Ins and Outs of M/M Romance: Taking the Long Way Home by Josh Lanyon

Josh Lanyon has published countless books and has written so many posts on this site that I don’t have to introduce him to you, but I will.  Josh is well-known to anyone who reads or writes gay romances or gay fiction, especially those of us who love mysteries. He has also written the quintessential book on how to write M/M —  Man Oh Man! Writing M/M Fiction for Kinks & Ca$hIf you’re a new writer in this sub genre and you don’t already have his book you might want to check it out on Amazon or other booksellers because you can’t afford not to read this book.

Josh’s knowledge and longevity in this business is something that not many authors can equal or surpass, and you and I are fortunate that he agreed to give of his time, despite his killer schedule, to do this. 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 his awesome and intelligent pieces and especially this one on looking at writing from a strategic perspective.

Here’s his post

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  Authors come in all shapes, sizes, and colors — you can amuse yourself wondering what kind of shape and size I’m talking about — but one thing all authors share is ego.

 I’ll qualify that slightly because there are a few authors who truly do write for themselves — meaning they never, ever share their work with another soul — but those writers are few and far between. I’ve never met one. Never. I think they’re legendary creatures on a par with Chimeras and that gecko who sells car insurance.

 You have to have a certain amount of ego to believe that anyone would be interested in reading — let alone paying for — the elaborate literary fantasies you spin for yourself (a process officially known as writing fiction). This is an observation, not a criticism. It never fails to bemuse — and delight me — that people are interested in reading my stories. I try not to question it too much, though in the interests of Wave’s wonderful series we’ve all taken a crack at analyzing the elements that go into a successful writing career — in the end, it distills to this: a successful writing career is one in which enough people want to read your stories that you feel it’s worth your while to continue sharing your work.

 Notice I said sharing them, not writing them. We all write for different reasons, but the decision to share our work usually boils down to a few common denominators, the two most common being money and acclaim. Again, these are the two most common. I know there are other reasons to share our fiction, but for most writers — certainly the writers reading this column — we write for two kinds of currency: cash and compliments. It’s the old fame and fortune routine.

 Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all about the burning need to write the stories boiling in your brain — I’d be nuts if I didn’t have the outlet of writing (I may be nuts with it, who knows?) — and I know about the burning need to hone your craft and the burning need to fulfill your lifelong dreams and…etcetera, etcetera. But for the vast majority of us, cash and compliments figure in there somewhere. We want people to love our stories and we’d like to be paid for the privilege. In fact, if at all possible, we’d like people to love our stories so much, we can make a living writing them. Doesn’t have to be a lavish living, but being able to afford health insurance would be cool.

 Ego makes it possible for us to share our stories with a world that may be not that thrilled with what we have to show for all that keyboard time. Along with ego comes some good stuff: courage, confidence, and optimism. It takes guts to put your stories out there. But with ego also comes anxiety, insecurity, jealousy, and fear. Writers, being imaginative and over-sensitive creatures (which is how we do that thing we do) often seem to get more of the latter and less of the former. We’re alone too much with our thoughts, that’s part of the problem. We spend a lot of time — too much time, maybe — wondering how we’re doing. How does our writing career compare to…hers or his? How much is X getting in royalties? Why did Y win that award? Why is Z so freaking popular when I don’t like her stuff? Should we be doing something different? Are we where we need to be at this stage of the game? How do we know? How do we compare?

 So the first thing is, you don’t compare.

 I do mean that sincerely, but I know you’re not going to pay any attention to it, so let me give you the three standards by which to judge if your writing career is on track.

 Before I get to the three things to pay attention to, keep in mind that a writing career is not one sale, one review, one award, one bestseller list, one agent, one publisher, one year, one anything. A publishing career is just that: your career. It’s made up of a number of firsts — and lasts — it’s made up of mistakes and triumphs, of hits and misses, of yeses and noses. Er…you catch my drift. No one thing, no matter how good or how bad, will determine the success or failure of your publishing career — any more than one thing, good or bad, determines the entire course of your life. You make choices along the way, things change, you adjust and make new choices, and so it goes.

 Like your life, your writing career is a journey. The journey lasts as long as you continue to share your stories with the world. For many of us, that will be most of our lives. Not just our writing, but our need to share those stories, drives and directs much of our life.  It is our life — or at least, a big chunk of it.

