Thursday, 4 July 2013

The definition of "respect" - or I R IN UR GENREZ

I just did a very quick search for the term "respect". Here, it says:


  • 1 [mass noun] a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements:the director had a lot of respect for Douglas as an actor
  •  the state of being admired or respected:his first chance in over fifteen years to regain respect in the business
  •  (respects) a person’s polite greetings:give my respects to their Excellencies
  •  informal used to express the speaker’s approval of someone or something:respect to Hill for a truly non-superficial piece on the techno scene
  • 2due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others:young people’s lack of respect for their parents
  • 3a particular aspect, point, or detail:the government’s record in this respect is a mixed one

Some trans*phobic and biphobic blog has recently said that m/m authors ("and/or their publishers") lack "respect for readers". As an author and a publisher, I'm adding my few cents, adjusted for inflation/exchange rate.

Let's go with what "respect" actually means. The most pertinent definition in this case appears to be option 2:

due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others:

Let's define "due" as "proper, deserving, fitting". "Dues" is also "obligation".

The accusation therefore seems to be that some authors/publishers don't properly take account of readers' feelings, wishes, or rights of others while writing or publishing.

What did we do to deserve such a grave allegation? We included females having sex in an "m/m book". Now, I've been uncomfortable with the "m/m" monicker for a long time, but LGBTQ romance for me is no replacement, as I'm writing predominantly about bisexual and gay men (who are pretty much all cis). Future projects will shift the balance to include the T and the L, but right now, I'm writing GB romance.

This attitude was defended by saying that het romance excluded m/m. Which is actually not true--or did anybody miss the Black Dagger Brotherhood book and lots of others recently? If people peered outside the ghetto, they might realise that the "het" market is actually a fair bit more advanced than they think. Making sweeping statements about a genre you don't actually know makes anybody look stupid. On the whole, I'm finding the "het romance" community more accepting, open-minded and critical than the "m/m" community, especially those people who trot out "purity" as a genre standard. [Though that particular blog is the only one that openly hostile to trans* and bi content to my knowledge. Most blogs and reviewers in our space are awesome people with open minds, and I applaud the work you guys are doing.]

Do I respect my reader's feelings? Sorry, but the book comes first and the characters, too. There will never be a Voinov book with a guarantee or an airbag, and I laugh at the need for a safety belt--I don't get one while I write, either. You get in the car, you hold on. I do promise to drive you. I don't promise it's all flowers and unicorns, because who's in charge? The characters. People tell me the strength of my book is in my characters. Yes. Because they are in charge. To make the experience "safe", I would have to neuter them and break their backs to control them.

Not happening. I'd be killing the very thing I write for and the very thing that powers my joy in writing.

What I do promise is: I'll give you emotions. Some you'll like, some might make you uncomfortable. Primary colours here, dear reader. They serve pastels elsewhere.

Do I respect my readers' wishes? Again, the characters are in charge. I don't write to tick boxes (or I'd be checking out what sells in m/m and clone it), I write what Must Be Written. I do give due consideration to the input of my betas, because they are people who'll say, "Gods, I don't want you to hurt that character, but hurting him makes the book So Much Better." In other words, they care about the story more than their own wish fulfillment. (I'm not saying wish fulfillment is wrong. It's just not my guiding principle.)

Do I respect my readers' rights? Readers have the right to buy or not buy my book. They can boycott me because I'm an abrasive ass or because something I said three years ago somewhere on the internet was offensive. Okay. Nice to have met you, I respect your choice. I have at times been an asshole. Like pretty much everybody out there who isn't run by a staff of PR advisers. I've even been drunk on Twitter. Twice.

Readers get a say in what and how I write the moment they hire me as a ghostwriter--the payment is upfront, and I'm not cheap. We're looking at five figures at minimum, half upfront, half upon delivery, because writing "paint by numbers" is extremely hard work, and chances are, my own book will make that money over the lifetime of the copyright, so you'd have to sweeten the deal with some financial upside.

Regarding the concept of readers' rights, I would like to link to George R R Martin is not you Bitch, by Neil Gaiman, one of the sanest, most soft-spoken authors out there.

To this I add, Amy Lane, Heidi Cullinan, Heidi Belleau, Amelia C Gormley, E E Ottoman, L A Witt, Cat Grant, Kate Aaron, Steelwhisper, Sunny Moraine, Sara York (...) is not your bitch.

