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After reading Sharon Cullar’s latest post, I was very tempted to send her an email, urging her to get a new name, and to start writing romances featuring just white characters, because her books are obviously just not selling well.

It seems a bit drastic, but the fact is, money is an issue for her right now, so the question I think she needs to ask herself, is, is she happy writing the books of her heart, and not selling, or is she prepared to go the mercenary route and write where the money is.

I know that there are no guarantees, but the fact is, books featuring black or even inter-racial couples do not sell as well as books featuring all white couples.

Her ability to write is not in question here, I’ve read Sharon Cullar’s books, and she’s a fantastic author, however, with the way that books featuring black protags are constantly ignored by Jane Average Reader in RomLand, I think she’d be better off writing Carol Lynne-type books where the all-white protags shag at every given opportunity.

I think that we here in RomLand like to think that good plot development and good editing are essential to every reader, but if that were true, how do you account for people like Jamaica Layne apparently still selling? There are obviously people out there reading and enjoying what she writes.

I also considered perhaps advising Sharon to start writing ménage erotic romance, seeing as they seem to be as popular as ever.

I know that authors should really write what they love, but what if what they love doesn’t sell? It’s ok if money isn’t an issue for said author, but what if, as in Sharon’s case, it is? Should she really be expected to stick to her principles, and keep churning out inter-racial romances, that have a limited audience in the market place?


  • katieM
    May 5
    11:38 am

    She should do both. Write to pay the bills and write what she loves, too. Once she becomes popular under another name, she can do as Nora Roberts does when she writes her Eve Dallas series. When the In Death books first came out, there was no mention on the cover that the books were written by Nora Roberts.


  • I don’t think principles are involved, personally.

    In fact, if I were a friend of Cullars’, I’d tell her to try writing something in a more popular genre. Why not? From a writing perspective, it would allow her to stretch her wings a bit, and commercially, if it gets pubbed, it might help her sell better. Maybe people who read the new genre book might get hooked onto her work and try her less popular genre work.

    But there is a caveat: her work in the ‘commercial’ genre might be less stellar than her work in the genre ‘of her heart.’ And it’s not about professionalism at all: just that she might have less heart, for lack of a better term, to put into it.

    I would do it myself, but I have the luxury of being single, and I already have a job waiting for me when I graduate in July.


  • Maili
    May 5
    12:37 pm

    Yes, she may need to change her name – not because of those issues you mentioned. Until your post, I didn’t realise there was another author with a similar name.

    It’s quite easy for new readers to confuse these two authors’ names: Sharon Cullar and Sharon Cullen.

    I now know I did, and I’m realising I don’t know which authors wrote those books I read last year. I probably read books by both, but which is whose? I have no idea because until now, I’d assumed it was just one author all along.

    I did notice the two-letter difference when I read her (or now I realise, their) responses on some blogs, but I’d always assumed my memory was that crappy (“Cullen? Ah, I thought it was Cullar” and next time, “Cullar? Ah, I thought it was Cullen.” and on it goes.) Well, it’s good to know my memory isn’t that bad.

    It’s similar to knowing twins as a person without realising they are twins and that there are two people. (Excuse my possibly crappy analogy.)

    Sorry for being so long-winded, but I’m somewhat in shock. 😀 Anyroad, a similarity in their names could be a reason.

    But your suggestions? It sucks, Karen. I don’t think she should drop inter-racial romances for money. I think she should start thinking about changing sub-genres for money. This, IMO, means having both: hold onto principles and fulfil a recognised need to earn money.

    For example, from contemporary setting to – say – post-apocalyptic world. Or even a steampunk romance, set in some other country. She could even try a go at writing a romance for YA readers. Or am I talking crap again?


  • I’ve thought about this issue often from a writer’s perspective. For me, it’s practically impossible to write something I don’t “feel,” despite me not being a writer who languishes around waiting for inspiration.

    Writers DO write things they don’t “feel,” all the time, but it takes work and often that grim labor shows in the end product, and no one wants to buy it or read it anyway. It takes talent, I think, to write anything and make it readable.

