Saturday, March 31, 2012

GLBT Romance at RWA: Hitting the Mainstream... by Sarah Frantz

At the annual conference of the Romance Writers of America at the end of July, I will be hosting a panel entitled “Alternative Romance Goes Mainstream.” This is the first panel at RWA to discuss the spectrum of GLBT romance. In 2008, Laura Baumbach and Kate Douglas (and others) organized a panel about m/m romance, but this is the first one (as far as I know) that aims to discuss a wide range of “alternative” romance.

The description that I sent into RWA for the panel application said that “This lively panel of best-selling, award-winning authors, editors, and publishers from both print and digital houses will discuss how and why they write and publish books that include gay, lesbian, and bisexual main characters. They will offer craft tips unique to writing about these relationships, explaining why they write in or publish this subgenre, how is it different from writing heterosexual couples, and how, when, and why they incorporate characters with alternate sexualities into their mainstream romance series. They will also discuss frankly what the market for these books is, where writers should send their submissions, what sales numbers are like, who the audience is, and how these are books received by readers and reviewers. The panelists will respond to the moderator’s guided questions and in the last fifteen minutes, will open the floor for audience questions.”

My amazing panelists are:

·        Suzanne BrockmannNew York Times bestselling author (Ballantine)
·        K.A. Mitchell, m/m romance author (Samhain and Carina)
·         Lauren Dane, New York Times bestselling author (Samhain and Berkley)
·        Kim Baldwin, Emmy-winning journalist, author (Bold Strokes Books)
·       Heather Osborn, Executive Editor, Samhain Publishing
·      Len Barot/Radclyffe/L.L. Raand, author, editor, publisher, owner, Bold Strokes Books

We obviously haven’t had the panel yet, so I can’t say exactly what will happen, but I expect it to be fabulous. This incredible group of women will have insightful things to say about romance  and its acceptance of GLBT romance.

Suz, of course, included gay FBI agent Jules Cassidy and his eventual partner Robin Chadwick in her incredibly popular Troubleshooters Inc. series. Jules is in the series from the third book. He meets Robin in the eighth book. They find their HEA in the eleventh book, sharing the book as main characters with a heterosexual couple. The twelfth book is almost an interlude in the Troubleshooters’ universe in which Jules and Robin get married. Suz has also included gay characters in her new series.

Lauren Dane has written many ménage romances that are full triad romances, in which the two heroes are romantically and sexually involved as well as both being involved with the heroine. She is published not only by the digital publisher Samhain, but by the print publisher Berkley, in their Heat line.

K.A. Mitchell is a Samhain bestseller, one of the best m/m romance authors I’ve ever read. Kim Baldwin writes much-awarded lesbian romance for Bold Strokes. Heather Osborn from Samhain will tell us about the editorial decisions in choosing to publish GLBT romance at a digital publisher. Radclyffe fills every niche at Bold Strokes Books and can provide us with multiple perspectives about the possibilities of GLBT romance.

GLBT romance is not going away. It has a large, vocal, dedicated base of readers. The audience for m/m romance might not overlap very much with the audience for lesbian romance, but increasingly, the presence of both audiences is being felt in publishing circles. More publishers are willing to accept GLBT content, more readers are willing to read it, even if they typically only read heterosexual romance (witness the large following Quinn and Blaylock have in J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series).

An academic anthology of essays that I edited was just published: New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction. There’s an essay in there by Kathleen Therrien called “Straight to the Edges,” in which she argues that GLBT characters have long been used in heterosexual romance to indicate to the reader that, hey, the heroine might push some gender boundaries and the couple might push some sexual boundaries, but at least they’re not perverts like that lot over there. But increasingly, another use of GLBT characters in heterosexual romances is to indicate to readers that, hey, the hero and heroine only deserve their HEA if the GLBT characters can get it too. That’s a HUGE shift, folks. GLBT characters go from being the generic villain because they’re gay (or gay because they’re the villain) to being an integral part of, even necessary to, the HEA of the straight couple.

So, while I don’t necessarily predict a “break out” book or author, I don’t think we need one. I think that as long as we have brilliant authors like my panelists writing amazing GLBT romance, or heterosexual romances inclusive of GLBT content and characters and HEAs, then we ARE breaking out, we ARE making a difference.

Sarah Frantz

Despite the prejudices of critics, popular romance fiction remains a complex, dynamic genre. It consistently maintains the largest market share in the American publishing industry, even as it welcomes new subgenres like queer and BDSM romance. Digital publishing originated in erotic romance, and savvy online communities have exploded myths about the genre’s readership. Romance scholarship now reflects this diversity, transformed by interdisciplinary scrutiny, new critical approaches, and an unprecedented international dialogue between authors, scholars, and fans. These eighteen essays investigate individual romance novels, authors, and websites, rethink the genre’s history, and explore its interplay of convention and originality. By offering new twists in enduring debates, this collection inspires further inquiry into the emerging field of popular romance studies.


Sarah S. G. Frantz is Associate Professor of English at Fayetteville State University, NC. She has published academic articles on Jane Austen, J.R. Ward, Suzanne Brockmann, Joey W. Hill, and contemporary popular romance fiction. She is a former recipient of the RWA’s Academic Research Grant and is President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance. She has co-edited (with Katharina Rennhak) Women Constructing Men: Female Authors Write Their Male Character, 1750-2000 and (with Eric Murphy Selinger) New Perspectives on Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays (McFarland, 2012).

