Saturday, June 24, 2017

Thoughts: Summer 2017 Edition

My first announcement, which no one will care about, is that my NaNoWriMo project from... 2015?  Is indefinitely post-poned.  I know, I know--don't be sad.  It's just a lil snippet now, and I had big plans--outlines, etc etc etc--but now I think that story needs to head to the back shelves, perhaps never to return.  It just isn't (and believe me, I'm cringing as I write this word) marketable.  Not for me, not right now.

What this really means is that I will be taking the companion story off of amazon, which will also, strangely, decrease my crappy reviews significantly.  Tall, Dark and Demonic ties in directly with the plot of the book I am now not writing, linking the Mercedes Lucibella stories to the Delilah universe.  But now there will be no Delilah universe.  Does any of that make sense?  I told you no one would care about this announcement, but on the off chance someone wondered where my (very poorly reviewed) story went, I thought I'd explain.

My next announcement, which hopefully some people will care about, is that the conclusion of Lisa and Ken's romance, tentatively titled HARD: Pearl of my Bones, will be out in August.  I am going to try and get all three smashed together into a reasonable compilation that will probably have a little extra material together in time for Christmas.  Right now, the re-writes for this are stressful, but damn the image sourcing is fun!  Thank you facebook friends :)

And my last announcement is that I'm semi-retiring.  Just kidding, I don't think that's a real thing.  But I am planning on trying out some other writing identities and genres for a while in addition to my work as good ole JT, which means that I won't be writing as much under this pen-name.  I don't foresee being able to publish more than one or two books annually, but honestly, I also have to say that I think this is part of a beautiful trend.

I dipped my toe into this on the blog Musings of a Romance Junkie--which is one of the best places to find out about books in this genre, hands down, on the web--with a response describing the change in MC/IR over the years.  In an older post, she talks about a depressing trend where black authors of MC/IR either leave the genre altogether or feel that they have to refocus on mainstream (read: white) romance in order to make a living.  This post is from 2015, and my hope is that things have looked up for authors in this genre generally since then; for authors across the board, self-publishing has increased our means of making livable wages (which allows us to write and not, say, waitress or be an accountant or whatever) and although I know frustration is the word of the day (year, and next four years, likely) I take the proliferation of trends such as '#diversebooks' to be indications that the world is moving very, very slowly in the right direction.  Meaning, there is infinite room for black women writing about the experience of being black women in MC/IR relationships.  There is a huge readership for this genre.  It's not going anywhere, and there are people who need these books and always will.

But not, necessarily, from me.

Sometime in June 2011, my best friend and I were on a short road trip from Massachusetts down to Providence, Rhode Island.  It was just in time for Pride, which is relevant, because to the people who saw us walking around town we were a perfect example of diversity: an interracial lesbian couple.  In real life, of course, we are best friends that have known each other since the age of fourteen and have had more fist-fights and make-ups than any average couple of any distinction and also, hilariously, I am bi but she is ram-rod straight.  Anyway, we were driving, my feet were hanging out of the passenger window (I'd just taken my finals and felt I had the right to revert to my white trash roots) and she was tanking copious amounts of caffeine and the subject came up, as it often did, of writing.  I'd actually published a YA novel on amazon the fall before, then took it down when I realized I needed to learn more about publishing in general before dipping my toe in the water (the year was 2010 at that time).  She was lamenting her drive to write but inability to focus.  And then the subject meandered over to what books we'd been reading (mine were all boring school books), and then to the fact that she was feeling really dissatisfied with what she'd been reading.

"They're all crap," she said, and I rolled my eyes.  I knew she was just disappointed.

"Okay," I told her.  "So write your own crap then."

"It's just" --she has that typical best friend habit of ignoring you when you say shit they don't want to hear, an art perfected over, in our case, two decades-- "I'm not like any of them.  I'm not like any of the sappy heroines in these books.  And the guys... Finding an articulate, interesting, kinky romance novel with a black heroine and a white hero is impossible."

