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Author E. Davies joins us this week to talk about the market research he does focused on best selling tropes and how that influences his books. He also discusses shared universes, including insights on what it takes to manage one and guidance for authors who want to join one.

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Show Notes

Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.

Interview Transcript – E. Davies

Jeff: Ed, thanks so much for joining us. I’m looking forward to our discussion here today.

Ed: Yeah, me too.

Jeff: So we wanted to talk to you about the work that you’ve done around marketing and tropes and reading the market. But before we dive in for those in our audience who really don’t know your background, how did you come to gay romance and kind of how long have you been in it?

Ed: Okay. I sort of stumbled into gay romance in 2013. Before then I had always kind of searched for it on like Barnes and Noble and stuff, but I never really found anything because that’s not really where it was being published. And it wasn’t until I just accidentally stumbled upon it on Amazon that I went, “Oh, my God, people do this? I could do this.” So I really leapt into writing short erotic stories at first, and that’s where I kind of practiced and learned how to tell a story. And then I kept accidentally writing happy endings. So I realized I should probably start doing like romance novels and stuff and I worked my way up to those and pretty much haven’t looked back.

Jeff: You make it sound so easy.

Ed: In like the long term, it is. In the individual, you know, day-to-day, it is not. But it’s sort of like, five year overview and that’s all fine.

Jeff: Now your presentation at the page author education event really just blew our minds. You gave a call called “Do You Even Like Money,” which I have to say is quite the hook for a title, or how to read the market for profit and satisfaction. Now, can you summarize this a little bit for us? It was a 45 minute presentation, obviously, but kind of distill it down so that our audience has a foundation for what we’ll talk about.

Ed: Basically, my idea is that writing to market is like, this phrase that gets thrown around a lot and everybody will always tell you, “Oh, I’d like to market, I’d like to market.” And nobody ever tells you what that actually means. And so I wanted to sit down and figure out what that meant. And I started off by thinking, “Okay, what is the market? Who am I writing for? Where are they? And can I go there directly to get the data about what the market wants rather than sort of relying on hearsay and what people say is selling and what people say they want? Why don’t I go and see what people are actually buying and use that to inform whether they’d like to market and how I like to market and to tweak my books as I’m writing them to make them more to market?”

Jeff: How long have you been using this method? When did it click for you that this was the way to go?

Ed: For me, it was late 2015. I had been, I think I’d written about three or four novels earlier that year, and like, late 2014, early 2015, that some of them had kind of flown and some of them had kind of sunk and I couldn’t figure out what was going on, like why some books were doing better than other books. And I knew the answer had something to do with the market. And then I eventually kind of said, “Okay, why don’t I try and sit down and make this if not quite formulaic, but sit down and figure out how I could maybe tweak things and maybe not be able to see whether a book will do well, but at least reduce the chances that it won’t do well,” if that makes sense. And it’s not something that I’ve kind of rigidly stuck to the whole time but it’s something that I kind of check back with myself every now and then. And if I find my books are sort of wandering off and I’m not doing as well as I had had been, I go “Okay, maybe I’ve stopped doing this?” And the answer is almost always say, “Yes, I have. Let’s go back and figure out what the market actually wants and not kind of wander down this road of really interesting things that don’t sell.”

Jeff: It’s not to say that you perhaps don’t always follow the market but you at least then have a guidepost of, “I’m gonna write this thing that may not fly because I’m not writing to market.”

Ed: Yes, it’s really helpful for me to write these passion projects like especially my trans stories, there isn’t really a market right now for trans romance. But I can go into that knowing that there isn’t a market knowing that this is a passion project, and knowing that it’s not gonna make the money back. So I don’t spend six months writing that book, and then not be able to make rent.

Jeff: Right.

Ed: But you balance that and make that like my evening project and do that purely for fun and not have expectations which is makes it more rewarding when they of course do do well.

Jeff: Now, the foundation of this in your presentation is an amazing spreadsheet which simultaneously excited me and I was like, “Wow, that’s a lot of work.”

Ed: Yeah.

Jeff: Talk to us about the spreadsheet and what you’ve done to help yourself categorize the tropes that are selling.

