Ins and Outs of M/M Romance: So You Want To Be a Rock ‘N Roll Star? by Josh Lanyon

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There’s no need for me to introduce Josh Lanyon because if I have to, you don’t read books in this sub genre. Josh is well-known to probably everyone who reads or writes gay romances or gay fiction, especially those of us who love mysteries.

There are many posts in this series that new M/M writers will find helpful, depending on what you’re looking for, but the knowledge behind the one you’re about to read is hard to replicate. There’s something to be said about having longevity in this business.

On behalf of all those new AND experienced writers, I’m really grateful for the time and effort it must have taken Josh to write such an awesome and intelligent piece about how to make it in this industry. Here’s the post:

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The price you paid for your riches and fame
Was it all a strange game?
You’re a little insane
The money, the fame, the public acclaim
Don’t forget what you are
You’re a rock ‘n’ roll star!

Jim McGuinn and Chris Hillman

Wave has done a couple of posts on up and coming M/M writers. She wrote: I love M/M romance and its authors and want to give a few of the newer writers an opportunity to shine. “Newbies” tend to get lost in all the hype surrounding better known authors, and some eventually get so disappointed at not making a breakthrough that they give up.

I thought her post was a wonderful idea, which is how I came up with the idea for my post. After the initial thrill of having your first book published often comes a period of significant disappointment and frustration. Why? Because very rarely does a new book from a new author do even remotely close to what that author hopes. Partly this has to do with unrealistic expectations, but partly it has to do with the fact that most new releases sink like a stone. And that’s no reflection on the book or the author, it’s just the way it goes. It’s the law of averages. Think for a minute how many M/M titles are published each week per publisher. Now multiply those publisher releases by the month. Basically a devoted M/M reader has over fifty new releases to sift through each month. How in the world do these readers find your first book?

Or your second?

Or your third?

Chances are they won’t. Not unless you’ve got something driving interest and attention. A review here and a couple of banner ads there are probably not going to do it. So today I’m going to talk about the formidable concept of Breaking Thru.

First let’s define what we mean by Breaking Thru because it means different things at different points in your writing career. Initially it means simply getting published. Until that happens (and it will, by the way) it feels like storming the citadel. Then you get published and the battle begins to persuade anyone to actually read your work and maybe offer a review or two where someone else can see it. And finally comes the longest, hardest struggle of all…the struggle to stand out from the herd (the “herd” being all those other talented, ambitious, hardworking writers in your genre). Or, to put it succinctly, to have a lot of people reading and loving your work.

If you’re not interested in breaking thru — and not everyone is — you can stop reading now. Breaking thru is as much about popularity as it is quality — it’s terrific when the two coincide, but they don’t always. If that idea offends you, that’s okay. Knowing exactly what you want out of your writing career is the first step to real success.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Everyone will not — cannot be — an M/M writing rock ‘n roll star with all the perks of the fast cars, the chilled champagne and the hot chi–oh. Anyway, it doesn’t matter because you don’t have to be Jesus Christ Superstar to be very popular and make money. Lady Gaga is not Barbara Streisand, but I understand she does okay for herself. There’s room for all of us to thrive in this genre.

I think now’s as good a time as any to address the cult of personality. There’s no question that some writers are better than others at self-promotion, and that the writers who excel at self-promotion have that certain je ne sais quois…call it personal charm. But there are plenty of popular and bestselling authors in this genre who do very little online promotion — very little promotion at all: KA Mitchell, JL Langley, ZA Maxfield, and Carol Lynne spring to mind. Promotion can help sell your books, but all the promotion in the world won’t turn a book no one wants to read into a bestseller. Also, personally, I think no promotion is better than the wrong promotion.

The three elements of a successful writing career:

Luck

Talent/skill

Hard work (this is better described as sustained effort)

Luck - Well, we can’t do much about the luck thing. I wish I could reassure you that it doesn’t matter much, but sometimes it feels like the biggest piece of the puzzle. Here’s my philosophy on the luck thing — create good karma for yourself by treating others as you wish to be treated.

Also, do not commit to more than you can do. Do not break commitments. Lend a helping hand when you can. And before you open your mouth — or your laptop — think about how it would feel to be on the receiving end of your remarks because, honey, what goes around, comes around. Often with a vengeance. Try not make enemies. If you succeed in becoming an M/M rock ‘n roll star you’ll make more enemies than you ever dreamed merely by virtue of being popular and successful.

Practice random acts of kindness. Seriously.

Talent/skill – It’s tempting to say that this is the least important part of the equation. Certainly I think innate talent, aptitude, she-was-born-with-it — though useful and a big boost toward mastering your art — is the least important part of the equation. Skill, the dedicated honing of one’s craft…is important. Very important. But we all know plenty of popular writers who write stuff we consider vastly inferior. And unknown writers whose skill we envy.

Two weeks ago I was on one of those Love Romance Café chats and for a change I read all the excerpts. Guess what? There are a slew of really good writers out there now. Good stories and good writing. And a lot of it from writers you’ve never heard of. I mean really never heard of. Because those authors who popped up on Wave’s up-and-coming list are — by virtue of the fact they were recommended — already in the process of being “discovered.”

I did a quick reconnoiter of various publisher’s M/M lists and try these names on for size: Christiane France, Imari Jade, Mimi Riser, Red Haircrow, Trina Lane, Kate Appleton, Blake Deveraux, and Sabrina Luna.

There are a lot of unknowns struggling to keep their chins above frigid water. Now, I’m not saying every unknown M/M writer is fabulous. And, to be brutal, natural selection will take care of many of the weaker writers in our genre. But like I said, I’m sure we can all name some fairly lame writers who are just jaw-droppingly popular.

NO, NOT ME.

And this is where the single most important element of breaking thru comes in.

Hard work — a sustained effort.

Granted, part of that hard work, that sustained effort, goes into becoming a better writer.

These are the elements of a successful book — notice I didn’t say a “great” book:

Reader expectation

Style/Technique

Storytelling

Reader expectation, like luck, is something you can’t control. Every reader brings her or his own set of expectations to each and every book — along with her or his education and experience and emotional history. You can’t control any of that, and all books are doomed to fail with a certain percentage of readers merely because of reader expectation. The recipe for success is to meet the expectations of the majority of people buying your book.

