Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Whither F/F?--veinglory

I sometimes wonder about F/F, which is to say lesbian erotic romance equivalent to M/M (which is written mainly by and for women).

I mean lesbian romance clearly existed, written largely be and for lesbians, mainly in print, and with a fairly significant non-gay and/or non-female secondary audience. (I read a little Radclyffe myself). But would F/F be lesbian erotic romance for or deliberately inclusive of a straight female audience? This seems to be the assumption but the actual 'mirror product' would be lesbian erotic romance by and for men.

If we look at femslash (c.f. slash) and yuri (c.f. yaoi) the lesbian side of the prose coin is clearly not a direct mirror of the gay male material in angle or amount. While it is apparent at least in yuri that the male authorship and audience is increasing and popularity is growing as the genre expands--the western F/F audience in general is largely female (straight, lesbian and otherwise) and a lot smaller than for M/M.

And the "otherwise" may be a big part of the equation. As sexuality research is showing that men and women do not make up a simple dichotomy. While men showed arousal almost exclusively to visual material relating to the gender they are attracted to romantically (gay men to men, straight men to women), women react in a fairly indiscriminate manner to the intensity of the sexual activity regardless of its nature.

So it may be that when you look across the diversity of erotic material many areas will be of interest to women regardless of their romantic orientation. When you add to that the female reading bias erotica is, perhaps, becoming a chick genre. Now perhaps that won't be so bad. After years of any kind of pornography being a vice for the male of the species, maybe it is time for erotica to emerge from the chrysalis and enter its feminine, literary age of Aquarius?

But I do wonder if locating F/F within the erotic romance genre on websites heavily themed with female-centric language and hetero-centric images might just continue to fulfill the industry prophecy that 'F/F doesn't sell well'. Because to be honest there are only so many clinches and dew-bedecked rosebuds most people can stand on their way to find the kind of hot chick-on-chick action that might encourage any guy or gal discover the middle ground on their Kinsey scale.

A more (or perhaps less) 'broadly'-based F/F genre might need to strike out beyond the realm of romance rather than remain in the shadow of M/M forever.

Edited to Add: What Women Want (Maybe)--NY Times.


Anonymous said...

Ravenous Romance published F/F erotic romance (mostly in short stories) and it has a primarily straight female audience. Several of their anthologies contain stories w/ M/F, M/M, and F/F storylines.

Anonymous said...

indeed, I have edited multiple anthologies from them and have included multiple red-hot F/F stories. They also will be having an anthology called "I Kissed A Girl" coming out soon which will be exclusively F/F erotic romance stories.

This is one way they are tapping new markets.

Angelia Sparrow said...

F/f is a harder sell. The male-written that I've encountered is male fantasy lesbians performing for the male viewer.

And a lot of straight women I know are grossed out by f/f, either because they are scared of their closet being opened or because they have body issues.

The women I know like m/m because male bodies are simple and all out front and not theirs. They can have an erotic experience without guilt or gross-out.

All that said, I still write the occasional f/f piece. It just seldom sells well.

veinglory said...

It seems to me that F/F could be a better seller if its nature was better understood. Including the fact that fantasy lesbians for the man is not better or worse than fantasy gays for the woman. A piece can cross over and be a sexual fantasy and not a turn of to gay/lesbian readers... but honestly, a lot of M/M especially early on was not in that category with the mystery self-lubricating ass and stereotypes galor ;)

I think a lot of straight women are squicked by M/M too and are not part of the audience. But the F/F I have read even from erotic romance epublishers seems to positiont he reader as lesbian in a way that M/M commonly does not. So that might be an issue with the prose as well as the the reader.

Angelia Sparrow said...

My problem with the male-written f/f is that they get everything wrong and then tell me *I'm* the one who's wrong for not having sex exactly that way.

I have bad experiences from fanfic.

To be perfectly blunt, when I write f/f, I'm writing a part of my sexuality that has nothing to do with men. I am putting a part of myself out there, in a way I am not with m/m.