    I think the trick, if you want to make more money, is to find something you “feel” in the most commercial genre possible for you. I think it helps to read a lot of varied genres and see if any of them click with you; or better still, if a new angle on one of those genres/sub-genres that is particularly yours occurs to you.

    Though a writer friend of mine always advocates “just get a job!” instead. He’s a bit of a cynic, did you guess?

    As a side note, interracial relationships seem to be more common in paranormal romance and urban fantasy, at least in the books I’m reading.


  • I think the trick, if you want to make more money, is to find something you “feel” in the most commercial genre possible for you.

    That’s what I’ve been trying to say. I’ve espoused my view that it’s okay to write “for the market” something you believe will sell, and have taken some flak for the idea. People tend to believe you can’t put your heart in it if it’s not the book of your heart. But you can. While you’re inhabiting that particular story, you let yourself become totally immersed in it, even if it’s not the genre you might have picked. You learn to enjoy something different than you would have expected to write–and that’s really fun. You can still make time to write your personal favorites as well, knowing that they fit a smaller, more specialized niche.


  • DS
    May 5
    2:34 pm

    When I read your post below about her situation I went to Amazon to look at her new book. Despite being out since Feb 2010 she has zero reviews. I know nothing about Loose-id, her publisher except it has been around for a while (and would probably prefer that her books be bought from their captive web site)– but Amazon is where the casual browser is going to look, and if they are not going to do publicity she is going to have to do it.

    I would suggest that she get a couple of friends to do thoughtful, sensible reviews– don’t astro-turf– that is so obvious– and it would probably help her to post on the Kindle and romance boards on Amazon– there’s some topic under both interacial romance and IR (although you have to separate out the people who are having difficulty with their remote controls).

    I did go back to see if she has had any change on her Amazon page and it looks like her ranking has gone up so a few people are buying but really I think some publicity on her current books would be the way to go. And if she has the rights back on any of her past books, I would suggest that she check out J A Konrath’s blog, “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing” and try self publishing on Amazon– it’s better than despair and Konrath has some really good ideas.


  • It’s good to keep an eye on the market as a writer if you want to be commercial. One caveat — trying to write something you think will sell (as opposed to a book you’d want to read aka book of the heart) doesn’t automatically mean a SALE, for whatever reason. If you don’t write really fast, that’s a lot of time and energy to devote to a doorstop. Of course, one can say that of any uncontracted book when you’re not in a position to sell on proposal.


  • Karen, I just had to give Sharon love over at Barbara Vey’s Wednesday Book Blurbs because of your post http://pw.mediapolis.com/blogs/beyondherbook/?p=1004


  • I really think it depends on her purpose for writing. If it’s to make money, following the trend would be most advantageous to her pocketbook.

    Honestly though, the suggestion for Sharon to put off writing non-white characters saddens me and irks me. Though it seems logical to write what sells, the world is full of non-white individuals. I for one would like to see myself represented in the media (TV, books, etc.) That doesn’t mean I’m going to buy every book/DVD which features a black character, but I would like to have the choice. If every writer thought that way, what would be left for non-white individuals?

    On the same token, I’m interested in reading about individuals who don’t share my culture. For instance, Amy Tan’s stories are some of my favorite. I’m sure there are others like me out there. Again, if writers stop writing because white sells better, what does that leave?

    But as far as the advice to Sharon, I say she needs to look at her priorities and decide from there.


  • I know people who’ve done this and have been astonished at the earnings difference. I prefer writing AA characters. I started writing because I wanted to read stories about people like myself. Unfortunately that doesn’t pay the bills and when it’s all said and done if you’re not in the position to spend months creating something that doesn’t make money then it’s definitely an option to consider.


  • Honestly, staying true to your characters of color is a lofty and noble position, but the reality of the situation is that the vast majority of romance readers (white, black, Asian, etc) are accustomed to reading about white or “white” characters. I say to play the game, and write white leads with secondary characters of color, and write those secondary characters so well, people will beg for their stories (not to mention that multicultural casts reflect the real world), and make sure you have a killer hook.


