Response to Jessewave’s post about oversaturation on M/M

This is a post in response to Jessewave’s post about oversaturation of M/M … are readers getting bored? You can find the original article HERE.

I tried posting my response on JW site, but it kept getting kicked back as spam … probably since it is so long. So here it is in case anyone is interested … 😉

I’ve heard a lot of the same talk about the M/M genre but I’m still on the fence. I have my favorites set on auto-buy and none of them have enough duds yet to be kicked off the island. In addition, there are quite a few themes that I go for regardless of author. I’ll at least give it a shot, anyway, and if the writing or editing is too bad then at least I know for next time.

I’ve been reading M/M for years and here are a few of my observations that may tie into your topic today.

1) Too many shorts –
A short story written well is a masterpiece. The economy of language alone is amazing. Choosing the right words to tell a complete story is not something every author can do. I compare it to runners – some are sprinters, some are cross country. It takes a different set of skills for each distance. Insisting that a runner switch their distance would end in disaster more times than not.

I don’t know the reasoning for why some distance authors are writing sprints. Do they not know their own strengths and weakness after so many years of writing? Is it by publisher requests/call outs? Does the author lose interest in the story and just wrap it up to get rid of it? Is the author not an author but instead a reader with a plot bunny? Whatever the reason, it has littered the genre with stories that are not as complete as they should be. And because they are between the $0-$4 range, they are the most accessible for new readers looking to try the genre and for M/M veterans who are looking to try new authors without spending a lot in this economy.

2) Book-lite –
Beginning – Middle – End. It is what every trained author is taught, what every natural author figures out, and what every reader responds to. I think I can say that we all like the build up, the tension, the what-in-the-world-is-all-this-about parts of any story. And I think I can say that we all like the a-ha moment, the awww, and the everything-will-be-all-right-eventually moment. I think the problem happens somewhere in the middle.

Regardless of length, many M/M stories pad the beginning set-up and rush to a quick resolve, leaving the middle to rely heavily on sex or obvious/stereotypical action. I call these stories “surface stories.” They hint at what’s under the surface, but they never dig deep enough to really develop the characters or plot beyond the immediate events. There are true authors out there that have made a great career out of these stories because they have managed to find just the right combination of words to allow for a carefree afternoon of reading without getting too heavy and without missing anything important. For those authors, great job!

For novices with a plot bunny, however, not so good. The result is one dimensional characters, plot holes, timeline inconsistency, events of convenience designed to fast-track the story, illogical responses and often too-sweet dialogue. Personally, I want a story to develop at its own pace, not rushed to the finish. I want as much care and attention to the conflict part of the story as the characters on the page pay to each others cocks.

And some authors and publishers will be quick to say that the “sex” books far out sell the “no sex/limited sex” books. And I would have to agree … only because of the shear volume of erotically based M/M titles. But I can think of 6-8 titles right off the top of my head that I have read in the past couple of months that had little to no on-page sex and seem to have been quite successful.

IMO 1 – if 50% or more of the plot is guy 1 being distracted by guy 2 instead of saving Timmy from the well … OR … if 40% or more of a story involves sex in speech, thought, or deed then I consider it an erotically based book.

IMO 2 – lust does not automatically equal “love at first sight” … sex does not automatically equal “romance” … babies do not automatically equal “family.” For these concepts to work then there has to be more to the story then just the author saying it is so.

3) Attention span –
This is something my sister pointed out. Not sure how valid, but I think it might have some basis. Most of M/M stories fall in the short to novella length … from which I am told is about 10-50,000 words. From my estimation when I used to buy pdf’s instead of kindle format, that translates to between 30-150 pages (depending on publisher’s formatting.) That’s a lot of story potential in a short amount of space. Especially when you compare it to mainstream titles found in your local print bookstore.

Because of their lengths, we are able to plow through them at a faster rate, therefore hopping from story to story with little thought to the one we just read before starting a new one. Unless it was something spectacular, it just fades into the background until it becomes just a hint of itself. Then we read something similar and it pulls at our memories until we either remember the other story or until it all bleeds together into a jumbled mess. And then we move on to the next one … and so on, and so on.

Another side effect of reading so many of these size stories is that we are getting used to quick and easy resolutions. We have less patience for letting the scene unfold and enjoying the journey. Readers have always wanted to be drawn into a story from page 1 but were usually willing to give it a few chapters before abandoning it completely. But the average M/M story only has a few chapters. If the story doesn’t have a quick and obvious start then it is easy to lose focus and move on to something else. I’ve personally found this to be a problem for me after reading a lot of stories for my M/M book club and then having to read a mainstream title for my larger book club. Especially since I am crazy at work right now and have less time to read. Much easier to read a smaller M/M book with less characters and back story to keep track of then a longer more in depth novel. For those who have more time to read, though, this book-lite might me frustrating.

