As writers, we bring life to the page and through those experiences, others can live vicariously. We often write outside our own realm of personal experience, so it’s fantastic to learn from Clare Lydon today about writing lesbian fiction and gain an insight into what some get wrong in the portrayal of gay characters.
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Clare Lydon is a London-based writer of contemporary lesbian romance as well as the host of the Lesbian Book Club.
- Clare’s start writing lesbian fiction.
- On whether gay fiction tackles issues of the day.
- What defines lesbian fiction and the varied readership of lesbian fiction.
- Stereotypes to avoid when writing gay characters, and important story tropes of a romance, regardless of the orientation of the protagonists.
- Tips on writing humor and marketing to the lesbian audience.
- Clare’s thoughts on covers and what images work.
Transcription of interview with Clare Lydon
Joanna: Hi everyone. I’m Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com, and today I’m sure with Clare Lydon. Hi Clare.
Clare: Hi Joanna, lovely to be here.
Joanna: Oh, great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction, Clare is a London based writer of contemporary lesbian romance, as well as the host of the Lesbian Book Club. And today, we’re talking about writing lesbian fiction.
Clare, just before we get into it, tell us a bit more about you and your writing background.
Clare: I worked for nearly eight years as a journalist and editor in magazines. I worked on design magazines, football magazines, food magazines, and gaming magazines. I know more about gaming than I ever really wanted to know, because I’m not a gamer. And I worked for Manu and Chelsea magazines. And then I was a music journalist online for six years, where I interviewed pop stars, and went to gigs, and lived my smash hits dream.
Joanna: Who was the best band ever interviewed?
Clare: Oh god, everyone always asks me this, and I never remember when I was doing it, so I interviewed Bruno Mars four times, which I thought was, by the fourth time, I was like all right, Bruno. He’s like, all right.
I think the nicest pop star was Tom from Keane. And I was a big Keane fan as well, so and got to go to lots of private shows and things. So it was pretty cool. I did live my smash hit dream.
I did also once sit in a room with Kanye West, and he, while we were listening to his album, it was about 50 journalists, and he sat on a stage and watched us all. And chastised people if they weren’t nodding along very well.
And then I ran away from music for a couple years, and then write to the World Team for the UK in Europe. And then they made me redundant, which is when I thought, they gave me a chunk of money. I thought, hey, why not dig that book out I’ve been writing for the last three years and see if I can do something with it.
Now I didn’t really know much about lesbian romance at that point. I’ve read my first lesbian romance when I was traveling around the world in 2003. I found it in a hostel in New Zealand in one of their sharing libraries. But I don’t think I came across another book for about five years. And then I started reading it, and all the stuff I read was very US set. So I thought, hey I could do this, but I could set it in the UK. And there were UK set ones, but I hadn’t seen them, I didn’t read them.
I was reading more print books at the time. And so I had the book half written and I thought I’ve got the money, I’ll take a year out, I’ll see if I can do it. I finished it actually while I was still at work, because they sacked my boss first, so I had three months of working. They paid me to finish my book, and then I wrote the next one in the next four months.
And then I dilly dallied a bit. And then I went to a lesbian fiction, lesbian arts festival, and I spoke to some people there. I’d already sent it off to a lesbian publisher at that point. There are none in the UK, or there weren’t in 2013 anyway. I sent it off to one of five big ones in the US. And they all begin with B for some reason. And they said, hey, it will take three months. And I thought, oh great. And they sent me a rejection letter on Christmas Day, which I thought was really nice of them. And covered in red pen, and they said, it’s good, but it needs some work.
I went to this arts festival, and I met UK lesbian fiction authors, and they were all self-published, and they were all very encouraging, and they all helped me out a lot along the way. It was their encouragement and advice, four months later I published in March 2014.
I haven’t looked back since. I’ve done four novels and two novellas in that two years, and I’ve got two novellas and two novels coming out this year unless I conk out from overwork. But yeah, so it’s going well. The first book I launched it, and it’s called London Calling, it’s a story of a modern lesbian in London-town, and it flew off the shelves straight away, much to my surprise.