And having those who think themselves entitled maul that part with grubby paws and then cast it aside because it isn't what they think it should be WHEN THEY AREN'T EVEN THE INTENDED AUDIENCE, frankly leaves me feeling filthy and furious.

I'm ranting. I admit it. But male privilege, female bisexuality and smut make for an uncomfortable intersection in many ways.

Anonymous said...

I think you have some clear insights that haven't been pointed out before, Emily. My wife has read several M/M stories and her usual comments are similar to yours. I remember her telling me after finishing one book that it felt to her like the author's voice (a female author) came across more like the perspective of a voyeur instead of someone who was actually getting into the heads of her characters.

Myself, I like M/F romances, but am often put off by the constant stream of man-titty found on at author websites. Give me an average decent looking dude caught up in one of those sweaty embraces with a cute gal and I get a lot more turned on. Writers of lesbian fiction might take a clue too, and refrain from making the same mistake. Give us male readers cute gals on gals pix and they probably stand a better chance reeling in a sale. Because like it or not, hetro male readers have a tender spot for lesbian love stories. I'll probably never buy a M/M but F/F? oh yea.

veinglory said...

There was a period when M/M was under pretty strong attack as appropriating and distorting gay experience. For the most part it has now filtered into gay romance and M/M being quite separate with only a few cross over readers.

But F/F, due perhaps to fewer males wanting prose versus pictorial erotica, may not have the market share to do that. They may need to explore a more cross-over market with goods appropariate and available for a wider readership. Because, to be honest, the romancey trappings of some publishers even put me off as someone theoretically in their target demographic.

the yuri market provides something of a model in that it extends from stuff even I find pretty objectionable (FF as fetish with rape and tentacles) to authentic lesbian material. It seems the readers of yurio can navigate this product range without requiring such clear demarcation?

Anonymous said...

When I was editing the F/F stuff for Ravenous, it was done in such a way that I felt appealed to all audiences, not just lesbian ones. That's why I was comfortable including it in an anthology alongside M/F and M/M. All the F/F stuff Ravenous is getting is penned by women.

JS said...

The "X won't sell" thing is such a failure of perspective. The metaphor I've used is this: if the Jif peanut butter company decided to survey its customers about whether they preferred peanut butter or roast beef sandwiches, the results they'd get from the customers would probably indicate that roast beef sandwiches would never sell.

veinglory said...

JS, yes I think that clarifies one aspect of it in my mind. I think I was struggling to say that because F/F really is not like M/M and the market would only slightly overlap--poor sales from an M/M venue may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. But maybe there is a more neutrally branded epublisher with a marketing plan that could develop this niche. With over sixty epublishers out there is might be a useful source of diversification/niche building?

Teddy Pig said...


Um, hate to point this out but the best seller for 2008 at A Different Light in San Francisco was J.L. Langley's Tin Star. That is out of all the books there written by Gay Men.

So the whole idea that M/M Romance does not actually get read or cannot be enjoyed by Gay Men is wrong.

veinglory said...

I very much understand that. But there are obstacles to complete overlap of audience. Some of my most appreciative readers are gay men, but the majority of the publisher promotion of my books until recent times has not targeted this market. Let alone the days where EC wouldn;t consider M/M because their readers were mostly female.

As a female reader across the range I know I see certain subgroups associated with certain readerships.

This seems to be less true of yuri, but more true of F/F where the F/F and lesbian readership seems quite divided and the male and female authorship almost compeltely separate in the circles in which they move?

Of course I am only an occassional F/F reader so this is a bit of idea-groping on my part. i read F/F about as happily as M/F but find the style i prefer takes some looking for. i.e. somewhat but not totally gratuitous and without too much fetish.

Teddy Pig said...


The Tin Star was one of the first books J.L. Langley wrote for Loose Id.

I simply happened to hand the manager a copy and he ordered it and wham bestseller for his store for all last year.

So yes, promotion and getting the word out there could be handled better.

But the idea that "who writes something" or "the way they write it" limits the audience for a book is simply not so.

veinglory said...

