If you want to write LGBT fiction

I wanted to parody If You Give a Mouse a Cookie with my blog title, but I couldn’t come up with a quippy way to pull that off.  So if you’ve got any ideas, feel free to make some suggestions.  (And no, I don’t know why I had this thought.  It’s late.  Cut me some slack).

With NaNo going on, and after having finished the talk about LGBT issues in YA on #yalitchat a few weeks ago, I’ve had some thoughts percolating in my head for awhile now.  If you’re considering writing a YA novel that heavily features gay issues, here are some things to consider.  For the purpose of definition, I consider a “gay book” to be one in which the gay characters are the main, predominant storyline.  The main character is gay, and that part of their life is a big part of the book.

1.  Expect a struggle

Honestly, this is the most meaningless thing I could say.  Getting a book published is hard.  Period.  Getting a genre book published is no less difficult.  First you have to write the book (and you ALWAYS have to finish the book, if it’s fiction).  Then you have to edit, revise, and polish that book.  Then you have to decide if you want an agent (I would recommend it) and start submitting your book to them.  If you find an agent, then you usually do ANOTHER round of edits.  Then another round of submissions: this time to editors.

Then, if the book sells, you’ll do MORE edits.  Maybe several rounds.  Maybe some will be severe.  Or they won’t be severe at all.  Then line edits, copyedits, pass pages.  Every step of the way, it’s a lot of work.  Be prepared to put in a lot of time and energy.  Oh, and amidst all this, you’ll do lots of waiting.  The publishing mantra seems to be “hurry up and wait.”  When things are needed, they’re needed ASAP.  And then you hurry up and wait for the next thing (which might not happen for months)

2.  Don’t limit yourself

I know I use the term “gay book” in this post, but don’t limit yourself by doing the same.  Most fiction featuring LGBT characters is more than just a story about their gayness – it’s a story about characters who happen to be gay.  It’s self-limiting to narrow your book down that far.  One of the things you want to do when you’re putting your book out there is that you want to give an agent or an editor as many reasons as possible to say YES, and as few reasons to say NO as you can.  The same way that you are more than your sexuality, so too is your book.

When I queried WITCH EYES, I was pretty clear that it was a paranormal book, and that it had a gay character/romance in it, but that wasn’t the focus of my query or my book.  It was just another element; I wrote a paranormal that just happened to have a gay character.  And that’s how I queried it.

I think if you narrow yourself down to “gay book” status, then you’re limiting yourself to agents that want to handle gay fiction, editors who want gay fiction, etc.  And there are publishing houses that exclusively handle LGBT fiction, but you want your book to have the longest legs possible – to go as far as possible.  The ideal audience isn’t just gay men, or gay women, it should be broader than that.  Keep that in mind when you’re writing, not just after the fact.

3.  What kind of writer are you?

There are really two categories here.  You don’t have to be gay to write a gay character.  You don’t even have to be gay to write a gay book.   But I think it’s important to figure out whether you want to write predominantly gay books, or if you want to write whatever you like, and one of those things just happens to be a gay book.

You might get pigeon-holed into that role as a “gay writer.”  People will see your name, and assume that your new book is another gay romance like the others.  If this is what you want anyway, then there’s nothing to be concerned about.  You’ll be building a brand.

And if not, you can break the mold, but just know that it’s there.  I get it all the time, and my book isn’t even out yet.  Even though I don’t write exclusively gay stuff, it’s one of the things people assume.  Just recognize that this might happen, and you might have to deal with it.  Plus, you’re kinda unofficially “out” unless you write with a pseudonym.

I don’t particularly like being “the gay writer” but I chose to write a gay book, so I’ll do what I can with it.  But that’s not going to stop me from writing stories about *gasp* straight people, if that’s what is in my head.

4.  Publishing is a business.

How does this affect YOU?  Because publishing is a business, that means that the focus is (to some extent) on the bottom line.  They are a business, that HAS to play a part.  You’re looking out for your own best interest, and the publisher does the same.  So why do I bring this up?

