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Should Gay Romance Be Shelved Separately?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Posted in: Uncategorized

This was a question that Bonnie Dee posed to me the other day, and my answer is…I’m not sure.

Bonnie wrote in an email to me:

… I realize m/m romances haven’t made strong inroads into brick and mortar stores, so the question might not apply there. I actually have no idea where they’re shelved in a regular bookstore. The question arose from my own website. I was redesigning my backlist library, which is separated by genre since I write in many different ones.

I realized I had the m/m books in a group of their own even though the titles could be classified under scifi/fantasy, contemporary and anthology (and soon some historicals). I started to consider whether I shouldn’t shelve them with their correct genre, but it doesn’t seem to make sense since some readers are specifically looking for same sex books. Why make it hard for them to locate them?

Anyway, that’s what brought to mind the whole issue of separation by shelving and what it says about the way we view certain groups, whether it be by race or sexual orientation. When is it all right to group separately as simply a sensible business move and when is it insensitive?

Certainly it would be easier for MM readers to find MM books if they were shelved separately, but isn’t that the same argument that people use in the shelving-by-colour debate? Doesn’t this otherise (made-up word alert!) gay and lesbian relationships, and how is segregating by sexual preference any different to segregating by colour?

I would love to ruminate longer on this, but quite frankly, I don’t have the time right now, so I’ll open the floor to you guys. What do you think? Does it genuinely make good business sense to shelve gay romance books separately?


  • They probably will wind up on the GBLT subject matter shelves right next to the AA shelves. Those sections are already there in the book stores (if you are lucky and they carry “those books”) and have been for ages.


  • katieM
    January 19
    11:58 am

    Romances should be shelved within the romance section. The bookstores could use special “book dividers” to showcase certain books, just like they do now. Other genres should go with their genre sections.


  • I look at it from my own perspective as a reader who likes the shelving at USBs. Several I go to have paranormal, historical, contemporary, AA, erotic and SF rom sections. Would make perfect sense to me to have a m/m section as a subgenre of romance.

    In most new book stores, there’s one big romance section or possibly a separate area for AA and erotic romance. I’d much rather m/m have its own section near romance than be put in the GLBT (non-fiction) section.

    For an author site, I’d make two listings, one by thematic subgenres and one that separates out the m/m. Her readers know she writes in different sub-genres and some will be explicitly looking for m/m and some will be explicitly looking to avoid it. Since her site is for her readers’ information, I’d make it as easy on them to find what they are looking for.


  • M E 2
    January 19
    3:13 pm

    This inquiring mind wants to know, what is a USB? If it’s a *chain,* it’s one I’ve never heard of.

    Oooops…just after I hit enter, it hit me. That was a typo, right? You meant UBS? Used Book Store??


  • Yes, I’d blame lack of caffeine, but I don’t drink coffee, so I have no excuse. 🙂 Sorry bout the confusion.


  • LVLM
    January 19
    4:37 pm

    This is a toughy, but I’d keep GLBT separate only because it would be so hard to find in the haystack of m/f romance. You’d have the know a specific author’s name or a GLBT publisher’s name to find GLBT.

    Currently, in the closest Borders to me, AA romance is in the Romance section but has its own shelf.

    It used to be that AA and GLBT were next to each other inside the romance section, but they’ve rearranged it.

    Occasionally I like to read lesbian fiction/romance and what’s really weird is that they are tacked onto the end of general fiction along with foreign books. But “women’s studies” (euphemism for lesbian focused material), lesbian erotica, gay romance/erotica/ nonfiction are in a separate area altogether. It’s very confusing.

    In the B&N near me, GLBT material, romance or otherwise is in a separate section under GLBT studies. It’s the same with AA, all under the section African American studies. I dislike that because an AA or GLBT romance is a far different kind of book than a non-fiction book about those topics and it’s rare to find a romance book on those two measly shelves given to those groups.

    If I were an author, I’d just cross reference them or put the same book into two categories. I’d put a m/m sci-fi book on both the m/m and sci-fi pages.


  • Why not shelve MM romance books in both the GLBT as well as in the romance section?

    Or have a section in the romance department for Gay Romance.

    There’s a separate section for Christian Romance so why not Gay romance?


  • I like the idea of creating two listings for an author’s site. One section that lists all the M/M books together, and also listing them by their particular genre (sci-fi, paranormal, etc). From a reader’s perspective, it would make it easier to find them.

