When It's Love, It's Love

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Unless you're two men.
In a book.
To be reviewed...

In romance novels they meet, hearts go pitter-patter, and romance blooms. No matter how hard they fight it, no matter the obstacles in their way, love wins. Right? Well that may be how the story goes, but not the reviews at Romantic Times book reviews.

The Romantic Times (RT), founded by Kathryn Falk, is a monthly publication dedicated to romance books, and according to their website, "Ms. Falk and her magazine Romantic Times are the undisputed experts at reaching romance book lovers and creating a promotional medium for publishers and authors for the sale of even more romances." The publication's website continues to sell their philosophy by describing their readership: "There is no typical reader of RT BOOKreviews magazine; she ranges from high powered executive and college student to working mother and single career woman. Young women with dreams and fantasies share their books with their mothers and grandmothers because novels address the eternal escape fantasy of living out adventures and for romance readers it addresses the fantasy of falling in love with Mr. Right. Romance novels reinforce traditional values of commitment and a happy ending."

But no where does it state that is for heterosexual love and romance only.

In fact, while specializing in romance, the website also states they are "the only magazine that reviews all the new romance novels, as well as many women's fiction, mystery and SF titles". But, as you will see, the publication snubs gay romances.

When I read of the situation, I had to ask the woman in the thick of it all, author Laura Baumbach.

Hi Laura, thanks for taking the time to talk.

First , Gracie, please let me take a moment to thank you for your interest in the issue. This affects all same sex romance authors and their readers. It takes education and awareness to break down walls built of ignorance and misunderstanding. Any help you can give to help educate and inform will be much appreciated by an entire genre, not just me. I doubt taking a stand will do much for my acceptance with RT, but it is the right thing for me to do for my craft, my readers and my fellow authors.

No problem, Laura. We are all about preserving our rights to consensual sex ~ and the last time I checked, that does include the right to love and romance as well *wink* Now, tell folks a bit about yourself.

I'm an emergency trauma nurse by night and an author by day, with a husband and two sons filling in any remaining free hours. I write fan fiction, screenplays and numerous short stories, novellas, and novels. My favorite genre to work in is manlove or m/m erotic romances for women. Manlove is not traditional gay fiction, but erotic romances written specifically for the romantic-minded reader, male or female.

Tell us about what's happening at RT... I know it's a bit involved in complexity, so let's start with your book and the ad...

I'm a new romance author with A Bit of Rough, a contemporary M/M erotic romance, being published just this past September. It is currently #2 on B&N bestselling gay erotic fiction list. It has also alternated with a top #2-#3 ranking on Amazon at various times in the past few months. The book's won numerous awards. During December 2005, I joined an ad campaign with The Romance Studio to run an ad for the May issue for 2006 in RT. My first ad with my first romance which happened to be my first M/M novel, A Bit of Rough. I paid my share of the ad, approximately $350.00. I was asked by the advertising coordinator with TRS to send RT a copy of my book for review because that came as a benefit of placing the ad. I did send the book.

On 1/19/06 I received a message from TRS telling me "while they (RT) had received the copy of your book for review, it would not be reviewed because it was gay fiction." I was also informed this policy "was not written or printed anywhere". She said that there had been another gay romance submitted (also not reviewed) but that with their current review staff, they (RT) "didn't feel well-equipped to review this particular brand of romance."

Wait, wait, wait... Their advertising policy explicitly states a review of the book advertised?

Yes.

I had to check this out; so I did some sleuthing...

This is a direct quote from an email sent by RT to another author, Robert Cloud, when he requested a review of his work...

"Please be advised that due to the high volume of review requests that we get, and because of space limitations in the magazine, we are unable to review all books received. Space preference is given to advertised books first, and then, if there is still space we will select at random from the other books received for that month. An ad in Romantic Times BOOKreviews will not affect your rating at all, it merely guarantees you the space for the review, good or bad, to run, assuming that the book is appropriate for our audience."

Huh. There's that word, 'guarantees'...

I also visited the advertising section on the RT website. There's this line: "We reserve the right to determine if ads are suitable for our audience", yet they accepted her money?

They placed the ad, Laura, but they wouldn't review the book?

Yes. I wrote back and complained about being their prejudicial policy. I was told "When we say that the book is not appropriate for our audience, it is not because we are being prejudicial. We are merely catering to the demands of our audience."

I posted about the discriminatory RT policy on my blog and in my yahoogroup. I asked readers to enlighten the staff at RT by sending calm, intelligent requests for M/M romance review in their publication. Many did and they forwarded their messages. A day or so later, I suddenly received an email from RT stating they were not changing their policy because there were other avenues available for readers who wanted that "brand of homosexual fiction".

So, what did you do?

I ran the ad, and found new readers because of it.