In the sense of limiting the audience, no. In terms of actuall reaching that audience the publisher and perceived genre is important. A good number of people will never read something branded, for example, as pornogrpahy, versus as romance, verus... etc.

And regardless of who writes it there are stylistic and content requirements of some readership as a lot fo the faux yaoi demonstrated. It looked like yaoi--but it wasn't. Ditto a lot of the recent 'BDSM' erotic romance IMHO.

Teddy Pig said...

Well, I still say a good story is simply a good story.

I think you can argue about if a book with an HFN is fitting the strict requirements for say Romance but if it sells it not like anyone cares.

veinglory said...

...and if it doesn't?

All i know is that if I didn;t have to know the authors buy name, hunt them down and demad their books--I would read more F/F.

As it happens I don't write F/F and have other things to read. But those that do might want to think more strategically about product placement.

Case in point, the last F/F I went to buy was not under romance, or erotica, or gay/lesbian--care to guess where int eh Borders store I finally found it shelves after a half-hour search? It was a good story, but I had to know that in advance and be prepared to look long and hard and repeatedly demand assistance to even find the copy I new they had in store.

And the harder a book is to hear abnput and to find, the less it is going to sell--perpetuating the idea that nobody does like F/F.

Which I do not believe to be true.

Teddy Pig said...

Well, just looking at Amazon this very minute the top selling Gay & Lesbian Fiction says Zane and it is a Lesbian Erotica book.

So seems to me if your book does not sell them maybe scope out Zane and see what the cover looks like and the style which is selling.

veinglory said...

The book I was looking for was absolutely excellent, 'Walk Like a Man' by Laurinda Brown. I would be distressed if she had to write differently or leave off her author photo just because Borders chooses to hide her in the African American section.

I am not arguing for any kind of prejudice, but against it. Many readers don't search as hard for some of these books because F/F is not their central reading preference even though it is within the range of their interests--a different kind of marketing to make them as easy to find as they deserve to be based on quality and potential appeal.

I think a lot of F/F is badly mis-marketed, which is not something authors have control over.

I am not saying F/F authors don't have to make a saleable product or readers are prejudiced. But marketing is undeniably a part of the equation. (Man)titty sells M/M, ebooks are a good format. But the same may not be true for F/F and no one seems to be in a hurry to work it out.

I am saying F/F is now where M/M was 30 years ago. And I am wondering who their "Ellora's Cave" could be?

Teddy Pig said...

I did not say author photo, I said the cover, as in how the book gets packaged.

Good covers make for an easy sale in my experience. Seems to work for Zane too.

Anonymous said...

And a lot of straight women I know are grossed out by f/f, either because they are scared of their closet being opened or because they have body issues.

That's offensive to me. To say that because I don't like lesbian stories it means I have 'issues' or am afraid? That's bullshit. I don't like it because it doesn't turn me on. And sorry to say, but that *is* the point of erotic romance, to be erotic to the reader. Feet fetishes also don't turn me on, do I hate my feet? I don't much care for my breasts being fondled and sucked on. I also don't much get off on toys. There's a billion things that don't turn me on that have nothing to do with me having issues. It has to do with what turns my crank.

So get off your sanctemonious "You hate yourself because you don't love f/f" high horse and get a grip. Is everyone who doesn't like m/m a homophobe too? Maybe it just doesn't turn them on. Not everything is a goddamn conspiracy, jesus.

veinglory said...

I understand what you said, teddy--I was giving an example of a known factor other than book quality that effects marketing/shelving and so sales. That being if the authors is identifyiably African American.

Whether other similar factors are at work in F/F I do not know. But it is not without precedent for things marketing to effect sales, not just author choices.

veinglory said...

Teddy here and on you blog you seem to be taking me as saying the very exavt opposite of what I am saying.

To be 500% clear, I am suggesting M/M and F/F needs to appear more in wider venues, such as gay books stores, yaoi and yuri cons, and being reviws on sci fi and literary review sites as much as the romance ones.

i.e. I am agreeing with you. Or more to the point you are agreeing with me but don't seem to realise it?