“Gay fiction” is considered a niche.  Just like boys won’t read “girl books” and certain people won’t read “issue books.”  “Gay books” are a niche, and there’s a belief that a lot of people WON’T read your gay book.  Being widely commercial is an asset to a publisher – commercial books have wide appeal, they’re expected to sell.  You may not get the kind of advance that Twilight got, or the amount of publicity that The Hunger Games received, especially starting out.  It may be assumed that the only market you will appeal to will be the gay market.

When it comes to the bottom line, Adam and Eve will sell a lot more copies than Adam and Steve.  And that’s what the publisher has to consider.  Publishing is conservative because it has to be – because it’s a business.  Like with point number 2 – if you limit yourself to just a gay market, you’re not giving Publishing all the tools they need to sell your book.

5.  Challenges are inevitable.

Because of the last point, you may find your book harder to sell, or harder to find an agent.  You might have people suggest that Adam and Eve would be a lot more commercial, so maybe you could change the gay couple into a straight one.  Or they might want you to downplay the gay romance in favor of a gay guy/straight girl friendship.  There are a dozen different permutations that kinda boil down to “make your book less gay.”  Again, it’s partly just business.  They may like your writing, but the publisher knows they’ll never get in-house support for your particular book.  Or an agent might realize that the book is great, but the gay element will make it a more difficult pitch.

Note that I say you may.  You may not.  You might find the right agent for you quickly.  The agent might have the perfect editor who will love your book.  This happens, just as often as it doesn’t happen.

And I don’t mean to make it sound like the gay books that are released are few and far between.  They’re not, especially if you count all the books where gay characters take up supporting roles.  But expect to be challenged at some point.

So that’s all I can think of at eleven at night.  Any additional suggestions?  Leave them in the comments.

How Critique Partners are a lot like Goldilocks

During the #yalitchat last night, one of the topics that came up was critique partners/beta readers/alpha readers.  Why are they important?  How many do you need? And where do you find them?

First, some definitions (since not everyone knows what’s what).  An alpha reader is someone who reads along with you as you’re writing.  You finish Chapter 7, they’re reading chapter 7.  A beta reader is someone who reads the whole book once it’s done, but before the book gets sent to any agents/editors.  And a critique partner is someone who critiques your work: so basically it’s a catch-all term that includes alphas and betas.

“He said something about Goldilocks.  I can’t wait to see how he pulls THIS one off.”

Some people like their porridge hot, just like they like their critiques harsh and unyielding.  Some people like their porridge cold, just like they like their critiques with a lot of hand holding.  And some people like their porridge somewhere in between, just like their critique partners.

There is nothing wrong with any of these systems. The trick with HAVING a critique partner is that you have someone who gets your work, who likes your work, and who will challenge you to be a better writer.  I’ve had CPs who ripped my books to shreds, but that was a challenge to improve the book.  And I’ve had CPs who left me 100+ notes about how much they loved the book, and what parts where their favorites.  Both of these helped in different ways.  And you won’t really know which you like best until you experiment a little bit and try some porridge.

So why is having a critique partner important?  Because it’s getting your work peer-reviewed before it goes out into the Great Big World.  There’s always something we can learn, and there’s always improvements that we can make to our writing.  Having a CP can help you understand if your plot is believable, if your dialogue leaps off the page, etc.  Every time you polish your book, you make it that much stronger.  Also, critique partners (at least the good ones) will tell you the truth.  They’ll tell you the things you NEED to hear, even if you don’t WANT to hear it.

Critiques also help in other ways.  By critiquing someone else, you learn a LOT about your own writing.  It’s hard to be thorough and analytical with our own books – we’re too close.  But when you see someone ELSE make mistakes that you do, too, not only can you point it out to them, but you can fix it yourself.  And you can learn a lot about someone else by reading their novels – it may be that what they write isn’t your cup of tea, and no matter how good of a crit partner they are to you, if you’re not all about THEM too, then it’s probably not a good match.

