My first novel was (self-) published in February of 2009,
and at the time I did not view its publication as a gateway to a new career. I
really didn’t dare to even dream about the possibility that a lot of people
would read it. In truth, publishing a novel was a bucket list item, something I
wanted to experience and check off my list. Prior to that point, I wrote for
sheer enjoyment. I didn’t care if my stories were regarded for their literary
quality because they were simply written for the purpose of entertaining.
The journey from where I was five and a half years ago to where I am now still seems surreal. At a point about two and a half years into my publishing foray, I decided to focus primarily upon writing and make it my career. By this point I’d consumed a few hundred m/m novels and had discovered how utterly unskilled I actually was. Not only did I lack the most basic writing craft skills, but I wasn’t actually even knowledgeable enough about the craft to realize how ignorant I was. Writing is one of those things where the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. And the more you read, the more you discover that there are a lot of far more talented authors out there who seem to do it better.
Regardless, I plowed ahead and embraced writing as my calling. I continued to do a lot of reading, wrote a ton of reviews, and I even eventually got hired as an editor. In addition to the writing craft issues, I also had a lot to learn about the publishing industry, specifically the small sub-genre we call m/m.
In the beginning, back five years ago when I was first dipping my toes into the water, every encounter with a fellow m/m author was nothing short of a lovefest. I admired them all, loved them to pieces. I observed them, paid attention to what they were doing within this community and within this specific genre. I blogged with them, participated in the annual awards competitions, Face-booked and Good Reads them to death. I continued to buy their books, write reviews, promote them on my website and blog.
Then one day everything changed for me.
For me, writing was a passion. It was something that I loved so very much that I wanted to make it the center of my life. And when I finally elected to do exactly that, I became obsessed with being the best possible writer I could be. I poured myself into it and tried to learn as much as I could, and along the way I continued to face reminders that I wasn’t the best writer on the planet.
And I discovered that the lovefest I initially experienced wasn’t really what I had originally thought it was. I’m not exactly sure how to describe this other than to reflect upon my childhood. When I was young, I was deeply religious. I’d planned to become a minister when I grew up, and in the sixth grade, my parents pulled me out of the public school and sent me to a private, Christian academy. When I first started, I thought everyone there absolutely loved me. The reason I thought that was because I absolutely loved every single one of them. I know that sounds absurd, especially when I look back on it now from an adult perspective. But at the time it was true. I sincerely believed that all of us, because we were Christians, really and truly loved each other and wanted the absolute best for each other.
A few weeks into the start of my first semester at the Christian school, I found myself in the bathroom on my knees in front of a toilet getting my head flushed. It seemed the boys at the Christian school didn’t like sissies any more than the boys at the public school did.
Well, I think a little bit of the naiveté I experienced back in the sixth grade still lingered in my heart as I plunged into the literary world…specifically the m/m community. I loved these people. Idolized and adored them. And they were so incredibly nice to me. The interactions I had with them via emails and in person at the conferences repeatedly confirmed that they were all really swell people.
But you know what? This is a business, and in business for the most part people are really pleasant. They smile and congratulate and act like they sincerely think you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. But that doesn’t mean that’s how they really feel. They might just be waiting for the perfect opportunity to flush your head in the toilet.
The more I got to know people, the less I lionized them. I started to see the pettiness, the pretentiousness, the spiteful jealousy. I saw them clawing all over each other fighting for the coveted “featured author” slots at the convention. I saw them rip into one another with hateful backbiting and insane competitiveness. Time after time I’ve become friends with other authors whom I mistakenly thought were interested in me as a human being, then later discovered they had somehow perceived me to be a tad more successful and were trying to simply establish a connection (I think they call it networking). After they broke into the business and started selling more books than I sell, I never heard from them again.
I now have a handful of “friends,” people I trust, people that I know sincerely respect me. They don’t have to pretend to like my work. They don’t even have to read my books. And I don’t expect them to promote me on their blogs or give me rave reviews. There is no quid pro quo. It’s just friendship, plain and simple, and if we do talk about the m/m genre it’s because we happen to love it and are equally passionate about it.
The others? I don’t hear from them. They’ve stopped following me on Facebook and Twitter. They don’t even bother to act like they like me anymore. And that’s okay because I really don’t think they wanted to be my friend anyway. They were probably waiting for a chance to flush my head in the toilet.
Posted by Jeff Erno.