Ins and Outs of M/M Romance: Know When to Say ‘No’ by J.L. Langley

J.L. Langley is one of the most gifted and imaginative writers around. I love all of her series and standalone books, but my personal favourite is  her Sci-Regency series with two books released to date: My Fair Captain and The Englor Affair. I keep asking when the next book is going to be available because it seems so long since The Englor Affair. 🙁 I also love her With and Without series, with the latest book With Abandon scheduled for release next March, but The Tin Star was the first book I read by this author and I still re-read it because it’s a ‘keeper’ and a comfort read.

JL is of course very busy but she didn’t hesitate when I asked her to offer advice to new authors. Her post  happens to be the last one in the series and I think it’s very appropriate because it’s called Know When To Say ‘No’. This will strike many chords with both new and experienced writers.


One of the hardest things to do as a writer is saying ‘no’.  Getting new work out there is a must if you want to succeed, but it’s very easy to spread oneself too thin. I know authors who have books lined up for years to come.  Some actually work well with this arrangement.  Others fret constantly about the deadlines and become distracted with new ideas they can’t use for some time to come.  It all depends on the person, but as a writer you need to know your limits.  What can you do and stay sane?  You don’t want to make a bunch of commitments and then fail to produce and miss deadlines. My big downfall is anthologies.  I don’t care for writing short stories, and they tend to take me longer than a full 100k novel. But given a great list of participating writers sometimes it’s hard to turn down.  I get stars in my eyes and go all fan girly and decide to go for it.  I nearly always regret it.  I do end up with some great stories, but the stress of it isn’t worth it to me. So I’ve learned to say ‘no’.

Changing things around after every critique is a huge mistake I see by beginning writers.  They don’t know when to say ‘no’ to their critique partners. Not every suggestion should be followed. If you follow advice to the point of changing your voice or the basic idea you were trying to get across you should have said ‘no’. For one of my critique partners her “no, not under any circumstances,” is dialogue.  It doesn’t matter what it is, if it’s in her character’s dialogue it’s not getting changed. For me it’s what my critique partners refer to as “Texisms” (My Texan way of stating things) if I’m writing a Texan or Southerner character. Don’t go there!  Just don’t.  My CP’s have learned to ask, “Is this a Texism?” before they suggest changing it.  Everything else is up for debate.

There is a romance book I read a couple of years ago by Katie McAlister called Improper English.  It’s an absolutely brilliant example of this.  The heroine is a writer.  She takes every piece of advice she gets on her manuscript and ends up with a train wreck.  The author herself  broke a few rules which brings me to my next point …….

It’s okay to say ‘no’ to editors too.  In the aforementioned novel the hero and heroine are both named Alex.  I can’t tell you how many editors I’ve had tell me to change names because they were too similar.  Ms. McAllister used the same name for hero and heroine to great affect, and I can’t help but think she had to say ‘no’ to an editor or two along the way even though it was done as a “what not to do” and poking fun. Now,  I’m not suggesting being difficult with an editor.  Heavens no!  I have a ton of respect for editors and value their opinions, but I’ve learned to question and discuss changes rather than say ‘yes’ to everything.  Beginning authors tend to do one of two things.  They disagree with everything or they’re way too agreeable and change everything. Both scenarios can hurt your manuscript.  Lets face it, you don’t want to piss off an editor, but you also don’t want to change something you feel very strongly about, without good cause.  It’s hard to learn what you need to say ‘no’ to and what you need to be open to.  But in the end it’s your baby, if you don’t understand why the changes need to be made –  discuss it, ask questions.  And sometimes it’s okay to say ‘no’ even to editors.

I’m still learning new things about the publishing industry and writing on a daily basis, but by far the hardest lesson has been learning to say ‘no’.  As writers we are constantly striving to push boundaries and add fresh ideas to our work, but you must know your limits.  One of the most important balances in writing is knowing when to push things and knowing when you’re over your head.  It’s a delicate balance, but a stressed out writer is not nearly as productive as a relaxed, happy writer. Learn to say ‘no’ while you’re learning to write and you’ll be much happier for it.