So where do you find them?  I’ve included a couple of links down below to message boards where a lot of writers gather.  Twitter’s another great resource – finding like-minded writers and trading a couple of chapters to test the waters can work wonders.  You may find your One True Critique Partner just by random accident. Also, keep in mind that a lot of writers (especially ones who are already pubbed or have agents) may not be able to read your manuscript.  It’s legal stuff.  So if you don’t have an agent yet, look for other writers who don’t have an agent.  Find someone “on your level.”  The added bonus is that they’ll be going through all the same things you are.

With critiques, just be sure to give as good as you get.  If you spend a lot of time and energy on someone else’s book, make sure you’re getting the same in return.  And vice versa.  I’ve been known to be a big slacker in this regard from time to time, which is why I try to only crit (aside from my roommate) only very rarely.

As for how many critique partners do you NEED?  As many as you feel comfortable with.  Keep in mind that usually, critiquing is an exchange.  I send you what I’ve worked on, you send me what you’ve worked on.  So if you have 5 CPs, you could end up with 5 projects to critique all at once.  I have one or two “constant” critique partners, and then occassionally I’ll exchange with other writer friends, depending on who has time to read.

So, like I said, find the porridge that’s right for you.  It may not be the same temperature as someone else’s.  And that’s totally fine.

 

 

Townscaping: Naming Your Fake Town

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About nine months ago, I wrote a post about creating your own fake town.  To this day, it’s one of the most actively read posts on my blog – people are still finding me via that post.   And it’s still the reason why people FIND my blog.  So I figured I would do a series of posts, elaborating on some of those ideas.

First up: how and what to name your fake town.

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Let’s face it.  Naming a fake town is one of the coolest parts of coming up with your own setting.  Who wouldn’t want to live in a place like Arkham, Idaho; Cemetery Junction, California; or Bloodlust, Indiana?  A fun name will keep you excited, it will (hopefully) intrigue your readers, and it  can really say something about the strange goings on in this sleepy Midwestern burb.

In my mind, there’s at least three different ways you can go about this.  You can be logical, and go with a Realistic name.  You can say something about the town, and pick a Thematic name, or you can be sarcastic, and go with the Ironic name.  You can guess which one is my favorite.

Realistic: In some ways, realistic names are the easiest because they can be researched.  Different regions have different naming schemes.  Cities in the Southwest will have a lot more Spanish influence; in certain parts of the country names are inspired by old Native American words; other places are named for foreign cities (Paris, Texas), geographic elements (Lakewood), presidents (Garfield, Washington), or even the name of the lucky SOB who got his name on that first deed.  And sometimes, these names get complicated.

For example: Valdosta, Georgia.  Five minutes of research turned up this town, and how the name came to be.  Valdosta took their name from an abandoned estate near where the city was later founded, called Val d’Osta.  The estate, in turn, was named for the Valle d’Osta in Italy, which literally means “Valley of Augustus.”

So where do you get ideas for the realistic names?  Try Wikipedia.  Just figure out where your book is taking place, roughly, and pick one of the counties appropriate to where the story COULD take place.  Then search for that county, in that state, and scroll to the bottom.  Wikipedia will handily list all the towns, townships, villages and cities located in that county all for your ease of perusal.  Do searches on other sites, look at maps.  Then take that information you’re getting, and come up with ideas.  Combine names, or come up with something that has a similar sound.

Thematic:

Then there’s the names that directly relate to the story you’re telling.  One bit of caution here is that you don’t want to be too obvious.  No one I know would want to settle in Devil’s Crossing (and they certainly wouldn’t be surprised if they did, and it turned out there were actually devils walking around).  Think outside your story for a second.  Is the name TOO obvious?  Are readers going to wonder why no one ever comments about how the characters live in Necromantia, Alaska?  A book with werewolves set in Luna Falls?  Come up with names that will intrigue readers, but that don’t talk down to them.

Research can play a part here, too.  Look for words that haven’t been used in several hundreds of years, or reference terms that fell out of use.  Anything can become part of your town’s new name.  Look for lists of angels and demons collected during the Middle Ages, for countries and regions that existed a thousand years ago.  Or famous characters in history.  If your story has a tragic quality to it, there’s something to be said for a town named Ophelia Falls, isn’t there?

