Monday Musings: What Do Readers Want?
This past year, 2013, was a banner year for authors who publish their own work. Books by self-published authors are growing rapidly and now comprise over a quarter of sales on sites like Amazon. Of the thousands of self-published authors a few have made it big—this year the two stars were E.L. James with her erotic 50 Shades trilogy, and Hugh Howey with his futuristic dystopian Wool series. Every indie author wants to be them.
It is important to note, however, that both James and Howie write in genres that have massive followings. Futuristic dystopian fantasy is very popular and those readers tend to gobble up books in their preferred field, reading each one in a few days, then look for more. In discussions of these books in a group on Goodreads, I was told that, while fans appreciate good writing and interesting characters, what they mainly want is a good story. They are willing to overlook flaws in grammar, character development, formatting, etc. if the story grabs them. Hugh Howie is a talented writer which puts him at the head of the pack, but not all fantasy writers are and many are still very successful.
Erotica, too, has always been around but it has exploded with the availability of ebooks. Readers who would rather die than go into their neighborhood bookstore to buy erotica have no qualms about downloading it in the privacy of their ereader. It is tempting to say that you almost can’t go wrong writing erotica, but there are thousands of erotica titles that don’t sell. Erotica readers fall into many fascinating categories. Search on amazon for “billionaire erotica,” (3,433 results) or “cowboy erotica,” (1,550 results) or “vampire erotica” (4,119 results) to see what I’m talking about.
But what about authors who don’t want to be limited by a specific genre? What happens to them? The truth is, it’s tough. At present I have 28 titles in print. This includes 5 books of knitting designs, 1 cookbook/memoir, and 22 works of fiction. Of those 22 works, 3 are stand-alone full-length novels and 5 are either collections of shorter works or stand-alone novellas. The rest comprise volumes in three distinct series. Each of the series is different.
My Halcyon Beach Chronicles are ghost stories. They are set in a haunting, ocean-side resort town in the off-season with a dark, moody atmosphere. When the first one, “Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter,” was published in 2011 it did very well. It shot up into Amazon’s Top Sellers in their Paranormal>Ghosts category. The second story in the series did not do as well and, though I am working on a third story, this series has taken a back seat to my two most successful series.
The popularity of my Secrets of Marienstadt series continues to amaze me. It is a collection of eleven stories in three volumes, and a recently published full-length novel, with a cast of quirky characters living in a small Pennsylvania Dutch town. The title story of the first volume, “The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall,” won the eFestival of Words award for Best Short Story of 2013 and several of the volumes continue to stay in Amazon Top Selling categories including Folklore, Family Drama, and Fatherhood. The stories are funny, charming, peculiar, and heart-warming. I never cease to be amazed that people tell me how much they like them.
However, my number one bestseller is my Beacon Hill Chronicles series. It all began with “The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic,” a short novelette of 15k words, which came out in July 2011. By the following February it had sold over 30,000 copies and was in Amazon’s Top 10 Paranormal Horror next to Stephen King. The next 2 stories in the series have also done well and I am at work on a fourth.
So, like most indie authors, I continue to ask myself, “what do readers want?” So far I know for sure they want ghosts, folklore, and horror which is a good thing for me because I know that I can’t write fantasy or erotica. 2014 is shaping up to be another great year for indie writers. I wish all writers well and I thank all readers from the bottom of my heart. Without readers, we writers are a lonely bunch.