 If you’re going to compare your progress to that of the writers around you, remember not to compare apples and oranges. If you just published your first book, you don’t want to gauge your success by K.A. Mitchell or Victor Banis. Find two or three other writers in your genre positioned approximately where you are on the ladder, and keep an eye on their progress. Watch what happens and consider what they do differently.

 Better yet, don’t worry about anyone else but you and your progress. (I know, I know, deaf ears — we humans are competitive by nature.)

 So the three ways to gauge the success of your writing career:

 1 – Popularity. I feel shallow just saying it aloud. I’m not talking personal popularity here, however, I’m talking the popularity of your work. The more readers love your stuff, the more it sells. It ain’t rocket science, boys and girls. If you’re consistently getting fan mail, consistently getting reviewed (good or bad doesn’t even matter unless your books are consistently getting trashed — in which case this conversation is moot), consistently hitting bestseller lists, consistently winning awards, consistently being discussed and recced…you’re on the right path. You’re where you need to be. Your name stands out from the crowd, and name recognition is half of popularity. The other half, of course, is that people like seeing your name pop up. They associate your name with the stories they love to read.

  Also, remember that I’m talking about how you yourself know where you stand, so when you take a look at this stuff, remember to look objectively and analytically at the facts. Friends and fellow authors promoing each other isn’t what you’re looking for here. You want to see your name popping up on the blogs of strangers, you want people to write you out of the blue and say they found your work through Amazon or some other venue, you want to judge if word of mouth is spreading. If the word is only coming from your own mouth or the mouth of friends, you need to get to work — and you’ll find five months worth of articles on the Ins and Outs of M/M Writing on this site to help you with that.

 2 – Money. Most writers don’t make a living writing fiction. So if you can support yourself on what you’re earning through your writing, congratulations. You’re the next best thing to a Chimera or that gecko.

 How do you know if you’re earning what you should be? Well, let’s define what you should be.  Are you trying to earn a living here or just supplement your income? That’s the first thing you need to decide on. What you earn should be sufficient for what you need. There are a lot of variables there. Do you have an SO supplying a second income? Do you live in a place that’s fairly inexpensive to live?

 If you plan on writing for a living, make sure your financial ducks are in order before you take the plunge to writing fulltime. Pay off the car and the credit cards. Understand that you’re not going to be able to support yourself on what you earn the first year in this — or probably any other — genre.

 Every year your income should go up. My writing income doubled the first year I went to writing fulltime, and it tripled the second year. This is the third year, and it looks like it will double again, which, er, leaves me at about two-thirds the salary I earned at the inglorious dayjob. Ouch. But if my sales continue to grow, another year or maybe two will see me where I need to be.

 Part of where you need to be is determined by your own financial goals, but part of it comes from talking to other writers and seeing if your sales are comparable. This is information we should freely share amongst each other. I talk to writing friends about what I earn and where I do best — and they do the same. It’s good for us all to have some realistic numbers. Talk to people. Don’t be afraid to share. There’s enough cake to go around.

 3 – Job Satisfaction. I saved this for last because it’s actually the most important determiner of success. If you’re not happy with what you’re writing, if financial stress is eating you alive, if the loneliness of the long distance writer is getting to you…your writing career is not a success. You need to enjoy what you’re doing. We’ve already determined there are easier ways to make money.  Well, the praise thing is also harder to find than you might think, especially when you’re starting out, but later on as well. Nobody likes to give unqualified praise — that’s why everyone rounds down when they do those star thingies on Amazon and Good Reads. You’re more likely to hear what someone didn’t like about your work, than what they did. Hurtful and unfair things will be said and you’ll have no recourse. Zip. And then you’ll stumble upon your work being downloaded for free on torrent sites — probably right after you’ve received some pitiful royalty statement, and you will truly, truly wonder why the hell you bother at all.

 A writing career is not easy. Sometimes the writing itself is easy (often not) but a writing career is relatively low paid, lonely, and often — especially when you’re starting out — thankless. You better have one powerful passion for spinning your dreams into golden words, and you better be focused and determined and ready to work hard and consistently — and keep on working hard and consistently for years.

 But if you have what it takes and you see that every year you’re a little better known, a little better paid, and a little happier doing what it is you love to do…that’s success. It’s not as far away as you think.

Josh Lanyon’s Contact Information

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

 

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

L.C. Chase

Another wonderful post, Josh. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to share your wealth of knowledge with the rest of us. This article especially is a reminder to keep things in check. And to me it says, do what you love, love what you do – everything else is bonus. I’ve always approached my art that way, and writing is the same.

