How To Stop Readers Buying You by Sarah A. Hoyt

What? Your objective is not to stop readers buying you?

Well, mine neither. And to be fair, the author who failed to sell to me yesterday probably thought that he was enticing me to buy.

Which is why — besides the fact that I found the stupidity unedurable — I’m writing this post.

No, of course I’m not giving you the name of the book or the author. My primary purpose is to avoid ridiculous inter-author and blog wars.

Let’s say that I’m finally reading stuff that’s not Austen fanfic. After three years, makes a difference, but I’m still tentative, and I don’t want to be caught out in the middle of the night with nothing to read. I rarely wake up in the middle of the night, but when I do it’s a particular h*ll not to have something to read.

So, there I was browsing widely, just looking for things that might spark an interest. In the recommends, after I borrowed a couple of historical mysteries, there was this series about a legionnaire during a particularly nasty period of Roman history.

I’d have to be in the mood for this, of course, but at the time it seemed like a great idea. Now, I understood perfectly what it was from the description: mil sf set in a particular time period. Very little if any romantic interest, the actual emotional involvement being comradery and loyalty to your fellows, and the maintaining of your honor. Great you know?

And then I clicked on the extended description, where for some reason the author felt the need to go on a spit-flecked side excursion on what the story WASN’T.

He could have said that it wasn’t science fiction or fantasy, just historic fantasy. I mean, it was totally unnecessary, since this was clear from description, but indie authors, even experienced ones, think the stupidest things are worth saying. I understand, even, being an indie author. We’re out there, alone, putting things up, and are suddenly seized by fears that make no sense. “What if they think this is something else?”

In the last week I smacked (gently) a friend for putting all sorts of cautions on his stories — which he thought contained “mature situations” because of some swearing and politics — and thereby locking himself into the “most debased hells of pron” on Amazon, where you can can’t find the books even if you search for them.

So to an extent I understand the impulse. But not the tone. The tone made it quite clear that he disapproves of “magic” and “dragons” and “spaceships” and “all that rubbish.” And how he’s writing about real things, historical things. (Having done both, I’d hate to tell him that he’s not nearly as above us as he thinks. Because historical is closest to fantastic. Yeah, sure there are hints, and parameters (but all good genre has that) but you can’t just write what everyone knows. It’s making up a world, And the world you make is what you believe. It’s not the world as it was. Read the same period written by two different people, sometime.)

And he lost a sale, which considering he has a very long series is potentially a lot of money, particularly because if I like someone’s book I first borrow then buy…

Because, and I realize this is petty of me, I couldn’t stand to read someone who despises the genres I love. Even if I’d also like his, likely.

So– that is how to lose a reader.

Remember that a lot of us read just about anything.

Yes, I do make fun of some romance or erotica. Heck, I make fun of some SF and Fantasy and I DEFINITELY make fun of mystery, because well…. some specimens are ridiculous. Some specimens of everything are, right?

I reserve the right to make fun of books that seem to have been written by illiterate aliens. I maintain that if you’re writing fanfic you should have read the original book; if you’re writing science fiction, you shouldn’t be under the impression you just invented robots; if you’re writing fantasy your system should make some sort of sense; and if you’re writing erotica you’re not required to ever have had sex, but you should at least have researched and seen pictures of human reproductive organ (You should for instance know that erect penises aren’t particularly bendy. Don’t ask.) And if you write romance of any kind, you should have met a human, once, maybe twice, and know what feelings are.

But I don’t make fun of entire genres. I don’t particularly like what I’d call “sweet to the point of diabetes” romances, but my husband does, and it’s his “I’m too tired to think” reading. And trust me, because he vents when disappointed, I know that it’s not as easy a genre as it looks from the outside.

And fantasy might look like “just add a dragon” but it has its own parameters and ways to give the reader the desired cookies.

I’m too weird to hit those consistently, which is why I do better in science fiction, despite its having a naturally smaller audience.

As for science fiction…. I love almost all types, and yet 80% I return after the sample pages. So, you know?

No genre is simple. This creating living worlds out of words on a screen is difficult! It’s taking what’s in our minds and bridging the gap to someone else’s “voice behind the eyes.” How can it be easy?

And while all of us have favorites. There’s subgenres of everything I won’t touch with a very long pole. And if you live with me you’ll hear me mutter about those “Oh, dear lord, it’s another badass woman who never had a kid to learn her limitations.” But if you don’t live with me, and when I’m not yelling at my kindle, you will hear me say “there’s good and bad of everything. And there’s a good and a bad way to do everything. And if you’re a good craftswoman/man you should never apologize for the field in which you exert your craft, only if you fall short of trying your best.”