Style/Technique. Lord knows we all write endlessly on this topic! Suffice it to say, you should be working all the time to refine your craft. Writers aren’t born. Storytellers might be born, but writers are made. It takes time and practice to make a good writer.

Storytelling. Of course, of course you should be true to yourself and that means writing the characters, themes, and stories that interest you. But remember, we’re talking specifically about “breaking thru.” If selling a lot of books and being a Popular Author is important to you, then commonsense suggests that you take a look at the most popular books and authors and analyze what they’re doing versus what you’re doing.  If you can’t bear the thought of writing your version of…cowboys or vampires or steam punk or BDSM or whatever the flavor is this month, then please don’t hit all the lists whining about how oh how can you get better sales? It starts with writing the kinds of stories readers like to read.

Two tips on this: write stories with universal themes and high concepts. Universal themes are things like coming of age or love and loss. High concept stories are topical, recognizable, resonant, often controversial, and almost always fun and/or cool.

Okay, so in short: be all that you can be, write the kind of thing that seems to sell, blah, blah, blah…and now let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of where to spend your effort in breaking thru.

First of all, consider what it is you’re “breaking thru.” You’re breaking thru the heart-sinking reality that no one knows you. Or if they do know you, they haven’t been moved to buy your work in any great numbers.

There’s a reason why a career break thru requires sustained effort and not just hard work. For the majority of us, it takes time. A lot of time. Years. For every Jane Seville or Ginn Hale who comes blazing out of the shadows with a first novel that readers adore, there are five hundred or more of us slogging away writing book after book after book. The clock starts from the point you release your first M/M novel. It doesn’t matter how many years you spent sharpening your quill pen — I started submitting novels when I was about sixteen (and getting routinely rejected, I might add). It doesn’t matter. For the M/M audience, the curtain went up when you walked onto this stage.  Remember my earlier new release math? The week your first book goes live you’re competing with ten or more new M/M titles — some inevitably from well-established and popular authors.

Don’t forget that it takes several mentions of your name to even register with readers. The actual figure goes up every year as the airwaves grow more crowded. It used to be five mentions, then eight, then ten… But it also has to do with quality versus quantity.

Recently there was a post here by Rick Reed on the topic of overexposure. Rick was questioning the conventional wisdom that the best possible promotion for a writer is building a large backlist as fast as possible. The unsurprising consensus was that some writers can crank out quality stories at a fast pace and some can’t.

Listen up boys and girls. Overexposure does not come from too many releases. Overexposure results from the promotion of those releases.

This is the single best piece of advice I can give you. Write as fast as you competently can and build up a sizable backlist. When you start out, readers are buying your stories based on the story concept, not your name, so the more stories and the more variety, the greater your odds of appealing to more readers. Eventually (depending on how successful you are coming up with story concepts that appeal to a lot of readers) you’ll build a readership and your backlist will sell based on your name alone. Even so, your readers will only buy your work as fast as their free time and budget will allow. Eventually it all evens out. Multiple releases may be a concern for jittery other writers. They’re not a concern for readers provided you aren’t trying to write faster than you can produce quality work.

So where does overexposure come in? Overexposure is the result of ceaseless, relentless promotion of your work. Obviously, with all those terrific competing authors flogging their wonderful books you have to do something to stand out from the crowd. So you blog, you send your books in for review, you give interviews, you buy banner ads, you comment on discussion lists, you write articles for sites like this, you produce book trailers, you exchange links, you post excerpts — and you keep releasing new titles.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that. In fact, it’s all good, useful stuff. What I’ve found is a combination of all of the above is the most effective approach. But when does it become too much? (I mean for other people.) When does necessary publicity spill over into overexposure? You know that old saying familiarity breeds contempt? Never more so than in self-promotion.

If you’re waxing wise on your various lists every single day — if every day you’re out there pounding the beat requesting readers to comment on a blog or check out an article or give you an “atta boy” for a new review — you’re well on your way to becoming human wallpaper. It may be counterintuitive, but the more you post, the more invisible you become.

Cultivate a little mystique. It’ll do wonders for your nerves and your reputation. If you don’t post all the time, there’s a good chance that when you do post, people will find what you have to say of more interest. And restrain yourself from asking constant favors of readers and fellow writers. The whole point of doing all these blogs and interviews and articles is to find new readers. If you limit yourself to only asking for favors when you really need them, chances are you’ll get a better turnout.

Obviously I’m not talking about your own personal blog. Blog there as much as you like, however beware of sharing too much information especially when you’re starting out. New writers have a tendency to, well, blether. And all that soul searching becomes embarrassing once you succeed — and you will, if you can hang on and keep doing the right things.

One thing I don’t recommend is reviewing your peers. I’m not saying reviewing isn’t a great learning tool for your own writing. It is. And I know there are those who fondly believe reviewing is a good means of self-promotion — and it is a way to get your name remembered — but nothing breeds resentment like one writer having the audacity to down grade a colleague. Perhaps in a perfect world peopled by more noble beings than ourselves we could graciously accept a three star review from a writer we consider our inferior, but not in this one. Avoid the temptation of those cheap and lazy Good Reads stars. And if you’re a reviewer with aspirations of writing fiction, plan on using a pen name.

The exception is the occasional sincere and enthusiastic review of a fellow writer — the kind of thing Lex Valentine and Jaime Samms do. That’s an effective means of earning some good will and of illustrating your ideas and feelings about writing and books. One part of networking is creating productive alliances, but another part of networking — the often overlooked part — is creating positive associations with your name. If people see your name and think…blowhard or cantankerous or ego-maniac or — worst of all — crap writer then all the mini interviews in the world won’t save you.

The important thing to take away from this is that no single item is the solution to your writing career break thru. No single thing can make or break you. One bestselling book doesn’t define your career anymore than one flop does. You must prepare for the long haul.

