Tag Archives: publishing

Status Update – RITA Finalists!

Mar 24, 2017

I intend to read all of the historicals, starting with these guys

Yay! The finalists for the 2017 RITA Awards were announced on Tuesday! And for those who don’t know that that is, it’s the industry award for romance novels…like the Oscars of Romance. Also FYI, the finalists are chosen by romance-writing peers who read a selection of novels in multiple genres and score them based on a series of guidelines. And to take it back one step further, those novels are submitted by traditionally published and indie authors, with a contest cap of, I think it was 2000 books this year. So after everyone reading and judging all of those 2000 books in a variety of categories, we now have finalists!

Click here for the complete list of finalists in all categories courtesy of the RT Book Reviews blog.

But today I want to talk about the finalists in the two Historical Romance categories, because when it comes to Historical Romance, I think the industry/category has some serious problems.

First, though, let’s celebrate these magnificent authors who made the finals!!!!

Historical Romance: Long

Dukes Prefer Blondes by Loretta Chase

How I Married a Marquess by Anna Harrington

No Mistress of Mine by Laura Lee Guhrke

Susana and the Scot by Sabrina York

 

Historical Romance: Short

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare

Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt

A Duke to Remember by Kelly Bowen

Left at the Altar by Margaret Brownley

The Study of Seduction by Sabrina Jeffries

Taming the Highlander by May McGoldrick

 

A round of applause for all of these authors!

Bonus points to whoever came up with Tessa Dare’s title, because every time I see it, I get that song stuck in my head.

And now, let’s talk about what’s wrong with this picture. First of all, I hope you clicked on that link to the RT blog to see all of the finalists in all categories. See how many of them some of those categories have? Up to 10 per category! But notice how many there are for both historical categories combined? Only 10. And notice something else? Of those ten finalists, five of them have made the finals many, many times, year after year. That’s half of the finalists in the category popping up perennially.

So why do I feel like that’s just dead wrong? As my friend Caroline Lee said when we were discussing this, doesn’t that just mean that those authors are the best in the field, especially if they’re finalists almost every year?

Yes. Absolutely.

And that’s the problem.

As I said to Caroline, where is the new blood? Where are the hot young authors in the genre? If the same excellent authors are reaching the finals every year with relatively few first-time finalists in either of the historical categories, what does that say about the health of the genre as a whole?

Personally, I think it means two things. First, it’s just a fact that Historical Romance has been on a downward trend for a while. It doesn’t sell as well as it used to. Even my historical novels—which make up about 70% of my total catalog—don’t sell as well as the contemporary novels I have out there. And I think that becomes a problem when people are judging the books. Overall, they’re scoring them lower, because they’re just not that in to historical romance.

Okay, that’s fair enough. You can’t expect someone to get super excited over books that aren’t their cup of tea. But the other problem I have—and it’s not just this year, it’s every year—is that the number of non-Regency novels that make the finals are…well, there are two this year—one Scottish and one Western. And this is not just a problem with contests, it’s a problem with the industry.

Let me explain… Regency Romance takes up a gigantic percentage of the historical romance market right now. HUGE. But there are so many more eras and locations of history with rich, fabulous stories to be told. So with all of the vibrant history out there, why so much Regency and so little of everything else? Because traditional publishing claims that any historicals other than Regency don’t sell. But the vast majority of what they publish is Regency. So how can they sell something that they don’t publish or claim that volumes of ignored history won’t sell when there are so few case studies of non-Regency books out there?

Okay, I’ll admit that Elizabeth Hoyt is one of my very favorite novelists!