Ironic

Then there’s my favorite.  The ironic names.  I think the best example of this is from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Buffy moves to a new town, finds out that it is set right on top of a portal to tell.  The town’s name?  Sunnydale.  Sunnydale brings up all sorts of fuzzy ideas like outlet shopping and corner cafes.  Not demon sucking pits to Hell.

The ironic name is the most fun (in my opinion) because you get to interject something meaningful into the town’s name, and play with the reader’s expectations.  However, they’re also very easy to go overboard with.  For example, if your book is about angels, and it’s set in Fallen, Nebraska, that’s not just ironic, it’s too blatant. In the Vampire Diaries (the books, not the show), everything takes place in the town of Fell’s Church.  The name is ironic because again, we’re getting a name that suggests happiness or religion, and you’re getting evil, smexy vampires in return.  A ghost novel set in Linger, North Dakota is another kind of ironic name.  These names can be the most tricky, but they can also be the most fun.

So there you have it.  Just some ideas on how to name that fake town you’ve been thinking about.  I’ll keep doing these posts on Wednesdays for the next few weeks, so if there’s an aspect of creating a fake town that you want me to cover, then suggest away.

Keep Your Lip Stiff

Know what really grinds my gears?  People who let Publishing make them its bitch.

Being a YA writer is a lot like being a celebrity.  I mean, I know we’re not ACTUAL celebrities, but the idea of the spotlight is the same.   We shouldn’t go around without wearing panties (a mistake I won’t make again, I can assure you), we have to watch what we do because the paparazzi is always lurking (I KNEW someone was snapping photos when I took out the trash), and the things we say get taken out of context all the time.

But here’s the point: you have to keep a stiff upper lip.

When something terrible happens, our first instinct is to talk about it.  Which is HEALTHY.  But just watch where you say it, and to whom.  Venting about things that you can’t control on your Twitter (especially when you’re doing it on a weekly basis) just looks tacky. Vent if you need to.  Just don’t overdo it!  Vent, and then LET IT GO.  Don’t wallow.   There’s always something better you can be doing with your time.

There are writers who’ve allowed EVERYTHING about their publishing journey to make them miserable.  Instead of rejoicing that they’re being published, every milestone becomes a reminder of how they got screwed over along the way.  Every hurdle becomes a personal offense.  Some people are more sensitive than others, and I sympathize.  But DO NOT put it out there for public consumption.

There’s one writer I know who had a very good reason to get upset a few months ago.  Something happened with her publicly (that she had no control over), and if I had been in her shoes, I’d have been upset too.  But here’s the thing:  no one on the outside knew anything about it.  She kept it professional and stressed in private.

But some people don’t respond in the same way.  Maybe their journey has been tough.  But that doesn’t matter!  If I go to my day job and tell everyone who will listen that I’m underpaid and overworked, I look like a jerk, and I can’t be shocked if I lose my job.  I was raised to believe that if you put out negativity, the only thing you’ll get back is MORE negativity.  I don’t need to know every way the world is out to screw you, and neither do the people who read your books.  People want to know about the author, not the author’s bad moods and insecurities.

Remember: no one invites Negative Nancy to the Prom.  There’s a fine line between sharing and over-sharing.  If you’re using your blog or Twitter to vent more than promote yourself, then stop blogging.  Stop Tweeting.  I think that being a bad blogger, or an annoying Tweeter, can do more harm for your career than in not doing either.

I’ve watched two authors lately(whose books I loved) as they’ve spent the weeks and months since their books came out complaining about every single misstep along the way.   They’ve whined about the placement of their book, how they didn’t get to do a big tour, how their one or two half-hearted promo attempts fell flat.  It’s appalling, to be honest.  And I really just can’t believe that between their agents, their editors, writer friends or even ANYONE at their publishing house, that no one’s suggested that they suck it up and put on a brave face.

Believe me, I have my moments.  But I keep that private.  The worst you’ll hear me say is that I’m struggling with a scene, or that I’m having a bad day.  I don’t use my Twitter as therapy, and I don’t think anyone else should either.  Twitter is a horrible therapist!