Lovin’ Blood Heat! Even though I was late for work because there just wasn’t a “good” stopping place. 😉

Amy – I read Talker and loved it, too! 🙂

Josh Lanyon
Thanks, LC. This article especially is a reminder to keep things in check. And to me it says, do what you love, love what you do – everything else is bonus. I’ve always approached my art that way, and writing is the same. Absolutely! Because otherwise it’s just another evil day job with the same deadlines and pressures and frustrations. Only in this one everyone and their grandmother gets to tell you in public what they think of your work! ;-D Lovin’ Blood Heat! Even though I was late for work because there just wasn’t a “good” stopping place. I’m… Read more »
Sloan Parker
Josh – thank you for the suggestions you’ve offered on how to gauge progress without comparisons. I do find I’m a much happier writer if I focus on my work, my goals, where I want to be next year, the following year, etc. Plus it just feels better to cheer someone else on (especially when you know how hard they’ve worked to gain their success) than to do a comparison that could end up in an envious situation. I cannot tell you how many times my SO has looked at me and asked, “Why do you do this? Why do… Read more »
Josh Lanyon
I do find I’m a much happier writer if I focus on my work, my goals, where I want to be next year, the following year, etc. Plus it just feels better to cheer someone else on (especially when you know how hard they’ve worked to gain their success) than to do a comparison that could end up in an envious situation. A great deal of the ugliness we see on line is simply sour grapes. I mean, it’s so naked as to be embarrassing. So much of it simply boils down to…That should be me! Plus, we’re a society… Read more »
Val Kovalin
This is an awesome post, Josh. I always look forward to your articles – talk about substance and real information! What you said here especially caught my attention: Friends and fellow authors promoing each other isn’t what you’re looking for here. You want to see your name popping up on the blogs of strangers That’s getting increasingly hard to get these days. I’m grateful for every single review I’ve received, but as a new author I can already see my work dropping into obscurity under the relentless crush of new releases. As a reader, I see it from other side… Read more »
Josh Lanyon
I’m grateful for every single review I’ve received, but as a new author I can already see my work dropping into obscurity under the relentless crush of new releases. And you’re in a better position than many as far as realizing just how stiff the competition is. It is a relentless crush of new releases. We are now mid-glut. You have publishers like Loose Id now doing two and three GLBT releases a week, you have new strictly m/m presses popping up, you have publishers like Ellora’s Cave, who had previously predicted a decline in m/m, now back to actively… Read more »
Val Kovalin

Wonderful answer! 🙂 Thank you so much. Lots of good points to consider here. I especially like this:

the audience has really expanded — which is a lovely thing for other socio-politico reasons.

Josh Lanyon

And so those writers give up and move on, happy that they gave their dream a shot — and so they should!

Be happy, I mean. It’s never a mistake to follow your dream, so long as you don’t end up destroying yourself or loved ones over it.

A.B.Gayle
Great advice as usual, Josh, hugs. What do you do if you want to run before you can walk? You know me, I rush everything… *grins* I must admit I do fall into the comparison trap. But I’m trying to work out why my stories that get great reviews aren’t getting read more! Is there some magic ingredient that’s lacking? Is it the blurb? Are readers that wary of reading an unknown author? Are people who do read them just being kind? I’m still very much on that first rung and wondering if I entered this business too late. As… Read more »
Josh Lanyon
I must admit I do fall into the comparison trap. A lot of writers do, which leads to all kinds of lunacy — especially when you don’t particularly care for the work of a writer who seems to be getting glowing reviews or engenders enormous reader loyalty. It’s that Emperor’s Clothes thing. How can this be? It’s pointless, other than to analyze what that writer is doing differently and see if it applies in a useful way to what you’re doing. But I’m trying to work out why my stories that get great reviews aren’t getting read more! Is there… Read more »
A.B.Gayle

Thanks for the answers to my questions, Josh. I suppose the answer is just to knuckle down and write more.
And hence paradoxically contribute to the glut on the market, *shrugs and grins*
I suppose the main thing is to remember why I started writing in the first place, and why I’m writing each particular story.
I hope your back is feeling better. I’d offer the services of my SO who is a masseur, but he’s a bit far away!

