As the owner of MM Good Book Reviews, I wear many hats; principally those of reader, writer and reviewer. I love reviewing books and thankfully, based on the traffic, some folks like to read what we have to say. But, at my core, I am first and foremost a reader. In the past few months, I have seen several conversation threads within M/M writers’ circles that concern me. Rather than deal with each instance separately, I have compiled a short list of some of the issues I’ve encountered that weigh heavily on my heart. I have watched silently, unsure as to what would be a helpful addition to the discourse. I’m not trying to stir up more drama and I am not speaking for any of my reviewers. The essay that follows is merely my humble opinions as a reader. I would love to hear your comments.
“My book was given low ratings on Goodreads and/or Amazon”.
This is my new pet peeve. I hate when my fellow readers give a book a low mark and then do not write a comment. WTF? How the hell am I supposed to evaluate the book? It happens a lot on Goodreads and Amazon. Bogus ratings screw up the averages and being shallow, I may pass over a book with a low average. BUT…after I’ve read and reviewed a book, I do go back and read other people’s reviews. Some of them are really thoughtful. I find myself nodding when I come to a point where I agree, and cussing under my breath, when a point, in my opinion, is way out in left field. I’ve seen writers brag that they never read reviews…well; they should; if they are serious about learning their craft and growing as artist. Yeah, there are idiot readers who have nothing better to do than rate books they haven’t read, but some us read the damn book and just didn’t get it.
Get a life. And by that I mean, find a way to balance your creative art with other things. Yeah, you’re a writer…So what? I’m a nurse. If I spent every waking hour taking care of patients without breaks I would end up *shudder* in the psych ward where my husband works. When my oldest daughter was learning to cook, she wanted the family to praise her, before the first bite was finished. If the dish as a flop, she would sulk for days. I can’t help but think some writers are the same. You’ve worked for months, maybe years and if readers don’t love your “dish”, some of you get a little mental. One bad review is just one person’s opinion. A couple of bad reviews may signal flaws in your writing process. Either way, you are not your work. Keep writing. Keep improving…and take every bit of criticism with a grain of salt.
REVIEWERS ARE NOT THE ENEMY!!! You can imagine this one really get to me. I’m sure that as you, the writer, are reading a negative review, the urge to blast back at the reviewer is overwhelming…fight that feeling. I cannot say it enough; a review is just one person’s opinion, based on their interest, history, etc. I may love Stephanie Hecht’s EMS series, because I can appreciate all the medical research. Another reader can read the same text and feel Grey’s Anatomy would have done it differently.
And often that bad review doesn’t get enough notice to cause even a blip on most other reader’s radar. But, the ranting, raving and name-calling? Trust me, that will get a lot more attention across the social media outlets. Your credibility and future earnings are not worth risking to “be right”.
“Readers thought my book was too “Harlequin/Mills&Boon”.
I actually have a couple of thoughts on this. Mills & Boon and Harlequin are million dollar publishers. They’ve been around a long time and are household names. Stop taking this as an indictment, even if that is how it was intended. Not everyone likes their romance hot and heavy. Write the romance you would want to read, and if you get it right, readers will support you. There’s a lot to be said about the glance across the room, the note in the briefcase. If sweet romance is your thing, go back a read some of those old Harlequins you still have in the attic. Learn how those writers structured their stories to create suspense and sexual tension. Don’t try to pass off a weak storyline as love at first sight.
Being sweet doesn’t have to be corny. If you write stories with no conflict, no sexuality (not the act, but the desire) and every word sounds like an adult version of Barney, don’t whine when readers blast you across social media. Being elegant and classy does not remove the need for plausible interactions between characters. If the choice to refrain from sex is moral…show us that. Let us see your character struggle with his carnal nature. It will make us invest in him and isn’t that what you wanted when you create this person. Whoever put the idea in writers collective heads that men can’t do romance should be shot. The wining and dining might take on a more masculine feel, but who doesn’t like their lover to do nice things and “court” them? Don’t believe the hype.
If you secretly long to write het romance…you should do that. Too often the titles that attract this type of criticism read more like traditional heterosexual romances. Just because you’ve given male names to your characters, does not mean that you’ve written a masculine character. Regardless of orientation, there are some things that are not interchangeable. Gentle man does not look like gentle woman. Even, excuse my digression from PC; flaming fairies should still retain an essence of masculinity underneath the make-up and heels. My advice would be to get to know some gay men. Talk to them about their experiences. If that is not possible watch quality gay porn, gay movies…hell, read the works of your fellow writers and really study their characters. Get to know other M/M writers over social media and ask the bestsellers how they craft their heroes.
“They hate my dialogue”.
