The defining factor of so many books is Genre. It’s an excellent way to find the stories you want to read, to find community who shares your literary wishes. You know how it is, you’re talking to a co-worker and discover you both love reading. Giddy with the connection you ask what they are reading, and then it’s crashing disappointment when you discover their deep love is True Crime and you’re all about hard Sci-fi. Sure your Aunt May reads constantly, but it’s all Mysteries and you’re not interested in those so much, even if you’ve read a few you like.
Genre matters, even when we read in multiples genres it still defines the kind of stories you’re getting, what you expect from the book. There’s a framework to every genre, a structure, bones it’s built upon. Plenty of authors play with these rules, bend them, flex them, but books are generally all categorized, so at the end of the day, even the bendiest of books have the bones of their genre underneath.
But not always, some books fall between the cracks. I’ve written a book that lives between those cracks (heh, I said it was in the crack). M/M Romance is a very specific but tricky to define genre. It is built on the bones of Romance and at its core it is about two people meeting and finding love together, and the trials they go through to win/earn that love, to end with a romantic happily ever after. There’s bleed over with Gay Lit. M/M Romance is, after all, love stories about two men so the gay is built right in. But Gay Lit is its own genre. Sure love stories can appear, but it spans more than relationships. It is nebulous, and I’m not sure I can define it exactly. A literary umbrella that includes centuries of stories, classics and pulp fiction alike. Coming-of-age stories, coming out stories, thrillers, and literary fiction. Someone who loves M/M Romance may well love Gay Lit too, but someone looking for M/M Romance (the Romance part anyway) may find themselves disappointed in much of Gay Lit. Marshall Thornton, Jeff Erno, and many others have written about this distinction with more clarity than I’m giving here.
My book, This Charming Man, straddles the line. It contains a love story, but it is not a Romance. It has a coming-of-age story, but it is perhaps too close to erotica in it’s explicitness to be considered literary by any stretch. A no man’s land of marketing for this book. Sold as M/M Romance it’ll surely disappoint some readers looking to focus on that connection between characters. But is it too sexy, too explicit to be “Lit”? Does the love story element in it mean readers avoiding Romance will dismiss it, not realizing it might have what they are looking for? It is, I suppose, a bisexual book, claimed and disdained by both sides. I wonder though, if there’s any clearer way to tell readers what they are in for when they open it?