Josh Lanyon

I suppose the main thing is to remember why I started writing in the first place, and why I’m writing each particular story.
I hope your back is feeling better. I’d offer the services of my SO who is a masseur, but he’s a bit far away!

The single best promotional tool is your backlist, that’s true.

The back feels almost like normal again. Thanks!

amy lane
Missy, I think if I were to sell my shopping list, it would also have to be a work of fiction– less ice cream, more broccoli! Josh–you’re very right. We DO tend to take the negatives so much more than the positives–a wacky bunch of animals indeed:-) (You want to watch people take this to the extreme? Compliment their knitting. “No, it was nothing, just six colors, cables and lace and a multiple repeat chart… but really, who couldn’t do that?” Seriously–what is it about the human race that can NOT take a compliment?) Wave, I’m still buzzing that you… Read more »
Josh Lanyon

it’s doing my shriveled little heart a world of good, thank you!

Don’t feel like that. Really.

Or…at least understand that everyone feels like that now and then. This is a grueling business because we’re not selling widgets, we’re selling something we’re personally invested in. Something that’s a part of us. I mean, when you figure how defensive customer service people get about products they sell that they have personally nothing to do with…well, it’s not surprising that authors get a little moody now and again.

Sal Davis

Thank you Josh for a very interesting and thought provoking article. I especially like the idea that the job satisfaction is the most important element of the process.

Josh Lanyon

Sal, if you don’t enjoy all that comes with a writing career (of which the actual writing is only a small part!), then it’s just another day job.

Even if you do thrive on the business of writing, it’s still just another day job — but one you happen to love and that brings a lot of pleasure to others (satisfying in itself).

Josephine Myles
Great article, Josh. Very timely, especially after me reading your blog post the other week and comparing your amazing productivity with my own . . . well, let’s say, less prolific efforts 🙂 It’s important to be clear about why you’re trying to perform this crazy feat of writing down all your imaginings and then selling them to the world. It’s incredibly exposing, and can be so hurtful when you are criticised or – worse yet, for those with an ego – ignored. Your post walks that fine line of managing to be both realistic and encouraging – thank you… Read more »
Josh Lanyon
It’s important to be clear about why you’re trying to perform this crazy feat of writing down all your imaginings and then selling them to the world. It’s incredibly exposing, and can be so hurtful when you are criticised or – worse yet, for those with an ego – ignored. I know. Believe me. I do know. But I did an earlier post in the series about how many m/m titles are released each month, and I hope that helps put it in perspective. The main thing is it just takes a long time to get where you’re going. Even… Read more »
Josh Lanyon

Thank you, JoAnne, for reading along! Glad it resonated.

Kari Gregg

Cash or compliments — You do have a way of stripping away my dazed & befuddled b.s. so I can focus on the real issue, LOL. Great article, Josh. Much for this newby to ponder.

Josh Lanyon

Hey there, Kari. We’re driven to write for a variety of reasons, but the drive to share the writing…I think that’s generally pretty basic stuff. (And I don’t mean it at all in a cynical way.)

Kari Gregg

Maybe it’s basic when you aren’t coasting on 2 hours sleep after staying up til the wee hours reading DG3…He he he. 😉

Josh Lanyon

Been there, done that, Kari. I feel for you! 😉

JoAnne Soper-Cook

Josh, you said so many things in this article that resonated so powerfully with me. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love this.

Josh Lanyon

Most people are basically lazy and can’t be bothered to say good things, but when it comes to being negative, they’re there.

So true. And why do we feel our opinions will be taken more seriously if they’re negative rather than positive?

Why do we value tragedy over comedy?

We humans are a wacky bunch of animals.

amy lane

Very astute, Josh:-) I often have a combination anxiety/ego attack– as in, “Who am I to think my stuff is good enough for other people to read? WHY AREN’T PEOPLE READING MY MOST AWESOME STORY, DAMMIT? But really… I’m nobody… why would they?” And you actually articulated that in a sane and rational manner. *boggle* I didn’t think that part of my brain could BE put on the plane of sanity–well done! (

Like Eden, I’m thinking of printing this one out:-)

Josh Lanyon

WHY AREN’T PEOPLE READING MY MOST AWESOME STORY, DAMMIT?

🙂

One thing you have to remember, Amy, is for every ten people who read your story, only one or two will be moved to respond. It doesn’t mean it’s falling on deaf ears. It’s just the way of the world.

