The book lives. My brain, not so much

coverThe title of this post pretty much says it all. After a month plus of working on Sword of Arelion and worrying if I had lost my mind — I hadn’t. It was must my normal insecurities as I work on a new book — and a week of heavy editing and waiting to hear back from my first reader and editor, it is finally live. That’s the good news. he bad news is that my brain has decided it now gets to take a vacation. Unfortunately, it didn’t take my body with it. Sigh. Bad brain. So, here I sit this morning, trying to figure out what to blog about.

Then inspiration hit and I wandered back to Sunday’s post to see if you guys had recommended topics that might stir some sort of creative spark. You didn’t let me down. The very first comment, one from William Lehman, struck more than a cord with me, it struck a nerve. To paraphrase, William writes urban fantasy and he has had some reviewers hit him because there isn’t enough sex in his books. He was wondering how to get around this. Since I had the same sort of comments with regard to Nocturnal Origins, I knew exactly where he was coming from.

The problem, you see, is that the line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance has blurred to the point that it doesn’t exist any longer in a lot of readers’ minds. The culprit in this isn’t so much the authors of the books but the way bookstores have shelved PNRs over the years. Instead of putting them in the romance section, they started shelving them in the science fiction/fantasy section. The problem now comes with how we tag our e-books. Those pesky little meta tags, those seven words we can use to help readers find our books through the Amazon search engine, can make us or break us. So we need to know what tags to use that will help prevent confusion.

The first step is to go to this page that Amazon has added to the KDP section of their site. When you scroll down, you will see that they have broken it up so you can look at meta tags by basic genres. Then it is simply becomes finding the right meta tags to fit your book. Now, word of warning here, if you want to make sure you don’t signal another genre through your tags, check out the tags for that genre as well and make sure you don’t use them. The caveat is that you may not be able to prevent cross-overs and that is where you have to look at your product description.

Something else I’ve noticed with the meta tags, they help set your book into the sub-genres that Amazon uses for its various best seller lists. This is a good thing and it has helped increase my sales over the last year or so.

One other thing about the tags before we move on is that you have to periodically revisit the tags page and see if things have changed. If they have, you may need to change the tags you initially associated with your work. Hint: you may want to do that anyway if your sales need a boost.

The next thing you have to look at is your product description — and that means knowing what the current trends are not only in your genre/sub-genre but in similar ones as well. If you are writing urban fantasy, you need to know what is going on in paranormal romance. Yes, like it or not, it means you also have to read some of the other genre. But then, you should be reading in your genre as well. (If I hear one more person say they don’t read, or don’t read in the genre they write in, because they don’t want anyone to claim they stole an idea or they don’t want their unique idea spoiled by what they read, I will scream.)

I’ll warn everyone right now that if you have a Navy Seal shapeshifter, the first thing a lot of readers will think is that it is PNR because that is one of the hot subjects.Β Even if nothing else about the blurb signals PNR, you will have folks who see Seal shapeshifter and automatically go there. Your blurb and even say, “this is an Urban Fantasy” or “UF police procedural” or whatever and they will still be expecting a romance with sex. That is just the nature of the beast, so to speak.

I guess what I’m saying is this: write the best blurb you can that is true not only to the plot of your book but also to the genre. Tag your book so that it falls into the right search categories and, when setting your book up for the two main categories Amazon allows, make sure you are putting it in the right ones. These are pretty generic but still important. Finally, just accept as inevitable that there will be someone who sees that you have shapeshifters or vampires or witches, etc., and will automatically assume the book is PNR.

In other words, there is no easy answer. It is all about cuing and about whether or not the reader actually pays attention to the blurb. Add the fact that the tags do change on occasion and it becomes an interesting exercise in frustration all too often.

Now, back to the new book. Sword of Arelion is available through Amazon without DRM. It is fantasy, a mix of high fantasy and heroic fantasy with a touch of sword & sorcery. In other words, a pain to tag. If you are so inclined, you can check it out here. All I ask is that you remember DK (Demon Kat) likes to eat and if I don’t sell enough books to buy his kibble, he will start nibbling on my ankle. Β πŸ˜‰

34 Comments

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34 responses to “The book lives. My brain, not so much

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    There was a review of an Urban Fantasy that I laughed about. If you looked for it, there was evidence that a romance would happen.

    However, one reviewer was upset that the characters were not “madly” in love by the end of the book. [Evil Grin]

    By the way, this was first of a series and the romance developed over several books.

