In Your Corner: A Month of Romance (part 2)

Seamless pattern of Valentines Day candy. Fancy chocolate bonbons with love you message.

Let’s simply pick up where I left off in my last post, with the question:

Who writes romance?

The second question we have to grapple with when it comes to romance relates to authorship. As with readership (and our previous conversation on that), there are many misconceptions about who writes within this particular genre. And first, to deal with the elephant in the room: Yes, the Romance Writers of America recently went through a major reckoning with some internal racism that the organization really shouldn’t have been silent on, ever. I won’t say much more about it (but if you’re unfamiliar, you can read up on it in almost any major news publication, including the Guardian) other than to congratulate those who were willing to speak up and who have helped the organization evolve. What’s relevant here is that the Romance genre has history–and a lot of it, both good and bad and misunderstood. Outside perspectives have been almost as important to the Romance market as inside ones, with many of the 1800s and early 1900s Great Thinking Men dismissing the earliest English language novels (which were often romances, as is the case with Jane Austen’s) as frivolous and like as not to rot the reader’s brain and foul the author’s character. But of course, Jane was writing in a time of near-continuous war, and the other novels of the period were either examples of pure escapism or ponderous tomes that passed government censors. 

Because so many of Romance’s greatest (as in, most anthologized) authors have been women, and English-speaking white women at that, it would be easy to assume (and many go right ahead and do assume) that Romance is the province of female authors and female authors only. Here again, the Romance Writers of America comes in very handy; their website provides some useful reportage on the state of Romance past and present. On a page they title “Romance Trailblazers,” one can find plenty of English-speaking white women authors, yes, but there are also a good sprinkling of authors who are none of these things, or at the very least not simultaneously. (On that note, don’t overlook RWA’s diversity and inclusion resources, which include this fabulous crowd-sourced list.) I would also point you to the diversity reports from The Ripped Bodice, the only exclusively-Romance-selling genre bookstore in the United States. The 2019 bestsellers reflect exactly the kind of diversity that has made the genre so popular and given it such staying power; it may not always be beloved of the critics, but Romance has never lacked for love among the people. The Ripped Bodice reports also lay bare some interesting facts about the main publishing houses and their romance imprints, which simply don’t reflect their diverse readership fully in the authors they publish. There are some opportunities for nonwhite authors opening up, but we still don’t see anything like a realistic reflection of reader demographics there. This also holds true if we’re looking at percentages relating to LGBTQIA+ authors, who are vastly underrepresented within the major publishing houses. Meanwhile, male authors have had a foothold in Romance writing all along, with authors like Nicholas Sparks and John Green representing some of the latest success stories.

Luckily, we’re in the business of self-publishing, and in self-publishing, there are fewer obstacles (I won’t say “no obstacles whatsoever,” since I can’t speak for each and every situation) to Romance authors than there are in making it through the Big Five. But I can say it time and time again until I run entirely out of breath: self-publishing is a democratizing influence on the market. Since anyone can self-publish, readers are shifting away from finding their books exclusively in the turning racks at local bookstores and in end-caps at the grocery store–and they’re turning to fanfiction sites like Archive of Our Own and to services like Wattpad. They’re also turning to subscription services like Kindle Unlimited and to individually sold (and well-reviewed) ebooks. The pandemic has seen that shift become something of an avalanche, with many readers unable to venture out and many brick and mortar bookstores shut completely or open only for curbside deliveries. 

The only downside of this shift is that there is no standardized reporting on ebooks. Since ebooks don’t even technically require an ISBN for distribution (this depends entirely on platform), there’s no way to track how many Romance ebooks there are out there in the world, much less report on who’s writing and reading them. And if we expand our notion of ebooks to include completed stories on web-based platforms, the numbers get even muddier. The best that can be done are “best-of” lists and compilations by reviewers and Romance influencers who have sampled widely–but even these lists aren’t representative of anything other than that one person’s taste or that one platform’s sales data. So while we can point to countless authors who both fill and subvert the standard profile of a white English-speaking woman author, we can’t point to any comprehensive reports. And we certainly shouldn’t take Amazon’s word on its own sales without a sizable grain of salt; any for-profit company, especially one with carefully coded algorithms to boost sales of particular authors who fit particular profiles, has its own best interests in mind, not the general public’s.

So if we can’t definitively answer our own question, what can we depend on when it comes to authorship in the Romance genre?