Ed: Well, basically I think if I explained the tropes first, that’ll make more sense. The way I categorize them in my head is that I divide them into four different groups. I’ve got seasonal versus evergreen and inclusive versus exclusive tropes. So evergreen tropes are things like enemies to lovers or things that sort of always sell that aren’t like, they’re not really variable. So they’ll selling steadily, whereas seasonal tropes are things like, hockey or motorcycle clubs or whatnot. They will always sell there will always gonna be some kind of a baseline but it’s an often lower than an evergreen trope will be. So like billionaire books, they had this real boom, and then they had to be a bust and there isn’t really an in between of, “Oh, yeah, these books kind of pop up every now and then.” And then inclusive versus exclusive is similar idea we’re inclusive tropes are things that include more readers. So friend lovers, or fake boyfriends, or small town, they don’t tend to actively sort of squeak people out or exclude them, whereas exclusive troops have that quick factor or they’re asking readers to suspend their disbelief. So like “Stepbrothers,” or “Amnesia” or “BDSM.” They tend to be exclusive tropes, because I see some readers that really love those books. And then some readers will go y “Recommend me anything except,” and the except tend to be where those exclusive tropes hang out, which doesn’t mean you can’t make a living writing those books, even if there are like, seasonal tropes, or exclusive tropes. But that means you’ve got to be aware of what you’re doing. And you’ve got to make your brand about the thing that you love and make sure that people know that that’s what you do. And if you’re getting started, you have to know that that’s gonna take you longer because like some people still sell hockey books now even though that’s not trending right now because people know that they like hockey, so, they expect that from them. And they have a dedicated fan base and that fan base wants that from them. But a brand new author can’t just like, launch a career off of hockey book the same way they could in 2015, they’re gonna have to take a lot longer to build that up and build up that veto trust.

Jeff: That makes a lot of sense. And I’m very glad you went down that path first before we talk about the spreadsheet.

Ed: Yeah. So that spreadsheet gives it more context, I guess. So to do the spreadsheet, basically, what I do is I go to my most direct source of audience information, because I’m all in on KU, that means Amazon eBooks on website is where most of my sales happen. So I look at the top hundred best selling gay romance books. There’s actually like two or three different gay romance charts, but as long as you use the same one each time, that doesn’t really matter. If you’re wide, you wanna look where your main sources of income are. So that might be Apple books, or that might be Smashwords. If you’re looking for an agent or an editor, you’d wanna look in places like Publishers Weekly, could they list other acquisitions, you could do this process with that as your data source, but I focus on Amazon. Then what I do is I open up the top 20 books in tabs and I closed everything that’s irrelevant. Because in our world, everything is on the same chart like MPEG and paranormal and contemporary and all that stuff is in the same romantic chart for us. So because I’m only writing feel good, low angst, contemporary MM, I close all the paranormal and I close all the MPEG tabs and stuff. But I do look at the books because sometimes the market just wants contemporary angst. And I want to know whether that’s the case right now. And then I’ll ask to exclude anything like bookbub, because they’ll so like a midnight cent deal. And that book will market at the top and then sync again. And I exclude trad pub because things like call me by your name are not our audience and they’re selling to a very different group. So I don’t wanna be trying to target them.

If you’re a new author, so I did this a lot more back like when I first started, I looked more at what debut authors and new authors were doing, because established authors have that veto trust. So they can sell books that new authors can’t necessarily yet. So then I have a spreadsheet in Excel. And really, I guess the most basic form of that is a row for each book. And then I’ll have columns for the book title and author and the book you rank. And then five different spaces for the tropes. And then I’ve also trapped other things depending on what I’m looking like what data driven decisions I want to make. So the book price or the length or whether or not it’s KU, or whether or not there’s an audio-book version, that kind of stuff I might track. And when I say rank I mean, the overall .coms, store rank, not the rank in some categories. Because the rank in subcategory doesn’t really matter as much. It’s really unpredictable, whereas overlong rank tells you how it’s doing compared to the rest of the store. And then in the tropes field is really the most important I look for at least three of the main tropes that I see in that book. So if you’re a heavy reader, you might have already read those books that might be here, but make sure that you choose the tropes that are going to be most obvious to the reader who doesn’t yet know what’s in the book. This is like the trap of blurb writing, where we all kind of stuff all the information we got into it, instead of making it sales copy. So you wanna make sure you’re looking at their sales copy, not what you know about the book. If you can’t find three to five tips off the top of your head, look at the cover, look at the title, look at the reviews, wherever it will be they will be looking and they’re looking to figure out what the heck the book is about. That’s where you can get that information. And if you’re already an established romance author, you’ll already know a lot of the code phrases. So like, Birmingham might mean that there’s some BDSM going on that kind of thing. But if you’re new, it might take you some time to figure out what phrases are signaling which tropes. And general romance readers are really trope-savvy and they will make this easy. If you look at their reviews they’ll be like, “Oh, was a friends to lovers, a small town second chances book.” And you’ll be like, “Oh, okay, there it is.”

