On Writing: Should We Write Genre Fiction for a Limited Audience Only?

Should we write genre fiction for a limited audience? I’ve been participating in a lengthy ongoing discussion about book promotion with several other authors on Goodreads. The discussion is approaching 400 comments with one man dominating the conversation now for the last few weeks. Most of his comments are on point but I’ve had to take issue with him in one area. Now, let me temper my remarks about him by saying that we’re author friends on the site and we email each other privately on occasion. He’s a man well worth knowing. He has a lot of wisdom about publishing and promoting that he willingly shares. He doesn’t know everything though.

Genre Fiction for a Limited AudienceSomeone brought up one specific large promoter of books who often includes many indie offerings. In the course of the discussion, the comments about that promoter began to fly but they were all from an author’s perspective only. I offered up my two cents about the promoter from a reader’s perspective since I have signed up with the service and I get daily emails from them. I mentioned that I signed up to receive offerings from them in the mystery and in the LGBT categories because those are my primary fiction interests.

I made this statement:

“…I’ve picked up a small handful of free mysteries that sounded great and I’ve been enticed enough to pay for a few. There’s been exactly one LGBT book promoted to me in all of that time. 

Obviously, judging by my own use, _______  is a useful tool for mystery authors. Is it useful though for the LGBT category? The lack of promotions there can be taken two ways:

1. Not effective so no one uses it
2. Little competition so a wide-open market

My conundrum? When I do promote my LGBT themed mystery with them, do I promote in the low cost LGBT area and hope for a coup among hungry buyers whose needs aren’t being addressed or do I beg to get in the highly competitive mystery category and pay big bucks for what might be little return given some of the themes in my books?”

I made my case from the point of view of a reader but then, as you can see, I introduced my conflict as an author of genre fiction and I hoped for some input from some other authors of genre fiction (LGBT or otherwise) who’d used that service. It’s a top of the line service that mainstream authors are tripping all over themselves trying to get into. Now my author friend, being Johnny on the spot in the discussion, was the first to respond. He does write some oddball fiction with limited appeal so I thought he’d have some sage advice for me about using them. Unfortunately, rather than offering up thoughtful advice, he offered this:

“If you promote your book as LGBT, you’re limiting your audience. Your description also makes me believe you’re pushing an agenda, becoming preachy in effect. On the other hand, if you go into any details but don’t advertise that aspect, you’ll get a lot of returns.
You’re no longer writing for a mainstream audience, but for a small sector. Are they really that hungry for a mystery featuring their orientation? I don’t know. Best guess, probably not.

I write books to be read. Pushing an agenda…I definitely wouldn’t invest in a  _______ ad for that!”

As a debut author at the time, I’d already sold several hundred copies of my book, ‘Relic’ a mystery with two lesbian law enforcement officers as the lead protagonists. The book was proving that there are plenty of hungry LGBT and LGBT friendly readers out there that would take a chance on an unknown author to read something in a non-mainstream genre that focused on characters like them. I was wondering, with my post, if the 126,000+ LGBT fiction fans that had signed up for that same service I did and that I was thinking about advertising on might be an even bigger boon for my future book sales.

My author friend came out of left field by saying that my statement (as shown above) was pushing an agenda. I very gently corrected him on that. Sadly, he didn’t seem to know that there was any market at all for any genre that wasn’t completely mainstream -even though he writes some that he tries to pigeonhole into one neat category or another. His only good point was that I was limiting my audience (true) to which my later reply was:

Sometimes the way to sell books is to appeal to a niche market rather than to try to be everything to everyone.”

He had no good response after that and, unfortunately, the chain of discussion turned to something else, leaving my original question unanswered; I already know there’s a market for my books – they’re selling – but how much of a market is it and would using such a service tap more of it?

Yesterday, a question came up in one of my Facebook groups about just exactly what is the size of the market that reads lesbian fiction. An author, frustrated that her work wasn’t garnering mainstream sales numbers or even the numbers she hoped she would have given her genre, really wanted to know. Nowhere is this specific portion of the LGBT reader market broken out. The aforementioned promoter, for example, claims to have 126,000 LGBT works, interested subscribers. They don’t break those numbers down any further to say how many are male, how many are female, how many are interest in LGBT themed romance only while others are interested in mystery, etc.

We know we’re limiting the pool of potential readers when we write for a specific audience or when we write works that don’t have broad mainstream appeal. Every writer has to decide for him or herself if limiting their market and their potential income to write what they love is okay with them.

I’ve decided that I’m okay with not trying to be the next Janet Evanovich or John Grisham who sell tens of thousands of books as soon as they hit the shelves or airwaves. I’m okay with a few hundred to a few thousand total copies sold over a lifetime. I’ll just write more books.