  1. Currently, the numbers that can be gathered about the Romance genre indicate that a majority of both authors and readers are women, that a majority of both authors and readers are white, and that a majority of both authors and readers seem to be getting their Romance novels in English. 
  2. The numbers that can be gathered and compiled into comprehensive reports either come from the Big Five traditional publishing houses or from for-profit companies like Amazon and Barnes & Nobles, and these industry stalwarts are largely responsible for the lack of diversity in which authors they choose to let in the gates they keep.
  3. A lot of work remains to be done to bring traditional publishing in line with its readership if it wants to take full advantage of a new generation of digitally savvy and diverse readers.
  4. Self-publishing in the Romance genre is, from all that I’ve heard, doing juuuuust fine. And by that, I mean it may just be the top-selling genre of fiction among self-publishing companies and free platforms. (And those fan sites? They’re, like, 90% romantic takes on movies, shows, and books that don’t quite go there on screen or the page. And a lot of those takes are … well. Check the tags on each story before diving in, since many of them fit the Romance genre’s alternate description: bodice-rippers.) Readers are hungry for self-published romance titles. And they’re hungry for diverse titles, whether we’re talking about gender or racial parity among authors, or representation of LGBT+ and other marginalized groups in content. Since the Big Five aren’t anywhere close to providing good numbers of any of these authors and actions, self-publishing has picked up the slack.

With all this said, a more useful alteration to the original question would be:

Is there room in the Romance genre for me?

And the answer is, of course, yes. YES. There is definitely room for your personal voice and take on Romance, and there is a readership eager and ready to read what you write.

As for what to write, we’ll start to tackle that in my next post. Watch this space!

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: A Month of Romance (part 1)

 

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This being Romance Awareness Month, I thought this would be a great time to tackle the genre here on the blog .We have never done a deep dive into romance before, which I find somewhat surprising, given the number of romance authors I have worked with over the years. So today, we’ll be breaking new ground as I start a new series following the publishing and marketing processes behind releasing a romance novel into the world.

(If you do not write romance, never fear! Many of the steps through which a romance novel must go are the same or quite similar to the steps through which books of other genres must go as well. You’ll simply need to apply your own lens to the information in order to apply it to your work.)

Today I want to ask two very important questions we all have ready-made answers to, but which I think we must revisit to discover what’s really going on.

Who is romance for?

In 2016, Nielsen compiled its research on genre readership into one very handy infographic: “Romance Readers by the Numbers.” While I’m including the infographic here, I absolutely encourage you to read Nielsen’s entire report! It’s full of fantastic information that totally re-oriented my perspective on romance readership.

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At its base level, many of your assumptions are true––of a majority. But I think it’s taking a closer look at those minorities, because if you consider that more than one in four fiction books on the market in 2015 was a romance, and that 16% of the readers reading those books are not female, that still leaves you quite an important market share––compared to, say dystopic science fiction. Nielsen hasn’t updated these numbers in a few years, but if the percentages hold true, that could equate to around 32 million reported units being read by men. Sure, women might be reading five times that many books, but 32 million is not an insignificant number if you’re smart in how you promote your book.

The same holds true, of course, for other minorities! Consider that more readers are not white than are not female, percentage-wise––up to 38 million readers of color relative to the (admittedly rough) 32 million calculation for male readers. And while the Nielsen infographic doesn’t have room to show it, LGBT romance ebook sales are on a sharp rise now that its authors have moved from fanfiction websites into the main stream of publishing and self-publishing. 

Keep in mind that Nielsen can only track books that are sold and tracked with ISBNs, and only about 1/3 of the ebooks sold in the year covered by the infographic (2015) had ISBNs. With ebooks soaking up around half of book sales overall, with that percentage leveling out but still growing (especially during quarantine), that’s a BIG chunk of ebooks that are just … an unknown quantity. Another report from the same year says that “the 2015 Smashwords sales report shows that 89% of their sales are fiction with romance taking 50% and erotica another 11%. K-Lytics indicates that romances on Kindle outsell cookbooks, for example, by a factor of 27 to 1!” Publishing numbers are still, five years later, trying to figure out how to measure and quantify and compare numbers coming from platforms that aren’t selling the written material they’re publishing, or that are publishing paid stories that are not in “book” format. Consider WordPress, storytelling podcasts, and interactive book apps like the ones created for Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar (as an easy-to-remember example). 