I think what it boils down to is that whether or not you believe that YOU are a brand, the end result is that YOU can be Googled.  And once you put things out on the Internet, they’ll stick around in some form.  Maybe you deleted that that Tweet you sent out complaining about B&N, but SOMEONE saw it, and they’ll remember that the next time you have a book coming out.  Heck, it may get talked about in book clubs, between critique groups, or even latenight gossip sessions over Jack and Cokes after BEA.

So I guess what I’m saying is that as a writer, there isn’t much of a dress code.  But I really think we should all be wearing our big boy Underoos.  Don’t you?

How to Create Your Own Fake Town

So one of the things I’m a fan of in novels is the “fake town.”  Also known as the “fictional city,” the “imaginary inlet,” or the “hypothetical hot spot.”  Or maybe I’m the only one who thinks of them like that?  Ahem.  Okay, moving on.

So what’s the point of crafting your own town to set the story in, versus using an established city.   I think the main benefit is the ease with which you can write.  If you use an established city, then you’re expected to do more research.  But if you create your own town, you can just make it all up as you go.  Now there are pros and cons to this.ptaerial

The pros are obvious:  you can build up the town however you like, and whatever’s going to make your job easier.  It has whatever history you want it to have.  Who cares if there’s not an island west of Seattle, or there’s already a town called New Paltz where you were planning to locate your story.  Or maybe the town in your head is just like this town you drove through in Delaware, but your novel’s supposed to take place in Western PA.  These are all things that can be fixed by creating your own location.

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Why Music is So Important

For me, a project’s never really “in progress” until I have the music.  The soundtrack.  The beat.

I may mess around with certain scenes, or lines of dialogue.  But I need the music to really get into the groove of the story.  For me, having a soundtrack that can play while I write is integral.  It doesn’t really matter after awhile though – I end up tuning it out and dealing with the story.  But in the beginning, its like a shortcut into that world.

My typical playlist is 10-20 songs, usually from a variety of artists.  The majority of it is usually rock – anywhere from hard rock to more symphonic rock – with the occassional pop artist or slow song in there for those important scenes.  Typically during a draft, the list will gain or lose songs as certain ones start drawing me OUT of the story, instead of drawing me IN.  Most of the time since I don’t even hear the music anyway (thank you headphones), I’ll know a song needs to go because EVERY time it comes on it hits me like a sour note.  Pulls me right out the story.  Or just plain annoys me.

I think music can serve a similar purpose to the way it serves television.  Having certain songs playing in the background of a show or movie can help set a particular mood, can evoke a particular emotion, or (for the fast paced or club music) can even get your blood pumping and ready for more.  And that’s a big reason why music’s so important for me when I’m working on something new.

Because music becomes that bridge, that I need to go from “hey this is an idea” to “hey, this is something worth pursuing.”  And it can quickly turn from “I like this song” to “my character likes this song.”  It’s just another way to get a connection with your character.  Maybe.

And in other news, these last few blog posts have all been either “friend-y” or advice-y because I’ve been pretty much keeping it low key and nothing interesting happens to be going on.  If that changes, trust me I’d love to blog all about it.

More about Series

So last time I wound up focusing mostly on trilogies.  I figured that this time, I’d focus more on series books, and things to think about or look at.

I feel like there’s really two kinds of series books.  There are the stand-alone series, and the metaplot/contained series.  The former are books that follow a certain character with continually changing circumstances.  Each book is self-contained, and while it may build upon things that happen in previous books, the changes in character or situation may not be as dramatic or significant.  The draw here is that people can see something in the main character that keeps them coming back for more.  You always want to know about what crazy hijinks they’re getting themselves into.  This is more like the Hardy Boys, the Babysitters Club, and several big mystery novelists following a certain hero or heroine.

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Series & Trilogies & Companion Books, Oh My!

A couple of things the last few days have really had me thinking about writers, series, and everything in between.

But first, a little clarification on the differences.  A trilogy is a series of three books that are interconnected and reach a final resolution (of some kind) by the third book.  A series is usually more open ended, and as a result tends to have more self-contained stories for each volume. It can last for four, five, or ten volumes.  And a companion book is typically a book set in the same universe as the books that came before.