Joanna: How autobiographical is that first novel? Was she a music journalist?
Clare: She’s not, so that’s good isn’t it? She hasn’t interviewed Bruno Mars. I think there are bits of me in it, but not super-duper autobiographical. If I was as stupid and Jess, my lead character, I’d be a bit upset with myself I think. But she drinks a lot of tequila and I have been known to do that. And yeah, she just sort of bumbles along and gets into some quite bad scrapes. It’s a funny, humorous look at the modern lesbian in London.
Joanna: It’s fantastic. We’ll come back to humor because I do I want to ask you about that. But I want to get into the genre because I heard you mention lesfic on your podcast, which made me smile because that’s just so brilliant.
Can you tell us a bit about the subgenres of lesbian fiction, because obviously it’s not just one thing. I’m thinking is there a sci-fi lesbian fiction subgenre, that type of thing?
Clare: There is, is the short answer. So yes. So your dreams can come true. Yeah, lesfic is just shortening of lesbian fiction, and yes, it has many genres. Romance is the most popular as you might expect, mysteries/thriller also very popular because a lesbian detective has been the stalwart of lesbian fiction since the dawn of time. Sci-fi is pretty big, supernatural, historical fiction, and YA, and NA also very popular.
I that that they’re popular generally as well, aren’t they? Whatever is popular in the mainstream will probably be mirrored in the world of lesbian fiction. New adult, in the last couple of years, has been huge, and young adult as well, because that typically is coming out, coming of age. And while coming out stories have lessened because people don’t, it’s not just a big deal anymore, which is great, but they’re still around. So yeah, so that’s a really popular genre, and also erotica too is popular.
Joanna: I think that’s really important, isn’t it?
Just because it’s a lesbian book with a lesbian character doesn’t mean it’s erotica when some people might be expecting that.
Clare: They might be very disappointed. My book always do have a sex scene or two in them, but not every lesbian romance does, and not every lesbian fiction book has, in fact quite a lot of them don’t. If it’s just sex you want, go for erotica, as in most things.
Joanna: Exactly. I’m interested though in the idea of coming out and the young adult/new adult thing, because obviously in the west, in the UK, lesser in the fundamentalist Christian US I imagine, but if we’re talking about a global publishing market where say, I won’t name any countries, but there are some countries where it can be very dangerous to be gay in any manner.
Do you think that those markets there are new voices emerging or that these types of books will help people?
Clare: Absolutely. I know another lesbian fiction author has told me she gets a lot of correspondence from people just coming out. I think because she wrote a book about a student falling in love with a teacher, so it deals with young adult stuff.
Since the advent of the Kindle and indie publishing, as with all stuff, that there’s been a huge explosion of lesbian fiction, probably since about 2012. And so there are more and more authors constantly coming on to the market, which is great. And I’m sure that they’ll be more and more authors now in all different countries telling their experience as well.
Obviously the ones that dominate are UK and US voices. Most stuff is set in the US. So it’s mainly US voices that dominate. But of course, there’s a lot of places there where it’s still not okay to be gay. So they still tell the coming out stories and the difficulties of that.
Joanna: And just taking that further, there are a lot of political agendas. For example, books that portray a marriage for lesbians and gay people.
Is that something people tackle as a issue or do people put that within the books just as part of the story?
Clare: I think both really. My books tend to be happy happy, so I tend to have it as part of the story. And there will be angst about it, like family reactions to marriage, because that’s something that’s happened since marriage has become legal [in the US] is that a lot of people have said oh god, coming out, telling your parents you’re going to get married is like coming out again, because it’s another hurdle. And I think that’s reflected in some of the fiction.
Issues are definitely dealt with in lesbian fiction. And issues like domestic violence and marriage, and coming out, and basic societal issues. And I’ve got to say as well, there’s mainstream lesbian fiction as well, so literary fiction I mean. So like say, Sarah Waters.