Jeff: .Thank you for giving me that.

Ed: Yeah, exactly, that’s very helpful, I mean, write that down. So then once I’ve done that, I kind of look at that list as a whole and I see what’s coming up over and over again. So in November that might be lots and lots of Christmas books are coming up or in January, people may be looking for more arc to balance out the Christmas sort of sweetness or that’s when you start to notice trends year-to-year if you do that for long enough. And that’s how you spot seasonal tropes on a smaller time scale as well like what’s rising and falling. So you get more of a sense for when something is really coming into vogue and people are like, “Oh, hockey books, I love hockey books. I want more hockey book.” You’ll see like a couple of those show up and then you see a couple more show up. And you’ll see like the wave rising and falling usually, and you see which tropes don’t appear very often, or they make it kind of to the very bottom of that list, but they don’t ever really make it to the top of the list. Those might be actually some tropes or things that are harder to sell. So they’re things that you would take a little bit more caution about. And then I think the other thing I would warn people is that you can’t predict or force a trend ever. I always like, if I teach this to people, I will always have people who say, “Oh, well, I’ll just get together with my 10 best friends, and then we’ll make this trend happen.” That doesn’t work. You can anticipate it and you can try to start one you can get lucky. But you can’t build a career out of trying to get lucky. You can’t force the trend because reading the market is about reading what readers want, not what authors want readers to want. And yeah, sometimes you’ll think that a trend is kind of on the way out and it will come back in. Like, “Daddy Boy” books were really on the way out last year it looked like they were sort of trending down and then the market said, “No, we’re not done with that yet.” And yeah, they’re here again. And then sometimes the other way around. Sometimes it looks like, things you’re about to take off, and then it kind of fizzle out. And sometimes you get that magical moment where you write just the right book at the right time, and it flies. That’s hard to predict. But I always feel like if I have a grip on what the market wants, then I have a little bit more of a choice and a little bit more information that I can make my decisions well.

Jeff: I think you’ve probably just given the epiphany to some people in the audience like we had with your presentation, too, because it’s pretty amazing. You said you started using this in 2015. And so you figured out you needed this within a couple years of starting your career.

Ed: Yeah, basically. Yeah, it was because I was writing short stories at first, I think because that’s a lot lower investment and sort of buy in, in what you’re doing. You’re doing that for a day or two, but then you can finish the story. But so it’s a lot easier to kind of play around with different tropes. So I was playing around with like, all kinds of totally built the kind of vertical kinks that I don’t really read anymore, but I was having a lot of fan with. And some of them sold and some of them didn’t. And I was going “Well, how come my sort of doctor books and my tend are doing really well?” But totally will accept by the way. And the other books are not doing so well. Okay, so that’s why I sort of started to get that idea about the market. So it made a lot of sense to me as I moved into writing novel.I thought that they were still going to be a market, but it wasn’t focused where the outcome of marketers is kind of focused on the specific kink that readers want to read, the romance market is focused on the trope because the trope is the shorthand for feelings basically, it’s the building block of the story. And that’s the promise that you’re making the reader of you read this book about their small town and you’re gonna get that like small town gossip and the community coming together and all these really specific feelings, you’re gonna get that and that is sort of parallel with the kink and the erotica, you’re gonna get these specific feelings about this specific thing. So I get the concept to kind of naturally made sense to me as I moved from one end to the other.

Jeff: How often do you update your spreadsheet and how long does it take you to do it?

