We’ve seen multiple publishers closing their doors. Some, like Amber Quill and now Wilde City, have done their best to reduce the impact for the authors they published. Others have dragged it out or acted illegally, owing thousands of dollars of unpaid royalties, refusing to give back book rights, or breaking contracts. And in September to October, Amazon’s Page Flip reading mode messed up Kindle Unlimited payouts to authors.
Then in December many of us took a significant hit, as All Romance Ebooks (ARe) closed on four days notice, with three months of royalties and many readers’ stored books and prepaid ebucks tied up in that closure. Some authors appear to have lost thousands of dollars, some publishers tens of thousands. And although legal action against ARe is potentially pending, the chance of getting much money back is, in my opinion, very small. (BTW, if, as a reader, you lost any of my books in the ARe closure, and have a receipt or a screenshot of the book in your ARe library, contact me for replacement.)
As writers, we have the joy of making money doing the thing we love best – creating and sharing our stories. But, except for a fortunate few, it’s never been an easy way to make a living. The starving artist in a garret is a classic trope, for a reason. And that attic feels awfully close for some writers these days.
I’m not complaining personally. I have a good day job. I have a money-earning spouse. And although my two kids will probably lose our coverage of their health insurance, under the new US administration, I can weather some ups and downs. My losses at ARe are in the hundreds, not thousands. But especially for some full-time writers, this has been a year of going from crisis to catastrophe.
One of the loveliest things I have seen recently, is how many readers have posted, or contacted me, and asked how they can best support the authors they care about. Our readers aren’t wealthy either, but they want to help us keep the stories coming. The goodwill and support in this community has been heartwarming. And I wanted to post a few answers to that question.
How can we help? What can we do, together, to support the stories we love?
* Promote the genre – M/M romance has a tiny fraction of M/F romance sales volume. I believe there’s a lot of room for more romance readers to discover the fun of M/M. And I also get reviews from gay men saying they had no idea there were gay love stories out there with happy endings. I’ve seen a guy in his fifties say my book was the first real gay Happy-Ever-After he’d read, and he wanted more.
So have a few story suggestions at the tip of your tongue to suggest to a friend, to lure them over to us…
Books that I recommend to my straight-romance reading friends include:
~ Hot Target by Suzanne Brockmann – although part of a series this is a fine starting point, and it has a wonderful M/F romance, along with the beginnings of an M/M one. Pull your M/F reading friends in with the beginnings of love between out, gay FBI agent Jules, and closeted, hot-mess actor Robin…
~ Faith and Fidelity by Tere Michaels – an angsty out-for-you romance that has a very slow burn and brings the sex in at lower levels and later.
~ Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen – great characters and relationship without explicit sex, in a lovely post WWI historical
Choose your own favorites. Remember other genre stories. Obviously, suggesting something to a mystery lover, or an elderly relative, or a gay friend, or to someone who likes explicit M/F BDSM, will have a different starting point. The hotter stories may be someone’s weakness…
* Review honestly when you can – not everyone is comfortable doing this, and it is never a requirement, but when you can, we appreciate it. A review doesn’t have to be literate, or careful critique. An honest note of how you enjoyed the story and fell for the characters works fine. On Amazon in particular, numbers of reviews affect how a story is listed and promoted. So if you are able to post one, it helps. Even critical or lukewarm reviews help readers find books they will or won’t like, and we want readers to pick books they’re likely to enjoy. So yes, those matter too.
* Denounce piracy – I’ve seen pirate sites that claim to have downloaded more copies of one of my books than I have ever sold. Authors lose thousands of dollars to ebook piracy. I send out 50 take-down messages a month, and barely scratch the surface of the illegal copies of my books online.
If you can’t find a book legitimately, email the author and ask them. If a reader can’t access my books, I’d rather send them a copy myself than have them support a pirate site. Or there may be a new edition on the horizon, or some other reason it’s not available.