Joanna: Yeah, so, and that’s interesting because I believe, I don’t know about Sarah Waters, but Jeanette Winterson is a lesbian, is that correct?
Joanna: That was one of my other questions.
Does lesbian fiction define itself by the orientation of the character or also by the orientation of the author?
Clare: Lesbian fiction is characterized by having lesbians as your main character, not side characters. That’s it. Anyone can write lesbian fiction. The sexual orientation for the writer is irrelevant because you’re making things up. So essentially anyone can do it.
I am a lesbian, I’m writing lesbian fiction, but you don’t have to be a lesbian to write to write lesbian fiction. As long as the lead characters are lesbians, and the lesbian voice is heard, then absolutely you can. I don’t know the percentage of lesbian fiction that is written by women or lesbians. I know gay romance is mainly read by women. And I heard a stat recently that over 50% is now written by women. I think may possibly more than that. There’s a huge market there, and women are writing a lot of it. Some people are uncomfortable that lesbian stories are written by non-lesbians.
Joanna: Well that’s what I was wondering about.
Clare: But it’s just the human experience really, isn’t it? And anyone can have a go at that. And I think as long as you’re not hiding it, because there was some controversy a couple of years ago when I first started about some people writing lesbian fiction, pretending to be lesbians, when they were actually men.
I think that’s when people get annoyed about it, and understandably. So just be honest about who you are because I’ve read lesbian fiction by men, and it’s been good.
Joanna: Well I think that’s the point, isn’t it? Especially when, let’s face it, we’re all just human. And if we write, like I’ve written a Nigerian/Swedish man. I have lesbians in one of my books, but they’re not the main character, so that wouldn’t be lesbian fiction.
I’m interested also, with someone like Val McDermid, who is one of Britain’s best loved, well known crime writers, who does have lesbian characters, but I don’t think any of them are the protagonists. Where would she fall in the spectrum?
Clare: I haven’t read any Val McDermid, because I’m not a crime fan.
Joanna: Too dark for you.
Clare: Yeah, I like happy books. I just did my podcast today and I do a rundown of the Amazon lesbian fiction charts for the US and the UK as a starting point of that. And I saw that Val McDermid was in the charts today, and I’ve never seen her in the charts, in the top 20s in the US and the UK. So that was interesting. I would say, maybe if you have a lot of secondary characters.
Joanna: Or if you are a famous lesbian.
Clare: Yeah, exactly. Maybe she gets away with it because she is a famous lesbian, so there you go. Maybe they’d make an exception for her. Come on Val.
It’s interesting that non-lesbian authors, the Goldie Awards are the biggest lesbian fiction awards. It’s the golden crown literary society. And in 2015, they had their first transgender female to male, they gave a Goldie to a transgender male writing an anthology of lesbian fiction.
Joanna: That is slightly confusing. I hope everyone’s okay with me saying that. But that is quite interesting, isn’t it? And I think that’s so important. And this week, was it this week or last week, we had someone described as non-binary person come out to President Obama while he was in London. She got up and said, I’m not on either scale, and obviously gender is different to sexual orientation as well, which can complicate things. But I think what’s so great is that we do have all of these different spectrums, and we’re all obviously have different mindsets about it too, like you said about the readers.
You mentioned a little bit about readers, but who are the readers of your lesbian fictions and other authors you know?
Clare: The majority as you would expect are lesbians. People think that lesbian fiction is only read by lesbians. It’s not true. Just like any book, anybody can read it, and once you write it, you cannot control who reads it, and that’s great. I like that.
All my family read it, and they’re all big lovers of lesbian fiction now. My dad read my first one of mine recently, that was interesting. But then again, I think with my fourth book, my Christmas book, All I Want For Christmas, I started to get letters from a lot of men, so clearly, I don’t know why, but men started to…maybe men love Christmas books.
