When Fatal Shadows was published in 2000, the total extent of contact I had with readers — fans — was membership on a mystery listserv (remember listservs?) and the occasional letter forwarded by my publisher. Reviews came from paid professionals. I never anticipated or intended to interact personally with my reading public. I couldn’t imagine such a thing.
Fast forward thirteen years. Readers moderate my Facebook Fan Page and my Goodreads group. They beta my books, they create art for my books, they help launch my books, and they review my books. They patiently permit me to bounce ideas off them for upcoming projects, offering feedback, encouragement, and support. Not a day goes by that I don’t receive several messages or emails from readers. My readers — the Fanyons — have become a critical part of my writing career. Many of them are now personal friends. All of them, in a strange and unforeseen way, are my publishing partners.
One of the myths writers cling to is that once upon a time, in the good old days, all you had to do was write a great book and readers would find you. And it’s undoubtedly true that with a fraction of the competition we have now, the chances of being discovered on merit alone were higher. But just like today — and just like tomorrow — literary merit has never been enough to guarantee discoverability.
The sad fact is, you can write a fabulous book, but if readers don’t know about you, they will not read your fabulous book.
But with every writer out there screaming at the top of their lungs in an effort to attract the attention of readers, how do you stand out from the crowd? (Assuming you’ve already written the best book you have in you.) Well, you stand out through your own unique, original and inventive marketing and promotion efforts — which I can’t help you with. And you stand out through recognizing the latest trends in social media and by getting there first — which I can help you with.
If you’ve done any financial investing – and if you’re planning to write for a living, I sincerely hope you have – you know one of the secrets to success is diversity. It’s common sense. One of the earliest bits of homespun wisdom we receive is don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Whether forming lunch room friendships or sending out college applications, we’re cautioned not to pin all our hopes for success on one single person, place, or thing.
So it is fascinating to watch so many authors falling headlong into the trap of exclusivity.
About a year ago I was invited to be a guest author at JR Ward’s Goodreads group. If you’re not familiar with Ward – and I confess I was not then familiar with her work – she writes the enormously popular Black Dagger Brotherhood series about vampire soldiers battling against…well, that part isn’t really important. The important part was that Ward, a #1 New York Times and USAToday Best Selling author of erotic paranormal romance, had decided to give two of her gay characters, Qhuinn and Blay, their own full-length novel love story, and to warm up for the big event, Ward’s Goodreads group invited a series of M/M authors to come and chat about M/M romance to virgin readers.
Now granted, Ward was not the first #1 New York Times and USAToday Best Selling author of contemporary romance to dare to write a front and center gay love story for her mainstream audience (that honor goes to Suze Brockmann for the Jules and Robin storyline in her Troubleshooters series) and, granted, Ward’s series is paranormal, and spec fiction writers have been writing gay characters and gay relationships for decades, but it was still big news – and it continues to be big news.
It seems as though I’ve been saying goodbye for the last month, but now the time has indeed come to sign off.
However, before I fling myself on my horse and ride madly off in all directions, I want to thank Wave and her crew. I’ve known and counted Wave among my online friends since the very first incarnation of this site — back when she was just little Jessewave asking her one thousand and one penetrating questions. In a very few short years she’s turned this corner of the web into the most respected and influential of m/m sites, and it’s due largely to her own vision and hard work.
(Largely, but not entirely — I guess the term “Wave’s crew” is a little misleading because [not counting the many reviewers who generously and regularly contribute] that crew consists of computer guru Christian and everybody’s favorite reading relation, Aunt Lynn. Despite the size and breadth of this site, this is a three man — er, person — operation. Which makes all they’ve achieved together the more impressive.)
If you really like it you can have the rights,
It could make a million for you overnight.
If you must return it, you can send it here
But I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer
“Paperback Writer” by Lennon/McCartney
Hmmmm. What to talk about this month? So many possibilities…
One of the few interesting topics to arise from the melodrama at the beginning of November was the theorem that there is something intrinsically more noble about writing for love versus writing for money. There seemed to be a notion that these two motives were mutually exclusive.
