Book Covers in LGBT Fiction #TheLiteraryOthers

Please welcome author Adan Ramie, who is here today with a brilliant and fascinating discussion about book covers in LGBT fiction! Please enjoy, and read through to the end for a special giveaway! 

Book Covers in LGBT Fiction

By Adan Ramie

Think about the last book you read. You can probably picture the cover in your mind, especially if you particularly liked (or disliked) the book. When you browse a bookstore or online retailer, the first thing you see is the cover. Sometimes it draws you in. Other times, it pushes you away. The importance of a quality cover cannot be overstated – even in a niche market like LGBT books. (Or LGBTQ, LGBTQA, QUILTBAG, SAGA, or any other acronym you prefer.)

Like the content, the covers of LGBT books over the years have varied tremendously as cultural shifts have left us hiding in the dark or basking in the sunlight outside of the closet. They went from abstract in the early 20th century to in-your-face by the ‘60s and ‘70s, and these days they still touch both extremes. Some are gorgeous. Others… well, others miss the mark quite badly, and make us wonder how anyone can get past them to the story inside.

A 2013 Flavorwire list, “50 Essential Works of LGBT Fiction,” includes “some essential works that can provide entertainment, introspection, and comfort to those who identify as queer or straight.” I’ve picked a few gay titles, some lesbian ones, one bisexual (sorry, guys), and a few trans books from that article to illustrate the many different iterations of book covers the LGBT niche has seen in the past century.

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But do these books really show what the covers of LGBT books selling now actually look like, or are they simply cherry-picked anomalies? For the answer, I turned to the almighty monster that is Amazon, and was a little bit unimpressed with the initial results when I clicked on the Top 100 LGBT eBooks. So I checked out the Top 100 Free for comparison, and found myself with the same issue.

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Most of the top LGBT fiction is romance. Not that there is anything wrong with romance; I’ve written a couple of romance novels myself, and read more than a few. And a lot of it seems to be M/M, M/M/F, or strictly erotica.

To be honest, I found the shortage of non-romance, non-erotica literature disheartening, because it seems like Amazon might think readers of LGBT fiction are only in it for the sex scenes.

If you look at the image above, you can see a pretty clear pattern: bare bodies, some of them in compromising positions with others in a similar state of undress, others set against a fully dressed body in an effort to bring to mind the duality of the characters involved. It’s true that sex sells, but I wondered if this pattern would continue as I went deeper into the categories. Were most of us really just in it for the sex scenes?

In the interest of not having to dig pages into the lists, all of the books discussed here on out are in the romance subgenre of the LGBT category. And, for simplicity, I’ll being going through the books in the order of the acronym I’m using. (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, then Trans. Sorry, Asexual, aromantic, and other folks. I didn’t intentionally exclude you!)

It was with trepidation that I looked at the top 100 lesbian romance books. Would it be all bare breasts and butt shots, or were lesfic readers a little less shallow?

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I was pleased to find that only a few in the top 20 were even vaguely erotic. Most were action shots of women doing what they do in real life: work, play, and dream. A few didn’t feature people at all, which was even more surprising. There are more good covers than bad ones here, thankfully.

My next step was to go to gay romance. I was a little worried based on all the racy covers in the main LGBT category, but I forged ahead, determined to find the answers I was looking for.

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There are lots of bare chests, true, but also a number of female faces and bodies that took me by surprise. It seems M/M/F pairings and even lesbian books get lumped into the “gay” umbrella on Amazon. But here, too, there are more good covers than bad.

Next in the acronym are those bisexual folks that get such a bad rap. Some people (wrongly) think bisexuality is an excuse for promiscuity, and I wondered if the fiction in the category would reflect that attitude.

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Here again the lines blurred. Despite the fact that not all (and, in fact, probably not that many) bisexual people are polyamorous or into threesomes, it seems like stories with three or more partners and a lot of erotic content are firmly rooted in this category. Many of these books were also in gay or lesbian fiction, so, again, there are some good and some bad.

Last but not least are the transgender community. With all the attention the trans community has been getting lately through the visibility of people like Laverne Cox and Jazz Jennings, I wondered if there had been a shift from strictly fetishistic stories to more reality-based ones about trans characters.

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Here, too, were the threesome stories and the erotica. Transgender characters are still being treated like objects strictly for sexual pleasure, not as people, which is problematic for transgender people in the real world.

The fact that some of these stories may actually be less sex and more substance gives me hope, though, that the future will be brighter. Not just for LGBT characters, but for all people. For now, the trends are still a bit on the iffy side.

Based on these covers, bare-chested men, people of all genders and sexualities in compromising positions, and the reliance on sex to carry the story are all tropes we need to get past in LGBT fiction, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s where I’m heading with my fiction, and I hope other authors will follow suit. Whether readers of LGBT fiction will follow… well, that’s a discussion for a different day.

BIO:

Adan Ramie is a Texas native who lives in a small town with her wife and children. When not writing, she binge-watches old TV shows on Netflix or works on her gargantuan TBR list. She’s the author of several standalone books, book series, and short stories. Find her online at http://www.AdanRamie.com.

GIVEAWAY:

Adan has generously offered to giveaway 5 e-book copies and 1 print copy of her new romance novel, RESCUED. That’s 6 winners! To enter, please just leave a comment on this post with your thoughts about the topic — have you noticed anything about the covers of books in the genre you usually read? Please be sure to leave an email address where you can be reached if you win! Good luck!

Giveaway will close on October 25th at 11:59PM CT.

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5 thoughts on “Book Covers in LGBT Fiction #TheLiteraryOthers

  1. Caveat: I know nothing about the details of LGBT book marketing as opposed to any other genre. All I can say is that when I look at the “new fiction and literature” section of Amazon–something I do on a regular basis for my work–about 70% of it seems to be steamy romance/erotica, and a surprisingly high percentage of that is about incest. I suspect that Amazon might think that EVERYBODY is just into it for the sex scenes.

    • Good point, Jean. I think it probably has something to do with their mysterious algorithms and what it tells them about the people who buy books in their marketplace. Which leads me to wonder… what is the percentage of people NOT reading exclusively erotica? Food for thought. Thanks for the comment, Jean!

  2. Intersting observation. I’m wondering if it has anything to do with what we think about as LGBT literature. Is it about someone being LGBT (and since this is sexual/gender identity would involve gender/sexy things) or are they books that just happen to have a character that is LGBT? I often get the feeling that when someone writes a minority character, being a minority is that character. You often see that in film “Why don’t they write any black/asian/queer/X characters?” in stead of asking “All of these character that aren’t centered around race/sex/X, why are they only cast by white, cis, straight, male characters?”. Where is the LGBT literature that’s not about being LGBT, they just happen to be LGBT?

    • That’s definitely something to think about, Marcelle. I know I’ve often seen the same thing. It’s tricky, diversity; on the one hand, most of us writers want to write diverse fiction, but on the other, are we trying to cram in diverse characters without allowing for nuances of personality? In other words, at what point are we writing diversity for the sake of it, and what does that mean for the state of fiction in the world today?

      • I agree with that. Especially when people have a default they fall back to if things aren’t explity told otherwise. Just look at people being mad when black acthors play characters that could be, but aren’t explisitly told are black. Personally I think a lot of it has to do with if a person is black because people want to apease someone, or if they are a someone who just happens to be black. Like Will Smith in Independence day.

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