Social Media Advertising for Publishers and Independent Authors

Advertising on social media helps you to build your audience and also gives your products more exposure. With the huge amount content published each year, it can be difficult for your audience to discover your products among the myriad other products fighting for their attention.

As you build your brand, you also build your credibility and reputation online. The increased exposure draws more individuals to your website so you sell your products. Also, because of the available statistics on some social media platforms, you can quickly determine which marketing techniques and social media platforms work best for your particular audience.

It is important however, to weigh the possible increase in website traffic and brand building with the time and financial commitments required to successfully achieve these goals. If you are not consistent with managing your social media accounts you will not improve your bottom line, and will expend a great amount of time without benefit.

Before you consider which social media platform is best for your company or products, it is important to consider your marketing budget. The small business administration recommends a marketing budget of 7-8% of your overall budget allocated toward marketing. This allocation should be split between developmental costs including website and blogs, and promotional costs which are actual costs for advertising.  Independent authors should carefully consider these costs in their publishing budget and include them along with professional editing costs, a obtaining a professionally created book cover. independent authors should absolutely consider themselves as a business

If you chose to promote your business using social media, it is  imperative that you create a social media strategy and commit to a regular social media posting schedule for best results.

Facebook is an online social networking site that allows individuals to keep up to date on the events of their friends’ daily lives, and allows companies to develop a strong following of fans.

The first step in advertising on Facebook is to build your page. Use your logo or other unique cover photo and begin posting information that your audience will find relevant or interesting. Post regularly and on a consistent basis to keep your information available to your followers.

While there is no exact amount of material that should be posted each day, or each week, it is important to note that typically if you post fewer than two posts per week you will not engage your audience enough for them to maintain a social media connection with  you, and you will lose engagement. The ideal number of posts per week is between five and ten times. This requires a significant time commitment and the ability to come up with interesting and relevant posts and topics of discussion.

The next step is to connect to your fans and potential fans with ads. It is recommended that you create multiple ads to help build your audience. Use available targeting options so that you are showing your ads only to people who would be interested in your product through targeted marketing. As data becomes available you will be able to see which version of your ads work best. It is important to carefully design your ad since they will show up on the walls of your target audience.

The cost of advertising on Facebook is flexible. You have the option of choosing a daily or total overall budget, as well as a cost per click option where you will only pay for the clicks or impressions you receive, up to the maximum amount you set as your budget. You also have the ability to view the cost of your ads in real time from Facebook’s ads manager. This can be a low cost, effective way to advertise.

Vine is a mobile app owned by Twitter that enables users to create and post short looping video clips. These short (six second) looping videos are viewable on Twitter’s timeline or can be embedded into a web page. Posting short video clips on Vine can potentially create interest in your products and drive traffic to your website. These posts also link back to your website and improve your search rankings.

There are some downsides to Vine. For example, it can’t access your Facebook friends so it can’t automatically connect you to those followers who area also on Vine. Vine also has no social sharing buttons, and there is no way to share directly to other popular social networks like Tumblr. Vine may be useful for your bottom line, but be selective about what social media sites you are using to ensure you get the biggest bang for your marketing time and budget. Creating a social media platform for marketing is a substantial time commitment.

YouTube is a video sharing website and there are a couple ways to use YouTube for advertising. You can create your own channel and upload relevant videos about your products, or interviews about your products, or create creative and interesting videos that you believe people will like, but these may not be specifically designed as advertising. Your goal is to create dynamic videos that people will like in order to drive traffic to your website. These videos can help you build a following, especially as people subscribe to your channel. YouTube videos do have the potential of going viral but there is no secret formula to make this happen. All you can do is make the best possible video.

The other way to advertise on YouTube is to create actual video advertising specifically designed for one of  your products. Once the video is created, you upload it to YouTube, then create a Google AdWords account since YouTube video ads are powered by Google. YouTube then targets your ad by placing with other videos that are being watched by your targeted audience. You only pay a fee when people watch your video so you don’t waste money advertising to people who aren’t interested. The pricing policy is the same as Google AdWords.

You do have the ability to target your audience since YouTube tracks their users with Google (and we all know that Google know everything about you; what you like to eat, what you read, what you watch on TV, if you want to go on a diet, etc…). You can specify that you want to reach men aged 18-34 in Boston who enjoy travel and only those individuals who match that criteria will see your advertisement. This targeted marketing potentially may boost sales and drive traffic to your website.

