Sunday, February 11, 2007

Epublishers: ...and the little one said, roll over*


The EREC List currently includes 43 e-publishers of erotic romance, and I know there are probably at least a dozen more (please comment to let me know about any I have missed). Some of these epublishers will not survive the year, others will never seize a meaningful market share. From the point of view of readers it is becoming hard to keep track of an author's output and there are legitimate questions about quality control [as addressed recently by Mrs Giggles]. But these complaints should not be placed solely at the feet of the authors.

There is no doubt that erotic romance epublishing is a busy and crowded marketplace. Romance readers once waited loyally for the paperback output of their favorite authors. The more reading time you had, the more authors you followed. And for print-published writers and paperback readers this is still a great strategy. However is seems like the online readership has increasingly adapted to follow a different strategy, one already common with erotica readers. They follow specific epublishers based on either their niche or their quality assurance. Many epublishers have a clear specialty such as Torquere for gay and lesbian fiction and Discipline and Desire for male domination and spanking. Others compete in the mainstream of erotic romance and strive for a high level of quality; they hold and grow their readership to the extent that they achieve this goal. In either case the reader may no longer feel any particular compunction to read an author's m/f short story at one epub just because they liked their novel length m/m at another--especially if that author is prolific and works across many sub-genres.

E-publishing, for the most part, is a bulk business. If you want to pay the bills solely through e-publishing you need to generate as much viable content as you can. A reality erotica writers have long had to live with. The realities of the market inevitably put pressure on writers trying to maintain quality, but more importantly on editors to define a niche or raise and hold high the bar. The editor's role is largely invisible in the word of paperbacks, but crucial in the digital domain were the gate-keepers are many and variable in their competence. It is the acquiring editor's judgement that creates the e-publisher's brand--they need to hold the line with both new and established authors if they are to keep their company afloat.

Can the high output of epublishers be sustained? I think it can and the reason is this. The new digital production methods (e- and POD) allow each reader to find the very specific material they like. If you like full-figured heroines, interracial, gay, femdom or almost any kind of demographic or relationship so long as there are a few hundred other customers looking for the same thing then an epublisher and a writer will find it worthwhile to cater to your needs. Low overheads allow the exploitation of smaller niches. So while many writers will compete for the mainstream erotic romance market, the others can either battle to the top of that pile or build a smaller one of their own.

The key is that customers make their demands known and epublishers listen. The demand of alpha vampires and female centred menage may be high but it is not inexhaustible. Both writers and publishers need to find and exploit the still uncharted territories of romance and desire. New epublishers should not seek to clone the success of Ellora's Cave indefinitely, any more than new writers should all model themselves on Jaid Black. In the end the heat in the reader's seat comes from the fantasy they share with the writer. Women's (and men's) fantasies are so much more diverse than the main themes epublishers are catering to. So writers need to explore their own fantasies rather than strive to write BDSM or gay sex when it really doesn't rock their boat. E-publishers need to take a chance on new material rather than only mining the known seams of demand. (How many epublishers initially turned away m/m because "our customers are women" rather than letting those customers define their own needs?)

Eventually the large publishing houses will steal much the erotic romance epublishers' thunder--providing real erotic romance and even m/m and BDSM reading at chain stores. But the smaller markets will never be accessible to companies depending on large offset print runs. And the smaller, kinkier or quirkier, markets will always include material people prefer to buy online and store in digital forms. When I see writers asking 'how do I write yaoi, or bondage or m/m when I am not interested in it?' I can't help but wonder what wonders they are interested in and are not writing. Where are the books full of furries, pegging, forced feminisation or all those other unexploited wonders of human sexuality? When one publishing area gets crowded, the smart critter leaves the pack and tries his or her luck in a new territory. Risky? Maybe, but no riskier than trying to snatch market share from between the teeth of Ellora's Cave and the other alpha epublishers already well established in their niche.

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* And to explain the title of this post, you may remember the children's counting song that starts:

There were ten in a bed
And the little one said
"Roll over, roll over"
So they all rolled over
And one fell out


Epublishers who don't want to feel crowded, or even fall out, need to realise that there are many more places where we can make our beds.

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[Feb 12, 2007] Edited to add, Racy Li makes a similar point here.
[Feb 16, 2007] See also this from Joyce.

16 comments:

Kis Lee said...