Ed: So variable actually. When I first started doing this, I did it every week, usually Friday night because that’s when I found the chart was with the most stable, like the books that we’re gonna rank weekend tend to be kind of sitting there on Friday night. But anytime that you can devote the same time every week too, and it took me a couple hours at first it was probably a good three, four hours. And then the second week it was kind of like two hours and third week, it was like an hour. Now I can do it in about half an hour or an hour. And I try to do it every week. I don’t always succeed. And I do get slack. But I tend to find when I get slack is when I start losing touch with the market, because that’s what’s keeping me like, honest, that’s what’s keeping me going. Oh, yeah, they see what the market wants right now. So if I make the conscious choice to do it less often, then I know what I’m doing. And sometimes I’m okay, with that. Like sometimes I am reading these books that are just sort of my passion projects. But if I want to keep an eye on the market, then I do it every week, because that’s the frequency that you need to really see the specifics of those trends that are coming in and going out rather than just kind of taking a stab in the dark. It’s like that, you know the video have you seen “The Moonwalking Bear,” which is about drunk driving and it’s basically a tube basketball teams that are playing basketball. And they’re passionate about life back and forth. And you have to count the number of times that they do that. And the video plays in your counting. And I think it’s like 13 or 14, and then it gets to the end and it says, “Oh, it’s 13 teak passage,” but did you see the moonwalking bear? And they rewind the video, and in the background, there’s literally there’s a moonwalking bear. And usually most people don’t hear because they’re so focused on those passes. And that’s a bit what writing can be like, if they’re so focused on those passes, you know, the individual books that you’re working on, and you don’t see the moonwalking bear. Whereas when you look at the video as a whole, then you see it like moving through the frames, because that’s what it like, in the spreadsheet so you’re seeing like that moving frame of “Oh, yes, this tropes coming in, this tropes be going out”. If you just see a snapshot, you might not even see the bear.

Jeff: Right. Because like, the bear was there and gone when you weren’t doing it.

Ed: Yeah, exactly.

Jeff: How often… this will be another very variable question, but how often do you see the market ebb and flow with tropes. Is it a weekly, a monthly, quarterly?

Ed: That depends on the trope. Some of them like hockey were around for a good sort of six 9, 12 months, like right in late 2015, early 2016, there was a huge surge of them and that was actually a good year or more. Sometimes it’ll be like just this really quick flash in the perm. Sometimes it’d be something like MPEG that was one that really fascinated me because it looked like it was just gonna be a sort of come and gone trope, and then it stuck around and stuck around. And now I would argue that it’s actually become a genre because it has its own specific genre expectations. And it stuck around so long that it is was actually formed its own tab genre. Some things are seasonal. And by which I don’t mean seasonal like a trope, but seasonal like the season to be. So in Christmas time you usually see those are like fluffy feel good, heartwarming stories, for a little while sort of 2015, ’16-ish. There was a lot of paranormal in October and then that seems to have faded a little bit recently. It’s not quite so predictable, the paranormal wouldn’t necessarily do well in October. But it’s not necessarily the case that in July, everybody wants to read books about the beach. And in December, they all want to be books about being snowed in.

Jeff: Right.

Ed: Sometimes, yes, but sometimes no, it’s not quite that predictable. I tend to think if I can check in at least once a month, I see like that overview, so it’s not necessarily weekly, which is kind of good news. Because you can sort of look at the chart and go, “Okay, these are the tropes that have in a week and then publish it.” Some people can, I can’t do that, like consistently at all, because I’m a human being. But there are some people who can actually write really, really fast and can actually do that, especially if they’re reading novellas. So it tend to be more like, a month or two, you have sometimes a short window of opportunity. But if you’re a quick writer, you usually have a chance to kind of get in there. Although that also depends on your branding, if your branding is I read all these interesting different things and my voice is unified by these other like the specific tropes that are not quite so specific, then you can get away with doing that and you can go, “Oh, look at this trend. Look at that trend.” But I tend to I should think you shouldn’t necessarily chase the trends too closely and like, deliberately try to look for just what’s selling because you’ve got to actually find an overlap between what you love and what sells. Otherwise you’re gonna burn out, you won’t be happy, your readers won’t be happy, nobody will be happy. Nobody wants that.

Jeff: Right, given some of the ebb and flow and I mean, it does take most authors, let’s just say four to six weeks to write a book, especially if you’re in it as a career. Some of the things can change, is it wise to try to change your book to what you may see in the market as you’re preparing to publish versus when you started to write it.

