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Tell me more, tell me more…does it sell very well?

By On Apr 13 2009, 10:00 am

In trying to decide on a topic for today’s post, I put up a plea for topic ideas on Twitter. I actually got some really great ideas—oddly enough it appears that someone suggesting to me to write about why Amazon is stripping rankings is how #amazonfail started yesterday on Twitter—and am going to save some of them for future use (I always say that and then forget to check my “future use” file when it’s time. But I will remember next time. I’m sure). Since it’s Easter Sunday (yes, I’m a procrastinator, but in my defense I’ve been traveling/visiting family for the past week) I needed a topic that didn’t take amazing powers of critical thinking. I got a fantastic recommendation from author Jill Myles who mentioned that it’s always interesting to know what genres are/aren’t selling well.

I suppose publishers don’t always like to talk about what genres are or aren’t selling well because we’re afraid that authors will take that as a signal to only write and submit a few particular genres, and not to write others. As a publisher of a variety of romance genres, as well as fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy all with romantic elements, we especially don’t want this to happen. Or maybe publishers are afraid it shows weakness to say something doesn’t sell as well as something else? I suppose. But I also think that authors sometimes feel that this is a topic shrouded in secrecy so let’s bring it out in the open and chat about it.

First, I’m going to talk about Samhain in particular and epublishing very in general. It’s important to note that what I say is from our particular experience only and can’t necessarily be taken as gospel for the industry as a whole. I know you’re all savvy enough for that to be stating the obvious, but I do like my disclaimers and just can’t seem to quit them.

Erotic Romance: We’ll start with the obvious. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to put all of erotic romance together and say it sells very well for us. I think it’s clear that in the past 5 years it has sold quite well for many digital publishers, as evidenced by the number of new erotic romance epublishers that spring up monthly, by the traditional publishers’ search for erotic romance books and authors and subsequent flooding of the market, and by the emergence of sexier sex scenes and greater sexual tension even in non-erotic romances.

Still, I can hear you out there saying to yourself “sure, but exactly what KINDS of erotic romance sell well?” Okay, I’ll let you in on the secret…it depends. If you’re going to pin me down, I’ll say ménages (and more) are usually hot sellers as long as we’re talking about the male/female/male or more males and one female trope. Also selling well are erotic m/m, and erotic romance with BDSM. However, “straight” m/f erotic romances will also fly off our figurative shelves in the hands of a skillful author such as Lorelei James or Maya Banks, who combines high sexual tension with engaging characters and plot. Actually, you can pretty much just say this about any genre I talk about today. Anything I say about a genre not selling well can be negated by the right author, the right promotion, the right story and the right planetary alignments.

But what about erotica? Erotica, which is most definitely NOT the same as erotic romance and is a different genre, doesn’t sell as well. Maybe because, while readers enjoy some spicy sensuality in their reading, they want to know it will all turn out happily in the end and there’s no guarantee of that in erotica?

Moving on from all that sexin’, let’s talk about other genres within romance. Our trends still show that paranormal romance is a hot seller. Readers are still interested in reading about vampires, but there is even greater interest in different shifters: werewolves, cats, dragons and all the variety of unusual shifters you can find. Other forms of paranormal like demons, succubus, angels, etc also continue to do well and unique concepts are eagerly scooped up by readers.

Several genres are a hit and a miss in for us in digital at this time including inspirational, some historical periods (pretty much anything happening after 1900), and books—even erotic romance—featuring female/female as a central theme. Even if it’s female/female/male. Despite some readers asking us why we don’t publish more f/f, many authors don’t write it and readers, at least ours, aren’t buying it. It continues to be very much a niche genre, and a much, much smaller niche genre than male/male books.

Despite a number of readers saying they want more contemporaries that are non-romance, non-suspense, non-paranormal, those readers also don’t always show their buying power. An author can do well in those genres with good promotion, backlist or a well-known name, but sometimes even that isn’t enough to make a fantastic contemporary sell. It can be frustrating for both author and editor!

What am I missing? Futuristic romances do pretty well for us. Many of the editors are huge fans of the genre and we’re always wishing for more submissions in this genre (send to thanks ;) ) but it’s definitely a specialized one to write due to the world building needed. On the other hand, time travel submissions seem to always be around and they rarely sell well. And it’s not something we often get a request for, from readers.

Two genres/themes that readers are always requesting more of and that sell well are interracial and male/male books. Books labeled in these areas seem to fly off our figurative shelves.

I made this point above but I want to highlight it again: everything I’m saying here can vary according to author, writing style, writing skill (yes, some authors are more skilled than others. I’m sorry, maybe you didn’t expect me to say it, but there it is, the elephant in every corner), promotional efforts (no, I’m sorry the books don’t sell themselves and yes you do need promo—from yourself, your publisher—in the form of reviews and word of mouth even—and from your readers), and even name brand/backlist.

Backlist is something I talk about often in conjunction with sales, but I think some authors might underestimate the power of it. I’m going to use Samhain’s romantic suspense author Linda Winfree as an example. Her first book with Samhain had numbers lower than she and her editor expected, and which I know her editor hoped would be higher because she was so impressed with Linda’s writing and storytelling. But as Linda published each successive book in her series, not only did her new release numbers go up as word of mouth spread among readers about her books, but her backlist books also saw increased numbers of sales with each new release. This is something that, watching the sales numbers on My Bookstore and More, I see quite often with a variety of authors in a variety of genres. I hate to say it but…”Build it and they will come” applies here.