We write what we must, we include women, and they may even have sex, because the story is in charge, and so are our characters. We write "m/m" or "LGBTQ romance" because we were tired of the restrictions, because we have to, because our characters won't let us sleep if we don't write, and yes, we love our readers, but I think I can confidently say that we all know that we can't write for all readers.Anything we do will lose us some readers. Hell, dissing an Apple product in a book might piss off a reader who loves her iPhone. There are no guarantees, and readers are all different. A writer will drive themselves surely mad by trying to not affront/irritate/piss off ANYbody. We write queer romance because we are passionate people, and I don't think neutering that passion and making us all write anodyne cookie-cutter romances is doing the genre any service.

I don't even believe the "YUCK, A VAGINA IN MY READING" readers are the majority. If they are, the minority is large enough that publishing Dark Soul was one of the best things I've ever done and was well worth it financially. And Dark Soul has vagina and bisexual men and a genderfluid main character--reasons, incidentally, why that blog wouldn't review it.

Didn't matter, because Dear Author did, and Dear Author is a vastly, VASTLY bigger site in terms of eyeballs and sway.

Who sold "Dark Soul"? Word of mouth. From what I can see from my own royalty statements, it had a slow start and then snowballed. That's the pattern of a word-of-mouth book. Apparently people were excited enough about it to recommend it to their friends, without warning them over "trans* content" in book 3 and "vagina" in book 5.

What I'm saying is not "look, how awesome I am". I say that that trans*phobic and biphobic blog tries to define a genre by exclusion and now by levelling unfounded accusations at those who are "different" or are doing a different thing. Ever since Dark Soul, I've said "fuck it" to anybody trying to hem me in or try to force me into a certain direction. It's been a process, and a path, and at times I was crippled with self-doubt, but here I am, happier, healthier and more productive than ever.

In my perception, the market and the readership itself are changing. Back in the days when people laughed at m/m or scratched their heads, some people banded together for mutual succour and relief and maybe to bitch about how misunderstood and discriminated they are. But the genre is opening up. We get published with bigger publishers, our sales are growing (mine are), and in the last two years, I've been seeing more positive women characters, I've seen transguys get happy endings, rather than getting raped and murdered, and I think we are, as a genre, more aware and more inclusive.

How's that a bad thing?

How is it a bad thing that a genre that is 85% female includes women characters who are not raging b*tches or nasty ex-wives--but gives them agency, respect [ooops, I used that word!] wow, maybe even sex?

Bisexual people are made invisible by forcing them either onto the straight or gay side. Being bisexual, I just cannot get to the point where I mis-represent other bifolks in a way that a group of readers finds palatable. I have a bi-coloured perspective on this genre, and I will not shut up or censor myself because one or two readers out there can't deal with the bi-perspective. Moreover, I'm offended by the idea that trans* guys or gals aren't "real" men or women. In that definition, that blog is about twenty years behind the mainstream. Look how progressive these people are now, how cutting edge. A force for "good" (pushing for the inclusion of disabled characters and POC characters) has become one of the haters, by denying trans* people something as basic as their true gender. Well done. I hope you're proud.

All this is deeply saddening. I love entertaining readers and connecting with them, making them laugh or getting them off or whatever we're setting out to do (because reading/writing is collaborative), but it's not my fault if I fail because I'm being true to myself and my characters. But it is not my obligation to neuter myself as a bisexual person and as a writer who believes passionately in diversity and freedom to create fearlessly. I'm not your bitch.

I respect and love my readers. I understand that some people are not my readers--and I wish them big (virtual) bookshelves full of books that are Exactly What They Are Looking For. But I'm me, I write what I have to write, and it's about the story, not my ego, and not even about a vocal minority of readers who can't deal.

And I refuse to let one blogger define what my genre is. I R IN UR GENREZ--deal with it.

And I'm not alone.

ETA3: Added even more links.


  1. Oh, Aleks! So beautifully said!!

    I, too, read the blog, and was totally amazed at the negativity and bias thrown into my face (as a reader)!

    I read Romance for the romance, and I'm one of those who couldn't give a hoot as to the pairings (or quadruplings), or gender (of whatever kind) of the MC's. If it's part of the story, and if it fits, then who am I to complain about ANY sexual scene?? The author writes the characters as they need to appear (otherwise, I suppose, all you writers could go crazy) - and I'm certainly NOT going to tell a writer what to put into a story, or what to leave out! I wouldn't dare!!

    And, yes, Dark Soul was a very, very, brilliant little series, and I loved it!!

    {{{Hugs}}} for saying what I was thinking.