Friday, March 30, 2012

Editing the Road to Self-Discovery as a Writer... by Dani Alexander

In today’s market, you need a flame-proof suit and full body armor to self-publish. You also need a second skin. Ideally that skin will be tougher than an armadillo’s.

I don’t have any of those things. In fact, I have been known to weep at Obama’s speeches and, almost always sometimes, at YouTube videos with people memorializing their relationships to the inappropriate lyrics of Fix you by Coldplay. What I’m saying is: I’m a freakin’ wuss.

So why on earth did I self-publish?

When most people ask me that question, I usually fire off my diplomatic answer of, “I wanted control over my covers.” But seriously, who am I kidding? My covers aren’t works of art. They’re a learning process. I love them. I obsess about them. I spend weeks, months, nearly a year creating them. But if I’d had the chance of using Anne Cain or Nathie or even Jordan Castillo Price, Reese Dante—we’ll be here all day if I list the better-than-me cover artists—I would have jumped at it. So cover art was one reason. The second reason was that I needed to make a living off my writing. And the third, most important reason, was editing—the chance at becoming a better writer. And, well, in the last instance there weren’t a lot of options. The road to discovering that is what this article is about.

At the end of 2010 I wrote my first novel. It started out as a young adult story and metastasized into a second half that was more racy/erotic. Since the story had two parts, the first where a single kiss happened, I was going to publish it for free in two parts just to get my name out there. That was the plan. Until I sent it off the first part to a very disinterested beta reader (who I can probably call editor-- because she was that good). For the sake of this article, we’ll call her “Delores’.

Delores, somewhat tactfully, told me that my story sucked more crap than an airplane potty. Not outright. She was never that mean. I realized what she was saying when I began to decode the meaning of her ‘red marks’ and comments.

The grammar, I learned, was atrocious. If comma-splice were a deadly word, I’d be a hit man and my story would be a weapon of mass destruction. I lacked continuity in both plot and character development. I used enough clichés that the word cliché had to be redefined and possibly used as a warning tag on the book. It was bad bad bad.

After finding that out, I raged for about ten minutes, hid in bed for a full day and then brooded for another. When I finally emerged from my cocoon of self-pity, I began to wonder if I really wanted to be a writer and what that meant for someone as thin-skinned as me.

Since the first thing I did when I sat back at my computer was start writing a new story, I guess I had my answer. I wanted to be a writer.

During this time, it’s important to mention, I was also managing websites and blogs by the hundreds. I was already writing for a living, but not about subjects I enjoyed. I was getting burned out by article after article; and I was sick of updating Wordpress 100 times every two months. If I was going to enjoy making a living with writing, I was going to have to professionally publish fiction (please excuse the alliteration). So that’s what I decided to do.

Within the first paragraph of my currently published novel: Shattered Glass (the original version-yes, there are two), I started researching publishers whose books I read consistently. After looking at all the book titles I owned, I settled on a publisher to whom I might submit my story. This publisher accepted previously unknown authors, they had great cover artists and they were prolific. But the idea of publishing with them slowly became less appealing after a while. I eventually came to the conclusion that I should self-publish instead, and my own editing process played a part in that decision. (Pardon, once again, for the alliteration).
Grabbing my “young adult story”, I re-read the editing notes from Delores and took her comments to heart. I put aside that first crappy book and I continued writing Shattered Glass using her notes to guide me into a better writer.

Around the four chapter mark, I sent along my progress to Delores. After a very long time, so long that I had already progressed 75k into the story, I received the 4 beta’d chapters back. I opened up the Word file immediately, my eyes flying to her comments and changes.

My jaw dropped.

I would have needed four cartridges of red ink to print out her corrections. The only thing she liked? That I treated women well in my story.

It took four days to come out of that funk. It took me six weeks to start writing again. In that six weeks a few things happened.

My husband got a layoff notice. My blogs suffered from my lack of interest in writing articles. And, the most important factor, I started getting really irritated with the books I was buying/reading.

Picking up the latest seven books I had purchased, I began to notice something: Writing problems that previously—before Delores—didn’t bother me, glared back at me like my cats when I buy them generic food.

At this point, I realized a few things.

1)       I wasn’t going to be a better writer without having a ruthless good editor.
2)      I wanted to be a writer more than I wanted to get rich or even to eat.
3)      I was nowhere near good enough to be accepted by most publishers. (PS: I’m not even sure that I’m good enough now.).
4)      We needed money and we needed it before my husband’s severance dried up.

I crossed my fingers and dove in to the possibilities of self-publishing with the option that I still might submit to a publisher in the end.

But first, I needed to learn how to write. Not just write better, I needed to learn the fundamentals. I was going to do my damndest to make this as polished as possible.

I began voraciously reading about writing and combing over “Delores’s” emails and notes. I filled notebooks about grammar, syntax, sentence structure--you name it. I read websites, blogs, free stories, short stories. In short, I researched how to write; which lead to me throwing away my second berated-book and beginning anew. That was last February. It took nearly a year to finish the current version. Luckily I found a professional editor who agreed to edit for free—though his experience was nonfiction. We seemed to click. And, hallelujah, he liked my story, polished though it needed to be. I had it edited along the way—chapter by chapter, learning from my new editor.