J.L. Langley’s Contact Information




  • Great advice! I’ve been v bad this year at not saying no – or rather, not knowing my own limits. Some things you can’t control – like some publishers’ schedules, or unforeseen delays – but I think you have to know how to build in some leeway :). It’ll be my 2011 resolution LOL. Until that antho call comes along that tempts me again….
    Thanks for the useful and encouraging post :).

  • Excellent post, J.L. – and timely. Thank you for not saying ‘no’ and sharing with the rest of us. 🙂

    I learned to say no long ago in other creative endeavours, so hopefully I can keep with it in this one. And I say ‘bloody’ all the time. 😉

    K.Z. – Good to know about covers. I was under the impression that once you were sent the artwork, that was that. I design anyway, so at least I can give visual ideas from the start.

  • Great post, JL. Thanks for sharing your insights. I agree an important point is to ask questions, especially when working with your editor. Sometimes clarification on the why can help you make a better determination if something is a No for you or not.

  • Some really good bits of advice. Integrity is the better part of compromise — as long as it isn’t tainted by dumb-assed stubbornness. 😉

    It’s also important, I think, to say no to inappropriate covers or cover elements. I have as much respect for graphic artists as I do for editors, but they’re not psychic. (Well, some might be. Yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, Anne Cain. :-))

  • Great advice. I’m sure most newbies are too terrified to say no just in case the publisher says “then forget he whole damn thing, you’re out”. You want EVERYONE to like your book even though that’s not possible.

    There is also saying no to readers. LOL Sometimes we beg and plead for things that may not be workable. Or we whine that we hate it when characters do or say X, even though it’s perfectly suitable. I just read someone who claims to have been pulled out of the story when an American used the term “bloody”, as in “What a bloody mess you made” because they didn’t think an American would say that. I’m not American but Canadian and I wouldn’t even think twice about it. If it’s right it’s right, you have to tell us picky readers no.

    Saying no is hard for most of us in real-life, whether authors or not, I suppose being an author is just one more layer on top of that with the whole “need to be seen to be successful” angle hammering at your door. Good job.

    • Tam, and sometimes when you say “no” that’s exactly what happens. The Publisher tells you “Then we pull the book from its Friday release spot.”
      And the author either has to back down fast or lose the contract (which would possibly involve financial repercussions, such as being sued).

      “No” has its place and time. So does giving in gracefully.

      My hard part is saying it to anthologies. I’m like a kid in a Halloween store. “Ooo, I want a zombie and a spaceman and lesbian pirates and erotic horror and Shakespeare smut and tricksters and Steampunk!” *bounce bounce*
      BUT! I never commit.
      And I write down the deadlines and if a story comes, it comes. If not, no harm no foul.

    • That is very true. And an important lesson for writers. No matter what you do someone somewhere is going to think that your work is horrendous. It’s a hard lesson, but it’s life. Everyone has an opinion.

      Hmmm, I’ve never heard of an American using the term bloody when not imitating the English, but anything is possible. Maybe he/she had an English parent? That just goes to prove the “opinions” point, I suppose.

      • JL, try hanging around with a bunch of overly intelligent teenagers who watch too much British television and consider themselves geniuses. I promise you will hear, out of the mouths of children who have never seen the Atlantic Ocean, “bloody” this, “bloody” that and “fookin” the other.

  • Thank you for the post, JL! As a newbie, I have felt the need to say no and have given in instead simply because I don’t want to be forgotten. I’ll remember your words, though, and really weigh the options going forward. I like my level of sanity after all. 🙂

    • Sanity is nice and very necessary for writing. Although, Jet’s theory is that we are all a little off in the first place because it goes hand in hand with creativity. 🙂

  • All sage advice – I’m with you on the anthology thing. I find them harder to write than novels as well. Probably because I can never shut up in real life either.


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