Cultural stereotypes reinforce the fantasy. The true artist slaves away in virtual isolation on her LJ, selling her self-published tome to an enlightened readership of one or two hundred and then giving the proceeds to charity. Meanwhile, in Mordor, the Dark Lord — Lady — WhatEVAH — sits scribbling out cheap, tawdry commercial fiction and cackling insanely as the piles of gold multiply as if by black magic.
First the bad news. The market for M/M fiction is glutted. I know. This is not really much of a news flash. We’ve been talking for months about the fact that more m/m books are being written and published than readers and reviewers can keep up with. It goes without saying (though I’m going to say it anyway) that there are not enough insatiable fans of m/m fiction to turn every book into a hit. There aren’t even enough fans to turn every release into a moderate success. By now, the vast majority of m/m stories are falling into a vacuum.
And so are a number of publishers. The implosion at Aspen Mountain Press is the latest epic fail, but the last five years have seen a number of e-pubs crash and burn. Glancing over the publisher index at the back of Man Oh Man: Writing M/M Fiction for Kinks & Ca$h, I see that ten out of forty-one publishers are now out of business. Three of the remaining publishers are vanity presses.
A book itself threatens to kill its author repeatedly during its composition.
Michael Chabon, Fountain City (an unfinished novel)
I’ve been trying to catch up on some of my reading lately, and a few nights ago I came across an essay from the New York Times Book Review the SO had ripped out for me some months back. The essay by Dan Kois was titled “Burn Before Reading,” and it was about the reasons that lead an author to abandon a novel.
As you would expect, different writers dump projects for different reasons. Kois was primarily talking about literary writers like Harper Lee who, having succeeded straight out of the gate in writing an American classic, concluded the only direction to go was down, and opted instead to become a semi-reclusive legend. He also mentions Stephanie Meyer who temporarily gave up on the spinoff Midnight Sun after the initial chapters were leaked and appeared on the internet.
Kois writes, “What leads a writer to abandon a novel? Despair, frustration, ambition, inexperience and even success.” Lee and Meyer aside, in most of the listed examples, the dead novels were mercy killings.
I frequently hear that I am a very productive — even prolific — author.
By mainstream standards, that’s true. In mainstream, two novels a year — four if you’re ultra ambitious — is pretty much the norm. At the end of this year, I’ll have published some 46 individual works as Josh Lanyon. It took me four years.* A couple of weeks ago one of my Facebook author friends mentioned in passing that she was aiming to publish 50 works this year.
When I recovered from my faint, I began to snoop around, checking out the production schedules of various colleagues in order to get a feel for the “normal” output of authors in our particular genre. I even posed a couple of questions to writers both aspiring and published on my Facebook and Goodreads walls this past week. While the actual numbers varied, there was a common theme. Everyone valued quality over quantity, everyone was working to their maximum ability, and nearly everyone believed they were not productive enough.
A few weeks ago a friend phoned to tell me that after much painful inner debate she had concluded that she had to accept the Bible as the literal word of God, and that while God does not hate homosexuals, he does hate homosexuality.
Now before everyone gets worked up over what the Bible does and doesn’t say on the topic of homosexuality, I want to point out that theologians and Biblical scholars can’t agree on this topic, so we’re not going to solve it here in heated comments on Jessewave’s site. According to various Biblical interpretations, homosexuality is wrong. It’s a sin — depending on who you ask. Therefore my friend is not technically “wrong” for listening to her conscience, and while I was shocked and hurt by her words, I wasn’t angry. In fact, I find it impossible to be angry with other people’s religious beliefs, however weird or misguided they seem to me.
My first column here at Wave’s dealt with the topic of whether it was necessary for m/m writers to find a mainstream publisher. Given the buzz about self-publishing these days, I guess it’s only natural that the next question would be whether m/m writers need a publisher at all.
The debate about self-publishing — and the best way to go about it — ramped up with a lengthy and much publicized conversation between literary self-promo guru J.A. Konrath and national best-selling author Barry Eisler who turned down a half million dollar advance in order to publish his next books himself. That conversation is an excellent starting point, and you can read it here.
