Why I Made A Huge Mistake Marketing My Books (And How You Can Avoid It)

I made a big mistake in marketing my books, and here it is in a nutshell: There’s a difference between my Romances that Rock and Rock Romances. My books aren’t Rock Romances, and I’m going to stop marketing them as such. Let me explain. (And I get wordy here, so bear with me if you will. I do have a point. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

When I finally finished Crimson and Clover and it was ready for the submission process, I ran into a problem. The majority of romance publishers are looking for a certain formula for their books: the main couple has to meet by page five, for example. My book didn’t fit those criteria, and I began to wonder if it would ever find a home. Then I found Crimson Romance. They were just starting out in the world of romance publishing, and were willing to throw aside the constricts of formula romances. I submitted to them, and they accepted Crimson and Clover even though Katie and Jay don’t meet until Chapter Six.

Even then we hit a few snags. The book isย  set in 1968, and no one was really sure how to classify such a book. It wasn’t present-day contemporary, but it also didn’t fall into the realm of historical, which are mainly books set anywhere from medieval times to the Victorian era. We ended up placing it in the historical category where it never really fit.

Juli Page Morgan, Bestselling Author of Romances that Rock

One of these things is not like the others.

Fast forward to my second book, Athena’s Daughter. Set in 1975, it was another book that would probably be classified as historical even though it isn’t. Crimson and Clover didn’t do well in that classification, and it was a sure bet that Athena’s Daughter would also die on the vine there. That’s one of the reasons I decided to self-publish it, so I could call it a contemporary and be done with it.

However.

Crimson and Clover was published right about the time that the world of e-books really exploded in popularity, and I put out Athena’s Daughter at the same time that people started realizing that there were treasures to be found among self-published books. Readers perused Amazon and didn’t give a rat’s ass who published a book as long as it was good. The choices were, and are, endless, and people are one-clicking like mad. As a reader, I love it. No matter what kind of book I’m in the mood to read, there are tons to choose from. All I have to do is enter a search term, and bam! I’m presented with an all-you-can-read buffet. But as an author, this plethora of books means mine are apt to get lost in this sea of choices. According to Forbes, between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books were published last year in the U.S. alone. How could I bring my books to the attention of readers amongst all those others?

I already knew I had a problem with classification. I went with Romance Writers of America’s rules which state any book set after World War II is a contemporary romance. (I still think there should be a Mid-Century classification, but we all know the traditional publishing world moves as slow as a sloth on oxycontin, so I’m not holding my breath for it to happen any time soon.) I dutifully added “1960s,” “1970s,” and, for Song Without Words, “1980s” to my books’ search keywords, but it wasn’t enough. I needed a way to make my books stand out from all the other contemporary romances being published each day. Given that each book included a rock band, I started calling them Rock Romances.

I was wrong.

I didn’t know – though as an author I should have taken the time to find out – that Rock Romances have their own formula. It’s not my intention to paint the entire genre with a wide brush, but the majority I’ve read (yes, I do buy them; yes, I do read them; yes, I do enjoy some of them) feature a bad-boy alpha male and a heroine who gets off on that. Readers of Rock Romance expect these characters in their books, and my heroes and heroines? They don’t fit that formula. At all. And because they don’t, they disappoint readers of Rock Romance, the way Crimson and Clover disappointed readers looking for a historical romance.

Juli Page Morgan, Bestselling Author of Romances that Rock

Not a Rock Romance … not a Rock Romance … neither is this … and neither is this.

Just like readers of historicals won’t find lord and ladies or castles in Crimson and Clover (though Jay Carey did say it would be cool to own a castle with a moat filled with all sorts of nasty creatures), readers of my books won’t find strutting alpha males.

Even Geoff Lane from Song Without Words, the most “alpha” of my heroes, backed off the second Spencer showed the least bit of hesitation. And he never said things like “Too late, girl. I want you and I’m going to have you right now. On your knees.” If any of my heroes spouted off that type of jargon, his corresponding heroine would punch him in jaw and follow it up with a kick to the groin so hard that his great-great-grandsons would be born clutching their testicles in pain. My heroines love their rock stars, and they know that type of persona is necessary on stage. But they’re not going to put up with that behavior in their day-to-day lives.

And Rhys, talk about sexy and romantic. Instead of being the typical arrogant, rude, and overbearing alpha male, heโ€™s a sexy, hard-core rock star on stage, and off stage a wonderfully charming, sweet and romantic man who wants a deep and meaningful relationship with a real woman. — From a review of “Sister Golden Hair” by Goodreads reviewer Pamela

I was mistaken in branding my books as Rock Romances, because they’re not. The books are contemporary romances, stories about relationships, finding yourself, overcoming obstacles, and ending up with that happily ever after. It just so happens that the men are in rock bands. The relationship is the key element, though, not the band, not the sex. The relationship.

Juli Page Morgan, Bestselling Author of Romances that Rock

I found this on Tumblr, and I think it shows very well the differences. My heroines are in the first category there.

I’ve spent the past couple of days removing almost all of the search terms and classifications that present my books as Rock Romance. I say almost because I’ve left the keyword “rock star” since the books do have those wonderful creatures as main characters. But keywords like “rocker,” and “rock romance” are gone. I’ve even changed the name of the Illicit Rockers series to the Illicit series.