So, when putting up your book, no matter how insecure you feel, DO try not to say things that you think — I guess — bolster you in the reader’s eyes. “This book contains none of that romance trash” or “No sex in this book, because unlike other authors, I’m not a ho.” Or perhaps “No dragons or spaceships, because those are puerile, and this is for grownups.”

Because when you say something like that, you’re going to hit some percentage of readers who are like me, and who read in and admire the genres you’re casting shade on.

And instead of coming across as smart and superior, you come across as a complete pr*ck.

And lose sales.

I can’t tell you how to get sales, other than write, keep writing, and strive to be as good as you can be. But I can tell you how to lose readers: Disparage whole genres and the readers you love them.

If your purpose is not to turn readers off, avoid doing that, okay?

73 thoughts on “How To Stop Readers Buying You by Sarah A. Hoyt

  1. tbh, heariing his dislike for my preferred genres is one reason i didn’t pick up kdt’s historical drama

        1. Interesting. I’ve read his blog for a couple of years now, and didn’t realize he wrote any books. Said blog is silent about his past works, and to the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t mentioned any opinions on fictional genres in that time.

          A quick skim of what he has on the ‘zon doesn’t trigger my wallet fingers, but no problem.

  2. I sometimes wonder if genre is like music. You imprint on what you grow up with. I imprinted on several, thank heavens, or I wouldn’t have had enough to read.

    I can even identify which authors served as the gateways to which genres. Heinlein to SF/F. Heyer to historical (I know you’re thinking romance, but that’s not how it worked out). Dick Francis to mysteries written by the English or someone pretending to be English.

    1. I’m trying to supply a good range for my kids so they don’t get trapped in “it feels weird to read anything more than like ten years old/outside this particular category” like some people describe.

      1. I raised a kid who will cheerfully read modern stuff, and things from a century ago. But Doc Smith, and others from .. oh, 1920s-1980s.. bounces off hard. The writing is just wrong.

  3. If you are interested in that particular genre, ie a Roman legionnaire, I suggest the Casca series of novels originally created by Barry Sadler and taken up and extended by Tony Roberts. Over 50 in the series so far and Roberts has picked up and run with the theme fairly seamlessly.
    Premise is that Casca was the soldier who speared Jesus on the cross and was cursed by Him to live as he was “until we meet again.” The books track Casca through the ages and as the curse plays out he always finds himself in some war or similar conflict throughout the world.
    Reasonably well written and both authors spend a good bit of time researching each historical period the relevant book is set in.
    In addition to creating this series Sadler is also the author of The Ballad of the Green Beret from back in the early 70s. He was himself a Green Beret and disappeared under mysterious circumstances some where in Central America.

  4. And don’t put in an afterword where you go off on a rant about your readers’ religion when you’re an atheist or devout neopagan. Or Christian, for that matter, but the two examples I’m thinking of were one or the other. Patricia Keannally-Morrison’s career seems to have cratered after she ripped Christians for bigotry in an afterward. I guess it didn’t occur to her that most of her audience was at least nominally Christian and/or likely to be repelled by the hypocrisy on display.

    1. The late Ms. Kennealy-Morrison. Sigh. Well, the “St. Patrick was evil, and everybody Christian was burning the fairies and pagans” thing was ludicrous, and she knew it was ludicrous, and her readers knew she knew. You can’t be an expert on all sorts of arcane corners of Celtic mythology and history, and then play that card too.

      But the “Jim Morrison as a pagan bard/king” fantasy book was fricking ridiculous, and her own part in the real life saga was pitiable. To refuse to recognize that she was played and wronged by the man she loved is also pitiable.

      So you had a lack of fun, you had insults to readers, and you had uncomfortable levels of cringe. And since the cringe book revealed that various characters from the early successful books were reincarnations of (basically) Jim Morrison and herself, it extended the cringe retroactively.

      She also had a series about a neopagan sleuth in various interesting times and places connected with the Sixties/Seventies, which I gather were good. But I’ve never read them, although I probably would have picked them up from a library if I had seen them.

      1. I’m sorry to hear she’s gone. Despite the anti-Christian digs I enjoyed her first two trilogies and would have liked to read the “sequel,” series she planned.
        I thought, “Blackmantle,” was decent for its first half, but the last half went off the rails (when the whole, “revenge/defy Death Himself for one’s love,” theme took off).

