Everyone knows that marketing and promo is a dog eat dog world. I see authors talk about having multiple pseudonyms, some of which are secret from their friends, families, and other authors. I see them talk about how tough promo gets. And I shake my head.
I understand that for some people a pen name is necessary to hide from your pastor, your mother-in-law, your boss and your kids that you write gay romances. I have the luxury of just being myself. The people that run the company I work for don’t care what I write as long as I do my job well. My kid won’t read my stuff, but she brags that her mom is a published author who writes smut. I don’t have a pastor and my mother-in-law just isn’t that interested in what I do. Even if I had all these folks who care that deeply about how I use my free time…I would still do this exactly the way that I do. After all, I am who I am. Unashamedly so.
So why did I tell you this? Because just being me is how I survive. I think it’s great if you can promo the hell out five different pen names, keep them all straight, and still hide them all from everyone you know. But I’m a pragmatist and I like that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. So for me, one name and multiple genres – M/F, M/M, ménage, paranormal, contemporary, historical, sci fi – is what works. The only common denominator is that they are all romances and all erotic. For some, this would be an impossible task to do under a single name. For me, it’s the only way to survive and build a fan base. Is it easy? Not always. Do I lose readers because I refuse to tie myself to a single genre? Probably. Is the creative part of me satisfied by doing this? You betcha.
I work a full-time, demanding job. I don’t have a lot of time to devote to writing let alone promo. If I had to promo more than one name, I’d be done in this business. The upside to a single pen name is that I don’t have to market myself in different ways. This IS who Lex Valentine is…an author who writes across genres. Another positive is that the single name translates to a branding advantage. I don’t have to build a new fanbase with each additional name. There are fans out there who will read pretty much anything I turn out regardless of genre.
Part of surviving in this industry is knowing how to market yourself. Luckily, I spent 15 years learning about branding and marketing on the internet from my daughter’s dad who is a media consultant and professional photographer with Getty. I know the value of a short, recognizable URL and know how to put together a website that is eye-catching and suits what I do. I know about domains and royalty free images. The part that wasn’t easy was figuring out the groups.
For those of us published in the epub world, Yahoo groups are a necessary evil. And they were alien animals to me when I started this journey two years ago. I’m still clumsy in how I deal with them. I have an innate aversion to spamming the loops with the same promo over and over again, day in and day out. I prefer to be myself and chat about the writing process in guest blog posts and answer questions about my characters in interviews whether written or on radio shows. I’ve been told I promo well and don’t beat people over the head with my stuff. I’m not sure I come across that way to everyone but I sure try not to be obnoxious with it.
I don’t want the Lex Valentine name to be perceived as a Diva nor do I want it seen as someone who gushes in a patently false manner. Neither is who I am and I prefer to just be me even while wearing the mantle of the romance author. Being real isn’t just a survival strategy for me. There are core values the company I work for has and I embraced them. They have become part of me and everything I do, even my dealings as an author have a basis in them – integrity, fairness, excellence, and compassion. So I don’t feed people lines. I treat them all as politely and ethically as I can.
One reason I work so hard at my image is that I know it’s tough to walk the line between genres. I’ve been in a M/M chat and been put down and looked down at and talked down to because I also write het. I’ve had books not be reviewed because the hero starts out on page one in bed with a woman whom he’s not having sex with, he’s in fact breaking up with her. It didn’t matter that all the sex he has in the book is with a man. I was turned away because of that opening scene. I’ve had a number of authors pause when they find out I write gay as well as het stories. I’ve heard all the murmurs of “I can’t get into that. I don’t know how people can read it.”
Sometimes, I feel like I just can’t win. I write what’s inside me, the stories that want out, yet I know that inevitably, someone will take issue. And the camps on either side don’t seem to fit a multi-genre author like myself. There are comments people make and there are ways that I’ve been treated that make me realize that to some fans of the M/M genre and within some groups, I will never be as good as or taken as seriously as authors who only write gay books.
One of the other things that’s tough to overcome when you write in multiple genres is the fact that there are authors out there who boldly state that they write gay romances because they make more money at it. These authors started out het and shifted to the other genre. And readers do ask, “Are you like author X? She wrote het and now says she writes gay romance because of the money.” When they ask me that, I almost always get the sense that they don’t like it.
I don’t write gay stories strictly for the money. I tell the stories I have within me to tell. I don’t care if they are straight or gay. I write them because the characters want me to. I don’t discriminate between them. I want to give them all equal air time. Sure, authors like to make money, but apparently a lot of readers prefer the notion that their favorite authors do this for the love of writing not the almighty dollar. And the love of writing is what drives me.
One of the ways I’ve survived all the cliques and the little discriminatory jibes is that I’ve taken myself out of a lot of the chatty groups. I remain on the ones where I promo, but I’m careful not to send out too much. I’ve tried to focus on more professional groups and a couple of groups where I have friends and feel at home. I offer author goodies on a regular basis to the growing fan base of the Darkworld. I try to stay accessible and real to those readers.
I encourage fan mail if only to hear the ideas the fans have about my characters. Their words can absolutely affect how I write a book or treat a character. If you don’t believe me, ask Wave about Fire Storm whose plot changed significantly because of her. The feelings and input of the fans matter to me and I try to make that known to them. I work hard to make my characters real so that readers become vested in them and the world I built. I want to write them the stories I want to read with the HEA that makes you cry and the sex scenes that make you want your partner to strip naked right then and there. I want to give them the best books I possibly can.
The writing part is usually the easiest part of this job. Sure, there are characters and plots that can drive you nuts but for the most part, I can work them out. Finding the time to write can be a challenge, but I eke out the minutes and hours here and there and end up with manuscripts to turn in to my editors.
Finding the right balance to promotion and marketing is difficult, but for me the key to this is pressing the flesh and talking to people about what I do rather than spamming the loops. Learning from others in the industry, from those in the professional groups has become key for me as well. Realizing that there are people who will put you down for being a genre straddler and not letting it affect what I do keeps me writing and creating the characters that readers love. Being true to who I am – whether under my legal name or my pen name – is my personal key to surviving in the world of publishing. Just be real. People really do appreciate that.