Discoverability: curate or die

I’ve been seeing a trend for a while now among indie authors. “Discoverability is so haaaaaard!” they whine. “How can my books stand out?”


All one has to do is go to Amazon and try to browse ANY category. Everything is flooded with erotica, or erotic + (category here). It’s impossible to find anything else, especially if you check out the top 100 lists (which are now nearly useless). Most of it is laughable–“My Space Alien Billionaire Werewolf Alpha Mate!” That’s not a title–that’s a bunch of keywords.

On the Writers Cafe forum on, this discussion has been going on:


I have no problem with people writing romance to pay the bills if they do the work to write a great romance that readers will love.  I object to people knowingly putting out shoddy work, regardless of the genre. I mostly read romance or trad-pub non-romances, so I really don’t know what’s up in the indie world in other genres.

There are many, many romance authors/publishers who have no respect for the genre, who call romance readers dumb, who call romance stupid. Romance/erotica forums are plagued with people saying “I don’t like romance. I want money. How can I make money fast writing romance? What niche should I pick? BTW, I’ve never read a romance. I don’t really like it.” It happens on Kboards too, but not as often.


A depressing consistency that I’ve found – and got burned again by yesterday – is that the majority of these books simply aren’t romance. The books have romance covers and romance blurbs. They’re categorized as romance. The first couple of chapters may even read like romance. They have some kind of HEA. But they’re not romance.

When you actually read the book, it’s just two characters having sex. A lot of sex. A lot of very explicit sex. There’s a female MC who has no personality and no real characteristics at all except for her overwhelming sexual attraction to the male MC. The male MC is a hot, dominating alphahole who has no other characteristics, either. He’s interested in the female MC because she’s hot and he wants her. There’s no love, just sexual obsession. There’s no relationship building, just sexual tension. It’s like someone too emotionally stunted to understand the difference between sex and love read a few romance books and then sat down at the keyboard to imitate it.

Often the writing is good, or at least competent. Some of them have a really, really good premise and it makes me want to throw my Kindle across the room when they completely destroy the story’s potential that way. But ultimately what they’re writing is erotica, not romance, because the real focus of the book is on the characters’ sex lives, not about falling in love. There’s nothing *wrong* with that. It just doesn’t belong in romance.

This is where the “Look Inside” fails, too. It’s often just not possible to tell from that snippet that the writer is going to do this.

I picked up two more books in KU yesterday that both did this. It made me want to scream because they had great premises and were hitting my favorite tropes, but I returned both of them about 1/4 of the way in. They had gorgeous covers and interesting blurbs and the writing was really good in both cases. But they simply weren’t romances.

So you’ve got a lot of people who don’t “get” romance writing it for money, but they’ve got good writing skills and they’re great at marketing. If they submitted to any of the traditional romance imprints they’d get a quick rejection letter. But there are piles and piles and piles of them in Contemporary and NA and there’s almost no way for a reader to tell them apart from the books that really are romances without getting burned. After a few of these, how many of them decide to just stick with tradpub from now on, where at least you know that if you buy a romance you know you’re getting a romance?

Substitute “romance” for “any other genre”, and you’ve got an idea of the problem.

I was chatting with another reader today. She and I were commiserating that we can’t go to Amazon anymore to discover books. We used to browse categories to find a new great read. Now, you want to gouge out your own eyeballs.

Instead, we’ve turned to curated lists. I personally shop BargainBooksy, the Amazon Recommended emails, Ebooklister, Freebooksy. I even click on stuff in Bookscream. Bookbub even has good stuff sometimes. I subscribe to some authors who occasionally do promotions for their books and a collection of friends’s. There’s other lists for other genres–promos and freebies in any genre you can name.

As readers, this is increasingly where we’re turning. Curation by friends, family, promotional lists, Amazon’s pinpointed recommendations, and even Facebook ads.

The people in the above comments got blasted by other authors who are busy churning out exactly the books the commenters are complaining out. Erotica sells, and that’s why they write it. But the market is shifting.

In the last Author Earnings report, there was a marked shift in profits from indies back to publishers. The profits of small presses eclipsed that of indie authors for the first time.

October 2016 Author Earnings Report

Could it be that readers are tired of their favorite genres being flooded with off-genre books? As they looking to publishers for more curation, better products? It will be very interesting to see the next report and to see if this trend continues. There were certain things happening at the time this report was made, such as the Kindle Unlimited debacle where Page Flip showed 0 pages read.

I think it might be time for us little fantasy authors to get proactive. We need to start running promos of each other’s books, like Patty Jensen’s Promos. Readers will never find us on Amazon, and social media is absolutely the wrong place to advertise. But if we build promos of decent books (note the curation!) we might see a little more success.

What do you think? Is curation the next frontier in book discoverability? How do you discover books?

One thought on “Discoverability: curate or die

  1. I like the comments you published. I went and tried to find authors after we talked that I liked. I ended up being so frustrated. I ended up doing an internet search first to find the authors and books I like. Amazons search engine now is next to worthless. I guess the next thing is to go to GNOD and use that search engine to find books and authors that are interesting and not trash. Very insightful. 😉


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