Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Guest Post by Summer Daniels

Joe sez: Summer Daniels is the pen name of an erotica author who hosts a Facebook page called What to Read After Fifty Shades of Grey.

The page is a terrific example of what Bob Mayer calls the Discoverability Wars. To quote Bob:

"In the past the competition was for an agent, a book deal, distribution, placement, etc. Now it's all for Discoverability. And there's only so much of it to go around."

I agree that Discoverability (I love that term) is the newest challenge for authors. I disagree a bit with Bob in that there is only so much to go around. As we enter a global market place (someday I'll have readers in China who haven't even been born yet) I think there will be more than enough of the pie available for all authors to share, especially since publishing isn't a zero sum game.

Authors will still require Discoverability, but that is only limited by our imaginations. Summer imagined a spot on the web where fans of Fifty Shades could recommend similar books to each other. A smart idea. But is is a successful one?

Here's Summer to talk about it...

Summer: Joe has been kind enough to allow me to do a guest blog about my journey as an author and why I started the WTRAFSOG (What to Read After Fifty Shades of Grey) reader recommendation / author promotion page.

It is fitting that Joe will post this here, because my journey as an author begins with this blog.  The countless hours I spent reading through old blog posts and thousands of comments was absolutely riveting for someone that was eager to learn about the new publishing world.  The blog was the impetus for me to stop procrastinating and actually start writing.  Joe is very modest about accepting praise, but in this case (unless he heavily edits my blog post) he will have to accept my thanks.

My journey as an author really parallels my real life journey so it is hard to discuss one without the other.  Quick background: Almost 20 years of marriage dissolves suddenly, and I was lonely.  Come to think of it - I was pretty lonely for much of my marriage as well.  That's about it for the background.  I never intended to write erotica, I had all these other stories in my head (and I still do), but the intriguing nature of what was going on in my personal life led me to create my Summer's Journey series.  I call it "True Romance / Erotica" because it is based very closely on my real life, I only changed enough details to protect the guilty.  I figured exposing my personal life in public might be a bit rough on my family and my career.

So I wrote about what was going on in my life, finished Summer's Journey: Volume One - Losing Control (FREE now on Kindle) which is the first of my series, and after about forty-seven rounds of editing, decided to publish it.  I was one of those new authors who knew just enough to know that they knew nothing.  I cannot speak warmly enough about the indie author community and how it embraced me as a new fledgling author.  Many authors, bloggers and readers took valuable time to share insights, show me how to do certain things, offer advice, etc.

Of course I eschewed some of that advice from the very beginning and published the first volume of a new erotic series without any SEX in it.  Volume One is all character development and back story about how I met Mark and his unusual method of courtship.  Authors of erotica that I spoke to were united in their advice that this was not a good idea.  Surprisingly however, it worked.  The series found readers right away that were eager to see what was going to happen next, after that little black dress hit the hotel room floor in Volume One.  That was back in August of 2011 and it has been a very interesting ride since then.

I wish I could speak of having encountered the same level of success as many of the authors who have been guests here, but my sales have been fairly slow, despite some really great reviews.  It was not until quite recently that I really started to take to heart Joe's advice about the best marketing you can do for your current book - is to write your next one.  For a long time I was having entirely too much fun utilizing social media to introduce myself and my story to readers, authors, bloggers, etc.  What I was not doing was writing the next book.  For a series that lends itself to short volumes, I was taking much too long to produce the next one.

It is about this time that I came across this particular nugget of wisdom on Joe's blog:

"One hand should always be reaching up for your next goal. The other should be reaching down to help others get where you're at. We're all in the same boat. Start passing out oars."

Given how I was embraced as a new author, this one really resonated with me.  I began to be more active in the community, taking what I had learned through others or by my own trial and error, and passing it along.  I helped by being a beta reader, doing reviews of books I had read and enjoyed, sharing others promotional efforts to get the word out about new releases, etc.

Then at the end of April this year, I had an idea.  I think Melinda DuChamp recently said in her first guest post here that she was "not above riding on coattails."  The same can be said of myself, although I had another ulterior motive as well.  My intent in setting up the What To Read After Fifty Shades of Grey page was to take advantage of the influx of new readers to the erotica genre and point them towards other talented authors (including myself).  Call it a matter of inspiration (or should that be sin-spiration?), good timing, good luck, etc. - whatever it was - the page has taken off.

I set up the page 4 months ago.  132 days to be exact.  As of this morning, the page has resulted in over 16,250 book sales from the links and averaged over 200 books sold a day during August.  The number of fans of the page just topped 10,800 yesterday and continues to grow at the rate of 100 or so a day.  The number of authors who have messaged me about the uptick in their sales across all platforms after being mentioned on the page is truly unbelievable.  As an author who knows just how hard it can be (pun intended) to market erotica, this warms my heart to be able to give back in some small way to the very community that has supported me from the beginning.

I welcome all authors to post their works on the page.  I will throw out the caveat that the vast majority of books being sold as a result of the WTRAFSOG page are indeed erotic in nature, but if you write a good blurb and grab the reader's attention, you never know.

