Learn to Self-Publish an eBook
Tim Lewis: I was lucky enough to run into these two lovely ladies at the Alliance of Independent Authors drinks after the London Book Fair. It’s a very specialised area obviously, lesbian fiction. Areas like this, are something where self-publishing is really coming to its own because they’re probably aren’t that many traditional publishers in the lesbian fiction space. But there are an awful lot of self-publishers.
I think finding a specialised form of fiction to write in is quite a good way to build an audience if you are a self-publisher even in non-fiction, but especially in fiction. I thought it would be interesting to interview Caroline and Harper on the show. I have to talk about their own books and also the organisation their running in terms of building an e-mail list service for people looking to sell lesbian fiction. Now, over to the interview.
Hello Harper and Caroline! Welcome to the show.
Harper Bliss: Hi Tim.
Caroline Manchoulas: Hi Tim.
Harper Bliss: Thanks for having us.
What is Lesbian Fiction?
Tim Lewis: Okay. I’m going start off with a definition question and you’re probably say this a stupid question. But what exactly is lesbian fiction? Is it books written by lesbians? Books about lesbians? Or books for lesbians?
Caroline Manchoulas: Probably, books that have lesbian main characters in them and that are about lesbians. Not really books written by lesbians because there are lesbian fiction books that are written by men and straight women, which can apparent sometimes cause some scandal with some really uptight lesbians who don’t like les books written by men. But there are such books.
Yeah, lesbian fiction I think could be defined as books that are about lesbians and have-
Harper Bliss: Lesbians be the main character. Or bisexual women.
Caroline Manchoulas: Whether it’s not like a side character that gets killed off quite soon. That kind of stuff. The main characters are lesbians.
What genres within it it are most popular?
Tim Lewis: Okay. What genres are most popular within lesbian fiction? Is it just romance or are there other genres as well?
Harper Bliss: There are other genres as well but I think like in general, romance is definitely, definitely the most popular because readers love a good romance, right? Especially, lesbians reader because they’ve been deprived of lesbians romances for so long.
Caroline Manchoulas: There’s been a lack I think of representation of positive lesbian characters and themes in popular culture in general, on TV, and in movies, and in books as well. Used to be that any lesbian character always had a tragic story, ended up in suicide or being unhappy.
Harper Bliss: Get run over by a truck.
Caroline Manchoulas: Yeah, that kind of stuff. Everybody craves representation of themselves in culture. I think probably a lot of people already writing stories about themselves. But with the advent of indie publishing, a lot of people finally had an outlet to let their stuff get out into the world. It has kind of exploded in the last 10 years maybe.
Harper Bliss: I’m trying to think of the last time I went into the lesbian fiction chart on Amazon. I would say 80% or maybe even 90% would be romance.
Caroline Manchoulas: Yes. I mean, there are some mystery novels and there are some sci-fi, that kind of stuff as well. But the majority is probably romance. I mean, like in general publishing, romances is the biggest genre I think. I think it’s pretty universal.
Tim Lewis: Have there actually been any hits in lesbian fiction that haven’t been in romance then, in terms of sort of getting into charts or anything like that? Or not aware of any?
Harper Bliss: It’s a good question. I think the books that do really well or ones that I can think of, they have always been romance.
Caroline Manchoulas: There are some authors who are traditionally published like, Sarah Waters for instance. She has a lot of lesbian, main characters so, it is lesbian fiction but it’s not necessarily a romance.
Harper Bliss: It would never be marketed as lesbian fiction.
Caroline Manchoulas: That’s marketed as literary fiction. She’s had really best-selling books.
Harper Bliss: Just thinking about this movie that we were just talking about, Disobedience by Naomi Alderman.
Caroline Manchoulas: Yes, that’s based on a book that came out a few years ago. That’s also mainstream fiction but there aren’t that many.
Harper Bliss: Breaking out of indie les fic publishing is going into the mainstream. I have not seen that yet.
