There are over 70,000 romance books listed on Amazon. Getting noticed in a sea of other romances is a daunting task. The good news is that you don’t need to be a household name to build a career out of writing romance fiction. There are many indie romance authors that you’ve probably never heard of who are generating thousands of dollars a month in book sales.
So what do you need to be a successful romance author?
The most successful authors have a steady stream of book releases. Most also write books in a series. But what really helps them in developing an author brand that readers gather around. Here are a few tips:
1. Develop Your Own Voice and Style
Think of your favorite authors. Chances are they have their own distinctive writing style or voice. Janet Evanovich and Jennifer Crusie all have a humorous, sometimes snarky writing style. JR Ward has a darker, grittier writing style. One reason I really enjoy Lauren Blakely is her voice and style of writing. She’s not the only romance author writing in the first person present, but there’s something different about her voice and stories that keep me coming back.
Note that I’m not just talking about the types of books they write (funny or dark), but also how they put words together that make them different from others in their same sub-genres.
2. Be Unique
Some romance authors write to market, which is to say they study what subgenres and tropes are selling well and write something to ride the wave of popularity. The problem is that doing what everyone else is doing, especially if you don’t have a unique voice, doesn’t make you stand out. Why should I buy your billionaire secret baby story among all the choices I have?
Other ways to be unique include your book cover style or the topics you cover (see #5).
3. Create Your Own Niche
Branding is all about what you want to be known for. When I read JD Robb, I know exactly what I’m going to get. As long as she stays on brand (writing on what I expect to read based on my past experience with her brand), I’m happy.
This is one area I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about in my own writing. I love romance and mystery, especially if it involves a sleuthing couple in an ongoing series. I wrote the Valentines because I couldn’t find other books that fit this interest.
For a long time, I was challenged on how to market my books because they didn’t fit nicely into traditional romance or mystery genres. The good news is that today, indie authors can create their own sub-genre lanes as long as they’re able to find the readers. Once the readers are found, you have set yourself up to be the go-to author for your special niched books.
Developing your own “niche” doesn’t just mean having your own subgenre uniqueness. Part of it can be your voice (#1). Or it could be on the topics you cover such as sports or spies or small town cowboys. It could be that you have a single series ala Diana Gabaldon. Or it could be your story formats such as novellas or epic long novels.
4. What do you want to be known for?
Part of standing out is being identified as a certain type of writer. When you think of Nora Roberts, you think of romance novels. Stephan King = horror novels. As an unknown author, you need to niche your brand down a little bit because it’s too difficult to compete with the larger “romance” audience. The writing team Christina Lauren has made a name for itself in romcom. Christine Feehan is known for paranormal romance.
That doesn’t mean you can’t ever write outside of your “brand”. JR Ward is most known for her paranormal Black Dagger Brotherhood series, but she has her Bourbon Kings series as well. With that said, it’s easier to diversify once you have readers or at least know how to seek out new readers for your other ideas.
This is another area I’ve been thinking about in my own writing. I have a romantic mystery series, a romance series, and a cozy series. It’s a bit confusing. As I think about my writing going forward, I’m considering focusing on romantic mystery series since I already have the Valentines, plus some shorter stories involving another couple (the Delecoeurs), and a cozy idea that I could turn into a romantic mysteries. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever write some of the other ideas I have in paranormal and dystopian.
When it comes to marketing, it’s easier to promote one “brand” to an interested market, than to have too many different books geared toward different readers.
5. Include Attractive or Compelling Interests
Any romance set in New Orleans, I’m likely to buy. There’s something about the history, culture, and lore of New Orleans that interests me. There are authors that use folklore or fairy tales to build their romances around. The Outlander series spends a great deal of time living through Scottish and Colonial American history.
This concept of attracting readers to an interest can include niched tropes such as military, sports, motorcycle clubs, or FBI romances. The idea is that you draw readers beyond the subcategory or general tropes (i.e. historical second chance at love) to topics or locations that generate interest as well.
6. Create a Community
When it comes to marketing, authors often think about how to sell books. I see many Facebook posts in author groups asking about what social media should they be on. What is the best place to do newsletter swaps? And so on. Here are some truths about marketing:
- There is no one-best-place-fits-all. The best place for you to market is wherever YOUR reader hangs out.
- Most people don’t respond to sales pitches unless it’s promising to solve a problem. Romance readers don’t likely have a “problem” that your book will solve, so romance book marketing needs to be less about selling. It’s why many authors promote a free book.
- Romance readers are loyal buyers and great evangelists of authors they love.
- Selling to someone who already knows and loves you is easier than selling to someone who has no clue who you are.
Knowing all this, the best way to build your brand and sales is by creating a community around you and your books. People like to belong and be a part of the club. Giving your readers a community experience creates an attachment to you that makes it more likely they’ll buy your books in the future and tell others about you.
How do you create community? That is a whole blog post on its own, but some general ideas are:
- Build a newsletter. Subscribers have stepped forward to give you their email. Treat it like gold. Give them special attention, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and other exclusive goodies.
- Create a fan group. You can do this through Facebook groups or by setting up a forum or other group-like feature on your website. Similar to your newsletter, you can give your fans special attention and behind the curtain access to you.
The trick to a successful community (which I’m still working to get better at) is making them feel like they’re a part of something special and exclusive. Beyond sending them stuff, you need to engage with them. Give them shout-outs (I’ve included many of my fans in my books’ acknowledgments or have thanked them on social media if they left a good review). When it comes to a book launch, many will step up and help you promote your book because they’re now invested in your success.
What do you think of these ideas for building your author brand to stand out? Do you have other ideas? Let me know in the comments below!