I am not at all sure who you are argung with as I have agreed with every point you have raised. Perhaps it is a case of seeing certain ideas so often you are reading them into what I am writing here.

Teddy Pig said...

Sorry Emily,

No, I agree. Probably just the day I had. Sorry.

kirsten saell said...

But the idea that "who writes something" or "the way they write it" limits the audience for a book is simply not so.

I think the difference lies in who the author is writing FOR. Women writers of m/m may be writing for women, but the tastes of straight female readers and gay male readers may overlap quite a bit. Whereas f/f written for women may not appeal at all to straight males (who are not typically interested in romance fiction). The f/f written by men is largely written FOR men, as well, and does not tend to appeal to me.

And being in a phallocentric society where there's plenty of f/f material out there specifically targeted at male consumers, I've found a fair amount of female-penned f/f that, frankly, resembles lame porn more than anything I'd be interested in reading.

F/f (I'm speaking to girl-on-girl content in all kinds of stories, rather than just lesbian or f/f romance) has an uphill battle to fight, because I think many women who might enjoy a well-written f/f or menage scene won't even try it because they're expecting Girls Gone Wild.

All i know is that if I didn;t have to know the authors buy name, hunt them down and demad their books--I would read more F/F.

Me! Me! Oh, wait, I don't write f/f romance, but I write erotic romance with lots of f/f in it.

That's offensive to me. To say that because I don't like lesbian stories it means I have 'issues' or am afraid? That's bullshit. I don't like it because it doesn't turn me on.

Argh, this drives me insane. It's okay not to be interested in it. It's okay if it doesn't turn you on. But if you're a woman, and it grosses you out (and these are the words Emily used, not "uninterested" but "gross(ed) out"), then yeah, I think there's something going on. Considering the number of women I've encountered who won't even read het because it makes them want to vomit, I think we as women still have a long way to go in embracing a healthy sense of self in regard to our sensuality.

kirsten saell said...

And because I just can't shut up about this, I think part of the reason f/f doesn't appeal to straight women is because so many people tell us we aren't supposed to like it. I can't count the number of times I've had people tell me "straight women DO NOT enjoy f/f." Um, totally not true. Plenty of straight women enjoy it.

I recently had a straight woman reader email me to tell me how much she loved my books, and how she's now a huge fan of f/f content, but that she was terribly reluctant to tell anyone about it. Why? Because her blogger friends all read het and m/m, and she "didn't want them to think [she] was some kind of freak." I find it sad, but I honestly can't blame her for feeling that way when so much of the reaction from the het and (especially) m/m reading community seems to be "eeewwwwww, you read about sopping, oozing vaginas??!!" or "But I thought you were straight."

Anon 4:03, you might be tired of people telling you you've got issues because you don't love f/f (and for the record, no one here has even come close to saying that, thanks). You have no idea how tired I am of being told I'm not supposed to, or allowed to, like f/f or f/f/m, or that liking it means I must secretly be a lesbian. Or that I simply don't exist as a consumer.

And I don't know what bugs me more--the "Oh, gross! How can you even read that?!" reaction I get from a lot of women when they find out I like to read and write f/f, or the "Ooooh, interesting!!" reaction I tend to get from straight men.

Zot said...

I can't say that I'm too surprised that there's a lot less F/F stuff. M/M audiences are mostly straight women and some gay men. (Alas, I think we're rather outnumbered :) F/F audiences are likely to be lesbians and straight men.


Guys tend to go for the visual more than the written, and there's much less of a culture of reading amongst men. (With the guys who read a touch less likely to buy porn) The F/F stuff targeted at guys is mostly (badly done and rather silly, I expect) video and still stuff. Stroke magazines, web video with painful sex puns for names, and stuff like that.

Probably for the best, all things considered.

Anonymous said...

But if you're a woman, and it grosses you out (and these are the words Emily used, not "uninterested" but "gross(ed) out"), then yeah, I think there's something going on.

Actually, Angelia said grossed out, not Emily.