Now, let’s be clear. I’m not the poster boy of good grammar and perfect editing. Plenty of people have complained about both in my novel. I’ve annoyed people with choices I made in my story. Subheadings worked for some, not for others. Endings felt tacked on. I had a few typos, a few malapropisms (sorry, Chris, for “marquis”!) etc. Shattered Glass is far from perfect. But would it have been much better if I’d gone with some of the less stringent publishers out there? No. I don’t think so. I really don’t. Let me tell you why.

While writing Shattered Glass, over the course of that year, I was still reading online free fiction. But…some of the stories I’d go to catch up on, or re-read, started disappearing from the Interwebs. From various blog posts, I found out many of them were getting published. These were stories I was familiar with, stories I’d read and raved over, stories in which I’d been engrossed for months or even years. When they’d finally pop up as published works, of course I bought them. Because, hell, I was already donating to authors and I liked the stories. They had to be even better after an editor got to them. What a great opportunity to learn more about writing by seeing what a professional editor changes. Right?


Most of them were the same stories. There were a few corrections. A few minor details were changed. But important things, like head hopping in the same section break; like head hopping in the same paragraph; like throwaway characters; continuity issues; adverbial abuse; those problems were still in the stories. And they more obvious now that I was learning the fundamentals of writing. Did it make them terrible stories? No. God, no! Not at all. In fact, they were still the stories I loved. But…they could have been better stories. They should have been better stories. They were already good. An editor, a publisher, is supposed to make a good story better.

I’m sure there are people out there who’ve stumbled across same stories I have. Who’ve noticed previously free stories being published as the same, nearly unedited, version? This is a problem.

I tried an experiment while writing this article. I wanted to see if this was just a “me thing”. I took a look at one and two star ratings from certain publishers. “What’s constant about the complaints in those stories,” I asked myself. “Is it editing? Or is it content?” “The actual story that didn’t work for people? Or the grammar and typos?” “Do the reviews say things like ‘too much head hopping’ or ‘telling not showing‘ ‘grammar‘ ‘typos‘?” I went through 20+ popular books and the answer always depended on the publisher. That seemed a real disservice to the author, in my opinion, not just the reader.

A good story is a good story. Period. Proper editing only makes it better. And that means more than proofreading. It’s about removing the unnecessary. When a publisher fails to do that, they don’t just anger readers, they anger reviewers and they do a disservice to that author. When you see those $6.99 prices, those are supposed to be for the proofreading, the cover art and the editing.

It’s a dream of mine to be trade published. I’m so lucky, so damn lucky that people liked Shattered Glass. I’m humbled and mystified by its success, but I still want that publishing house editing process, that method which promises to make me so much better.

I plan to self-publish in the future. My upcoming novels in the Shattered Glass family, Not So Innocent and Shatterproof, will all self-published. I learned my lesson, though. My next novels will have two editors—because self-published doesn’t mean I get a pass for errors. But I’m also going to submit to publishers who care about editing and making me a better writer. And in this genre, that’s important because I’m competing with authors who are already better. Better at understanding pace and grammar and better at lyrical prose without being purplish. I have a lot to learn. I want to do more than just sell books. I want to sell good books. Awesome books. Books worthy of the readers who put their hard-earned money into their collections.

Listen, I know our genre isn’t the only one guilty of getting backlash for editing issues. It’s invaded all areas of the publishing business as it flails to keep up with digital trends. But we, the gay romance genre, can’t be lax like big publishing houses. We can’t afford any backlash. None.

You know what really chapped my hide last year? What really had me fuming? Suzanne Brockman published her m/m novel with Random House, while many of our most prolific m/m writers couldn’t get a major publishing house to look at their work in the same genre. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t mad at Suzanne (please support her and Random House if you can). Because of her, perhaps our genre is about to break out even bigger. But those publishers should have been taking us writers (and our publishers) seriously three years ago. Instead we’re largely relegated to “too genre” or “too niche” “the redheaded stepchild of romance”. PFFFFT!

Why is this so important to me? I’m queer. I’m not only queer, I’m transgender. I’m not only queer and transgender, I’m AmIndian. I’m a queer, transgender, AmIndian writer of gay romance. You want to talk marginalized? But all gay romance writers are marginalized, by the publishing world, by many outsiders, by editors and agents. We have something to prove in this genre.

I’m tired of being last in line. Queers are the last to be allowed to marry, the last to be allowed in the military openly, the last to be included in anti-discrimination laws and now we’re the last to get major publishers to vie for our romance novels. We do not deserve to be last at anything.

But I see hope on the horizon. Last year, Hot Head by Damon Suede (Dreamspinner Press), nearly won the Reader’s Choice Awards on Goodreads. It beat out a lot of mainstream published romance. That was a milestone. An incredible, groundbreaking moment in gay romance. It was, for me, one of the most exciting moments in books. It was thrilling to see his name up there next to Julia Quinn, Nora Roberts, Nalini Singh. That’s where that book belonged, right alongside major NY published books!