But I started to get a lot of letters from men. And I’ve always had male readers, and I don’t think that’s that surprising because as I said, women read gay fiction and men read lesbian fiction. I have readers from, straight women, gay women, straight men, and gay men.
Gay men read a lot of lesbian fiction as well. There’s a lot of crossover, and I have heard, one man said to me that it’s the window on a world he’ll never experience. And so he’s interested in reading it. So that’s an interesting take.
Joanna: Which is true of any book, isn’t really? That’s kind of why a lot of the reasons we read is a window into that. I guess maybe I write darker things that I will never experience, and I guess, yeah, that’s a really interesting thing.
I was just thinking about the prizes. Is there a Polari Prize?
Clare: There’s a Polari Prize for First Fiction, so you’re a debut author. And that’s every year. Polari’s a literary salon that runs in the South Bank once a month. And that’s pretty big. They get like 2, 300 people once a month go. I’ve read at Polari, and it’s a really event.
There’s the Golden Crown Literary Society Award, that’s yearly. They have a conference every July somewhere in America. It changes venue every year. And there’s the Lambda Literary Award, the Lammies to their mates, and that’s LGBT.
And then there’s the Rainbow Awards, and that’s online, a jury of about 500 people all around the world read the books and vote. And that’s LGBT.
Joanna: Yes, super interesting. If people want to include lesbian characters, which of course we should encourage everyone to include different who are not like you…
Clare: Everybody should have one yes in that book, yep.
Joanna: Just stick one in. But no.
What are the stereotypes that drive you nuts about how lesbians are portrayed in books and film?
Clare: I think it’s got a lot better really. I think the most stuff I read these days doesn’t wire me up more than other book really. I think we’ve come on leaps and bounds, and that’s reflected in society, well the society we live in as we said anyway.
When I was growing up, I remember watching a documentary about some lesbians, and they were in a backyard, and they all had greased hair, and they dungarees, and they were doing up a motorbike. And I thought oh god. I haven’t got any dungarees, and I don’t know anything about motorbikes. So but hooray, it’s all come on now.
I suppose things about being upset or the struggle, everybody does struggle, because it’s still not the societal norm or what’s expected all the way. But I like to be positive in my books and reflect people that are happy with their sexuality, and it’s just another facet of their being. It’s not their whole being. So we’ve come on a great…leaps and bounds, like The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall, which is a seminal lesbian text, but my god, it’s depressing. We’ve come on quite a long way since then.
Joanna: I guess a lot of earlier generations in the west potentially were unhappy because they might never have met the person that they really wanted to be with or never were able to come out to their family. So perhaps that’s why more of that is miserable.
If people want to do any research, should they literally just read books like yours that feature lesbians? Or are there things that they could read or watch that might give them an insight?
Clare: Well there are haughty, really big selling authors in all the different genres. I can give you some examples of those if you’d like.
Joanna: That would be great.
Clare: The one I first got into was Georgia Beers, and she’s American, and she writes lesbian romance, very contemporary, cozy I suppose, cozy lesbian romance. She’s very good at it, and all her books are great.
Gerri Hill is another classic who’s quite reliable. She writes lesbian romance and lesbian mystery cop drama things. And if you want a mystery kind of thriller, Cari Hunter’s very good. Her Dark Peak series is awesome. It’s like if Scott and Bailey were lesbians, and younger. Well the older one was younger. And we all thought about that, or was it just me?
Sci-fi, Fletcher DeLancey’s very good. Her Caphenon series is awesome, and she’s been on my podcast, and she’s very lovely. And she also met her wife, as her wife contacted her because she liked her writing. So that’s another, and I’ve heard that happen quite a lot. I know a few of those who’ve met their partners because they met a reader. So that’s a nice byproduct, isn’t it?
Joanna: That is.
Clare: Yeah, and there are new authors coming out all the time. I read one last year, a debut author, G Benson wrote a book called All the Little Moments, and it was about a woman whose brother and wife died in a car crash, and she’s left with the guardianship of his kids. And it was just brilliantly written. I sobbed from about page one. I’m a sucker for a sob story. So yeah, that was really, really good. But yeah, and obviously mine.