This is why Indie Historical Romance writers have become so valuable to the industry. We write the stories that no one else will publish. And guess what? They sell. Not as well as contemporary romance, mind you, but they put kibble in my cats’ dishes. So if we have proof that other historical eras do, in fact, sell, why isn’t the traditional publishing industry putting more effort into publishing them (and I won’t say they don’t publish anything non-Regency at all—they do, just not very much). Furthermore, and this is more of a question based on reality, have readers been trained to only consider Regency and to block out any other historical eras? (Except maybe Scottish, which is also mildly popular, but honestly, I’m not a fan)

This brings me around to my other question/concern/problem with the industry and readers and awards these days. Is it possible that Historical Romance is seeing such a huge downswing because readers are dead tired of dukes? Is the genre as a whole failing to attract new readers because those readers are SO over Regency, but that’s the bulk of the entire category these days? Is it not possible that the category as a whole could get a huge boost if publishers and contests alike pushed more Western, Medieval, later Victorian, 20th Century, Non-European titles? I’d give my eye teeth to read a romance novel set around the founding of Australia, for example. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to read a series like that. Or what about a romance or two set during WWI? Hasn’t Downton Abbey proven that the material there is rich and crowd-pleasing? What about romances that explore the history of People of Color? I definitely want to read those!

Why don’t we see more variety in Historical Romance?

… That’s basically what it’s all about.

Status Update – Persistence

Mar 17, 2017

Woo hoo!

This one partially goes out to my fellow writers, but I hope a lot of what I’m about to share can help everyone in navigating the sometimes choppy waters of life. Because I had a REALLY good day yesterday, personally and professionally, and I owe it all to one thing: Persistence.

So career-wise, I had my very first 99 cent BookBub promo on one of the books from my Brides of Paradise Ranch series, His Remarkable Bride. I wrote this book back in June of last year, but I have to say, it’s one of my favorite things that I’ve written. I had a lot of fun writing a portly hero with a heart of gold, his eight children, and the Englishwoman and former governess who travels west as a mail-order bride to marry him, mostly so she can wrangle his children. Hilarity and heartbreak ensue. Who would have thought that a non-traditionally handsome, non-alpha male hero would capture so many hearts?

But let’s go back and focus on the BookBub part of this whole equation. Readers, if you haven’t signed up for BookBub’s daily deals emails, you’re missing out. Because they send out a LOT of great stuff! And authors, yeah, I know. One reason those BookBub emails are so great is because they have a VERY stringent process for choosing which books to promote. They only accept a tiny fraction of books that are submitted. And it drives authors to despair. Because some of us submit over and over and over and get rejection after rejection.

Believe it or not, I was one of those rejected authors. True, I haven’t had trouble getting freebie BookBub promos, and I have a theory about that which I’ll share some other time. But up until yesterday, after about five years of trying, I’d never had a 99 cent deal. Okay, granted, I didn’t try super hard to get one up until the last year or so because my marketing strategy relied more on freebies. But I was turned down plenty of times before being accepted.

And when I was, it wasn’t for the category I applied for. They wanted to put me in a new category. I had to take a chance…and it paid off! I was on most retailer’s Top 100 charts, including #34 on Amazon, when I woke up this morning! But it didn’t just happen easy-peasy, lickety-split. Not only did getting to that spot involve a lot of persistence when it came to submitting for the BookBub deal, dude, His Remarkable Bride is, like, the 35th book I’ve published or something.

It’s easy to get down in the mouth when we see other people in our same field or with our same life circumstances succeeding in ways we want to but haven’t, whether that’s getting a BookBub promo, getting a promotion, or getting pregnant after dealing with infertility. I know that I am particularly susceptible to jealousy, and it’s something I’ve had to work on HARD for most of my life. But this is a story not just of persisting in applying for one particular promo. I feel like my entire career so far, my entire life, has been about persisting in improving my writing and making it as technically good, original, and emotional as possible. It’s been about persisting when I felt trapped in a corporate job with no way of getting out. It’s been persisting when I didn’t think I was going to have enough money to pay bills. And I’m sure I’ll have to continue to persist. My heart tells me that I might have to persist enough to fight to keep this life I love so much as external forces (like that money thing) try to chip away at it.

