Sorry I haven’t done one of these little rambles in a while. I had a flood, lost half of my belongings, ate some pie, got into buying a house—it’s a lot, but I’m back.
Now, I was going to come back with some lighthearted tale from the yonder years of bukkake, however, upon reflection (and a FB post I came across the other day) I wanted to tackle something that I think many indie authors struggle to navigate—
Reader expectations and the MM genre (including warnings, tropes, and everything else you’ll find on your newsfeed whenever someone takes issue with a new release)
So, the thread in question went a little something like this: Reader A was upset because she’d recently purchased an “MM” book that had a threesome in it and insisted the author should’ve put a warning about this in the blurb—Reader A even went as far as to say it was inconsiderate not to and that she’s been put off reading future work by the author because of this.
To my surprise, many agreed with this sentiment.
Reader B then came along and explained that threesomes aren’t something that need warnings, and that only “triggering” topics such as suicide, rape, drugs, etc, should have warnings (for the record, this is also closer to my opinion on the matter) Nevertheless, Reader A was steadfast in her opinion on the subject, and there were many who agreed with her.
This kind of…baffled me.
I’m not hating on Reader A for not wanting a threesome in her book…but a warning is usually reserved for a topic that can negatively impact the reader—and when I say negatively impact them, I mean something beyond “I don’t like it in my books.” However, fiction (especially MM) is so broad that simply labelling your book with the MM sticker doesn’t give much of an idea what’s inside of it these days, and I think that’s where some of the confusion on what is and isn’t allowed comes in.
Naturally, I asked for some other opinions (I asked one person, it was a busy day, I had a pizza in the oven) and she stated “if I had to put a warning for everything that offends someone at the front of my book, the warning page would be as long as the book.”
This is something that I see happen a lot in the “MM” space. My newsfeed is constantly flooded with disgruntled readers who didn’t get what they wanted from a book—be it a cliffhanger ending, a sudden twist in the plot, or anything other than vanilla sex between two men, and in the midst of all these rants, there is always this sentence—
The author should’ve warned me.
But should they? I can’t count how many traditionally published books I have on my shelf that involve extreme violence, gory descriptions, drug use, and graphic sex, and do it all with very little indication of just how dark things might get in the blurb—and no warning page either. And this has never bothered me.
There is no warning page at the start of A Song of Ice and Fire. Hell, there’s no warning at the start of the later Harry Potter books and you know they broke thousands of hearts. After all, do you think certain deaths or moments in those series would’ve been as impactful if you were warned prior? Of course not.
I don’t want to know who lives or dies before I go into a movie. I don’t want to know who ends up with who at the end of a season before starting it. And I don’t want to know if I’m about to stumble onto a threesome before we move along to the next part of the story.
But I digress, and regardless of my personal opinion on the subject, I do see where the other side are coming from, and I think a lot of these polarizing views come from everyone having their own definition of what MM is, and more importantly, what is expected from indie authors.
I’ll start with the latter.
It’s no secret that indie authors and their readers have a very different relationship than those who use traditional publishing methods. We’re very present on social media—most of us (myself included) choosing to be our authentic selves, letting readers into our lives through our cameras and comments, and forming friendships with most of the people we interact with. This way of mixing our business and personal lives is probably why drama is amplified so much in this space—because it’s personal, and it’s also why reader complaints are rarely seen as criticism on our work and more like personal attacks on who we are.
Simply put—Indie authors are expected to be transparent, and whenever we’re not (personally or professionally) readers often end up feeling like they’ve been taken for a ride… Maybe the demand for warnings stems from this? I’m honestly not sure, and I’m as equally unsure about the other reason I think this happens—
What the hell is MM anyway?
MM feels more like a fandom than a genre. In the way fandoms have passionate fans that want everything to be a certain way for it to be “true” to the thing they’re fans of, MM has readers that have certain expectations of what to find in every MM book for it to be MM.
I have seen people clarify that they’re next book is a “gay romance” and not an “MM” and for people to understand that these things are entirely different entities.
MM has no wiki page. No set definition. No presence outside of the space the community has created for it. There is no “MM” genre according to Amazon’s labelling, yet it obviously exists—but what is it? If there’s a distinction between MM and Gay Romance, why is that? And if there’s certain criteria that have to be met for your book to be an MM—and if deviating from that criteria requires you warning readers prior—then what are the criteria?
I’m happy admitting that I have no idea what MM is, despite writing it, reading it, and being a part of the community that encompasses it. To some, MM seems to be the act of two men fucking, be it in a zombie apocalypse or during lunch at the office, but to others it appears to be more of a checklist, with boxes that MUST be ticked off as you reach the definitive happy ending with absolutely no dangling threads.
Honestly, I have no answers (or way to end this article with a satisfying conclusion) and, although I’m entirely against warnings (for spoiler reasons, and because I don’t feel like someone’s creative expression warrants a warning as if you’re ordering something off a menu that may contain nuts) it’s clear that many others feel differently, so instead of trying to wrap this up myself (insert condom joke here) I’m going to ask those reading this to wrap it for me (Ps: I’ve never wrapped it #BottomLife)
1. What is MM to you?
2. Do you believe that threesomes require warnings in the MM space? (or in fiction in general)
3. What warnings DO you want in your books? (and what warnings can you think of that you don’t need)
4. Mayo or Ranch?
5. What information (if any) do you wish to be disclosed upfront before purchasing an indie book—and would you expect the same from a traditionally published novel?