"Do You Read Lesbian Romance?" a reader (thanks, Jill!) questioned the numbers I posted that the number of m/m romances published over the past five years to the number of lesbian romances published over the same period, numbers which I came by after doing a very quick search (via the "keyword" and "date" categories) on amazon.com. I've since gone back and done some additional searching, and refining of search terms.
Turns out, you get quite different results, depending on the search terms you use. Or whether you use quotation marks around your terms or not. Or whether, after your initial search, you refine your results (say, if you're looking for SF f/f romance, or Teen & Young Adult f/f romance).
Here are the figures for lesbian romance, using four different keywords to search.The second line shows the numbers if each category is then refined for "romance" or "lesbian romance." Not quite sure why "lesbian romance" is a subcategory of "lesbian romance," but it is...
"f/f romance" f/f romance "lesbian romance" lesbian romance
2015: 23 3,334 3,986 13,901
17 2,835 2,552 2,527
2014: 29 2,175 2,128 9,069
27 1,850 1,141 1,117
2013: 3 1,493 1,308 4,817
1 1,177 698 677
2012: 5 1,436 833 3,547
5 1,133 383 369
2011: 0 610 418 1,508
406 213 207
Looking at the actual titles that turn up in each search, it's clear that if you search without using quotations marks around your search terms, you get a lot of heterosexual romances, not just lesbian romances. Not to mention a lot of other, completely-unrelated-to-romance things (Tchaikowsky's Romance in F Minor Op. 5, anyone?) But using quotation marks isn't all that better, especially if you use the relatively new term "f/f"; hetero romances come up in those searches, too.
Is this because Amazon allows authors to tag their books with their own keywords? And authors are putting in keywords that aren't really relevant to their titles?
It would be nice if Amazon allowed searchers to refine their search to exclude certain things (so you could differentiate romance from erotica, say, or from Tchaikovsky sheet music). But given the way search parameters are currently set up, this doesn't seem possible.
So, after compiling all these numbers, I'm feeling that they are ultimately not all that helpful in thinking about lesbian romance publication numbers, or LGBTQ numbers in general. In fact, they're pretty useless. So I'm not even going to bother to do a similar search on m/m or gay romance (with or without quotes).
Perhaps this kind of research is something that a larger organization has, or should, take on? I've sent an email to the Lambda Literary folks to check if they have done any investigating. If not, I think I'll be emailing RWA Board members to ask if their "Romance Industry Statistics" page might be updated with some additional research, so LGBTQIA books don't have to be the rainbow sheep of the romance family when it comes to statistics.
Unless any readers out there have other ideas about how to find accurate publication information on the number of lesbian, f/f, gay, m/m and other LGBTQIA romances are being published today?