Ed: That comes down more to marketing choices because some things you can kind of in the editing process, you can dial up and dial down. And I have done that before where I’ve gone, “Okay, actually, this isn’t very hot, and I didn’t really enjoy writing it and it really showed because I’m not hitting the trope well.” So I might as well take this opportunity and dial it back and make it kind of a background point in the plot, as opposed to being like the front and center thing. And then other times these front and center, that’s all you can do. So if it’s front and center, stick the label on it, you know, make it fly because if you try and like discourage a hockey book as a billionaire book and send that out to readers, they’re gonna go, “Ah, he’s rich from doing hockey, why is he not playing hockey?” You know, like, you got to figure out what readers want from that trope as well. So I feel like it comes down to more of a marketing choice. So if you’ve got a couple of equally strong tropes, and you notice that, “Okay, I wrote this “Daddy Boy” book, that’s actually a billionaire book. That’s kind of a common combination. And you notice that billionaires are not very hot, but “Daddy Boy” is then you might just emphasize the “Daddy Boy” aspect of it when you’re doing your marketing. And he also happened to be a billionaire and you’re also hitting those tropes, but that’s not the main thing that you’re going, “Hey, readers look at this.” So it’s something you can take into consideration when you’re choosing a cover, and your keywords, and your blurbs, and all that kind of stuff. And especially when you’re writing your blurbs and you’re having that critical book and interview blurb. Make sure that the tropes that are hot right now are the ones that you’re putting into that first sentence. Not the thing that was happening five years ago and isn’t happening now.

Jeff: Right, how many tropes do you usually try to put into a book perhaps?

Ed: I always aim to have at least two or three or four. But a lot of that kind of comes down to the fact that tropes are so embedded in the story that we tell anyway, because tropes, fundamentally the building blocks of human storytelling, they are these emotionally resonant patterns of the way that humans work things like friends to lovers and small towns and stuff. They have that resonance because they’re speaking some sort of particular truth to us. But when I’m sitting down and writing a story, often I’ll kind of like, come up with three or four things that make me go “Oh, this should be interesting put together,” and then as I’m putting them together, I’m going, “Okay, I’ve got this fun lovebird story and I’ve got a small town. Okay, I can have like one outsider come into this small town.” And I know that I love writing artists and I love writing, sort of coops and that kind of communal living situation like that hippie stuff. So let’s put that in. And then how about I have like an opposites attract, if I’ve got noticed how about the other guy, be a construction worker. And then like the sort of the they’ll lay themselves out as I’m building a story. So they know that I think I’m so used to working with tropes. And this is something that anybody who’s reading romance for the long term will also have, because you have that vocabulary, that index in your head of all of these tropes. So that’s gonna be like sneaking in there, whether you deliberately put them in there or not. It’s just a case of identifying them more and saying, “Wait a minute. What I’m actually writing here is a small town, friends to lovers blah, blah, blah, accidentally hooked up with a neighbor’s because that’s what I’m writing right now. So why don’t I make sure that that’s in my blow?”

Jeff: You’re so into tropes, you’ve got this really cool thing on your website, in your book page that let’s readers see your books by trope, you can click on a trope and suddenly your book list changes to present that trope.

Ed: Yeah.

Jeff: When did you develop that? And how did you put that together?

Ed: That was literally like a month ago. It’s been on my to do list for like two years now. And I was like, “Oh, I can do this anytime when I have free time,” which is why it’s been two years. I finally was like, “You know what, just sit down and do this.” And what I did was the theme that I used on WordPress has a function for a portfolio that allows you to filter everything by the portfolio tags. So I went through and I made like a portfolio item for each of my books. And then I tagged them with each of those tropes. And then went and set up the front end of the portfolio on the website that readers see with those tags at the top so that when people click on the tag, it filters the portfolio items by that tag. It took a little bit of finicky work, but it was really only sort of a couple of days at work. And it’s something that I personally enjoy, like, a lot of the time I go, “Okay, there’s this new author, do they have any books that have like these tropes that I love to read?” And if I go to the website, and I see something like this, I go, “Oh, yes, these are the books that I wanna start with,” because that helps give me kind of like a diving endpoint. And a lot of the time I have to sort of search through their books and their blurbs and whatever and do a lot of investigative work to see what might fit me best. I wanna make that process easier so that readers can go, “Oh, here’s all the tropes. Here’s the ones I love.” Boom, dive in and see what they’re like them and then if they do like my work, then they might go and read the rest of the series or read other books or whatnot. But it’s really kind of more of a essay entry point for readers, I think.