  5. But superfluous erotica is a pet peeve!
    I must register my disapproval in all unrelated conversations!

    (OK, maybe not. But I do get irritated by books I’d love to share with my kids. EXCEPT for that one completely gratuitous scene.)

      1. IIRC that was what happened with Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. Publisher decided it was paranormal romance rather than straight urban fantasy, and pushed for more sex.

        1. The running joke for some time has been that were one to remove the gratuitous sex from LKH’s books she could be considered a rather talented short story writer.

          1. I can believe it. Eh, there is a huge market, apparently, so I really shouldn’t cast aspersions, even if it really isn’t to my taste.

      2. I remember one romance I read that was sweet and emotional the entire way through, until we got to the Epilogue that was just six pages of Tab A going into Slot B with a lot of thrusting and groaning. I was especially annoyed by it, because it seemed like there were a lot of additional emotional threads that could have been tied up, and I kept reading hoping we were going to address those before the end. We didn’t.

        It does in fact make me feel better to think that the author was forced to tack that on the end and didn’t think that it was actually a good conclusion to her novel.

        1. They tried to do this with Heart of Light. I wrote half a page of sex very reluctantly. (IF I ever publish it again I’ll remove it.) The editor told me I needed a whole chapter. I invited her to write it herself.
          …. our relationship went downhill after that.
          She’s “Wicked Witch” In Kate’s ConVent books…. 😀

    1. Funny story from some years back.
      A third party with John’s permission asked me to do a rewrite of one of Ringo’s spicier novels so that party could share it with his barely teen age son.
      Novel in question…
      Did a fair to middlin job, but was never really happy with it. Cleaning it up really detracted from the whole story line, so in truth the naughty bits were not gratuitous at all.
      And part of the deal was that my sanitized version was never to be shared outside the original agreement, so any copies I might have once had no longer exist. And IMHO any kid over 14 ought to be able to handle the full unexpurgated version in any case.

      1. The example that popped most readily into my head, was Neil Gaiman’s *Starfall*.
        The story was solidly YA, except for that one scene in (IIRC) the first chapter. It clearly didn’t fit the story. It was like the cast of Titus Andronicus briefly stopping the play to hold hands and sing “Kumbuya”.

    2. I’ve firmly decided that my cast in The Last Solist won’t be making it futher than second base with maybe a bunt to third (nobody gets getting sexy naked and it’s all above the waistline) until the last book. Partially due to character age, mostly because there’s no way you can make sex funny.

      Not even if you’re wearing clown suits.

      Now, frustration on the other hand…

      1. Sex can be funny if it’s badly handled. I recently read a book by an author who’s a good friend of mine, whose books I usually like, and hit a sex scene and ended up LMAO and very aware that I was sitting in a chair with a hardcover library book in my hand. Eyes go book, wall. Mind goes nope, fixing drywall and replacing damaged library books both cost money.

        OTOH, it’s completely possible to write a sex scene that is poetic, beautiful, redemptive — but I’ve read that exactly once in mumble-mumble years of reading works written for grownups. That’s Eric Flint’s 1632, Jeff Higgins and Gretchen Richter’s wedding night — which left me completely in awe.

        Which is why I prefer to just “fade to black.” Because it’s too easy to have the first when you intend the second.

            1. I’ve read some of that “smut.”

              I swear, if I could do it without laughing, I’d write a book on “how to write erotic scenes without flunking basic anatomy.”

              The problem is some things I’d have a hard time writing in a detached manner and I’d be lucky if I was dead before the CHORFs and Karens strung me up.

  6. Also, if you’re doing a riff on something, don’t show contempt for your source material. (Pride & Prejudice & Zombies has a foreword that talks about “making this book cool” and unfortunately, it showed in the text. Don’t mind some of his other works, though.)

  7. Terry Good kind had some good ideas, a lot of very poor execution, but it was reading his views on fantasy and fantasy readers – from a man writing in the fantasy genre – that really turned me off.

    He lost a few sales from me, but still got a couple. Mord Sith can make up for a lot.

    1. I decidedly flinched and was reminded of an unpleasant experience many years ago while engaged in adult activities involving the word cowgirl and an unfortunately energetic sideways motion by my partner.

  8. I try not to complain about genres. Different strokes for different folks and that there are things that I don’t like that other people love and vice versa. No content warning for me unless there’s actual penetration sex and/or particular horrors.

