Writing queer non-fiction

David Ledain is the author of many LGBTQ+ non-fiction titles. I had the privilege of working with him on the book How to tell your LGBTQ+ story both contributing to the book and then editing it. It’s a great introduction to self-publishing your LGBTQ+ story and is packed full of advice and tips. Do make sure you check it out!

How did you get into writing non-fiction?

Like all of us who write, paint or play music, I have always dabbled in my art. Writing is a part of who I am, but I was never encouraged. I never knew how to develop that interest I had or how I could manifest it into some sort of career. It just wasn’t an option for me, so I continued to write secretly for myself, for many years.

I was privileged to be a stay-at-home dad, and while my sons were at nursery school, I began to write more. This was at the time when home computers were starting to become more commonplace and dial-up internet was a thing.

I had an idea knocking around in my head for a story set in the seventies with a dramatic backstory in WW2. The internet, although slow then, was ideal for researching my topic and developing a world in which my characters could live.

David Ledain, author

I ended up with a huge manuscript which I sent off to traditional publishers, each one courteously declining me. I started to hear about something called self-publishing. I wanted to have my book published, I wanted it to be a real thing I could hold in my hands, and I just couldn’t wait the interminable weeks for the rejection letters to come through. The traditional publishing route, I discovered, was long and extremely arduous so, I thought, ‘I’ll do it myself.’

I researched everything I could find on the subject and spoke to people who had done it and seemed to be making a success of it, and three years later I published half the original manuscript in my first novel and immediately began working on the sequel.

Also at this time, I was struggling with my sexuality and trying to find a way to come out. As a married man with children, I couldn’t see how I could do that without destroying the people I loved. Again, the internet aided me as I found an online group of other gay dads who supported each other through some very difficult stuff.

I also looked for other stories of men in the same situation, but I could find nothing. Nothing that spoke to me, just sports stars’ coming out stories or books written for same-sex couples wanting to adopt, and largely for the American market.

I decided to write the book I could not find, myself. I approached some of the guys in the online group and asked them if they would be willing to share their personal experiences, and put their stories, together with my own, in my book Gay Dad – Ten True Stories of Divorced Gay Men with Kids, Living in the UK Today.

I published it at the same time as my WW2 sequel, but the difference in how they sold and the interest they received, was immense. People were genuinely captivated by the personal stories I had written about in Gay Dad. My novels, however, were not selling, other than through a group I set up for other struggling self-published authors. I realised then that non-fiction was the way to go if I ever wanted to make any money at writing while still holding down a full-time job and bringing up two children.

Open book

I didn’t realise it then, but what I had found was my niche market. When you consider the number of books bought each day, something like 5 million, (according to some sources) in the US alone, even allowing for most people to purchase something from the bestseller lists, that still leaves an awful lot of potential book buyers looking for something that they are interested in. And gay non-fiction seems to be a topic that people actively search for on the internet.

I recognise now, that the novel I so desperately wanted to write, was actually about me dealing with my sexuality growing up, and the difficult relationship I had with my own parents.

While researching and writing Gay Dad, I discovered, to my amazement really, that there was so much LGBTQ+ history and culture that I simply didn’t know. I couldn’t understand this. I’ve been around for a long time, why hadn’t I heard these stories of people from the past, or how different cultures throughout history viewed gay people? It was because for so long these stories have been hidden, simply airbrushed from the history books. Thus, I wrote my second non-fiction book, This Forbidden Fruit – Male Homosexuality: A Culture & History Guide. After that, I wrote Having Gay Sex – A Guide to Male Homosexual Sex.

All my books are about filling a gap in the market and their continued success is due to people searching for those topics. It might be a niche market, but the need for representation is still very much there.

What is it about gay non-fiction that appeals to you?

I love the research element. Finding out things I never knew and particularly talking to other guys who have experience of these things; whether that’s gay dads or guys into BDSM or living with HIV.

I feel that what I do, both in my writing and my work with Rainbow Dads Podcast, makes a positive difference to men all around the world, who are questioning their sexuality or struggling with coming out or dealing with their sexual desires and the myths that persist around homosexuality and what men who have sex with other men get up to.

My knowledge has grown immeasurably too. I have met some incredible people and experienced things I would never have done had it not been for my non-fiction writing. Opportunities have come up that simply wouldn’t have, had I not written these books.

It has all been part of my coming out journey and still is, and very much self-therapeutic.

How do you go about editing your writing?

Book with rainbow bookmark

Writing is very much like any other art form. It doesn’t just appear on the page in its pristine finished state. There is an awful lot of work and reworking that goes on, in much the same way an artist will scrub out or paint over their initial sketches.

Usually, the idea for my next book will be borne out of the book I am currently writing and I will start to gather research material, writing a few paragraphs to lock down my thoughts. When I have the basis of an idea (that can often change), and I have finished what it is I am working on, I then get straight down to the new project.