For my final words, I want to thank the readers of gay romance for being so incredibly supportive and vocal about their love for the genre. And my heartfelt gratitude goes to all the publishers of LGBTQ romance. When other publishers were turning their noses up at the genre, they were giving us a voice. Thank you so very much.

A male prostitute, a mangy cat, a murder and a maniacal mix-up that threatens his career, his impending marriage and his life. Nothing is going as planned for Austin Glass. 

Austin — seems to have it all. At least on the surface. A loving fiancee. A future with the FBI and a healthy sized trust fund. He also has a grin and a wisecrack for every situation. But the smile he presents to everyone hides a painful past he’s buried too deeply to remember. And his quips mask bitterness and insecurity. Austin has himself and most of the whole world fooled. Until he meets someone who immediately sees him better than he sees himself. 

As events unfold and Austin’s world unravels, he finds himself pushed into making quick life-changing decisions. But can he trust Peter or what’s happening between them when each meeting seems to be just a series of volatile reactions? 

Dani Alexander has been making up characters since he was fifteen. In fact, characters are his favorite part because all the voices in his head can now be explained in a way which doesn't make people question his sanity. Dani is lucky to have the support and love of a husband, his cats and a dog, all of whom get neglected when the voices start demanding to be put on paper.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Breaking Out with a New Release: What if they Ban Mah Book... by Cherie Noel

Breaking out with a new release that you know is going to push some boundaries is a tricky proposition, especially when you’re not sure if the story you have to tell will get the book banned right out of the gate. It raises some very interesting questions. And for me, finding the answers to those questions forces me to determine the exact nature of the bedrock on which my reasons for writing rest.
I didn’t set out to write a book that stepped over lines and made folk uncomfortable. When I started writing Tian’s Hero I had never written a book from start to finish, had no ideas what the “rules” were or weren’t  in regards to what publisher would accept and distributors would allow to pass through their hallowed portals.
Thankfully, I was ignorant enough to simply write what the characters told me, and do my best to get their voices as true as I could. The hard fact of the matter, though, is this—what I wrote makes people uncomfortable. I wrote a story about men loving men, and instead of a couple I have a trouple.
*thanks go to Anne Tenino for my discovering the word trouple. A trouple is a three-couple - a fully committed pairing with three partners*
Good grief, if I’d known the controversy coming down the road, and the way many fine literary works would be lumped in with other offerings of an undoubtedly illegal bent as a job-lot of unsavory things-not-to-be-tolerated by that pipeline of payment, PayPal… well, my story might never have gotten written. After all, it was my very first story. I’m not sure I’d have had the balls to write it anyway; and I know it might have easily ended as a much more pallid version of itself.
I write for a living after all. I was, even during the writing of the first draft of this story, venturing into the field of writing to supplement my veteran’s disability check. Oh, go on. Have a chuckle at the idea of someone viewing writing as a way to supplement their income. Eh, I hadn’t much choice, as the injuries I’d sustained whilst on active duty in the Army had finally caught up to me and brought my nursing career to a crushing halt. It’s still a little funny, but I figured, hell… even if I only ever made a buck or two, that would be a buck or two I hadn’t had in my pocket before. Right. So I set out to write a ripping good story, and that was all the direction I had until the boys jumped up in my head. None of them fit what I was to later learn were the correct parameters for the Hero of a novel. Lewell’yn struggles with mental instability. Tian is small, and pretty, and occasionally so fracking compassionate he borders on being TSTL (too stupid to live) and is only saved from that dire fate by the huge size of his heart. Kayron is a bit of a slut, always looking for love by spreading his legs. These men are flawed from the get go, and again I am thankful for my ignorance. I didn’t know these were no-nos.
So I wrote the story just the way my lovely men told it to me. And when I got to the scene where Tian is raped and tortured I wrote it just as they told it to me. By this point I knew that the rape was going to cause an ever widening ripple of events which will eventually change the political landscape of not only Nakantiios, the world the three men live on, but also that of all the worlds which interact with the people of Nakantiios. What I didn’t know was that scene would eventually land my book smack in the middle of an ongoing controversy and leave me in the hot seat with scarcely a clue as to how to market my book.
I’m grateful.
I think that artists of all stripes are, as Jiminy Cricket was to Pinocchio, the voice of conscience. We must be. We are the shapers of the collective unconsciousness of future generations and if we allow ourselves to be gagged by anyone, or water down our own works that they might never cross the line into controversy… well, then we’ve already lost, haven’t we? We’ve taken our integrity and our chance to feed the collective soul of humanity and stuffed it right in the toilet.
I’m damned glad I didn’t know how many lines I was crossing. I’m glad I didn’t know all the shouldn’t dos and must haves back then, and even gladder that in the intervening two years I’ve met and learned from some amazing folk who taught me to keep pretending I don’t know the lines exist… and just write what needs to be written.
Now I write what the characters want. I also seek out characters who have something to say about the things weighing heavy on my heart. And I tell them to be bold and to never look down because there are no lines to see. I guess sometimes that will get my books banned. Or stuck in the odd limbo in-between banned and accepted with open arms which leaves me with another open invitation to the what-is-the-deal club… I am, in fact, at this point being offered an all expenses covered lifetime membership to that particular club; and they believe I epitomize everything they stand for…
So, what I’m getting at boils down to this—there’s an old saying: The pen is mightier than the sword. Let that be true. Don’t blunt the edge of your weapon; because you and I are fighting not only for our own lives and those of our characters, we are also fighting for every person who is not so armed. The bisexual teen who falls in love with two of his class-mates… and feels isolated. The transsexual MTF who gets kicked out of a beauty pageant for not being “born female” when even by the draconian standards of the mental health profession she was definitively born female… just with the wrong genitalia. The black boy shot to death for walking through his own neighborhood. We are floating little life rafts on the currents of this world, and take my word for it, there will never be enough. Don’t let even one fall by the wayside, or be poorly made… the design is flawed, and there are no lines. So just write what you have to write, and figure all the other stuff out later.
Me? I’ll be out here writing like my life depends on it. I hope you will too.