Caroline Manchoulas: No, no. I don’t think that has really happened yet.
Tim Lewis: Okay. I think this is a question more towards Harper but, when did you first realise that you wanted to write specifically lesbian fiction?
Harper Bliss: I’ve been writing it now for about six years. I wanted to write because our story is that we moved to Hong Kong for Caroline’s job so, I found myself without a job and with a lot of time. I said, “I always wanted the write. What am I going to write?” It was pretty obvious to me that I was going to write about lesbians because-
Caroline Manchoulas: There wasn’t that much out there at the time.
Harper Bliss: … No, plus you know, it’s what I want to write. I’ve made many plans to write maybe some crime or something like that. Something a bit more mainstream but I don’t know. I could never do it. I always return to the lesbians. Because I am a lesbian woman and I just want to write about … not necessarily what I know because my books are very dramatic.
I think it’s important to have … There are so many books without lesbians. I think I might as well, create a couple with lesbians in them.
Caroline Manchoulas: Because you get that question from people, “Why don’t you write a romance about a straight couple?” My sister asked that question. My sister’s straight and she would like to read a straight romance but-
Harper Bliss: I tell her, go to the store and you will find many there.
Caroline Manchoulas: Thousands and thousands of straight romances so, you can find what you need. We want to bring out content that again, that creates more representation and more positive stories, and happy endings.
Harper Bliss: Nobody gets killed in my books.
Caroline Manchoulas: No. They don’t. If you look on the internet, you’ll see there is this thing, “Kill the gays” it’s called, where in TV shows, or books, or movies, the gay characters male and female get killed off to advance the plot. It’s a sore point for many lesbians.
Harper Bliss: They’re just as not devised, they’re not a real character.
Caroline Manchoulas: Now, there’s a lot of people who want to fight against that and have positive stories where the gay characters actually stay alive and have a happy ending.
Tim Lewis: You’ve never been tempted to put in random straight character that kill in your book then?
Harper Bliss: There’s an idea.
Caroline Manchoulas: We could but in romance no.
Harper Bliss: We prefer to avoid killing people in romance.
Caroline Manchoulas: Actually you have that one book that … I mean the character doesn’t get killed but he’s dead before the book starts, but he’s a big part of the plot.
Harper Bliss: Yes, I killed a straight guy.
Caroline Manchoulas: Yes. Yes.
Harper Bliss: The revenge. But I didn’t do it intentionally though, I have to say. I used this dead straight guy as a plot device.
Caroline Manchoulas: That’s the whole basis for your novel. Yes, actually.
Harper Bliss: Good.
Caroline Manchoulas: Yeah.
Sales of Lesbian Fiction
Tim Lewis: You fought back. Anyway, in terms of sales, how does lesbian fiction perform compare to say, other genres? Say if you wrote a romance book with lesbians characters, is marketing matters of lesbians romance book better than just marketing it as a romance book for example?
Harper Bliss: I think you can look at it from two sides because obviously, the mainstream romance market is much bigger. But lesbian fiction is quite niche but it is much easier to market I think because it’s very specific. You’re going to have not as many sales. For sure.
Caroline Manchoulas: Commercially, it’s never going to make as much money as mainstream romance. But on the other hand, there’s so much mainstream romance out there.
Harper Bliss: It’s hard to stand out. It’s much easier in a smaller market like lesbian fiction.
Caroline Manchoulas: The readers are very faithful, and very avid, and very hungry for content. Once they like an author, they’ll buy everything by that author. I mean, I guess that’s probably true of a lot of romance readers in general. Some of them read a book every day. Sometimes, there are always readers who want to write books.
Harper Bliss: Also, there’s this thing on the lesbian fiction Facebook groups and stuff like that. “Oh you can never make a living writing lesbian fiction.” But that’s just not true. I mean, it’s a little bit harder but we are two people making a living out of writing and publishing lesbian fiction.