Joanna: Yes, obviously yours.
Tell people where they can find your podcast as well in case people fancy the rundown.
Clare: I do a podcast once a month and it’s part of the Lesbian Lounge podcast. One section of it’s called the Lesbian Book Club, but if you search for the Lesbian Lounge on iTunes, or Stitcher, or Podbean, that should come up. I’ve done 19 episodes now, so 19 months it’s been running. And people seem to like it, so that’s good.
Joanna: Yeah, that’s very cool.
Obviously regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of the protagonists, you write romance, which I don’t think is that different regardless of who’s going through it, to be honest. And you’ve got this latest series, All I Want.
Tell us a bit about that and what are the important story tropes of a romance, no matter’s who’s in it.
Clare: My first book is London Calling, and then I wrote a follow up, which follows one of the secondary characters in her quest for romance.
And then the All I Want series is a bit different in that it has the two lead characters getting together in the first book, and then I’m following as they progress in their romance in a calendar year. I’ve had All I Want for Valentine’s, All I Want For Spring, and there’s going to be a summer, autumn, and then a forever. So isn’t that beautiful? See what I did there?
That’s a little bit different because it’s following two characters who already got together. That probably flies in the face of what most romance, most people say romance should be. But I just thought I’d try it. It’s something different. And people seem to like it, so that’s good.
I suppose romance books generally should have the first tingle of love, some trepidation, dilemma, first kiss, first sex if you’re going to include that, first fight, and then commitment betrayal, and then love conquers all and happily ever after basically. Always a happy ever after.
Joanna: That’s so funny you said that because while I was looking at some romance books, because I don’t really read romance, and I saw this has HEA in it, like in the sales description on Amazon, it says has HEA. And I was like what is HEA? And I had to Google it. And it’s Happily Ever After. What do they call that? Urban slang? This book has HEA.
Clare: I never heard that until I started writing romance. And I still didn’t hear it until about a year in, so I don’t think I knew what it was when I was a reader reading a blurb. I’d be like, what’s that?
Joanna: That is so hardcore, isn’t it? But that to me, like you just said about weepy, like wanting a weepy, that’s what I would say is a love story. So Nicholas Sparks, who is probably the most well-known man writing in a romantic genre. But I think Nicholas Sparks writes a love story, because The Notebook, in particular, is that really weepy one.
Whereas your books are a romance because they have an HEA, and it’s not a weepy write. So that’s good.
Clare: No weepies yet, but never say never. With my second book, The Long Weekend, it’s about a group of friend who go away to celebrate 20 years since they met at university. One reviewer said it’s like a lesbian Peter’s Friends.
Joanna: Oh nice.
Clare: I like that quote. It was an ensemble piece. It wasn’t a traditional happy ending. Like some people had a happy ending, some people didn’t. And so that wasn’t strictly romance, and so I think that confused some people because I put it in the romance category but then it probably should have been in romance because then I probably took it out. But all my others have HEAs.
Joanna: I think that’s super important. I was at a literary festival this last weekend and I was just thinking about the expectations of readers, and the chair of the panel I was on said that Mo Hayder, do you know Mo Hayder? She writes really dark crime. He said that Mo Hayder is a cozy writer. And I just went nuts on it. I said you can’t call a writer like that a cozy writer. It’s nothing to do with what you think as a critic, as a literary critic.
It’s what the reader thinks, isn’t it? You have to fit it in the category that the reader is expecting.
Clare: Absolutely. And there are certain ones that are very popular in lesbian romance. I don’t know if it’s the same in straight romance or, I don’t read that much, but things like friends to lovers. That’s a really popular one, and that’s my All I Want For Christmas series, that’s a friends to lovers one. And second chances, that’s really popular. So meeting someone that you had a crush on, your first love again 20 years later. And the class thing is always a good one.
Joanna: Is that the billionaire lesbian?