"So writers need to explore their own fantasies rather than strive to write BDSM or gay sex when it really doesn't rock their boat." - i think this is an excellent point. As a writer, I thought about jumping on the m/m bandwagon. The main problem is that i don't read m/m fiction. What makes me think I can write one?

I think it's tempting to look for the "it" topic. Writers need to figure our their strengths and weaknesses before thinking about trends.

Jules Jones said...

Oh dear lord, yes.

I write m/m because that's what I want to write. I've been writing slash fanfic for ten years, I've been writing original slash for five, and I beat my head against the wall for the first couple of years because the gay erotica publishers would take my erotica shorts, but the erotic romance houses wouldn't touch the long romantic stuff because "women don't like that sort of thing". In spite of the evidence that they do like that sort of thing, the evidence all over Google when you type in slash fanfic.

And now that m/m has suddenly become a fashionable genre because a couple of houses listened to the editors who were telling them "women want this", writers who aren't interested in it to read feel they have to write it, and then wonder why theirs falls flat.

Didn't we visit this problem a couple of years ago with the het erotic romance, when the sweet romance writers started writing hot stuff even though they didn't like it, and then complained when the readers weren't impressed with their efforts? Had to be because nobody wanted erotica after all. Couldn't possibly be that the writing sucked because it was obvious that the writer thought the heroine shouldn't suck, at least not on screen...

That's not the way to do it. Write what you want to read, and convince someone there's a market for it. Publish what you want to read, and see if there is a market for it. Because there will be one.

Emily Veinglory said...

Indeed. It seem to me that in general what writers like, what editors like, and what readers like would overlap quite well if we didn't over-think it so much and make a lot of assumotions about each other. It's not like we are different species, after all.

Kis Lee said...

Write what you want to read - that's solid advice.

I'm the opposite of the sweet romance writer. I started by reading smut and stroke fiction. When I attempted to write something "romantic" I had such a hard time. I think I'm more comfortable with less-romantic/more-erotic. Every writer has his/her comfort zone.

Tina said...

Well said, Emily. From a publisher point of view, it's hard to find new and fresh and even often times well written. I've taken on a few stories that no one thought fit into that "erotic romance" niche, Joyce Ellen Armond's Bonds of Darkness for example, and it's been very well received.

One thing I strive for in my position is to not only by the "it" topic and to not push it. I don't say, "This would be better with a threesome." I find it frustrating when I hear that other editors tell their authors that, "This is what's selling."

IMO, a book is much better when it comes from what the author knows, or loves to write, not what the current market is.

Tina Burns
LSbooks.com

Barbara B. said...

As a reader I am all for more variety and originality. I read inspirationals, sweet romance, mainstream romance, erotic romances, and hardcore erotica. I've found something interesting in all of them. I mainly read erotic romances and I buy a lot but most of it turns out to be painfully derivative. A lot of alpha males, paranormals, and pseudo-BDSM, most of it male dom. As far as BDSM goes, I prefer D/s and from a femdom perspective. Well written romantic femdom is very rarely published. I'd love to see more of that.

As far as m/m goes, I love it. I started reading hardcore gay male erotica about 20 years ago. It was my dirty little secret for a long time. To be honest, I still prefer it but can't really find it in ebooks. Instead I read a lot of Sean Michael's books. There's some romance and a lot of love but the sex is red-hot, hard and masculine. I love m/f romance but there's very little passion and intensity. I find m/m written by men more exciting and passionate. Grittier is what I mean. I'd love to see more grittiness and realism in m/f romances, too.

Emily Veinglory said...

Oh Barbara, I would love to find some romantic femdom. In fact not even what you could call dom, but romance (sweet or erotic) with an alpha female and a male who is ... not. Is there any? Where! Seriously, if I could find some price would be no obstacle! And do you know why I have never finished my alpha female/beta male romances--I am told there is 'no market' for it. Conclusion: Emily is a terrible hypocrite. Well, no, more like she is having a belated epiphany.

Emily Veinglory said...

Tina, it is great to hear you say that--and I always here such good things from LSB authors so you must be doing something right over there :)

Jules Jones said...

I think that if I was going to write het, it would be femdom. In fact, I'm going to write het, and it's going to be femdom -- the book I should be writing right now instead of hanging around on blogs is an mmf. The characters' idea, not mine.

There's romantic femdom out there, but not much of it. And I have to wonder if it's a chicken-and-egg problem, just like m/m was; and further, if m/m is where a lot of the people who like femdom went to find something BDSM that wasn't "on your knees, woman!"

