Radclyffe on lesbian romance novels and “Love Between the Covers”

AE: Perhaps some of the more hesitant ones need to come across it accidentally like I did.

LB: And not realize that’s what you’re reading. Because there are so many subgenres of romance. It’s not always girl meets girl and girl falls in love and they break up and they get back together. You’ve got romantic intrigue and paranormal and high fantasy and thrillers. And all of those things fall under the romance category. So there’s incredible diversity in what we write.


AE: What are fan conventions like for you? Both today and in the past.

LB: It depends on whether it’s a queer convention or it’s not. When I am at a heterosexual conference like the RWA [Romance Writers of America], where I’ll be next week, I am still very, very, very much in the minority because I’m not part of their writing world. They recognize me now, but they haven’t read my work.

So I’m not totally integrated, but I feel like I’m far more welcome than I was when I first started going, which was 10 years ago. I was never made to feel unwelcome, but I was always on the outside. Now I feel I am much more a part of what’s happening in that greater romance publishing world. They actually contacted me last month and asked me to be on a romantic intrigue panel at the RWA this year. I’ve been on panels there before, but never one that wasn’t queer. So I think that that’s a tremendous sign of progress.


AE: Let’s talk about publishing now. When and why did you decide to start your own publishing company?

LB: I started Bold Strokes Books in 2004. I had been publishing with some small independent lesbian presses from 1999. They were very good, but they were small. They were a little bit restricted in terms of the reach of the books. I felt that I wasn’t being able to get my books into as many avenues of the market as they should be, as the mainstream romances. And I really wanted to change that. I wanted to be able to get my books and other books, other queer books, into mainstream marketplaces using traditional mainstream channels just like all the other publishers.

So I started Bold Strokes Books with the aim to produce really good queer books and also to foster author craft and get our titles out in front of as many people everywhere as I could. The first thing I did was get a really good line of distribution so that our titles were being distributed right alongside all the other straight books. That has made the difference, I think, over the last 10 years in terms of the growth of our company and the visibility of our authors.


AE: Being your own publisher, do you still feel the need to produce more than a book a year just to stay relevant? How many books a year do you write right now?

LB: I write three full-length novels a year. I have one full-time employee; we have probably 20 contract workers who do all kinds of things. All those people are part of our structure so that I’m not hands-on in terms of the production of our work. But I review all the submissions myself and I make the final decision on what we acquire. I really like writing and I like interacting as an author with readers, so at this point, I don’t have any plans to cut back. Although I probably will, maybe, in a couple of years. Right now I publish one every four months. I might cut back a little bit in a year or so and maybe go to every five months. But it’s a form of personal expression for me that I would really feel its absence if I stopped writing.


AE: You being your own publisher though means you don’t have someone coming down on you cracking the whip. But there is still the matter of wanting to stay relevant. Things are changing at a rapid pace. When you say you write three books a year, is that a comfortable three books a year, or maybe it would be two but three keeps you on the map in a safe way?

LB: Three books a year is a lot of work. I need to write 7,500 words a week, which takes me about 30 hours, maybe a little bit more. When it’s done and then it’s edited and gets ready to go to press, it gives me about three to four weeks when I’m not writing in between books. So it’s a very constant, pretty steady pace of writing. I do it mostly because my books are in demand. I can’t write fast enough to satisfy my reading audience. And I guess there’s a little ego involved. I’m an author and I like to see my new titles come out and I like to see them sell. That’s a part of my, I guess, my personal need.


AE: You also host author retreats on your farm. Has this strengthened your sense of community within the romance writer world? Had you had that before?

LB: There are a couple of queer-focused literary events. Saints and Sinners is one in New Orleans, which is gay and lesbian and queer. And then this, the Golden Crown Literary Society, which is lesbian-focused. In terms of me as a writing professional and as an author, those are where I feel the greatest surge of community feeling that I’m part of a queer writing world. On the other hand, we have a big author pool. Generally, about 50 of them will come to our retreat. To be with them face-to-face is really important and really bonding, because otherwise, we’re just communicating on the internet. The retreats are designed not primarily for education. We do seminars and things like that, but it’s mostly for people to come and have a good time. So it is a very deep bonding experience within the Bold Strokes Books community. And then for the greater community at large, things like what I’m doing right now, where it’s probably 50/50 authors and readers, really reinforces the connection between those who write and publish the fiction and the people who read it.


AE: How have you seen the business change? In your opinion, what’s the future looking like for lesbian romance fiction?

LB: I don’t see any indication that the demand or the accessibility of lesbian romance will decline. It is the most popular subgenre of what we publish, which is true for the mainstream too. I mean, romance rules. That’s what people want to read. I think that what has changed since we first began publishing romances in the very early 1970s, lesbian romances that were actually identifiable as such, is the diversity of the works. Whereas most were character-driven romances, many of them were coming out stories, which of course made sense in the 1970s and early 1980s, now we are publishing lesbian romantic intrigue and erotic romances, high fantasy, science fiction, time travel, historical romances. As our social and cultural world changes, as we become less binary, as our gender identification diversifies, those things we’ll begin to see in lesbian romance. I think that we will always have the core of relationships as we know them now, but I think that we’ll start to see a lot more diversity within the romance genre itself. 

Love Between the Covers is available on demand and digital HD beginning July 12. Visit the movie’s website for more information.