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On Roadblocks

I feel like I’ve talked about this before, but I didn’t see anything in my brief glance backwards.

I don’t like the term “writer’s block.”  For me, it conjures up this idea of a vast writing wasteland where the words have shriveled up and died.  And I don’t think that’s ever really accurate.  At least its not for me.  If I can’t work on Project A at the moment, then I’ve usually got something I could start working on for Project B.  Whether or not I DO start working on it depends on my mood.

While in the midst of THFD revision, I had three sections I knew needed serious amounts of work.  Either it was a transition that needed fixed, or a section that needs rewriting because of something later.  I got through the first one, blasted through the first third of the book, and then hit the second roadblock.  Its a transitional issue, where I need to add a bunch to cover changes that have occurred over the course of a few weeks in the book.  Part of the problem is that with the two viewpoints in the story each chapter is a tradeoff.  Evens go to Sage, and odds go to Nate.  So its also a balance and pacing issue.

I was literally starting to hate the book, and the characters, and I wasn’t making the kind of progress I wanted.  Then I decided to take a break and flesh out the new sparkly that caught my eye.  The idea being if I can figure out a general outline and brief character sketch for the main cast, then by the time I get back to THFD maybe I’ll have enough distance to get through my problem areas.

So I guess for me its not “writer’s block” so much as “road blocks” and all I need to do is wait until someone comes along and clears out the road.  And thinking about it that way makes me feel not quite so sucky. 😉

Dealing With Integrity

So I originally wanted to call this Dealing with Dummies.  Mostly in light of the #agentfail, #queryfail, #writerfail debacle.  And one specific post that, for some reason, really inspired a lot of irritation on my end.

Here’s my feeling on the matter.  And feel free to take it or leave it as you like.  But if something like #queryfail offends you, and you don’t take anything from the experience…you’re probably not doing your job.  Same for #agentfail.  And same for even #writerfail (which hasn’t taken off yet, but it will!)

No one’s ever going to handle every situation perfectly.  And I think #queryfail was like that.  It came from a good place, it was made of good intentions, and some people might have taken it too far, but a lot more people took their indignation about it much farther.  These are the people who didnt’ take anything away from queryfail.  They’re a majority of the people that jumped on the #agentfail bandwagon.

The difference though, as someone else said, was simple.  Queryfail attacked words.  Agentfail attacked people.  Personally.  And I tried to stay out of the whole thing, for the most part, but what’s it’s really boiled down to is this.

Have integrity.  If writing is something you feel like you’re compulsed to do, then do it to the best of your ability.  This is where I don’t understand some of the comments people make.  My first book got one request.  Obviously, both my book and my query were lacking.  So I took that knowledge, wrote a better book, and spent months honing that query.  And you know what?

That first book, I probably sent about 40 queries that I got responses to. Probably another 20 I didn’t hear anything from.  I got 1 full request.

The second book?  I sent about 35 queries, got 14 requests for more, and had only about 10 no-responses.  Because, in large part, I did my homework.  I wrote that query, posted it, and kept tightening and rewriting until it was perfect.  And I had a lot of friends who helped out on that front.  

That second book got me an agent, and at first I held off on working on something new.  I didn’t want to start a new project and have to put it on hold in case I had edits to do or something.  But it’s all too realistic that this book may not sell.  And once I started to accept that fact, I took what I’ve learned through the submissions process, talks with my agent, research on publishing, and just things I’ve learned from the books I’ve read, and started work on a new novel.  Because if that second book doesn’t sell (and it still may, who knows), then I’m going to write something else that will. 

I could sit back and complain that my agent’s not doing her job.  Or that the editors don’t understand real talent.  Or complain that books that aren’t as good as mine got published.  But I don’t.  Like Leah said to me on Friday.  "It’s like a challenge.  If this isn’t good enough, then by god I’d better step up my game until I’m on that level."  (Or something to that effect).  

And that’s what it really comes down to.  If writing is something you have to do, if you can’t do anything else to be happy, then put your best foot forward.  And always remember to keep an eye on that road you’re on.  Keep it in perspective. And don’t forget that it’s always a journey – we’re never static.