Saturday, June 22, 2013

Guest Post by Dakota Madison

Why I Decided to Write Romance Novels

By Karen Mueller Bryson aka Dakota Madison

I've been independently publishing my work (fiction and non-fiction) since 2002. That was long before eBooks and the rise of indie publishing. As a part-time author, I produced what I thought was a significant body of work (all while working full-time and going to school part-time to complete my doctorate and eventually earn tenure). The one thing I wasn't able to do, though, was sell a significant number of books. Despite all of my marketing efforts, I was never able to sell more than a few hundred copies of any of my books. I liked to joke that I earned enough money selling books to take my husband out to lunch at Subway once a month but it’s not far from the truth.

In the fall of 2012, I was getting extremely frustrated with putting out what I thought were interesting books, getting a number of glowing reviews, doing tons of promotions and books tours and still not achieving any significant sales.  So after seeing the success of books like Easy by Tammara Webber and Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire (new adult contemporary romances that I absolutely love), I decided to reinvent myself and become the romance writer, Dakota Madison.

In November 2012, I joined National Novel Writing Month and decided to try my hand at writing my first romance novel, STILL FINE AT FORTY (which is currently on sale for $0.99 for summer beach read season).  I loved the process of writing a book in a month so much that I didn't stop. I decided to challenge myself to write 12 Novels in 12 Months.  It’s now seven months later and I've written seven more romance novels (all of which have either been published or will be published this summer). The most interesting thing about this venture into the romance genre is that I've spent very little time on marketing and have made more money than I ever thought possible. (My first published Dakota Madison romance, MATCHPLAY, made several thousand sales the first week it was released before I had time solicit reviews or even begin to market it!) I’m no longer joking about making take-hubby-to-Subway money. My Dakota Madison romance novels have made pay-the-mortgage money.

My lesson learned: No amount of marketing will sell books if you’re writing stuff no one wants to read and 
no marketing is necessary if you’re writing stuff that people want to read.

So as long as people still want to read romance novels, I’ll continue to write them!

Joe sez: There are many reasons to want to be a writer, and often these reasons overlap. Some just  want to be read and don't care much about the money. Others want to make a living.

If your goal is to quit your day job and pay your bills, you're going to have to come to the realization that this is a business. That means writing for the market.

I've said, and even blogged about, having no integrity when it comes to this profession. I'm a hack, a whore, a guy whose muse is the almighty dollar.

That isn't to say I don't love what I write, or work hard to craft good stories. But when I'm writing, I write for a certain demographic that I believe will enjoy my work. I stick to genre conventions, and give readers something recognizable. I learned how to do this by reading a whole bunch of books, and watching what sells.

If your books aren't selling, change genres. I have two super-secret pen names where I've experimented with different kinds of ebooks. One is successful. One isn't. I've written mysteries, thrillers, horror, humor, sci-fi, espionage, and even paranormal romance. My sci-fi doesn't sell well. I have no idea why, because I think it's a lot of fun to write and to read. But I have to heed those numbers if I want to have a career. Eventually I will finish the Timecaster Trilogy, but only because I'm also writing things that do sell well enough that I can occasionally be self-indulgent.

All the marketing in the world won't help a book succeed if no one is interested in that book. If you have weak sales and you want to make a living, maybe it is time to try something else.

Remember the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, hoping for a different outcome. If you want a different outcome, you have to do something different.


Jason D. Morrow said...

I've written a fantasy series. (3 books) It has gotten great reviews, and quite a few of them. Every month for the past year, I've made about $1000.

In your opinion Mr. Konrath, would it be a good idea to continue with fantasy and try to grow my readership there? Or is $1000 per month for my first year not too hot and should consider something different.

I mean, I have a good idea for what I plan to do anyway, but I wouldn't mind some insight.


Karen Mueller Bryson said...

Thank you so much for the opportunity to be a guest on your blog. I have been reading your blog for quite a while and I anxiously await every new post!

Joe Flynn said...

Congratulations, Karen. It's always good to see hard work and persistence rewarded. Shrewd understanding of the marketplace helps, too.

Anonymous said...

I'd really like to see more info on the mechanics (including copyright, payment, working w/ amzn/bn, etc) of using a pen name. I haven't found this covered for the modern era...pointers appreciated. TIA.

Wayne McDonald said...

Anonymous, Dean Wesley Smith has an overview of pen names at:

William Kendall said...

Congratulations, Karen, and bravo!

Jude Hardin said...

Nice post, Karen. I'm glad you found your niche and that you're writing the kinds of books you love to read--one of the key elements to a successful and sustained career, I think.

DaBigMotor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DaBigMotor said...

"I'd really like to see more info on the mechanics (including copyright, payment, working w/ amzn/bn, etc) of using a pen name. I haven't found this covered for the modern era...pointers appreciated. TIA."

Not to mention health insurance options for the self-employed writer.

Ramon said...

This is an interesting thing I've been experiencing. I have a fantasy trilogy and a vampire series. On Barns and Noble, I'm selling (this month and last being my two highest) roughly a hundred books a month. Since I've been at this about two years and some change, I'm happy to be growing a readership there that is increasing every month.