As a side note, I find it interesting that so many authors speak poorly of the Fifty Shades of Grey series and bemoan her success.  I know that E.L. James herself has admitted that the books are not very well-written, but for the sheer fact that they have gotten so immensely popular, other erotica authors should be grateful.  In a lot of ways, Fifty Shades has peeled back the curtain and exposed erotica to more mainstream attention.  The number of erotica (or erotic romance) authors now making a very good living and being offered traditional publishing deals is increasing daily.  Awhile back on my blog I compared this effect to Tiger Woods.  At the height of his popularity, Tiger brought so many new fans to the game of golf that no matter what you think of him as a competitor, a person or a husband - you cannot deny the positive influence he has had on the sport.  The same is true of Fifty Shades of Grey.  I cannot begin to tell you how many new fans of the Facebook page have introduced themselves starting out with the words, "I am a new reader."   Many authors I have spoken to lately have started to realize that anything that gets people reading again is truly a wonderful thing, because once these readers are done with the Fifty Shades trilogy, they are looking for something else to read.  And they are voracious readers.

As for my Summer's Journey series, I just released Summer's Journey: Volume Four - Corporal Coupling two weeks ago.  After a six month hiatus between volumes, I have my work cut out for me in terms of reestablishing some of the momentum from earlier books.  Balancing time between my full time job, the Facebook promotion page and my own writing has been difficult, but as with all the other tasks involved in self-publishing, I welcome the challenge.

Joe sez: When Summer posted in my comments section a few weeks ago, I was intrigued. Not only by her Facebook page (which I discovered via Ruth Cardello) but by the premise of her series. So I went to Amazon, read Volume One, and then immediately purchased her Summer's Journey: Collection One which compiles volumes 1 -3.

Erotica isn't my thing, but I found the books to be well written, fun, and sexy. As did Mrs. Konrath. I also think the main idea behind them is smart--two divorced people embark on a kinky sexual journey together that is new for both of them--and that releasing them as chapbooks is a clever way to go about it. As Summer hoped, after reading the first 3 parts, I also bought part 4 to see what happens next. That it may actually be true adds to the fun.

Right now, Summer's Journey Volume One: Losing Control  is free in the US and UK, and I recommend people pick it up and help to spread the word. If you can stop reading after the first installment, you have more self-control than I do.

I have some unsolicited advice for Summer, which is par for the course whenever I have a guest.

1. While her chapbooks are fun and make me want to find out what happens next, I'd like them to have a bit more conflict. Summer assured me that future volumes will indeed address this, and told me about some terrific ideas she had.

Conflict is something that a lot of authors tend to downplay, when it should be ratcheted up.

2. I'm not sure Summer is pricing these correctly. I'd recommend Volume One be perma-free (a neat term to describe the act of making it free on Smashwords and waiting for Amazon to price match. That's what Barry Eisler and I have done with Be the Monkey.) Then, because the volumes are short (around 20 pages), I'd charge 99 cents for each. As more and more volumes are added, and the page length goes up, they can be combined and Summer can charge more. 

Maybe Summer has already experimented with price and has proven me wrong, but I do think she'd sell more ebooks, and widen her fanbase, with lower prices.

3. I haven't seen any authors use the chapbook format successfully. Summer is doing what Sue Grafton did (not dissing indies, she's titling her books by following the alphabet) so there will be at least 26 volumes to this series, which should result in a 500 page book when finished. But more than that, it will result in 26 volumes for 99 cents each, and many compilations for $2.99 or more.

I'm intrigued by this idea, to the point where I'm considering doing something similar. Readers may dislike having to wait for installments, but the more Summer writes, the less this becomes a concern. Which leads to...

4. Summer needs to write faster. She should be putting out a new volume every two weeks, at least. I understand that real life intrudes, and that she's doing a lot with her Facebook page, but I think her series has potential, and she should prioritize her writing.

5. If Summer's blog is doing so well, why not turn it into an ebook? There is a perma-free ebook on Amazon called Ten Shades of Sexy which features sex scenes from ten different novels. It has been on the Top 100 Free List for many weeks, and I can't help but assume that readers who read it and like one of the excerpts go on to buy that author's ebook. Not that I advocate Summer take time away from her writing to to make an ebook compendium of books she has featured on her blog, but this is thinking outside the Discoverability box, and could lead to sales. I'm sure many authors would happily donate a sex scene to a compilation called What to Read After Fifty Shades of Grey: Kinky Excerpts from Fifty Top Erotica Authors.

Summer could put one of her own scenes in there (first chapter, naturally) and then ask authors who have appeared on her Facebook page if they'd like to participate, gratis.

I believe erotica is perfectly suited to this type of collection, since the sex scenes are the main reason people read these books.

6. I like the woman on Summer's covers with the lace blindfold, but I'm not keen on the font or the layout.

I realize professional covers are often costly (though right now my cover artist Carl Graves is having another $200 sale on some premade covers that are fabulous) but I think, with minor tweaks, Summer's covers could look more professional and less indie.

7. While my advice is for Summer, it applies to everyone. So does her advice. Summer encouraged user-aggregated content to create a billboard. Where there was once nothing, there is now something, and people are visiting and helping her make it larger while also spreading the word. She's using Facebook much more effectively than a simple author or fan page, and she's gotten good results.

That's all I've got. I wish Summer success, and look forward to Volume Five, which is letter D. I hope it has to do with domination and discipline, and not dirty diapers. :)