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

44 comments

  • 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! 🙂

    Reply
    • 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 so glad to hear it! (Well, you know what I mean.)

      Reply
  • 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 you put yourself through this?” Apparently the long hours, the pains of figuring out how to rewrite something for my editor, and the tough reviews don’t look like fun to her. I’m not sure why.

    I agree (with my limited experience so far) that you need a passion for the writing, a desire to share that work, fierce determination, and to also receive some praise/compensation for your efforts, or it would be easier to look at the SO and say, “I don’t know. Why am I doing this?” For now I’m still answering with, “There’s little else I’d rather do.” Thanks to your advice and that from other authors, I’ll keep looking ahead to a writing career, and not focus too hard on any one single book or success/disappointment, and hope the passion for writing and a desire to share that work do not end anytime soon.

    Congrats on the release of Blood Heat!

    Thanks again, Wave, for posting this series.

    Reply
    • 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 of instant gratification. The idea that it might take two or three years to see success (depending on how you define success)…that’s dismaying to a lot of us. We want it now!

      I mean, you really do have to look at where you were a year ago and track that progress. It’s almost always far greater than you realized.

      Reply
  • 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 as well: we readers are all staggering around, drunkenly sampling the overabundance of m/m fiction right now and trying to consume it all.

    We have no time to give an extensive review. We barely have time to figure out a shorthand rating for each book. There are hundreds of books on our computers, many of them free books won in contests, that we’ll never get to.

    This is one reason why authors get so little good feedback and personal emails from readers — the readers are overwhelmed with stuff to read, and the internet culture in general promotes a superficial and rushed sampling of everything as our attention spans continue to shrink and we hop to the next thing.

    What AB Gayle just said is something I wonder about, too. Have we entered this business too late? If so, what do we do? And where is the m/m gay romance field in terms of being a product in the product lifecycle design. Every product goes through Introduction –> Growth –> Maturity –> Oversaturation/Decline.

    My husband and I joke that nowadays, there is a ratio of 100 writers to every 1 reader (okay, we like to exaggerate), and it always makes us laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of the image. But I still wonder about that product life cycle thing and what it means for us newcomers …

    Reply
    • 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 seeking and acquiring m/m authors.

      As a reader, I see it from other side as well: we readers are all staggering around, drunkenly sampling the overabundance of m/m fiction right now and trying to consume it all.

      Once upon a time m/m titles were few and far between and many of the original stars of our genre benefitted from that. Those days are gone. It’s full out battle of the bands now. Being m/m is only a starting point.

      So readers gravitate toward certain houses and they pay closer attention to the blurbs. Maybe you like boy band stories or historicals or mysteries? Well now there will be some of that to choose from each week whereas once upon a time, if you wanted m/m, you took what you could get.


      We have no time to give an extensive review. We barely have time to figure out a shorthand rating for each book. There are hundreds of books on our computers, many of them free books won in contests, that we’ll never get to.

      Exactly. When a genre reaches the glut stage it becomes survival of the fittest. The best authors and the most popular authors (not always the same thing) will survive.

      This is one reason why authors get so little good feedback and personal emails from readers — the readers are overwhelmed with stuff to read, and the internet culture in general promotes a superficial and rushed sampling of everything as our attention spans continue to shrink and we hop to the next thing.

      Yep. But this is where good old fashioned quality and care still make a difference. It may take — it does take — people longer to find you, but they still know the difference between Cool Whip and fresh, sweet cream. People do still recognize quality and they do still appreciate it. They’re still willing to pay for it.

      What AB Gayle just said is something I wonder about, too. Have we entered this business too late?

      No. I don’t believe that.

      If so, what do we do? And where is the m/m gay romance field in terms of being a product in the product lifecycle design. Every product goes through Introduction –> Growth –> Maturity –> Oversaturation/Decline.

      We’re just about to oversaturation point. Frankly, I thought we’d get here faster, but the audience has really expanded — which is a lovely thing for other socio-politico reasons.

