The Embarrassing Art of Self-Promotion

I want to share a story about Eric the bank teller.

Eric works for a Big Important Bank and, as soon as he became a teller, he immediately took it upon himself to share that information at every available opportunity.  “Hi,” he’d say, and hand you business cards (that he’d made himself at his own expense).  “I’m Eric, a bank teller at BIB.”

He worked his job into every single conversation we had.  “There’s shrimp on the menu?  The other day at BIB, I heard our loan officer saying he’d tried some shrimp!”  And he loved nothing more than associating himself with BIB’s hierarchy.  If you complained about a customer service problem at BIB or wondered about one of their services, he’d place a sweaty hand on your shoulder and lean in to speak to you in a conspiratorial tone.  “I’ll work on it for you,” he’d promise, as though he was going to march right into corporate and demand immediate recompense for your troubles.

That sort of blatant self-promotion, the relentless introduction of oneself as a brand, is enormously off-putting.  It’s little wonder I tend to avoid casual conversations with Eric.  And yet, as authors, it’s something we’re expected to do.  We are the brand, and it’s up to us to promote ourselves.

That’s hard enough when you write romance.  (“Like…romance?” people ask.  “Like…bodice-rippers?”) It’s even harder when you write gay romance.  (“No,” I have to explain earnestly.  “Like…tunic-rippers.  Like loincloth-rippers.  Maybe.”)

So what’s an author to do?

What I’d really love to know is how you get your work out there to be seen and heard.  How do you promote your writing?  Is it a frustrating process for you?  Easy?  Embarrassing?  How much time do you put in?  And are there any tips and tricks?

Share them in the comments or on Twitter, or drop me a line here at the blog.  I’d love to crowdsource this and come up with a list of workable strategies for niche authors or fledglings who are just starting out.

Posted in creative writing, freelance writing, gay romance, lgbt romance, mm romance, promotion, publicity, publishing, romance authors, romance genre, romance writing, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Difference Between A Romantic Gesture and A Weird or Intimidating Overture

A recent post on the blog Deadspin gathered up some tales of “failed romantic gestures.”  As you might expect, some of the stories are pretty funny.  There’s a poor guy who, clarinet in hand, decided to be a one-man pep band at his crush’s soccer game.  Bad poetry and embarrassing mixtapes abound.  And one suitor had a $500 ring kicked out of his hand during a brawl in the stands at a hockey game.

I noticed that the women in the stories almost always responded in ways that spoke to me of incredible discomfort: they fell silent, or said something awkward, or shut down.  Some of them fled the scene or just blurted an outright rejection.  I’ve been there myself, once, when a boy whose name I did not even know decided, at writing camp in high school, to make me the lead character of his fantasy story – which he read aloud to the class.  After that mortifying incident, I avoided him whenever possible, to the point that I sometimes made myself late to events.

To my surprise, though, a lot of the commenters on the piece didn’t seem to notice the discomfort or awkwardness experienced by the objects of affection.  Instead, the discussion centered on how much people have to endure in the process of Making A Romantic Gesture: they have to sacrifice pride and decency and dignity and sometimes money, to be met only with scorn!  Or silence!  Or rejection!  In the debate there seemed to be this general confusion about how a person with good intentions and romance on the brain could be rejected or how such a gesture might be received in a negative way.

And this is where I – as a woman, as a romance writer, and as a Haver of Romances, step in.  Because the comments on that article about failed romantic gestures underscored what I already know: the people who complain that others (often women) just don’t appreciate romantic gestures or the risk involved and never respond “nicely” have, in general,  lost the concept of what a romantic gesture is and should be, and what the purpose of a romantic gesture is.  They’ve forgotten, or not yet realized, that there is a thin line between “romantic gesture” and “incredibly awkward creepy thing.”

So let’s find that line, shall we?  Herewith, a useful list:

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Prodigal Novel Cover!

My new novel Prodigal -  in which a nomadic, smart-ass writer and an anal-retentive graduate student cross paths and then immediately set out to challenge each other’s worldviews – will be coming out from Torquere Press in March, and the cover art is go!  So here’s a sneak peek for you.  More detail coming later, but I’m pretty excited.

Enjoy!

Prodigal

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The Desire To Be Loved Is Not A Sin Against Independence

When I was eighteen and had my heart broken for real – in the way that shocks you awake at night and keeps you crying for days and makes you wonder if it will ever really be okay again – I was the recipient of a great deal of noble, well-intended advice.

“You’ve got yourself, honey,” said my friend Karen as she passed over ice cream and tissues.  “You don’t need anybody.  You don’t need anybody but you.”

“It’s okay,” soothed my mother as I wandered the house aimlessly in an ancient football jersey from the Goodwill bag and a pair of sweatpants.  “You don’t need to be loved by anyone for your life to be complete.  You don’t need a romance.”

I was told I was beautiful and perfect and self-sustaining: a universe unto myself.  Like Walt Whitman, I contained multitudes.  Missing the love and comfort of a relationship?  The gentleness of touch?  Well, that was just habit, and realizing how awesome I was would help me get over it.

Because nobody needs love.  Not romantic love.  At least that’s what I was told.  And needing it or even wanting it was held up to me as a sign of weakness, a symptom of partial personhood.  Longing wasn’t something I or any well-adjusted, self-respecting person should feel.  And if you did feel it, you were one of those people: dependent soft-minded creatures who needed the validation of others to survive.

But I hate that ideology.  I hate it because it’s inaccurate.  Yes, it’s possible to be happy and fulfilled and complete and awesome by yourself.  But there is nothing inherently weak or wrong or bad about wanting and desiring love – yes, romantic love – in your life.  To feel that isn’t a failure.  It doesn’t mean you’re dependent on others.  It means you’re human.