A spy posing as an assassin finds himself riding the ragged edge of sanity during his latest mission; a frantic search for fabled lost colonists who may have fled his world steps ahead of a devastating plague. In the wake of the disease his species faces extinction. The possibly mythical pre-plague migrants hold the only key to survival for his entire race.
Living in deep cover onboard a space frigate full of slave-running pirates would be difficult enough with reliable intel and some hope of back-up...even if he weren’t slowly losing his ability to separate truth from fiction.
Lewell'yn finds himself in hot water, being deliberately fed false information, light-years from reliable help and saddled with the added complications caused by a fiercely passionate healer, and a sweet, innocently sexy chef. 
With the fate of his world resting squarely on his shoulders, Lewell'yn must discover a way through an ever shifting maze of deception. The bombs are in place. The detonators are set. The chrono is ticking. Caught between two men desperate to escape the clutches pirates and an insidious, hidden enemy, can Lewell'yn find a path to become Tian's hero?   

Buy Links, and a final note:
Coffee Time Romance *currently on sale*
Kobo *also on sale*

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Break-out or Breakdance by Aleksandr Voinov

One of the questions pinging around in many an m/m writer’s head is “how can I break out?”

But what is a break-out? Huge-calibre literary agent Donald Maass in “Writing the Breakout Novel” (which I recommend) gives examples of break-out books in the mainstream: those that Big Six publishers fight over in a heated auction, which sees the author walk away with a seven–figure advance. Or books that change the trajectory of an author’s career. From a so-so kinda halfway successful midlist author, bang, huge explosion in sales, author is suddenly up there with Dan Brown and Stephen King. A break-out is when an author goes Big. 

Sometimes, it’s a newbie breaking out straight from the gate, out of nowhere, and sometimes it’s an author who has written for a while (or a long while) and then suddenly hits the spirit of the times just so and their next book sells ten times what all the others sold before and then Hollywood calls about the film rights, and a gazillion translation rights are sold all over the globe. Girl With A Dragon Tattoo. Twilight.

And how does m/m compare?

In our niche, that success is much harder to define. To my knowledge, not one m/m book has commanded a substantial advance. Reputable mainstream literary agents laugh us off as “small fry” (we might get another chance once all their big-selling clients go into self-publishing – at which point nobody needs an agent).
We have our Big Books, like Kirby Crow’s Scarlet and the White Wolf series, or the Cut & Run series currently being continued by Abigail Roux after the departure of her co-writer. We have stars like Josh Lanyon, Rowan Speedwell, Amy Lane—and this list is highly subjective and based mostly on my reading habits and on staying power.

There are many others. We do have books that sell a four-figure number of copies. Five figures, in some cases, so a respectable number even by mainstream midlist standards. One breakout waiting to happen is for one of us to hit it big in the mainstream; I think the time’s right, and it’s basically due. It can happen tomorrow. I’ll be the first one to cheer if fantastically accomplished writers like Erastes or Alex Beecroft hit the ball out of the park and go Big.

There’s one thing the genre has in spades, and that is raw talent. Some authors have polished their talents and gradually built their careers. Others burst onto the scene, seemingly fully-formed or, while somewhat rough around the edges, still powerful enough to make a huge splash.

Keys to success

Whatever I’m saying next, bear in mind that nobody can guarantee success. I’m writing this from a dual perspective: that of an author and that of a publisher, owning a chunk of Riptide Publishing. Both roles mingle a bit – what I learnt as an author has definitely influenced Riptide, and what I witness as a publisher has definitely pushed my author career back onto a certain path.

On another note: I’m not bestselling by any stretch of the imagination. In terms of sales numbers, I’m nothing more than a comfortable midlist author. I can’t tell you how to sell many books, because I don’t sell many books by the standards of the big guns (and no, that’s not British self-deprecation, either). Or, as one of my friends says “you don’t have many readers, but the few you do have are absolutely fanatical about you.” By Maass’s standards, I haven’t broken out, but I’ve watched a number of authors who have, so I’m looking at lessons from that.

1) Be out there

Social media is your friend. Watch how authors sell themselves on Twitter (and, no, tweeting “buy my book” a thousand times will not sell your book – it will annoy everybody and get you blocked and banned and reported for spam). Watch some authors use social media really successfully to promote themselves and, oh, by the way, also mention they have a book out. Watching Kari Gregg or Rachel Haimowitz is like an education in promotion. They are quirky, maybe even a touch insane, but they get the message out, have a lot of followers, and sell a lot of books.

