Are you an author demoralized and discouraged because of low or declining sales? It's tough, now more than ever, in the m/m fiction market, especially with the increasing number of new, self-published authors on Amazon. You wanted to make a career of this but it ain't happening, and your attempt to live your dream has turned into a nightmare.
A very small
percentage of authors, particularly of those who write m/m or gay fiction, make
a lot of money from it. Yes, there are some who do quite well. Some
consistently earn six figure annual salaries, but the overwhelming majority
don't. Most of us, if we don't have a really good paying day job live hand to
mouth, royalty check to royalty check.
And though this might
not be an acceptable thing to say out loud or in public, it's even harder for a
gay male author. If you look at all the big selling authors, those who have
over 100 thousand Good Reads ratings, they're all female. There are (maybe)
three male authors in our genre who are even close to the dozens of female
authors who are at the top. Why is this? Well, it's because there are thousands
of female readers who prefer female authors for various reasons. They might
have a couple male authors they enjoy, but by default they buy romance books
from women authors because they tend to write more about emotion and angst, and
male authors tend to write plot-driven stories that are more action than
feelings. (Go ahead, send me hate mail, but it's true.) Even the very few big name
male authors write very very similarly to the female authors and when they
first started out, many assumed they were females writing under a pseudonym.
That being said, the
struggle is not exclusive to male authors. Many excellent authors, regardless of
gender, feel discouragement and frustration because they just do not experience
Here's what I can say. Things have changed over the past six or seven years. It used to be, during the first quarter after a book’s release, I'd sell a certain number of copies. If it was a big success (to me) the book would sell over a thousand copies in that one quarter. One time only I had a book sell 2800 copies in that quarter. Now, if a book sells more than 300 copies, it is considered halfway decent. It's kind of maddening and very frustrating. Logically I should be selling more copies, not fewer. I should be more well-known, have more readers all the time, and my sales should be increasing as my backlist grows. The opposite has occurred.
I’ve tried different strategies. I have focused on releasing more books. One year I had eleven releases in the 12 month period. I have gone the opposite extreme, focusing on quality and releasing as few as four novel-lengths book in a year, hoping at least one of them would be a big hit. I’ve tried writing different types of stories. I did a crime detective series, a merman series, a working class series, a vampire series.
But nothing seems to help. The genre continues to grow, at least on the supply side. Readers have at least ten times as many choices. They have way more authors to buy from, and it has become impossible to compete. The only thing we can do as authors is hang in there, continue writing, and hope that for whatever mystical reason our stories will catch on with that group of loyal readers who have made a select handful of top authors their “must-haves”.
One thing I’d add, though, is that I started out in this genre first as a reader/reviewer. I had a review site that I co-owned and operated with a close friend. We reviewed thousands of books, promoted hundreds of authors. Most of the big superstars in our genre now were just starting out at the time and they interviewed with us. We did big features on them, communicated with them and did our part to advance their careers.
Then after I left that review site, I have continued to read, review and promote all kinds of authors. Every time I get my hands on a great book, I shout it from the mountaintops. I five-star review it, post it on Good Reads, Facebook, and sometimes Amazon. I even have a “favorites” list on my own website, and many times during interviews I’ve promoted the works of my peers.
I have rarely ever received reciprocation. Most of the authors I’ve promoted have not even read my work at all. I used to think that this was because they probably tried reading some of my stories and disliked them, so they just kept their mouths shut. I mean, that’s what I would do. If I read a book from a fellow author and found it to be horrible, I would probably say nothing and hope they never asked. Over time, though, I’ve come to realize this isn’t the case. Most have zero interest in reading other m/m authors. They find it distracting and they view the others as their competition.
That’s why a few months ago I went through my Facebook friend list and deleted all the authors who did not actually interact with me, speak to me at conferences, or have some sort of personal relationship with me. I was sick of being used to promote others without reciprocation.
I do think if there is any single thing that might help those of us who are struggling during this downturn in sales, it would be to stick together, help each other out. Read and promote each other and celebrate the successes together. Instead of it being a competition, it could be a chance for us to come together and work as a team. It’s so easy to lose sight of why we’re in this particular genre to begin with. It’s not just to make a living. It’s also because it’s something we are passionate about, something we believe in.
I don’t have a crystal ball, and I won’t pretend to have insight into what is likely to happen. I think, though, that it’s obvious that many of the smaller publishing houses are now failing. This trend will probably continue, and ultimately the few who remain will come out on the other side stronger. Their authors, having survived, will be the success stories. Perhaps the plethora of self-published Amazon authors will eventually level off, too, when they realize they’re not going to publish their first novel and instantly become the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.
And as for me and my strategy: keep writing. Do whatever is necessary to facilitate this objective. That’s meant so far that I had to take a part time day job, one that does not require me to commit to long hours so that I can be at home enough to continue my writing and take care of my family. And I also decided to write what I want rather than to chase the trends and fads. Hopefully someday readers will find my backlist and enjoy some of my stories.
My dream was never to be a rich and famous author. I’ve never considered myself a “must-have” and don’t want to be one. I just want to write entertaining, meaningful, heartfelt stores that affect my readers and bring them pleasure. And rich or poor, as long as I’m able to continue, I already am living my dream.
Posted by Jeff Erno.