This is what really matters

Persistence is key! If you give up on your dreams at any point, not only is that a sadness, it becomes that much harder to jump back onto the tack of pursuing them once you feel inspired again. In a way, persistence is the antithesis of inspiration. Inspiration is a glorious high, but persistence is a plodding, sometimes miserable and unrewarding, daily task that you have to do, whether you feel like it or not. But I have an image that always comes to mind when I don’t feel like writing or marketing or doing anything besides lying on my couch covered in cats, playing games on my iPad. And of all things, it’s a football analogy. You have to move the ball forward. Every day, even if it’s just a single yard, you have to move the ball forward.

And as far as my personal life goes, it was an awesome day yesterday because I got to hang out with this guy all morning! It’s an even more awesome day when I get to hang out with him and his sister, but oh, my heart! My career could have fallen apart yesterday and I still would have counted it a great day because of him (and his mommy). Because that’s what’s really important in life.

Status Update – Why Series End

Mar 01, 2017

In my writing career so far, I have written eight different series (and a few odds and ends). Of those series, I only have two “active” right now (The Brides of Paradise Ranch and Nerds of Paradise). Four of those series are definitely done (The Noble Hearts, Montana Romance, Hot on the Trail, and Culpepper Cowboys). And the other two (Second Chances and Grace’s Moon)? Ugh, that’s where my heart and my head get into serious debates.

But first things first….

Why does an author choose to end a series? If you’re a reader, it might be heartbreaking to say goodbye to your favorite characters and a world you’ve fallen in love with. The same is true for the author too, but sometimes things have to end. Like with my Noble Hearts series. That decision was easy, because I realized Medieval Romance wasn’t the way I wanted to go. Or with Montana Romance, I felt like I’d told all the stories I needed to tell in that world and wanted to move on to other things. Hot on the Trail was a slightly different story, because I just got burnt out of writing about the Oregon Trail. I mean, there are only so many stories you can tell about people headed west in wagons. But you’ll notice, I sort of just rolled that world into Paradise Ranch, so it doesn’t really end, it just shifts.

Incidentally, I’m thinking that later this year, I might spin-off Paradise Ranch into a 3-5 novella series about the girls that Bonnie has rescued, educated, and helped to find a new life. And thanks to Elspeth and Gunn, those lives are as servants in British households…which would be a great transition from my historical westerns to the British Victorian stories I really want to start writing. It’s all organic, and everything fits together!

But I digress. For me, the Culpepper Cowboys books ended because the well went completely dry for those books. I got to the point where I was just blank. I had no new ideas for the length, tone, and atmosphere of that world. But that sort of rolled into Nerds of Paradise, which are longer, deeper, more complex, and deal with more serious issues. So if that’s the case for those books, what about Second Chances, my contemporary series set in Maine?

This is where I start to cringe on an emotional level. Because I LOVE those Maine books. I love Maine! And I’m very proud of what is now a trilogy. I have people asking me if I’m going to write more in that series all the time. And I hate to say it, but the farther away I get from the last one of those that I published, the less likely I am to continue the series. Because the thing about writers is that their writing brains are not static. I am constantly coming up with new ideas, new worlds, and new characters. Which is a wonderful thing! But the consequence is that other things can be left behind because there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Also, when other series and types of books start to pick up in sales, it’s really hard to forego that income to write something that will need a bigger marketing push. We gotta eat!

And finally… Grace’s Moon. *epic sigh* So, so few people have read my Sci-Fi books or even know they exist. The thing is, I love that genre. I love the books that I’ve already published in that series, and I love the ones that are still floating around in my head. And I keep saying that someday I AM going to come back to that series and write more. Unlike Second Chances, I’m unwilling to say, willingly or grudgingly, that I’m done with Grace. Because I have generation after generation of those characters already planned out. In my mind, that world is epic! Someday I’ll get back to it. Someday!

Going Wide – A Post For My Author Friends

Oct 18, 2016

I’m going to start this blog post with the thesis statement. If you read nothing else, read this:

Going wide is not a magic bullet means of staging a protest against Amazon because you don’t like recent KU payouts! It’s a long-term strategy for diversification that requires long-term effort, patience, and above all, a plan.