Be as scrupulous as you can about music and photos too. Musicians and photographers are in worse positions than authors, as far as piracy goes. For my posts and blog, I bought a stock photo deal of 100 photos at a cost of 60¢ each, and I am slowly using those. There are a lot of royalty-free photo sites, too. It may not be as perfect as that Google search result, but it supports honest artists. And then I don’t feel hypocritical telling someone not to download that free version of a paid book. Pirate sites are also notorious for adding malware to downloads – you’re doing your friends a favor, along with the authors you’re supporting.
* Buy from sites that give better royalties – this can be difficult, but as a rule, direct purchases from publisher sites will give both the author and the pub 30-70% more money than a distributor site. Some publishers will store books on virtual shelves for you (although if ARe taught readers anything, it should be to download and save books as soon as you buy them.) Some publishers, particularly Dreamspinner Press, often have great sales on site.
Smashwords ( https://www.smashwords.com/ ) gives indie authors up to 80% of the total price, keeping just 20% for direct sales there. It’s also a place to find some of the free stories lost from ARe.
Some authors also sell directly on their own websites, and more are planning to (for example via Payhip shopping-cart services.) Do be cautious, when you buy from unfamiliar sites, but these can give the author the whole price paid.
To help connect readers with buy-sites authors prefer, J. Scott Coatsworth is busy creating a new linking site – Queeromance Ink. When completed, it’s envisioned as a place where authors will list their books, and provide links to their preferred sites for buying or downloading, including sites for epub and pdf. Losing ARe was a blow to readers of those formats. The hope is to also make it a good site for readers to find new LGBTQ romance releases, and to search for particular tropes and categories. Some of those functions will come later. (Disclaimer – I’m helping Scott set this up. He will run it paid by fees from authors. I’m not making money there, but he’s also not going to charge me the author fees, in exchange for the help.) More about this when it’s up and launched, hopefully soon.
* If you’re inclined to support authors in other funding endeavors like Patreon, go for it – many authors will be looking for ways to supplement their book-sales income, especially in the wake of the sudden ARe losses. Some may offer to mail premium-priced signed copies, or may set up Patreon accounts where donors get perks and benefits in exchange for support. There will be contests, newsletters… Marketing is always a varied process. There are authors who have stopped writing whom I’d have happily donated money to, in order to get that next book. But don’t ever feel pressured to do anything except buying the books you read.
To me, the key with any support system is that readers are pleased, do not feel coerced, or oversold, and cheerfully engage in it with the author. We are all adults here, and can make our own choices. Any form of marketing will not appeal to someone, and almost any can seem unfair. I’ve seen authors angry with me for writing so many free books, because they undercut the prices of their paid books. Some complain about coupons, or 99¢ pricing, or any other promo. If it’s legal and readers are happy and authors are supported, it’s all good.
Continue to check out the review blogs in our genre. Use their affiliate links, if they have them, to go and buy from retailers like Amazon, so the blogs get a few pennies from your purchase. We’re all in this together.
* Be kind to one another – this may not seem relevant to the question of financial support, but it is. Writers who are working on the edge of financial wreckage are doing so because they believe in the stories and the community we share. When there is infighting, and sniping, and intolerance, the appeal is tarnished. I’m not suggesting that we stop airing grievances, within the community, but that as we do so, we try to keep from hurting each other. When the joy goes out of the reading and the writing, we all lose.
I believe that writing LGBTQ romance matters. I’ve had more than one reader tell me that M/M – sometimes my own books – started them down the road to believing in LGBTQ rights. I’ve seen a love for the stories and characters expanded to material support and activism in the wider world. In the years to come, the LGBTQ community will need all the goodwill it can muster, within and outside its direct membership. So when we keep those stories coming, we’re not only working for our own comfort reads, our own enjoyment, or affirmation. But also for one more piece in the puzzle of how to get to that awaited future – the day when love is just love, a spouse is a spouse, and a family of any kind is just a family.
THANK YOU to all the readers who contacted me after the closing of ARe to ask, “How can we help?” You guys seriously rock.
And if anyone has other suggestions or comments, please add them. My very best wishes to every author and reader out there, for 2017.