Elizabeth Lowell on Romance & the Evolution of Self-Publishing

By Dianna Dilworth Comment

19051Author Elizabeth Lowell has been writing romantic thrillers for almost 30 years. The best selling author, who got her start in traditional publishing, is now taking advantage of her genre’s popularity in eBooks by self-publishing many of her backlist titles. We caught up with Lowell to discuss how the romance genre has evolved over the years and how she is harnessing the digital changes that are currently taking place in publishing.

GalleyCat (GC): As a veteran to romance thrillers, what do you think of the surge in popularity of this genre in recent years? How has the market evolved over the years?

Elizabeth Lowell (EL): It’s fantastic that the market for romantic suspense has exploded in the last decade or so.  It’s a great time to be a genre fiction writer–and reader–in general. Sub genres like romantic suspense, historical romance, etc. tend to come and go and often return again to popularity. Reader preferences are definitely cyclical things and all of these categories have flourished, faded and then died back to a core of fans, then risen once again. Romantic suspense in particular has been very popular for the last 25 years or so, which I think tends to indicate there was a pent up demand that was not being met by the market.

Another reason there are so many romantic suspense titles on the bestseller lists is that with the rise of digital publishing, authors are able to rapidly respond to perceived market changes. When every other post on your website is asking for more romantic suspense, it’s hard to ignore, and rather easy to pivot and start plotting your next book to address those demands. I am writing popular fiction after all, and it’s very satisfying when reader demand intersects with your interests as an author. It’s truly the best of all worlds.

GC: What are you doing today to market your books that you didn’t do in the past?

EL: A great deal!  It used to be sufficient to answer the occasional fanmail letter and go to a convention once a year.  Those days are rapidly over and readers are seeking direct and personal contact with their favorite authors. Readers want to feel a connection with the author that goes beyond the books and often includes a community of other fans. Facebook, Goodreads, elizabethlowell.com bulletin boards and now even Twitter and Pinterest sites are giving fans daily access to the author that takes the relationship out into the public sphere. In the past, the publisher was the one who controlled access of the writer to the markets and the fans.  The publisher helped conceptualize and shape the author’s public persona and then would present that model to their distribution channels and fans. Now the author has the responsibility on a daily basis to build and sustain a digital relationship with fans that feels personal and authentic.

GC: How are you taking advantage of new technologies to help sell backlist titles?

EL: I am in the position of having a mixed backlist, part of which I own, and the rest of which is controlled by my publisher. With the backlist I self-publish, I am able to analyze my own real-time sales data and respond rapidly to opportunities that crop up to publicize my older titles. For example, when I have an upcoming front list book release, I will be able to carry out a series of promotions on any backlist titles that are in the same genre, have a similar backdrop, or anything else that might give them crossover appeal. I can then use all of my social media tools to publicize these promotions. By analyzing sales and responses to my social media efforts in real time, I can quickly pivot to another backlist title or strategy if I’m not getting the desired results. The experience has been both exhilarating and time-consuming, even exhausting at times. But I’ve found that everything I do to sell more backlist titles has a synergistic effect on sales for my new front list books. Essentially, there is no backlist without new releases coming out on a regular basis.

GC: How has digital changed the self-publishing world?

EL: Self-publishing used to be called vanity press and was stigmatized by the public. Readers were hungry for instant access to books — no more waiting through a 2-year publishing cycle and standing in line for the midnight release of a much anticipated hardcover novel or paperback rollover. Now they can log in to their preferred vendor and purchase in the middle of the night, as the plane they are on prepares to push back from the jetway, in any country around the world. Reading has truly gone international with the advent of digital self-publishing on the scale we have it now.  The term “self-publishing” has almost nothing to do with the modern reality, which is to say, that much of the best and brightest authors in commercial fiction have some type of digital self-publishing footprint.  The stigma of “vanity press” is much reduced when the self-published author’s name appears in the same search results as the top-tier authors in traditional publishing. Frankly, readers don’t care how a book was published: they want to be entertained.

On the reader side, digital self-publishing has been a boon to those super-readers who are always on the hunt for a new book or author to add to their extensive digital collections. There is nothing but a key word search between them and a list of books that will satisfy whatever specific interest a reader has. The rise of digital has turned self-publishing into a mainstream business that is becoming central to the commercial fiction industry, rather than an extreme niche filled with personal histories and the occasional novel that dominated the vanity presses of the past.