Thursday, January 07, 2016

If a new, talented erotic romance author asked you which epublisher to write for, what would you say?

I am not a very active writer, and so I have limited direct knowledge.  But based on everything I see online and the emails I receive, it is hard to be enthusiastic about any e-publishers right now.  Even those that were steady earners over may years seem to be going through rocky times and providing dwindling returns for the author's effort.

The erotic romance industry is maturing and the demands of the readership are changing.  Back in the day (insert sound of nostalgic violin music here) the M/M readership (for examples) was growing rapidly and the authors supplying it could still be counted without running short of fingers and toes. It still felt a little like the fanfic frontier where readers where just happy to get something in the flavor they craved. But over time this readership has become more fragmented and more demanding.

Now erotic romance and adjacent subgenres cater to easily hundreds of discernable types and tropes of writing. The readership is very large, but also very well supplied by professional grade authors, many of them maintaining an impressive level of  productivity.  I went from being the new girl at the EPPIES watching (with some surprise) as grey-haired pros limped up to accept the awards inn he new erotica categories, to being someone who is increasing a semi-historical player in the industry --  watching to see where it will go next--knowing that I will probably not go there with it. (Released from my previous financial imperatives I am thinking of moving more into pure high fantasy ad just seeing how it goes--or maybe popular nonfiction).

I wonder how many erotic romance e-publishers are essentially in the same boat.  To start a small press any time over the last 20 years you had to be a strong-minded person with a clear vision.  But maybe that sometimes comes with a resistance to change? Some people were considerably less surprised about the closing of Amber Quill than I.  They mentioned a tendency to keep publishing the same stuff, a bullish attitude to requested changes in their contract, and a general "my road or the high road" outlook. Kudos to AQ for see the writing on the wall and wrapping things up in a relatively tidy way, but maybe their drift from relevance offers clues as to what the e-publishers of the future will need to accomplish to survive and thrive.

I am not now, and have never been, a publishing professional.  But from the authors side I see a future where publishers will have to actively locate underserved niches, recruit authors, and move their editorial interests constantly to keep profit in focus.  And this does not mean just acquiring what editors think is hot (Steampunk FFS, it cool and everything but it will never be super-profitable) but some kind of empirical, analytical method for reading the evolving market.

I also see that there will always be super-hot authors who will bring in the lion's share of the profits.  And as much as I, like most authors, resent back-alley favoritism, these authors will need to be given special consideration.  After all, they have other options: going to another publisher or self-publishing for example.  And the answer is not to lock them in with non-compete clauses and long term contracts, it is to sweeten the deal as an acknowledgement of the extra value they bring to a publisher and to the rest of the author stable under the same brand.

There is no particular publisher I would actively recommend right now, although there is always a long list I would actively discourage any new author from submitting to.  When I finish my next erotic romance novella, I honestly have no idea where I will submit it, but I suspect it will be somewhere I have never submitted before--maybe even my first book self-published title that is not a reprint. My old strategies are not paying off the way they used to, and that means it is time to try new things.  Even the old soldiers like Loose Id and Samhain look stagnant and shaky, respectively, and merit more of a wait-and-see attitude these days.  They need to try new things too, and trying new things always brings with it  risk of failure. But the earlier it is done the more resources they will have to plow through into pastures greener. Of the two Samhain shows more evidence of being willing to try new things, take risks, and make unpopular choices--but they also seem to be retrenching, so who knows.

 If you still have an "I HEART Publisher" to share, please do. Be it a long-timer you still submit to and see steady returns, or a new kid on the block who is off to a roaring start.  The erotic romance market, print and digital, is strong--and I am confident that as it develops and matures there will be recipes for success.  But what remains to be seen is who, in the coming years, is going to discover them.


Angelia Sparrow said...

I'd steer them to Dreamspinner or MLR. Neither of these places is making me any money right now, but then no one is. If they can handle the corporate culture, Torquere.

Ellora's Cave has tanked. I have everything back from them except one short story that they're holding in perpetuity. Storm Moon is winding up because of health problems. AQ is winding up. Jupiter Gardens/Pink Petal gave me all my stuff back.

I'm running my own micropress, but we're about at the limit of what my work schedule and my partner's health allow us to do.

Cat Grant said...

Samhain's treated me well, but after the Ellora's Cave debacle, I simply don't trust publishers anymore. Self-pubbing for me, all the way!

roslynholcomb said...

I would still direct them to Loose Id. I learned a great deal about the e-pubbing business there that was invaluable. They treated me well, and they’re good, fair minded people who never lied to me. Which is more than I can say about any other publisher I’ve had.

Anonymous said...

I love Loose Id, still, but in 2015 my stuff with them earned a tenth of what it did a couple of years before. LI is a great press for some authors and tropes (I'm seeing authors there with documented 10K or more in copies-sold a few years out, and easily selling in the triple digits every month. That's fair. They've been putting out new work, and I've been concentrating on other genres LI doesn't represent. But I'm not alone. A lot of newer writers, who signed with LI after I did, are now reporting extremely low sales. Part of that is the relatively-high cover price. Mainstream SFF readers are still okay with a $9.00 book, but romance readers are not. That said, I think LI is probably more stable than many similar publishers.

I have one small novella with a new e-pub, mostly as an experiment. So far I've had a good experience with them as far as editing, cover art, and promotion. It's too early to see what sales and long-term performance are going to do.

I can't send stuff to Riptide or Dreamspinner because half my work involves M/F relationships among main characters, and as a demi/pansexual myself I'm unwilling to bench those in favor of M/M and F/F characters. Carina might still be an option. Not one of the other established erotic romance small-presses meets my expectations, as far as genre or professionalism.

Like Emily, I'm seriously considering moving more toward pure my case, a mix of high fantasy, science fantasy, and as much or as little erotic content as the story merits. C.S. Pacat's success with the 'Captive Prince' series aside, I don't see much of the commercial publishing industry's hollering about 'diversity' translating into a stronger mainstream presence for graphic LGBTQ erotic romance elements in mainstream science fiction and fantasy. Maybe in another 10 years? I wouldn't have believed we'd get this far, back in 2006.

Recently, out of several hundred literary agents who are looking for (or are at least, friendly toward) fantasy and science fiction, I could find less than 30 who appeared comfortable with LGBTQ romance elements, especially the dreaded 'no closed door' sex. And I won't even query some of those agents, because of their doubtful reputations and conflicts of interest.

So, since small-presses are on the ropes in both SFF and erom, it will probably be self-publishing for me. After I exhaust the agent route and the remaining Big Five SFF publishers who take unagented subs. And yes, you can be damn sure I'm signing this as Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Acquisition editors ruin the publishers making wrong decisions. See, how many erotica publishers have gone bankrupt in the recent months? Too many to list here. I have informed some of them to Editors and Pr-editors.
Readers get bored with same pattern, same style, and the same stuff the publishers look for; no variety!