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$h. If 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
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.
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