4) Sequels and multi-releases –
I like a good sequel when it is appropriate, when there is a valid story that brings our favorite characters back to us. I even like a good serial soap opera on occasion. The problem I have with sequels is when characters are brought back without a real reason and the story is just …. blah. No matter how good the first one was, unless the second is just as good, it brings the rest of the series down. Sometimes I think an author is trying to piggy back on the success on the first one instead of creating something new and sometimes I think authors are swayed by publishers and fans who want more and enforce a deadline that doesn’t allow enough time to flesh out a great follow-up. Personally, I’d rather wait, or not have one at all. Sometimes the end is really the end.

Mainstream authors are putting out 1 novel every 10-15 months. For M/M authors who write novel length stories, who may think that in this age of e-book explosion and economy fallout that they will be forgotten in the shuffle if they wait that long in between releases, I would hope that we as reader wouldn’t let that happen. For novella length M/M authors who try to slip in 6 or 8 releases a year, I would ask that they try 4 or 5 instead, using the extra time to polish. And for those authors/publishers who specialize in putting out a new edition every week or so, I say try every two weeks, or even once a month, so that there is time to check for continuity and edits.

Point being, for every fan satisfied by rushing a release at the expense of story and edits, there are even more loosing faith and jumping ship after every installment.

5) Novices –
Everyone who has ever written anything has put time and effort into creating it. I don’t care if it is 300 words or 100,000. Whether they simply “save and print,” hit the “send” button, or place the stamp on the envelop, they think they are done; that they’ve done the best they could and are proud of their accomplishment. So knowing that, I mean the next section with all the respect in the world for these brave folks.

But not everyone should be published for profit.

Anyone who has an idea, who puts pen to paper or fingers to keyboard should write and write and write. Share those stories with friends and family. Create a blog to share them with the world, if that’s what they want. Gain experience, hone the craft/style, work out the kinks, and gather helpful criticism without inviting official “reviews.” With very few exceptions, the first thing an “author” writes should not be available for $2.99 from an e-book publisher.

Having said all this, I still love the M/M genre. I hope that every author finds their target audience. I hope that every reader supports their favorites so they can continue to produce stories for our enjoyment. I hope that authors who aren’t quite up to industry standard go back to the drawing board and come back with something great. I hope that erotica is erotica regardless of gender and M/M isn’t pigeon-holed into the erotica section. And I hope that publishers take better care of their authors so that the M/M genre finds its way to traditional print bookstores all over this country. It is very inconvenient to have to order everything online and wait for it to ship. 🙂


11 thoughts on “Response to Jessewave’s post about oversaturation on M/M

  1. Sharita Lira September 25, 2011 / 1:46 pm

    Wow, what a response. I agree with a lot of what you said. Authors and publishers have to work together to build a better brand.

    Guilty as charged with short stories but a lot of us follow our characters implicitly. Im one of them. my new novella is about 20k, but I’ve left it alone and when that happens it usually means more words will come out.

    I think the key is for authors and editors to do their best to put out the best book possible. Whatever length it be. As tight, error free and with the best plot they can.

    Great comments though!

    • mantasticfiction September 25, 2011 / 4:28 pm

      Thanks for your reply! I have a question as to your “follow our characters implicitly” comment.

      I’m not a writer … I play around with stories with my fellow M/M book-clubbers but I would never dream of any story I write to go any further than that. I’m what most people would call “wordy” in print. I write, I re-write, I analyze and re-write again. It takes forever. And then I get bored and drop it all together. See … not a writer.

      But … what I do write has to go through ME. I can follow the flow inspired by my characters and spew out 1000’s of words, but when I re-read it and see mistakes it’s up to me to “fix” it. If Guy 1 really wants “so-and-so” to happen but the event makes no sense in it’s current form then I have to brainstorm a way to give him his scene. Still following my characters, but still Master of the Universe.

      Do authors see it differently?

  2. Cooper West (@cooper_west) September 25, 2011 / 2:48 pm

    Really great response to that. I definitely think that there is a “gold-rush” attitude affecting a lot of writers as the genre/category continues to grow readership exponentially, resulting in books being released that could be better. I think I was a victim of this myself with my novella Mixed Signals, which really should have sat on the burner and become a novel. Regrets, I have a few!

    But to pull out to a wider focus for a second, I think the worries expressed by people concerning oversaturation are more about change in the industry than a real problem. Sales are great, and growing; if oversaturation was a *real* issue, sales would be sloping off. They aren’t. Compared to mainstream het romance industry, the M/M was not even blip on the screen, but despite years (decades?) of people saying the het romance industry is oversaturated, sales stay strong.

    But a lot of long-time M/M writers and readers are used to wading around in a very small pool. What’s going on is that the pond has become more like a large pool, or even a lake; granted, it’s hardly huge, but it is bigger and expanding. That is a massive change, for all of us, and I think a lot of the fretting we see stems simply from the fear of change. Personally I welcome it, despite the growth pains of poorly written stories etc., because I think more opportunities for both readers and authors is a good thing…even if it makes the pool we are swimming in wide and deep.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post!

    • mantasticfiction September 25, 2011 / 4:43 pm

      I like what you said about the larger pool … hadn’t thought about it that way. I have a few people every week ask why I tweet out stuff from Pub X or Pub Y because they’ve never heard of the authors. My response is always that you never know where the next great author is going to come from.

