Sapphic Slow-burn romances

Sex Sells – Does lesbian fiction always have to be lesbian romance?

When people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them that I’m writing lesbian romance novels, I get a lot of interesting reactions. They range from “Oh, wow, I didn’t know there are books like that!” (I even got that from lesbian women a time or two) to “Doesn’t it get a little boring to write sex scenes all day?”

Comments like the latter come from people who apparently equate lesbian fiction with erotica.

And then there are the people who get this haughty look on their face and tell me that they “don’t read books like that” (meaning romances of all kinds, not just lesbian romances).

So, as you can imagine, I spend a lot of time educating people about lesbian fiction. Here’s what I usually tell them:

Lesbian fiction isn’t all romance.

Yes, many readers of lesbian fiction seem to prefer romance novels, but there are also science fiction and fantasy novels, mysteries, historical fiction, young adult novels, and paranormal stories featuring lesbian or bi main characters. Pretty much any genre you can find in mainstream fiction is represented to some extent in lesbian fiction too.

For the most part, the authors of lesbian fiction who don’t write romances don’t get as much attention as romance authors. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is. Many lesfic readers stick to reading lesbian romances exclusively. There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you like to read and seeking out those books, of course. But sometimes, branching out and giving other genres a chance can be a great thing.

For example, I discovered that I really loved Caren Werlinger’s Turning for Home (general fiction) and Fletcher DeLancey’s Chronicles of Alsea series (science fiction), which both feature lesbian main characters but are not romances.

So if you are a reader who hasn’t tried branching out into other subgenres of lesbian fiction, you might want to give it a try. You might be surprised! I sometimes hear from readers who say that they don’t normally read historical or paranormal fiction, yet they very much enjoyed my Oregon series or the shape-shifter series.

Lesbian fiction isn’t all erotica.

Although there’s the subgenre of erotic romances, not every lesbian romance novel includes graphic sex scenes—and not all of them have to contain a sex scene, in my opinion. Some people don’t agree with me. In fact, I have once gotten a one-star review for not having a love scene in Something in the Wine. I agree that in some novels, I—as a reader—would be disappointed too if the author had me follow along the story of two people falling in love and then shut the bedroom door in my face. But that wasn’t the case in Something in the Wine. If you have read any of my other novels, you know I’m not afraid to write love scenes. But in Something in the Wine, my main characters just weren’t at a place where they would make love, so I ended the book without a love scene.

My newest novel, Shaken to the Core, doesn’t contain a love scene either. For most of the book, my two leading ladies are busy trying to survive the earthquake and fires, and afterwards, they are living in a tent, surrounded by thousands of other earthquake refugees, and the year is 1906, so that’s certainly not the place to make love.

Lesbian romance novels range from sweet to smoking hot, and that’s a good thing because every book—and every couple—is different, and the love scenes (or the lack thereof) need to reflect that.

Lesbian romances are “real” books.

Unfortunately, there’s a stigma attached to the genre of lesbian romances. Well, not just lesbian romances. Authors of gay or straight romances have to deal with the same preconceived notions. Despite the fact that romance is the biggest-selling genre, it’s often looked down upon as trashy, badly written, and formulaic. Even readers are sometimes too embarrassed to admit they read romance novels because they know what kind of reaction they will get from some people—mostly from people who have never even read a romance novel.

Of course, not all lesbian romance novels are well written, but that has nothing to do with them being romances. And yes, romance novels follow a certain formula, if you want to call it that: girl meets girl; they fall in love, overcome some obstacles, and in the end they get their happily ever after. But I don’t see that as a negative thing. Other genres have their formulas too. For example, in a mystery novel, a crime is committed; the detective (or an amateur sleuth) follows the clues; the case is solved, and justice prevails. Yet no one makes fun of mystery writers and readers for their genre of choice.

So, for the record: Lesbian romances are real books. If you write or read lesbian romances, please don’t say that you are writing or reading “just romances.” You are writing or reading romances. Period. Romance novels can be just as thought-provoking and well written as any other book, with complex plots and characters.

Some of the characters in Finding Ms. Write—an anthology full of romantic stories about readers, writers, editors, and other people involved in lesbian fiction publishing—have to deal with the same prejudices.

In my short story “Sex Sells,” Mara, a writer of lesbian mysteries, gets a call from her editor, who suggests she make her stories a little…sexier. Here’s how Mara reacts:

“You want me to write a…a…romance novel?”

Hayley huffed out a breath. “Don’t make it sound as if I asked you to write a trashy dime-store novel that involves a lot of damsels in distress, heaving bosoms, and moist love caves.”

Mara burst out laughing. Love caves? Had any of Hayley’s writers ever used that term in a manuscript? She was almost afraid to ask. “I don’t know. Even without the heaving bosoms and the love caves…”

“Come on. Putting a little romance in your books wouldn’t be that bad, would it?”

“Not that bad?” Mara’s voice ended on a squeak. “Hayley, I kill people for a living!”

You can find “Sex Sells” and eleven other short stories in Finding Ms. Write, which is available directly from Ylva Publishing or from other online bookstores such as Amazon.

You can also enter our giveaway to win a free e-book! To enter, leave a comment on this blog or any blog on the tour. We will draw the winner tomorrow, so check back soon!


The Romance Bet by Jae

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22 thoughts on “Sex Sells – Does lesbian fiction always have to be lesbian romance?”

  1. Very well said. As a writer who focused on mysteries until the recent publication of my debut lesbian romance, I’ve heard a few of those comments.

  2. I’m not really a fan of romance novels,although I have been reading more of them lately. I prefer other genres like scifi, fantasy, and mystery. I appreciate the shout out for all genres.