One also has to consider the old library sales that “if you make it, they will come”––readers have to know something exists and is attainable before they come looking for it. So if the Nielsen’s reported readership doesn’t match up to what you know your friends and fellow readers are interested in but aren’t being offered, that might be a sign that you need to help carve out a new niche. It’s not easy, but when it works––wow, does it work! Consider young adult fiction, which wasn’t a significant market share before the one-two punch of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. Now there are dedicated rooms in libraries and bookstores dedicated to that readership. You can definitely launch new trends!

So yes, the majority of romance readers are white and female. But a significant number are not, and for many authors that means that yes, there is room for your unique take on romance. 

This ran a bit long, so I’m going to answer my second question next time so as not to overwhelm you just now:

Who writes romance?

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: Self-publishing Ripple Effect Marketing

Think of self-publishing book marketing as a marathon, not a sprint. Plan the journey, prepare to work, pace yourself, and not become discouraged when you the bear jumps on your back. Your second wind is right around the corner.

Unlike blockbuster books like Harry Potter, which sell 90% of their copies in the first 90 days of release, an independently published book is often the opposite––not surprising since titles like Harry Potter make up a percent of a percent of all books published. It takes time to build awareness. Sales may start slowly, but can climb over time if you persistently market your book.

If you’ve yet to nail down a specific marketing plan, I suggest starting in your own hometown. Build a following. Attract the interest and readers of people in your inner circle before you focus on your neighborhood. Then, focus on your neighborhood before concentrating on your city. Next your state and region, etc. This is known as the ripple effect.

It applies to both online and traditional marketing tactics.

Water background red and silhouette hand

Thinking of marketing as something other than a sprint, or a laundry list of items to get through (“Poetry reading, check! Social media account created, check!”) is the wisest advice I’ve heard all year. Thinking of your marketing as you think of your other relationships–as more than just the sum of its parts, or the sequence of events–is important. Every action affects every other action, and the changes are cumulative or even, sometimes, exponential! Think, instead, of your marketing strategy as a whole, and a whole which is best contemplated as a web of interrelated components which all touch each other and all affect how the other components play out. Some pieces need to come before others in order for them both to work, and sometimes a misstep with one component will lead to a cascade of problems in the others.

Another great image to keep in mind is the ocean. Yes, the ocean operates under the same physical principles and constraints as a ripple in a swimming pool–but would we really compare their behaviors and say they’re the same thing? There’s more at work than simple scale; the ocean works on its environment in a multitude of ways, and one of its most impressive qualities is its ability to wear anything down–given time. The ocean is interminable, it is unstoppable, and it is unwearying in its work upon the seashore. Wave after wave after wave can lead to an entirely new shoreline, right?

So as we head into Fall, think about ripples and oceans. They are the same thing … except they aren’t. Steal from both. Steal the cumulative effects of the ripple (and the interrelationships of the web) and steal the repetitive unstoppability of the ocean. This is your arsenal against the soporific atmosphere of midsummer.

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: Top 3 Reasons to Self Publish THIS July

If you have been considering self-publishing your book, this July is the perfect time to take the leap! Here is why.

Patriotism!

July is when Americans celebrate freedom. And even if you’re not American, chances are many of your potential readers are. Celebrate your and their freedom of speech, and share your writing by finally self-publishing that manuscript you’ve been holding on to. Truthfully, self-publishing books is part of many cultures. While it’s totally fair to be proud of your own country’s contributions to the world of words, we hope that you’ll contribute your own words as well.

Independence Must Be Declared!

No matter where you live in the world, the freedoms and independences that you do possess exist for a reason, and new freedoms are only won when existing ones are seized upon! These days, you don’t need an agent or a traditional publisher to get started. And if you don’t feel confident that you’ve got all of the details down, you can always look to a full-service self-publishing company, and get your book published in exactly the way you want it to be.

Live in the Sun!

With summer comes longer days, and July starts just after the Summer Solstice and the longest day of the year. (Or shortest night, depending on how you look at it.) Longer days mean more time to work on your manuscript and get all of the other things done that you need to in life, which in 2020 might be a whole lot of additional things on top of the ones you had originally planned. Take advantage of the extra hours by finally finishing your book––not to mention the special holiday savings many companies offer over the July 4th weekend!