OR I can save you an hour or so and condense it for you in one paragraph: there can be drawbacks to working with a publisher, especially if you’re a midlist author, and — thanks to Amazon’s game-changing decision to pay 70% royalties on books published directly through the Kindle and priced at $2.99 or higher — you might be better off going it on your own in this brave new digital-friendly age of literature.
But the farmer and the cowman should be friends.
Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.
The cowman ropes a cow with ease, the farmer steals her butter and cheese, but that’s no reason why they can’t be friends.
Oklahoma, Rodgers and Hammerstein
We’ve all seen the movie — no, not Oklahoma. The movie where the artist — sometimes an actor, sometimes a playwright, sometimes a painter, sometimes a novelist — is lying in bed with breakfast tray and newspapers…plumped by pillows like an invalid waiting to hear the doctor’s prognosis. Except in this case it’s the first night reviews the artist is awaiting. Depending on the film, the reviews are either the validation the artist has been slaving for — or soul crushing defeat (hide the sleeping pills). This iconic Hollywood image fosters the long cherished belief that reviews make or break a writer/painter/actor/concert pianist’s career, and it’s one reason artists occasionally (okay, often) grow unhinged on the topic.
Reviews are important, no argument there, but their role isn’t quite that cut and dried.
But by far the worst thing that editors do is to unleash those anonymous vandals known as copy-editors.
“Some Thoughts About Writing” by Thomas Sowell
When Wave broached the subject of editing (or lack therein) in m/m and gay romantic fiction—a subject dear to both our hearts—I quickly realized it was going to turn into a topic too complex to handle in one column.
I think it says a great deal about Wave and her team of reviewers that they understand that every book is a collaboration, and that to some extent the failure of a book is the failure of editor and publisher. It is only the self-published author who can take complete and utter responsibility for their work’s success. Or, less happily, failure.
At the same time, a work of fiction—even light and pulpy romantic fiction—is a deeply personal thing. It’s not like putting together a sales report. It’s not like writing any kind of non-fiction. It is the stuff of one’s dreams and fears and fantasies. This is why writers don’t react well to negative reviews. The reviewer may say that it’s nothing personal all she or he likes, but one’s fiction is the most personal thing out there.
This is why writers also don’t always respond well to the editing process although there is no greater gift to the professional writer than the opportunity to work with an editor.
Not a day goes by that my dear former Facebook friend Jamie LeBoink doesn’t send an invitation out asking people—everyone, anyone–to “like” her and her writing. I think she was up to about 1500 friends at the point I disengaged. And three of those 1500 folks might actually, eventually buy Jamie’s writing, assuming she ever gets around to doing any.
My point is not that LeBoink is an idiot and that we should all boycott her. My point is that we all do stupid stuff when we’re starting out in this business. We spam our friends and family. We write reviews for ourselves. We argue with reviewers. Just like a baby sucking his toes, we don’t know any better.
Nobody is born knowing the ins and outs of publishing and promotion. Having that first book come out is sort of like landing on a planet in outer space. Is there any other life here? Are the natives friendly? Do they eat little boys and girls like you for lunch? You watch, you follow, you learn. And often how you learn is by making mistakes.
This is Josh Lanyon’s first column as our Author Contributor in his new writing series called The Size of it. I will only do an introduction this one time since Josh’s new by-line will be a regular monthly feature. So, without further ado (as they say in the best circles) here’s the first of what I hope will be many articles by Josh about the world of writing.
It’s a brand new year and I’m guessing that you’ve got a number of plans for your writing career. One of those plans might very well be to land a mainstream publisher.
A while back KA Mitchell and I were comparing royalty statements and the conversation turned to publishing and the fact that so many of our writer friends keep urging us to move into mainstream fiction even though we out-earn a lot of our mainstream writing friends.
Of course it’s not just about money. If you’re in this biz strictly for the loot, let me tell you now that there are much easier ways — up to and including rape and pillage — to earn pocket change. Mainstream publishing brings other things. It brings wider readership and it brings respect. Even if your mainstream book is trashed by everyone, and her cat, you still managed to get published in mainstream (no small feat) and yes, that gets — and deserves — respect.