Instagram is a photo sharing site that also allows you to share photos with Flickr, Facebook and Twitter. However, Instagram is not yet ready to expand their advertising to allow additional marketing. There may be better platform options available to you that you may wish to consider.

Pinterest is like an online bulletin board. You add items, images, text, which help you collect ideas on specific projects. Many people use Pinterest when they are browsing online and don’t want to forget what they have seen. Pinterest allows you to pin these items to your bulletin board. People can follow your account and you can follow theirs.

Pinterest is currently experimenting with promoting pins, but this concept of advertising is not yet available. This means that Pinterest’s main purpose for advertising is to promote your brand and product by getting followers rather than using targeted marketing. You would need to create an account and pin information about your company and products to your account. This is a way to drive customers to your website and hopefully make a sale.  Pinterest is another social media option available which will allow new customers to discover your products.

Twitter is a social media networking and microblogging site that allows users to send and read short 140-character text messages, pictures, links, and videos.  There are a few ways to use Twitter. You can regularly send out interesting tweets about your products. If people find your tweets interesting they may follow you to receive regular updates. This potentially could drive traffic to your website and generate sales.

Another way to advertise on Twitter is to sign up for Twitter Ads. You create an account, set a budget, and only pay when people follow your promoted account or retweet, reply, favorite or click on your promoted tweets. Twitter then tweets your ads to a targeted audience based on metadata.  There are some marketing campaigns that have been successful, but keep in mind that gathering followers, and consistently tweeting to keep those followers requires a regular schedule and time commitment.

There are apps that tie your social media accounts together, and these allows you to generate one piece of social media but post in multiple locations. These kinds of apps are helpful for saving time when managing your social media calendar. If you wish to begin a social media advertising campaign, I would recommend you do some research to locate the best app for you.

Social media is a reflection of your company so you need to ensure that your brand is accurately portrayed. You will need to create a social media marketing strategy that takes into account your marketing budget and the amount of time and staffing necessary to maintain a regular online presence.

Create new, consistent, and high-quality content to keep your company fresh and in the minds of your customers and potential customers. Use social media to increase the number of times your products are exposed. People generally need to see your brand and product multiple times before they develop an emotional connection.  Cultivate a loyal following by posting engaging content so that your fans can interact with your company. Your social media presence places you as an industry expert. Share your expertise as this establishes trust between you and your fans. Don’t tell your fans you are an expert. Let your content prove it to them.

Remember that the purpose of social media, and the goal of using social media, is to develop relationships. People want to do business with other people. Social media allows you to humanize your brand and gets potential customers interested, engaged and connected with you. Be authentic with your content. Be yourself.  Be professional. Be nice.

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Pitch Opportunity

I am taking pitches from Monday, February 24th through Wednesday February 26th for Champagne Books over at Savvy Authors.

Champagne Book Group is currently seeking wonderfully told stories in the following genres:

  • Contemporary romance (with higher levels of sensuality and erotic)
  • Historical romance-specifically Highland/Scottish, medieval, cowboy/western
  • Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance (including science fiction romance)
  • Erotic romance (m/m, ménage, BDSM, alternative lifestyles)
  • Young Adult & New Adult
  • Mystery/Suspense/Thrillers (romance and non-romance)
  • Horror

At this point, we are not currently seeing science fiction or fantasy unless it has a romance.

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Writing Tips – How To Write A Query Letter

Quite simply, a query letter is a single page summary of you and your book. Since you only have one page to tell the agent, editor, or publisher everything you want to tell them about your book, it is important that the query letter is well written and concise. After all, your query letter ultimately serves as the gateway to getting your manuscript read.

Your query letter should be composed of three basic paragraphs:

  • Tagline/Hook
  • Synopsis
  • Biography

Aside from the basic parts of any letter, such as the salutation, you first want to grab the reader’s attention with a strong tagline. The tagline should be one or two sentences which both describes and draws the reader to your story. For example, you could write, “The Last Light is an eccentric love tale in which two lost souls find each other.” Or, you could write, “Set on a backdrop of extortion, greed, and blackmail — The Last Light is not your average love story.” The second sentence features a more intriguing tagline which will more likely prompt an agent to read further.