You’ll need to do a variety of things starting with writing the best books you’re capable of. You need to write a lot of stories of the type that readers want to read. That may require a compromise on your part or it may not. You’ll need to promote those books while remaining sensitive to reader saturation levels. You’ll need to try a variety of promotional efforts and you need to continue to do them for a long time. Way past the point where you think it’s not doing any good and what’s the use? You’re going to need patience — more patience than you think — and you’re going to need discipline. The discipline to keep writing when it seems like no one is buying your work, and the discipline to keep smiling when it seems like people less deserving than you are gobbling up all the cake.

Don’t worry about the cake. There’s enough cake to go around.

If you can do all these things — do them with graciousness and good humor — and keep doing them, you’ll find yourself a place on that great literary bandstand playing air guitar with the rest of us.

Josh Lanyon’s Contact Information

email: josh.lanyon@sbcglobal.net
website: http://www.joshlanyon.com/
Livejournal: http://jgraeme2007.livejournal.com/

62 thoughts on “Ins and Outs of M/M Romance: So You Want To Be a Rock ‘N Roll Star? by Josh Lanyon

  1. Tam

    Great article Josh. Lots of food for thought. For some of us who dabble, the idea of being famous and everyone looking at us is terrifying. So what the hell am I doing? LOL

    Writing is only the first step, so much comes after as you’ve pointed out.

  2. LadyM

    Josh, what is really, really wonderful is how you are constantly encouraging the new writers throughout the article, saying over and over that they will succeed.

    I think, also, you have given them the best possible advice, random acts of kindness and positive associations included. As a reader, I can testify that it is true 100 %. If an author is rude, bitchy and insulting towards the other authors or/and readers, I will be less inclined to pick up their book, no matter how good their writing is. Being decent person and good writer is far from being the same thing, but if I have a choice – I want both.

    “I’m sure we can all name some fairly lame writers who are just jaw-droppingly popular”

    Oh, boy, can we. Sometimes I read a book or books praised by many readers and my jaw drops because of the bad writing. XD I wonder then if we have been reading the same book. It was always a mystery to me how that was possible. Now, I guess, I can see that some people are just better r’n’r stars that the others.

    Great article. Thank you.

  3. Missy Welsh

    Thank you for this, Josh! It’s really timely for me since my first book released today and I’m battling amazing bouts of elation and anxiety. :) I’ll be giving a lot of thought as to what a “break thru” really means to me and where I want this to go in the future. And that part about who else is releasing something at the same time as the newbies? Willa Okati. Yeah. I’m hoping when readers go over to buy hers, they’ll throw a glance my way. ;)

    1. Wave Post author

      Missy
      I don’t know if this helps but I requested your book for review first thing this morning when I saw it on the LI site because I loved the concept. I always try to be fair when I review a book so you know that you will at least get my honest opinion. BTW I haven’t requested Willa’s as yet. :)

      1. Missy Welsh

        Oh. My. God. {gulp}

        Really, that’s just awesome, Wave! I wrote to the person who handles reviews @ LI asking her where and how I could send review copies, namely to you. I’m betting she’ll answer you faster than she answers me.

        You don’t know if it helps… {snort} I’m going to go call my mother and squeal with her for a bit now.

  4. Ally Blue

    THE CAKE IS A LIE!!!!

    Heh. Sorry. Yeah, I got kind of stuck on Portals when the boy-child had his PS3 in the living room *g*

    Fabulous article, Josh. Tell you what, this is great advice not just for new writers, but for everyone. Even us old hands can always learn a thing or three from others about how to do promotion right, you know? Me, I loooooove to talk, preferably in person, but thanks to the EDJ there’s just never enough time to hang out on the loops, blogs and boards and chat they way I really want to. I’d like to say that gives me accidental mystique but I’m not sure it works quite that way LOL.

    Thanks for another terrific article!

  5. Josh Lanyon

    Tam, in a perfect world it would just be about the writing. In fact, in a perfect world enthusiasm and passion would equal skill and talent. Sadly, whoever created this world is a much tougher coach. *g*

    But like anything, the more you do it, the easier it is, including promo (which I don’t think is easy for ANYONE).

  6. Josh Lanyon

    Lady M, thanks for the kind words. The fact is that many writers “fail” simply because they give up too soon OR they’re not willing to do the work required. And writing — building a writing career — is very hard work. I don’t want to give a false impression that it’s not. As long as I’ve been at it, I have my moments where I think what the hell is the use?

  7. Josh Lanyon

    Congratulations on the new release, Missy.

    You’re right. Many readers will be buying Willa’s book based on the fact that it’s Willa writing a new one. But your publisher and editor both think you’ve got a great concept and a great story to tell, and you can bet a lot of readers are going to feel the same. Eventually it’s going to be you with readers thrilled because Missy has a new one out.

  8. Josephine Myles

    Thanks for this, Josh. Much useful advice which I hope to be able to put into practice one day – and I can certainly do my best to write as much as possible right now.

    I’m interested to read what you feel about peer reviewing – I’ve been reviewing m/m fiction on Goodreads for a few months, as I enjoy sharing my enthusiasm about books I’ve loved. I have, however, found myself wondering if this is a good policy for the future. Perhaps I should only give a rating and review if I think it was a five star read (or at the very least, a four star one).

    I’m thinking that posting really positive reviews about books you’ve loved can only lead to pleasant repurcussions, but it seems as if you’re advising caution with this as well. Any further thoughts?

    1. Josh Lanyon

      Josephine, if you’ve got something positive to say about a fellow author or fellow author’s book, no one minds that. Five star reviews are not a problem. But if you’re down grading a fellow author — even to a B — it may sound silly, but I urge caution. No one is going to admit this because we all have our pride and our professionalism, but the bottom line is…well, use some imagination and commonsense. We’re dealing with the fragile egos of people who are, in essence, our rivals. Sure, it’s hopefully a friendly rivalry, but as students of human nature (which is what most writers are) think about all the emotions that come into play if, for example, Ally gives me a B instead of an A. And then I see that perhaps Ally (and by the way, I have no idea if Ally reviews or not, I’m picking the name of a peer because she popped into my mind after posting here) gave JL Langley an A for a book that I think is maybe not as strong as my own. Or Ally gave me a B after I gave Ally a courtesy A…

      You see what I’m getting at? It’s all nonsensical, but when you’re dealing with the fragile egos of your peers…be respectful and sensitive. Like elephants, injured writers have a long memory.