There. Whew! As long as we understand that, this blog post is going to go well.

I am a firm believer in the idea that it’s better to have as many books in wide distribution as possible than to keep all of your eggs in one basket. Lately, I’ve been hearing more and more of my fellow authors either thanking the heavens that they are and have been wide from day one, or wishing and lamenting that they didn’t owe so much of their career to the mostly fickle whims (and occasional cringe-worthy errors) of The Great and Powerful ‘Zon. Building a career in which your books are available on every platform where readers want to read them is ideal, but there are some definite things to watch out for if you’re about to jump into the wide transition.

THIS:  Don't do it!

THIS: Don’t do it!
Courtesy of Madison Gostkowski, via Flickr Creative Commons

Facts are facts. Amazon just IS about 60% of the eBook market. On a good day. Now, that number might be way higher for some and way lower for others, but on average, I think it’s still about 60%. Maybe even more. Honestly, I think for me, Amazon represents about 85% of my book sales. The key is that those are flat-out sales, not page reads that net a fluctuating amount of money based on other people’s page reads or are subject to bizarre technical problems (like the one that seems to be a problem right now). Sales are much more dependable than page reads, and depending on the length of your book, net you more income than all the pages of your book would.

So if you have been exclusive to Amazon and put your books wide, you will no longer collect on page reads, but you will have the steadier income of Amazon’s 70% (or 35%) royalty rate per buy.

Sounds obvious, but I feel the need to state it. Because one key factor to consider in the decision to take your books into wide distribution is to do a little math and figure out if the total income from your page reads is more or less than, say, 15% of your sales royalties. If the amount you are making on page reads is less than 15% of what you’re making overall for royalty sales, you might not find yourself screaming at the end of the month when all the sales numbers come in.

Different genres perform differently on different devices. As a general rule, historical and sweet do better on Amazon, and contemporary and spicy do better in wide distribution. Though my recent personal observations are that they all do about the same on Barnes & Noble. (But B&N these days is a whole other, weird story). If you’re a sweet historical western writer, you might find yourself with a bit of an uphill struggle if you’re going wide. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

I have a theory about why this is the case. It has to do with audience demographics. Amazon has made Kindle eReaders really affordable. You can get a Kindle Fire for about $50 if you catch a promo. Conversely, iPads cost around $399 for the cheap models these days. Barnes & Noble has sort of given up on the Nook—although you can get one for about $129—and are pushing Samsung tablets, which start at $139, on their site. You can get a Kobo eReader for as little as $89, but Kobo does most of its business in Canada and other English-speaking countries. Things being what they are, in a general sense, readers who love sweet and historical books are often from more rural areas and have tighter budgets, whereas readers who indulge in the steamy contemporary stuff tend to be from more urban areas where people are into flashy gadgets.

That’s a HUGE generalization, btw. Another factor in Amazon’s market dominance is that they started the eBook revolution and have strategically marketed Kindles for years more than the competition. Plus, if iPad owners are anything like me, they spend more time playing games on those puppies than reading books.

So whether everything I’ve heard and am assuming is gospel truth or not, the facts remain—sweet and historical do well on Amazon, steamy and contemporary to well everywhere else.

Courtesy of Susan Schultz, via Flickr

Courtesy of Susan Schultz, via Flickr Creative Commons

If you build it, they will come…as long as you put a LOT of effort into getting them to go there. Which of course is the thing that everyone wants to know the most about and figure out. How do you get readers to find your books on other platforms besides Amazon?

Man, I wish I had a perfect answer for that! I can only start by telling you what other platforms don’t quite have the same way Amazon does—algorithms. Sure, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo (and maybe Google Play, but I know virtually nothing about them because their pricing policy scares the *%#^$%#! out of me) DO have “Also Bought” sections, but I don’t know if they work quite the same way as the ones on Amazon do. They have categories that you can search through, but books don’t end up ranking the same way they do at Amazon, and for some of those sites, searching through the categories is an exercise in frustration.