The synopsis builds upon the tagline. Introduce the reader to your story just enough to pique their interest, but not so much that you spoil the entire plot. After spending countless hours building a lengthy manuscript, it might be hard to condense your entire story into one paragraph. Therefore, it is usually helpful to write a couple versions of your synopsis and then go back, reread, and tweak to find which synopsis is best.

Lastly, tell the reader about yourself. There’s an author behind every story and agents, editors, and publishers want to know who you are, especially if you have credibility to back up your work. If you have won literary awards or have had your writing featured somewhere, now is the time to brag about it. Your biography should briefly encapsulate who you are as a writer and why you wrote this work.

As with any piece of writing make sure to edit, edit, edit! The query letter is essentially your foot in the door if it is written well, so be sure to take some time to craft your query letter.

 

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Writing Tips – How To Write A Synopsis

As an acquisitions editor for a traditional publisher, I read many (many, many) submissions from authors hoping to be traditionally published. Usually, submission packages include a synopsis (a synopsis is required for this particular publisher and are usually required for most publishers). Unfortunately, I continue to be surprised by the number of writers who either don’t submit a synopsis (which makes it difficult to judge the quality of the story and results in an automatic rejection) or they submit something that is not a synopsis at all (same result).  Hence, this post.

Writing a synopsis is simple in theory, but difficult in practice. Depending upon the publisher’s length requirement (generally, length ranges from three to ten pages), and the complicated nature of your story, you will have to revise and rewrite your synopsis several times to make sure that the action is clear and consistent and that the story makes sense. But what story elements do you put in your synopsis and what do you leave out?  That depends upon you, the writer, and the nature of your novel. As you begin to write and revise your synopsis, it will become more clear.

So what is a synopsis? A synopsis is a thumbnail overview of your story that tells the reader what happens to your characters, from the first word to the last word. The purpose of the synopsis is to show that your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts make sense. Most importantly, the synopsis will show if you have any plot or logic problems. If the events won’t make sense you clearly have a problem. Often it is the synopsis that determines if your story will be read by an agent, editor, or publisher (if you are going the traditional publishing route). If you plan to independently publish take the time to write a synopsis.  You will learn to see areas of your novel that need improvement and revision which will help you to publish the best product possible. In the long run it’s worth the effort.

There are no hard and fast rules of how to write a synopsis, but generally it is written in present tense (Johnny Character runs into an abandoned building, escapes the bad guys, but is captured by Alien invaders), uses active voice (Johnny shoots the Alien invaders), not passive voice (The Alien invaders were shot by Johnny). Your synopsis shows the external story conflict (Johnny wants to live another day but he may be eaten by the Alien invaders) and how the internal conflict affects your main character (Johnny is distraught because the Alien invaders eat people and he thinks he is on the menu). Most importantly the synopsis shows how each conflict element is resolved (Johnny escapes down a garbage shoot, blows up the spaceship, and saves the world). A synopsis is clear. A synopsis is concise. A synopsis shows the ending. No exceptions.

A synopsis includes the inciting incident (that which gets your character moving), the conflict (that which keeps your character from achieving the main goal), the climax (the live or die moment), and the resolution (that shows your character’s success or failure). The trick is weaving all of these elements into a logical few paragraphs. If you can’t figure out how an element of your story works in your synopsis, then your story needs revision and is not ready for publication. It’s a harsh reality.

Writing a synopsis is not easy and it is something that is dreaded by many writers. It can be arduous. It can be tedious. But I recommend that you do the work to write it. As you work through your synopsis, you will see story problems that need resolution and you will be prompted to fix them. This will make you a better writer and you will publish a better product. Your readers will be happier with you and more apt to purchase your next book. It’s a win-win for everyone. So do it. Write a synopsis.

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Writing Tips – How to Write a Promotional Plan

As a newly published author, you want your book to sell. In the current publishing economy your publisher is not able to dedicate extensive funds (if any) to your book promotion, and/or if you are independently published you won’t have any help or guidance. You need your book to sell either way.  To increase sales it is very important that you, the author, do you best to promote you book so that people will buy it.

I have put together some things to think about to help you create a basic promotional plan that you can use to promote your book:

  1. Who is your target audience? Who are your readers? Spend some time thinking about this. This will help you focus on who you want to read your book. This will help  you focus on who you need to contact. Who do expect to read your book? Why would they read it? Write a few paragraphs about your readers. Think about developing a relationship with your readers and how to best do that.

