, Cathy. It’s never too early for some shameless self-promo. 😉 Shoot me an email when it’s published, and I’ll definitely grab a copy.

    Aww, shucks, thanks Lorraine!

    I have to say, menage can be hit or miss with me. When it’s a hit, boy howdy! When it’s a miss, I sometimes feel like I need to scrub off with some lye and a wire brush. It’s all to do with the motivations of the protagonists–why do they enter into the menage? Do all three get something out of the arrangement, or is one of them only there for the benefit of the other two? And if one of them does walk off into the sunset alone, does it feel like they’ve been used and then cut loose?

    And some types of menage just don’t work for me at all–m/f/m and f/m/f.

    In the first case, I just can’t suspend my disbelief to embrace the notion of two alpha dudes focused on one woman’s pleasure. I end up thinking, poor woman, stuck servicing two men. DP every night? Thanks, but I’ll take a pass. And when the shine of new love wears off, where’s she gonna be? In the kitchen with a sinkful of dishes, while one dude’s playing World of Warcraft and drinking beer, and the other one’s in the basement surfing porno. 😉

    In the second case, well, I can only presume an f/m/f would turn into some backstabby, polygamous (not polyamorous) arrangement where the guy has two women to “do” for him and the women fight constantly over his attention.

    Besides, I think if you’re going to invite people over, everyone should play with each other. It’s only polite.

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  • shirley
    April 22
    4:50 am

    In the first case, I just can’t suspend my disbelief to embrace the notion of two alpha dudes focused on one woman’s pleasure. I end up thinking, poor woman, stuck servicing two men. DP every night? Thanks, but I’ll take a pass. And when the shine of new love wears off, where’s she gonna be? In the kitchen with a sinkful of dishes, while one dude’s playing World of Warcraft and drinking beer, and the other one’s in the basement surfing porno. 😉

    ROFLMFAO!! Omg, dying here, just dying.

    I adore m/m/f menage, fwiw.

    I’m in a committed, monogamous, same-sex relationship now. There isn’t a lot of sex, but there is a great deal of intimacy.

    I’m not interested in f/f literature/erotica/romance. Simply put, f/f relationships – the best of them, IMO – aren’t about romance but about friendship, intimacy, warmth, support of each other. In other words, the best and closest BFF where sensuality/sexuality can play a role, and the ridiculous, petty agendas women reserve for other women do not. My partner doesn’t romance me. She loves me, she listens to me, we are there for each other. We don’t have a romance, we have love and deep friendship. I suppose if we were young, the fiery passions of youth might play a bigger role, but women – on the whole- need more than sex to be fulfilled. And what few younger lesbians, and bi women in same sex relationships, I know say that the hot, hot of initial attraction faded pretty quickly in their relationships, faster if outside the bedroom things were lacking.

    I don’t know if what I’m saying here makes sense or not, but it’s a bit hard to articulate how juxtaposed my current relationship is from ANY het relationship I had was. Being with a woman is completely the opposite of being with a man, for me. YMMV. And *that* is why I don’t see f/f ever getting big. The romance community are looking for certain things in their books, regardless of the sex of the main characters, and I just don’t know that f/f could pull it off and be believable. Women know women, after all, so some of the things a hero might do that readers and heroines might get over, so to speak, another heroine wouldn’t be forgiven for.

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  • And what few younger lesbians, and bi women in same sex relationships, I know say that the hot, hot of initial attraction faded pretty quickly in their relationships, faster if outside the bedroom things were lacking.

    Ahh, the dreaded lesbian bed death. It sort of makes sense, when you realize that for women (at least in my experience), a huge part of being turned on comes from being the object or focus of someone’s desire. In a m/f relationship, where the man is loaded with testosterone and up for sex pretty much anytime (and might be nagging for it constantly, holy crap) the woman feels desired and is therefore more likely to be able to maintain her own feelings of physical desire over the long haul.

    In a f/f relationship, any lengthy period of no sex, for whatever reason, can lead to both women feeling undesired, and their lust kind of fizzles. And this is why I believe for f/f to appeal to a largely straight readership, it needs a heroine and a female hero (not a man, btw, but a hero and a horndog). You need one woman to be actively pursuing sex, to be alpha, to be the testosterone that fuels the sexual relationship.

    But you’re also totally right when you say:

    Women know women, after all, so some of the things a hero might do that readers and heroines might get over, so to speak, another heroine wouldn’t be forgiven for.