It was not, at that time, impossible.  She was just distraught.  But it was rare.  The genre had been around forever, and better, more knowledgeable people than myself can speak to its history, but as the self-publishing fever took hold more and more authors were entering the fold and she didn't like the results.  "The same stories have been done over, and over, and over.  And worse.  They're ripping off the old authors and doing it in the shittiest possible way."

I told her again to write her own book, which she again deftly ignored (we have been having this discussion, again, for twenty years); I told her I would write a book, and she laughed, and I said, fuck you, dude, I could totally do this, and she said oh yeah?  Let's see it.  And called me some names that are too filthy even for this blog.  We had a merry time and went on and confused the nice people at Rhode Island Pride and I forgot about the whole thing.

Until September.

I decided to give her a present.  I wrote Deeper for her, which speaks to some of her particular wishes (although the sex scenes are all me, and believe it or not its because her level of kink would sail right past erotic romance and land in porn.  I did the best I could).  As research, the very first MC/IR book I remember reading was Theodora Taylor's Owner of His Heart, which I liked, but I liked her Russian billionaire romance far more... And then I was off to the races.  I read a bunch of romances I liked, and I thought, hey, this genre is awesome, and I rattled off Farther and Wetter in two weeks.

Now, Deeper was the first book I published and it sold 30 copies immediately, which shocked me--literally, I was short of breath when I lazily logged in to Amazon to check my stats.  It had a black heroine and a sweet, burly white construction guy as its pairing.  It is a very simple novella, very true to the genre in a lot of ways, because I didn't know what I was doing well enough to play with any tropes, and I knew that, and besides, I wrote it for her.

Wetter I wrote on a whim when I met a guy that inspired the story (the hero) and Farther I wrote because the subject interested me a lot.  They both have white heroines; the heroes are multi-ethnic and Native American respectively, although that isn't the focus of either story at all.  I think its barely mentioned, although they are both, definitely, MC/IR romances.

Those books have sold maybe 30 a piece...since they were published.  Seven years ago.

I was confused.  Isn't MC/IR any pairing that involves people from different backgrounds?  What's up?  So I looked around.

And technically, that answer is yes; there are many fine books with MC pairings from all across the rainbow.  Most of the ones with white heroines are a) published by major houses or b) absolutely racist tripe called "erotica" and requiring special searches on amazon.  Okay then.  The indie MC/IR scene was almost always centered on black women as heroines, usually with white heroes.

I was half-way through my semester.  I shrugged.  I'd really been enjoying the books I'd found, and over Christmas break, I wrote another pair of novellas, this time returning to black heroines: Louder and Harder.

These books sold a lot more, a lot faster.  And they should've; they are both good books, if I say so myself.  I'd learned a lot, having written several books (several meaning twenty or thirty, if we're counting what I'd written in other genres over the years since high school--remember, I'm an English major), and I loved the genre now.  I was invested in my own right.  I wrote Hardest because I couldn't stop thinking about Ken Yamamoto and Lisa Tyrell; a couple months passed, during which I was working on short stories for a PNR compilation centering around a multi-ethnic heroine (Mercedes Lucibella) and then I got to thinking, I've never read a romance with a heroine like my friend -----, and I wrote Thicker.  Which also did well, for a while.  Somewhere in there Ms. Taylor reviewed my compilation (all my black heroines in one book) and that did better than I thought it would, too.

And then I started getting some really shitty reviews.  This happens--it should happen, it's part of the process, and I don't mean to say people should feel they have to censor themselves; that's not the point here, just for the sake of clarification.  But it set me back emotionally, particularly because the books with the worst reviews were often freely given via Amazon Select.

I was trying to finish grad school.  I was about to move home (over 3000 miles, if you can imagine that) and I didn't need any additional stress; writing was my outlet, it was fun.  And suddenly it wasn't.

I took a couple steps back, and then a couple more.  I picked away at a couple of ideas (one of them eventually to become Galaxy of Scars, my best work) and in 2013 I published Hotter, which also has a white heroine.

I think it's sold 2 copies since.  It has one rabid review, from what I've been told (I do not read my reviews at all any more, they're filtered for me), from someone that read it on Kindle Unlimited, probably due to religious reasons (which I totally get; it's a very questioning work, to be gracious.  I wanted to write an MC novel that interested me, and it takes some risks thematically, so there ya go).

