finding an audience

audience 500

Be forewarned, this isn’t instructional about finding an audience, because I don’t actually know how to do that. Rather, I’m going to be asking for help. This is perhaps a cautionary tale about writing a book that doesn’t fit any particular genre when you already know less than nothing about marketing.

I didn’t set out to create something problematic, yet somehow I ended up with a very long story (divided into four books) with teenage main characters who have lots of graphic sex in a historical setting featuring a non-historical version of slavery as a prominent fantasy element.

Despite their ages, it’s definitely not  a YA book. Despite the detailed 1900 setting, it’s not entirely historical because, hello, there are slaves. Because there are slaves, it’s a fantasy, but it’s certainly not classical fantasy with magic or dragons.  And despite the presence of slaves, it’s not a BDSM story.  All of these things are marketing problems.

Of course, none of this seemed like it would be an issue while I was writing the books.

I don’t know much about the lovely people who have already read A Superior Slave and A Most Personal Property. I don’t know their reading habits or their other interests. I have to wonder if they are people who also like yaoi manga (as I do), because I think that some portion of that audience would like these books despite the lack of  illustrations. It even occurs to me that people who like ball-jointed dolls (as I do) would like these books because, obviously, the entire cast of young masters and slaves as BJDs would be an absolutely magnificent thing.  (I would kill for Henry and Martin dolls.) But these are mere notions and definitely do not constitute a marketing plan.

I am very pleased that most of the people who read the books like them. If you’re one of those people, perhaps you’d be willing to tell me how you heard about the books or what about them appealed to you, as that information might be helpful in promoting additional books in the series as they’re released. Also, I’d love to hear from other authors who’ve written books that don’t easily fit into existing categories. Were you able to find a way to introduce your story to people who’d be especially interested in it? How did you find your niche?

21 thoughts on “finding an audience”

  1. “Despite their ages, it’s definitely not a YA book. Despite the detailed 1900 setting, it’s not entirely historical because, hello, there are slaves. Because there are slaves, it’s a fantasy, but it’s certainly not classical fantasy with magic or dragons. And despite the presence of slaves, it’s not a BDSM story.”

    And so what happens is that you pick up a reader who likes 1900 AU stories with no magic and dragons, and who likes non-BDSM slave stories. Hello!

    I really don’t think you have a marketing problem – or at least, no more of a marketing problem than writers usually have. AU stories and non-BDSM slave stories are both reasonably common subgenres in m/m. Now, if you’d been writing for a thriller audience, you might have a problem. :)

    Since you ask, here’s my process of thought when I was scrolling through the books at Scribd and stumbled across “A Most Personal Property.”

    (*Sees cover.*) “Hello, a bowler hat. That’s unusual on a gay cover. Yaoi-style art. Maybe not for me, since I don’t read much yaoi? I’ll check the blurb.”

    (*Reads blurb.*) “Oh, hey, an AU slavefic set at the turn of the century. That’s my period. I hope the author didn’t do an excruciating job with the style, the way most historical writers do.”

    (*Reads first few pages.*) “Oh, this is nice – the author has captured the style of writing in turn-of-the-century books. And the family conflict sound interesting.”

    (*Puts on my bookshelf to read later.*)

    Anyway, marketing. Have you tried announcing “A Superior Slave” at http://slavefics.livejournal.com and http://orig_slavefic.livejournal.com and other such comms, to draw in the online slavefic crowd? And since you have a yaoi cover, you could track down where the yaoi slavefic readers are. I see you’re already at M/M Romance at Goodreads, so you could request marketing advice there (if you haven’t already). I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of marketing to BDSM readers. A lot of them like non-BDSM slave stories. And if your novel is erotic romance (I haven’t read it yet), you could definitely market to the erotica crowd – a lot of them read erotic romance.

    So basically, I’d say: slash readers, yaoi readers, m/m romance readers, BDSM readers, general erotica readers- those are your potential markets. All of them read slavefic. Because of the characters’ ages and the cover art, I’d suggest you make a special effort to reach the yaoi readers.

    That’s as many ideas as I can think of without having read the novel. But I’d say that your time setting is a definite strength – there aren’t many m/m writers setting stories in that period.