    But the reviewer was “so conditioned” by “Paranormal Romances” that the review expected the characters to be “madly” in love by the end of the book.

    Oh, I doubt that the reviewer would be “helped” by tags.

  2. Paul, one of the beta readers for Nocturnal Origins was basically the same way. She simply could not get over the fact I hadn’t had Mackenzie and Jackson falling into bed every other chapter. It didn’t matter that it wouldn’t have fit the plot, much less Mac’s character. She didn’t think about the fact Mac was having enough to deal with by suddenly turning furry to even think about romance. Shrug.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Of course, there’s “lots of hot sex” will “fix” whatever is keeping the characters apart idea.

      The series I mentioned is Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series.

      The authors had a “hot sex scene” later in the series but it didn’t solve the “issues” between the main characters.

      • Nor should it have.

        If there are issues, hot sex rarely fixes them in real life and often makes them worse. Doing otherwise in fiction would be just silly. πŸ™‚

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          True, that silly idea is common in too much “romance”. [Frown]

        • Strangely enough, some of the more helpful things have been when things go WRONG in bed–the following “I don’t know what went wrong, I just *couldn’t*–” “Shh, it’s okay, it’s okay…” Well, it has the potential to teach about yourself, your partner, trust, duty to others and self…

          It might also fly like a lead balloon in a sex scene, tho. Dunno, I’m not that familiar with the genre. πŸ™‚ Certainly never fixed everything. But what does?

      • Yep. The other problem you run into is if the author forces the sex into the story because it is what some readers want, it often breaks the story/series. The way I look at it, it has to be a natural part of the story — and make sense with regard to the characters and where they are in the story — for it to happen. If it doesn’t make sense, it isn’t going to find its way into the book. At least not into my books. Shrug.

        • Sometimes, you can help the reader deal with the frustrated expectations by providing them with a B couple which does have a “happy ending” within that particular book. If it’s a series, that also helps you have some built-in extra plot.

  3. It’s funny, I kind of encountered a similar situation. The reviewer stated:

    I felt the writer was wanting to capitalize on the prepper bandwagon without any real knowledge.

    The story is post apocalyptic, but not “prepper”. Nothing about it said prepper. The blurb is about the character’s journey across the state (which is a prepper no-no for the most part). Nothing said prepper, but this reader was so conditioned to believe “post apocalyptic” meant “prepper” that he simply couldn’t fathom the story not being prepper fiction. As a result, he hated the story because it didn’t merge with his preconceived notions.

    FWIW, going forward, I’ll do what I can to make sure that it doesn’t happen like that again. It doesn’t do anyone any good if they buy the book but hate it because it’s not what they think it is, and blaming them for being wrong is about as productive as asking a three year old to paint your house. So instead, I do what I can. Great stuff here to help with that. πŸ™‚

    • Tom, you are always going to get reviews like that. I love some of the reviews I got for the romantic suspense novel , Wedding Bell Blues. There were some who hated the book because there was so much cussing in it. Yes, there is some but not all that much. Others hated it because of all the explicit sex — that made me laugh because I could barely write the sex scenes bad then. Then the reviews that hated it because there wasn’t enough sex. That taught me early on that there are folks who simply don’t get it and will ding you for what they think should be in the book, no matter how specific you are with your description and tags.

      • True. It just tickled me because the situation is actually so similar. Reader expects one thing based on their own understanding of the genre, and then get upset when they get something different (I would too, to be honest).

        You’ll never eliminate them, but minimizing them can help.

  4. Pingback: Nocturnal Lives Β» It is done and now on to the next project

  5. Perfect timing! I’m getting ready to release a short story set (not really long enough to call a collection) that is Urban Fantasy in a Charles de Lint style, not a PNR style (there’s 0 romance. In fact it almost seems to border on Magical Realism in some ways, but I can’t use that tag because, eh, too long of a discussion.) Thanks for the updated link and the recommendations/reminders.

  6. Uncle Lar

    To me this begs the question: did you write the book that needed to be written and now must find it a happy home, or are you trying to develop a product to serve a particular market, or set of markets?
    To state it another way, are you writing what you feel or trying to write what will sell? Best case IMHO would be a bit of both of course.
    Best example of cross genre I can think of is Laurell K. Hamilton. One foot in UF, another in PNR, and an unspecified body part planted firmly in erotica. Personally I read her for the action and adventure and skim past the naughty bits. I don’t object to porn as such, it’s just that for me it gets in the way of the story more than it adds to it.
    A better example of somewhat similar work would be Charlaine Harris’s stuff which runs from pure cozy to UF and PNR. The HBO series loosely based on her most popular book series was quite heavily laces with erotica for the market. I suspect Ms. Harris was a bit conflicted at what they did to her characters, though I’ll bet the checks were quite soothing.