      I’m sure there are writers who review who will argue this point, and all I can say is…you’re only kidding yourself. You have no way of knowing what a couple of reviewing points cost you in maybe a word in the right ear or a friendly rec from a fellow writer.

      I may sound like a cynic, but I am in fact just a realist.

    2. Val Kovalin

      Josephine, just to add my opinion (which is possibly not shared by very many), but you said here:

      Perhaps I should only give a rating and review if I think it was a five star read (or at the very least, a four star one).

      Just speaking for myself, please go ahead and take the time and trouble to review my work no matter how mixed your reaction. Every review is a huge favor. The more reviews I get, the higher the probability that some elements of my work mentioned in that review will click with more readers. It’s a numbers game. For example, today, Kassa did a detailed analytical review of Poppy Z. Brite’s book Liquor, a gay-themed mystery that had a lot of flaws. But its strong points, that Kassa mentioned, were enough to put that book on my to-Buy list. And I’ll probably review it as well, and maybe even find a lot to like, and the book’s online visibility goes on increasing.

      But, that “numbers game” view of reviews is just my opinion on my own work, as well as a theory formulated while I’m still so new that I haven’t yet received any reviews!

      Josh makes a valid point in helping new writers to protect themselves and start their careers on the best possible footing (too late for me ;) ) — better safe than sorry.

      1. Josh Lanyon

        But, that “numbers game” view of reviews is just my opinion on my own work, as well as a theory formulated while I’m still so new that I haven’t yet received any reviews!

        There are plenty of reviewers who have no ambition to be anything but the best damn reviewer with the best damn review site out there. My comments don’t apply to them.

        I’m only talking about reviewers who ultimately hope to translate their reputation as a reviewer into good promo for their writing career. I think that’s a double-edged sword. Not that it couldn’t work.

        Again, every writing career is different, so what might work for one writer might be useless for another — and vice versa.

        I would agree that having lots of reviews is beneficial. The more times your name and title are mentioned — especially when you’re mostly unknown — the better. Which is why wailing in public about bad reviews is a waste of time and energy (and, again, the wrong kind of self-advertising).

        1. Josephine Myles

          Thanks for the feedback, Josh and Val. From what I gather, it’s the rating that stings – and having to choose out of five is a very crude system. Perhaps I shall just make comments, where I always pick out what I particularly enjoyed about a work and why. If I have something to point out that I wasn’t keen on, then I try to make it clear that it was just a clash with my particular tastes.

          I have had a couple of reviews for a short story I wrote, and the one on Dear Author that gave me a B- did sting a little, I admit. There seems to be something very damning about a minus, even thought the comments were overall fairly positive.

          1. Josh Lanyon

            Thanks for the feedback, Josh and Val. From what I gather, it’s the rating that stings – and having to choose out of five is a very crude system. Perhaps I shall just make comments, where I always pick out what I particularly enjoyed about a work and why. If I have something to point out that I wasn’t keen on, then I try to make it clear that it was just a clash with my particular tastes.

            That’s what I’d recommend. Basically I talk about books I genuinely enjoyed. If I didn’t enjoy them, well…I’m not a reviewer. I’m a colleague. If someone asks for my honest opinion that’s different. I’ll give my honest opinion when requested (privately).

  9. liade

    try these names on for size: Christiane France, Imari Jade, Mimi Riser, Red Haircrow

    Actually a book by Red Haircrow (“Lieutenant’s Love”) has been high on my TB list since Sarah Black did an interesting little interview with him on her LJ only a few days ago.

    1. Josh Lanyon

      I could also have talked a little about picking pen names and the right publishers and how much getting good book covers count, but I didn’t want to write an actual book on the topic. *g*

  10. thelastaerie

    Interesting article! Yes, too bad, being a writer is not all about writing. And being a reader is not all about… err… reading, we have to sort through lots of excerpts, recommendations, ads, eavesdroppings to choose what to read with our (limited) time. It’s hardwork, I know. :P

    Unfortunately, that “if you build it, they will come” thingy.. it’s not true! I studied and worked in marketing, so I know a thing or two about selling something that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The main thing is to find the niche, where your audience hang out and make your works “visible” there.

    Totally agree that overexposure is about over-promoting, not overexposure with a large quality backlist – no reader would mind that! :)

    There are a few jaw-droppingly popular authors’ works that I read but felt “meh”, but that’s OK, there are plenty who enjoyed those works and I am glad to find out they are not for me, so I won’t waste more time. As you said, the cake is big, I’ll just go look for another piece.

    As a reader, I also think it’s a duty (or at least a worthwhile thing to do) to recommend books to others, to (indirectly) promote your favourite writers. I want my favourite authors to be able to survive, so he/she can continue to write, so I can continue to read their good stories, so it’s win-win.

    1. Josh Lanyon

      As a reader, I also think it’s a duty (or at least a worthwhile thing to do) to recommend books to others, to (indirectly) promote your favourite writers. I want my favourite authors to be able to survive, so he/she can continue to write, so I can continue to read their good stories, so it’s win-win.

      There is nothing — no advertising, no reviewing, no interviews or blogging — that can compete with the genuine word of mouth that spreads (usually invisibly to the rest of us) between readers. It’s the single most valuable thing that can happen to a writer: positive word of mouth that spreads like wildfire.

    2. Wave Post author

      Hi Eve

      It’s so nice to see you. :)

      I wanted to comment on the “If you build it they will come” theme. I consult in marketing and business, and one of the principles I try to instill in my clients is that if they make a good product, people will find it and buy it because there’s nothing like word of mouth recommendations. Of course that’s a fairly simplistic strategy, and like everything else it has to be developed in a way that the product marketing is not in your face. At the core of the strategy should be that the product itself excellent.

      When I started up my blog I wanted to make it a place where readers and authors would want to come back to time and again. It took me over a year but I’m very happy 2+ years later that I didn’t take the obvious shortcuts. I hope I acheived what I set out to do and the principle I used is this same one: I believed that if I created a space on the internet with good content, great reviewers, great atmosphere, and loads of fun that most people would drop by from time to time, in other words “If I build it, they will come.”