  2. You know, you don't even need to name the blog and I know which one you're talking about. I'm sorry that they still have that attitude, because parts of the blog are great and they've done a number of interesting and helpful blogs-posts. I'm not too keen on their reviews though, because our tastes are very different and the few times where I picked up a book following one of their raving reviews I was disappointed by the book.

    Sp, I just went and read the blog-entry and some of the comments: I think I need a bucket.

    That being said, as a reader (taking writer hat off) I absolutely loath m/m books that have no females in them. Or where the token woman is also the antagonist and of course a screeching bitch to validate the readers misogynism. I've seen the same attitude in slash-fandom and hate it just as much. I might be able to buy the lack of women if a logical explanation is given or the story simply is too short to add in more characters. But short-stories and short novellas are a different thing and in a novel I want to see the whole complexity of the world. As a female (and bisexual) reader I actually sometimes find the lack of female characters respectless, because it sometimes reads as if my whole gender is being dismissed as not important. Maybe it shows that my first love was SF/F where I cut my teeth on female writers with great female characters and who were among the first ones to include bisexual and gay characters in their writing. And the fact that the gay bookstore was the best place to find interesting and new female SF/F writers still amuses me today. Even fandomwise I tended more towards shows and movies that had strong female characters in them.

    Of course the current sexism-debate in the SFF-community has me already gritting my teeth and reaching for the mallet. Seeing the same and even worse sexism in a community that's dominated by women just leaves me flabbergasted. I've never understood this raving women-hatred in it fandom and I still don't understand it.

    As a writer (puts head back on) I think first and foremost we have to respect ourselves and that means writing the books that we care about and can stand behind. Telling the stories that mean something to us, that move us on some level and that we can emotionally and intellectually engage with. This way we can create the most emotional impact, because we are pouring our feelings into the story and the narrative. And yes, that means including women and m/f relationships, or f/f relationships, or menages, or even groups, or asexual characters, genderfluid characters.

    I've worked jobs where I had to contort myself and hide who I was. I made me ill, physically ill and I learned from that not to contort myself into a form I don't fit.

    I don't think I would be able to write novels that don't contain some strong female characters or mention m/f relationships. Most of my characters a shades of bi, some probably are pansexual. I even have an asexual biromantic character. This has nothing to with a lack of respect for my potential readers. It has something to do with respecting myself first and respecting who I am and what I stand for. And also with writing the kinds of books I would love to read. And sometimes a story just calls for *gasp* on-screen m/f (or f/f) PDA or sex. Doesn't mean that it's not an m/m romance.

    Sure, there will be readers who won't read the books, just like there will be readers who will enjoy reading them (I hope). Just like with your books. Tastes differ and it's impossible to meet the tastes and interests of everyone. So, what I'm trying to say is: Word! I'm 100% with you and you are definitely not alone.

    If I wasn't swamped with work and trying to get things written and finished, I would be tempted to try and create a review-blog that is inclusive and covers all the shades of the rainbow just so that it offers something for every reader.

  3. Thank you!! Well said :)

  4. Funnily enough, I think I would feel more disrespected by the notion that I wasn't smart enough -- or do I mean emotionally stable enough? -- to be able to cope when "blindsided" by non-authorized genitalia engaged in happyfuntimes with different genitalia in a book without needing to be warned beforehand.

    You respect your readers by expecting them to be mature enough to handle the fact that, sometimes, different body parts happen. Sex happens. And for this "just a reader?" I far prefer the narrative be respected rather than restricted. I think I'm a big enough girl to deal.

  5. Well said Aleks!!! Great blog

  6. The truth is that you can't write in order to spare the feelings of your readers, because the very same things that you put in because one set of readers said they loved them are the things that another set of readers despise. You can't please all of the people all the time, so you really shouldn't try.

    OTOH, it doesn't mean you shouldn't listen and react to valid points, in order to correct problems you may have brought with you from your own not-quite-ideal upbringing. Such as a tendency not to include female characters at all, or a tendency not to include genderqueer characters or bi characters or trans characters at all, or even worse to make them figures of fun or villains. Or a tendency only to write straight-acting tough-guy gay characters and look down on the more feminine guys (Mary Renault, I'm looking at you.) All of those are things that probably ought to be pointed out and corrected.

    But essentially, it's the author's business to mesh what they write with their morality and world view, but it's not the author's business to be told what to do by their readers. The author writes what they write and finds readers who like what they write. They don't find readers first and then shape their writing to fit them. That's not how it works.

