Andre SanThomas has three books up on Amazon at the moment: Ielle: A Realm of Janos Novel, Ovia: A Realm of Janos Novel and Sensual Submission: Driven. This interview covers, among other things, some of the ideas behind the books, as well as the specific challenges involved in writing erotica.
Why do you write? Is it something you’ve always done, or always wanted to do? Or is it something that you started fairly recently?
Although I have always written, going to back to childhood, as an adult, my writing has been all non-fiction/work related. In my field, I do presentations on a regular basis so I write white papers, technical manuals, curriculum, training materials (for both the instructors and the adult students), etc. I finally pulled it together and started writing fiction during the 2010 Nanowrimo. I was able to complete my first novel during that experience and the floodgates opened.
Tell me a little about your book(s).
The Realm of Janos is a planet where men own women, but the women would never describe themselves as slaves. They’re very spiritual and honor-bound and both men and women crave the special relationship that is known to exist between owner and property. In Ielle, the first book in the series, we meet the title character as she meets her prospective owner for the first time. She has been training for this day, but now it is right before her and she has to reconcile her feelings and attitudes with reality. She also has no idea that her owner is the most powerful man in Janos and soon realizes that she will be charged with running all his household matters. Meanwhile, someone is plotting against Kyr and suspicion falls on every member of the household before the assassin is uncovered.
In Ovia, we continue with the story of a young girl, just barely of age who is called to the ceremony early. She is only a few weeks into her training that would otherwise last a couple years. She is shy, insecure, unsure of how she should serve. Additionally, the remnants of her black-hearted predecessor threaten her relationship with her owner. This story also includes much of the rich history of the Realm of Janos and explains a lot of their philosophy about life.
Are there any authors who inspire you?
Lots of authors in a variety of genres inspire me. I have also been fortunate enough to discover the Erotica Readers & Writers Association where many of those erotica authors actually hang out and provide advice and support. Additionally, I’ve been really blessed to find a few people who read my work while it is in progress and make suggestions. They’ve been invaluable. Writing tends to be a pretty solitary habit, so that interaction is vital.
How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?
I do my writing in stolen bits of time. I have a more than 40 hour a week day job, plus two young kids and a husband, so there’s no such thing as a typical day. During two Nanowrimos now, I’ve produced over 50,000 words in a month. As they say, sleep is highly over-rated! During the off-season, some days I’ve had nothing, others I’ve been obsessed with getting it all down. I’ve got a few stories in progress so when I hit a wall on one, I’m usually able to make a little progress on another. Right now I’ve got two more Realm of Janos books nearly completed so I’m working back and forth between them. When those are done, I’ll focus for a while on my Sensual Submission series and finish a couple more books that are more in line with Driven.
Did you try to get a conventional publisher or agent interested before you opted for self-publishing?
I knew from the get go that I would have an uphill battle. Just like in more mainstream genres, there are a limited number of publishers. Within those, many do not do my kind of erotica. Even though the Alpha male is the oldest and most traditional fantasy, very few publishers these days are interested in BDSM when the female is submissive to a male. Those that were, had trouble categorizing my books since they were quite different from the typical BDSM since my books focus a lot on the relationships between the characters. I realized within a couple months that finding the right fit was going to be extremely difficult.
During that same time, a friend of mine started self-publishing. Watching her experiences really switched my focus from the traditional publishing process and made me realize that I could do the same. I don’t have to beg someone to take on my book and pay me 10-20% of the net. I can put them up myself and take home 70% of the gross. I will have to do my own marketing and promotion, but realistically, unless you’re Stephen King or Nora Roberts, you have to do that anyway. I have to take on the business aspects, but I don’t mind doing that when I’m the one that benefits.
Some people have warned me that a traditional publisher, even one within the erotica genre will never take me seriously if I self-publish. I say, “so what?” Realistically, Random House is never going to beat down my door for the Realm of Janos or Sensual Submission series anyway. And if they did, I’m not sure I’d be willing to give up the freedom to control my destiny, not to mention my profits. I will say that if HBO wants to make Realm of Janos into a series, give me a call, we’ll talk!
What goals have you set yourself? Do you want to sell a certain number of books in 2012? Is there some way you measure success, on your own terms?
I have 3 books up right now. They went live on 1/1/12 as it happened so that suits setting goals really nicely. I’m hoping to get a total of 8 books up during 2012. As I said, I have two more Realm of Janos books in progress and then ideas for others. I have three more Sensual Submission books in various stages of completion so I think it is a realistic goal. I’m planning for the long haul and not looking to “get rich quick” selling a million books the first year. I’m not planning to quit the day job anytime soon, but I do believe that there are people out there that will enjoy my stories and be willing to pay for them.