  2. What are your goals toward marketing your book. Be specific. What do you want to accomplish? Think big. Think bold. Think out of the box. Write a few paragraphs on this. If you just write, “I will sell a million copies,” you are missing out on a huge piece of the process.

  3. How you are going to reach your goal? Be specific. This will probably be a flexible document that you will edit and change as ideas come to you and you find out what works for you and what doesn’t. Not everything works for every body. Map out your action steps. You may need to set up a calendar so that you can see what you need to do each day. Make marketing a daily task. Here are some suggestions:

  • You have spent significant time building a platform for yourself and you have significant followers who are interested in what you have to say. You have signed up for Pinterist, Google+,  Facebook, Twitter, etc. and you are going to spend 15 minutes every day with social media. You have this blocked out on your calendar.
  • You have joined several book communities on Goodreads, Booktalk, Scribed, etc…and you are going to post weekly, or daily, or monthly, or whatever works for you.
  • You joined HARO to make a name for yourself as an expert. You may not get contacted often or ever, but it is a simple step you can take to help get your name out there.
  • You have created your own (not free) author website. Free is good, but not the best. Spend $5 a month on your own site. You and your book are worth it. 
  • You created and actively participate in your blog once or twice a week. This should be your own blog. Pick topics that you know about and can comment on regularly. 500 words. You can do it. Add this task to your marketing calendar.
  • You will do an author blog tour and will blog at x number of sites in a specific time frame. This will take some planning and some time to set up. You will have to contact other bloggers to get on their publishing schedule. It is recommended that you start promoting your book three months before your release date to build up interest, and continue for three to six months after release to continue interest. Use your marketing calendar to map this out.
  • You have perfected an elevator pitch for your novel so you can quickly promote your book when you meet new people. This will take some time to work out. Distill you book into three sentences. Practice on your friends. Eventually, the nervousness will cease and it will become second nature. Practice. Practice some more. Add practice time to your calendar. 
  • You will purchase bookmarks, or postcards, or some other goodies that you can hand out to people as you talk to them. You want them to remember you. Don’t be overbearing. Give them your 30 second elevator speech and hand them a goodie. If they are interested they will ask you questions.  If not, move on. 
  • You will contact local booksellers and set up author signings. This is a very difficult task. You may or may not be successful, but make the effort. Schedule yourself to contact at least one bookseller per week. Start developing relationships with all your local booksellers now. Google independent booksellers for your area. Call them. Introduce yourself. Set up a a meeting. Buy books at their stores. Get to know them BEFORE you want to use them for marketing. 
  • Part of the author signing will probably entail readings…Yes, in public. Practice reading passages from your novel. Record yourself so you can hear what you sound like. Practice in front of your friends. Read to them in coffee shops.  Schedule practice time on your calendar. If you are deathly afraid of public speaking join Toastmasters. Get over yourself.
  • You will teach workshops at writers’ conferences to help get your name out there. This is another difficult task. This means that you will have to put together a workshop that you can teach. And after all the time and effort, you might not find a place to teach. Do it anyway. If you can specialize in a few topics, create a few workshops to have on hand. You never know when a writers’ group may need a last minute speaker. List your available workshop on your website. 
  • You will contact media outlets and schedule x number of interviews in a specific time frame. Again, you may not get responses, but you need to put yourself out there. Add this to your marketing calendar.
  • You will write a press release and send out to x number of media outlets. If you have never written a press release, go to the public library and pick up a book or two. Then schedule a time on your calendar when you will FAX or email a specific number of media outlets. Even one contact a week is better than none. Get yourself out there. 
  • You will hire someone to create a video book trailer which will be available at x number of sites (list them). Book trailers can be successful. I have seen some good ones. I have seen some horrible ones. Do you homework. Maybe you will need to do some research to find the right person to help you. Schedule research time on your calendar, interview them and ask to see some of their work. 
  • You will hire a publicist for three months. This is an option and it may be something you want to consider.  They can do some of the things that you don’t want to do or don’t have time to do. But there are good and bad publicists. Do your homework. If you decide that you need a publicist schedule research time on your calendar. Interview them and ask for references. 