      Obviously this wouldn’t work for everyone but with books, if you don’t start out with a product of which you can be proud, very quickly others will see the flaws. That’s not to say that they won’t buy the boooks – many posters here talked about some authors who we can’t figure out why they are popular – it’s the law of averages I believe, or some freak of nature. :)

      1. Josh Lanyon

        I consult in marketing and business, and one of the principles I try to instill in my clients is that if they make a good product, people will find it and buy it because there’s nothing like word of mouth recommendations. Of course that’s a fairly simplistic strategy, and like everything else it has to be developed in a way that the product marketing is not in your face. At the core of the strategy should be that the product itself excellent.

        This is why gimmicky marketing doesn’t work — or, rather, it only works once unless the product behind it is the kind of thing that brings consumers back for more.

        It’s great when popularity coincides with quality but when it comes to storytelling sometimes — actually a lot of times — concept and, er, smut is often a big seller. This is not a criticism, this is an observation. A writer who truly understands her target audience is a writer with an advantage.

        I do believe that a well-written book that doesn’t get any publicity will still eventually find readers, but that could take years and it may not be many readers. Some promotion is necessary, but all the promotion in the world can’t save you if you don’t write the kind of thing readers want to read.

  11. Val Kovalin

    Outstanding article, Josh! Thanks so much. So many points here I’d like to tape to my computer monitor (while saving the whole article for reference). To name a few,

    There’s room for all of us to thrive in this genre.

    plenty of popular and bestselling authors in this genre who do very little online promotion

    create good karma for yourself by treating others as you wish to be treated.

    Write as fast as you competently can and build up a sizable backlist.

    It may be counterintuitive, but the more you post, the more invisible you become. Cultivate a little mystique.

    The personal blog advice about not baring one’s soul when first starting out is priceless. And the “reviewing one’s peers” advice definitely rings true. Unfortunately, I started as a reviewer before deciding to try writing, and I didn’t have the foresight to pick out different names for each endeavor.

    I can say that I’m treating other writers the way I would want to be treated because I want to get reviewed and I want as much honest reader feedback, negative as well as positive, as I can get (that’s the only way I can improve my writing). Also, I never take a snarky tone.

    But I can totally understand how reviewing my peers could be viewed negatively — and you’re right about those obnoxious little Goodreads stars! I’m going to discontinue those as of today, and I just wish Amazon gave us a choice about it.

    I get a sense of huge numbers of new writers flooding the m/m romance field, which is why your advice is so on-target and needed here. Just for fun and to get some sense of numbers, whenever I hear of a new m/m writer, I’ve been adding the name to list and I’m past 500 now. :)

    1. Josh Lanyon

      Ah! Val, you just reminded me of a couple of points that might be useful. First off, I’ve read some of your reviews, and I think you’re a good, conscientious reviewer. What I would suggest for someone like you — or for others who want to write but also hope to use their reviewer status as a bit of networking and promotion — review but avoid “grading” the review. For example, Publisher’s Weekly and more serious mainstream reviewers just review. They don’t grade — PW gives a star if a book is exceptional, but beyond that, they don’t grade. This forces them to really discuss the book’s merits and weaknesses.

      The grade thing is where the danger comes in because it’s not standardized across review sites, it’s extremely subjective, it’s prone to abuse (like at Good Reads where no comment or review is required, someone can just give stars) and it leads to ill will. I stopped citing stars on my own site a while back because very often the stars didn’t match the reviews. Meaning I had a lot of five star reviews but there was nothing worth quoting on my website, whereas I had some rave four star reviews with fabulous “sound bytes.” It was exasperating and illogical.

      Alex Beecroft is someone who started out as a reviewer — a very good, honest, insightful reviewer — and it doesn’t seem to have done her much harm. Now I will say that the reviews I received from Alex were generous and flattering reviews and so I have warm feelings for her. I do think she’s a very good writer, but I also suspect that one reason I go out of my way to promote Alex and rec Alex is because I feel that Alex was kind to me early on. Just as we have long memories for the people who hurt us, we have long memories for those who help us.

      If you love reviewing, you can still do it as a fiction writer, but try to avoid looking like you think you know more than your peers or are placing yourself in judgment over them — I say this as someone who (by publishing a How To Write book) has been perceived as standing in judgment over my peers. It hasn’t all been pretty. ;-D

      1. Val Kovalin

        review but avoid “grading” the review.

        Excellent advice! I’m committed to numeric ratings here at this site as part of the procedure, but I’m definitely going to take your advice elsewhere — my own blog, for sure. :)

        Just as we have long memories for the people who hurt us, we have long memories for those who help us.

        I hope so! I know that holds true with me.

      2. Wave Post author

        Hi Josh

        First of all congratulations on being top of the heap over at Carina Press. :) I understand that your book Fair Game is Top of the Bestseller List over there, and I’m sure it’s most deserved even though I haven’t read the book as yet. :)

        Re grading, as you know on this site we grade the books for a couple of reasons but the main one is we write reviews for the readers . Not all of them have the time to read the in-depth reviews we post here, but they sometimes take a quick look at the “summary review” and the rating and then decide whether to commit to reading the entire review. We always back up our ratings with the narrative, and if the two aren’t in sync the readers query the rating and ask the reviewer to explain the inconsistency, which is a great gut check. So we have to be on our toes at all times

        Sure, reviewing is subjective, but that’s because it’s the reviewers’ personal opinions, just like rating a good wine, food, movies etc. Being subjective doesn’t mean that we’re not fair and honest. I know that the reviewers here try to be fair at all times (we may not always succeed) and when we have a bias (e.g. I love sports and fantasy) we may have a tendency to give a book a shade higher rating, but we always state our biases upfront (or we should).

        This morning I gave the book Driftwood by Harper Fox the highest rating on this site and my review sure backed up that rating. Similarly, if I rated a book below par I give detailed reasons in the review for that rating.

