Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Do you write to live or live to write?

This question has bugged me for a few days, since I've followed a thread on a writer's message board about writing for the masses versus writing for yourself. The initial post summarized an author's thoughts of one publisher's assertion that in order to be a bestseller of erotic romance, you have to write a specific sub-genre. Using my incredible skills of deduction, I figured out the publisher and paid a virtual visit. Sure enough, eight of ten top sellers listed for the month were that sub-genre. This revelation left the author pondering whether she should try the sub-genre - one she doesn't write - for herself and see if it makes a difference.

Naturally, the publisher in me considered the subsequent posts from other authors. I contributed briefly, yet there was much more I wished to add. However, as a publisher, I do become skittish at times for fear somebody might misinterpret my words. It's difficult to smoothly switch author and publisher hats, even when you are not as prominent as other eBook pubs. Let's see if what I have to say makes any sense, or waves.

In reading the thread, I don't think the publisher was trying to dictate what an author should write in order to sell well. If anything, the assertion to new authors (I was told the initial advice was directed to that audience) might have served as a guide to selling well with that particular publisher. The sub-genre in question isn't one that breaks records with us, though some of our authors have done well with it. Phaze has two sub-genres of erotic romance that perform extremely well. If you have kept track of our bestseller lists, you have an idea of what they are. However, not every title in those sub-genres has done well.

I believe in order for a title to perform well, you naturally need more elements than the sexual preference. For the sake of clarity, let's say Incredible eBooks, Inc. does a bang-up (heh) business in menage romances, particularly MFM. Everytime a new bestseller list is posted, all the titles are heavy on the MFM threesomes - some HEA, some not, but three is the magic number. It would be expected that the publisher, wanting to stay in the black, tends to call for more similar stories to keep readers coming (double heh). A new MFM from an established IeI author is released and sells well. The publisher then banks on another author, new to IeI, with an MFM, expecting good results. Instead...flop.

What happened? The books was well-written, chock full of three-way action, and the publisher sent the book through the same PR channels as other titles. Why did it fail? There could be a number of reasons. Perhaps the author did little to promote the book, or maybe regular IeI readers overall felt skittish taking a chance with a new author as opposed to an established one. Maybe the book was historical as opposed to contemporary, and that combination turned off readers. So perhaps the scope of the publisher is further limited by this discovery?

I would hope not.

Please bear in mind I'm not saying that all new authors will stumble the first time out of the gate, or that new authors aren't apt to succeed in self-promotion as established writers. In my experience as a publisher, I have seen debut authors roar up the lists, and I have seen them fizzle. I have prepared books I on which I would have bet the farm to explode, only to seem them actually explode in my face. I have seen established authors release a book to middling sales compare to backlist titles, only to come back again with another book. I'm sure, too, some authors could tell you that their titles perform better at Publisher A than at Publisher B - stories of similar genre, too. Why do the readers not cross to buy the rest? Is it bias? Is it cover art? I wish I knew.

I have experienced this myself. I have titles with Phaze, Samhain, and Liquid Silver. My Phaze titles bang then plateau into a comfortable monthly pattern. My Samhain title did the same, but my LSB book...poof. I do take responsibility for that, however. The timing on Love's DoMINion was overshadowed by the abrupt exit of Phaze's publisher. Just as I signed the contract for LD, I was issuing contracts to new Phaze authors. I wasn't prepared to balance both hats on my head, and unfortunately this nice, hot little romance I adored suffered as a result. The planned sequel has gone unwritten and more than likely may not come to light.

Am I off topic yet? Was I ever on?

Getting back to publishers dictating what to write in order to sell, I wouldn't do it myself. Yet, I won't fault a publisher for doing so. A publisher needs to sell in order to survive. Give the readers what they want. If a publisher finds the M/M is selling like hotcakes, they are going fire up the griddle. Case in point, I have seen quite a few authors who once wrote a specific genre now venturing into M/M. I don't blame them - it is a hot genre in erotic eBookdom right now. Would I tell an author she/he needs to write M/M to be a Phaze bestseller? No. Like I said, not every M/M title we do lights our sky with sales, and I won't guarantee success. I don't promise the moon, but I do my damndest to help build a good rocket to get there - editing and proofing, cover art and promotion. The author, I hope, will co-pilot the ship well.

I like to believe that the books that sell well are those created with passion. An author who puts everything into a book, regardless of subgenres and sexual situations, will find that passion can extend to readers if it's radiated correctly. You wrote a book, tell the world! I suppose that's why my Dareville stories do better than other works - not necessarily because there are more of them, but because I love to write them. I love that little town I created, and the people therein. I want to explore Dareville further, and I think as I do readers will follow.

So, should you write a menage or an M/M or an interracial because that is what is selling with your publisher right now? Look at it this way: write the menage, M/M, whatever because it is what YOU want to write, because THAT is your passion. If you're going for the brass ring, reach with both hands.

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