This was an article I wrote for The Scarlet Letter earlier this year. Since the site has been taken down due to the publisher's health issues, I'm posting it out here.
“The Highs and Lows of Promoting Lesbian Fiction”
If you’re an author these days, whether traditionally or indie published, finding ways to get the word out about your work is critical to the success of your book. Publishers are slashing budgets and staff for promotion, which means that even authors published by large publishers are looking for newer and more creative ways to publicize their books. At the same time, the review and other traditional publicity options for indie published books haven’t caught up with the vast number of new titles.
When you’re an author who writes for a smaller niche market, things get even tougher. I write lesbian fiction: science fiction and fantasy, erotica, and some romance. Small press lesbian fiction that isn’t primarily a romance is a challenge to promote, to put it mildly. There are few options for getting your book reviewed: fewer specialized websites, fewer book bloggers. There can be fewer options for guest blogging or podcasting or doing bookstore readings. There is one major conference (other than publisher-specific gatherings) for lesbian fiction (the annual Golden Crown Literary Conference).
It’s considered a truism that as compared to gay fiction, lesbian fiction doesn’t sell that well (someone helpfully pointed this out on my Twitter feed just this morning). This looks particularly overwhelming when sales for m/m (written for a primarily female audience) is rolled in with other forms of gay fiction (written for a primarily male audience). The larger the target audience, the bigger the sales, at least in theory.
That said, harder is not the same as impossible. Genre plays a big part in how easy it is to promote something: romance sells better than other genres, followed by mystery. But even that’s not a stroll in the park: big genre authors needs to find their audiences just as smaller genre or subgenre authors do. Access to more opportunities makes it easier but that’s not necessarily the same as “easy.”
What that leaves is the need to get creative about marketing our books. We have to get our books out there to build an audience, then find ways to consistently maintain and grow that audience. I don’t have any easy answers that will apply to all books and all writers but my initial publicity efforts for my first novel are laid out in this recent guest blog post to give you an idea of some of the things I’ve tried. I’ve been building on my experiences with each of my books and I make a new list of things to try whenever I have a new book coming out.
Do they all work, in the sense of selling more books? Alas, no. Nor can I tell you definitively what drove someone to buy one of my books (unless they told me) after any particular promotional push. And, furthermore, I will be honest and say that the most money I’ve ever made from an individual fiction sale was from my only m/m story. But, and this is an important “but,” I’m picking up a larger audience with each book and it’s not limited by genre or sexual orientation. People who read my novel are also reading some of my short story collections and the anthologies I’ve edited. I also have many more promotional opportunities than I had when my first short fiction collection came out in 2005.
Where did those opportunities come from? Some came from practice: I did it once and it worked so I did it again. Some came from accumulated name recognition over the course of several years and books. Some came because I pushed myself to ask and to follow up on them. This last one is important. Don’t assume that a blogger won’t review your book or that you can’t get on a writer panel or that there isn’t an email list out there where you can promote your work. Ask or create your own. Audiences are built over time and lesbian fiction writers have more of any opportunity to build those audiences than ever before.
1. Look at what other writers in your genre and style are doing to promote themselves. Learn from the good and the bad, so you don’t repeat their mistakes as well as their successes.
2. Think outside the proverbial box. What would you like to do to sell your books that you haven’t done before? What do you need to do to make it happen?
3. Think past your current book. What’s your next book going to be? How are you planning to promote it?
4. Build relationships with other authors, book bloggers, reviewers, bookstores and people in your social networks. Networking should involve give and take to keep it stable and make it effective.
5. Don’t give up on writing what you want to write.
Author K.T. Grant, blog post – “Lesbian Fiction/Romance Does Sell Well and Here’s How I Know…”
Author Lori Lake – www.lorilake.com for an example of an author successfully promoting her lesbian fiction
Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer (Tachyon Publications, 2009). Excellent resource for strategizing how and why you do publicity for your books.