    “Were you able to find a way to introduce your story to people who’d be especially interested in it?”

    I’m still struggling with marketing issues such as covers and blurbs. (After seven years of self-publishing. You’d think I’d have mastered it by now.) I try to pay attention to what other writers/publishers are doing, particularly if their books show up in the “Customers who bought this also bought” section of my Amazon book entries, or are on Goodreads lists where readers have placed my own books. Those books are my– I’m not going say “competitors.” Helpful companions? At any rate, seeing how those books are marketed gives me ideas.

    1. Hi! So nice to meet you! Thank you for all the good ideas! I have yet to post stories/links at the LJ comms, but I have found/joined the comms. I’m going to need to do a little digging to come up with yaoi fiction comms and resources, but I do think those are potentially my readers, too.

      Your remark about the writing style makes me smile because I think it’s less that I did a decent job with replicating a turn-of-the-century style, and more that I fortuitously set my story in an era to which my style is well-suited, though this series is different than anything else I might write in that I did pay attention to period-appropriate vocabulary. No one is sexy, and no one is called an asshole, even when it’s warranted.

      I’ll look at the “also boughts” for my books–I hadn’t considered those as having any utility for me at all. I am beginning to think I’m both impatient and frighteningly unimaginative when it comes to marketing and promotion :D

      BTW, I’ve been dipping into your elaborate written world here and there and finding it fascinating :)

      1. Glad you like it. :) I think we’re all learning how to promote, in this brave new world. The big publishers are as confused as the rest of us.

        I saw your other post on language. That’s a great site you linked to. I found the John Ayto’s Bloomsbury Dictionary of Euphemism helpful for certain historical vocabulary. Also Google Ngrams and the Oxford English Dictionary. (I own an abridged version of the latter, which my father bought used for $3. Only 2000 pages long.)

        1. I had never heard of Google Ngrams until just now. OMG I am going to have so much fun with that! Thank you for pointing it out! I’ve added the Ayto book to my amazon cart – I love word books and dictionaries and am always interested in new (to me) titles. I envy you your OED.

          It’s been suggested elsewhere that the best promo is going to be putting out more books. That I can do :)

  2. I love these books. I find them enchanting. I have never heard of the other things you are interested in. I found out about your books from Smut Book Club after they recommended them so glad I found them. Anxiously awaiting more.

    1. Thank you for loving my books! <3 I didn't know about the Smut Book Club rec, so I appreciate you telling me about that.

      The second book will be out in December, along with another side story from Martin's point of view :)

  3. Another reader over here! :-)

    I’m not sure where I learned about your books first (I think someone mentioned you on their blog), but basically my process was to look them up on Goodreads, check out the free short story and read the free part of the main novel on Smashwords, then purchase the whole thing.

    I’m afraid I’m not an author myself, so I can’t provide any informed advice on how to promote your books, but I can say that one of the places where I usually find books to read is on Goodreads lists and recs. I particularly like to look at the bottom of the lists for recently added books that people haven’t had time to vote up yet. I’ve found some favourites that way! Also from authors interacting with and recommending each other in blogs and Twitter. God, even on infamous Tumblr!

    As for my personal interests, while various genres of manga appeal to me, I’ve never managed to get into the tropes of shounen-ai and yaoi. In fact, I didn’t actually associate the covers with yaoi when I first saw them. I simply thought the art looked quite polished and tasteful (despite them featuring plenty of naked torsos) compared to many drawn covers out there. The same way, I rarely want to read stories about teenagers, particularly not of the romantic type, as I find their YA woes a bit dull. Still, none of these things stopped me from checking your books out, because other elements did look right up my alley and the preview bits were obviously well-written (major selling point for me!).