Barbara B. said...

I'd absolutely love some alpha female/beta male stories, too. The closest I've come to that are a few stories by Kallysten. The heroines were vampires and the males human. You've no doubt noticed that in paranormals it's usually the hero that's the vamp/were/shifter. In other words in the position of power. I totally prefer alpha females with beta males but I'd be happy with two alphas. It's just so much more interesting than all of this submissive heroine bullshit that's flooded the market. I've practically begged some of my favorite erotic romance writers to write a romantic femdom or an alpha female/beta male story but it's a no go. They don't think it would sell and they don't think they could convincingly write it anyway. I really wish there was an epub that didn't shy away from romantic femdom and alpha female stories.

Emily Veinglory said...

Hmmm. I am going to have to think more about this. I have three partial that are alpha female, betal male. Now I just need to finish them and find a publisher up for it... (on top of everything else)

Barbara B. said...

"And I have to wonder if it's a chicken-and-egg problem, just like m/m was; and further, if m/m is where a lot of the people who like femdom went to find something BDSM that wasn't "on your knees, woman!"

You're exactly right as far as I'm concerned, Jules. About m/m BDSM being the next best thing if I can't find much femdom. I love m/m D/s erotica but I love femdom slightly more. Maybe because I've rarely found any that wasn't silly, cruel, and completely unsexy. When I mention my preference for submissive men or beta heroes, I'll usually get the response from other readers that they prefer masculine men. I was surprised when I first heard this. Is being dominant masculine and submissive feminine? It certainly seems to be what many erotic romance readers think. I've somehow thought that a man who could submit physically to a woman must be very strong and sure of his masculinity. I find that very sexy. It certainly was in Joey W. Hill's Natural Law. The character of Mac Nighthorse is one of the sexiest heroes I've ever read. Alpha too, except in the bedroom.

Jules Jones said...

Stephanie Vaughan's "Cruel to be Kind" has a very masculine man who's man enough to submit to a dominant woman. I haven't read the other book it was paired with for a print edition at Loose Id, but that was femdom as well, and the excerpts I saw looked pretty good. Stephanie's book's gone over to Phaze (don't know if it's out yet in the new edition), so that's two publishers who are at least willing to look at femdom. Lena Austin's Black Widow is here:
http://www.loose-id.net/detail.aspx?ID=22

Emily Veinglory said...

Great recommendations! I am so thrilled to find other people interested in this area. I have started a new post on this topic....

Barbara B. said...

Thanks for the recommendation but I've read Cruel To Be Kind. I loved it. I wish S. Vaughan would write something else along those lines but she's switched to m/m. She's a great writer and if she writes it I buy it but I really wish she would write a few more stories like Cruel To Be Kind. BTW, it's not femdom but has anyone else read Across the Sea by Irene Maillol? It's an incredible book that I bought from eXtasy of all epubs. It's erotic fantasy romance that just blew me away. My very favorite erotic romance ever. If anyone's interested it's reviewed at Just Erotic Romance Reviews under the Gold Star Reviews.

Back to femdom. Actually, I've got all of the femdom books published by erotic romance epublishers to date. I appreciate them but it's just not enough. I'm a compulsive ebook buyer and I've bought at least 1700 ebooks over the past 18 months. Yet I rarely find a book I truly love. The last femdom I bought was probably this great futuristic erotic romance series by Sierra Dafoe at Changeling Press last summer. Yet readers who love male dom hit the jackpot all the time. That really bothers me even though I know it's silly to be so envious.

Stephanie Vaughan said...

Late to the party as usual, but I just wanted to say that I'm surprised more people aren't writing femdom stories, because "Cruel to be Kind" has always been one of my strongest sellers. I'll admit, when I was writing it I wasn't sure anyone would want to read it and I was crossing my fingers the entire time that they would. The response was great, though. Not only that, I received a lot of wonderful letters thanking me for portraying D/s in a positive, we're-people-too kind of way.

I think the dearth of good femdom stories probably stems more from a lack of writers who can or want to write it, rather than the lack of readers for it. I think we as writers tend to hear the clamor for the traditional alpha male stories and forget that there are other, less vocal, readers out there who want other kinds of stories. As writers, I think we need to write the books of our hearts and trust that the audience will find us.

(Thanks so much for the kind words, Barbara. They’re deeply appreciated.)

SV