Maxim: Never judge a book by it’s cover.
We all swear that we don’t judge people by their appearances. We all lie so hard. Even more so when it comes to books. I think this is true for readers of all genres but it’s extra extra true for readers of M/M Romance and Erotica. I’ve had this discussion with other M/M writers and I think that most agree. Your book is going to have a hard time competing if you don’t have hot naked dudes on your cover. Unless you’ve already got a huge following. But you’re going to need abs and pecs to get you there, lady.
I’m going to bag on some of my peers. I hate to do it but it’s kind of central to my point.
I did my research before I wrote Waiting For Mr. Ashwell. I looked at what was available in Gay Literature and then in Gay Romance and Erotica. There’s so little of it out there! And so much of it is… shit. I’m sorry. I don’t pretend to be the Hemingway of Gay Erotica, I know my books aren’t going to make Oprah’s list. But what is up with all the books about werewolves and shifters and alphas and omegas? Let go of Twilight and Fifty Shades, people. A book about a pack of Alphas and an Omega? You’re so silly!
Knock that shit off. And some aren’t even dogs or wolves or bears. They’re just dominant and submissive gay guys that freak out over pheromones and “mate” and give each other permanent love bites and are bonded for life. Huh? None of my gay friends are shifters or turn into bears. Well, not literally. Some like bears… But that’s another topic for another day. Then, there’s the heavy sub/dom/dungeon/humiliation trend. I KNOW that’s written for women. Why? Two Universal Truths: 1. Gay people aren’t more impervious to pain than straight people. A fist in that special place hurts no matter which way you swing. 2. The word Heeeerrrrppp is not exclusive to either population. In fact, I think it’s the same in all languages. We’re all born with a gag reflex, unless you’re gifted. I don’t believe that gay people are any more prone to fetishes than straight people. But just to be clear: I’m not judging whatever you’re into. Trust and believe, I’m the last to do that. I just find it slightly offensive that the old cliches of leather and pumpkin sized butt plugs is still a thing in this genre. Again, the majority of the audience here is women and apparently, some women have an innate desire to read about dudes getting split in half. Maybe it’s a subconscious revenge thing. Let it go, hon. And if you’ve read one book about a guy drooling around a ball gag… I’ll stop. It’s perfectly fine if that’s your bag. Honestly.
So, I started to write Mr. Ashwell thinking I’d class this joint up. I was going to write some Nicholas Sparks quality shit. Confession: I’ve never read any Sparks. Confession Dos: I can’t watch chick flicks. Weird, right? Mr. Ashwell is so solid. It’s smart and funny and it should hit you in the feels. Why? Because I don’t assume all readers in this genre want cliches and fetishes and books that read like they’re written by high school students. We’re better than that and if someone is giving me their money, I don’t want them to feel ripped off. I made up characters that I thought were easily recognized as humans and included stuff like: “If he thought that the longing and anticipation was bad before he’d gone to Ash’s room that first night, it was nothing compared to what he endured after. “A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring…” Dear God, Ned wanted to drink…” And when it as time to design the cover I stuck my nose in the air and felt uber superior because it was going to be classy as fuck. The work was going to stand on it’s own. This book was special and the reviews would prove it and people would buy it and I’d make Gay Regency Romantic Erotica a for real thing. I was sure the refined and understated cover would stand out in a sea of shiny chests and hairless asses.
The reviews trickled in and they were glowing but the book was not moving. A new muse (a decidedly not female muse) grabbed me by the neck and Building Heat happened and I wrote a contemporary work despite promising that I’d never, ever write something modern. This time, I decided to try something different with the cover. I put nekkid mens on it but they were subtle and I convinced myself it fit the theme of the book.
Guess what? It took off. I told myself it wasn’t because of the cover. The reviews came in a lot faster and I was convinced they were driving Building Heat up the list. When it broke the Top Ten Bestsellers List in its category on Amazon, I was so geeked, I danced and thought “They love me! I’m like totally legit now.” I was on such a high, I published Hide And Keep exactly three weeks later. I did not sleep in between. It was so healthy. And what did I do with the cover?
How did it do? Two days after release:
My two naked man covered books were part of a delicious gay book sandwich with a book about gay centaurs. What?! Hell. Yes. I’m all for something creative yet mythologically old fashioned. But see those other three books? Shiny pecs, vampires, alphas and omegas, oh, my! In the back of my head a creepy little thought began to tickle. What if I hadn’t put those naked boys on the cover? I truly believe that Hide And Keep is seriously intelligent and well written. It’s got a lot of depth. But I decided to do a little experiment. Here’s what I did:
And this happened:
Boom. And this:
See those rankings? Mr. Ashwell was so far from the Top 100 of any list, I couldn’t give it away for free for a while. My classy cover was not as smart as I thought it was. It was hanging in the back with the likes of Keeping The Cookies.
I don’t even know what that means. If that’s a gay euphemism for something, please tell me. I kind of need to know these things, people. I’m sure it’s a great book and after what I did with the cookie in Hide And Keep, I’ve got a soft spot for this. About that… I apologize if you read it and got squeamish. I violated my own Food & Sex prohibition because I assume that most people have far less hangups than I do. And it made me giggle.
Now, it’s not enough to have naked guys on the cover. They need to be hot. I’m not the one that makes these rules. Don’t yell at me. I love your dadbod.
If K.R. Columbus wants this “Burly, Sexual and Full of Nostalgia” masterpiece to move, the mountain king needs P90X. Dafuq?
Clearly, it’s not enough to write a really good book. You need a hot cover or else you’re running with a really weird crowd.
Apparently, there are some things abs and pecs can’t overcome. One of my other M/M authors, an actual male, was lamenting at the fact that gay men don’t read as much. I’m assuming he meant they don’t read books in our genre because most of the gay men I know are voracious readers. I’m thinking they may not because there’s just so much bizarre nonsense in this genre that they can’t relate to.
I could be way off base here. If so, let me know! I would love to have your thoughts on this. Also, I’m going to head you off before you can tell me I’m way too hung up on charts, ranks and reviews…
Now, listen to this and reflect on how delightful I am…