Caroline Manchoulas: Yes, so are other people who make a living as well.
Harper Bliss: It’s just like any other niche genre I would say.
Caroline Manchoulas: Yes. We didn’t make a living out of it five years ago.
Harper Bliss: No, no. No. It takes time.
Caroline Manchoulas: It’s something that happened in the last couple of years. But it is not impossible. But it takes a lot of work and it takes time. I think maybe in more mainstream genres, you can maybe achieve it quicker.
Harper Bliss: I do think that yes, all of that is true but being in a niche also has its advantages, I would definitely say.
Caroline Manchoulas: Yes, you can really target your audience.
Harper Bliss: Except if you want to do Facebook Advertising.
Caroline Manchoulas: Yes, that’s not easy because you could never find a keyword, targets that are big enough to create an audience. It’s not that easy to advertise on traditional advertising platforms and stuff.
But if you do manage to hook a reader and to build a rapport with the reader, which is what you’ve been doing.
Harper Bliss: Yeah. Also, the lesbians readers, I mean the readers of lesbian fiction. I mean, they’re not all lesbians obviously. They are very forgiving because I often notice … I mean, I find this very frustrating that a lot of lesbian fiction is not … I mean, it could be better quality. Like cover-wise.
Caroline Manchoulas: Editing.
Harper Bliss: Editing. All of that. But the reader is forgiving because I think maybe the market is not as mature as other markets because the reader … it’s very emotional. They just want these stories and they don’t care if there are like 100 typos in a book. It doesn’t matter. They just want to feel the emotions.
Caroline Manchoulas: They’re hungry for the content and representation. Although, it is changing a bit. I think people are starting to notice because of a lot of the authors are taking it more professionally. They are investing in an editor and investing in a cover. Maybe not at the level of other genres but it is starting.
Harper Bliss: We often joke about the covers in lesbian fiction.
Caroline Manchoulas: You should take a look at the Amazon chart.
Harper Bliss: It’s like self-published covers of five years ago.
Caroline Manchoulas: Yes. I mean, I think to be fair. I think a lot of book writers probably don’t have big budgets to invest in that kind of stuff. But hopefully, that will change.
Harper Bliss: Yeah. I mean, they will sell more books if they have better covers.
Caroline Manchoulas: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes.
Tim Lewis: How many books have you, as a pair, published between in the lesbian fiction genre? What’s been your most successful book?
Harper Bliss: God, how many books? I think I recently completed my 20th novel?
Tim Lewis: Oh okay. That’s a lot.
Harper Bliss: But before I wrote novels, I wrote novellas.
Caroline Manchoulas: We’ve published quite a few. I think at one point, we counted all the titles and we were close to 90 or something.
Harper Bliss: 90?
Caroline Manchoulas: Yeah, but that includes actually like, short stories and novellas. Because we started this little publishing imprint and we did publish some other authors for a little while as well. Some anthologies and stuff. But we’ve kind of stepped away from that now because Harper’s books take way too much time already to market and stuff so, we don’t have time to devote to other ones.
But I think Harper Bliss novels, there are about 20 or 21 out now. A few more in the pipeline.
Harper Bliss: Yes. What was my most successful one? No Strings Attached. I think the first book my Pink Bean series.
Caroline Manchoulas: That came out about a year ago or two years ago?
Harper Bliss: Two years ago.
Caroline Manchoulas: That is probably the one that has sold the most copies.
Harper Bliss: Yeah, because it’s the first in a series. Every time I put out a new one in the series, the first one starts selling again. That’s the big advantage of having a series, right?
Caroline Manchoulas: We just publish book eight in that series a couple of weeks ago. Yes.
Harper Bliss: Yeah.
Series or Stand-Alone books?
Tim Lewis: Is that the only series you’ve done? I mean, do you do just very long series? I mean eight books is quite a lot for a series.