    There’s a really fine line between a female hero or alpha heroine and a pushy, bossy domineering bitch. And what counts for pushy, bossy and domineering in women is much milder than what’s generally tolerated in men. I’ve read a few seduction scenes featuring alpha males and more docile heroines, and rejiggered them in my head to make the guy a woman. Holy crapweasels, it ain’t attractive at all. A female romance hero has to be way more subtle to be in any way attractive to women.

    But again, I think it’s something that can be done, and needs to be done if a story is going to have a wider appeal. Now I just have to see if I can pull it off…

    Oh, and I adore m/m/f menage, too. It’s just the m/f/m kind that leaves me cold. 🙂

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  • Simply put, f/f relationships – the best of them, IMO – aren’t about romance but about friendship, intimacy, warmth, support of each other.

    Very good point. That’s one reason I wonder why we don’t see female FWB (friends with benefits) stories–best friends who acknowledge a connection that runs deeper than just friendship, and who may experiment with physical intimacy as well. I can see this storyline not working for a strictly lesbian audience, but I think bisexual women or straight women with a bit of female curiosity would appreciate it.

    The “am I gay” angst doesn’t even really apply to this storyline (although I can see its validity in certain variations on this theme). Some straight women are perfectly fine with the fact that they find other women attractive.

    I’d like to see this story outside of an all-girls boarding school. That’s already been done to death, mostly for a male audience.

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  • What both Shirley and JenB said–

    I kind of like the idea of blurry lines in a f/f friendship. One in which the sexual boundaries can be crossed easily but without all the drama of a m/f sexual relationship.

    I’d love to read stories like this. Anne Rainey’s- Burn had something like this and I liked that aspect of her book. Two friends who easily get sexual, but it’s not a full time thing.

    But I think that Shirley is right in that there’s just no spark in that kind of thing so it’s not that interesting long term. I think there are probably many women out there who’ve crossed that line with a friend to some degree but it was no big deal so nothing to write home about or get excited over.

    I think younger women are much easier with Jen’s idea of FWB. Just like they have guy FWB.. but whether or not that can translate into a hot romance that a het woman would love to read is another story.

    Maybe the idea is to find out what scenario het women would read and create a niche with that.

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  • Kaetrin
    April 23
    6:07 am

    I think Karen is right about the lack of penis being the problem (at least for me). I can read m/m romance because I can relate to being attracted to a male, so I have something in common with the main characters. And, there’s penetration* – gotta have that!

    (not by use of sex aids)

    I don’t think I’m likely to buy f/f books but I welcome the discussion and I stand ready to be surprised by a recommendation/positive review from a site I trust.

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  • I think Karen is right about the lack of penis being the problem (at least for me).

    I think a lot of f/f lacks the figurative penis as well as the literal one. And even for women who don’t require the physical part, they still want a hero. They want one character to be stronger, to be the pursuer, to be the hero.

    Problem is, it’s really hard to write a female hero who’s strong without seeming swaggering, assertive without seeming pushy, sexually voracious without looking like a slut, alpha without seeming bullying, confident without coming across as arrogant. (Just look at some of the overly kick-ass heroines out there in some UF, even without the romance aspect. What appeals in an alpha male isn’t necessarily going to even be tolerated in a woman.)

    And sometimes, when there’s no subtlety of characterization at all, the results just make me feel like I need a shower. You end up with caricatures–the bully and the doormat.

    I’m in the middle of writing an f/f right now, the kind I want to read and would love to see more of. And it’s such a fine line to tread, even knowing what I find appealing, to write it with enough deftness to not annoy myself. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. At least, I certainly hope I can pull it off. 🙂

    And ditto on the sex aids. But penetration can be figurative, just like penises can…

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  • Lorraine
    April 23
    11:43 pm

    Problem is, it’s really hard to write a female hero who’s strong without seeming swaggering, assertive without seeming pushy, sexually voracious without looking like a slut, alpha without seeming bullying, confident without coming across as arrogant. (Just look at some of the overly kick-ass heroines out there in some UF, even without the romance aspect. What appeals in an alpha male isn’t necessarily going to even be tolerated in a woman.)

    I think romance readers in general are more inclined to forgive the heroes for being shmucks and we can be unforgiving of the heroines for far less egregious behavior. Could be we have higher expectations and standards for women’s behavior, which seems a little unfair to us all.