Jeff: And it’s very slick how it works, we’re gonna link directly to it in our show notes so that people can check that out. And knowing that it’s kind of based in some WordPress functionality makes it something that a lot of authors can probably sort out how to do it.

Ed: Yeah, definitely. And I think there’s other ways of doing it as well where you could have like one trope and that listed and then another trope listed in just a simple list. But I liked this because of the filterability that it has that kind of cool factor to it. But if you didn’t wanna fiddle with like, portfolios and whatnot, you could just make a list and I’ve seen other authors like Mindy Klasky, who has the romance tropes list on her website, she actually has the list of tropes and then in brackets you’ll have which books fit that trope on her website so that readers can go, “Oh, yes, arranged marriage,” this are her book that get that trope. So there’s lots of different ways of doing it that I’ve seen. But this is one that just was fun to me.

Jeff: Shifting topic a little bit. You are in a lot of shared universes or you have been. And you’ve got a brand new one that’s debuting in the middle of June with the “Rosavia Royals.”

Ed: Yeah.

Jeff: What do you like about participating in shared universes?

Ed: Oh, my God, so much. This could be my fifth season of a “Shared Universe.” I did four seasons with “Men of Hidden Creek” and then this one is the one and only Rosavia season, so five seasons now. And I just keep coming back to them. I feel like it’s a great experience because you get to, not only do you get to like on a marketing level, you share your audience, when you introduce your readers to other books that they’ll probably love. When you’re doing this sort of thing, your author voice should be compatible. So you should be voting in the same sub-genre. You shouldn’t be kind of mixing paranormal and contemporary, and historical. I feel like, that really dilutes the power. But if you are writing sort of relatively feel good contemporary stuff, like the seasons that I’m in, then you’re helping other authors get your readers. Their readers are coming to you. And so many times I’ve had readers come to me and be like, “Oh my God, thank you for introducing me to this author through writing “Hidden Creek,” with them. And it also allows me to introduce relatively unknown or even debut authors too in them and help them get a bigger platform because it can be really hard to launch, especially these days. So it’s a really nice way of helping new authors. And sometimes they stick around and write more books. And sometimes they don’t. But it’s nice to kind of get that taste of somebody new. And the readers really enjoy that. And then the authors get to work with other authors and learn a lot about authoring and authorship in general, from people like one on one and get almost like a mentoring experience as they’re doing it. It is difficult, but yeah, it is super fun. I just keep coming back to doing it every time.

Jeff: For the ones that you’ve done. Are you organizing them or merely participating in them?

Ed: Organized all of them.

Jeff: So you’re taking out all the heavy overhead of gathering everybody together and wrangling them?

Ed: Yeah, it is cat herding. It absolutely is. But it is a really enjoyable type of cat herding. I feel like in order to get them started, you have to have a great concept and all the authors have to really buy into that and be available for like, that intensive co-creation work. Because it’s not like writing solo books and then you come back together and you tie them together. Like in my experience. That’s not what our shared universe s all about. Our readers are loving the idea of bingeing a series like a Netflix show, and they love seeing the same event from like, 10 or 12 points of view. So everything we do is about satisfying those reader expectations and looking for those crossover moments so that they go, “Oh, my God, I’m seeing the summer bear, from this point of view and this point of view, this guy, is on the ferris wheel, and this guy is in the baking camp. Well, this guy’s…” So you’ve got these common points that you’re touching in on. And I also wanted to really impress upon authors this time that we were gonna beta read each other’s books as we went. And kind of sort of took over organization at the first season, because the first season, I mean, “Hidden Creek” was very democratic, and we will ask sort of helping each other but there’s nobody really in charge at first, and that made making decisions really difficult. So there was a point where I had to say, “Okay, I’m gonna step in, and I’m gonna make decisions, and I’m gonna herd the cats. And that works a lot better. You have to have somebody who’s sort of willing to set the deadlines and sometimes write, at the authors and be like, “The deadline is this,” when it’s actually two weeks later, it’s all set up. And as an author, I know that and they’ve got to be able to…I do the interfacing with the shared editor, and proofer. Because we always share a beta video, and an editor, and proofreader, to make sure that all of our style and tone and CV stuff is consistent. And we have to have that shared beta reader as well, we figured that out pretty close to I think it was season one or season two, so very close to the beginning. Because somebody had to be able to be like, “There’s different furniture in that room, or that character isn’t speaking quite the way they were in that other book,” or that kind of stuff. As an author, you’re too like, invested in creating to see the inconsistency. So you have to have somebody pointing out that kind of stuff. And that’s especially because we’re writing such closely connected universe there’s that stuff that readers will notice.