      But remember this. Most aspiring writers give up after the first couple of years of not getting anywhere. You see this in particular with self-publishing. All that energy and enthusiasm and the books and the career mostly go down like a lead balloon.

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

      But the writers who stay, who continue to improve their craft and make contacts and promot and work their asses off…well, they begin to get a little traction, they gain ground, and suddenly they’re taking off.

      But it takes longer than it used to for the very reason that the market is overcrowded now.

      My husband and I joke that nowadays, there is a ratio of 100 writers to every 1 reader (okay, we like to exaggerate),

      It does feel like that sometimes.

      and it always makes us laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of the image. But I still wonder about that product life cycle thing and what it means for us newcomers

      It means if you’re serious about a writing career, if this is something you’ve wanted all your life, then you’re going to be willing to give it the time and effort it will take — understanding that it will take a lot of time and a lot of sustained effort.

      Reply
      • 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.

        Reply
      • 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.

        Reply
  • 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 far as review go, I make an effort to contact authors whose books I like and tell them why I like them, and the only negative reviews I post are where I feel they’ve made a basic error. (I think I’ve posted two in my entire life). I much prefer to point out what that author has done right.

    Reply
    • 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 some magic ingredient that’s lacking?
      Is it the blurb?

      It’s possible. Especially blurb and cover — you honestly can’t underestimate those two things for attracting readers who’ve never heard of you.

      Reviews…I say this with all due respect to reviewers, reviews are good for getting your name out there, but if the book doesn’t sound like something a reader is already interested in, a glowing review will not suddenly make a book interesting — unless it is one hell of a review or something is revealed in the review that suddenly appeals to the previously uninterested reader. I’m not saying reviews don’t help — they help enormously in the spreading of word — but there are all kinds of fabulously reviewed books that just don’t sound like my kind of thing. So I don’t buy them. I don’t even check them out because I’m not interested in the things that I’m not interested in.

      And being an m/m romance in itself is just not enough. There are way too many to choose from now, for one thing.

      Are readers that wary of reading an unknown author?

      Sometimes, yes. That’s why it takes time and repeated positive mentions and word of mouth. Keep in mind that there are, what? sixty or more new m/m titles released A WEEK? That’s a lot of competition.

      Are people who do read them just being kind?

      No. People aren’t that kind — they much prefer to be critical, frankly. ;-D

      It takes time. It just does.

      I’m still very much on that first rung and wondering if I entered this business too late.

      NO. Absolutely not. But you have to accept that it takes one to three years to get your name out there, and then the stories you tell have to click with enough readers that the momentum builds beyond your own efforts.

      I see plenty of people great at promotion, but the stories just aren’t there. So they get a lot of social media interaction, but people aren’t buying their books in the necessary numbers.


      As far as review go, I make an effort to contact authors whose books I like and tell them why I like them, and the only negative reviews I post are where I feel they’ve made a basic error. (I think I’ve posted two in my entire life). I much prefer to point out what that author has done right.

      Right. Good. I cannot stress enough the inadvisability of trying to build your own writing career on criticism of your peers. Does it honestly take a genius to figure out that writers don’t like criticism and that criticism from someone clearly hoping to compete against them one day is not going to go down well? Yeesh.

      Networking is as important in this business as in any other.

      Reply
      • 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!

        Reply
        • 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!

          Reply
  • 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 loved Talker–it’s doing my shriveled little heart a world of good, thank you!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
    • 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).

      Reply
  • 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 so much! I shall try my hardest not to compare myself to other writers in future.

    Reply
    • 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 if you have a head start as a blogger or a reviewer or someone who’s interacted on line, it just takes waaay longer than you think it will to get…known. And even when you’re known, well, you’re only known in a relatively small segment of the reading population. It’s just best to understand that from the first.

      I think it saves a lot of pain and frustration down the line to realize that it takes years even in a relatively small genre. You have to look at it like you would growth in any business, because your writing career is a business, despite the fact that you’re selling art.

      As long as you see steady growth, you’re on the right track.

      Reply

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