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  • Valentine
    April 24
    7:51 am

    Hi everyone. This is my first time posting anywhere in Romanceland, but this is a great topic and I really enjoy reading Karen’s blog so I thought what the hell. I remember reading somewhere Karen gets annoyed with long posts (probably right here), but I’ve never posted before so this is long 🙂 Sorry Karen….

    To Katiebabs: I’ll be purchasing your F/F romance as soon as it’s out. Like Karen, I admire and applaud your efforts to bring something different. Thank You.

    Issues like these, as well as African American romance in relation to the “Average Jane Reader” can get really frustrating. And to be honest, it’s mostly due to the responses on these topics on various sites.

    Romance readers say it’s all about the fantasy and that’s why they can’t relate to F/F stories, yet then they say they read romance for the emotional journey. If that’s the case, then why would the sex of the protagonists matter?

    And this whole “relate” thing really confuses me when applied to M/M romance. It’s two men. They don’t want you. They never will. I’m not saying this in a shitty way, just wondering how you can “relate” and force yourself into the fantasy when it so directly excludes you? Don’t get me wrong, I read M/M myself. I’m just trying to understand how readers are able to “relate” to men who don’t want them because they can “relate” to being attracted to a man, but can’t “relate” to a woman wanting another woman. Seems like the fantasy part of F/F would kick in in the form of flattery or being the object of desire. So one of the protagonist must want a man? That’s all it takes to be “relatable”?

    And then I wonder if it could just be all the bland, uninteresting heroines we read about over and over again in romance. You know, the place holder chicks. Usually, all the compelling and page-turning characterization is reserved for the hero. So who the hell would want to read about not one, but two bland, uninteresting heroines in a romance? If that’s the case, I can completely understand.

    Could it be age disparity? A case of older romance readers still clinging to the traditional? I see so many younger, F/F couples. I wonder if those types of stories wouldn’t be more appealing to a younger crowd, where a pairing like this is seen as the norm.

    On the “Average Jane Reader” and African American romance. This I really don’t get. Again, it’s all about the emotional journey right? So why does the race of the protagonists matter?

    Is it because romance readers can’t insert themselves in the place of the heroine if she’s not white? No matter what she may have in common with you? Really? But you can in M/M, where the protagonist are not even your sex and completely uninterested in your sex? Or you can with something paranormal, where the protagonist in question may not even be your species? Simply because they are racially white? Is that all it takes to be “relatable”?

    And the heroes. It’s all about the emotional journey right? Or hell, let’s say it’s all about the fantasy. If the hero has all the attributes that make you fall in love and admire him, he needs to be racially white for this to work? To be “relatable?”

    I apologize, but can anyone tell how much I hate the word “relate” yet? LOL. Well, I don’t hate the word…I don’t like the way it’s often appied. She/He is not white, so “I can’t relate.” They are lesbians, so “I can’t relate.”

    Anyway. Like I mentioned above, this is my first time posting but I’ve been lurking and I’ve already read the following responses to why romance readers don’t read African American romance:

    * I only read historicals.
    * I don’t buy new books or read books by new authors.
    * I buy books based on recommendations.

    Right. But if anyone has anything new to offer in the way of a response on either subject (AA romance, F/F romance), I’m interested!

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  • Hi Valentine, thanks for de-lurking.

    Personally, I think that when people talk about the ’emotional journey’ there are sub-conscious conditions attached. The fact is, if readers were truly only all about the ’emotional journey’ it really wouldn’t make any difference what colour the protagonists were, or what sex they were.

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  • I have to agree, Karen–it’s more complicated than just “emotional journey”

    I was talking with Issek about this, and we both agreed that while we can (and often do) like the same books, characters and storylines, we look at each of those differently.

    As an example, he likes Suzanne Brockmann’s Jules Cassidy and Robin Chadwick as characters, and enjoyed following their story from Hot Target on to Force of Nature and All Through the Night, though he was glad there was little to no graphic description of their sexual lives. Me, I would have liked more graphic sex scenes between them.

    Yet, if we are talking female characters, such as Dina and Hit from Ann Aguirre’s Jax novels, our preferences flip.

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  • Valentine
    April 24
    8:32 pm

    Ok. I was basing alot of what I said on what I’ve read on various sites since I discovered the online romance community. There seemed to be alot of emphasis on the emotional journey…nevermind. Thanks for the responses and back to lurking 🙂

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  • […] both are incredibly rapey. But we are talking head-count basis and popularity. There, too, is a prevailing impression that lesbian romance/erotica doesn’t sell as well as M/M (if it sells at all). Submission […]


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