So if you can’t rely on the sites themselves to position your books in such a way that readers can find them, how do you get readers to find them?

In a way, the answer is “The same way you get readers to find them on Amazon.” Through targeted promotions, newsletters, and Facebook ads. You have to target them specifically for each of the other retailers, though. For example, with a Facebook ad, you’ll want to have a specific Facebook ad that targets iBooks readers (or B&N or Kobo, etc.) and you’ll want to make those links available. And as with everything else, scoring a BookBub ad with links to all of those retailers does wonders for your visibility on those platforms. Same goes for those other promotional sites and newsletters.

Now, there’s one new thing that Kobo is doing that may or may not end up being helpful there. They’ve recently started beta-testing a promotions tab, which will lead to select books being featured on a special page on their site. It’s something you have to ask them for, though. My friend Angela Quarrels wrote a whole blog post about that, so I’ll send you over to her. (P.S. Her post is part of an entire series about, you guessed it, going wide!) But I can tell you that I emailed them, they put me in the program, and I have my first test in those waters at the end of November. I’ll let you know how that goes!

One other thing that is probably going to get me in deep trouble with someone… If you happen to find yourself at a conference and are able to set up an appointment with the iBooks rep, that’s always worth a shot. But honestly, I met with them a couple of times, they promised me the moon, and I got literally nothing. It hasn’t endeared me to their process all that much.

But really, at the end of the day, it’s a long-game. As I said, I highly, highly recommend going wide with as many books as possible, but it takes exponentially longer to build up a fan-base on other platforms than it does on Amazon. If you’re thinking of going wide because you’re fed up with Amazon and you imagine that the moment you put your book up for sale on other platforms you will see a similar amount of sales immediately…um, it ain’t gonna happen. I know one writer who got fed up with Amazon, pulled her books from KU, put them wide, and then was massively disappointed when she “only” sold a couple dozen copies elsewhere on her first day wide. (This was a few years ago) I had a hard time not laughing. Selling any copies wide right out of the gate is a very good thing!

Yes, go wide. But go into it with lower expectations. Remember that it takes longer to build an audience on other platforms than it does to build one on Amazon. You have to put the effort in, seek out promotions, and invest time in making them work. But once things do start to work, the benefits are awesome. No more reliance on Amazon’s page counts and the corresponding snafus! Higher royalties for the books that you actually sell on Amazon instead of page reads! And sales from other platforms which can serve as a buffer for the Weirdness of the ‘Zon! But it is work, and it’s not right for every book every time. I still have my sweet historicals in KDP Select. But one of the reasons I’m trying to move away from sweet is so that the books I’m writing will have greater sticking power on those other platforms.

It’s an ever-changing business, and those who survive are the ones who seek out opportunities and change as everything else changes.

If you have questions about something I didn’t cover, feel free to ask in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer!

Writing Spicy and Sweet

Sep 20, 2016

sweet-spicyA lot of people who have read my Brides of Paradise Ranch series have been intrigued by the fact that I’ve been doing both a sweet and a spicy version of each book. People love the idea of being able to choose which heat-level they’d like to read, but I’m often asked “How do you do that? How do you write two versions?” 

The first and most important part of the answer to that question is that I start out knowing that I’m going to be writing two versions all the way in the conceptualization phase.  

But let me back up a little bit further to answer the question of why I started doing this in the first place.  

I generally write spicy. I like to write spicy. I like to read spicy. Not erotica, mind you, but sizzling. When I first started reading romance novels all those years ago, I read spicy pirate romance novels. That level of spice just seems natural to me. But as I started writing historical westerns (and I never intended to write historical westerns when I started out, it happened by accident—but that’s a whole other blog post), I came to see that a lot of readers preferred the sweet stuff. And I’ll confess, I looked at the success of my sweet historical western-writing friends and thought, “Well, I’m trying to make a living off of this, and I’ve got to pay the bills somehow.” 