I start writing, building chapters and themes and slowly developing a narrative until I have the bones of something that resembles a first draft, actually it’s not even that yet. The first draft for me, is when I get to a point where I have the contents and structure for the chapters and sections, and everything in Times New Roman with page breaks and numbers. I then seriously edit. Take out repetition, tighten the language, edit down dialogue, that sort of thing. When I think I’ve got to a point where I am happy, I then take a week or two break and come back to it afresh and start right from the beginning to do any re-writes. It’s surprising how many errors pop up that you hadn’t noticed before. After that, I will send it to my editor and after the alterations and amendments, to a beta-reader for final thoughts on flow, difficult-to-read passages or scientific language that bogs things down. I then do a final, final read-through in the format that it needs to be in for loading onto the digital platform so I know exactly how it’s going to look on the page.

It’s a long process which generally takes about a year to eighteen months to fruition. (I do have other projects, a full-time job and a life outside of writing going on as well).

Your book How to tell your LGBTQ+ story is packed full of useful information for self-publishers. Why do you choose to self-publish?

The reality is that being self-published is not so much a choice as a prerequisite, because as we all know, unless you are an established author or a celebrity, it is virtually impossible to break into traditional publishing. It’s a numbers game and they’re stacked against you. Especially if what you are writing about is not something that is going to make the publisher money, and fast. They need to see a substantial return on any investment they make in you and that is very hard to predict. Consequently, they stick to what they know will work.  

The cover of David Ledain's book: How to tell your LGBTQ+ story

This is not to say that self-publishing is somehow a lesser art form, far from it, and my book How to Tell Your LGBTQ+ Story guides you through all the skills you will need to get there and make it a success. It also includes interviews with other LGBTQ+ writers from around the world, who have taken that journey to publishing their personal stories.

In essence, self-publishing affords me the luxury of determining how much time and effort I put in and it negates any pressures of submission deadlines. Everything I do is entirely up to me. Each project is my baby from start to finish. If people like what I do, that’s great, if they don’t, they are free to move on.

What’s the hardest challenge for a self-published author of gay non-fiction?

I’m not sure there are any distinct challenges, in fact, I would go as far as to say that in many respects it is easier than self-publishing fiction, because if you’re new and unheard of, who’s going to search for you online? Who’s going to know the obscure title of your novel, and how do you get your voice heard?

What has been your biggest success so far?

A book with the pages folded to make a heart shape

My most successful book is Having Gay Sex. Sex sells that’s for sure, but more than that, this book answers all the questions people have about what gay sex is. I was staggered, for instance, to find out that the most often asked question that operators at Switchboard LGBT+ UK get from callers is, ‘how do I have sex with a man?’

What I have been successful in doing is telling the stories of men who have lived these experiences and in doing so, brought them to a wider audience and hopefully, given others hope, as well as the facts they need to help them come out and live their true lives.

You’re also involved with a podcast. Can you tell us a little about that?

The Rainbow Dads Podcast came about as a discussion between Nicholas McInerny, a scriptwriter and playwright, and Richard Shannon, head of radio at Goldsmiths. It was to be a podcast that featured gay and bi dads who had come out later in life, voices that until now have not been heard.

Nicholas approached me, having come across my book Gay Dad. Each episode in S1 was on a topic around the issues we faced: growing up gay in a straight world, what was marriage like, did coming out solve anything, and so on.

A podcasting microphone

It was extraordinary to be in a safe space, locked in a recording studio in the depths of Goldsmiths with a group of men, who in any other situation would never speak openly about their feelings and the traumas they went through. Men simply don’t have the same friendship networks that women do. It was often raw, sometimes funny and there were moments of jaw-dropping realness. All of us went into it not quite knowing what to expect. The process aided our personal journeys, that’s for sure, and the success of the podcast around the world has been incredible. When you hear of men weeping when they listen because we’ve touched a cord in their own lives, or you hear about men in countries where homosexuality is still illegal and even dangerous, who listen to us in secret and have gained strength from realising they are not alone, then you can only acknowledge what an amazing thing we did together to make that happen.

Series two features four individual stories, all fascinating and incredible. There is the story of an army officer who came out in the mess room when, although the law had changed, allowing gay men and women to serve in the armed forces without losing their jobs, it was still a very male-dominated workplace. A gay dad who had to come to terms with the fact that his own father was gay before he could face his own sexuality. Nick, who fell into the world of sex clubs and apps and became addicted to that way of life, and Manish, who came from India and found comradeship through his love of cricket.

I love the message we are spreading – that there is a way forward, and you are not alone.

What are you currently writing? When can we expect to see the next book from David Ledain?

Photograph from a Pride parade.

My latest release is a mini-series called Hot Little Gay Book Nos 1 to 5. This series concentrates on five gay-themed topics in short, easily accessible books that people can buy one, or all five if they wish.

I’ve also been working on an updated second edition of Gay Dad, bringing the stories up to date, together with a few new ones.

I am also involved in Chichester Pride, (held for the first time this year), helping to set up next year’s event on the success of this year. I am super proud, honoured and excited about that.

Find out more about David’s books by visiting his website: www.DavidLedain.com

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Published by Nick Taylor | Editor & Proofreader

Editor and proofreader specialising in LGBTQ+ writing, both fiction and non-fiction.

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