Marketing possibilities are endless. Some things work for some people but not for others and you may find that there will be some trial and error. Don’t get discouraged. You and your book are worth the effort. You will be uncomfortable doing some of these things. Push yourself and do them anyway. You want people to read your book so you have to get yourself and your book out there. You can do it. People need to see your book. If they see it they might buy it. If they buy it they might read it. It they read it they may like it. If they like it they will tell their friends. Only 999,999 more sales to go!

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Writing Tips – Cover Copy

Cover copy – that blurb on the back cover of your book – is something that I have been paying attention to lately. I get a BookBub email every day that shows me books after books after books, and I find myself quickly glancing at the cover, but making buying decisions based upon the blurb that is next to the cover image. If the blurb is written poorly and sounds uninteresting, I might not even finish a sentence before I scroll down to the next book. I suspect if I am making buying decisions about your book based on these few sentences, so are a zillion other people. This means that your cover copy is extremely important. It is also something that many writers, especially independent authors, are overlooking. If you don’t do it well, you will not sell.

I asked Jeff Seymour, professional cover copy author, to create a brief cover copy lesson, to help us understand what GOOD cover copy looks like. This may sound simple, but it isn’t. It’s hard work. But just like synopsis writing, it is extremely important that you learn to do it well. Start paying attention to cover copy  and you will begin to see the difference between the good, the bad, and the really bad.

Below is Jeff’s cover copy lesson. Don’t be fooled. This stuff is harder than it looks.

Cover Copy

Cover copy can be tricky, and there are about as many ways to construct it as there are writers who attempt it. It is, in the end, a creative endeavor, and I can’t tell you exactly how to do it. But I can offer you one way to do it, in a few broad strokes, and you can do with that basic framework what you will when it comes time to attempt your own.

Step 1: Start with a synopsis

The most important thing you do when writing cover copy is isolate your hooks—the most interesting and unusual things about your novel. Synopses are already halfway there. An author who has written a good synopsis (if you’re writing your own cover copy, this author is you) has already boiled down their book into a condensed soup of its most interesting plot points and character arcs. So start there.

Step 2: Read fast and look for what jumps out at you

The reader you’re targeting with your cover copy is a browser and a skimmer. They’re going to be cruising through the copy pretty quickly trying to find whatever they’re looking for (a great plot, fascinating characters, a unique setting, particular genre elements, etc.). You need to replicate that process in order to reach them. So start by giving your synopsis a quick read and jotting down the things that jump out at you as interesting. These are your hooks. Once you’ve got a good list of them (mostly from the beginning, because you don’t want to reveal your ending), you’ve put together the raw material you’ll craft your copy from.

Step 3: Pick a structure

Cover copy, like novels themselves, tends to follow a few predetermined structures. They change from genre to genre, but I call the most versatile one I use the Setup/Twist/Cliffhanger. It’s great for plot-heavy books, and that covers most commercial fiction. In that structure, the first paragraph introduces the character and their life at the beginning of the novel. The second describes the big twist (you may have heard it referred to as an inciting incident) that changes their life forever early in the book. The third describes the struggle they’re going to have and ends on a cliffhanger that makes the reader want to turn the page.

Step 4: Write, revise, share, revise

Your cover copy is almost definitely going to go through several drafts, especially if you’re new at writing it. At a publisher, it would get reviewed and critiqued by the marketing team. If you’re writing your own cover copy, you need your own marketing team. Put together a group of readers/fans/writers/smart-people-you-trust-on-the-subject-of-books and share your copy with them. Listen to their concerns, do a little market research to see what other copy looks like in your genre, revise, and repeat, and eventually you’ll have a piece of copy that ought to sell some books.

Jeff Seymour is a Freelance Editor for Carina Press — http://www.carinapress.com
and author of the magical realist short story collection THREE DANCES, the literary fantasy novel SOULWOVEN, and various and other sundries –www.jeff-seymour.com

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Genre Specific – Romance

I want to focus on some specific genre material to help authors figure out what they are writing. Knowing your genre is a very important step in the publishing process, and if you query, you will need to know your genre. If you independently publish, you also need to know your genre. Over time I hope to cover all the major genres in hopes that this will help authors focus their writing.

It is very difficult for publishers to market books that are a combination of thriller/romance/mystery/science fiction etc…or mixed genres. I call these meatloaf books. Where do you put these on a shelf? Publishers think about these things, because they have to make a sale. Authors should think about these things too, because they need to make a sale. Meatloaf books are hard to sell. It’s sad to say, but it’s true. You have to be able to fit your novel into a specific genre. Not always, mind you. But usually.