And it’s part of the reason I write romance.

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The Zen of Mindless Writing

I write romance.  And…then there’s my freelance stuff.

I say “stuff” because that’s precisely what it is: nonfiction writing that ought to be done in bulk and in beige, bland, unidentifiable.  It is purely functional, writing that is done solely to convey information on behalf of those who don’t have the time or the inclination to do it themselves.

And I like it.

I wouldn’t want to do it always, of course.  If I had to pick just one sort of writing to stick with forever, I’d pick fiction in a heartbeat.  It’s my passion-work, a portal to another place.  Writing romance novels is a heady experience that I find far more rewarding and enjoyable on a personal and professional level than anything else.  It engages me completely; the ideas in my head demand I tell them in the best way that I can.

But that is precisely why having something dull and underwhelming to write during the in-between times is so therapeutic and vital.

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What I’ve Learned In My First Year As A Writer

The title of this post is a lie.

Strictly speaking, I’ve been a writer for way more than a year.  I had to write a great deal of academic material to get my degrees and I’ve worked as a freelance writer, too.  And all that doesn’t touch the amount of unpublished stories and snippets I’ve written down for well over a decade now.

But this is the first year I’ve perceived of myself as a writer.  Because writing fiction is a supremely arrogant venture by nature.  The very act of publishing writing carries in it an inherent assumption: that the stories you carry around in your head all day are worth other people’s money. It took me a long while to discover that confidence, and I’m not sure I have it all yet.

It took a nudge from my partner – “your writing is worth reading, and you should try to start a writing career” – for me to self-publish a few novellas on Amazon.  And when I got a positive response to those, I started writing what would later become In the Margin.  I sent it to Dreamspinner Press, and it was accepted.   And then I turned my attention back to a set of novellas I’d written that formed a sequential story, and from that my upcoming novel Prodigal emerged.  When it was accepted by Torquere Press, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was indeed a Real Writer.  And since then I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly that means.

One year in, my conclusion is this: writing is a fickle, difficult, thorny love.  And I can’t let it go.  In spite of the myriad frustrations, challenges, and difficulties, I’m in this for the long haul – and I suspect that kind of dogged endurance might be one of the tricks to making this work.

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Review: “A Winter Reverie”

Hey all:

On his blog A Life Among The Pages, Robert Zimmerman recently posted a very kind review of my winter/Christmas short story here.  It’s always nice to see that someone enjoyed your story and wanted to pass the good word along – a nice little Christmas gift!

Hope the holidays treated everyone well and that you’re all looking forward to the New Year.  My year-end post, with any luck, will be up before the new year actually begins.

What can I say?  I’m timely.

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If you’re a writer, step away from the computer for Christmas.

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I suspect that most writers are perfectionists, to some degree.

Which is dangerous.  I mean, the entire editing industry is premised on the notion that even the best writing on the planet is not perfect and can always be improved.  So if you’re a perfectionist who also happens to be a writer – like me – then the very profession of writing throws you into constant psychological crisis: you spend every last ounce of time and energy pursuing a perfection that is completely unattainable.

And you know this.  And you do it anyway.

I get it.  I’ve lost count of the nights I’ve stayed up until 4 a.m. reading through a manuscript for the fifteenth time, certain that just one more run-through will reveal even more mistakes, proofreading errors, and places where I could have phrased things differently.

Of course, the staying up until 4 a.m. most recently bled into a morning where I had to be awake at eight to make a six-hour drive to visit family. In the middle of nowhere.  At a holiday event where I was obligated to be at least minimally pleasant.

I am pretty sure I failed to be minimally pleasant.

Which leads me to this post, and the only piece of holiday advice I have to offer as we head into the season: step away from the computer.  Leave your writing.  Seriously.  Forget it.  Just for a couple of days.

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New Christmas Short Romance Available Now!

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‘Tis the season: I’ve written a short, sweet ‘n’ fluffy Christmas romance, and it’s now available on Amazon here – for 99 cents, even!

A Winter Reverie is a lighthearted, PG short story that should appeal to both the irreverent and the reverent this holiday season.  If a broken baby Jesus, a nonprofit fundraiser gone horribly wrong, a grumpy mountain hermit, and a big-hearted pagan with a fear of heights interests you, grab a copy and use it as a self-indulgent excuse to hide away from family and holiday demands for a while.

To all of you I’ve come to know this year: stay well and stay warm, and keep your eyes peeled for my novel Prodigal in the new year!

Posted in gay romance, lgbt romance, mm romance, romance, romance genre, romance writing, short story | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The muse comes cheap, but the marketing doesn’t.

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I watch House Hunters International.

Don’t judge me.  I mostly watch it because my partner and I daydream about living overseas and we like to travel.  But if you watch House Hunters long enough, eventually you’ll find That Person.  That Person who has decided to go overseas without a penny to his or her name, with no job prospects, nothing on the horizon, nothing but a smile and a dream.

They beam at the camera.  “Life is so short,” they say.  “You have to follow your dreams and just forget the details.”  Then they go and dance in the surf, future poverty and lack of a retirement account be damned.

I am emphatically not That Person, which might explain why I am at home watching House Hunters.  But seeing those people gets at the heart of my own dilemma and the dilemma that I think most writers – not the elitist, NYT-reviewed folks, but the rest of us genre-writing and freelance writers – face:

Writing for a living is a terrifying proposition.  And though I’m not sure about how the risk to reward ratio is going to work out for me in the long run, I’d like to be able to do that. Still, writing can be expensive.  The muse comes cheap, but the marketing doesn’t.

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