I still stand that it's ridiculous for some person on the internet to pseudo-psychoanalyze me and declare I have body issues and am afraid of my own sexuality because I dislike reading f/f. For the record, I am bisexual. I've been with plenty of women sexually. I enjoyed it muchly. Reading it, however, does nothing for me. I dislike it. I don't know that I'd go so far as to say it grossed me out, but it is and automatic pass when I'm scanning ebookshelves etc.

I am not afraid of my sexuality. I am quite comfortable in my own skin, thank you. I quite simply DISLIKE reading f/f erotic romance. I don't find it erotic in the least. It doesn't push my buttons. I can't think of any other way to express that it has NOTHING to do with my view of myself, other women, my body or their bodies. It has to do with a personal preference.

Suck it up, princess, you do yourself no favors in gaining an audience by declaring that anyone who doesn't like f/f is a self-hating, body-image issue having, buried in the closet ignoramus.

We're just not that into you.

kirsten saell said...

But maybe there is a more neutrally branded epublisher with a marketing plan that could develop this niche.

I think so too. Where I see a problem is when f/f, lesbian, m/m, and gay are all lumped together in the GLBT section of the publisher site and not further divided by content. You have to wade through a veritable sea of m/m at a given publisher, sometimes only to discover there is no f/f at all.

And the menage stuff may be in its own section--despite the fact that it's often the B in GLBT--but again, it's frequently next to impossible to find f/f/m among all the m/f/m and m/m/f. And at some sites, a lot of f/f/m menage isn't listed as GLBT or menage. My third at Samhain is categorized as fantasy romance and red-hot, but not GLBT or menage-and-more, despite the fact that it's a f/f/m romance with a happy ending for three, because their books can only be listed under two categories (this may have changed since they opened their new bookstore site). These limitations may not always be within a publisher's power to change, but they can certainly hinder readers looking for specific content from finding it.

In my experience, many straight women who read f/f and f/f/m are as enthusiastic about it as any m/m aficionada. And they're frustrated by the inability (or refusal in some cases) of many epublishers to provide them with the kinds of stories they want, in places they can find them.

Angelia Sparrow said...

Correction Anonymouse,
I said "a lot of the straight women I know." This doesn't mean ALL. It doesn't mean anyone I don't know. It doesn't mean bi women. It doesn't mean YOU.

I am not qualified to psychoanalyze anyone. I'm simply operating on the reasons I've heard from readers, on some of the meta that has gone around in fandom and original fiction groups and on my experiences with friends and family.

kirsten saell said...

I quite simply DISLIKE reading f/f erotic romance. I don't find it erotic in the least.

Where here in this thread has anyone found anything to criticize in that?

Suck it up, princess, you do yourself no favors in gaining an audience by declaring that anyone who doesn't like f/f is a self-hating, body-image issue having, buried in the closet ignoramus.

Where have I said that? And ffs, where, specifically, has anyone here said that about you? Unless you're taking my use of the "general you" as "you personally". You never said you were grossed out by it. You never said it makes you sick. No one here said that about you, either.

I don't know how much more clear I can be: You've said you are not grossed out by it. Therefore, when we're talking about women who are grossed out by it, we are not talking about you.

If we're being honest here, I'm not that interested in lesbian romance, myself. I like f/f content, but I like it best in a bisexual context because, despite a 15 year marriage to a useless sack of crap, I'm not quite ready to pitch the man right out the window. And that doesn't mean I have anything against lesbians or lesbian romance.

I believe people can like what they like, and dislike what they dislike. I believe that is often a simple matter of personal taste. I personally love m/m/f, while m/f/m just makes me roll my eyes. But I didn't pull the word "vomit" out of my ass. I have actually heard a woman who reads only m/m say reading even m/f made her want to vomit. Not that she didn't like it, not that it was "meh", not that it just didn't push her buttons, not that she finds m/m more interesting. M/F makes her want to vomit. Go ahead and tell me that woman doesn't have issues.

Refusing to acknowledge that some women out there suffer from internalized misogyny is almost as annoying to me as having someone on the internet repeatedly misread my comments and put words my mouth that I clearly never said.