It’s both great and terrible that small presses, the Internet, and self-publishing have given anyone with the inclination to write a platform. One obvious benefit is that some really great, innovative, boundary-pushing stories that might not have made their way to the public otherwise are being given a platform. Another is that authors are able to have more creative control over their work.
One downside, however, is that the market is flooded with new books each day. That means more choices in what to read, yes, but it also makes it hard for readers to find great books in the deluge. That has created a sense of competition among authors clamoring to be heard over the masses. I don’t think that sense of competitiveness is doing us any favors.
From what I’ve observed, a lot of writers do themselves a disservice. This manifests itself in two ways: they don’t take themselves seriously enough, or they take themselves too seriously.
Let’s start with not taking your career seriously enough with a shoehorned analogy. On a recent episode of the campy, brilliant RuPaul’s Drag Race, a drag queen called Trinity K. Bonet had something of a breakthrough. I found her to be kind of an enigma: she spent a lot— and I mean a lot—of time before each challenge bemoaning the fact that the task was so far out of her comfort zone and how little experience she had with whatever it was. Then she would do the challenge and do a great job. Generally, on-stage, she was polished and clearly had talent, but off-stage she was a mess of insecurity. In the recent episode, RuPaul chastised her in the pre-challenge critique for thinking so little of herself and then… bam! Trinity knocked it out of the park in the challenge. RuPaul congratulated her for finally overcoming her demons—demons RuPaul has faced before as well—and it was a pretty great moment.
A lot of creative people struggle with that kind of insecurity. We all know how hard it is to put our work out there for consumption and critique. The doubt you have about your own work could be sabotaging you. Maybe you think of your books as trifles or something you do just for fun. Maybe you write on a social media site about how you feel like a hack. You keep your expectations low and try to lower them for others: there’s no way my book will ever hit a bestseller list; I’ll never get a five-star review; I’m so inexperienced I have no idea what I’m even doing. This is what Trinity K. Bonet was doing before each challenge. She was lowering expectations: I’ve never done this before so don’t expect me to be any good at it. It led to some ugly behavior on the other side, too; even when she did do well, she wasn’t receptive to criticism, getting defensive about how she had no experience. A lot of inexperienced authors similarly lash out.
The minute you type some words onto a page, you’re writer. The minute someone gives you money in exchange for your words, you’re a professional writer. It doesn’t matter if you sell twenty books or twenty thousand. You’ve accomplished something and you are worthy of being taken seriously. But no one will do that unless you take yourself seriously.
I realize it’s not as easy as snapping your fingers and telling yourself to have higher expectations, but I think this is a Fake It ‘Til You Make It situation. Pretend you’re a bestselling author and behave accordingly. Act confident online. Always keep things polite and professional. Reach out, make connections with readers and authors, and keep yourself open to new opportunities. You may not find overnight success, but you close yourself off from ever making a bestseller list if you keep your expectations low.
Women in particular have a tendency to underplay their accomplishments. We’re socialized not to be too cocky or arrogant, and so we overcompensate with modesty and humility. These are great traits, but don’t sell yourself short. Be proud of what you’ve done, grateful for the help you’ve received, and show the world that you deserve all the success that will come your way.
The other side of the coin is taking yourself too seriously. Some authors get defensive. They think—or at least act as though—their books are above criticism. But not all books are for all readers and most reviews are merely stating what didn’t work for them about something they read. They’re not mean and they’re not meant to attack the author.
You see streaks of this in a lot of so-called bad author behavior. There’s room for anger and criticism, even from authors. I think it’s fair for authors to criticize the work of others—for all it’s not a race, publishing is also not always a lovefest—and certainly there are things happening in the industry that I think deserve criticism. But that means that anyone willing to dish it out has to be willing to take it. A bad review will not end your career unless you let it. And you’re not entitled to success just for putting a book out there—we all have to work for it.
I see a lot of both ends of the spectrum in the LGBT romance community, though it is not by any means limited to here. By virtue of the fact that a lot of LGBT romance is self-pubbed or put out by small presses, perhaps there are more new and inexperienced authors.
So be professional. Treat your writing career seriously, because your writing deserves to be taken seriously. Be open to change and criticism, and adapt where you can. If you don’t feel confident, fake it until you do. And, who knows, maybe we’ll see you on a bestseller list soon!♥
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.