I had a curious "sweet" experience this month that I thought I'd share...because I found the results so fascinating.
It started because I was looking up an author (as I'm prone to do from time to time). She had six books out, except she didn't...she actually had twelve. Why? She had a sexy and a sweet version of every title.
To some folks this isn't news. To me it was a real, Hunh! moment.
I started poking around and discovered that a number of authors do this. Then I thought about my wife's knitting group. They had commented that they loved my Small Town Oregon romance series, and not just because of the knitting circle that runs throughout. However, they were unwilling to pass them on to their friends--many of whom are elderly or quite religious. My series have varying degrees of sexuality (mostly in the mild-to-medium range), but my characters do tend to take a free hand with the English language.
I decided to ask my newsletter fans. Now these are people who already read my books and like them enough to sign up for my newsletter so that they don't miss anything. They are pre-filtered, if you will, for already accepting the level of heat and language that I write. With that in mind I asked a single question anyway, wondering if I'd even get a 10% "yes" response:
The "heat" in a romance novel is rated from "sweet" to, well, you know. If everything else was exactly the same (emotional story, plot, characters) would you be interested in the addition of a "sweet" version of my contemporary romance books as well?
The response was overwhelming! With almost 25% of my subscribers responding, 48% answered "Yes Please" vs. "No Thanks." To say that I was staggered is an understatement.
I was puzzled until I started reading the comments (I'm so glad I added that option at the last second). Fans begged me to not change my writing for them (other than a few stray comments calling for BDSM, menage, inspirational, etc.). However, the comments consistently showed that they weren't comfortable giving the books to parents, teenage daughters, friends at church, and so on. Okay, that made sense.
The next challenge was how to change a "standard" version of a novel to a "sweet" one. I came up with a word list, tinkered around with how to present it on the cover, in the blurbs, how to load it onto retailer sites, etc. Then I faced down altering the sex scenes to have the same emotional and plot content but without any graphic moments. I tend to wind my character emotions into those moments, so it took some doing. Overall? It took about five dozen hours to convert a 60k-word novel. And courtesy of Vellum and their new ready-for-print capability (which is utterly amazing, even if I had to buy a used Mac to run it), it took under five minutes to actually produce a second version once I had the text figured out. I released them simultaneously.
This validated the process for me, because the effort wasn't too heinous and I now had a new product for my fans. But would it sell?
The answer two weeks later? A little bit. The sales of the "sweet" version are trickling out the door but not in any 48% tidal wave. I think there are a couple of reasons behind this:
- My fans have to read the book first (and they would tend to buy the "standard" version) before they decide if they want to give it to others. This would make "sweet" sales lag well behind.
- I have only a single title, so potential new fans wouldn't even know to look. Therefore, we're in the process of adding sweet versions to all of my contemporary romance series (of which there are now four: Where Dreams, Eagle Cove, Henderson's Ranch, Love Abroad). We'll be rolling these out over the next several months.
One of the amusing thoughts that I mostly keep to myself about this? The difference between what we're willing to give and what the receiving party wants to read. I have a friend whose grandmother was bedridden after a bad fall and she enjoyed reading romances. So my friend spent hours vetting titles to make sure that they were acceptable for grandma. Finally her grandmother protested, "Don't they write romances with sex in them anymore? Bring me some of those! The steamier the better!"
But there is a broad interest in "sweet" versions and that gives me a new channel into which to market my books. In addition to being a writer, I am in the business of selling books. So far, it's looking good. And I love having my wife's friends now being comfortable passing my books on to others (even if they themselves say they intend to keep purchasing the not-so-sweet versions for themselves).
|Love Abroad B&B|
|Love Aboard B&B - sweet|
M.L. Buchman started the first of, what is now over 50 novels and as many short stories, while flying from South Korea to ride his bicycle across the Australian Outback. Part of a solo around the world trip that ultimately launched his writing career.
All three of his military romantic suspense series—The Night Stalkers, Firehawks, and Delta Force—have had a title named “Top 10 Romance of the Year” by the American Library Association’s Booklist. NPR and Barnes & Noble have named other titles “Top 5 Romance of the Year.” In 2016 he was a finalist for Romance Writers of America prestigious RITA award. He also writes: contemporary romance, thrillers, and fantasy.