Deep Dive: Clickbait
There is a saying among authors that every one of us has a story living inside us dying to get on the page.
Clickbait was that book for me. When I first decided to get into writing gay romance, Clickbait was the book I originally intended to write first — but I’m glad I didn’t.
Because most authors’ first books are their babies, and it’s never a good idea to put a book out there that one is so attached to just in case it doesn’t do well or isn’t received well. It can be crushing as an author to have that happen, like a rejection of the author themselves.
So instead, I decided to write an entire series (Spice of Life) to learn the ropes, sharpen my craft, and gauge the marketability of my books before taking on the high concept that Clickbait was sure to be.
Every time someone asks me which of my books is my favorite, I point to Clickbait. As I mentioned in the first Deep Dive for Salt & Pepper, I studied journalism in college. Media and its impacts, direct and indirect — particularly in modern times — are things I think about far too much.
Almost as soon as I started researching gay romance writing and marketing, the idea for Clickbait came to me. While I was in college, there seemed to be a schism between two schools of journalism — the more old school, traditional approach surrounding print news, and the more flashy, Internet-based approach — which I thought would serve as a perfect backdrop for two characters, particularly in a May/December context.
And, naturally, they would have to be enemies, because there’s no way two people from such different backgrounds could have anything in common, right?
Honestly, the story more or less wrote itself. I had so much fun coming up with ways to torment Jeff, the older and more traditional cable TV news anchor, and Kile, the YouTube sensation. They got under each other’s skins in such perfect and amusing ways, and they are polar opposites — and yet, somehow, they find common ground between them on which to build a relationship.
There’s something poetic and poignant about that, particularly in our modern, polarized political climate. Despite our differences, we can find a way to work together — and maybe even thrive together.
But that was one of the many challenges that arose while writing this book. How do I write a romance that involves politics without writing a political book that would turn readers off? Also, how do I make sure I’m not proselytizing to my readers?
I like to think I did a good job of avoiding both of those hurdles, but it wasn’t easy. Thankfully, I had the help of the lovely Leslie Copeland, of LesCourt Author Services, to help me work through it.
Clickbait was a book of many firsts for me, and working with a beta reader while I wrote was another of those firsts. It was a fantastic experience, and I learned a lot — both about my writing strengths and weaknesses, as well as the quirks and expectations of the gay romance market.
Unfortunately, the experience of writing and releasing Clickbait into the world wasn’t all roses, which made my decision not to have it be my first book a prudent one.
While I loved the book and was immensely proud of it — and I still am; I maintain it’s far and away the best of my books — the market didn’t seem to agree. The book performed relatively well but didn’t earn the kind of praise, financially and critically, that I’d hoped it would.
That was a tough pill to swallow, and if I’m honest with you all and myself, it crippled me for a while as a writer. Afterward, I felt directionless and defeated. If a book I’d worked so hard on and was so proud of couldn’t take my career back to the levels of Salt & Pepper, then what could?
And if it couldn’t, then what should I do next?
Staying honest, I’m only just now getting back into my stride. After Clickbait came out in August of 2017, I spent months wandering around, writing whatever struck my fancy without any consideration for how well it could be marketed or received.
I attempted to write a sequel to the book, but at around the 25,000-word mark, I decided with Leslie to shelve it. It’s still on my computer, but I haven’t looked at it in months. Maybe at some point, I’ll come back to it and finish out the series, but for today, the sting of disappointment is still a little too fresh.
Altogether, though difficult to get through, it was a valuable lesson and growth period for me. Since then, I’ve had to do a lot of soul-searching about who and what I want to be as an author in the gay romance space and how I want to be known by readers.
While I love Clickbait, and still consider it my baby, the reality is that part of the reason it didn’t perform as well as I wanted, or so I suspect, is because it wasn’t the type of book my readers have come to expect from me.
Though it still had all the usual elements of my writing — heaps of humor, a May/December relationship, and plenty of absurd situations — it was a little too serious and weighty, a lesson that was reinforced by the book that followed it, Rock My Heart.
All that said, I have no regrets about writing and releasing the book. It’s still my baby and always will be, and I hope you get the chance to appreciate it while it’s on sale this week.