Lyss Press, $2.99
M/M Romance Tropes, subtitled What They Are and How to Use Them to Plan, Plot, and Market Your Book, is a pretty slim manual by Lyss Em. I have no idea whom Lyss Em is, sorry, but her bio reveals that she writes gay romances under the pen name Lyssa Dering, with bestselling titles such as Summer of My Sex Demon and Escorting the Escort. No, I’m not title-shaming the author, I’m just saying that her titles are remarkably in line with those of the bestsellers that clog up the indie ghetto on Amazon, so I’m sure that she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to flogging out titles that can make any author rich.
Now, before any of you aspiring entrepreneurs rush out to buy this one in hopes of churning out dozens of hastily-written and rushed titles every month to make some money, do note that you’ll likely get more detailed and useful information from those dodgy marketers that promise videos and files on how to cheat Amazon’s algorithms and beat the game. This one is so sparsely detailed that I wonder whether this is like those things where they promise to show you how to make money when you pay them $2.99, only to tell you after you’ve paid up that you should tell people that you will show them how to make money after they pay you $2.99.
The whole thing starts out with the author telling me that while she is assigned female at birth – clearly by some crude bigot who believes that having a vagina forces you into being a female – but she is non-binary, which is proof that M/M romance is a welcoming genre for anyone who identifies as anything. Wait, since when did one’s sexuality matters when it comes to writing in a certain genre? Then again, I’m old school – I don’t go around scowling at the author’s photo or crawl through her entire social media first before deciding that her stories will not rank as problematic. Maybe the kids today do things differently.
Oh, and do you know that M/M romance and gay romance are a little different?
The difference is that M/M romance has an audience that is primarily heterosexual ciswomen, and gay romance is a genre name which some feel is more welcoming to gay men and gay male authors.
I like the honesty about the target audience, but I do wonder about whether folks who are so emotionally fragile that they feel unsafe due to a word in a genre name should even be in the business of selling books. Critics can be cruel and low sales numbers can be crushing, after all.
Oh yes, the reason why we read this book. Well, the author wisely shies away from going all social justice heifer on me here, which is smart because many of the popular tropes are problematic as can be to the heifers in question. These tropes, as the author lays it out, actually stereotype and pigeonhole men into “male” and “female” roles while at the same time conflating both straight-acting and masculinity with “toxic”. There is a glaring contradiction in motion here: on one hand, the genre idolizes the very types of males that it considers to be “toxic masculinity” – if I go by the definitions in this book – and often makes these men the top, hence somehow equating being a top to being more “masculine”, while in the same breath it disingenuously claims to break down barriers and celebrates a kind of androgyny or non-binary set of behaviors that is never apparent in the actual stories.
But anyone who expects a detailed explanation on how to use the tropes will be left hanging dry more than a john whose hooker he has hired has fled with his money without giving him any – the author basically tells readers to go check out stories that she feels uses these tropes and that’s it. No, that’s it. I bought this thing only to be told that I should go buy more books.
On the other hand, I learn a new thing: Prostate Makes Him Gay (Gay Button) is apparently a trope, although if I take the name of the trope literally, this means every cis-male is gay since they all have prostate glands, gay trans men can never exist since they don’t have the gay button, and every trans woman who still has her ding dongs must be gay. I’m surprised nobody’s head as ever exploded from trying to make sense of all the contradictions and contra-contradictions in the gay, M/M, whatever genre. This trope, by the way, revolves how a guy turns into a thirsty bottom after someone has prodded at his prostate gland. I admit it’s a fun trope in those naughty age-restricted Japanese comics out there, but I wonder whether it can ever translate to the written form without making the reader simultaneously cringe and burst into laughter.
Oh, and the subtitle also promises marketing tips, which consist of very superficial points on giving stories identifiable titles filled with buzzwords of the season, getting a nice cover, and using the right keywords when setting up the Amazon page. I think it says a lot that the author sums up the book by telling aspiring authors to go look up books in the genre and do what they do without copying too much – an advice that can easily be adopted without having to buy this book first.
But what if you are an aspiring entrepreneur who has never written anything before, but you’ve heard that you can make a tidy amount of change every month writing short raunchy-but-not-outright-erotica stories to toss into the Kindle Unlimited abyss? The author has some excellent insight that will blow your mind away in her “Character Planning” and “Plotting” pages.
Sex Worker Hero
At least one of the main characters is a sex worker.
No way! I never knew that!
Here are some examples of tropes and what kinds of conflicts they suggest:
- Paranormal/Human – the main characters may struggle to reconcile the physical/emotional/lifestyle differences between their species; for example, the paranormal character may be physically stronger than the human one and risk hurting him, the paranormal one might be immortal and the human not, etc.
- Class Difference – the main characters may struggle to reconcile their social and economic differences; for example, outside forces may frown on their union, the characters may have opposing political/social views, the character of the lower class may be wary of the one of the higher class due to their differences in privilege, etc.
- Homophobic Hero (Toxic Masculinity) – the main characters may struggle to reconcile the homophobia with their gay/queer relationship; for example, the homophobic hero’s partner may not be able to handle his beliefs since they equal a hatred of his identity, the homophobic hero may want to keep the relationship secret while the other character does not, etc.
Oh my goodness, my world is tilting! I never knew a paranormal fan of sodomy may not be human, or that a character of a lower class may have fewer privileges! And do I even need to touch on the unfortunate implication of dishing out love stories in which homophobia can be overcome by a healthy daily consumption of same-sex buggery?
Darkest moment – Our vampire and human must face their conflicts head-on. Perhaps the human becomes gravely injured and can only be saved by the vampire making him immortal. This would solve both conflicts, as the human would be stronger afterward and could withstand our vampire’s supernatural strength during lovemaking.
Excuse me, this is not an exclusively M/M trope – every cringe vampire romance since the dawn of time has this blasted trope to the point that I feel like I’m growing fangs myself after coming across yet another tired reiteration of this trope.
I wish I can say that M/M Romance Tropes is a useful writing manual or at the very least a fascinating insight into the mind of a M/M romance author, but the advice is either rudimentary or so obvious that I have no idea whom this one is actually targeted at. Someone who has never read a single book, much less written one, I’d imagine. But even then, those people probably will find it easier to just skip this book and hire a cheap ghostwriter from one of those Bangladeshi writing mills instead.