What's interesting is that I sell one handful of copies on amazon every month. Pretty much next to nothing. It's interesting. I have been thinking of investing in a little bit of marketing like bookbug (which is friggin expensive) but I keep backpedaling. I wish I was wired to write both fantasy and romance, since romance is the top money genre. I was still thinking of trying it out, though. It would be nice to quit my serving job. :/

Thanks for the post and congrats to you, Karen.

Joshua James said...

great post...

7 books in 7 months, holy crow!

Jude Hardin said...

I wish I was wired to write both fantasy and romance, since romance is the top money genre.

Interestingly, BookBub has far more mystery subscribers, which tells me that mystery is the top money genre.

Not that I would suggest that everyone sit down and write a mystery. Write what you love. If it's fantasy, then great. Your book might be the next big thing.

Unknown said...

Karen: I have seven romance novels available on Amazon but my sales are in the cellar. Okay, you must be a better writer, but I'm not chopped liver. One of my books won the San Diego book Award, another was an RWA Golden Heart Finalist, a third was published by Avalon Books. I even Twitter and Facebook (well,not much). Any advice will be appreciated.

Jill James said...

Great post. I think when you enjoy a genre it shows in your writing. That little extra something that gets attention.

Anonymous said...

(Fixing accidental omission.)

From the comments of the blog entry "Guest Post by Jude Hardin":

"Jude Hardin said...
A long time ago when Stephen King was asked why he writes the kinds of books he writes, he replied, "What makes you think I have a choice?"

I guess I could write a romance novel (etc.) if someone had a gun to my head, but it wouldn't be a very good one."

Ann Voss Peterson said...

I have to weigh in here. I think it's imperative for the writer to enjoy what they're writing. It shows. But if you enjoy several different types of books, and want to write them, you have a bunch of possibilities.

And changing genres might be an answer, if you're struggling (1000 dollars a month is really good, so just stop, Jason. Keep doing what you're doing). But romance is no magic bullet.

Writing romance is HARD. That Karen has been successful is not a small thing.

To write romance, you have to be absolutely in touch with your emotions, because romance is all about emotion. It's all about character arc. In order to write romance, you need to be able to bare your most private self and let the world take a shot at you.

And they will. Trust me.

But it IS the best selling genre. Bookbub has more mystery subscribers, but that only means Bookbub has more mystery subscribers(Jude--ahem), not that the mystery genre has more sales. The current stats are here:

And it has been the same for as long as I've been paying attention to such things, which would be 20 years now.

Phyllis, if you've been reading this blog for a while, you know Joe's philosophy about luck. My advice is keep writing and keep working to tell better and better stories. But that would be my advice to Karen, too.

If you're not working to make your stories better, you're sliding backwards. And that applies to ALL writers, no matter how experienced or successful. Every writer can always get better.

At least this is one business where you'll never get bored. :)

Jude Hardin said...

I stand corrected. :)

But Harlequin paperbacks probably account for a great percentage of those sales, right? If we're talking about self-published ebooks, I still think mystery authors can reach a wider audience than mainstream romance authors.

And with BookBub being the best advertising tool we have at the moment, I think the stats on its subscribers should serve as a fairly accurate gauge.

Unknown said...

To Anne Voss Peterson:
Thanks for answering. On looking at other romance covers, it suddenly came to me that I could do what Joe says: try a new cover. Mine are not "clinch" covers, so maybe that's what's wrong, They don't scream, "romance." Now I just have to find a good, cheap cover artist.

Anonymous said...

"Joe sez:
My sci-fi doesn't sell well. I have no idea why..."

It's partly because sci-fi has a stigma against it--it's for nerd fanboys who like techo-gizmos.

Women buy more fantasy than they do sci-fi.

The other part is that there might be something missing from your sci-fi.

There's a whole new generation of girls who love Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who, Farscape, Stargate:SG1, etc.
What do those things have that your sci-fi doesn't (besides being visual and not written)?
I can't tell you the whole thing (cuz I don't go out of my way to create more competition ;) ), but I'll give you a hint: they are "girl friendly".

From what I've read of Timecaster:Supersymmetry (just the sample at Amazon), not so "girl friendly".

So to get more overall sales in sci-fi, all sci-fi writers should try to make their work "girl friendly" and start an ongoing campaign to remove the stigma that sci-fi is only for fanboys who like techno-gizmos.

Just my 2 cents.


Jude Hardin said...

But romance is no magic bullet.

Truest statement ever. And neither is any other genre.

Anonymous said...

Phyllis Humphrey:

Try Go On Write, here:

His covers are 30 bucks currently apiece, in a variety of genres, and he's got some romance ones in there as well. :)

Hollis Shiloh said...

This is a great post, but at the same time, I think new writers (or struggling writers) might get the wrong impression.

You can't write something you hate.

I've tried.