So I decided to give sweet a try…without sacrificing the spice. Because anyone who knows me knows that the spicy side is a huge part of who I am. =D 

Back to how I do it… HisHeartbrokenBride_Libby

Like I said, I know going into a spicy/sweet novel that it’s going to have two versions. I thought about going back and rewriting some of my older books in sweet versions, but it didn’t take long to realize that it wouldn’t work. In so many of those books, major elements of the plot and the characters’ journeys center around what happens in the bedroom. It’s impossible to take that out without changing the focus of the plot entirely. 

So keeping that in mind, when I set out to write books with both sweet and spicy versions, I knew I had to include the spice in such a way that it wasn’t the pivot point of the plot. The major thrust of the action (no pun intended) had to focus around something that could still be told without following the characters into the bedroom. In other words, the tension of the plot needed to be something other than “will they or won’t they.” 

I think that plotting this way has actually made me a better writer. In the past, I’ve always considered external plots to be the weak point in my writing. Well, here I was writing stories that needed to depend on external plot rather than just the relationship between the hero and heroine. At the same time, that relationship has to play a major role in the story. After all, the spicy version wouldn’t work if the schmexy scenes felt tacked on or superfluous. 

That leaves me with a complex dilemma for each book. How do I write one version in which sensual scenes play a major part in character development without the entire plot hanging on them? And how can I remove those scenes and still maintain an intimacy between the characters while keeping the story sweet? 

HisTemptingBride_Miriam_2coversI think the answer lies in my process of writing. When I draft each of the Paradise Ranch books, I draft the spicy version. The first draft is spicy. Actually, the second and third drafts are too. Once I have everything just the way I want it, I send it off to my editor. And then I go back and start working on the sweet version while she works on the spicy one. 

The sweet version is all about subtracting and adding. I go through and take out everything non-sweet. Gone are the schmexy scenes, gone are any swear words or even references to alcohol. I have a kind of silly list of words that I do a search for when I’m writing that sweet version. But of course, most of the time if you take something out, you leave holes. That’s when I go back through and add many more Christian references and rewrite any sensual scenes to be emotionally powerful, fully-clothed, upright scenes. 

This is another area where preplanning is key. When I’m writing the schmexy scenes in the first draft, I always have a point where the action will veer off into the sweet scene in later drafts. I build that jumping off point into the draft to save myself the work of rewriting tons and tons of words later. I keep both versions in mind even as I’m spicing it up. 

Once the spicy draft comes back from my editor, I go through and make all the changes she suggests in both versions. After that, they go off to various proof-readers and beta-readers I have, depending on which draft they prefer. Once those come back, I make final changes and corrections, and voila! Two versions. 

I’ve had a lot of positive response from readers about the fact that two versions are available, even though they prefer one or the other. And I also get a lot of questions about whether I will be going back and writing sweet versions of my older books. The answer to that is no, it would be way too much work, and I’d rather focus on writing new books.  

HisBewilderingBride_Wendy_2coversThe second question I get is “Will you be doing sweet and spicy versions of new books/series?” That’s a much harder question to answer. Harder not because I have to think about my answer, but I’m afraid my answer will disappoint people. Because the answer is no. No, this series has taught me that I really do prefer writing spicy. It comes more naturally to me, and so I’ll be sticking with just the spicy in all new series. BUT, I’m going to continue to write both sweet and spicy versions of the Paradise Ranch series, and that has many, many, MANY more books to come! 

I want to add one final note before ending, though, based on a few private comments I’ve had from readers. I do not think sex is dirty. That’s why I will never refer to a sweet novel as “clean.” I take offense to that term. I don’t think sex is shocking or scandalous or evil, and especially not dirty. It’s a natural part of human relationships and intimacy. I don’t think it should be treated as an unmentionable topic, because I believe that that way lies dysfunction and fear. So all those 1-star reviews that say “This book has too much sex in it?” Those are like 6-star reviews to me! For those who like to leave those reviews, just know that those kinds of reviews sell more books than the best of the best 5-star reviews.

Check out all of the books in The Brides of Paradise Ranch series on my “Other Works by Merry Farmer” page!