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: Put Your COVID-19 “Vacation” to Work!

laptop flowers

Oh, I know–turning what’s possibly the most abnormal “vacation” (or slowdown, or full-speed nightmare, depending on whether you work and in what essential or nonessential industry you work in) into a working vacation isn’t necessarily what you had in mind for your summer, but the fact remains: books aren’t going to sell themselves, and when it comes to being an indie author, there’s not a moment to be wasted. Even if it feels like COVID-19 has completely derailed everything else, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed:

Marketing takes a lot of time.

Luckily for everyone, there are some easy ways to boost your sales and make your summer weirdness work for you rather than against your book sales!

Vacations and the reunions that go with them can be the absolutely most ideal time to market your book and gather some new readers. Or maybe old readers. Age doesn’t matter. Everybody reads, especially when they have a personal connection to the author–you! Reunions are a fantastic place to tell family members, friends, and other personal connections about your book and where they can buy it. Obviously we now live in a time of #SocialDistancing, which means most of these reunions (and birthday parties, graduation parties, memorials, holiday get-togethers, and family check-ins) are taking place over Zoom or FaceTime UnHangOut or one of the many other digital video call platforms available. And by golly, everyone’s probably ready at this point to have something to talk about other than the virus and all of its inconveniences. (I know I sure am.) Even though you may not be in the same room, your book may just be the kind of news your family and friends need to distract themselves with, and then share with their friends … and their friends ….

Don’t underestimate the power of your personal network.

Then there’s the most magical of all summer vacation destinations: the gift shop, the ultimate place to display and present your book for shoppers and readers on their various road trips. And while you travel, too–any stranger you meet on a trip is only a stranger until you break the ice by sharing your book. Buuuuut … the virus is here, right? So unless you live in one of those few states where reopening is moving into Phase II right now, what we thought we were going to go and do this summer is turning out to be very different from what we can go out and do. That said, you’re leaving a digital footprint every bit as large as you would have left a physical one during a normal summer. Don’t hesitate to use every platform to launch your book. You just want to make sure you don’t violate that platform’s version of digital etiquette.

Of course, if you’re going to make the most of your, ahem, vacation (whatever this season looks like for you), there are some things to keep in mind. You’ll need to:

Keep up with your social media.

Before you take off for the beach or the mountains or the hazy land of Netflix binges, schedule. Schedule, schedule, schedule. Facebook has a lovely, easy tool built-in to make this possible–simply put your posts together, and click the drop-down arrow next to the ‘post’ button and input the date and time of your intended schedule.

But what about the others? There are quite a few tools out there to manage all of your media at once. Hootsuite is one, Later.com another, Buffer yet a third. Do your due diligence and pick a service that fits your needs, and be aware that there are free options, so you should theoretically be able to take care of your scheduling needs affordably. Once you have an account, all you have to do is preload your tweets, your posts to Google+ and Instagram and so on.

And of course, be safe! If you’re actually traveling, play up your travels as much as you like as a kind of promotion, but don’t make a point of mentioning how long you’ll be away from home, or other personal details that the disingenuous might exploit. Take pictures and make plenty of memories to share later! Those of us who can’t go anywhere are living vicariously through you. Congratulations. Give me all your photos!!

Network!

Take full advantage of your summer to plan for the future. Is there a writing conference taking place in one of your destination cities that’s still on, or going digital? Get on the list. Are there book readings? Could you plan a book reading through one of the libraries near your beach or mountain idyll or thoroughly fortified house? Local writing groups are another great option. Plenty of people might be interested in having you speak about the process of self-publishing, and libraries, writing groups, and other businesses and organizations are in desperate need of new partners willing to learn how to use Zoom (or whichever digital space) and keep their programming alive.

And of course, come prepared. Keep a bundle of digital promo pictures or a pack of business cards, bookmarks, postcards, posters, and a couple of promotional copies of your book on hand, and practice your elevator pitch thoroughly beforehand. If you haven’t yet invested in some merch or beautifully designed graphics, go ahead and start down that glorious road. Think outside the box, too: is there a way to promote your book while traveling, even if it’s only traveling the many varied landscapes of the Internet?

Make it a GRAND tour!

Some of the items on your agenda are a given, no matter what kind of summer we’re talking about. Marketing your self-published book shouldn’t take up all of your precious vacation time, but spending even just a handful of minutes each day checking Twitter or arranging a couple of book readings will help support the marketing and sales momentum you’ve worked so hard to build–not to mention pay for an even better (and hopefully actual) vacation next year!

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.

Elizabeth
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.