I don’t know what goes on in other reader’s heads, but when I’m really into a book, I can almost hear the characters speaking. IF that conversation takes on a robotic monotone, that book may never be finished. This is an easy one. READ YOUR SHIT OUTLOUD. Your eyes may know all the grammatical rules, but your ears are a much better judge of realistic dialogue. If you find yourself stumbling through sentences or paragraphs, step back and see if you can make it flow better. Trust your ears…not your eyes. Fully engage in conversation with all kinds of people.
Make sure that your dialogue fits your setting. If you’ve taken the time to set an action packed scene, full of tension and foreshadowing and then drop in wimpy words, you have failed me as a reader.
If you aren’t feeling anything, as you write…you’re probably doing something wrong. You should be getting horny as you write love scenes, mad when your character is confront injustice…trembling with fear as they enter that basement. If you aren’t feeling it…how can you make me feel it? If I don’t feel it…why should I turn the page?
Eavesdrop on every conversation you can. You may not have teenagers at home. Tune into MTV and see how teenagers actually talk. I hate when I can tell when a writer is not familiar with children based on the words that come out of their fictitious kid’s mouths. My 6-year-old is gifted and uses words like “hyperventilate and phenomenal” routinely…most kids don’t. People who do not speak English as a first language speak differently. Figure it out. There are regional dialects. Gender difference. Generational nuances. It might seem like a little issue, but as your reader, I want to get lost in the words, not keep getting distracted with bad dialogue. The words of the characters are integral to how I see and hear the plot. Poor use of dialogue can turn a really good story into a Saturday Night Live skit…quick.
Sure there have been all kinds of studies that say that men think about sex more than women. But, you don’t have to look any further than your family, friends and co-workers to know that wanting doesn’t have to equal getting. And wishing doesn’t mean doing. I find it offensive to see men constantly being portrayed as testosterone driven sex machines. If your guys aren’t in a paranormal heat, don’t be scared to let them actually get to know one another before hitting the sheets.
And, even if a man is a complete horn dog in, say college, which does not mean that his focus will be the same in his thirties or forties. Emphasizing a character’s sexuality in his teens or twenties may be realistic. Forty year old men cruising for twinks on Saturday night is usually more creepy than sexy.
If his commitment phobia is because of a bad breakup or being raised in a dysfunctional family, let us know that. We’ll accept him more, if we know why he does the things he does.
Sex with strangers in public bathrooms doesn’t have to ever be part of a gay man’s experience. It may be, but with all the self-education within the gay community, it happens less often than some writers would like readers to believe. Recreational doesn’t have to be reckless. As you write those steamy restroom scenes, ask yourself: would a straight couple do this? If you would be disgusted to find a woman on her knees sucking off a man she just met…why put a guy down there. Especially, a guy you want us to love and respect.
*snark alert* If you don’t have a penis, I recommend having at least one of your beta-readers possess one. I cannot tell you how many sex scenes I read that are not anatomically possible. Unless a man has a tongue like an anteater, he will never lick his partner’s prostate. NEVER. So unless you are writing sci-fi and your licker is an alien, please stick to the realm of possible. There is too much free gay porn on the internet for this one to ever be forgiven.
That being said, I would love to see more quality erotica on the market. Words on paper for no other purpose then to titillate. I will pay good money for some well-written smut!
There is enough room in my Kindle for more than one writer.
This whole need to badmouth other writers is juvenile. You may think that you are being witty, but as a reader…I read snark. Tearing down another writer is more often seen as bad grapes. Within days of winning all kinds of awards for Bear, Otter and The Kid, TJ Klune had to defend the authenticity of his work against accusations of plagiarism. Why? Did the writer who leveled those allegations make even a single sale from starting all that drama? I doubt. Because your readers like the work of another, does not mean they love you any less. And their disappointment with another won’t make them like you any more. I know for a fact that TJ Klune came out of that situation with a stronger fan base and new readers
“I had to work with a set word count”.
Now, I understand that publishers have certain expectations of their writers. But, if you know that it takes you 25k words to tell a story well. For god’s sake, stop trying to do it in 10k. The results are not pretty. If you are interested in learning how to write quality novellas, study the works of writers who do it well. Stephani Hecht, Amber Kell, Kim Dare and Shawn Lane are some of the best. Yes, there are fewer words, but that just means that they all have to count. Some things aren’t skippable. We still need a beginning, middle and end. There still has to be intention and resolution.
And if your story should be a novella, stop trying to sneak in adverbs and adjectives and extraneous prose.
Bottom line: Know your limitation. If you were born to write beautiful prose with mouth-watering descriptions of every damn thing…do you. But, if you oops up and churn out a short little diddy with no point…don’t whine when your readers call you on it.
“Women shouldn’t write gay romance”.
