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Everyone Deserves a Happy Ending: Seeking Romance Novels Featuring LGBTQ Characters

changing worlds coverpearl kelly rand coverbound to the groom cover

Recently, I talked with Indian-American romance novel author Suleikha Snyder about her work writing romance tales starring people of color. “Don't people like me deserve a happy ending, too?” she said. This same question should be asked for people across the spectrum of sexuality, especially in the romance where the plot is often built around relationships leading to either tragecy or happy endings.

There are romance novels featuring LGBTQ characters, but readers likely have to seek them out. Last week, I interviewed two editors at specialty romance presses about the queer-centric titles they publish.

S. L. Armstrong is an owner and the editor-in-chief of Storm Moon Press. Founded just over three years ago, they have published 172 titles in print and digital. Armstrong says, “We're small, and we have limited staff, so we don't publish as many titles as bigger publishers in our genre. We tend to value quality over quantity.”

Sarah Frantz is Senior Editor at Riptide Publishing. Riptide is even younger than Storm Moon, having in business for 2.5 years, since October 2011. They have published 100 separate titles so far.

Jessica Luther: What is the range of titles available from your press? 

S.L. Armstrong: Storm Moon Press publishes erotic romance and erotica titles in the QUILTBAG spectrum. We offer novels, novellas, short stories, and anthologies that star all types of characters. We don't shy away from stranger or edgier topics like tentacles, incest, gun kink, or darker BDSM. Some great titles we have are Changing Worlds by Cari Z (gay science fiction), To Pierce the Sky by Erik Moore (lesbian paranormal), Love Continuance and Increasing by Julian Griffith (bisexual historical), and Pearl by Kelly Rand (trans* historical).

Sarah Frantz: Riptide is very committed to the full spectrum of representation of the LGTBQ rainbow, and we publish anything and everything with rainbow content. If it has LGBTQ characters, we're interested in considering it for publication. Our core genre is male/male romance, but we're actively seeking and have published lesbian romance and menage [a trois] romance with rainbow interaction. We also publish in all genres: contemporary, scifi/fantasy, futuristic, historical, suspense/mystery/thriller, erotica. And we publish all heat levels [i.e. from sensuality to graphic sex scenes]. 

We are actively looking for trans*, queer, and genderqueer characters, which again is a representation issue. Everyone deserves to find themselves in the books they read. I just had a librarian email me asking for trans* romance that was sensitive to trans* issues (apparently anything her patron had found thus far was either offensive or definitely not a romance). I sent her the list of Riptide's trans* and genderqueer romance. She was ecstatic when she emailed me back because when they saw our list (admittedly not very big, but it is getting bigger), they were so very thankful to find themselves reflected in the characters they read. 

How do you go about finding new stories and expanding the range of your titles? I’m especially interested in the BTQ part of LGBTQ because they are often the ones left out of spaces that are supposed to be for the whole spectrum.

Armstrong: We try very hard to advertise strongly through social media and other websites the sort of fiction we're looking for. Storm Moon Press is actively seeking manuscripts that feature bisexual, trans*, genderqueer, and lesbian fiction. For those manuscripts that are novella or novel length, we even offer small advances in order to entice authors. But it's very difficult. We don't receive many submissions for those areas. We also try to encourage such fiction through anthology calls. Though we beg, authors don't seem interested in writing for such niche areas where money can't easily be made.

Frantz: Our reputation for representation across the entire rainbow means that authors with stories with unusual pairings know they can come to us. And it means that our current authors feel free to write characters across the spectrum and know that the story has a home. We have many bisexual characters who end up in monogamous relationships with partners of the same sex, so the bisexual part almost gets elided. But we're publishing a series of menage romances with bisexual characters over Christmas. And Megan Mulry's historical erotic Bound to be a Groom has four bisexual characters, two of each gender, who all end up together in one big happy relationship.

As for trans* romances and queer and/or genderqueer characters, we're thrilled to be able to publish as many as meet our standards. We make it clear in all our calls for submissions that we're actively looking for these stories.

With new ways to publish and access literature, do you see alternatives to “default” straight, white romance growing? What do you predict for, say, the next five years in romance publishing for “non-default” romance?

Armstrong: I absolutely see alternatives growing. Certainly a number of the independent presses—Storm Moon Press included—make a point of reaching beyond the traditional when considering works for publication. With the rise of e-books and print-on-demand, independent presses don't have the pressure to make such an enormous investment in an untested market, and so they are much freer to go out on the literary limbs and give more alternative stories a place. And while those more traditional romances will never go away, I do foresee a rise in the number and variety of alternative presentations and interpretations of the romance genre in order to reach out to niche markets that are seeking stories that speak to them more directly than the "default" romance.

Frantz: Riptide has seen exponential growth in all quarters we've been open for business, so there's obviously a huge and growing market for what we publish. Non-default romance is edging into the default romance (JR Ward's Lover At Last is the prime example). There have always been sympathetic LGBTQ characters in mainstream romance, some of whom have received their happy endings offstage, but now they're ending up front and center. And the more readers see that LGBTQ characters falling in love is just the same as heterosexual characters falling in love, the more they'll be happy to read about them. My prediction for the next five years is that an LGBTQ book will hit the bestseller lists from within LGBTQ publishing and that'll happen very soon, actually. LGBTQ romance will become more mainstream, with traditional publishers releasing books and readers reading across orientations. But I think there will always be room for dedicated LGBTQ presses, the same way there will always be room for dedicated digital presses. Because if there's one thing publishing is doing, it's growing. 

Related Reading: Three authors discuss their favorite romance novels featuring people of color

Jessica Luther is a writer and activist in Austin, TX. She writes about romance novels at her blog Steel And Velvet


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Comments

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We've been getting more books

We've been getting more books across the spectrum at Less Than Three Press, too. It's pretty heartening, and very exciting. We have one author, trans* is pretty much all she writes now, and seeing that is making other authors, new and veteran, braver and more willing to contribute. We still get mostly m/m, and stories featuring cis-men, but the lesbian, queer, etc. stories are slowly growing in number. Our lesbian stories are selling better now than they have in previous years, and I think that trend will spread to the other categories. A lot of people have shown excitement over our trans* call (though our submissions are always open to everything), and we're looking forward to the submissions for that.

Like Sarah said, everyone wants and deserves to see themselves in stories (and not just the serious, sad-ending stories that seem to be most prevalent). We had so many people come to our table and ask if we would take trans*/genderqueer/etc, and the way their faces light up when we say yes means the world. I think now that they have places like Riptide and Less Than Three and Storm Moon to turn to, we'll start seeing more and more of such stories, which is just awesome.