Valier, digital pastel, 8-26-2016

So, since I didn’t get Singer In Rhunshan into PitchWars (and knew it would be a longshot), I’m back to the revisions on Moro’s Price.

For those of you who didn’t know, the latter is a big space opera-ish M/M erotic romance set against a futuristic but by no means scientific background. When wrote it in 2011, I deliberately placed it into the far future of the Lonhra Sequence. Bits of ‘Firefly’, ‘Dune’, ‘Bablyon ‘5, and the Vorkosigan saga inspired it; since then, I’ve been watching ‘Killjoys’, ‘The Expanse’, and ‘Dark Matter’ intently for more inspiration.

I get to do crazy wonderful things to this book, now that I have it back from the original publisher. Fun things. Like substantially change the opening chapters, condense some of the dragging middle, and weave it better into Moro’s Shield, the sequel, and The Leopard of Saba, a spinoff novella set before and during Price.

It helps to know what people look like, while I write them. This round of revisions, I changed Valier Antonin, with slightly stronger facial features and curlier hair. Makes sense: his mother has major curls, and she’s the stronger genetic donor in the mix of people who made Val.

This isn’t the teenage Val I had been sketching, but the man in his mid twenties, when Moro meets him.

Val 2016 for blog

Moro’s Price first edition 2012 to 2016

I say ‘first edition’ because I have several future paths for my first published novel, now that its association with Loose Id LLC has come to an end. Moro’s Price no longer exists as an ebook on Amazon.com, or on the Loose Id website. Over the next month or so, it will leave AllRomance Ebooks, Barnes&Noble, and its other vendors.

If you see it there and want this version, this will be your last chance.

I’ve enjoyed working with Loose Id, and wish the company and its authors the very best going forward. For me, rights reversion came at a good time, letting me revise the story to better fit its planned sequels and the larger universe it inhabits.

Moro Jade Disc

What happens next to the story of Val and Moro? That very much depends on what happens with the (very slightly) related mms I’m currently shopping. I have a lot of options, all of them interesting.

When I know, I’ll pass the word.

My deepest gratitude to Loose Id for taking a chance on the book in 2012, for Cherry Weiner for going to bat for me over contract issues, and all the people who read, enjoyed, and reviewed the book.

The Reality of Writing and Diversity, 5-18-2016

Basic, useful writing stuff first. Here is a quick shout-out to Kristen Lamb, who tells it like it is over on her blog…far better than I can. If nothing else, new writers should learn (and tattoo in glowing ink on the inside of their eyelids) that Editing Is Most Of The Damn Job. Some smug bastards will claim they never edit, fine. They’re lucky, famous, ossified, or perhaps (maybe about 10% of the time) actually skilled enough to get away with it. The rest of us should probably edit. Also know that editing too much can kill a story and serve as a procrastination tool.

In the past week, I have watched #QueryKombat 2016 get started, and seen BadLiteraryAgent’s hilarious response in#HumiliationFest. Both showcase some unsettling parts of the promotional side of publication: it’s all a popularity contest. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, folks. Agents and editors have to sell books, and that becomes easier if there is substantial word-of-mouth buzz. That’s why I’m sticking a trunk-novel into a major Wattpad awards contest in the next few months, and why there are some upcoming targeted twitter-pitch contests that I want to try. Why not?

I really hate to use an argument often touted by vanity publishers and ineffective small-press publishers, but it is true: authors need to promote themselves. If they are lucky enough to get a publisher who can do the heavy lifting, great…but they still can’t sit back and just wait for readers. (Not great news to hermits like me, sadly.)

As author T. Frohock explains, great reviews alone cannot save against incompetent publishers and books the public doesn’t know about. Her stuff is what might happen if Ambrose Bierce, Hemingway, Tim Powers, and Anne Rice hooked up for a historical dark fantasy thrillride. That some of the characters are gay is not so much incidental as foundational – and necessary to the plots. She’s seriously evaluating whether to continue writing right now.

In the Curious Case of Sarah Monette: an agented, well-reviewed, modestly-selling, commercially-published fantasy author whose first works featured some gay characters and situations…had to essentially stop, write something else under the pseudonym Katherine Addison, and get some major award nominations to be taken more seriously.