    • Exactly, Uncle Lar. I find my muse digs her heels in and refuses to cooperate if I try to write to the market. I know there are a lot of authors who do just that but I can’t. So I try to signal through cover, tags and description the best I can — it is also why, at the start of my career, I did use pen names. That way, those who wanted UF knew to pick up books under my real name and the PNRs under the Ellie Ferguson pen name. I’ll still use the pen names for that reason but they will all tie back to me as well on search engines, etc.

  7. Bob

    All good points, but another big issue is the cover. Judging by your description I’m tempted to add your book to my to-read stack, but I’d likely pass it by if I was just going by the cover.

    It’s been drummed into me: a woman on the cover in that kind of pose and with that kind of expression means romance. Not my thing.

    Likewise, a rugged guy who’s flaunting his physique.

    Like it or not, folks are visual. A friend of mine made the cover for my first book, and the first thing I said was: sorry, too many sparkles on that thing, get em off!

    A bit unfortunate. I’ve got a third book planned once my current WIP is put to bed. It’s got a female as the heroine, but I definitely won’t want a woman on the cover. At least not a woman alone. And only if she’s doing something cool and violent. (heck, she won’t even get a love interest till Book Five. Not a real one anyway. She’ll meet a dude in Book Three, but he’s really an agent of evil eldritch powers and she chops his head off at the end.)

  8. Tim McD

    With ebooks, the eventual solution could be selling a different version depending on which tag the customer follows to the book! Write 6 sex scenes, but only add them to the romance customers version!

    This may have promise! How do I contact Toni to propose this!

    • Bob

      Don’t short change us non-romance readers. I’d accept three scenes, if it’s not too freaking detailed and they don’t go on and on about it for chapters at a time and the rest of the story isn’t discarded or haphazadly wrapped up (Okay story, you’re done. Served your purpose as a vehicle for sex scenes and testaments of undying love. You can go now).

    • There have been people who sell clean and not-so-clean versions of their books, or who provide “bonus scenes” on their website or a bonus short story for cash. Label wisely, if you do this!

  9. Re: Cover of Sword of Arelion —

    I’m not very visual or graphic-y… but shouldn’t the sword be moved over toward the middle of the cover? The character’s left side isn’t really needed, per se, and the sword isn’t prominent enough, IMHO.

  10. Confutus

    I’ve read enough of the falling in love part of romance. Now I want to hear about the happily ever after part, when it includes 2am feedings when you didn’t get down to bed until midnight and it’s time to get up and go to work at 5, colic, and piercing screams of “HE’S LOOKING AT ME!”. If you can make me believe that, you’re a writer.

    • LOL. I like the way you think.

    • MDV

      Or 12 hours of travel and Emergency Rooms to get surgery for the Kiddo, then spend 5 days out of town with nothing but a toothbrush each and a credit card. Oh yeah and a move in approximately 30 days, when your not sure where you are moving too. I am probably to sleep deprived to be completely coherent… but I would laugh to see real life in a “romance/erotic” of any category. Day to day right now feels like I am in an alternate universe.

  11. morrigan508

    Thanks.

  12. I get notifications for cheap/free ebooks. Almost *all* of the fantasy offerings are shapeshifter sex romps or chosen lost princesses. I don’t mind romance in fantasy, but I want more than “rut like bunnies in explicit detail- improbable story scene-rut like bunnies in explicit detail while angsting about it.” If they want shape-shifter mommy porn, can we make a megatag for that?

  13. Joe Spiker

    I hate sex scenes in movies and books. There is no reason for them really. I’ve read thousands of books and have never seen a sex scene that actually pushed the story any. I just skip the pages and move on with the book and so far I don’t think that I’ve missed anything. I do have to agree with Bob though if I didn’t know your writing I would’ve skipped right over your book instead of buying it.

  14. Mary

    “Instead of putting them in the romance section, they started shelving them in the science fiction/fantasy section.”

    Sales tactics. By analyzing those card that Barnes & Noble and previously Borders used, they realized that romance readers would read F&SF, but not the other way ’round.

    • Yep, but they didn’t realize that, by doing so and to the extent that they did, they ran off many of the hard-core SF/F readers who didn’t want to wade through the PNRs to find the few “good” books they were looking for.