    I was personally intrigued by both the AU historical and slavery settings. Now, I can enjoy various types of slavery plots, both of the BDSM and the real-slavery type. So I came in expecting one of the usual realisations of the second type, but you have a rather different approach to the type of setting than I’m used to. Martin isn’t a beaten-up slave (I could never get behind a romance stemming from that, though a dark story can be interesting for me), but he’s not rightfully railing against his bonds, either, or hoping for freedom, as you could expect from a man of his intelligence. The whole thing feels quite idealized, but surprisingly enough that didn’t bother me (a first!) and I quite enjoyed Martin’s professional attitude and pride towards his duties. I think the reason is that while this is a novel with a slave protagonist, the main conflict doesn’t seem to be based on the wrongness/consequences of slavery (a trope which I can enjoy), but on the communication difficulties and fears of the main characters (a trope which I like too). I was also sort of intrigued while I read that Robert wasn’t the usual master who chooses to be decent/magnanimous from his position of power, but from within his POV he read to me as an insecure but hopeful young man, not so different from Martin after all. I’m also a huge fan of stories that include the beginnings of lifelong trust, support and companionship in spite of what society wants.

    So perhaps I didn’t find in the story all the things I was expecting to see there, but I found plenty of others that satisfied me, some common, some uncommon. I don’t think m/m readers necessarily focus on a particular sub-genre and a strict list of tropes and are unwilling to try out books that don’t follow those specific patterns or that mix elements from different sub-genres. Your books have enough elements that can appeal to a wide variety of m/m readers (e.g., the forming of the companionship, the going against society’s mores, the communication issues, sex scenes, etc.), so I don’t think you should limit yourself to finding a small niche group. Niche readers will be attracted by the drawn cover, slavery themes, etc. anyway, no worries about them. I think the goal is showing the rest of the potential m/m audience that there are things that could suit their interests too.

    1. Ah, don’t know where my brain is today, I meant Henry, not Robert (who’s that, anyway). Way to make my comments look reliable. ;-)

      1. Haha! I knew who you meant ;) There is a Robert Townsend who’s one of Henry’s many school friends. It’s a challenge to keep track of all the characters!

    2. Hi! Thank you for taking the time to comment :)

      Based on your remarks and what I’ve been told elsewhere, I’m glad I decided to offer up Martin’s story for free. I think it has probably led to more readers being willing to take a chance on an author they’ve not heard of before. While I think the main books are perfectly enjoyable without ever reading Martin’s point of view, I hope people do take advantage of the free book and get to know Martin and his background a little before launching into AMPP and Henry’s POV. I have another story from Martin’s POV ready to go along with the release of (still-untitled) book 2, and so am thinking I should do the same for books 3 and 4, as well.

      I have accounts for all the social media platforms, but I’m definitely not using them effectively. It was recently suggested to me that I might find the tumblr audience receptive, which was a very novel concept to me, since I only use tumblr to look at pictures and don’t think of it as a text platform at all. However, the way I use it is obviously not the only way! I do know AMPP is on a Goodreads list of “best gay slaves,” which makes me very happy :)

      I’m glad you think the books are well-written :) I didn’t especially want to write a series about teenagers, per se, but I did want to write a story about insecurity and self-doubt (and, ultimately, growth), and that very naturally became a story about young people. I think it’s obvious that Martin would always be smarter than Henry, but if they’d met at 18 or 20, Henry would have been less foolish, and also a little less open to the possibilities that Martin brings with him.

      There’s a brief mention of unhappy slaves in book 2–they do exist!–but Martin has definitely been drinking the kool-aid and sees himself as very well-off in his situation and certainly isn’t yearning to be free. I was interested in the intimate dynamics between master and slave, but I really didn’t want to make a grand statement about slavery or essentially try to solve slavery with an alternate universe story. Obviously, historical slavery was terrible. Obviously. I absolutely don’t think historical slavery is full of stories like Martin’s. But I liked the idea of someone who was well-suited to leadership excelling in a subservient position, and someone who was barely muddling along being ostensibly in charge. And I wanted them to genuinely care for one another.

      While I can do more with social media, certainly, I am coming to the conclusion that interested readers will eventually find my books one way or another, and the best thing I can do is probably just keep putting out more books :)

  4. Goodness, I’m not probably an example of anything useful, but I’ve just finished AMPP and feel the need to respond to this post even so!

    I *definitely* think you’ve done the write thing in putting up A Superior Slave for free. I generally have no interest in slavefic, and definitely wouldn’t have bought AMPP without a hook! I’ll admit…I only read A Superior Slave because I was bored and it was free and the art was cute. But then it was so absolutely engaging that I had to read more. (To give some indication, I typically agonize over ebook purchases of more than $1 for at least a week before I make them. This decision took me exactly as long as the “Purchase with one click” option on Amazon took to load).