The first genre up is Romance. Romance is the top selling genre in mass market fiction generating $1.438 billion in sales in 2012 and is the top-performing category on the best-seller lists in 2012 (across the NYTUSA Today, and PW best-seller lists). Romance is big business. If you want a piece of it, then you have to tailor your novel to fit some specific structural elements. Romance as a genre is more forgiving than other genres (you can more easily mix sci-fi/steampunk/time travel for example) but you still must have the romantic elements. Romances are about the relationship between the two main characters.

To help me explain what exactly romance is, I have asked Peter Senftleben, associate editor at Kensington to help me out with some discussion. I have known Peter for a few years, and he is both gifted and kind.

Hi Peter! First of all, Romance as a genre covers a huge amount of ground. Let’s talk about romance as a genre overall. What is a romance novel and what is its primary focus?

The primary focus of a romance novel is the relationship between two characters (or three if it’s a ménage romance); the central conflict is based around the obstacles keeping these people apart. There can be other plot points, secondary characters and storylines, and other non-romantic relationships. To be a romance, there generally needs to be a happily ever after (HEA) or at least a happy for now (HFN).

What is the difference between a category (series) romance and a single title romance?

Typically, category romances are shorter and focused solely on the main couple. Series/category novels usually have guidelines set by the publisher to fit into their existing imprints. A single title romance broadens the world and incorporates secondary characters and plotlines, and they’re usually more flexible about what’s allowed.

What is the general structure of a romance novel regardless of sub-genre?

Generally, a romance has to have a couple who are attracted to each other despite whatever is keeping them apart (be it internal or external) and a happy ending. Often, it’s told from both main characters’ points of view, but a single, first person POV (point of view) is also common. That leaves a lot to play with!

What does a romance novel NOT have?

I don’t know if there’s any hard and fast element a romance can’t have other than a sad ending (that would make it more of a love story, in my personal opinion). There are certain things some readers might not like (see below), but it all depends on how it’s handled by the author.

Tell me about the kinds of conflict you see in romance novels. What works? What doesn’t work? What are you tired of seeing?

I see a lot of miscommunication and inability for characters to just tell each other how they feel. While it’s realistic, it can get frustrating for me as a reader and editor. I just want to shake them and tell them to be honest! That tends to be a large source of romantic conflict because it happens in real life too. In historicals, societal restrictions and money or class differences are common, and though they’re used a lot, they’re also important for the time period. So with that, I’d urge writers to find a way to keep it fresh and not rely solely on social and financial hierarchies. In contemporaries, I’m tired of the billionaire “alpha” hero and the naïve (usually virginal) heroine, the money and power disparity. A) It’s been done to death now, and B) It’s not that realistic. I can suspend my disbelief a little in contemporaries, but I like them to be as believable as possible to heighten the emotions. What works for me in all subgenres is a good reason to keep the couple apart, be it external forces or internal doubt/distrust/damage.

Are there tried and true conflict elements?

There are tropes that pop up over and over again (marriage of convenience and secret baby come to mind first), and a good writer can recognize them and twist them to make them feel original. I also find a shared, failed history makes for an effective backstory that keeps the couple from getting together too quickly. Also something painful in either of their pasts that makes it difficult to trust or love.

What about sex? Some stories have sex, some don’t. Some have a little bit. Some are quite explicit. How do you gauge how much sex should be in a story? Does the kind of subgenre dictate the amount of sex on the page?

I think the sex should serve the story. If the characters are sexually active and horny, then they can jump into bed the first time they meet. But sometimes, they want to get to know each other first, or their circumstances don’t let them have sex right away. I usually advise writers to use sex scenes to further either the plot or the character development (as with any scene). In some cases the subgenre dictates the amount of sex, but I don’t think writers should necessarily let that hold them back. If they set out to write an erotic romance, there should of course be a lot of sex. And if they set out to write an inspirational romance, they should be aware of the limits of that genre. But if we’re talking contemporary vs. historical vs. paranormal vs. romantic suspense, it doesn’t really matter. There’s usually a place for every sexiness level in those subgenres.

What elements are taboo?