        I agree that it’s difficult for authors to review the books of their peers, but there are many authors on this site who also review and so far they have manged to tread delicately, while being honest with the readers. One of the policies on this site is that no reviewer can crap all over an author personally. They may not like a book but they have to say why, in very clear language and not make it personal. The authors may not like the reviews but at least they are getting an honest opinion, not one coloured by whether the reviewer hates an author (I hope) :(. I frequently ask the reviewers if they can review a book fairly and if they can’t I would send it to someone else. Recently I recused myself from reviewing a book because there was something in the language that I abhored, and the writer knows why I didn’t review the book and she thanked me. BTW the book received 5 stars which I think was well deserved.

        We all have principles we have to live by and I think most reviewers do a good job. *getting off my soapbox* :)

        The reason I never joined Goodreads is I believe it’s like “yellow journalism”. No one has to back up their ratings with a narrative to justify the numbers . I don’t consider that reviewing.

        1. Josh Lanyon

          Wave, the subject of reviewers and reviewing is really for another day. I think you do a good job here and I think yours is one of the most respected of the m/m sites — which of course puts a lot of responsibility on your shoulders.

          I’m strictly talking here about the advisability of using reviewing as a platform for promoting one’s own writing career.

          Obviously I’m only able to offer my own opinion on this stuff, but I do think that it’s advisable to avoid making enemies where you can. Because success breeds envy and envy breeds enemies.

          Leaving aside the reviewing thing for a minute — and I don’t think anyone is seriously going to argue that bad reviews result in bad feelings — very often aspiring or new writers feel obliged to shoot their mouths off on a variety of topics, to post a lot and to take sides in all kinds of cyber kerfluffles. It’s all part of the new writer process, a sort of thinking aloud and defining your ideas even for yourself on every topic from…do penises really twitch to…should authors use pen names. There is nothing more opinionated (and loud with it) than the aspiring or newly published author.

          I’m not saying don’t offer an opinion, I’m saying think before you speak and try to focus less on sounding like a smarty pants and more like a decent, diplomatic person.

          So often I see new writers jumping in on one side or another of some big web debate before all the facts are in and then there are these sheepish apologies and backtracking and meanwhile you’ve offended someone.

          Nor am I saying live your life in fear of offending everyone, I’m saying when you’re starting out it’s important to build positive connotations with your name. Build positive relationships with your peers, focus on being a productive, positive person. I know that sounds corny, but readers do notice the backbiting and backstabbing stuff that goes on. And they do notice if you’re one of these loudmouths who’s constantly blabbing before she’s got all the facts. Or if your comments are always negative in nature.

      3. junkfoodmonkey

        That’s a good point about the ratings not being standardised across sites. Three stars on Goodreads means “I liked it”, which is obviously positive! Lots of my ratings are three stars on there and I consider that a good rating by me. But others could think it’s stingy.

        You’ve definitely got me thinking there. I’ve done a couple of reviews on Three Dollar Bill review site now, but maybe I need to knock that on the head. They use this old internet handle, not my pen name (which is not revealed to the world yet!) But it’s not as if I intend to try to pretend to be two different people. The fact I’ve mentioned my novel’s title plenty of times on my Live Journal which has this username means that anyone looking will soon find the connection!

        Pondering now…

        1. Tam

          I wish Good reads had half stars. Because I find lots of books for me fall in the half range and I hate to rate up and then people don’t trust me but rating down seems unfair. Bleh. I use it to keep track of what I read and I do look at my friends star ratings because I know what Jen or Lily rate and how that meshes with my opinions so it helps me choose.

          On my site, I don’t rate at all. I just say what I liked (or disliked although I try not to be mean) and leave it at that. You’ll like know what I consider a 5 star cause I might just be gushing a bit. But otherwise I don’t rate.

          1. Josh Lanyon

            Tam, my real objection to the stars is that they’re too often a crutch. I mean, they’re also a convenience, but I know as a writer I’m more interested in what the reviewer actually has to say. Writing is such a weird thing. It’s very personal but then you share it…and so you’re kind of hoping to hear things that make you feel it was worth sharing. If that makes sense? Good things, maybe even things that surprise you.

            At least at Amazon a reviewer has to say something about the book. There’s no proof at Good Reads that the book was even really read.

        2. Josh Lanyon

          Again, I don’t want anyone freaking out over the fact that they review and now everyone will hate their books. :-D That’s not what I’m saying. (Really.)

          It’s just that I see a lot of reviewers hoping to use reviewing as a springboard to writing, and my point is really only that it has its drawbacks and that it’s important to concentrate on that overall package of book and author persona.

          Of course promotion and self-packaging is really another giant topic.

          1. Tam

            To be honest Josh I’m just too lazy to repost everything from my site to Good Reads. Bad me. Each book that gets a star rating has a verbal review on my site, but …. Yeah, laziness is it’s own issue. Sigh

            Maybe I’ll just start putting the link and then people can go and read my single paragraph if they want. Not sure. I should improve my attitude there I suppose.

          2. Wave Post author

            Hey Josh

            Of course promotion and self-packaging is really another giant topic.

            Is that the next post you’re volunteering to write? I did send you that virtual bottle of Irish Coffee. :)

    2. Wave Post author

      Val
      Just to back up what you said about the numbers, Christian used to have to update the list of new authors once every 3 months or so because WordPress requires that we do so manually. Lately I have to send him a long list every 2 – 3 weeks to input in the system because there are so many new M/M writers coming on the scene every day.

      1. Val Kovalin

        I’m not surprised by the increased time spent on inputting those new names. I know my list of 500+ must be underestimating because I know I don’t read as fast, buy as much, or shop at as many publishers as my fellow reviewers. The total list of m/m writers, new and established, might be closer to 700 or 1000. :D

          1. Wave Post author

            Josh
            On this site alone the number of M/M writers who have responded to a poll is 345 and they are still voting. The poll is set up so that they can only vote once. I have no idea how many others haven’t voted as yet but by the end of the year maybe we’ll get a fair idea of numbers.

  12. Jenre

    Great, thoughtful article Josh.

    I’m probably in the minority here, but as well as my autobuy authors, or established authors, I also like to pick out a couple of new authors to read in a week. This often means that I’ll check my favourite epubs for the new releases and pick up a book from an author I’ve never heard of. Goodreads is good for that too, if I see one of my GRs friends has added a book by a newbie, then I’m more likely to check it out and see if I might be interested too.