    My background is fannish and slashy, so I’m more likely to read an m/m or f/f story than het, but it was honestly the world and the historical feel that drew me in on this one. I don’t know if there’s a way to capitalize on that but I hope so! (I’m still trying to figure out which of my friends to recommend to…the friend groups that like m/m erotica, slavefic, and delightful historical whimsy are not so much a Venn diagram as three circles in close proximity :D)

    That was a lot of words, but I’m really just here to say, I *loved* AWPP, and I can’t wait for more.

    1. I’m so glad you liked it! Thank you so much for telling me! It really made my day!

      Huge numbers of people have downloaded the free story, and I think it’s likely that a lot of people download it just because it’s free and it’s there to be had, but eventually some of them will read it, and an even smaller subset of those readers will like it well enough to want to buy AMPP. Basically, what you’ve just told me :) I haven’t sold huge numbers of AMPP by any means, but I’ve sold more than other authors who don’t have a tie-in story to give away, so it makes sense to keep offering at least one free Martin POV story per book. Besides, I love writing this universe, so it gives me a good excuse to keep playing with the characters :)

      It didn’t seem that way to me as I wrote it, but it’s been pointed out to me that A Superior Slave is a lot “dirtier” than AMPP, what with the multiple partners and the public fingering that goes on. However, I do think it serves as a good introduction to my writing style and the kind of slave universe that’s laid out in my books. I’ve read slavefic that I’ve enjoyed very much, but I’ve only ever read stories where a slave ultimately wants to be free. Certainly that’s how virtually all actual people would react to being enslaved, but I was interested in exploring the idea of a slave who was born and raised in the system, bought into the rhetoric, and didn’t want to be free. Martin has definitely drunk the kool-aid, but Henry starts to question things a little in A Proper Lover (book 2).

      Re: nonexistent Venn diagram. I can see how it’s difficult to know who to recommend these books to! I do appreciate that you’d want to, though :)

      Just FYI, I’m getting ready to put out A Proper Lover, sometime in December, and I’ll be putting out a free Martin story, A Master’s Fidelity, a week or so after that.

  5. Also, WRT social media: as a consumer, one thing that makes me more likely to check out an author after seeing them on social media is when they actually engage in the culture of that platform. (Tamora Pierce’s tumblr is a great example. Or for a non-author example, the Denny’s tumblr is very much in keeping with the spirit of things) Someone who makes the effort to understand the “community” of the site is much more likely to feel like a “friend” on social media, and then I want to check out what they’re selling because I like supporting people I like.

    1. I’ve been hesitant to burst onto social media hawking books when I’ve not been active otherwise in those forums. I do use Facebook frequently but grudgingly. I’ve had a Darrah Glass twitter account for about 5 years that I’ve posted to exactly once. I use tumblr to look at things other people have posted. I used to be very active on Livejournal and loved it, but it’s definitely a shadow of its former self these days. I see a lot of clutter and noise coming across the various platforms, and I don’t want to add to that. The idea of being the originator of some spammy, bothersome post on someone’s feed is just mortifying to me. It’s possible I over-think things :D

      1. I am also a LJ refugee…I feel like a lot of fandom folks over the age of 25 are, that was really where everything was happening back in the day. Sadly, there just hasn’t been a good replacement!

          1. Haha Yahoo Groups! Friends tell me that fandom is now on tumblr, which I love for looking at pictures and mostly loathe for text. I seriously don’t understand how the kinds of interactions I used to have on LJ would even be possible on tumblr, and I take the fannish abandonment of LJ in favor of tumblr a little too personally because those interactions were important to me :D

          2. I’ve heard that AO3 has also drawn in less discussion, which is a shame, because the archive is beautifully put together.

            I find metanews and otw-news helpful in keeping track of fandom discussions, and The Slash Pile is active with original-slash discussions, thank goodness. But most of the multifandom groups I’ve followed in the past have gone very quiet.

        1. No, there hasn’t! I’ve tried to make Dreamwidth work for me, and I love that at least code-wise it’s LJ-but-better, but I’ve had trouble finding people who share my interests there, which sort of nullifies its utility. I miss the interactions of LJ, and that requires people!

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