2) Be nice, be fun, but don’t break your spine

Watch how Josh Lanyon handles his readers in his Goodreads group his Facebook, his Twitter, or his guest blogs anywhere. Josh is nice to pretty much everybody without appearing fake for even a moment. That’s high art. Erastes walks a very similar path, with maybe a dash more controversy because of the review blog Speak Its Name (some people believe authors should not review their peers, which is a blog post for another day). Erastes supports fellow authors and is the nicest person you could catch online to have a chat with, and also a powerful, hard-working author who knows exactly what they are doing on the page.

Then you have other people who made a huge splash by being quirky and outspoken, like most recently Dani Alexander, who just put themselves on the map out of nowhere, without even the “help” of a publisher. Dani is as quirky as intelligent, and extremely good fun to watch and interact with. Learn from that. Be nice. Be helpful, be fun. Find your personal style how to deal with people, but whatever you do, be genuine. Be “yourself”—unless you’re a raving, bipolar, narcissistic kitten-eating psychopath, then a “game face” is absolutely vital.

I know at least one very prolific writer whose main hobby seems to be to attack other writers in her blog or on the blogs of others, and my theory is that that loses her more readers and sales than it gains her. Basically: being outspoken works. Being nasty, negative and destructive doesn’t. Readers want to spend time with us and invite us into their homes, in a manner of speaking, but who are they more likely to invite? The author who behaves themselves, has them bowled over laughing, and is plain nice or funny, or somebody who shits in the corner, slams doors and slices open the couch cushions while mocking the decor? It’s not rocket science.

3) Craft, craft, craft

So  now you’ve made a splash, you look great, have a new haircut, all clothes are washed, people laugh about your jokes and can’t WAIT to read your book. You-the-author are out there, people love you.
Now you need to give them a chance to love your books, as those are the things that will actually get you talked about and that will make some money (and money is nice).

For that, you must be able to tell a good story well. Both of those are important. It’s got to be a good story, and you have to know your craft. Writing is something you never stop learning, but the broad strokes need to be in place before you show anything to anybody who paid for the pleasure. They paid for a pro, so you need to be a pro. Entertain them. The moment somebody plunks down cold hard PayPal cash for your book, that exact moment it stops being about your ego and gratification. You better make sure that the reader gets their money’s worth. It’s no longer about you, it’s about the reader, and if you don’t entertain them with a good story well told, chances are you’ll never hear the sweet ring of that cold hard cash again – which instead goes to a better writer. There’s no shortage to choose from.

At the very least, you need to know about point-of-view, characterization, show don’t tell, plot structure. If you write romance, you need to know how a romance works. The more you know about writing, the better, and better keep learning. There’s enough to learn about writing to keep an immortal busy.

4) Get the best partners you can get

Ideally, you’ll have a critical beta-reader (or several), and you need a good editor more than you need oxygen, trust me. A good editor will tell you “this is shit”, and then tell you how to fix it. Remember that your ego doesn’t matter. Striking the artist pose without being able to back it up with good, solid, hardcore writing skills will make you look like an impostor who’s full of themselves.

Your editor is your only, last defence against nasty reviews, and they will come. All the things you skated over, all the faulty, rushed research. Somebody out there knows when you cut corners, when you were totally out of your depth or couldn‘t be bothered that day because you had cat vomit to clean up or rushed stuff out of the door because you lost your passion for the story, when you thought you’re “good enough” and “it’s only romance”, when you used Google Translate to translate the German or Italian bits in your story. The thing is, some of your readers will be Germans or Austrians or Swiss or Italians and they will feel like you didn’t respect them. And that’s one thing that readers hate more than a bad story: being disrespected. Trust me, whatever sin you committed in the writing, somebody out there will call bullshit, and they will call bullshit in public and tell all their friends that you couldn’t be bothered and that you are a writer to avoid at all cost. You only have one chance to make a good first impression. Make it count.

I say this after writing and even publishing some “lazy” books that weren’t all they could have been, and I wish I hadn’t, but it’s impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. When you publish, make sure what you publish is the best thing you could possibly publish. Even if it takes a year or three to get it “right” – getting it wrong can seriously damage your career even if some author mill publisher accepts and publishes the fatally-flawed book. Don’t trust publishers out there to fix your book – most won’t. Many publishers out there will package your book after a quick comma check, put a more-or-less attractive cover on it, and the next thing you read in reviews is “this could have been really good if it had been edited.” Write a really good book, whatever it takes. Then write another one. And kill all the weak ones before anybody sees them, or, worse, pays for them. Be ruthless.

5) Keep learning and keep pushing

Even once you’ve published a few books, keep learning about the craft of writing. Writing a really good book isn’t an accident – it’s usually a result of an author refusing to be “good enough” and pushing harder.
Talking about pushing: feel free to push the envelope. They might tell you you can’t write certain things, some sub-genres don’t sell, you can’t set a story in a certain world or people won’t buy X. Or that the sex has to be a certain way, or that only a huge amount of sex sells (whereas I believe that bad sex is worse than no sex at all, and one good sex scene trumps heaps and heaps of repetitive A-tabbing into B-slotting). Or that you have to do it like Other Author did it. Funnily enough, I see all manner of authors break those rules all the time and it doesn’t appear to hurt them.