Harper Bliss: Yeah. I have another series called French Kissing. Very dramatic, set in Paris. I have four books in that one. But all my other books are standalone. I’ve written quite a few standalones. But the past two years, I’ve been focusing mainly on series because there are advantages to-
Caroline Manchoulas: Commercially, they’re quite interesting to do.
Harper Bliss: … it’s the rising tide of the back list every time you put out a new book.
Caroline Manchoulas: You are aiming to end this series. It was going to be nine books but then, there have been many requests from fans to have one book about a specific character. So, there might be 10.
Harper Bliss: There will be 10. But then I’m going to stop. Because this is also very particular about lesbian fiction, I find because in other genres the advice is always “Oh, series, series, series.” But in lesbian fiction, standalone books often, they do so well. You don’t need a series to have a good career in lesbian fiction. But yeah, I wanted a series and I don’t regret it. I will do more series but I want to do more standalone books again.
Tim Lewis: Yeah. I mean, the only trouble with writing a series is you can feel a bit tied in, in terms of your creativity because you’re just writing about the same characters over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.
Harper Bliss: Yeah.
Caroline Manchoulas: But the series that you wrote was a bit, it always focused on a different character as the main character. The other ones kind of made an appearance in the background of one book. But then, the next book was about another character. You did get to write so, most of them could be read as standalones.
Harper Bliss: Yeah, I definitely wanted that because the series I wrote before French Kissing, that was very much like a TV show. Follow up and all these that have happened. You really had to have read the previous books. But my Pink Bean series is very different. It’s good as standalone I would say. I mean, you get more out of it if you’ve read all the books but you can start at any book.
Plus, for me as a writer, it’s much more fun because I’m not as constrained as you said. It’s a good middle ground.
Caroline Manchoulas: Compromise. A good compromise between series and standalone.
Harper Bliss: Yeah.
Tim Lewis: Okay. As well as writing the fiction, you run the MyLesFic book promotion site. How successful is that in terms of letting people promote their lesbian fiction?
Caroline Manchoulas: We started that about almost a year ago. We’ve had feedback from the authors who have advertised. Basically, I’ll just say what it is. It’s like BookBub but only with lesbian fiction books.
Harper Bliss: The reason why we did this is because BookBub has a LGBT section but it’s LGBT so, it has all sorts of LGBT books in them. Readers of lesbian fiction, they do not read that much gay male fiction. A lot of lesbians say, “Oh God, another cover with a bare chested man. I don’t want this.”
Caroline Manchoulas: I think in BookBub, I think they have LGBT book six days of the week and probably four of those are male gay fiction and two are lesbian fiction.
Harper Bliss: We heard from a lot people. “I just unsubscribed from BookBub because it’s so rare that we get a lesbian fiction book.”
Caroline Manchoulas: I think many similar services, they either don’t even have a LGBT book section or again, everything is rolled together. We thought, “Why don’t we start a similar service but really targeted at lesbian fiction readers and lesbian fiction books.”
We’ve been doing it for almost a year and our list is growing little by little. We’ve heard back from authors who’ve advertised and all of them have said that it’s done quite well for them. Obviously, it doesn’t have the same impact as a BookBub listing because you are listed as tiny, tiny fraction of theirs.
Harper Bliss: No, but it’s enough to get you in Top 10 spot or Top 20, depends on the book and the discount in the lesbian fiction chart.
Caroline Manchoulas: Yes. They definitely make back the money that they spent on the ad because we’ve very cheap compared to BookBub. We’ve had positive feedback so, that’s good.
Harper Bliss: A lot of lesbian fiction authors, they don’t have the budget to go for BookBub or they don’t get accepted. We’re not as selective as BookBub.
Caroline Manchoulas: No, we welcome most submissions.
Harper Bliss: We did reject one. There was a man on the cover. We said, “No, cannot have this. We will get complaints about this so, sorry.”