At this point my books are all classified as contemporary romances, an extremely broad category with no sub-genres. (Seriously, Amazon. With 1,000,000 books being published in the U.S. each year, don’t you think it’s time you gave readers better search options?) But it’s better than being classified as something they’re not and disappointing readers who think they’re getting the type of story they enjoy. By the same token, the books haven’t been reaching the readers who would enjoy them but don’t care for Rock Romances. See how badly I messed up?

As for my author brand, “Author of Romances that Rock,” that won’t change. The music aspects of my books mean they do rock that way. And readers and reviewers tell me the books rock on a broader definition of the term (which always – always! – gives me a Sally Field-like “you really like me!” feeling. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

If you’re finishing up your own book, make sure you learn from my mistake. Do your homework! If you’re going the traditional route and submitting to agents and/or publishers, make sure you present your book correctly. Also, don’t be afraid to put your foot down if they want to classify it as something it’s not. If you’re planning to self-publish, do your research on genres, classifications and categories. Think carefully about the keywords you use. Read books already published. Become a member of Facebook groups devoted to the type of genre you think your book falls in and see what the readers of that group like. You might discover that your book won’t do well with them because no matter what you think it’s not the type of book they’d enjoy. Same thing with review blogs – look through their archives and see which books they loved, and which books got a “meh” reaction. If your book doesn’t fit in with the ones they gave five-star reviews, don’t submit to them. It’s not their cuppa.

Getting your book noticed is hard. Don’t make it harder by marketing and branding it wrong.

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12 Responses to Why I Made A Huge Mistake Marketing My Books (And How You Can Avoid It)

  1. I made the same mistake with my vampire novel, but I was able to rectify it early on. I actually put “Vampire Novel Series” in the subtitle to make it more attractive to those who love the genre. This marketing thing is really hard, the publishers know that which is why they rely heavily on their authors to do all the heavy lifting.

    What you did with “Romances that Rock” is what CJ Lyons did with her brand, “Thrillers with Heart” it separates you from the pack. Again, I wished I had the forward thinking to have done that. *Sigh*
    Rachel Rueben recently posted…Fedelta Parte 11: The No Tell MotelMy Profile

    • Another perk of self-publishing is being able to go back and change what doesn’t work. And boy, I’m glad we can! I’ve tweaked the keywords on Amazon several times since they only allow seven. I like how Smashwords allows an almost unlimited amount of keywords on their listings, because it’s so much easier to narrow down choices when looking for a certain kind of book.

      It’s never to late to tweak your brand, though. When you come up with the phrase you want, add it to your website’s header, your FB page, your Twitter description. When you add images to your blogs, use the phrase and your name as the “alternate title” of the photo for SEO. Before you know it, it’ll be identified with you and your writing.
      julipagemorgan recently posted…Why I Made A Huge Mistake Marketing My Books (And How You Can Avoid It)My Profile

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Odd coincidence, but I was just thinking about target audiences last night and had a revelation: Our heroines are with their guys DESPITE the fact they’re famous musicians, not BECAUSE of them. Rhett especially, since she met Rhys in a non-music setting. I think that’s the biggest challenge of marketing our books – the fact that the romance part isn’t the end-all, be-all driving factor that the MCs live for. I know Romance audiences like that whole ‘swept away, I can’t live without you OMG what have you done to me’ aspect. Hell, I like it sometimes. But I can’t write it – my characters are too fleshed out in my mind to just exist for love and nothing else. The way they fit the relationship in with the rest of their lives and the filters they view their partners through…even the way they define love and togetherness – that should all play a part as well. Otherwise, it can be a paint-by-numbers affair.

    Great blog post, very thought provoking!

    • That’s why I love that comment from Tumblr so much. Our heroines are happy to have found their guys, but if they hadn’t found them then they would have gone on about their lives with no whining about having to have a man around. I like what you said about them being with their guys despite the fact they’re famous musicians, not because they are. It’s an important distinction.

      Yes, I do love the “swept away by love” romances, evidenced by my tattered collection of Kathleen Woodiwiss books. ๐Ÿ™‚ But like you, I can’t write those. My heroines are too independent-minded to have romance be their only reason to exist.
      julipagemorgan recently posted…Why I Made A Huge Mistake Marketing My Books (And How You Can Avoid It)My Profile

  3. This post *rocks* (and so do your books).

    Great advice, Juli!

  4. Diana Beebe says:

    Oh, Juli, thanks for sharing this. I love that quote about the romance being about the partnership, not the woman striving to have a romance! That should be reality, right?

    I’m glad your women characters would punch the rogue in the face. Mine would, too. ๐Ÿ™‚ Not that the rogue isn’t an entertaining read every once in awhile…
    Diana Beebe recently posted…Confessions of a Big-Shod GirlMy Profile

  5. Juli,
    I agree with Irene. This post rocks! Figuring out a marketing strategy in this business is a nightmare. What works today, doesn’t tomorrow. But like you said, we have to all DO OUR HOMEWORK. We all hate homework, avoid it at all cost…but if we are going to be noticed out of 1,000,000 titles [and that is just crazy!] we have know what’s working today. One thing I totally respect about you, girlfriend is your willingness to take chances—write what you want to write about instead becoming another cookie cutter. That takes guts and determination.

  6. Rachel Cross says:

    “The books are contemporary romances, stories about relationships, finding yourself, overcoming obstacles, and ending up with that happily ever after. It just so happens that the men are in rock bands. The relationship is the key element, though, not the band, not the sex. The relationship.”
    Amen, sister! Those are the only kind I want to read and write. Great post.

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