Clare: No, I guess that’s more a money one. Like the class thing, like the upper class and then… Clare Ashton did a really good book called That Certain Something, and that was about a woman who owned the magazine or she was really high up in the magazine. And then the intern who was hired as a photographer, and they fell in love. So there’s a lot of class things in that.
With London Calling, I think I confused some of my readers because I had a lead character, she falls in love with a woman she meets, but she also moves in with one of her best friends and sister-in-law, who happens to be a lesbian as well. And so my readers were confused, but I did that to keep them guessing. But I think sometimes people like to know what’s going to happen. And so some people, I did get emails saying, I wish she got together with Kate, and I thought oh well.
Joanna: Oh, the flat mate instead the other…
Clare: The flat mate, yeah.
Joanna: Oh, that’s difficult. That’s the thing, isn’t it?
And just on that class thing, that film Carol with Cate Blanchett, that’s a class sort of literary romance with class, isn’t it?
Clare: Yeah, yeah, all of the above, yeah. That is classic class romance. I’ve actually ordered that book because I haven’t read it, the actual book, but I absolutely loved the film. I was so beautifully shot and well done. And Cate Blanchett is just fantastic in it and Rooney Mara. But yes, that is an absolute classic and I guess she would be almost a billionaire lesbian. But not with the rights because it was in the 50s.
Joanna: I love it. Right, so I do want to ask you about humor because, and again, this has nothing to do with lesbian fiction. Humor in general is one of those really tricky things and I personally struggle with humor. So I wanted to ask you about that.
How do you write humor? What are your tips for putting humor into a book?
Clare: I think all through my writing career, I’ve always done humor. My reviews of gigs were always humorous, and my blog page was always humorous, and I’ve carried that through to my writing.
I think humor’s just all about the general things that are true as writing generally, so be specific. The humor is all about the detail. Mine down to the minutiae of it, and you’ll always find humor in a lot of things.
I’m not comparing myself in any way to the late, great Victoria Wood, but she an absolute master at that, wasn’t she? Just getting to the absolute minutiae of day to day life, and really making fun of it. And making fun of yourself is also a really funny thing. If it’s written in the first person, having the lead character make fun of themselves.
For instance, I’ve got a thing in my All I Want For Spring book, and it’s about the lead character gets on a Segway, and it’s quite…
Joanna: Which is funny in itself.
Clare: It’s funny in itself. And she’s not very good at it. And I’ve had a lot of comments about that section. And I actually did go on a Segway in Madrid for my wife and I’s first anniversary. We went to Madrid and for some reason I booked a Segway, and I think my friend told me it was a great way to see the city. It wasn’t, she lied.
And it was just two of the most excruciating hours of my life. But when I came back, I wrote it down in detail because I felt I could use that, and so I adapted it for the character.
Pay attention to what’s happening in your own life and what’s going on around you. And also the way you write it can affect comic timing. Shorter sentences create drama and create funny, and starting a new paragraph can have an impact. Yeah, just short sentences like it’s like the boom, boom, boom of the thing.
And really just edit well. You’re not going to get a funny joke every time on the first go, so edit well, edit into submission. And a lot of my humor’s in dialogue. I like writing quippy funny dialogue. So read it out loud and make sure it is not just in your head.
I like to include humor in all my books. And even the slightly darker ones, I don’t really have dark books, but the slightly darker ones all have humor in them.
Joanna: That’s so important. I do have beats of lightness, but not humor. And it’s one of those things, I’m always doing writing courses and the course that I’m on at the moment, the exercise from last night, funny as we talk about this, was to write 500 words of a humorous opening to a book. And it was awful. I just sat here just going, oh my goodness. I ended up drinking two glasses of wine before I could actually manage anything. It was truly shocking. So one of my goals is I’ve just to write.
You have to practice these things, don’t you, if they’re not one of your skills.
Clare: Absolutely, and I think probably all my years as a journalist, I always tried to introduce humor. I remember writing a story on a really dry subject, and my editors used to send it back to me and say, what the hell is going on here, Clare? Why is this funny? Why is this a funny joke now?
