Last weekend I read Romance Your Brand: Building a Marketable Genre Fiction Series by Zoe York.
I love reading nonfiction by indie authors. It’s like being able to pick their brains without actually bothering them. An author shared a screenshot of the books on her Kindle in one of the Facebook groups I’m in, and Zoe’s book caught my eye. Zoe is a well-known in the indie publishing space as a contemporary romance writer. I first heard of her when she was a contributor of the now defunct podcast Self-Publishing Round Table, one of the first podcasts I listened to about self-publishing.
I was excited to see that she started writing nonfiction and I purchased her book right away.
I’ve written two series: one trilogy and another with four books. They don’t sell that great, but though to be fair, I don’t promote them much, either, and I thought Zoe could share some things that worked for her.
She goes through the reasons why a series is good–namely read-through and creating a world fans can fall in love with. I already know that, which is why I tortured myself all of 2019 writing one. It’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, but there are things you have to consider like consistency and bringing other characters into the story of the main couple because they’re all friends and people simply don’t disappear when you don’t need them at the moment.
Zoe goes into some of the planning, encouraging you to draw a map of where your series is going to take place. She writes small-town romance, and my Rocky Point Wedding Series is placed in a small town, too. I knew my series wasn’t going to be very long — I don’t have an attention span for several books, so I trusted myself to keep Rocky Point’s details in my head without writing them down. But if you plan to write 5+ books, it may be advantageous to treat your setting like a character and write a detailed sheet to keep facts straight.
Other tips she offers are keywords, naming your series, and plotting out the books. This is where my ears perked up so to speak because Zoe is a genre fiction author. She subscribes to the Venn Diagram where you need to write to market while writing what you love and finding that sweet spot to sustain a lucrative, but happy and satisfying, career for yourself.
When I plotted my series, I started with setting first. For me that’s the easy part. I set the books in a fictional small town in Minnesota based on my hometown. I even gave my town the same attributes — along the Canadian border, a shut-down paper mill, and a similar Main Street. I’ll probably always set my stories in Minnesota. I love the seasons and the variety they can bring to the plots.
Then I move onto characters. I think this is where I dropped the ball and Zoe opened my eyes that actually when I plan out my books I don’t keep tropes in mind.
Every romance novel is based on a trope or two, and while you might scoff or want to deny it because your books are better than that drivel, I need to remind you readers love tropes. The kind of trope the book contains is why the reader chooses to read your book.
While plotting my series I forgot that, and it’s why my books aren’t as strong as they could and should be. Of course my books contain tropes, but I assign the tropes after the fact when I should be planning my stories around them. Knowing the tropes I want to include beforehand will give my books a stronger spine.
What are some romance tropes? These are from Zoe’s book:
- friends with with benefits
- married to the enemy
- marriage of convenience
- enemies to lovers
- fish out of water (new town, fresh start)
- forced proximity
- bad boy
- ugly duckling
- unrequited love
- friends to lovers
- strangers to lovers
There are more, these is only a sample. A Google search can come up with a couple more:
- forbidden love
- age gap
- secret baby
- fake date
- fake marriage
You can have a lot of fun with tropes. Take forced proximity. Maybe two strangers have to share a shelter during a tornado, or the elevator stalls (that’s pretty popular) or there’s only one bed (another that’s popular). Anything where the characters need to spend a lot of time together in a close space with no chance of escape. Like a cabin during a blizzard.
Zoe encourages you to list the tropes as you plan the books in your series and I’m going to start doing that with all my books. For now I can list the tropes that my books do contain (I can list them for marketing and ad copy purposes) and going forward use new tropes as I plot.
Knowing what tropes your books includes can help with blurb-writing and writing ad copy. As Jami Albright says, tropes sell. If you can make the tropes easy for readers to see, you’ll be more apt to make a sale.
Writing a series takes a bit of planning. At least the first few books so you can fit the pieces of each book together like a puzzle. Some series can go on for a while see (Robyn Carr) and there is no way to plan twenty books at one time. But if you can list the elements you want to include in the first few hopefully consistency won’t be too big of an issue and you (and your characters) can find a groove.
Zoe’s book gave me a new perspective and I feel there are things any genre writer could benefit from. I encourage you to pick it up. You’ll be glad you did.
A note about sub-genre and tropes.
Some writers blur the line between sub-genre and tropes. The easiest way to explain the two is to give an example.
Take Aidy Award’s books. She writes curvy-girl romance. That’s her sub-genre. You know when you grab one of her books the heroine will be voluptuous. But that can’t be the plot. The plot will contain tropes that pertain to genres that aren’t only curvy-girl. Like close proximity or enemies to lovers.
Billionaire romance is another example. Maybe every single male character an author writes will be a billionaire, but those characters will have their own plots that contain their own tropes.
I have noticed that some of the bigger in the writers like Aidy focus on one sub-genre. Then they have fun with the tropes. They have an easier time branding their books and that helps marketing and sales. It’s something to think about moving forward.
If you want to grab Zoe’s book, look here. She has another book related to this one, and I’m going to grab it as soon as it’s available.
Thanks for stopping by!