And so you still advertise with them?

Yes, I have paid $300 for another ad in RT again coming out in their October issue with Coffeetime Romance. I was asked to send in a copy of my book, Details of the Hunt, for review by their ad campaign co-ordinator. When I informed her that unless RT has changed it's policy they wouldn't review my book. She checked and was told they would not consider it even with the purchase of the ad. All the other books in the ad would be considered for review.

I advertise in RT because it is the biggest romance venue in the market outside of banner ads and cover spots on review sites. Romance writers are very limited in their opportunities for advertising outside of RT. However, after learning of my second rejection from RT, I became frustrated with the limited possibilities and prohibitive cost of advertising.

I utilized my husband's web skills, a good friend's professional graphic artist skills to create a website and ad creative, and whipped up a site called manloveromance.com. I asked other M/M authors to join me in forming a co-op to pool funds for advertising under this one banner. In July, 20 of us ran an ad on advocate.com that was extremely successful. We have a 3 issue ad coming out in December with MEN magazine featuring a drawing for a piece of artwork from artist Steve Walker to pull more M/M interested readers to our sites.

Good for you!

In my opinion, it's a customer's right to be treated equally when purchasing a service from RT. Buying an ad comes with the right, stated in writing, that the book in that ad will receive preference in whether to be reviewed over unadvertised submissions. Unless, and this *isn't* written anywhere in RT advertising policy -- a fact verified by RT themselves in one email to me and to TRS--, it is a M/M romance. Then it receives no consideration at all, whether the ad is run or not. There is no discount in price, either. Clearly a discriminatory, unwritten policy.

So the first problem was RT's refusal to review M/M works, despite their ad policy... But now there's more evidence of a larger problem ~ of discriminatory exclusion of male/male fiction. Tell us what's happened recently.

During the RWA conference in July, I meet Kate Douglas, author of "Wolf Tales" for Kensington. She suggested the two of us propose a M/M discussion panel for RT 2006. She asked Joey Hill to join us and I asked Dr.Emily Vienglory. I submitted a proposal on 8/04/06. On 9/7/06 I asked RT if the panel had been approved. I received this in an email:

"Unfortunately we are not ready to have a panel on this quite yet. Perhaps next year. We already have a lot of erotica at our convention and we have to be sensitive to the attendees who will view this type of workshop as a departure for us."

My reply was thus:

"With all due respect, actually, I do understand. I understand that you are woefully behind the times. This reasoning is inadequate to mask prejudice. Attendees who don't wish to hear about M/M erotic romance have the option not to attend the panel discussion. No one is forced to attend or to listen to anything at RT they don't want to. I'm a straight, married, Christian woman with children, in my 50's and I can't believe RT continues to deny a popular, respected and growing market. I'm disappointed in RT and so will my readers be.

To say I'm disappointed is an understatement. But possibly next year RT will be less... restrictive."

Later, a member of one of those lists posted a note that RT was running their present poll on M/M romances.

A poll?

They have a poll asking their readers if they would be interested in M/M romances. I'm encouraged by their willingness to poll their readers about interest, but it does nothing to address their ongoing practice of rejecting M/M romances strictly because they are M/M.

So what's next, Laura?

I attended my first RT conference this year. I'm not at odds with RT. I purchase ads in their magazine and I'm part of the Faery Ball Court for 2007 that sponsors the huge convention party one evening. I paid $1250 for that privilege. Being a sponsor also includes the written benefit of them reviewing one of my books. I wonder how that will happen with their present policy when all I write in romance is M/M?

I hate to sound like a magic 8-ball, Laura, but the outlook isn't so good...

Editor Notes:

I'm perplexed and outraged by this whole situation. Since RWA recognizes male/male romance as a legitimate genre in the romance market, and their site advertising policy guarantees book review, should there really be a question at all?

The RT confrence has programs on vampires, paranormal and erotica... all books they also review...

Can it be that vampire stories (with blood and the undead) and paranormal stories (with their ghosts and who-knows-what) express the more "traditional values of commitment and a happy ending" than a man loving a man? If that's how it's seen in the eyes of RT, then they seriously need to open those eyes and take a long hard look at themselves.

I urge all of you Sex Kittens to support this issue by sharing your point of view at RT. You can do so by voting at their poll and commenting in the forum. And don't forget to support Laura! Going public with censorship and discrimination issues regarding a publication which dominates her genre isn't easy... Buy her books and visit her sites: her author site, her co-op group of M/M authors and her free site for any M/M author who wants to be added to create a central listing for readers looking for M/M fiction.

Special thanks to author Robert Cloud for alerting me to this problem on the Sexy Authors with Attitude list, and to Jolie du Pre for helping me reach Laura.

With much affection,
Gracie

 

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