I don’t know if anything is really taboo anymore (have you seen the dino porn???). But there are certain things that will definitely limit your audience (like bestiality, or I remember a submission years ago that had enema play, which immediately turned me off) and there are things that romance readers tend to not like. Infidelity is the first that comes to mind; most romance readers seem to be dissatisfied if one of the main characters is cheating on the other (ménage is a different story). There can be ways to handle it properly, though. I think they’ve also turned the tide from some of the classic romances on rape as well. Personally, I’m not going to root for a hero who does anything nonconsensual with a heroine, and rape is usually reserved for the villain because he’s eeeeeevil. I would say child abuse is also a no-no except in the case of the villain, and even then it might be over the top depending on the story.

(I’m sure there are examples that refute my position, so I don’t speak for everyone everywhere on everything.)

What’s the difference between romance and erotica? How does erotic romance fit in?

I tend to classify erotica as being more about the sex than the emotional relationship—such as partners who are already married and keeping it spicy, or characters who just sleep around like James Bond—while romance is centrally focused on the emotions with varying degrees of sex. Erotic romance still has the romantic development as the core, but the characters engage in a lot of sex along the way, with very few things off limits.

Romance tends to be the highest selling genre of mass market fiction and many authors seem to be jumping on that wagon. With all the bazillion romance novels being published (traditionally published and independently published) each year, how does an author stand out in the crowd?

Characters, writing, a plot that turns a romance stereotype on its head. Let’s be honest, we all know how a romance is going to end. They can be formulaic sometimes because of that, but it’s all about the journey. The really good ones can make you stop caring that you know how it’ll end because either the characters are so likeable or the narrative voice is so engaging that you become invested in what happens. For me, a successful romance will have me seriously questioning whether the couple can actually reach an HEA.

There are multiple subgenres of romance including contemporary, erotic, historical, romantic suspense…the list goes on and on. Is it okay for authors to cross over generally? Can a contemporary romance have time travel? Can a historical romance have witches? Expound on whatever comes to mind.

I think with romance it’s a little easier to play around with the mixing of elements since they’ll be shelved in the romance section no matter what. But the risk is turning off readers of the main subgenre by including things they might not like. I do think it could narrow the readership, but if that’s what the story calls for, then so be it. For example, I’m not a fan of time travel because I have a science background and get too caught up in thinking about the technicalities of it to just get lost in the story. So if I pick up a contemporary, I wouldn’t enjoy it if all of a sudden there was time travel, no matter the era. Steampunk romance is another example, and I’ve seen personally how niche it can be. The historical readers might not want the sci-fi elements, and sci-fi romance readers might not enjoy the historical details. It really all depends on what’s being crossed. I think a sliver of suspense could work in any subgenre as it’s a great way to propel the plot.

I just want writers to realize that everything is cyclical in publishing, and in all trends for that matter. What’s hot now (contemporary) might be oversaturated very soon, and what went out of vogue recently (paranormal) will eventually come back. Writers should never write to follow a trend because by the time they finish their book, it’ll probably be too late to hop on the bandwagon. I encourage them to write the story they want to write, and if the market is ready for it, they’ll find a publisher or readership. The book just may need to sit in a drawer for a couple years.

What is the best advice you can give to romance authors?

READ! Read what’s popular or well-reviewed in your subgenre. Read in other subgenres. Read in other genres. That way you’ll know what’s already been done, recognize stereotypes to avoid, learn new tricks from the masters, or pick up elements from other types of books that might inspire you.

Thanks, Peter!

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Peter Sentfleben

Peter Senftleben is an associate editor at Kensington Books, where he is continually building his own awesome list. He joined Kensington in 2006 after sharpening his editorial skills and red pencil while working at literary agencies. A graduate of Tulane University with a degree in chemical engineering and math (yes, math), Peter occasionally indulges the numbers side of his brain with a challenging Sudoku puzzle or by baking, but he can more often be seen watching trashy television shows. Peter is currently working on all types of fiction, but his main interests include: mysteries, thrillers, mainstream and women’s fiction, all subgenres of romance, gay fiction, and new adult. He is often drawn to quirky, offbeat projects with distinctive voices, stunning writing, realistic characters, or stories that will make him LOL (literally), cry in public, scare the bejeezus out of him, or engage him so deeply that he skips meals. Submission guidelines are atwww.kensingtonbooks.com. You can and should follow him on Twitter at @gr8thepeter.

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