I needed a longer break, so I took one.  Finally, last year (2016), I decided to finish and publish Galaxy of Scars; I decided to really focus on publishing in this genre that I'd come to love a lot.  I understood, at this point, that writing white heroines in MC/IR vastly decreased the monetary return, and that taking risks with heroes (a la Hotter) probably wouldn't pay off; I knew cross-pollinating genres was risky.  But I did the latter two anyway; the former was moot, since I was writing a black heroine for my own reasons anyway.  Galaxy of Scars reads like a literary fiction piece.  It doesn't read like a typical romance novel, although it is a romance.  But it's also very much a mystery, and suspenseful.  For the first time, I pushed for a little publicity with my release.*

It did okay.  It paid for its cover, which, as stated, several of my books still haven't; I was encouraged by the positive reviews my beloved filter (re: husband) relayed to me.  I settled in and wrote the Blackstone Trilogy with a lot of enthusiasm and an acknowledgement that I didn't really know how to use the tools out there for marketing, since I'd stepped away several years before.

My trilogy has been read, at this point by over a thousand people.  What?  That's amazing!  I feel very proud of that accomplishment.

That said, it's gotten less than 40 reviews total between goodreads and amazon (for all three books combined; I'm bad at math but that's something like 1 in 50 people reading it and bothering to rate/review).  It has high ratings on both, which leads me to believe that it's not being ignored because it's bad (although it is bad, in its own way, and by bad I mean deliciously trashy and whip-lash ridiculous; I had such a blast with those characters).  It hasn't made very much money, because most of those reads are via Kindle Unlimited (which pays nothing).  So I'm having to reassess.

And you know what?  The world has changed.  Seven years have gone by.  Almost a decade since that fateful road trip, since Rhode Island Pride, since Deeper.

There are so many authors of color out there right now self-publishing excellent, addictive MC/IR romance titles that my best friend and I will never, ever catch up.  We will never read them all.  She has a plethora of heroines to choose from--and kinks of all colors and varieties, a rainbow confectionary of super-scrumptious scenarios and heroes and in all sub-genres too: shifter, fae, virgins, billionaires, sheikhs, cowboys, whatever you want, it now exists, and it's awesome.

I don't need to keep writing black heroines in MC/IR romance.  There are a million black women doing it already who need the support; I am sure this applies to other WOC as well.  And writing white heroines, as I've said, pays nothing and gets me 1 star reviews.**

So where does that leave me, exactly?

Well, I love the genre; I will keep happily reading forever.***  And I have a couple stories left that I am really invested in, some ideas that have been germinating a long time and I know I'll have to deal with.  Two or three half-finished novels.  Six (at last count) short stories and novellas.  Unpublished stories feel like extra-long pregnancies, which I am familiar with, and do not enjoy (please see my previous blogpost; I do, however, love the results when the results are chubby babies).  So I will keep publishing under this pen-name indefinitely.  I just won't be publishing much.

I hope this post is uplifting for those authors, considering how long I've been paying attention to the genre and indie MC/IR in particular; I hope the concern and worry that MC/IR is losing writers has been abated in the two years that have passed since that post.  I hope the world begins to appreciate the genre--and more importantly, to recognize the basic humanity of black women, and to enjoy sharing their experiences the same way the world seems to enjoy the experiences of white women, as they unfold in the pages of a book.  I hope this thing I have seen, this experience I have had, has made some people happy along the way in the form of my own books, and will continue to do so; I have hope.

*I explain elsewhere in this blog that Galaxy of Scars is by far my most personal work, and I am (perhaps unduly--don't tell me if that's the case) deeply attached to it.  I sure as hell can't handle reviews of it, but I am aware of its status on GR/amazon.

**If you want to read about white women in general, look no further than mainstream romance (or, actually any genre at all).  This is not a boo-hoo about that.

***I haven't been able to read as much in the genre recently because I am broke AF (please see the above post for explanations as to why) and relying on the local library for my reads; shockingly, indie MC/IR romances are not often available.  Petition your library to carry indie releases of all genres!  It's a thing.