    This happened today when I noticed that someone had added Missy’s book at GRs. I went over to LI, read the blurb and liked the sound of it.

    I have heard of Christiane France – I’ve reviewed 3 of her books at this site :).

    BTW, I’ll look forward to reading your BDSM vampire book soon ;).

  13. Jordan Castillo Price

    Wow. I hadn’t really thought about the sea of emerging m/m writers. It would be daunting to start now and have to feel like a little fish in a big pond.

    There’s a lot in this post to think about, Josh. There are a couple of parts that involve some self-reflection on the part of the author, and I wanted to pull those parts out and examine them a bit more closely.

    You said: “If selling a lot of books and being a Popular Author is important to you, then commonsense suggests that you take a look at the most popular books and authors and analyze what they’re doing versus what you’re doing.”

    The first thing I really love is that you don’t simply assume big sales and popularity is a given. It’s quite possible that an author might be marching to her own drummer, and really what she’s after is to tell the story in her head, and hopefully people will read it…but if not, she hasn’t quit her day job.

    Then you used my favorite A-word: analyze! You and I have discussed before whether or not talent even exists, and I’m coming around to the idea that maybe the capacity for useful analysis makes the whole difference between success and failure.

    So much can be learned vicariously. If you notice a certain author is always annoying you with requests to vote for this-and-that, then put that in your “no” column. If you notice someone else always does the coolest blog posts, analyze what’s cool about them and figure out how to do your own version of them.

    This part also spoke to me: “[Breaking Thru] it means different things at different points in your writing career.”

    Sometimes I feel like success is a mirage. I see something shimmering over the desert, and by the time I’ve plodded over to the oasis, I see it’s actually way over there by the next dune.

    Sometimes the milestones creep up on you. I realized the other day at a social gathering that if anyone asked what I did for a living, I wouldn’t be able to fall back on my old, “I’m a designer at a library,” answer, and it was scary! (And then they didn’t ask, ha ha!)

  14. Josh Lanyon

    Wow. I hadn’t really thought about the sea of emerging m/m writers. It would be daunting to start now and have to feel like a little fish in a big pond.

    And yet the pond seems to stretch as far as we need it to. I mean, think how crowded the pond for straight romance or mystery writing is, but there’s no cap on the amount of new writers that can enter — and every year a few names seem to burst out of nowhere and suddenly start winning awards and hitting bestseller lists.

    Sometimes it looks like overnight success, but more often it’s writers who’ve been slogging away for years.


    The first thing I really love is that you don’t simply assume big sales and popularity is a given. It’s quite possible that an author might be marching to her own drummer, and really what she’s after is to tell the story in her head, and hopefully people will read it…but if not, she hasn’t quit her day job.

    It’s easy to judge success by sales and popularity, but in fact success has to do with how happy and fulfilled you are. At least, that’s my take.


    Then you used my favorite A-word: analyze! You and I have discussed before whether or not talent even exists, and I’m coming around to the idea that maybe the capacity for useful analysis makes the whole difference between success and failure.

    Objective analysis — especially where our own interests lie — is really hard. I agree. Most of us have a tendency to look for the facts that support our existing beliefs and prejudices.

    So much can be learned vicariously. If you notice a certain author is always annoying you with requests to vote for this-and-that, then put that in your “no” column. If you notice someone else always does the coolest blog posts, analyze what’s cool about them and figure out how to do your own version of them.

    Desperation is always unattractive, and that’s what all those frantic bids for comment here, vote here, join here feel like. And again there’s so much of it. After a while it’s just a loud buzz in the background.


    Sometimes I feel like success is a mirage. I see something shimmering over the desert, and by the time I’ve plodded over to the oasis, I see it’s actually way over there by the next dune.

    I was just thinking how weird it is that there are two sides to success– how we view our success and how others view our success. They don’t necessarily mesh.

    Sometimes the milestones creep up on you. I realized the other day at a social gathering that if anyone asked what I did for a living, I wouldn’t be able to fall back on my old, “I’m a designer at a library,” answer, and it was scary! (And then they didn’t ask, ha ha!)

    Ha!

  15. Alex Beecroft

    Great post, Josh! And I think as well as being good advice for newbies it’s a wake up call for the rest of us too. It is a long uphill struggle, and I think there comes a point when all that “OMG! I’m published!” energy wears off and you have to retrench and think about what you can do sustainably. That’s where I’m at now, anyway.

    As far as reviews go, I always used to be of the opinion that writers ought to be professional and try to be thankful even for the bad ones. Nowadays, I’ve realized how much the bad ones hurt and I find myself more and more reluctant to write them – particularly if they’re for people I’ve seen around and interacted with. I think that’s why it’s vitally important that there are reviewers like Wave who review really well, but don’t write. No conflict of interest :)

    It was easy to write a good review for Fatal Shadows, though – no kindness involved, just honesty and glee at finding a new favourite author.

    1. Josh Lanyon

      Great post, Josh! And I think as well as being good advice for newbies it’s a wake up call for the rest of us too. It is a long uphill struggle, and I think there comes a point when all that “OMG! I’m published!” energy wears off and you have to retrench and think about what you can do sustainably. That’s where I’m at now, anyway.

      I know. That first book feels life changing. And it is, but…there’s still such a long road ahead!

      As far as reviews go, I always used to be of the opinion that writers ought to be professional and try to be thankful even for the bad ones. Nowadays, I’ve realized how much the bad ones hurt and I find myself more and more reluctant to write them – particularly if they’re for people I’ve seen around and interacted with. I think that’s why it’s vitally important that there are reviewers like Wave who review really well, but don’t write. No conflict of interest

      I agree — on all points. I think most reviewers go into reviewing with good intentions. They love books, they love talking about books, they want to share that love. Some even perhaps have a hope to help authors with honest and constructive criticism. I think very few reviewers intend their remarks to be crippling or destructive, but it happens all the same. That’s why many of us give up reading reviews altogether (I mean of our own work — I still enjoy reading well-written reviews of others’ work)!

      1. Josh Lanyon

        I think very few reviewers intend their remarks to be crippling or destructive, but it happens all the same.

        I should say it can happen. It’s not the normal thing that happens!