Write the people and scenarios you’re passionate about, regardless of market appeal. If the story is good, you can get away with murder. I routinely get away with characters only a parent could love, and readers end up loving them too. It’s never a matter of what you do, but how you do it. If you can make it work, do it. I believe readers are ready for the crazy stuff, the things you really want to write, so write what you feel thrashing inside rather than what you think the publisher wants or what everybody else has already written. Don’t take the beaten path. You don’t want to be a copy—be yourself, everybody else is taken (as the saying goes).

If you do it with passion and conviction, the readers will follow you, and you might even break out.

Good luck, and Godspeed.

Aleksandr Voinov

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

M/M Only... by Wave

I’ve been asked this question many times: Why do I have a site that’s strictly M/M? And my answer is, why not? My reason is pretty simple. I review what I read. There are 5 letters in the (GBLTQ) Alphabet Soup but I wanted to concentrate on one letter and profile it as much as I could.

The majority of review sites are exclusively for heterosexual romances or ménages with women and no one (including me) thinks that’s strange. :)

Many M/M readers are what I call “pure” which means that they don’t want women in bed with their guys, and between 90 - 95% of the bloggers who frequent this site fall into that category. Our policy assures them that the books reviewed here are exclusively M/M so they won’t be surprised by a woman having sex with the MCs when they buy the books we review. I also thought that we needed a place for gay men, M/M authors and readers to hang out and talk to each other. Last, not that there’s a need for another reason - one man is hot and two or three are hotter. :)

If you’re an M/M author you should know that we do not review books where there
is on-page het sex with the MCs. There’s minimal wiggle room although I try to be flexible with historical romances and classic books where gay men had to get married in order to pretend they were straight. However for contemporaries (which include romance, science fiction, paranormal, steampunk, mystery etc.,) about 97% of the books reviewed on the site since October 2009 are M/M only and exceptions are noted in the reviews.

As a bit of background, when I first started reviewing for other sites several years ago most of them didn’t want me to review M/M books even if I bought them – these were strictly heterosexual romance review sites. A few of the sites were a little more flexible but they didn’t have that many gay romances to go around so it was like winning the lottery to actually get one to review. :) Eventually I decided to eliminate the middle man (or woman) :) and set up my own review site to focus on M/M, a genre that had just started to gain profile and popularity with readers and on the epublishing scene.

So why do I still concentrate on M/M now that the genre has become a rising star? Gay romances are still relatively young and their growth is synonymous with that of epublishing. These books are edgy, and while some of the stories may not be to everyone’s liking or taste, romances starring gay men in love as well as the range of plots are what make them so intriguing and popular and attracts new readers every day. Promoting gay romances makes me feel that I’m contributing in a very small way to the success and growth of the genre.

Another reason I concentrate on M/M romances is that most of our authors don’t have a lot of money for marketing; the majority of them write part-time and haven’t the financial resources of authors who release books through big name New York print publishers. In the early days (and to some extent even today), our authors weren’t very knowledgeable about how to market their books or themselves, so one of the first things I did was offer to promote them through interviews, profiles, blog posts etc. on the site, and this continues today. 

As our genre has evolved and gained popularity there are now so many new authors that only a small percentage of the books released every week will ever be reviewed or sold, so I believe that the need for sites like this one that are dedicated to reviewing M/M books and promoting gay romances are absolutely essential.

I read all types of general fiction - from biographies to fantasies - but the only romances I read today are gay romances. These books kick butt and the authors are some of the most innovative in publishing today. As a reader I usually can’t wait for the next release by my favourite authors. :)

Last, Reviews by Jessewave  would not be one tenth as successful without the dedicated reviewers, technical experts, as well as the authors who support what we do and I want to express my personal thanks to everyone who contributes to the site. 


Wave lives in Canada and has been reviewing for about six years. She set up reviewsbyjessewave four years ago initially as a blog, but it soon outgrew the technology and number of visitors and evolved into a website in mid 2009.

Wave loves big dogs, hot guys, baseball, movies, more hot guys, reading, music and even more hot guys. :)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Burnin’ Down the (Frat) House by Anne Tenino

Welcome to stop number one of the Frat Boy & Toppy Blog Tour Extravaganza! *confetti*

For this tour, I'm writing a series of posts on how I cook up a story. Not a how-to manual, just a how-I-do manual, wherein I reveal all the dirty little secrets about how I approach a story, using Frat Boy & Toppy as an example.

For a schedule—with links—of all the places I'll be on my tour, visit my blog. There you will also find information on my tour contest—I'll be giving away a Frat Boy & Toppy notebook, signed paperback copy of 18% Gray, and e-book of my next release, Turning Tricks. To enter the contest, you must ferret out the three questions (each in different blog tour posts) and answer them in one email sent to I will chose one winner at random from all the emails received by 11:59 pm (PDT/GMT -7:00) April 3rd.

On that note, let me announce a giveaway here on Chicks & Dicks. I have this pen, see, and I’m told some people collect these things. One lucky winner will be chosen randomly from anyone who leaves a comment including their email address on this post by the end of the tour—the official end is 11:59 pm Wednesday April 4th (that’s PDT or GMT -7:00).