    Except for yaoi. Especially most “popular” yaoi, because the “boy’s love” novels have gotten very, very creepy over the last twenty years(1). It didn’t help that a lot of the girls that liked the “popular” series became the worst kind of Tumblr-stans and TikTok nightmares.

    (Seriously-be stuck at a con restaurant with eight yaoi fangirls at the next table over, gushing about borderline sexual assault (and the borderline being diamond-edge microtone difference) because “the boys are so hot!” will really turn you off the idea.)

    (1-And I just realized how long it’s been and that is a scary thought.)

    1. I call those Prey Training Relationships, because the bad parts are still bad no matter what sexes, species, ages, etc are involved.

      1. In retrospect, I think I could write a checklist of those yaoi fans.

        All of them were white women, young (very late teens/early twenties), culturally “adrift” of some kind, were the recipients of “modern” education, and they probably grew up in a BoBo (Bohemian Bougases) household of the major types. In Northern California near San Francisco, to be worse.

        Their schooling and probably most of their entertainment had any kind of peer-level male attraction being inherently predatory. That peer-level sexuality with males was inherently a loss of power and autonomy for them at best, “rape” at worse. But they’re also at an age where…is there a female-equivalency of “looking at linoleum makes hard”?…their sexuality is at full power and wants some kind of release.

        But, for some reason, an “acceptable” relationship in that cultural group is homosexuality, often with an older, masculine male as the mentor/muse and a younger, slight/effeminate male as the “recipient” of the older male’s wisdom. The second kind of “acceptable” relationship (seen in far too many female-friendly YA novels) is absolute female dominance of either an effeminate or “reformed” masculine male that worships her female power.

        A friend of mine called a lot of these stories “Aunt” novels (i.e. “they’re written by your childless aunt that would never call herself a lesbian-in public, at least-and would never be in a relationship with someone that could challenge her”) and I can see her point.

            1. What’s scarier still is how many people in fandom will defend said predators no matter how awful they are. Because ‘the fandom has to stand together against the mundane hordes’ or some such bilge.

              1. This is true.

                Before Shadowdancer explained what DARVO was, I’d seen it– generally from abusers. (Deny, Accuse, Reverse Victim and Offender.)

              2. Fandom has a lot of people on the nerd/aspie spectrum, and one of the things that happens with aspies is that they’ll defend anyone that is willing to pay positive attention to them. Even if they know that positive attention is toxic, because somebody is paying attention to them.

                1. I left fandom over 15 years ago, but I really understand the desire to be accepted. Society has changed so much that I no longer have any real social outlets. 95% of my social interaction these days is eating breakfast at a local coffee shop and almost all the rest is playing in politics. Frankly the isolation is killing me.

                  1. Fandom has changed in bad ways, and when your local anime convention has gotten rid of all of their non-yaoi naughty stuff, you’ve got problems.

                    And, dear God, the isolation. Keeping my temper and my tongue around my family and the few people I know is eating at me so very much.

                    1. Yep. When Em and I went to Fencon last fall, that was the most time we had spent outside the house interacting with other people since 2018 when I started working full time from home..

            2. It makes sense, though. Predators go where their prey are, and people who are vulnerable are the prey for that kind of person–that’s why you see them disproportionately in professions like teaching and the clergy. With fandom, you have people who are lonely, socially awkward, oftentimes have some kind of mild mental health disorder, who don’t necessarily understand what healthy relationships look like, don’t want to be seen as being “square,” and who are very clannish.

              For a sexual predator it’s a dream come true.

    2. There’s a lot of creepy sh1t in manga, even to a (slightly) lesser extent in anime where production costs force the makers to tone it down for the sales.

      But then there’s wall-to-wall creepy in main-line Big 5 SF/F these days, and comics, so we should cut the Japanese authors some slack. I’ll set any Hugo winner against any yaoi in the last twenty years and expect the Hugo winner to exceed on creepy units by at least 10%.

      None of which I’d mention in book or blurb. Yes, I’ll take the yaoi fan’s money.

      1. The yaoi fans often pay in cash, which is good at least from a banking POV. No need for a crappy Square app to crash on you because fifty thousand other vendors in the dealer’s room are trying to sell things…

  9. You should for instance know that erect penises aren’t particularly bendy.


    :cringes in sympathy for an organ she doesn’t even have:

  10. Because when you say something like that, you’re going to hit some percentage of readers who are like me, and who read in and admire the genres you’re casting shade on.

    Except hardcore romance readers.

    Because those folks have skin like *freaking steel plates* and giggle at how adorable the little flipper-flapper is, thinking they value the mouth-noises it makes…..

