Sex or no sex in gay fiction

This is in response to Nigel and Janet, writer friends, who wondered about the marketability of their books and the inclusion of sex.

I think the question is, among others, whether or not you are aiming to write a mainstream fantasy/science fiction/whatever genre gay novel or a “true” gay/lesbian novel meant to be read by the people actively interested in that style.

When I say mainstream gay novel I mean limited sex, sex off stage and behind closed doors. Those novels you can find on the gay/lesbian shelves AND mingling with the other books on the other shelves. I think their placement depends a lot on the bookseller, because I’ve seen the same book shelved in different stores in either area.

Now if you’re including descriptive sex, I’d expect to find your book in the gay/lesbian section. I’d like to think that is so that people like us who are interested in reading that sort of thing will find what they are looking for. God knows, trying to find a good book with good gay sex among the hundreds of other books would be like searching for a needle in the haystack.

I don’t think writing the mainstream stuff and then hoping to switch to the sexier, steamier stories will work as well as we envision. The audience we’ve cultivated might or might not follow. I think switching would mean starting from scratch again, looking to get your foot in the steamier genre, and finding a new audience/fan following there.

Those of us, like Janet, with a young adult background, might even publish under a pen name what’s not appropriate for that young adult audience, i.e. anything that has descriptive sex in it.

So saying “I’ll switch later when they know me” might not be as feasible as it sounds, might in fact be far more difficult than we anticipate.

Having said that, I am struggling with my own sex issue. Boy, that sounds weird. LOL. If you’ve read THE PROTECTOR, you know that it includes two sex scenes. One of the changes the manuscript will undergo in the very near future is the removal of one of those scenes. I was very surprised, I have to admit, when I first saw my publisher’s suggestion of less sex. Less sex? In a gay book?

We discussed it, and I trust his judgment that I can make one scene work far better, be far more powerful, than two scenes.

My issue is not with THE PROTECTOR. I harbor the secret fear that “less sex” wasn’t book-specific, that “less sex” was a genre guideline. You see THE GHOST CRAB includes (or will include) three sex scenes, and at this point in that manuscript I’d hate to loose either of the three. I’m not writing sex for sex’s sake. I’m including it because sex is an important part of any relationship. It shows us how two people relate to each other. Enter gay sex and suddenly there is the “top” and “bottom” question. Who’s in charge?

Honestly, I think too much is done of that. I suspect that the sexual position is far less of an indication of interpersonal position as some stories make us believe. Not being gay, though, what do I know?

But as a writer I find it’s a great tool to show (not tell) how relationships work and positions can and do change. I use sex the way I use clues and red herrings and all those other tools at my disposal. Thus, I’d hate to loose the sex in my stories, because they are an important part of the tale, not merely fluff for hungry readers.

So I can’t just take it out later and still have the same story. For me, it doesn’t work that way. [Now, let’s hope my publisher agrees with me 😉 ]

I’ll be fine with having my book in the gay/lesbian section (where it competes with fifty others, not five hundred others).

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