And they’ve been tweeting them they’ll be usually they come out all on the same day. So they’re reading five books in a row or six months in a row. They’re gonna go “Wait a minute, I just read that scene this morning. And that guy was actually over there. Then the Washington buffet table and something is wrong.” And we stumbled upon that, because the first season of “Men of Hidden Creek” had an explosion in the town. And we just knew that this building on Main Street was gonna blow up. And we didn’t have a timeline for when exactly, it blew up. So then we got to the end of writing. And all six of us had it blowing up at different points in our storyline. And sometimes we had, like, crossover moments that were in the wrong order. So suddenly, we went, “Oh, crap. We’ve got the building explosion that’s happening.” It’s like shooting this building explosion right now. It’s happening at all times and no time simultaneously.” So we had to go back and do a lot of editing to make sure that that bit properly the timeline, and that really taught us the lesson about doing that work upfront and beta reading each of the books as we go. But yeah, if it’s done, right, I really really enjoy doing it. The other thing I think we learned was kind of related to that was that we write other books, so that they can stand alone and so that they can be read in any order. But we do give them a suggested order because the first season of “Men of Hidden Creek” we were like, “These literally can be read in any order, they’re all happening at the same time with the same characters in the same place.” But a lot of readers wanted a suggestion about where to start, they didn’t wanna dive in and like, miss something because they’re very used to the idea of a shared world being that one author writes this book and leaves it there. And then the next author comes down into the same world and picks up there and moves it along. So a more linear timeline, whereas we’re coming in and going, “All the books are happening at the same time.” “All right, then have fun. Good luck.” So we learned from that and we now build a kind of a loose plot across the whole season, or even the whole series if there’s multiple seasons.

So sometimes, like if you’re uploading the office building on Main Street, or you’re burning down the paper or whatever, you might put that as the first book in the season. So that readers aren’t like, frustrated and waiting to find out what happened and why. And then sometimes you wanna actually hold back that event a little bit. And you want me to pick up those clues throughout the books and solve the puzzle at the end of the season. So we’re relying on betas as well with that to help us figure out that order. And the beta software makers make sure that they can be met as purely standalone or in any order. But we also find that because of that we are still up front that you can read them in any order an easy sort of suggestion. So a lot of the times readers will come up with their own preferred reading orders. That’s like really fun to watch as well. It goes out via the automated sense because we’re reading about by princess and there are brothers. So we went from oldest to youngest. And I’m writing the fifth and final book, which is about a man who’s turning 18. And he getting his official palace duties. And they include choosing a new collectible and roses that symbolizes the upcoming engagement of his oldest brother Leo, who’s obviously the bush book. So that like automatically tied back into book one and made this satisfying series plot. But if you’re not reading something that’s quite that closely connected, sometimes you do need to be arbitrary and just say, “Okay, I want this book here because it kind of is a good introduction to the world.” And then these books will take you up and down. So we have usually one more actually book and then you’ll have like a more tender feel good book, and then another like more exciting book or whatever, so that you’re taking readers on a journey. But the most important thing is really nailing those crossover points. That’s in my experience has been where the readers have loved it the most is making sure that you get the other characters on page and that you’re sharing the same background characters and their settings. And you’re getting those details, right. Because the reader want’s to open up the book and see in the background, this other person’s main character wandering around and go, “Oh, what’s he up to?” And then they go and read that author’s book and they find out, “Oh, actually, he was really doing this,” which like in “Hidden Creek” and Rosavia are both very small environments. They’re a small town and a small palace.

So it naturally happened that way. You’ve got all the gossip and the secrets and people who aren’t what they seem. So you know, you’ve got this prince scene that prince and he’s like, “Oh, he’s definitely doing this. And that prince is actually sneaking around and doing that,” and so on. So that kind of naturally happened. But I think just like if you’re writing a scene by yourself, all the characters in it should have their own perspective on the situation. And when you find out that perspective, it should add something to the scene. And if it doesn’t, then we generally leave but it’s only a one way crossover so that you only have that scene happen in one book. Otherwise, you end up with all these scenes that are just like repetitively retelling the same thing. We want readers to go, “Oh, this scene, wait a minute, there’s something different.”