This is like saying male physicians should not delivery babies. And there are some women that I wish would stop writing homoerotic romance, but someone is buying their stuff, or they would simply go away. My only caution would be for female writers to have gay men, that they respect, beta-read their work for authenticity. No one man can speak for an entire community, but they can often point out issues that diminish an otherwise good book. A female reader might not notice the discrepancy, but a gay man might. A gay man who may have no problem calling you on your sloppy research. The more authentic your characters, the greater your credibility with readers.
And while I’m speaking of gender, I don’t check the genitalia of a writer before purchasing a book. So whether they are male/female, gay/straight, transgendered, and blind, crippled and crazy, if they produce an end product that speaks to me, I will support them. Please stop dropping drama in my inbox. Write your stories and let me decide if I am interested enough to read them.
No man is an island
It’s really easy to feel like you are abused and mistreated, when you are trying to work in a bubble. Network. Network. Network. The more you do, the more you will be able to differentiate between real industry issues and personal problems. Conferences like, GayRomLit give you an opportunity to meet other writers in your genre and interact with readers. Another excellent resource is Rainbow Romance Writers. In the grand scheme of things, your genre is still in its infancy. There is no reason why your voice cannot be instrumental in shaping this exciting arm within romance.
In this day and age, no writer can afford to NOT have an online presence. Facebook Fan pages, Amazon Author pages, Twitter tweets and author blogs are not luxury items. Readers are by definition nosy parkers. We want to know the creative mind that has brought us hours of reading pleasure. Any and everything you want to throw at us keeps us satisfied until your next release. Some authors don’t talk about writing at all on their blogs. They post recipes and pictures of their kids. What you write is not important to us…that you write is. I love the interracial romances of Alex Berry, but they are a big unknown.
And keep your post/tweets/comments positive. You don’t have the luxury of getting on every political/religious/social soapbox around. To us you are a celebrity of sorts. We may never get to tell you how your comment hurt/offended us. But, we will look at your next release a little differently and maybe even skip it all together. That’s not to say that you are not allowed an opinion, but you are a writer, words are your business, take a minute to mentally edit yourself before clicking that send button.
Be yourself…and think outside the box.
Be yourself. This last point I have to make as a reviewer. On any given week, I may get as many as 50 plus submissions for review. There are some weeks where, if I removed all the star-crossed werewolves’ mates, misunderstood hustlers and closeted cowboys I’d have 2 books to read. Don’t get me wrong…I loved those characters, the first twenty times I met them. But, I’d also like to see linebackers who bottom, cops with gentle spirits, grown men taking their time falling in love and maybe a kid or two thrown in the mix. Just something new. Find your own niche. Cookie cutter writers are a dime a dozen. The writers who are making the most impact and pulling in the big bucks are those that tapped into something unique.
This topic came up recently, with my review team. I would love to see more quality interracial/multiracial romance. Pixie asked for “more real horror or science fiction or fantasy. You know, the real epic kind, like Rick. R. Reed, Mel Keegan, Mercedes Lackey and J. L. O’Faolain.” Artemis loves stories where they really show the characters connecting on an emotional level. I love the new romantic suspense lines, Sanctuary by RJ Scott comes to mind, that are stronger on the suspense than the romance. Or Dorian Grey, where the main character is gay…but it doesn’t define him.
Realistically, there has to be some “writing to your audience’. But, the same readers who enjoy your current work will probably love that innovative love story that is presently just a kernel in the back of your mind. Give us a chance to fall in love with those characters…we may surprise you. And if we don’t…who cares? You will probably pick up new readers who love the new characters, as much as others love the old one.
And if you can’t find a publisher, self-publish. Self-publishing isn’t the bastard step child of “real publishing”, anymore. Popular writers, like Mercy Celeste and Lisa Worrall have taken the plunge with pretty nice results. The only drawback to self-publishing, is that it is now…all on you. You can’t blame your editor, publisher, or priest if sales are poor. But, listen to your muse…not someone else’s. If you write an authentic story, based on realistic characters in plausible situations…SOMEONE WILL LIKE IT!!~! Don’t oops up and throw in some hot manlove, you may accidentally become a bestselling author.
I know that some of you are going to read this and be pissed that I, a non-writer, am putting my nose into business that I know nothing about. This essay isn’t written for you. This is for the readers and writers and yes, reviewers who love this genre. I love what I do. Nothing gives me more pleasure than finding a literary gem and pimping it online. I enjoy the interaction that I have with the various publishers and review coordinators who pop into my inbox and wall. I was thrilled to introduce debut writers John Inman, Alex Kidwell and Robin Saxon to my readers, but when I shut off the computer and cuddle with my Kindle, I’m just Portia the book addict. I’d love to disappear for a few hours into a world of your creation. Feel free to feed my addiction.
Just sayin’ 😉