Tuesday, September 8, 2009

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5 Ways Digital Publishers Could Increase Science Fiction Romance Sales

A few months back at Dear Author, Jane wrote that, “Because digital publishing is seeking legitimacy with readers, writers, and others, it needs to step up its game.”

Digital publishers, like the small print presses before them, are leaders when it comes to taking risks. Erotica, m/m stories, and paranormal romances are big examples of the risks digital publishers have been taking over the past two decades.

I’d like to see digital publishers grow even further. Erotica can always be their bread and butter, but it seems to me this is a time ripe for actively pushing non-erotic romances—like science fiction romance!

Given that editors from digital publishers often blog and tweet about wanting more SFR/futuristic romances, I’d like to brainstorm ways they could maximize this match to everyone’s advantage.

1. Use more genre-friendly covers.

Jane wrote, “Books from digital publishers must have good, tasteful covers.”

If you want to attract more customers outside of the erotic romance fan base, especially for SFR that’s on the sweet side, what about designing covers that reflect such stories? They don’t have to burst with starships and exotically rendered worlds so much as appear distinct from images that are pure erotica.

2. Make non-erotic romance ebooks easy to find.

Ideally, your Web site should have a non-cluttered, easy-to-navigate design for purchases. Just as importantly, if you publish both erotic romance and non-erotic romance, the site should make non-erotic romances like SFR easy to find. Readers can’t support these stories with their pocketbooks if they can’t locate them. The “one-erotic romance cover fits all” mentality makes for a confusing search.

3. Take more risks with content.

Regarding ebook content, Jane wrote that “The genres and tropes can be (but are not always) wildly innovative.”

Guess what?! Science fiction romance lends itself heartily to innovation: Strange! New! Worlds! This is an example of an area where ebooks can meet that need. I know editors are asking for SFR/futuristic romances of all heat levels, which is great, but how innovative do they want the stories to be? That’s a question it might help to answer so authors thinking of submitting projects can be clear.

Let’s examine the “but are not always” part of the above observation in a little more detail. What’s more of a risk for a digital romance publisher—an m/m SFR or one with a heterosexual couple that involves an anti-heroine? I’d wager it’s the anti-heroine option. The line between readers who enjoy m/m and those who don’t is pretty distinct. But romance readers could react either way to an anti-heroine, or any other element that defies expectations of gender roles or varies from a traditional romance. Which makes it less of a sure sale no matter how great the story.

Mainstream print publishers offer plenty of traditional romances. Therefore, I suggest taking a different path once in a while—or lots of times—by tossing tropes down the toilet. Take on authors who write stories like Catherine Asaro’s ALPHA. Such an irony, isn’t it, that the heroine’s name is Alpha! And yet the book is a great example of SFR that pushes boundaries without wandering too far off the beaten path. And speaking of Alpha, can we have lots of variation among heroes, pretty please?

4. Be very specific in submission guidelines.

When it comes to SFR/futuristic romances, the possibilities are endless. Almost too endless (not that I’m complaining!). As an editor, cyborgs are your favorite, not post-apocalyptic settings. But all you receive are stories with a post-apocalyptic settings. Waste of everyone’s time, right? Or maybe you prefer a certain type of hero or heroine. Authors of SFR would better understand what you seek if the guidelines had very specific information about your tastes. Blogging/tweeting about it is strategic, but the information should also be in the submission guidelines.

Speaking of guidelines, I also think a tiered submission process would be helpful so authors, especially aspiring ones, have clear expectations about what to expect. Red Sage has a good example.

5. Nurture writers with potential.

Aspiring authors are usually fans of the genre in which they write, and this is definitely the case with science fiction romance. They are also a significant source of promotion and word of mouth.

If aspiring SFR authors show potential, even if you have to pass on their projects, consider giving out more revise and resubmit options. Or an invitation to submit future projects—anything that will challenge them to deliver a better match the next time. Your accessibility is an area where you can compete with print publishers for undiscovered talent. Why not become a mentor now and then?

Consider creating a Web page just for aspiring authors, with content aimed at providing information about digital publishing, helping them improve their craft, and whatever else they need to know to better target their stories for your company.

Lure writers with what you can offer them since an advance isn’t an option. For example, in addition to the higher royalty rate, you offer more creative freedom; you’re working with them to place content in new, evolving mediums with huge growth potential; and you’re involved in the online communities working together to promote the genre.

In short, your grass has to look a lot greener. There may be writers seeking agents who have fabulous books, but because of fierce competition, little chance of landing a big print contract—why not actively woo them? If you create an SFR imprint, for example, they might be more willing to add epublishers to their submission lists.

Well, I could go on…but I’d rather hear about the ideas of my superfab passengers. Hit me up!

Joyfully yours,