Thursday, January 9, 2014

What If It Doesn't Sell? What If It DOES?

by Giselle Renarde

I don't worry about anything other than my writing career, but that's probably because I don't do much beyond my writing career.

Writing isn't a bit on the side--it's my full-time job, so I need to consistently earn enough to pay my rent, buy food, cover the bills, all that.  There's no safety net, here. It's just me tapping away at a computer, hoping readers will buy my words.

I write a book and, before the first draft is even done, I'm asking, "What if it doesn't sell?"  Because I know my work and I know the market, and those two things do not match up. Not even close. The vast majority of my books cater to a niche market.  Even award-winning works like The Red Satin Collection and My Mistress' Thighs don't have a wide appeal because only a slim segment of the market is going to shell out for erotic romance featuring transgender characters.

Well, if I'm so concerned about selling more books and the books I currently write don't appeal to a wide market, why don't I just write books with mass appeal?  Easy-peasy.  We all know readers like alpha males, shapeshifters, billionaires, men in uniform, and abusive pseudo-BDSM. So why don't I just write that?

Because... and I know how whiny this is going to sound, but, guys, I haaaaate all that stuff.  The big man-chests and douchey demanding dudes? No.  No, that stuff grosses me out. Please don't take offense if this is your thing. I don't mean to yuck your yum, I just don't like it. And if I don't like it, how can I write it?

The answer is: I can't.  I know, because I've tried. More than once.  And every time the story has veered off-course until it's suddenly ME again, and lacking market appeal. By trying to please everyone, I end up pleasing no one--not even myself.  I'd rather write something that I can be proud of, even if it only appeals to a slim audience.

Look at that! I've just talked myself out of making money. What a shrewd businessperson am I!

The truth is that I have written a book that sold astonishingly well, and it wasn't exactly a pleasant experience.  I'm talking about Stacy's Dad Has Got It Going On, about a college girl who has a fling with her roommate's father. 

I've mentioned this book before.  It hit the ground running. By the time my publisher sent me buy link the day after it was uploaded to Amazon, it was already a bestseller.  Dream come true, right?

Well... not so much. Because pretty soon after Stacy's Dad sold 50 million copies (okay, that's a slight exaggeration), the 1-star reviews started coming in. But I can't complain. It's my fault for writing the most boring book EVER. If I hadn't written such a HORRIBLE novel, readers wouldn't have to hack it to pieces. My bad.  Sorry for wasting everybody's time.

So, whenever I write a new book, I find myself asking these questions:
  1. What If It Doesn't Sell? 
  2. What If It DOES?
Is it better to sell 3 copies to readers who love the story, or sell thousands to readers who hate it?

I want readers to enjoy my books... but I also want to pay my bills, so...?

So I guess that's why I write hardcore smut like Nanny State and Adam and Sheree's Family Vacation/Business/Christmas. I love writing dirty taboo erotica with absolutely no redeeming factors, and readers eat it up.  Problem solved.  Why don't I just write that all the time?

Good question.


  1. I have the same two worries. I was once participating in a promo event where another author said she loved communicating with readers because she loved instant gratification and positive feedback and I immediately thought a) what planet is she on? b) clearly she's a much better writer than me and c) maybe she's never had a piece that was relatively widely read. The piece of mine that I think was mostly widely read was written anonymously. I knew I shouldn't read the comments, but I did. People were debating things like whether or not I was whiny, whether or not I was ugly, whether or not I was stupid. It was horrible. There was someone in that comment thread who said something about how they didn't like my piece because of "all the complaining." Now, any time I say anything bad, I hear that phrase in my head. I think a tough thing about writing and publishing is you're exposed to so many opinions about what you've created and, by implication, who you are. For other things I've done (even other types of writing), I did not so often feel that I myself was on the line. Sometimes I secretly like when my things don't sell because then I don't have to see what other people thought of them. On the other hand there is a weird sort of shame about all the time I've wasted and how weird I am if no one reads something I worked hard on and cared about. No idea what the solution is here. I just try to tough it out, but that doesn't always work well.

  2. Great post. Every so often I get it in my head that I'll answer a call from a specific Super Big Pub. Two weeks later I give up when I realize that I don't even *read* their stuff, so why would I want to write for them, even if it means guaranteed money if I get a contract. For most people writing is the dream job and one you can get excited about, so why would you want to make it as exciting as data entry? Writing for Super Big Pub might give me an income where I could have a summer home, but I'd be bored to death whenever I sat in front of the computer.

  3. Big props over here. Seldom do we hear of someone who makes their living as an author. I admire folks who pay the bills on the balls of their feet.

  4. I'm in awe of anyone who can make a living at writing fiction. And I'm kicking myself for missing that whole big thing of monster porn ("Cum for Bigfoot" , etc.) that was apparently a goldmine until Amazon and other similar booksellers decided to censor it. Or maybe it's still a big thing if you know how to sell it. I used to write science fiction and fantasy before being seduced by the erotic side of the force; writing about sex with monstrous creatures would be more fun than trying to fit into most of the anthology themes I see from publishers.

  5. Your comments made me cheer! "We all know readers like alpha males, shapeshifters, billionaires, men in uniform, and abusive pseudo-BDSM. So why don't I just write that?
    Because... and I know how whiny this is going to sound, but, guys, I haaaaate all that stuff. The big man-chests and douchey demanding dudes? No. No, that stuff grosses me out"

    Me too! I thought EVERYONE wanted to read about domineering alphahole billionaires who prefer simple young virgins to whom they can give righteous beatings which will immediately make the sweet girl writhe with multiple orgasms so huge she passes out from the sheer pleasure!

    Because not many folks read my books, so I figure they're where the action is. Husband keeps telling me that I need to get another second job, because I don't make enough from my books to consider it an income...more of a huge loss. But second job means I'll have less time to write...sigh.

  6. Great post and fab comments too. Certainly it's the 'was it worth all the time and effort writing that book' worry that gets me. It's heart-breaking when you've written from your soul, put hours and hours into it and then it doesn't sell, and then other times, you bang something out and it's lapped up. It would be interesting for an author to do a list ranking their bestsellers against the stories they themselves feel are their best work.

  7. Oh, Giselle! First of all, you have no idea how much I admire your determination to support yourself with your writing. I could never have that sort of discipline - or for that matter, that much self-confidence.

    All in all, I think you're better off if it DOES sell. You can ignore all those snooty comments, because hey, you've already got their money. And you must be doing something right if you can make people part with their hard-worn bucks.

    And I'm so glad you're writing the really smutty taboo stuff you do. You do it so very well!

  8. So glad Fiona sounded off on the way some doms are depicted these days. Like spoiled children we're supposed to feel sorry for? To 'understand'? Don't understand the draw there. But then again, I'm not a sub. Or a dom.

  9. Giselle, I'm also in awe that you earn a living as a writer. Never apologize!


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