  7. Thumbs up, +1, "like". I can't even get my thoughts together around this issue today, so I'm just linking people to your post instead. :-)

    I had one longtime reader (a gay man, actually) write to me to say he was quitting reading Daron's Guitar Chronicles after a chapter where Daron, in a moment of extreme loneliness, asks his roadie (who has a crush on him but is on the straight-ish side of bi) to go out and get them a pair of female groupies for a foursome. I wrote him back to say, why? He said it wasn't believable that our gay protagonist would do that. I wrote him back with the statistics on how many men who identify as gay also say they've had sex with women (research is scanty but most seems to say a very high percentage have). I also pointed out it was Daron's surefire way of getting his roadie into bed without any fear of rejection. I managed to convince him to keep reading, and he's still a loyal reader today. But how many readers did I lose who didn't bother to write to tell me so? Probably I did lose some of the m/m crowd. But it just wasn't realistic to me to have a gay male character never ever give women a try, especially a rock star on tour where pussy is being thrown at him 24-7 and especially in light of the stats on how many gay men have sexual experience with women. Funny how important realism is to me. I think realism is a way of respecting the reader. I respect their intelligence and don't spoon feed them "purified" pap.

  8. The accusation therefore seems to be that some authors/publishers don't properly take account of readers' feelings, wishes, or rights of others while writing or publishing.

    Just my two cents, and I have confess that I might be a bit of a radical in that respect, but anyone who actually makes that sort of accusation should be forced to read Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, over and over again, until they finally get the catastrophic dimension of self-censorship and cultural impoverishment to which the demand for "respecting readers' feelings" could eventually lead to.

  9. Sorry, my English is not the best, but I got that it's about the intolerant, homophobic idiots who judge M/M writers without ever reading these kind of books. It always makes me sad when I hear something like that.
    All I can say is don't give a damn, and write your wonderful stories to us :)

    P.s. Just started reading Special Forces yesterday, and words can't tell how amazing it is. <3

  10. Hey Aleks, I'm going to try and get my viewpoint across but if I come off sounding like an ass I sincerely apologise.

    First off in regards to Cecelia Tan's comment - As a Thirty-Two year old gay man I have never in my life had any inclination to be sexual with a woman at all. But it's true some men do, usually those leaning towards Bisexual on the spectrum and those who are hiding who they are. The percentage of men saying they had sex with women is not the same thing as saying they enjoy it. And I think you'd be surprised if people were being truly honest and non-conforming how many men gay men would say they wouldn't sleep with women and had never wanted too.
    But did so out of conformity - The idea that they'd at least tried it.

    Second - As a would be author myself (Plotting my first Novel), I would never dream of telling an author not to write their characters the way they want and anyone that would can go fuck themselves. That said, in most books nowadays that contain sexual content there is a disclaimer in the front of the book that warns readers of content they may find themselves uncomfortable reading. If someone still reads the book and then complains I'd say it's more about them wanting to be a whiny Bitch.

    Personally the majority of the books I read are M/M simply because as a Gay man I want to read about gay romance. For whatever reason though the majority of these books are written by women who prefer their MC's to be either Bisexual men falling for each other or Gay-for-you's rather than outright Gay men. I have no problem with this, however I'm not interested in either character having "on screen" M/f sex that I have to read. I see enough of that in TV/Film and mainstream fiction which I occasionally read. Just because I'd prefer not to read about Het sex in an M/M book does not Mean I don't want an inclusion of strong Female, Trans, Lesbian, Bisexual, Characters. Or of a spectrum of Race, Creeds, Religions etc...but unless a characters M/F sex scene is absolutely vital to a story instead of simply fade to black, end scene - is it necessary in an M/M book where that's what the reader is there for.

    If the reader wanted to read about Het sex, they would read a mainstream romance. Or a Trans, Bisexual, Lesbian Romance along the same lines.

    That's not to say you or any other writer can't write whatever sex scene they want between any combination or pairing. Just make sure the disclaimer is present and your set. As long as people know what their getting into it should be fine.

    I'm not trying to piss anyone off either, I'm just trying to put forward an honest opinion even if it's not exactly socially acceptable.

  11. I think an author has to be true to herself/himself and the story. I'm just a reader and the only books that I find disrespectful are those badly written.
    But apart from that? You have to put whatever you think is fit for the story.
    But, on the other hand, I don't care if gay writers include female characters or not. That's something male writers have done for centuries! I don't see why we have to ask them something that we don't ask any other group of writers.
    BTW, I'm female and straight, and I just like a good love story, m/m, f/m, f/f whatever.