I'm very happy writing what I'm writing now. But...I can't try to make myself write what's popular, in my genre or any other. (I write gay romance.) I can't do BSDM or erotic stuff. I just write... romance. I am not going to try to force myself to write something I don't enjoy. I *have* tried in the past and it's a bad place to be for me and doesn't work.

My latest release is doing well. I wrote what I wanted to read, even knowing it could probably be ripped apart for various reasons. But...I needed to write what I needed to write. Surprisingly, it's selling--but that's not always the case with a story an author writes, no matter whether they love it or hate it. So if I can't tell what people are going to love or hate anyway, why not write what I love?

I can't tell you how soul-sucking depressing it was for me to try to make myself write "regular" romance--until I wrote what I wanted to. (In my case, gay romance with a tendency to be tender/sweet.)

Basically I think writers are so used to hearing "you must write this this and this, or rewrite everything or change all of this" that sometimes we read things into what's being said that aren't so. I don't think the author of this blog post, which is great, means, "Sell your soul! Write what's popular!" but I think some authors might take that away from this and it would be a damn shame.

I think being a writer takes a certain amount of stubbornness, refusing to give up, and you've got to feel it when you write.

Sorry for super long comment...and for sounding a bit like a jerk. I really believe Karen Mueller Bryson aka Dakota Madison loves what she writes and is good at it--and every writer needs to find that for himself/herself in whatever genre(s) they can do and enjoy.

But seriously, don't ever try to write a genre if you hate it. It's SO depressing to write something you hate.

Unknown said...

Perhaps this is the flaw of the current publishing model. How do writers of a diverse array of genres get discovered? Nothing wrong with any genre, but all need a place at the table

Anonymous said...

Ann Voss Peterson, Sorry but I don't agree with you.

I am watching the bestselling romance lists every day and I am seeing a tons of soft erotic stories with a lame love story thrown in and the 'New adult' label slapped on it.

They are 50 shades of grey mixed with Twilight.

The romance novels that are dominating the bestsellers charts right now (and for the past year) are all emotion-less soft porn stories about young adults with an insta-love couple who go through drama after drama. Or worse talk about their lust for each other page after page.

There is no emotion in most of these stories. They are quite different from the romances of 3 or 5 or 10 years ago.

Anonymous said...

To Phyllis Humphrey,

Congratulations on your awards but awards judges don't always pick the books that the majority of readers love. So awards don't always equal sales.

As you mentioned, try changing your covers (look at the covers by popular authors who are writing similar books to your own).

Try working on your description. Mark Edwards at has some information on writing descriptions.

Look at your categories on Amazon, are you in every category that fits your book?

Book bloggers can be your best friends, if they give you a good review it can lead to decent sales.

I am one of those writers who would write a couple novels in a more popular genre, just to make some extra money to add to my savings.

New adult romance novels are hot right now and I am writing one to see if I can make some rainy day cash.

Anonymous said...

FYI, there are at least 2 different Anonymous posters here.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

I'd say one advertising newsletter, as awesome as Bookbub is, is not a good measure of sales, Jude.

Phyllis, I think you might be on to something. Good luck! And keep writing what you love.

Charles--I think the current publishing model is MUCH kinder to niche genres than publishing has ever been. In the past, many of those books wouldn't be published at all, because not enough readers would buy them to make it worth publisher's investment. Now writers can sell and readers can find just about anything they want to read. Win-win!

Anon who disagreed with me--
Have you read these books? Because I have to admit, I haven't. I generally stick to buying authors I know for my romance reading. And their indie work is every bit as emotional as their traditionally-published work has always been.

If a lot of people are buying a certain type of book, they obviously have value to a lot of people, even if they're not your cuppa tea.

Jude Hardin said...

I'd say one advertising newsletter, as awesome as Bookbub is, is not a good measure of sales, Jude.

I guess that's true. It would be interesting to see some sales stats among self-published authors of different genres.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

Here's a survey of self-published books (predominently romance) that was done by romance author Marie Force back in April. Not scientific, of course, so only those who wanted to report did.

Marie has a number of other surveys on her blog, too.

Anonymous said...

There is another form of compensation for a writer beside book sales: selling movie rights.

Science fiction novels don't sell as well as some other genres, such as romance. But I see, from reading Locus magazine, Hollywood buying the movie rights to a number of SF and fantasy novels.

Many of the top grossing movies in the past few years are SF and fantasy. Hollywood thinks that the next block buster is likely to come from the ranks of SF and fantasy.

I'm curious as to how much as writer gets from selling movie rights. My guess is at least $100,000, and likely higher.

Unknown said...

To Phyllis Humphrey

> Now I just have to find a good, cheap cover artist.

Do you think you might be interested in trying to make your own covers? If so, you might take a look at the description (or click on Look Inside or download a sample) of my book Quick and Dirty eBook Covers:

If you think it might suit you to give it a try, I'd be glad to email you a review copy of the book in hopes you might post a review of it on Amazon. This offer also applies to anyone else here on Joe's blog. Just email me at


The Book Beaver said...

Great post! Thanks for taking the time to share this with us. I would love to read more posts of you.