One thing I’ve noticed about author attitudes toward all parts of the book marketing process—social networking, blog tours, public readings, conventions—is that everyone always talks about it like it’s a necessary evil, or an undue burden. But I think we can turn that attitude around. Life’s too short—and there are too many books to write—to spend a lot of time on social media if it does, indeed, feel like it’s sucking out your soul. But some of it can be really fun.
My take on marketing is that you should stick to one or two things you enjoy and are good at. I love Twitter, for example. I’m not the most active—and I’ve cut way down on how frequently I check it lately in the interest of, you know, finishing another novel—but I follow many witty, funny people, I love watching—and occasionally participating in—discussions about the romance genre, and I like the challenge of expressing myself succinctly in 140 characters. But your mileage may vary. If Twitter doesn’t work for you, or if it feels like a necessary evil, try something else until you find what does work. Because if you like what you’re doing, it will show and readers will respond positively to it.
The other thing I love? Conventions.
Some of you reading this just broke out in hives. I get that I’m sort of a rarity among authors in that I’m generally more of an extrovert, but the first few I went to were pretty nerve-wracking. Then I went to five conventions last year and had a total blast at all of them. Perhaps the trick is to walk into each one viewing it as an opportunity, not a burden. Just be approachable, be positive and professional, and you will be fine.
Rainbow Romance Writers put on its 2014 agenda to encourage its members to attend small regional conventions. To my mind, there are a lot of advantages—networking opportunities, chances to interact with readers, ways to learn new things—and, sure, they’re expensive, but worth it in the long run. If you’ve ever even just been to an RWA meeting or a local reading, you know this already. I find simply talking to other writers to be tremendously inspiring. Smaller conventions are less expensive and less intimidating than, say, RT, so they’re a great way to get your feet wet if you’ve never been to one before. And they are an especially great way for LGBT romance authors to wade into the mainstream.
We don’t gain anything by isolating ourselves, which I think is an issue in the LGBT romance community. I’ve talked before about how our assumptions about audience for these kinds of books. LGBT romance has a growing audience of readers who just want a good story regardless of the genders of the characters involved—count me among these readers!—and the best way to reach these readers is go to mainstream spaces.
There are a number of conventions now explicitly for LGBT romance. There’s GayRomLit, which started in 2011 and occurs every October. You can read more about it in the January issue of Romance Writers Report in an article by Damon Suede. I’ve been to every one. It’s a wonderful convention and well worth the time and money. Now there are other LGBT romance conventions popping up—Rainbow Con this April, for example— and that’s great! It’s good to foster community, to get opportunities to meet readers and writers in spaces that feel safe. But I think to really break out into the mainstream—which is what we want as writers, right? to attract many readers to our books?—stepping into mainstream romance spaces is important.
LGBT romance writers and publishers have been doing this since long before I attended my first convention. I am hardly a trailblazer. But I get asked a lot about whether the big conventions like RT and RWA are welcoming to LGBT romance writers, and in my experience, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
We’ll take the RWA national convention as an example. I went to my first last year. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. But I signed up to do the big book signing, and when I went to check if my books had been delivered, there they were, sitting there just like the others in the row with me. I was sandwiched between an author who writes Regency romances for Avon and a YA author who had been nominated for a RITA, so my signing buddies were not slouches! I belonged there, I told myself, and a good number of people came by just to see me— which I say not to brag, but merely to point out that there’s a place for LGBT romance writers at a signing like that. (Heck, at RT last year, during the big signing, I wound up sitting across from Brenda Jackson and Beverly Jenkins. There should be a place for everyone!)
I spent most of my downtime in the hotel bar, just talking to whoever I ran into. What I liked about RWA is that everyone seemed game to talk and network, and the bar was a hotbed of activity at all times. I tried to look approachable—and I had sunk some money into my wardrobe, so I had a few conversation-starter pieces, but your mileage may vary with that—and people were generally friendly. I had a pin for Rainbow Romance Writers and a little rainbow flag firmly affixed to my name badge, plus my badge had the PAN label, and that automatically got people asking me questions. “Which chapters do you belong to? What do you write? What have you gotten published? What’s RRW?”
I will admit to not quite knowing how to answer sometimes. I didn’t know who would react badly to the fact that my published novels are all gay romance. The first time a total stranger—an older woman from a chapter in one of the Deep South states and her friend—asked me, I hedged at first. But then I thought, “I’ve got a name badge covered in rainbows and I’m damned proud of what I’ve accomplished,” and I told these women about my books. And they both said, “Wow, really? That’s so cool!”
This same thing kept happening all week. It was amazing! I felt proud and welcomed by the community.
And that’s what I want to impart to my fellow writers. I get the impression there’s a lot of fear among writers, particularly writers of romance perceived as outside of the mainstream, that they won’t be accepted. Obviously, there’s still progress to be made, but not if we don’t break into these markets. An LGBT book—or a multicultural book, or anything else that is outside of the long traditions of the romance genre—won’t win contests if no one enters their books, and likewise, we writers can’t make a splash at a mainstream romance convention if we don’t attend. I figure it’s better to go, to be our awesome selves—approachable, polite, professional—and show the community that we are worthy of respect (and many book sales).♥
Kate McMurray is an award-winning author of gay romance and an unabashed romance fan. When she’s not writing, she works as a nonfiction editor, dabbles in various crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She’s currently serving as President of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter of Romance Writers of America. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her at www.katemcmurray.com.