How have you marketed your book(s)? Have you used social media (Twitter, Facebook etc)? Have you paid for any advertising (Facebook Ads, Google Ads etc)? And how did it go?
I started a blog nearly a year ago in preparation for this day. I use it primarily to put up clips and tidbits from the books I’m working on. I also frequent several forums and chat boards where I think I will find people who might appreciate my work. In watching my blog stats, I can see where the people who read my blog come from and make adjustments accordingly. I also have a Facebook page, but I admit that I just don’t entirely “get” Twitter yet. Maybe someday.
I’ve recently discovered Goodreads and am signed up as a Goodreads Author there. Aside from doing a more writing related blog there, there are a lot of author tools available through them that I intend to make use of over the next year. Come friend me!
How did your sales go over the Christmas and New Year period? There seem to be a lot of conflicting experiences, some say their sales went through the roof, others have complained that nothing much happened.
My first book went up on 1/1/12 with the other two following a day later, so I really can’t say. I am a little obsessive right now though, so I do track my sales daily. Over a year’s time I’ll definitely be able to see trends about what days, weeks and months have more sales. The one thing I do know is that if you don’t promote your book, it won’t sell, no matter how good it is or what day it is. You can’t expect it to magically find its way into the hands of your customer just because you put it up on Amazon.
Do you think that erotica is harder to promote than other genres? Or easier?
Sex sells as we all know, but I think in a lot of ways it is harder. People are very funny about sex. If you’re reading a more mainstream book, but the topic isn’t exactly your thing, you’ll still read it and potentially enjoy it. Not so with erotica. We have very little tolerance for a kink that doesn’t appeal to us. Additionally, there’s of course, a stigma. A lot of sites won’t acknowledge it, a lot of places require you to jump through so many more hoops it isn’t worth it. Even having the word “erotica” in a siggy can get you banned from lots of places, even when you’re completely within the community rules and not doing anything to peddle smut in their midst. Funny thing is, I know how many people from those sites come to my blog and how long they stay. Just sayin’.
More importantly, even though lots and lots and lots of people read it, they don’t want to admit it, especially women. Getting a good customer review is tough. You have to find someone who really gets your book, and is willing to have their mother-in-law see that they reviewed it! That’s a tough fit. For example, I had what should be considered a fabulous review on Goodreads. They loved the story, the conflict and the interactions were described as sensual, but they only gave it 2 stars because at the end, they didn’t care for the female submissive angle. Likewise, I had a person from a small erotica writers group I’m part of tell me that they loved it, but didn’t want to give it a review in public and let anyone know that they read that stuff. That definitely makes it tough for erotica in a way that you don’t find with a more mainstream book.
Have you signed up for KDP Select? If you have, how has it gone for you? Do you think free promotions are helping with your paid sales? If you haven’t signed up, why not? Are you worried about the exclusivity clause?
I have two of my books in KDP Select and one in the regular Amazon program. I think it has gone very well. I didn’t mind putting Ielle and Ovia in the exclusive program for 90 days. As a matter of fact, I will probably roll all my new books out that way first then move them to the wider world after that point.
I think the free days are very useful if you use them thoughtfully. You have 5 days to spend within a 90 day period. If free days are part of an overall marketing strategy, they can bring a lot of positives to your book and a lot of ripple effect to additional books. I think they have their best value to an author with multiple titles available.
Away from Amazon, have you had much luck with other outlets? Do you use Smashwords, Barnes & Noble etc?
I have Sensual Submission: Driven up on Smashwords, Bookstrand and a few other book sites. Just this week Driven cleared the Smashwords vetting process for release to B&N, Apple, Sony, etc. I have had sales from Bookstrand and the Smashwords site directly and expect to see more over the next few weeks with the wider release. Smashwords are especially wonderful to work with. Their instructions are ridiculously clear (important for a Luddite like me), and their commitment to making sure that only well put together products go out under their banner is impressive.
Do you worry about Amazon gaining a monopoly in the ebook market?
Nope. Amazon has a lot of the market, but books and their readers are a series of niches strung together. There are a world of readers out there. I think that there’s lots and lots of room for lots of ebook distributors.
What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have anything new coming out in 2012?
Fingers crossed, I’ll have two new Realm of Janos books up before the end of March. Eanna is the story of a girl who has to come to terms with a dramatic change in her life and her image of who she is. Mayia continues the story of a girl from the first book of the series and gives us the chance to watch her rise or fall based on the choices she makes.
By the end of the year, I hope to have three new Sensual Submission books out. Pursuit is the story of Garrett and Botany, their collision of personalities and expections. There will also be a story about the romance of Wes and Mari and then another about Brad and Kaitlyn.