Writers – especially midlist fantasy authors – often face the prospect of taking on pseudonyms in order to revitalize their careers. Often at their agents’ urging. I hate that. I want people to know that Addison is Monette, that Robin Hobb is Megan Lindholm, that any of my other author friends can and should be connected back to the names they’ve had to shelve or scale back. Because that way new readers can find those old backlists, many of which are becoming available again through new publishing ventures.

(In the comments below, Akaria brings up some of the other reasons why author pen names can be problematic, especially in ‘diverse’ books.)

I hate how that philosophy dismisses the readers of one genre, instead of giving them a choice. How it ruthlessly and relentlessly stuffs stories into marketing pigeonholes.

These developments have made me look more closely at one of my genres of choice: M/M romance. I’m certainly not a Name author and never will be, but I have been following the genre (before it was one, since at least 1991.) I’m both thrilled and saddened to see some of the ways it has grown into a listed, cataloged romance genre.

The M/M romance small presses may be dying out, or at least suffering through a necessary drought that weeds out the under-performing companies. (I say this as someone who signed onto a brand-new press last year. Life is full of calculated risks.)

Over the past three years, mainstream Big Five imprints have done reasonably well by expanding M/M romance, especially contemporary, to their catalogs. M/M elements have flirted their way into mainstream Paranormal Romance series, in text and other media.

Women basically cleaned up the whole Nebula Awards last weekend, many of them writing with LGBTQ ideas.

C.S. Pacat has blazed a trail worthy of Rowling through the fantasy genre with her intricate, lush, and dark ‘Captive Prince’ series, with a legendary M/M romance at its core. However, I begin to suspect that success may be more of an anomaly than a genre-bending Black Swan moment. Pacat came to commercial publication after an agent sought her, after her stories had become self-published juggernauts first on LiveJournal and then on Amazon. She has thousands of fans, me among them, and they are a loyal and wonderful community.

For authors without that fan base? LGBTQ characters and elements in fantasy fiction may actually be on the downturn, even as far as other important, well-funded, and well-received novels are concerned.

‘Diversity’ in SFF publishing still seems to be full of token nods and buzzwords. As shown in this tweet, one among many:

The field is probably actually even more narrowly-selected, for LGBTQ writers and stories.

(Edited for clarity) Several recent query pitch contests that I watched over 2015 and 2016 were *full* of pleas for diverse stories, yet the actual agent responses (shared by some fellow writers who want to remain private) were essentially: “Too gay”, “Too much gay romance”, “I wanted more fantasy and less gay agenda”, and similar statements. Without taking away from equally important causes, my friends and I did note that no one who is not a Rabid Puppy dared say, “This fantasy has way too many POC in it”.

Many of my midlist LGBTQ romance friends want to push outside the genre and launch into more fantasy/thriller/mystery/etc. genres, while keeping their LGBTQ roots. Many literary agents appear to be resisting that, actively or tacitly. So are publishers. There’s a pervasive attitude that, because some LGBTQ authors, actors, and stories have broken barriers…that those barriers no longer exist at all.

That LGBTQ authors have it easy now, and we should shut up and stop rocking the boat.

From the M/M romance side of the equation, we’re essentially being shown we’re traitors for looking for more mainstream commercial exposure.

Is it any wonder that many of us are seriously considering self-publishing?

Paths to Publishing – Racheline Maltese

Path to publishing s

C’mon over on the Snarkology blog, and visit with Racheline Maltese.

When she and her co-author Erin McRae jumped into the LGBTQ+ Romance niche market, they already had publishing experience in poetry and short SFF fiction, as well as long- and short-form nonfiction.

Their path to publication had some hitches: unlearning some ‘stuffy’ professional habits from their previous genres, re-tooling editorial expectations learned in non-fiction publishing, and being aware of the unique preferences of the M/M romance readership.

Their first M/M romance novel arrived from Torquere Books in 2014, to great reviews, and their second novel in the series is coming out soon.

One of Erin’s comments really stands out as sound advice/thought exercise for authors joining the M/M romance market from other genres:

“As people who have read more gay literature than gay romance, we weren’t necessarily aware of the likes and dislikes of much of the M/M romance community when it came to narrative items like bisexuality and polyamory. While knowing these things earlier wouldn’t have changed the story we wanted to write*, they would have changed how we marketed our book to publishers and readers earlier on in the process.” **

* My emphasis. As the M/M romance genre ‘grows up’ and becomes more and more professionally published and marketed, I hope that more authors opt for fearless original choices instead of those based only in fan-service customs. I hope that more readers give them a chance. One huge ongoing debate/ argument/screaming trollfest in M/M romance pits authors and readers only backing M/M stories (for whatever creative or personal reason), vs those who write broader romances including bisexuality and polyamory.

