Reading lesbiansEvery year the question is posed during at least one literary/publishing event or another: Do we still need LGBT publishing companies?

After all, aren’t we (meaning queers) mainstreamed now?

Look at all the LGBT content on TV and in movies (well, there is more than there used to be anyhow). Why specialise in LGBT fiction, and even more so – LGBT genre fiction — you know — the stuff people read for entertainment, like mysteries and sci-fi and romance?

Bold Strokes Books has accumulated some interesting facts about what the lesbian community reads.

In a word — everything lesbian (okay, that’s two words, and not every type of lesbian fiction is as popular as another, but that’s true no matter what readership one studies).

Industry statistics as to what people are reading vary from year to year, but the trends remain the same: romance fiction is the predominant seller compared to all other popular fiction sub-genres, with mystery, sci-fi fantasy, and general fiction/erotic/adventure et al comprising the rest.

While publisher-specific numbers cannot be applied broadly across the industry, romance fiction comprised the largest share of US consumer book sales in 2012 at 16.7% according to Romance Writers of America (1).

Bold Strokes Books parallels mainstream publishing, offering a diverse spectrum of genre and sub-genre categories, including LGBT romances, mysteries, sci-fi fantasy, erotica and general fiction. Reader surveys have indicated  lesbian readers range in age from teens to octogenarians.

As is true in mainstream studies, romances have outsold all other genre categories every year. In 2013, romances comprised 46% of total sales, up 6% from 2012. Of the top 150 best-selling romance novels, most were lesbian contemporary and romantic intrigue.

The third largest and growing category is paranormal romance (including fantasy), followed by erotic romance and lesbian mystery.

Why are romances so popular?

The answer goes well beyond the stock phrases used to describe romance fiction: easy, throw-away, “beach reads.”

To be sure, romances, like all fiction, is meant to entertain, but also to provoke, incite, and stimulate the mind and the senses. Romance readers will tell you they read “for pleasure” and pleasure, as we all know, is far from simple.

The pleasure afforded by a good romance novel is at once intellectual, emotional, physical and sensual, and is experienced differently by every reader. Some readers sink into the language, for others those same words evoke memories of the past or longings of an imagined future.

Some seek only the climactic “I love you” while others prefer a little adventure, a little action, an a little added sizzle to their happily ever after. The story of love may be timeless, but the settings, the themes, the challenges, and the solutions are infinite and timely.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to lesbian romance fiction and we are fortunate to have hundreds of love stories, past, present, and future, that reflect both our lives today and our hopes for tomorrow.

While romance may lead the list of what lesbians read, the audience for other types of fiction is strong, and we are fortunate to have many new and established authors writing all the many types of fiction our readers enjoy.