Glad you found the article useful!

amy lane
Thank you– another thing to remember (and sometimes this is hard) is that people are twice as likely to voice a negative response as they are to voice a positive response, so for that one review that just sticks in your craw as a reason to give it up and sell insurance, there are two other people out there who thought the story was smashing and life changing, but who were just too shy to speak out:-) I know that sometimes that’s the difference between the philosophical shrug and the “different strokes for different folks” and the screaming wail of… Read more »
Wave

Amy
I loved Talker a lot and said so in my review, if that helps. 🙂

Most people are basically lazy and can’t be bothered to say good things, but when it comes to being negative, they’re there. Very few people can be bothered to write an author to tell them how much they enjoyed their books, but just let one suck – they want their money back. Roll with the punches. LOL.

Josh Lanyon

And human nature being what it is, we have a tendency to take the negative comments to heart and instantly dismiss the positives. Which is why the best criteria to judge whether you’re doing things right is sales and personal reader feedback.

When someone is moved to write you personally, that means a lot.

Missy Welsh

Amy, dear, do you need a hug? {squeezes you} I recently read my first Amy Lane “Truth in the Dark” and adore you entirely. Like I would with Josh, I will happily purchase your shopping list in addition to all your books. 😉

edenwinters
While reading this post, I felt that dreaded writer lonliness lift. I write to stay sane, it’s something I have to do whether anyone else reads my work or not. It’s cheaper than therapy. How wonderful to know that others understand. Life goes on hold when edits arrive from the publisher, and non writing friends truly don’t get that you’re passing up a chance to go out and have fun in order to sit home all alone. Thank you so much for this post. I can see myself rereading it often, needing the reminder that one bad review does not… Read more »
Josh Lanyon
Eden, more and more I think about what drives us to share our work — because I think there’s something fundamental in the sharing. The writing…I’ve written lots of things that are for my eyes only, but in the act of sharing…there’s something intrinsic to storytelling in that we storytellers need an audience. And yet it’s not just for the pleasure of hearing nice things –and let’s face it, what writer hopes to hear anything but positive and complimentary things? Realistically, we know we’re going to hear negatives, but that’s not what we want (or even forgive). We need something… Read more »
Missy Welsh

Thank you for posting, Josh! As always, you’ve given me plenty of things to think about. 🙂

Josh Lanyon

Thanks, Missy. I’ve found all the essays in the series thought-provoking.

Clare London
Thanks for this Josh, there are several topics here I’ve been thinking about recently. Because we all know, for authors, it’s all about the memememe :). Seriously, I’ve taken to heart several things you’ve said in the past about being in this game for the long haul – for thinking in terms of a career, as you say, rather than one book, or one royalty period. About choosing battles, about planning ahead, about developing thick(ish) skin. Being honest about what one’s writing *for*. Great food for thought and plenty of honest truth! Thanks for your contribution to this series, I’ve… Read more »
Josh Lanyon

Thanks, Clare. I mean, if writers like you and I — with reasonable readership and name recognition — get occasionally discouraged, imagine what it’s like for the vast majority of mostly unknown writers in our genre?

On the other hand, if your expectations are realistic from the start, and you’re honest with yourself, there’s no more rewarding job out there.

Patty

Josh, this is a very interesting article. I have a friend who is a writer presently writing for himself. However, I need to have him read this article- all of your articles for that matter!- to keep him grounded in the realities of the publishing business.

Congratulations on the release of Blood Heat. I love the roller-coaster ride of fun and excitement Taylor and Will always provide. 🙂

Josh Lanyon

Thanks, Patty. Hope you enjoy DG3 half as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Yes, I would say that most aspiring writers have incredibly unrealistic ideas — writers are dreamers by nature! This is true of those working in mainstream as well as niche fiction. It’s hard work, it takes longer than you think, and you will not earn nearly what you think you desire in either fame or fortune. *g*

Ingrid

My ego is rather small so I guess writing is not for me. Also I am lazy, I just read what other people write and don’t feel the need to write anything myself.

Good post Josh. I am sure it will be helpful to other people

Totally of topic, I loved Fair Game. Great story and satisfactory amount of pages.

Josh Lanyon

Ingrid, I bless those who are happy to read without any ambition to write — mostly because so many who decide they want to write have such an unrealistic idea of both the effort entailed and the potential rewards. A huge part of the satisfaction does have to come from within.

I’m so glad you enjoyed Fair Game!

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