** The key to bridging those divides is probably the same response that Racheline and Erin noted: more-targeted and clarified marketing to publishers and readers. Love is love, and good writing is good writing – as I’ve found in many fanfiction pairings/groupings. When readers trust that authors know what they’re doing with the established tropes, those authors get more respect and leeway when they try something different.

Three digital M/M and LGBT romance publishers sound off

This morning I was delighted to listen to a Publishers Weekly webcast about the history, current state, and future prospects of digital publishing as it relates to LGBT and M/M romance and related genres.

Brief (personal) definition: M/M is simply a romance or other story with a romance subplot featuring male homosexual relationships. LGBT fiction follows characters who fit into the much broader ‘alternative’ communities, and can include but is not limited to queer, lesbian, trans*, bisexual, poly, and kink relationships. The one thing most of their readers agree upon is that the ‘traditional’ romance publishing community has often ignored, insulted, or actively suppressed such forays into its territory. While that is changing now with Big Five imprints getting in on the trend, many dedicated small-press publishers have been created to meet that market demand.

From being a pariah community with roots in Victorian erotica and the fan fiction cultures of the 1970s, M/M Romance was declared in 2010 by Rolling Stone Magazine to be one of the hottest developing literary trends. 

This podcast’s presenter was Rose Fox, reviews editor at Publishers Weekly.

The panelists were Laura Baumbach, owner/publisher of MLR Press; Angela James, editorial director at Harlequin’s digital-first imprint Carina Press; Sarah Frantz, senior editor at Riptide Publishing; and Rachel Haimowitz, managing editor at Riptide Publishing.

A brief overview of how each publisher got started helped showcase the different ways the M/M and LGBT romance genres have grown:

Laura Baumbach started out in fan fiction, and has been writing original M/M romance for over 15 years. She started ManLoveRomance Press to address the need for a quality publisher of M/M fiction. MLR can be considered one of the earlier digital M/M erotic romance publishers, and one closely tied to ‘fannish’ origins of the genre.

Riptide Publishing was started by several published M/M authors who also had professional experience with major NY publishing houses. Riptide’s mandate has been to provide a ‘New York level’ of quality writing, editing, and promotion to some of the best M/M and LGBT authors around.

By contrast, Carina Press is the digital-first imprint of Harlequin, one of the giants of the traditional M/F romance industry. Harlequin recognized that the M/M and LGBT markets were not only being underserved by commercial publishers, but that those two related markets were growing at rates that suggested a major opportunity. While Carina Press has focused most on its M/M romance offerings, the publisher has one of the broadest catalogs around, ranging from romance, suspense, thrillers, science-fiction, and fantasy through a range of sexual ‘heat levels’ from explicit through sweet romance to non-sexual.

Readerships: while all three publishers can with confidence state that the majority of their readers and writers are straight women, there is a high degree of participation from gay men, trans* individuals either wanting to read about similar characters or find solace in positive stories, and other members of non-traditional groups.

While having separate publications and readerships set aside to shelter the growth of M/M and LGBT romance has been helpful up to now, all four panelists agreed that their books and authors should embrace inclusion in mainstream categories. Continued self-segregation or industry segregation* not only prevents excellent books from being judged against mainstream peers, it goes against the wishes of the readership at large. Readers, the panelists explained, are no longer always reading for a ‘gay experience’ but easily accept characters who are gay as part of a spectrum of traits and abilities. This strongly mirrors the acceptance of marriage equality and gay-rights issues among the mainstream populace, over the past fifteen or twenty years.

The rise of digital publishing has had several positive outcomes for romance and erotic romance writers and their readership worldwide.

Risk: a smaller digital publisher, expecting to sell fewer than a couple of thousand copies of each title, can take risks that major publishers cannot. Quirky books with interesting plots and unconventional characters have always found homes within the small-press market. M/M and LGBT romance is no exception.

Cost: An e-book costing between $3 and $6, for example, is an easier purchase to justify than a trade paperback at $15 or a hardback edition at $26. Readers can more easily judge sample pages and buy the works of new-to-them authors.

