What I learned Since I Became a Published Writer—by Tj Klune

Featured this week on sylvre.com, a guest post by Tj Klune, author of Bear, Otter, and the Kid, and two upcoming novels. Burn is due out 2/6/12, and Who We Are (the sequel to BOATK) is due out in April—all Dreamspinner Press publications.

As always on this blog, if you think you might like to buy the book, click on the cover to go straight to the publisher’s store. Now, Here’s Tj Klune’s words to the wise. Enjoy!

A little over three months ago, my first book was published. It was surreal, the lead up to that moment: a sort of breathless anticipation that was really, for all intents and purposes, anti-climactic when it actually occurred. And when I say anti-climactic, I strictly speak only of the day of. It wasn’t like the heavens opened up on August 12th and angels streamed down from the sky, singing out the title of my book for the masses to hear. It just came out.

And I couldn’t have been happier. Or more terrified.

There’s no manual given to first time writers, no outline of what the expectations should and shouldn’t be. It’s scary, flying blindly like that. Oh sure, there’s people that have come before me that told me what it was like for them, but it’s different really, for everyone.

Did I learn anything from it?

You bet your sweet ass I did.

Gather round, and I’ll show you that it’s possible for a twenty-something gay man to actually learn a lesson or two.

The First: People think I’m a woman. Or rather, they did initially. And why not? The m/m writing world is heavily populated by female authors, definitely out-numbering the amount of men who write about man-love. Does the sex of a writer really matter in the long run? I’d like to think it doesn’t. As long as the story is good and the characters are people you can grow to like/love, whether the author is a man or a woman should really be the last thing to look for. However, as a caveat, as we recently learned from a successful M/M author who portrayed herself as a man (even going so far as to have a male stand-in for her at a book signing even), honesty is always the best policy, no matter what. For the record, my author name is a pseudonym, the T and J being initials for my first and middle name. My name is Travis. It’s nice to meet you. I swear I’m a dude. Please don’t ask me to prove it to you. I don’t want my penis ending up on the Internet. Again.

The Second: My editor is smarter than I am. Seriously. Way smarter. Like, to the point where it’s scary. But did I realize that at first? Hell to the no. Me: What do you mean that’s hyphenated? Are you sure there’s an apostrophe? Well, that sentence that doesn’t make sense to you makes sense to me. To be honest, I’m surprised that she didn’t run screaming every time she saw an email from me. Seriously, though? 99.9% of the time, she’s right, I’m wrong (but there is that .01% that totally validates the 99.9%–I take what I can get).

The Third: My books will never be used as masturbatory aids. And don’t give me that look. Let me explain. I’m speaking about sex scenes, of course: where penises meet for the first time in an orgy or riotous passion. There are some really gifted writers out there who look forward to writing those hot and steamy scenes that make the heart race and your mouth dry. And some can go on for pages. And pages. And pages. Others are simply PWP (and some are just porn). My point? You’re probably not going to open up a book by me and say “Holy Jesus, TJ Klune writes fantastic smut. I should probably take off my pants while I read this.” It’s not my thing. I can’t really tell you why; I am more focused on a story when writing, not wondering what needs to be done to get to the next sex scene. And the scenes I do write are going to be minimal, not because I don’t know what to write in them, but because I don’t know how much they’ll add overall. Look. I’m a gay man. I’ve probably done half the things I could write about (and, if you’re reading this, Mom, it all happened well after the age of 18 and I had moved out. If she’s not reading this, then that was a lie). I’m no prude (except when it comes to felching—that is so gross. If you don’t know what that is, only Google it when there’s no innocent eyes around). But if there was a choice between writing a minimal sex scene and pages and pages of plot/dialogue/action versus pages and pages of boning to get to the HEA, then I’d go with the plot every time. Not everyone agrees with that. Not everyone likes to read that. To each their own.

The Fourth: Word of mouth is everything, especially for a new writer. That was something I did not understand, nor something I could even fully appreciate before the release of my first book. M/M readers are a voracious bunch, willing to go to bat for the authors they like. There’s talk about how the M/M market is over-saturated, how it seems like everyone in the free world is writing a book about two dudes (or three or four—I saw one recently with SEVEN guys. My God, can you imagine the clean-up that has to go on after a seven-way? *shudders*) Maybe there’s a lot of m/m books out there. Maybe some better than others. But regardless of that, the readers are what are important and again, if they find something to latch onto, they do, both good and bad. Hell, I can even admit to a bit of snobbery about passing on a book I thought may have been interesting simply because the masses seemed to dislike it. Seriously though, as a new writer? I would have not gotten anywhere without word of mouth. What the hell did I know before it came out? Zilch. Nada. Facebook? Oh sure, I had an account I never used. Goodreads? WTF is that? You want me to keep up with a blog? Are you out of your damned mind? I hate computers. But for some damn reason, people talked about my book, both good and bad, and it caused people to read it. Which, to be honest, humbled me and shamed me. Humbled me, because I never expected that. Shamed me because I was one of those readers who read books and then never wrote reviews about them. I didn’t feel the need to share my thoughts with others on what I felt about a story. Now I am caught playing catch-up, simply because I know how important reader reviews are to an author. I won’t make that mistake again.

The Fifth: There’s never been an experience quite like this one. I’ve been told, “Oh, there’s nothing like having your first book published!” I’ve also been told, “You get that feeling with every book.” Can I tell you what it’s like to be published? A lot of you may know. Some of you may disagree with what I say. But for me? For me it was horrifying. It was exhausting. It was sheer blinding joy, a definite decrease in sanity, frustrating as all hell. My first good review. My first bad review. The email I got from a soldier in Iraq who told me my book gave him courage, that at the tail end of DADT, he was ready to tell his squadron about his sexuality. The email I got from the irate housewife who asked me personally that I provide her with a refund because of how awful my book was. The time I was at Starbucks with a friend and saw a woman reading a paperback copy of my book. I nervously went up to her, told her I was the author. She laughed so brightly and asked me to sign it for her. Her name was Megan. Somehow, I misspelled her name. And then I bought her a scone. She gave me a hug and I never saw her again.

Everything that has happened since I became a published author has been like the scariest rollercoaster in the world, one that I sometimes wish would stop so I could get off and just breathe for a moment. But it doesn’t. It won’t. But that’s okay. I can’t stop now, not now that I’ve had a taste.

And you know what? I wouldn’t change a damn thing.

And that, ladies and gents, is what I’ve learned.

Thanks to Lou for letting me blah, blah, blah on her blog!

(Oh, and P.S.—While spell checking this blog post, “felching” came up and MS Word asked if I meant “belching.” If you know what felching is, you would know why I found that to be grossly hysterical. DON’T LOOK IT UP.)

When TJ Klune was eight, he picked up a pen and paper and began to write his first story (which turned out to be his own sweeping epic version of the video game Super Metroid—he didn’t think the game ended very well and wanted to offer his own take on it. He never heard back from the video game company, much to his chagrin). Now, two decades later, the cast of characters in his head have only gotten louder, wondering why he has to go to work as a claims examiner for an insurance company during the day when he could just stay home and write.

He lives with a neurotic cat in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. It’s hot there, but he doesn’t mind. He dreams about one day standing at Stonehenge, just so he can say he did.

TJ can be found:

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