    Also, I’d be sure to list in the genre catagories what the pairing is in every story, and maybe even a “glossary” for those not familiar with the different pairing listings (M/M= Male, male romance pairing, M/F/M= Male, female, male pairing)

    Just my thoughts, anyway. 🙂


  • Bookstore-wise, I’ve seen GLBT shelved with the romances, but on its own shelf and labeled, much as they do “Inspirational”, “Regency” or “Nora Roberts.” I’ve seen it shelved in the Gay Studies section.

    On a website, I think having a page for GLBT romance works. It nakes it easier for those of us who like it to find it.


  • willaful
    January 19
    7:19 pm

    From a business standpoint, it makes no sense to shelf them with GLBT books, because the readership, from what I understand, is largely straight women, who might never think to browse in that area. They should be with romance. (And let’s face it…. there are very few L, B and especially T books in this genre! Well, maybe the B.)


  • @willaful, some of us are working to change that


  • Here in Toronto, in the Chapters-Indigo stores, what I’ve noticed (when I’ve bothered to notice) is that the GLBT books are in their own sub-section for erotica –that is all the erotica GLBT books are grouped together within the erotica section.

    But they are shelved in,alphabetically per author surname, with other books for all other sub-genres (mystery, general lit, etc.) That includes romance; I’ve noticed that Alex Beecrofts’ False Colors and Erastes’ Trangressions are shelved in Romance. Btw, Christian Romance is also shelved alphabetically in the romance section.


  • In the B&N near me, GLBT material, romance or otherwise is in a separate section under GLBT studies. It’s the same with AA, all under the section African American studies. I dislike that because an AA or GLBT romance is a far different kind of book than a non-fiction book about those topics and it’s rare to find a romance book on those two measly shelves given to those groups.

    I think that is the B&N default setup. That’s why I mentioned it. They can be setup different especially if there is a huge gay population in the area but most are not.


  • FD
    January 20
    11:27 am

    One of the Waterstones near me has a small m/m section shelved by the manga. Apparently someone working thinks they have thoughts on yaoi.
    Oddly, lesbian fiction (inc erotica and romance) is in Women´s Studies and I have no idea where the Bi/Trans fiction is, assuming they even have any.

    I figure eventually there will just be a romance area and within it, sections for H/G/L/B/Tr. It may be that paper books are all but defunct by that point though.

    From an online or cataloging POV seach tags and meta data are a wonderful invention. IMO, they remove the need to rigidly classify books – customers could theoretically find books from a multitude of angles.

    Paper books are more awkward, mainly because brick&mortar stores only have so much space, while ebook stores can have many ´locations´ for a single book.

    In terms of what things should be classified as from the point of view of an author with a book that will only have ONE location within a physical store – I´d take the same view with a book containing m/m or B/L/Tr as I would with one containing hetero relationships – what´s the focus of the book?
    Is it the relationship? The sex? The mystery? etc, etc.
    For instance, Sarah Monette´s Labyrinth quartet is fantasy, regardless of content.
    Whether that pov would maximise sales or not I cannot say, although I will note that going against reader expectations is a dangerous thing and if something is shelved as one thing in order to maximise exposure and the content does not follow through with that expectation… as a case in point, see the complaints about romance novels without a happy ending or a convincing HFN.

    I wonder if eventually, we may get so used to search tags that book stores will operate somewhat like an ikea warehouse – you come to the store (or arrive having browsed online) and type in the tags for what you are looking for, or search by author name perhaps. The books will be shelved by ISBN and then the computer will give you a shelving location to go and look at the book and decide if whether you were going to buy. You could have a ´I´m feeling lucky´ option or a ´based on your previous purchases´. Hell, should Amazon ever get into the brick&mortar business, it would have a huge headstart already.


  • If we’re talking about M/M romances, I don’t see why they can’t be shelved in the romance section, preferably under their own subgenre. I hate it when romances are shelved alphabetically as I like to see clearly which ones are historicals, or contemporaries, etc.


  • As an author, I list them out by series, by m/m or menage and then I also list the standalone books. So they’re seperated for those looking specifically for that content, but housed together.

    On the publisher side, I do the same thing. For example, Lex Valentine’s FIRE SEASON is in the M/M, the paranormal romance, the shifters, and the more general all ebook and all print book categories, because it fits in all those spots.


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