Joanna: Be like, no one’s going to read it otherwise.
Clare: So it’s all coming into good stead now, right?
Joanna: And what about your music background. Is that something that you bring into your books?
Clare: Not so far, but I am planning a story about a pop star who’s pressured to stay in the closet because it’s not the done thing to come out. And that’s still true.
Joanna: It’s Ricky Martin. It’s so funny, I had a total crush on Ricky Martin when…how old would I be, like 16 or something. And then you look at videos now and go, how did we not know he was gay?
Clare: It’s like George Michael, isn’t it? I mean God, you look back at the Club Tropicana video and you think…
Joanna: It’s kind of crazy, isn’t it? Anyway…
I wondered about your tips on marketing? If people are, obviously you’ve got a lesbian fiction podcast, so that’s very targeted. And obviously categories, so using lesbian categories.
What are your other tips for marketing to the lesbian market?
Clare: It’s pretty similar to marketing books in general. Mining down to know the market and know what people want.
For instance, if you’re going to write a romance, make sure it’s got HEA, otherwise your books will be slammed. Romance readers tend to want happy, happy books, and they don’t like people who are too annoying or mean, so don’t write a mean character.
There are key lesbian Facebook groups and forums. So get into those and get known. I tried, but I’m not very good at it. I’m just not very good at it. Facebook ads, I’m going to try those, I haven’t tried them yet, but I did buy Mark Dawson’s course, but I haven’t done it yet so I’m going to do that. Because I waiting to have a few more books out.
And obviously, lesfic podcast, the one I run, and there’s a couple of other ones. The Lesbian Review is a good review site, and they do a few different podcasts. The Girls Hours, the Girl Pond, the Cocktail Hour, there are a few out there, but there aren’t that many that are lesbian fiction specific. So the market is still open.
And then you’ve got all the magazines. Magazines are dwindling because we gave…
Joanna: They are in general.
Clare: Yeah, magazines are dwindling and the gay bars are shutting because people don’t think you need gay bars anymore. There’s a cultural shift, a societal shift.
But AfterEllen is the key website, AfterEllen.com, and Curve magazine in the US, Diva magazine in the UK, there are key blogs.
And there’s a website and it’s like a lesbian YouTube, and it’s called OneMoreLesbian. So that’s a good one to get on. I’ve had book trailers featured on that and they get quite a lot of views when you get them on there. So that’s really cool.
But it’s like anything, just be yourself, be genuine, and be open to readers contacting you and reply to them. Don’t ignore them. That’s a good tip.
Joanna: Yeah, that is.
Clare: And video, I think video is very underused. I’ve listened to your interviews, Michael La Ronn. I think he was saying the same thing overall, wasn’t he? And it’s a very underused medium, and I think if you can do videos, I have done a video. I’ve got a friend of mine to do it and I did a day in the life of an author, and it was a bit of a tongue in cheek. Me watching Come Down With Me and eating pot noodles, and then going to the pub. And that got a lot of hits.
I think if you can do videos with humor, there’s a lesbian fiction, a UK one called Kiki Archer and she does a video series called Lesbian Living, and it’s just a little funny two, three minute shorts. And she does really well with those. I’m always thinking I should do more videos as well.
Joanna: Well it is interesting, isn’t it, because I think everyone’s always interested in anyone’s life. It’s actually not that you’re a lesbian or that you’re a writer, or that you’re in London. Well, it’s all those things, and these are the things that are our daily life. But actually, people on the other side of the world might find them super interesting. It’s kind of weird.
I last saw you briefly at the London book fair, and we just did a really short one minute video of it. And because people, if they haven’t been, they don’t know what it’s like. I think it’s the same.
I haven’t actually done like a tour of my house or anything. Is that what you mean?
Clare: You should absolutely do that. We need to see your husband. We never see his face. He’s always this mythical person.
Joanna: He was at the London book fair.