Caroline Manchoulas: We polled the subscribers of the newsletter a while ago as well about how they were experiencing it and all the feedback we got was really positive. That they liked the fact that they can get books at a discount because the books have to be discounted or free to be advertised. Or that they just discover new authors that they’ve never heard of. It gives them new stuff to read. All in all, we’ve been pretty successful so far.
Harper Bliss: It’s a win-win. It’s good for us, it’s good for readers, it’s good authors.
Caroline Manchoulas: Yes. We hope to keep growing that over the next few months and years.
About Caroline and Harper
Tim Lewis: You also podcast about lesbian fiction as well. What’s the name of the show that you podcast on the-
Harper Bliss: It’s very originally … Harper Bliss and her Mrs. Because Caroline’s name unpronounceable, we can’t use it.
Caroline Manchoulas: Yes so, I’m the Mrs.
Tim Lewis: Tell me how to pronounce your surname again? Because I’m going to have to pronounce it at the start of the show in the show notes.
Caroline Manchoulas: You put on your best French accent and then you say, “Manchoulas”.
Tim Lewis: Manchoulas. Okay.
Caroline Manchoulas: Yes, almost.
Harper Bliss: Pretty good.
Caroline Manchoulas: Yeah, yeah.
Harper Bliss: This is why I needed to get a pen name because my real name is completely unpronounceable.
Caroline Manchoulas: Harper Bliss sounds better if you write
Tim Lewis: Harper Bliss is very memorable. It’s a fantastic name to pick. How can people find out about Harper Bliss and Caroline Manchoulas and the things that you do?
Caroline Manchoulas: Well, about Harper, you can go to HarperBliss.com. For our podcast, it’s HarperBlissAndHerMrs.com and you can get all the information there. Then, for the MyLesFic, it’s MyLesFic.com. Quite easy.
MyLesFic.com that’s both if people want to subscribe to the newsletter to get the discounted books. It’s once a week on Friday. We send out a newsletter usually between two and four books, advertising them. Also, for authors who would want to advertise or get more info, there’s a little tab Authors at the top, that they can click.
Harper Bliss: We also have our YouTube Channel.
Caroline Manchoulas: Oh yeah. We started doing out podcasting video as well now. On YouTube, it’s under the Harper Bliss channel. It’s called Harper Bliss and the Mrs. People can find us there as well.
Tim Lewis: Okay. How would people get a hold of you on social media, if you’re on social media?
Caroline Manchoulas: This is an interesting topic right about now.
Harper Bliss: Two weeks ago, I decided to quit all social media except for YouTube because I spend so much time on it. I mean, I was pretty active because just a couple of month before, I set up like a private group for my readers and stuff like that. I just decided to quit completely, cold turkey. After the first day, I knew I was never going to go back. I’m currently unreachable on social media.
Caroline Manchoulas: But there is still the Harper Bliss author page.
Harper Bliss: It still exists.
Caroline Manchoulas: But there’s not a whole lot of it. I try to respond to the most urgent comments or questions on there. But I think the plan is that you’re going to close our accounts sooner or later.
Harper Bliss: Yeah. Yes.
Caroline Manchoulas: We do have a MyLesFic Facebook page that people can follow stuff on. But all the Harper Bliss channels might not exist anymore soon.
Harper Bliss: Yeah, that’s true. Best not to look for me on social media.
Caroline Manchoulas: E-mail is probably the best way to get in touch. That’s HarperBliss@gmail.com.
Tim Lewis: Yeah. Carrier pigeon or e-mail. That’s the ways to go.
Caroline Manchoulas: Or YouTube comments.
Harper Bliss: Or going old school again. But I have not regretted it for one minute. It’s so great to be off social media.
Tim Lewis: Yeah. It’s great for being social but is a time sucks in some ways I see why you’ve done it. Okay. Thanks very much to both of you for being on the show today.
Harper Bliss: Thank you so much for having us.
Caroline Manchoulas: Yes, it has been great.
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