So there you go, some of the genres demystified. Tell me what I missed or what you’d like to know more of. Questions are welcome!


12 Responses to “Tell me more, tell me more…does it sell very well?”

  1. Jill Myles says:

    Wow, great breakdown! That’s really interesting to hear all the stuff that IS selling and stuff that is not selling as well.

    I find it interesting that Time Travel does not seem to sell well (in NY or in epub) but so many authors trying to break in write it. I know I’ve written a time travel (or three, koff koff).

    Thanks for the blog post. Very informative. :)

  2. Lindsey says:

    So true about time travel, Jill. I keep thinking it will come back around – especially with the popularity of The Time Traveler’s Wife – but I know a lot more people interested in writing it than reading it.

    Angie, what are your thoughts on the possibilities for sweet romance in epublishing? I know currently it’s very hit or miss, but at one time I felt epub could be a great haven for it. Now I wonder if readers have either adapted to reading the sex or are getting their fix from the Debbie-Macomber-style contemporaries and the few other authors keeping it alive in NY. Do you think that readership will ever find its way to epublishing?

  3. Julie Robinson says:

    Thanks, Angie, for bringing this out in the open. Why should it be a secret?? It’s a good field to discuss.

    Thanks for the break down. I am not in the buying majority with m/m or menages, preferring m/f relationships; and therefore, I would not feel comfortable writing them, even if that is what is selling.

    Some writers may try to aim for what’s popular, but I think many will continue to write the voices in their heads. Kind of like parents telling their college age kid what major has a large earning potential, and in the end, the kid usually ends up majoring in what he likes doing.

    You did a wonderful job of demystifying the genres and their selling potential. Thanks for the detailed explanations.


  4. Venus Vaughn says:

    I have a question about time-travel.

    Most of what I see in the time-travel genre is women going back to the past, which often, to me, reads like a catchy excuse for a historical.

    Is that just what gets published or is there a balance of men and women coming forward to the present?
    Or men and women going from the now to the future?

    “Time travel” is so broad a term for the possible permutations.

  5. Missy Lyons says:

    I really appreciated reading this thoughtful article and it does help in deciding what my next writing project will be. I can write the plot I want, mixed in with a little of a strong seller or genre.

    Why not write what readers want to read? It’s kind of like that sayng myy mother told me, “It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man.”

  6. Melissa Blue says:

    Everything I love to write doesn’t sell well. Why am I not surprised? Le sigh. So, I’ll wait around for a few years until my genres are hot again. It’s bound to happen.

  7. Hey Angie, I know you’re on the road so I may not get a response, but maybe you could say what YOU think is the difference between futuristic and sci fi. Just curious.
    Awesome breakdown and I’m also one who has seen my backlist move the more I keep at it.

  8. Angela James says:

    @Lindsey I think epublishing can be a great haven for sweet romances but I think that it’s more difficult when sold in conjunction with erotic romance/erotica. For it to do well, I think it needs its own site and a targeted marketing campaign. Its not the type of genre that will sell well immediately out the gate, though, on a dedicated publisher/site, so there needs to be an understanding that it will be something that builds over time.

    @Venus most time travel that I see, at least, is going back to historical. I think I can pretty safely say that we’d all be a lot more excited to see some time travel to the future because that would also put it in the category of futuristic. So you’re right in that I should have really clarified time travel further to time travel to the past, and with the further caveat that unless it’s some really unique time travel (to the future, or to an ALTERNATE past/world).

    @Melissa Blue but keep in mind, everything I say is not meant to be taken as an absolute. There are always exceptions and I could name some for each thing I said didn’t sell well!

    @Jennifer I am still on the road, though currently in a hotel room in Wisconsin Dells waiting for the water park to open! Romantic comedy is a tough genre, very much hit and a miss. I’ve often thought that might be because comedy in itself is a very subjective thing.

  9. Great article, thanks!

    I’ll definitely link to this when I next blog about the potential for science fiction romance/futuristic romance in ebooks, and Samhain in particular.

    Mainstream print publishing is not the only game in town, and right now that market is insanely tight. I hope aspiring authors will seriously consider the epublishing option. Otherwise, I may never get to read their stories, wahh!

  10. Lorelei Bell says:

    I have to say I don’t think I’ve seen this all broken down quite so well.

    However, my question is what is the difference between Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy?

    Is it that the P.R. has more sex in it, and the Urban Fantasy has a hard-ass female as protagonist?

    Could you clear this up for me? I’m writing a book that I’d thought would fit under the “Urban Fantasy” genre, but when you drew the lines on your blog, I’m questioning that perhaps I’m doing a Paranormal Romance, in which the woman is involved with at least 2 vampires and one shifter. I really don’t know where this one fits, now.

    Thanks, Lorelei

  11. Lorelei Bell says:

    Hi ya, it’s me again. Takes me a while to figure out where I found this blog. I’m unable to find any answer to my original question:

    What is the difference between Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy?

    I had hoped this question would have been answered by someone by this time, but I know traveling and whatnot, you are busy.

    Perhaps I’ll check in another week on this.

    Thanks again,

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