Clare: Oh was he?
Joanna: Yeah, where’s your wife? Come on.
Clare: She’s at work. Somebody’s got to be.
Joanna: Fair enough. Okay, and then also on marketing, I also wanted to ask you about cover design, because I remember for the first time I met you, I was very rude to you, which is terrible. You showed me a picture of your book cover, and I think it was on a business card, or was it the actual book? Anyway, and it this lovely…
Clare: It was a place card, yeah.
Joanna: Yeah, it was a place card. And it was this lovely London skyline, and I was like oh yeah, it looks like a literary fiction kind of novel, really nice cover. And you said it was a lesbian book, and I was like, it doesn’t look like a lesbian book. There’s no women on the front.
I wondered what your thoughts are on branding for lesbian fiction, and how have you changed your current books?
Clare: It’s still a question I can’t answer fully. I think when I first started, like you say, I made classic mistakes. I didn’t know anything about, I just published the book and I did a cover that I liked.
Joanna: It’s lovely.
Clare: And I did a cover that I liked, and I did the same for the second book. And what I found was I clearly like graphics and typography, and they look like nice literary fiction or travel books. And so I did make those mistakes. But having said that, they both sold pretty well and that London Calling cover, the first one, it came second in the Rainbow Awards for best cover of the year.
Joanna: Oh fantastic.
Clare: And loads of people said how much they loved the cover. I am still thinking about changing it, but it’s on my to do list. But so what is the best cover? Like a lot of people would just think it would be two women on the cover for lesbian romance. But I had a look like when I was looking at the charts today of the 20 there. There were only three with two women in the top 20 on the charts. Having a woman, or a body part, or some sort like a face, or a body part. It sounds bad, doesn’t it?
Joanna: A severed leg.
Clare: Not one of those body parts. So like a face or some people put the bum of the jean, you know what I mean? Like that sounds bad. Or hands held together or something like that. I think having a body part of some sort, a face is a good one to have on there.
And I think I will maybe try out and see if it changes anything. But I did for my book three, so for London Calling’s follow up, I put a picture of two women nearly kissing on the cover. And that sold well. But still my biggest seller and the one that continues to sell the best is London Calling, the first one with the London cover on it. So it’s a conundrum.
Joanna: How well does that book sell in America? Do you notice the difference between the UK and the US?
Clare: They’re fairly even. I sell slightly more in the UK, but it sells, they’re fairly even. It’s really a couple of percentage different volume wise. So yeah, and for my All I Want series, so All I Want For Christmas, I decided to go more down the sort of lesbian writer’s chick lit route, and so I put a woman on the cover, but a graphic woman. So a graphical woman, not a graphic woman.
Joanna: Yeah, you’re already struggling with intimate.
Clare: I know.
Joanna: But people can go and look at the books of Clare Lydon.
Clare: That series is very branded and it’s very different. So we’ll see how, and that’s seems to be going down pretty well. I think for my next book, I am going to go try something a bit different maybe, but keep my author branding, so my name at the top. But I may well go, I think I will go down the route of two women again and see. But I don’t notice a discernible difference in the sales. So it’s a conundrum.
Joanna: The biggest problem with cover design, of course, is you can’t split test it anyway, so you can’t ever know. Because even if you put a different cover on a different book, it doesn’t compare to the one you had. So that’s a difficult choice. But no, that’s fascinating, really interesting that.
Okay, I think we are pretty much out of time. It’s been super interesting. Where can people find you and all your books online?
Clare: So you can go to clarelydon.co.uk, that’s C-L-A-R-E-L-Y-D-O-N. I’m on Twitter @ClareLydon. I’m probably best at Twitter. Facebook is ClareLydonAuthor. I’m on Instagram at Clarefic. And I should be on Pinterest more, but I’m not. But you can pin something if you like. I might see it in a couple of months. But yeah, probably through Facebook and Twitter are the ones I’m most on.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Clare. That was great.
Clare: Thank you, Joanna.