Over the last decade or so, one of the fastest growing sub-genres in the romance market has been queer romance – mostly male/male romance, which is by far the largest and most popular part of that particular sector. Apart from Harlequin’s Carina Press, LGBTQ+ romance has mostly been the province of smaller independent publishers such as Riptide, Nine Star, Bold Strokes and the now-defunct Samhain, and of an ever increasing number of authors who self-publish.
That’s started to change recently, however. In 2016, Avon Impulse (at that time a digital only imprint) published Cat Sebastian’s début m/m historical, The Soldier’s Scoundrel – complete with a typically HR “clinch” cover – and in 2017, Grand Central Publishing’s Forever imprint published the first two books in Alexis Hall’s Arden St. Ives trilogy (book three followed in 2019). Last year, Sourcebooks published the same author’s Boyfriend Material, which was a finalist in the 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards and – far more importantly – was voted one of the Top Ten books of 2020 by AAR readers! Last year, Harlequin announced that they would be publishing an m/m romance in one of their main category romance lines. The past few weeks have seen announcements that KJ Charles has been signed up to write two m/m historicals for Sourcebooks, and that was followed by the news that they’re to publish five new titles by Alexis Hall, and will also be publishing special editions of his Spires series. It’s taken a while, but m/m romance is finally being seen as commercially viable by the bigger traditional publishers.
This got me thinking. I’ve been with AAR since early 2013, and have been editing and inputting reviews since 2015, so I read pretty much every review we publish. Obviously, I can’t say I recall EVERY review we’ve published since 2015, but I do have a feel for the overall… balance, if you like – of the subgenres of the books we review. My gut instinct tells me that AAR has been doing a pretty good job over the past few years of reviewing queer romances, but that it wasn’t always that way, so I decided to trawl back through the last few years to see how we’re doing.
The news is good, broadly speaking. It will probably not be too much of a surprise when I say that in 2010 – according to our Power Search – we reviewed a grand total of ONE queer romance – an m/m title – out of a total of 496 reviews published of books published in 2010. (Note: the overall number of books reviewed that year was 564 – I’m just counting books published in 2010). It’s hard to find figures for the actual number of LGBTQ+ romances published that year (or any year, actually), but I’m willing to bet it was more than one!
Fast forward to 2018, and we’re doing better. Of a total of 564 reviews (of books published in 2018) 45 were of queer romances – 43 m/m and 2 f/f.
2019 – total reviews of books published in 2019 – 655 (a bumper year!), and 65 were of queer books – 58 m/m and 7 f/f
And in 2020, of a total of 565 reviews of books published in 2020, we published 79 reviews of queer books – 72 m/m and 7 f/f.
And for what it’s worth, at time of writing, 25% of our reviews published 20 far in 2021 are of queer books. (13 of 52 in total).
I think it’s fair to say, our coverage has come on in leaps and bounds, but it’s also clear that there’s more work for us to do. F/F romance is a much smaller part of the market, although it’s growing and so is our coverage, but we could still do more. And then there are romances featuring LGBTQ+ characters that don’t fall under the umbrella of m/m or f/f romances. Again, they’re a much smaller part of the market, but it exists and we could do more to give visibility to those titles.
When you add the number of reviews for queer romances published in 2020 to the number of books we reviewed by authors of colour, AAR’s coverage of diverse romances sits at a pretty healthy 33.45%, (189 reviews of a total of 565 reviews – again these are books that were actually published in 2020) – just over one third of our reviews last year featured LGBTQ+ characters and characters of colour.
We’re pleased with how far we’ve come and are committed to continuing that upward trend. We hope you are too!