Convenience and discretion: anyone with a debit card, credit card, a PayPal account, and a computer/tablet/cellphone can buy an e-book. Nearly anywhere, and at any time. An e-reader or tablet offers a more discreet reading experience even in liberated cultures. In countries and communities where reading explicit M/M romance or LGBT books in paper form could lead to public ostracism, job loss, harassment, imprisonment, or even death, digital books can offer a safer, more private form of reading.

Clubs and contests: contests and writers’ groups who shut out M/M and LGBT romance writers are finding they either have to justify or change their stances because of wide-spread feedback from their members. Even RWA (Romance Writers of America), which has been one of the most staunchly traditional romance writers’ organizations, now has chapters dedicated to and run by M/M and LGBT Romance authors. The panel participants offered the hope that authors in these genres would continue to enter mainstream publishing contests, even those still nominally or outwardly unfriendly, with the goal of becoming familiar to the judges and using quality entries to wear down or subtly shame opposition.

Shelving and stocking in bookstores and libraries: the isolation of the M/M and LGBT genres was compared to the ongoing industry conversation over where to place African/American and Interracial Romance. In both cases, being shelved with their respective ‘interest’ platforms may lead to a dedicated, if small, number of sales from that community. But shelving among the larger genres (gay suspense within the suspense stacks, M/M fantasy with fantasy fiction, etc) offers access to a broader readership that just wants a great story.

In a related issue, the panelists and one audience member expressed frustration with the wider industry tendency to conflate ‘M/M’ and ‘LGBT’ fiction with ‘sexually explicit material’. All four panelists offered examples of works that had little to no overt sexuality, but still featured characters who happened to be LGBT. This is one reason why many publishers now offer ‘heat level’ designations in their books, to direct buyers to the desired experience. Having less-risque books with sympathetic portrayals of LGBT characters, one panelist noted, would be of immense help to school librarians looking to stock age-appropriate Young Adult material.

(Personal observation: it would also help grow the market for more adult books, as that readership matured.)

Marketing:  the panelists were committed to offering the best possible marketing and promotions they could to their authors, while stressing that a writer’s job didn’t end with getting published. The panelists noted especially effective examples of cover design, again stressing the need to compete and win against similar mainstream books.

In closing, the panelists offered advice for newer authors wishing to get into the M/M and LGBT Romance field: read voraciously inside and out of chosen genres, write as much as possible, make meaningful contacts with fellow writers and readers on social media and through writers’ groups, make meaningful social media contacts (ie. through forum discussions) with publishing professionals (without stalking them), finish and submit stories, accept reasonable criticism, and build a backlist (for published writers.)

They also warned there is no ‘magic bean’ – like any authorial career these days, writing and publishing in the M/M and LGBT Romance field is more than likely to be hard work.

***

It was a fascinating hour, and worth the effort for the free registration.

The webcast will be available for registered listeners and PW members-only download at Publishers Weekly until late June 2014; after that time, it may become available to the public.

***

Added 4-2-2014: author Julie Bozza has a great essay on why it’s still A Good Thing that the M/M romance genre is a niche market not beholden to the Big Five and their midlevel competition.

http://juliebozza.com/?p=1262

* Added 4-20-2014: M/M Erotic romance author Damon Suede has an older but very topical post on the dangers of the M/M and erotic romance ‘ghetto’ here. (Added 8-29-2015: link broken, so I’ll try to find it again for you.) Basically, he warns that keeping M/M romance in safe niches for dedicated readers only ghettoizes it.

While I have in the past somewhat disagreed with engaging the staunch traditionalists of the RWA (from the sheer cost alone, as well as the sometimes Sisyphean nature of that campaign), I see Damon’s point – and support it. It’s had a real effect on publishing and markets.

Wider readerships don’t want to read about a gay character just for their ‘gayness’, they want that a facet of a whole character. More-experienced readers are getting bored with cookie-cutter plots, characters, and settings. I’ve noticed many reviewers over the last couple of years taking some M/M romance publishers to task for ‘churning out’ poorly-written, badly-edited books in order to feed what can seem like a voracious but uncritical readership. I think that problem will be self-correcting, as larger Big Five and independent publishers join in offering M/M romance of all genres. These publishers can often offer substantial advances, better editing, and usually have strong marketing departments and far broader distribution. The better authors of the genre will wait out their e-rom contracts, buy back rights, then self-publish or go on to the big leagues.

The first wave of largely digital erotic romance publishers – het as well as LGBTQ – are in danger of becoming irrelevant, if they don’t shift with the times. (See my post on Ellora’s Cave.)