What say you? Is it worth it to you to write genre fiction with limited audience appeal?

March 2018 Update to this Post:

I wrote the article above three years ago. Because it cycles around on the internet from time to time, I wanted to add some updates and new thoughts.

  1. The promoter in question above is Bookbub.
  2. At the time I wrote this, Bookbub featured an LGBT book approximately one day per week. That book was typically a M/M themed romance. Arguably, that audience is not a limited audience, but that’s something I’ve explored in other posts, here, here and here. Since that time, Bookbub has grown in its reputation with LGBT authors and has shifted to a six days per week schedule. In the early going, that schedule included primarily M/M books but, as more authors of lesfic complained and submitted their books, that too has changed.
  3. The LGBT interested readership at Bookbub has grown from the 125,000 of this article to 240,000+
  4. When I wrote this article originally, I had just released my 2nd book. I have 16 out now. Two of those books and a ‘box set’ of four ebooks have been featured in their daily newsletter now, the most recent one in March of 2018. The promotions were very successful.

I continue to write genre fiction aimed at a ‘limited audience’. I also write more mainstream cozy mysteries now. I put just as much effort into writing and marketing those but I have far more success with my lesbian-themed romances and my mysteries that feature lesbian protagonists.

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6 Responses to On Writing: Should We Write Genre Fiction for a Limited Audience Only?

  1. Melissa says:

    Hello, there. I am not an author, but have been an avid reader my entire life. About a year ago, I was introduced to lesfic. Wow. I have been out to the world for almost 20 years and read thousands of books. Frankly, I’m rather ashamed of myself for missing out on so many wonderful stories for so long! Having always enjoyed a good mystery, your first novel was the first LGBT mystery I read and was thrilled to enjoy it so much. After that, I decided to give other categories, such as sci-fi/fantasy, a shot. Being introduced to LGBT literature has left me feeling like a kid in a candy store who has now tried many new flavors and liked them all. So, as a reader, I say, yes, it most certainly is worth it. It is appreciated. While the LGBT audience may be limited, it is only getting bigger. Furthermore, you and every author should write what you want, what is in you. Let it out, create…your readers thank you.

  2. Lynn Lawler says:

    Thank you, Anne. Labels can be complicated. I like to write from the heart and my book doesn’t fit into one category. Great article!

    • Anne Hagan says:

      Thank you so much for your response Lynn. All ‘lesfic’ books fit more than one category, by their nature. It’s a lesfic romance, yes, let’s say but also a ‘romance’ in an overall sense too. Add in elements of the paranormal or of suspense and you’ve just moved from two ‘genres’ to three or four. It’s confusing to readers outside the LGBT community but it is what it is. We’ve had ongoing discussions about Bookbub in the lesfic marketing alliance group. Many of us are finding incredible success with them. Other major sites won’t feature LGBT literature so they’re one of the few powerful – get the word out – vehicles available to us. I see more and more readers coming to me from them that are from the mainstream. It’s working. Slowly we’re getting there.

  3. B.D. Gates says:

    Hi, Anne!

    I get what you’re saying. The part I don’t understand, from the male author, is why an entire group of people should be left to starve simply because they’re not mainstream. I also consider his view a bit misogynistic–a whole genre that deliberately excludes men? Blasphemy! Who would deliberately seek out such a world as that! Can’t be too many readers, right?

    Oh, but that is soooo wrong! I can tell you I was caught unaware and surprised by the number of heterosexual women reading lesfic. I had never considered that–there are far more than I would have guessed–and they are as invested in these stories and series as any lesbian readers. I once asked a reader why she read the genre and she shrugged her shoulders and said “love is love.” Another reader told me that “it’s a softer, more balanced romance, and sometimes that’s what a woman wants.”

    So. It may be lesfic, but it’s being consumed by women of all persuasions. And that grows the market exponentially…

    • Anne Hagan says:

      Amen! You’ve hit exactly upon some of my own thoughts. First off, I did find his comments misogynistic and I did point that out to him but his response was that he (for himself) only wanted to write fiction with broad appeal. He’s in it for the money and story comes second. He goes where the biggest audience is and doesn’t worry about niche markets. He explained that his response to me would have been the same if I had said I was writing fiction of specific appeal to Italian coal miners. He completely glossed over the fact that he’d called LGBT works preachy or “pushing an agenda”. Unfortunately, the conversation moved on. The thread continues and now has some 3000 more messages burying those few.

      I do get some heterosexual females, yes. The readers who tend to identify themselves as not LGBT or, moreover, not lesbians, tend to be male for my work. Given that I write more mystery fiction than romance, even though almost all of my work has lesbian romantic elements, that’s understandable. It’s a genre that appeals to more men than women.

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