Is there still a need for Sapphic Fiction?

In my book group, it was my turn to choose the book this time. Naturally I chose an independent sapphic book, with the intention of trying to encourage my fellow readers to dip their toes into the waters of sapphic fiction. We had a discussion of the last lesfic book they had read, Jane Rule’s Desert of the Heart, which is probably as old as I am!

Sadly, I don’t think I converted anyone.  They said the book I chose was light and predictable.  It was a romance and by definition a romance should have a happy ending. As a group they’re used to reading literary fiction and they expected twists and turns and depth, so I guess they’re not used to the tropes and expectations of the genre. They would expect a mystery to solve the mystery at the end, surely?

Someone posed the question about whether there is a need for independent sapphic fiction any more. By inference there are so many sapphic themed books in the mainstream now it’s not necessary to have a separate genre. Certainly judging by the number of mainstream novels in the Amazon top 100 lesbian fiction bestsellers, they do seem to be pushing out the independent sapphic books.

I think it’s great that people can go into a bookshop and pick up a sapphic themed book, whether that’s from a mainstream publisher or an independent publisher, but the independent publishers will never get full access to the main shelves because those are tied up with the top publishers ( in the same way that the big music publishers gain access to the radio air lists).

So do we need an independent sapphic genre with publishing done by independent authors or small publishing houses? Yes we do, in my opinion, for the following reasons:

  1. Mainstream sapphic literature is written primarily by mainly white women of a certain age from the UK or USA. Whereas independent Sapphic fiction gives a voice and resonance to  the diversity of cultures and different identities within the term sapphic.
  2. Mainstream sapphic fiction is produced by large publishing houses who are primarily concerned with the profits they will make, therefore will tend towards what will appeal to the mass market (as happens in the movie business and the music business). Independent authors can and should include the range of diverse opinions and stories and take bigger risks in what they write and publish.
  3. Most of the mainstream books in the Amazon top 100 lesbian books are certainly less predictable than the sapphic fiction, but they are also much more likely to have an ambiguous or unhappy ending. As a community we need to have books dealing with life’s struggles with happy endings and believe we can walk off into the sunset holding hands.

If mainstream sapphic fiction truly embraced diversity and life affirming novels then maybe we wouldn’t need a separate shelf for sapphic fiction, but sadly people seem to be becoming entrenched in their reading (and watching and voting) habits rather than being open to discussing a different viewpoint. So I shall continue to read the literary fiction and sapphic fiction, both of which I love, and next time it’s my turn to choose a book I shall select another independent sapphic book for them to read and appraise. Maybe one day they will pick up another sapphic book and enjoy it. I can hope.