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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.