Burnin Down the (Frat) House

The night before we left on a family trip to some far off and exotic locale, I signed the contract for my first novel. Then I went off on my travels, confident in the knowledge that the short story I had sold previously wasn’t just a fluke—I was now an honest-to-god author.

I was so confident, in fact, that I actually told a fellow traveler at one point that I was an author of male/male romance. He was a hip-hop producer from London; it seemed safe enough. I told him while we were on a walking tour through a local market. He stopped dead, turned to me and asked, “How do you research that?”

I went with a relatively innocuous—but true—response. “It's amazing what people will tell you on the internet.” While this is an honest response, it's not a complete one. Thing is, I was answering the question he was really asking, “How do you research two men having sex?”

By now you probably think this post is going to be about sex scene research, don’t you? No, sorry, that comes later in the tour (last stop, actually). What this post is about is research itself, and how the type of research I do informs my work.

So, here’s my chief dirty little secret about research: most of it is not sex-related. For instance, for FB&T my main research focus was on frat boys and fraternity life. And no, I did not immediately surf my way to Gaytube and watch all the free Naked Frat House clips.

I’d already done that.

‘Cause here’s the thing: in spite of having a lot of sex in it, Frat Boy & Toppy is not intended to fulfill any frat boy trope, fantasy or stereotype. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I play with stereotypes and tropes in the book. Let me share my research journey with you, and perhaps you’ll see what I mean . . .

For my research into frat life, I harkened back to my own college experiences. Since I'm forty-mumble, my memory isn’t clear, but I’m confident the extent of my experience with frats in college was the oft-repeated warning, “Don't get drunk at a frat party.” A warning I didn’t need, since I never went to one. I should point out this is clearly not useful information when talking about gay frat boys anyway. I could've been safely drunk at gay-frat-boy parties, presumably.

Next, I turned to my faithful friend, the internet. Not as helpful as it sometimes is, unfortunately. Do you know how many gay-frat-boy fantasies are floating around in cyber-space? Enough to drown out the majority of legit and useful sources I might have used.

Fortunately, I finally found what I needed in three books edited by Shane L. Windmeyer—Out on Fraternity Row: Personal accounts of being gay in a college fraternity, Brotherhood: Gay life in college fraternities and The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students. These were great, informative reads (yes, even the college guide), and if you’re at all interested you should check them out. The first two are compilations of essays by gay and bi fraternity members.

You know what I figured out about gay fraternity members in all of this research? They’re often in the closet, and they live in a high-pressure het world. I wrote this short passage into Frat Boy & Toppy as a result. This is Sebastian (Toppy) right after they first hook up, thinking about how he might like to see Brad (Frat Boy) again.

But Brad was kind of like a frightened wild animal. The closeted frat jock. Timid without the pack; terrified when exploring outside his natural environment. Some public-television narrator started doing the voice-over in his head. Liable to strike out when threatened with exposure.

It’s this aspect of gay fraternity brothers—the still largely secretive nature of their sexuality—that stuck with me. I know there are men and women who are closeted throughout college, but I think of college as a period of being more open. It’s many people’s first time away from home, being their own boss and living the way they choose: a natural time to let it all hang out.

Not so the gay frat boy—at least the ones I was looking at. Sure, some are out, and it appears there’s something of a movement toward being open. Yet they are living in a situation—where straight men call them “brother”—that puts a lot of pressure on them not to rock the boat (‘cause you know, if the boat is a rockin’ . . .). But increasingly, LGBTQ “Greek” life is integrating into the mainstream. Yes, there are LGBTQ fraternities and sororities, but it’s the traditional ones, the historic ones, that are changing to accept gay, lesbian and bi members. If you want to know more about it, check out the Lambda 10 Project

What I’m saying is, gay frat boys are breaking out and burning down the house. Figuratively, you know.

All this research informed a whole lot of FB&T. In this case, research changed the plot significantly. It also led to the creation of a new character, Collin. I’ll drop a (not so) subtle hint here: Pssssst! You might see Collin again in the future.

This is an exchange between Brad and Collin in the second half of the book. Specifically, it’s about potentially coming out to their frat.

Brad bit his lips together to keep from smiling more. He needed a change of subject, and maybe someone else's opinion. “You ever think about coming out to the frat now?”

Collin looked startled. “Not anymore. Maybe if I wasn't so involved.”

Brad nodded and looked up at the frat house. It was nearly the same color as that dive bar. Another thing he'd never noticed before.

“Are you thinking about it?” Collin asked.

“I don't know.”

“Fuck,” Collin muttered to the telephone pole. “Every time I think about how the guys might react . . . I think I'm giving myself an ulcer.”

“Yeah, see, that's the thing. I'm not sure I care how they react.”

To purchase Frat Boy & Toppy, visit Riptide Publishing

Raised on a steady media diet of Monty Python, classical music and the visual arts, Anne Tenino rocked the mental health world when she was the first patient diagnosed with Compulsive Romantic Disorder. Since that day, Anne has taken on conquering the M/M world through therapeutic writing. Finding out who those guys having sex in her head are and what to do with them has been extremely liberating.

Wondering what Anne does when not writing? Mostly she lies on the couch, eats bonbons and shirks housework.

Check out what Annes up to now by visiting her site.