    (Seriously, it’s gotten to where I’ll roll my eyes and pass on folks who just HAVE to throw shade on romance novels, even the types that I think are silly. Because good heavens, really?)

    1. I’m not that good at writing romance but I respect the heck out of the romance readership’s attitude towards the genre’s critics. God bless them.

    2. Considering how humanity propagates it wouldn’t surprise me if being interested in romance is hardwired in a large chunk of the population.

  11. Overt trashing of other people’s enthusiasms is quite standard procedure for many, these days. I’m pretty happy for them to self-identify in the blurb, so I can avoid offending them with my money.

    On the other hand, I’m quite sneaky so I’ll take money from -anybody- no matter what form of subhuman trog they may be. My mockery will be confined to things not mentioned in the book or in the blurb.

    For example, there are no Chevy 350 engines in any of my books. A mockery most profound, I’m sure all will agree. ~:D

  12. I remember one time looking at the website of a new game store opening up in town. In the “About Us” section, the owners went on a rant about Monopoly, how dumb it was, how much they hated it, and how such a stupid game would never darken the shelves of their store. At the time, I thought, “I understand where you’re coming from, I don’t like Monopoly much either, but strictly as a business matter, do you really want to start your game store by insulting everyone who enjoys Monopoly?”

    The store folded about two weeks after the website came online. I don’t know if that was a coincidence or not.

    1. That sounds like the same advertising smarts as a certain spice seller who announced that anyone who disagreed with his/her/its politics should shop elsewhere.

  13. It has never crossed my mind to trash another genre in any of my ad copy or books. Make fun of? Sure, if it fits the story and characters, but not slag on. For all I know, 40% of my readers might love whatever it is I’m beating up on, including that sub-sub-section of lit fic where two characters, or one, do nothing but talk about how meaningless life is, if they do that much, all day, and that’s the plot.

      1. My Little Pony’s storylines are better than most feature films, nevermind what TV is around; I’d put them on par with mid-90s superhero shows like Batman, Superman, Justice League and Gargoyles.

        Says the gal with a werefox avatar. ^.^

        1. For that matter furry fandom used to produce some very fine works. Like Vicky Wyman’s Xanadu graphic novel(s) and Paul Kidd’s Fangs of K’aath. Unfortunately the few good works tend to get drowned out by the garbage, and the sane fans are ignored in favor of the ones who let the freak flag fly — but isn’t that a problem with every fandom, these days?

          Honestly I sometimes wonder how it is that the very same mass media that harps about respecting everyone and IDIC seems to regard any lifestyle more unusual than ‘eat-work-sleep’ as worthy only of mockery.

            1. Ted Sturgeon, I think?

              But it still annoys a fan of anything when the trash and the kooks is all the media and other outsiders ever focus on.

      2. As someone that moved in both Bronie and Furry fandoms…let’s just say that there’s been a lot of capture by people that you wouldn’t want to deal with except over rifle sights.

        Furry fandom especially-I haven’t gone to a furry con in at least a decade because the fandom went from “curiosity about non-human society (and good porn)” to “gay male grooming of young, desperate boys and the fag hags that love that” with terrible speed. Having a couple of FOAF stories of outright sexual abuse (including rounds of some of the nastier STDs) that nobody would address because they were “important people in the fandom” didn’t help, either.

        And this is from someone that enjoys the saner products of both fandoms.

        1. Going by what I’ve seen online, some cons are making a grater effort to police against the nastier behavior at cons. With the expected backlash from the usual suspects over, “No, we have to accept everyone regardless of their repeated bad behavior!”

          Though the fact that some cons have lost their venues or even been forced to shut down because they let the freak flag fly, like Conifur Northwest. Few things can say ‘straighten up your act, or else’ quite so well as finding your con has become persona non grata in three states.

          1. And Rainfurrest got banned as well from most of the hotels in Washington State because of what they did.

            I understand that most cons are geek Marti Gras, but still there has to be some standards.

            1. Oops, I may have been confusing Rainfurrest with Conifur. Sorry about that. Well, at least neither of them had someone mount an attack with poison gas like at that one Midwestern furry con some years ago.

                1. It happened at the 2014 Midwest FurFest at the Rosemont Hyatt. The hotel had to be evacuated, and 19 people were hospitalized. The cops found a broken glass bottle of chlorine powder in the building. The police investigated but they found no clues and no one was ever arrested for it. All anyone knows is that the way it happened means it wasn’t an accident.

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