      Thanks for your reply!

  3. Carolyn September 25, 2011 / 3:15 pm

    Very interesting response! I’m glad you linked it (via twitter for me). I’m one of those long-winded authors who has taken forever to bring another book out. First book was roughly 250k, which did daunt a lot of readers, and yet if I use GoodReads alone to guage how many read and loved it (despite all those boy tears, oi, self!), I’d have to say the extra-long read didn’t hurt it at all. I prefer long meaty books myself, so write them and oh whoa nilly, I am glad to stay away from short fiction. I’d be terrible at it.

    As for length of time between books–roughly 5 years, here, between mine and I see no indication at all that I’ve been forgotten. The playing field is huge now! and very dense! but I don’t worry too much about bringing another long book out (only 120k this time) so long after the first. It is actually a spin-off, but I hope it works well.

    Guess I’ll find out in a couple more months if it fails or not! 🙂

    • mantasticfiction September 25, 2011 / 5:04 pm

      I prefer longer stories, too. I’m nosy … I want to know the why’s and what-for’s and as much of the back story as possible. Love it, love, love it.

      And if an author can convince me throughout the story by way of motivational detail that it couldn’t have been written any other way then I’m on board …. even if I don’t like how the events unfolded. I’m reading as an entertaining escape. For me, that means getting as involved with the characters and world as possible.

      I’ve heard great things about A Red-Tainted Silence and have officially placed it on my TBR pile that I hope to get back to after GayRomLit. Best of luck with the spin-off.

  4. scarletty24 September 25, 2011 / 4:28 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with this post.

    “IMO 2 – lust does not automatically equal “love at first sight” … sex does not automatically equal “romance” … babies do not automatically equal “family.” For these concepts to work then there has to be more to the story then just the author saying it is so.”

    sums up how I feel in one statement. Thanks for the post

  5. Clare London September 26, 2011 / 4:24 am

    This is a good and thoughtful post, I find myself nodding at each point :). I like to write both short and long fiction, but I agree with you in that I don’t think there should be any less care spent on either, to produce a good quality, well-crafted, well-balanced story for the reader. Shorts should stand on their own – and be chosen for and suited to that length – rather than just an expended plot bunny for the sake of getting something published. I can’t say I’ve always adhered to that myself, when I was less experienced and hoping to get noticed! but I hope I do better nowadays 🙂

    I also think it’s due to the changes in the MM market. Cooper picked up on this, with the comment about the pond growing much larger and much more swiftly than other established genre markets, There’s pressure on MM authors, publishers, readers to increase the volume, and that’s often at the expense of quality.

    I think it’s also affected by the nature of e-publishing. Everything’s produced more quickly, more easily (at first glance, anyway), and entry to the market is easier. Then once an author’s “in” and the excitement and awe has worn off a little, they should take – and be allowed – time to sit back and work on their craft and ideas. But instead there can be a feeling of panic – they’ll get left behind in the rush to be this month’s latest, that they’re expected to keep up with that faster production line, that their longer, more thoughtful works will get buried in the jumbled pile of all-genre, all-style publications. I don’t think this happens so much in mainstream, where delays and a slow pace are already expected.

    I’ve commented mainly from the POV of an author, I’m afraid, but I’m a committed and enthusiastic reader too. I suffer all the same worries :):). But I truly believe that many authors produce great work, entertaining stories and fine quality craft, and that’s compared with all genres, not just MM on its own. It’s just that we have to search more carefully to find them now :).

    I’m only just catching up on this debate, so I hope you don’t mind if I copy some or all of this on Jessewave’s post too *g*.

    • mantasticfiction September 26, 2011 / 10:05 am

      Hey … no problem … copy and paste at will.

      And I’ve really thought about it since Cooper posted about the pool getting larger and larger. It is happening all over the place, not just M/M. There are tons of new shows this season promoting GLBT characters. There are more and more headlines everyday about legalizing same-sex marriage in individual states, bullying and the It Gets Better campaign. And many mainstream authors including positive, exciting gay characters in their work without stigma. I’d be curious to find out how many M/M readers picked up their first M/M book after reading something by JR Ward, Suzanne Brockman, or Rob Thurman?

      And current M/M readers are now opening up at a much larger rate. If I see someone with a JR Ward BDB book then I am most likely going to tell them about this great book I just read about these 2 guys … who may or may not be vampires … and they had to do x,y,z … and they just had to check it out. Co-workers, friends, and families are now talking to each other about M/M books where before they wouldn’t have mentioned anything.

      At least that has been my experience. And if a lot of other M/M readers feel the same then I can only imagine how many new readers have been brought to the genre in the last year or two. That’s a lot of pressure.

  6. Ken December 11, 2011 / 10:20 am

    I agree with the too many shorts. I tend to shy away from shorts or anthologies unless it’s written in a theme. I do love the m/m Christmas anthologies !

    My problem with shorts and anthologies is that just as soon as I’m really getting into the character, the story ends and I’m left feeling frustrated.

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