    I can’t wait to read Shaken to the Core. The 1906 quake has always been of interest to me because my grandmother grew up in San Francisco. Fortunately, she missed the earthquake because she was visiting relatives in Europe that year. I have the postcards she received regarding the quake. It was a frightening experience for her family.

  3. Great blog Jae!! I agree with you on some books not needing a love scene, it all depends on the characters and story. Please put my name in the drawing.

  4. I started reading lesbian fiction out of frustration that other genres exclude diversity or the gay character is the demented twisted bad guy. I wanted to read a better balanced story about life as it is or soon will be. What a refreshing change. I noticed I just started feeling happier and better about life.

  5. Love the post. When people (usually old friends) say “oh you’re still writing, what kind of stuff do you write?” I always get kind of tongue-tied. Because I know what it’s going to sound like, plus I hate saying the term “lesbian fiction/lesbisk literatur” out in public. Again, because I know what it sounds like.

    With that said I do mainly read AND write lesbian romance and erotica so maybe I deserve that. :P

  6. The only romance books I read are lesbian romance books, otherwise I’m reading only crime.
    But when Jae is the author I found out I also enjoy fantasy and history :-)

  7. Jae, this blog is so timely as I just received a new review today for my novel, In This Small Spot, in which the reviewer said: “Not a traditional LGBT romance novel in that it mostly focused on other aspects. It also didn’t have a happy ending – which is not required, but this is still, understandably, a bit of a rarity in the genre.”
    The interesting thing is, this book isn’t and never has been marketed as a romance, but as literary/dramatic fiction. This reader, like so many others, automatically equates “lesbian” with “romance” and is seemingly disappointed when the story doesn’t follow that formula.
    Thanks for blogging on this topic as it’s one that I think about (and write about) a lot! Caren

  8. I love all genres of literature. Perhaps the stereotype of lesbian novels always being romances is because everyone assumes women want romance so surely the whole genre of lesbian fiction is romantic in nature.

    I don’t mind when a romance novel doesn’t include a sex scene. Give me a good story and I’m good to go. If I say, ‘Awwww, they are so adorable!’ at the end of the story, even better :)

    Thanks for hosting this blog tour! I found some new authors I wouldn’t have known otherwise!

  9. Great post! I love that lesbian fiction encompasses so many kinds of genres and tells so many different stories rather than sticking to any kind of pre-set formula.

  10. I used to duck my head when I said I read primarily romance. Now, however, if someone gives me a skeptical look or a derogatory comment, I ask if they have ever read one. The answer is almost exclusively “no”. At that point I list off a couple of authors with some book recommendations and tell them they are welcome to discuss my reading choices with me once they have actually read the material. I have a long list of straight romances in my pocket, too, for those who prefer that, because that’s what I read before I found the lesbian ones. Unfortunatly, the stigma is sometimes so great that the other person can’t even bring themself to try one. Sad.

  11. Great blog Jae. I think the saying goes “variety is the spice of life” and I love the variety in lesbian fiction these days.

    Education takes time and persistence. It might also be more useful to the reader if the synopsis was more reflective of the story. After all, the synopsis sets the expectation and readers read fiction to escape.

  12. I always enjoy your stories, with or without sex scenes. I look forward to Shaken to the Core. Will it (and you) be at GCLS?

    I’ve noticed sort of a romance/sex inflation in books generally Most mysteries and fantasies that I read these days have romantic elements that weren’t there when I was younger, and it seems that more romances are almost required to have some explicit sex.

  13. I prefer lesfic , even romances, without graphic sex. I don’t like romances where the main topic is sex, everything else is just suoerficial background.
    Something in the Wine is my favourite of your books.

  14. Jae, I am able to really resonate with this blog as I usually face negative opinions when discussing my reading habits. I can’t understand why there is so much negativity surrounding romance novels but my aim is to change the opinions of my friends and acquaintances one mind at a time. Would love to read a copy of Finding Ms Write.

  15. I’m an avid reader of lesbian fiction, most genres, though not a fan of horror. I appreciate the books that are not heavily into explicit sex scenes, generally I think they have better stories than those that rely on sex to fill the pages. I wish there were more science fiction fiction and fantasy. I loved your shape-shifter series? Are there more of those types of book in your future?

  16. Great blog!! I’ll admit I sometimes whisper the words “lesbian fiction/romance” when people ask me what I write, because I know how it is looked at. But I try not to now; I love what I write, I also write urban fantasy and I love both. As for sex. I think it’s due when/if it’s due. I totally agree with you about “Something in the Wine”. Besides, it gave us the bonus story!! :) I have torougly enjoyed “Shaken to the Core”. I haven’t gotten to review it but I have really really enjoyed it. So thank you for writing such great stories. They’re always wonderful, with or without sex. Thanks

  17. Lesbian sci-fi is usually weakest and still lesbian romance. There is a lot of romance but no science. It should be more cosmic romance. I didn´t read Turning for Home but Fletcher DeLancey´s books are quite good among the others but still…. Fantasy books are slightly better… but still romantic novels. Thrillers?, R. E. Bradshaw -Rainey Bell Thriller (5 Book Series) that is good reading. .. Something In The Wine is without sex … extra sex story cost 1 USD… Huh!!! Yes and l like your books and your writing style. … But paranormal romance are not your best :)

  18. Ok, I am going to be brutally honest, I need the formula that you spoke of, Jae. Girl meets Girl and then happily ever after or justice prevails. When the author ends the novel with no happy ever after, my heart is broken and I just can’t go back to said author again.


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