I'm currently reviewing the beta feedback/edits I've received from my beta squad - thank you! - and I'm pretty sure that I can fix the big issues and all the small ones too, so I've possibly optimistically put the book up for pre-orders. Readers who enjoyed Dark Soul should get a kick out of this one. I'll devote the next six weeks to polishing up this book and making it what it can be.
Meanwhile, and after much back and forth with friends, publishers and peers, and after spending a lot of time reading about and research audience targeting, it's clear I'm missing the mark with my "gritty plotty m/m romance" niche that I've tried to inhabit for the past, oh, 12-13 years.
I've always written books that I'd like to read - writing is hard enough, not writing what I enjoy would make it too hard for me - but that audience is very small indeed. It's clear to me that I've tried to serve three disparate audiences and failed at satisfying even one of them enough that I could grow my sales in a way that's financially sustainable for me. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over.
I've always said that I can't afford to subsidise my writing from the day job. Writing was supposed to be my financial escape hatch, not another ball and chain that forces me to stay put where I am only so I can afford good quality editing, covers and marketing.
My failure, if one can call it that, is that I've failed to satisfy an audience that's large enough to help me build that financial escape hatch, and getting out of the day job is my life goal number 1. I've pondered all kinds of solutions - mostly writing "to market", but the truth is, I already have two jobs that feel like work, and both are much better paid, and I don't have the energy to add a third job just for the money - because I sure as hell wouldn't enjoy it.
I've failed at ever gaining any traction in Kindle Unlimited, but it's clear to me that the vast majority of readers no longer pays outright for books (I get it, the pandemic has been tough) - I've heard so often "if it's not in KU, I'm not interested", I've watched my sales and royalties dwindle, and I've seen the past few books sink pretty much without a trace. How much of that is because Amazon makes my "wide" books invisible to my readers, and how much is me simply failing to deliver a reading experience that creates repeat non-KU readers, I'm not even going to speculate. Probably a bit of both.
Another thing that doesn't work for me is the incredible volume expected from "romance authors". With the day job, I'm glad if I can write one, maybe eventually two books a year. That's not enough in m/m romance to even get noticed, and the Amazon algos will sink any book after six weeks max. One used to be able to survive for three months on a new launch, but those days are now ancient history. I've tried every productivity trick and plan and method I could find - but the truth is, writing is emotional labour for me and I need to understand and wholly develop the characters and world and plot, and that's not possible for me in a week or two. The truth is: I'm too slow to "make it" in romance. Meanwhile, I'm also not going to publish half-cocked, unedited, rushed stuff as part of a "minimum viable product" strategy that's being touted in indie circles.
M/M romance also doesn't allow an author to approach a big publisher, so there's not even a chance to get those sweet advertising millions from one of the Big Few.
I've tried to find different solutions, but all of those facts are pretty much given and can't be changed or offset.
So the future strategy will look as follows:
- I'll publish Burn This City on 13 September in Kindle Unlimited.
- I'll be focusing on translating my English language books into German, where I'll dump them into KU (it's the only game in town now, even though I still hate and detest Kindle Unlimited and will never love it).
- I'll wrap up those books I have half written (i.e. one Witches of London book, one Return on Investment book, one Dark Soul book, and one historical WWII book), hopefully at a rate of one book a year. All new books will be dumped into KU.
- All old books that are already wide will remain wide - I'm not going to pull them from other retailers. I'll upload those to Radish and Smashwords and whatever other "wide" platforms appear.
- I'll sort out print editions for all books. My apologies about those, I avoided those because I couldn't get the layout right, but I'll renew my focus on that.
- I'll properly reactivate my first German pseudonym. I've already restarted my networking in that market and building new relationships here with peers and old friends. Under that new old name, I'll return to my "home" genres, sci-fi, fantasy and historicals, with a focus on a mainstream audience. Main characters will be a mix of straight and queer, but the love plot will either be very small or non-explicit (mainstream audiences are turned off by explicit sex).
It's pretty clear to me that I've failed to mix a non-romance plot with a romance plot in a way that satisfies both types of readers, and since I have no more energy to keep doing that same thing and hope that things change against all evidence to the contrary, I'll dial down the romance so it becomes a subplot. I still think some of my characters will be transformed by love, will make decisions out of love, and will be hurt and healed by love, I will also refrain from killing main characters (especially if they're queer), but it's time to move on from all the ambitious failures I've produced trying to square the circle.
Ultimately, I think I have to make a choice about what genres I want to write in - and remaining in m/m romance would mean writing tropey books that are laser focused on certain tropes and kinks. There's only one way to make it in m/m and that's writing a lot of books to trend very fast. I fail at all of those requirements, and even if I forced myself to do it, I know I would no longer enjoy writing, I'd likely write sub-par books (and lay awake at night as my inner perfectionist rips me apart for "phoning it in") before quitting writing altogether in utter disgust at myself and my work.
So, it seems I have to choose between the genre I'm combining with m/m romance and m/m romance itself, because any combination would still make it primarily an m/m romance - except one that's way less appealing to an m/m reader than a "pure" m/m romance, if that makes sense. So the only way out of that dilemma and forward is to choose the other side - sci-fi, instead of sci-fi m/m romance. At least I can - even just potentially - reach a larger audience. And this is made easier because my home genres are becoming more open to queer characters - provided the sex and romance aren't that central in the book.
So, I can't help but feel that Burn This City will be my m/m swansong, and the themes in there, the imagery and symbolism and issues I'm addressing in that are literally where I am emotionally and spiritually, so I think it's as good, authentic book, at least once it's properly edited (the other genre in there is suspense/thriller).
I'll finish the books I have half-written and I will try to provide as much closure for ongoing story arcs and characters as I can - I'll do my best to clear the decks and leave the house nice and tidy - "besenrein" as we say in German - "broom clean"). The German market will have a few more years of m/m books from me as it'll take a while to get everything translated. And there will be a transition period of 2-3 years, but ultimately, I've given up on my ambitions to write the kind of m/m that I want to read, so I'll focus on writing the kind of fantasy, sci-fi and historicals I want to read.
I have one bisexual poly romance I want to write and submit to a small publisher, and I might drop the occasional piece of m/m fanfic on AO3 if I feel like it and it really wants to be written. I also think I'll write a few book in German and may or may not translate them - I currently "hear" those voices in German, so German will be their first language. Lots of different avenues to take.
The new/old pseudonym will start out with a book series I'd describe as occult urban fantasy paranormal historical, and I expect to get that written and edited in 2022 - so pretty soon, really. I'll also make clear who the new pseudonym is so those of my readers who've enjoyed my voice and approach and are open to other genres can find me.