  16. Josh Lanyon

    Is that the next post you’re volunteering to write? I did send you that virtual bottle of Irish Coffee.

    I suspect I’d have to drink the entire thing to be crazy enough to write that post!

  17. Josh Lanyon

    Tam, really I think you’re fine with what you’re doing. Anytime reviews are mentioned it seems to digress into the whole review process — but really in this case I’m only thinking in terms of writers who also want to review (and vice versa).

  18. Kari Gregg

    Great article, Josh, much food for thought. Once I get these blasted revisions done, I’ll have more brain cells to allocate to what I’m going to do with promo and the “break through” to readers, but for now…No game plan at all is intimidating as hell, actually, LOL. The tips and pointers help. You’re not just a M/M Rock Star — you’re a prince. And no, I’m not talking Purple Rain. ;-)

    1. Josh Lanyon

      Thanks, Kari. One thing I probably should have mentioned in regards to promo — and sustained effort — is you don’t have to do everything at once. It’s easy to get overwhelmed if you look at a giant list of all there is to do.

      Just do a couple of things — I aim for three — a day. They can be little, simple things: commenting on a blog or working on a book trailer or checking out potential advertising. Just do something small every day and before long you’ve accomplished an unbelievable amount.

  19. Dakota Flint

    Very interesting post–lot of food for thought. The point that jumped out at me was how important sustained effort is. There’s no getting around that. But I think it’s important for new writers to define what their own personal level of sustainability is in terms of both writing and promotion commitments, schedules, deadlines, etc. It might be different for everyone, and it’s probably not an answer someone else can give you.

    So yes, it’s about hard work and perseverance, a kind of determined one foot in front of the other unending march, but I think it’s also about determining what is sustainable for you. I think some of the unhappiness can be avoided by reconciling the level of success you’re looking for (and being realistic!) with sustainable writing goals and commitments. This might seem simplistic (or maybe I’m not even making sense–oh dear, I can’t believe I’m posting so late!) but I think so many writers pre-publication are so intensely focused on that one glorious goal of a published work that they don’t think about what comes after: the rest of your life. (Which admittedly may not be very long if you’re choking under deadlines, not that I am or anything *cough*) They don’t take the time to pause and take stock and figure out what’s best for them, or they do and the answer is…elusive. It’s like reaching for publication feels like a sprint…and what comes after is more like a marathon. Training for that is vitally important–and so is determining what pace will best help you reach the finish line without passing out.

    Ugh–definitely time for bed if I’m rambling and that’s the best metaphor I can come up with. But this post resonated with me (as someone who has spent the last few years making just about every mistake there is to make, trust me) and I just wanted to comment about the sustainability aspect.

    Oh, and the cowboys. Yes, that is definitely one key to success. ;)

    1. Josh Lanyon

      You’re absolutely right, Dakota. At first the focus is just on being published. As though that were end goal. In fact, it’s just a milestone.

      One of the best things a writer can do — I don’t know if it’s possible to do ahead of time (maybe not) is figure out what you want from your writing career.

      We’re such a competitive society that I think there’s almost a guilt associated with *not* wanting to be the biggest, the brightest, the best. As though choosing sanity and peace and moderation was equal to choosing defeat.

      It’s easy to forget that real success is measured by happiness. (Or at least it’s something I have to keep reminding myself of.)

  20. Ebi

    “…breaking thru the heart-sinking reality that no one knows you.”

    Not heart-sinking for me, Josh, just plain ol’ granny-bitch-slap reality. It’s something I have to ignore to continue doing what I love considering where I am geographically. Location matters, believe me, regardless of the global village thing made possible by information technology.

    I’ll concentrate on the “hard work…better described as sustained effort”, hope that the “talent/skill” will be recognized (…with a microscope, anything!) and pray that Lady “luck” finds herself at my door having lost her way to some deserving soul.

    Thanks for the post. It’s pragmatic but inspiring. Somewhat conflicting, pragmatism and inspiration, but here it works.

    Cheers :)

  21. Red Haircrow

    Thank you for taking the time to read my excerpt on Romance Café, yet I categorize my work as gay fiction not m/m, which I know some people don’t ascertain the difference and I know others, be it publishers or reviewers will continue to place that label on my writing.

    Many I’ve observed, readers and others I’ve interacted with automatically assume m/m books are primarily about sex or sexual relationships between two or more men, and rightly so in most cases. I’ve actually had some tell me that I don’t have enough sex or details in my books. And I reply just because it involves gay characters and it’s fiction does not make it m/m or erotica in the sense you’re going to read about sexual detail. The power of the emotion or situation drives my writing.

    And for myself personally, about the sustained effort thing: I think it’s really easy to fall into the trap of defining one’s own efforts as a writer by what you see others announcing. A new release every other month or sooner for example. Although I don’t often reply or interact on such a topic in writer’s forum, it’s a common lament by some newer writers they feel somewhat overwhelmed or disheartened by that. Stress to complete new work, or the feeling to capitulate. It’s not easy to keep your own momentum going sometimes.

    I wrote a short article titled “My Words of Encouragement” specifically for other writers, but it can apply to anyone really. ““Do not define yourself by what you perceive as your own failure based on someone else’s announced successes…
    http://bit.ly/a6vpxn

    There is definitely an explosion of new “m/m” writers on the scene because publisher’s numbers and feedback received shows this is the most sought after category for the sudden influx of western female readers. Personally I do not read m/m fiction or romance because too much is inaccurate and stereotypical involving gay or bi men or just flat out wrong (no other word for it), though I will occasionally read fiction with GLBT characters or themes. I don’t read for sexual content.

    We had a number of comments on my article at my website, “Female Writers of M/M: My thoughts” by authors such as D.W. Marchwell, A.B. Gayle, and Andy Eisenberg (among others) and we rather address what the shift in market demands has meant for gay fiction.

  22. Jaime Samms

    I’m way late commenting on this post, like months late. But I’ve always held to the idea that you find what you need when yo uneed it, be it people coming into your life or even just a blog post that happens to speak to whatever ails you in that moment. This is one of those moments for me. It’s not really like I didn’t know any of this already, but it was a timely reminder. Thanks, Josh. I needed that.

    Jaime Samms

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