Jeff: What would you recommend to authors who wanna think about starting a shared universe? Since you’ve now you’ve got two shared universes and you’ve wrangle, five seasons worth.

Ed: Be prepared for a lot of homework, making sure that although details mesh and biting those crossovers and reading each other’s books as they go, I think that reading each other’s books, it’s a really big thing. Because a lot of time as authors, we’re sort of pressed on our own deadline, let alone reading other people’s books. But that’s where we found the most richness, especially as we’ve started doing it in Serbia, is finding the opportunities as we go to go, “Oh, wait a minute. You could set that scene here where I’ve just set the scene or whatever.” It gives us a lot more opportunity for crossovers, and also getting that editor, shared beta reader shared editor shared proofreader booked up front, making sure everybody goes to the same people and they can also add other people from their team if they want to. A lot of the time we’ll have someone who comes in and goes, “Okay, I’ve got my own editing team,” and we’re gonna say, “That’s fine. You can use other people as well. We just need you to make sure that you use these people so that we get the series consistency right and then you can use whatever you want to use for your side of the story to make it fit you.” But yeah, basically be prepared to spend a lot of time and to be frustrated at first because especially if you’re just trying this for your first season there’s a lessons that you’re gonna have to learn about working together, about deadlines about all of this stuff, and it doesn’t always come together smoothly the first time around. I feel like, every season that we vote, we took something else on board and we went, “Okay, this didn’t work too well. But now we’re gonna try this.” And we’ve gotten stronger and stronger at organizing this and collaborating. We’ve had Helen, H.J. Welch, and myself are the only two who have been in all four seasons of “Men of Hidden Creek Creek,” and now “Rosavia.” And we’ve really developed quite a collaboration as well. So she’s the cheerleader and I’m the cat herder. And we’ve voted our our votes and yeah, it’s kind of evolved naturally, but it evolved from that hood work. So be prepared to sort of try and flop a little bit and try it again. And figure things out. But it is lonely work writing and I find when you collaborate like this even though it’s taking me more than twice as long as writing my own solo book because I’m also doing all of this work and giving people their deadlines and checking in with them and checking in… I’m doing all the interfacing with the couple of designer and all that stuff. And I usually format the books myself because I don’t have enough stuff to do. So it’s taking me all of this time but it is just so enjoyable that every time I get near the end of the process and I’m like, “Oh, never again,” and then Helen just looks at me and I’m like, “Yeah, okay, next year.”

Jeff: If you’re an author who’s like, seen all of these shared universes, but you know you don’t want to start one because you’ve probably just scared a few people off there. How do you make it known that pick me, kind of thing.

Ed: We have picked authors before who checked gotten in touch and said that they love the concept like the pens are the concept and they’re in our Facebook groups. We’ve got one for “Men of Hidden Creek” and one for “Rosavia” now. And we’ve had people PM us or email us directly being like, “This is so cool. How do I get involved?” And you can just do that it is allowed. Pick somebody who’s involved with it and email them. We tend to like I don’t generally have the face of like, the owner of “Rosavia” or anything. So you might pick anybody from the season, but they’ll direct you to whoever’s in charge and just reach out and say, “Hey, I like this concept, either can you give me advice on how to do it myself? Or could you let me know when it’s available again.” And we’ve actually got a good list of people who have approached us and said, “Oh, I love this concept. I would love to be involved. But it didn’t work with my schedule at this time”. And so when we did “Rosavia” we approached a few people who didn’t work with their schedule, but we’ve told them next time, if we’ve got space, we’ll look for you. So we wanna do more shared universe so that we can get those people involved. And we can do different combinations of people and do these little different bubbles. Now, that we’ve kind of got a bubble of “Men of Hidden Creek” and a bubble of “Rosavia” and we’re gonna be starting other bubbles. So yeah, don’t be afraid to reach out to others and be like, “Hey, I wanna get involved. How do I do that? ”

Jeff: Yeah, don’t be shy. I think if anything, the consistent message especially in in gay romance is as long as you’re gonna be polite in your queries. Don’t be shy and ask for help or ask if you can get involved and stuff like that because it’s a good community.

Ed: Yeah, totally.

Jeff: Well, Ed thank you so much for all of this wonderful information. I’ve so thoroughly enjoyed the conversation.

Ed: Thank you for listening to me ramble.