  • dancechica
    May 5
    5:38 pm

    From what I understand, series sell well. Perhaps Cullar should consider writing a series where the heroes and heroines change ethnicity from book to book–i.e. book one features a white couple; book two an interracial couple, etc. This approach might allow her to gain a more mainstream audience. If people get hooked on the books that feature white couples, they might be more willing to try her books that feature non-white couples, especially if they’ve come to know the characters over more than one book.

    I also think, as DS mentioned, that publicity would go a long way. If I hadn’t seen Karen’s post about Gold Mountain on this blog, I would have missed out on a great book.

    Personally, I would like to see more books and stories featuring non-white characters rather than less. I get tired of always reading books where the characters look nothing like me, and I enjoy reading and learning about different cultures. It saddens me that a great writer of such stories might have to abandon them. On the other hand, everyone has to do what’s right for them and for their livelihood.


  • She’d definitely have a wider audience. Let’s face it there are not a lot of black people in America. There are not a lot of people who feel they could relate to an AA romance so they don’t buy the books. Hell, some don’t buy non-white anything.

    But should she write white characters for money? I don’t know. Within herself she’ll have to square away the reasons behind the decision. Personally I like dancechia’s idea.

    I know I’ve asked myself would my books sold better if the face on the cover wasn’t black. Sad state of affairs.


  • I believe you write what you know up to a point – say 40% and then 60% is what you believe will sell. That’s me. That’s not everyone. I have shifting principles.


  • Thank you Karen for this post. I’ve received a few offers and suggestions on promoting my books as a result, and those suggestions will definitely help.

    As for writing under a pseudonym or mainstream protagonists, the thoughts have crossed my mind at times. I am seriously considering someone’s suggestion to write directly to Kindle. They sent me a couple of links of authors who were successful at this, so I’m studying up on what types of books might sell well there. Here again presents the issue of whether I can sell better with a non-black protagonist. Obviously, I love writing black protagonists, but yes, the bills have to be paid.

    As for interracial stories, I have observed that the genre in and of itself doesn’t have to be a non-seller. I have found more than one instance where mainstream audiences have been pulled into I/R storylines featuring AA women where the male is white. For example, Suzanne Brochmann’s I/R pair Alyssa and Sam still is a favorite with many readers; the pair sometimes overshadowed the featured pairing in some of her books.

    I’ve also noticed that in the medium of television, I/R pairings are more “acceptable” than they are in the written medium and I don’t know why that is. When I first started coming online over ten years ago, I was part of a message board dedicated to a paranormal show called Poltergeist: the Legacy. There were two characters, Derek and Alex, whom many of the fans wanted together. Many of these fans were white, as was Derek; Alex, was black. The realization shocked me b/c I assumed wrongly that mainstream women wouldn’t be interested in that kind of pairing. Even now, with the shows True Blood and the Vampire Diaries, fans, both black and white, clamor for I/R pairings between featured black female characters and white protagonists.

    I guess I’m confused why these television pairings can find multiracial fans, but written I/R stories cannot. Oh well, something else to ponder.

    But again, thank you for bringing up the subject and allowing a candid conversation.


  • For example, Suzanne Brochmann’s I/R pair Alyssa and Sam still is a favorite with many readers; the pair sometimes overshadowed the featured pairing in some of her books.

    @Sharon Cullars Suzanne Brochmann is white though, so she can probably get away with writing stuff that black authors couldn’t. Plus she already has an established fanbase, and those women would probably read her shopping list.


  • Sharon,

    I wonder if it has to do with presence. Television is right there in your face. Unless you’re watching BET or something like that, the I/R couple is not hidden on a special channel. It’s presented with the mainstream.

    That’s generally not the case with books. If you want black flavor romance, readers go to a segregated section. Odd, now that I think about it, I don’t think other races have a special section for fiction books. We have more Hispanic/Latino in the United States than AA (though you can still be black and Hispanic), and I don’t recall a segregated section for them other than perhaps having a section of Spanish books.

    I’m not sure where publishers place your books. I would be interested in a comparison to how an author’s book does in the mainstream romance versus the AA romance section. I know personally, my first stop in the book store is the mainstream romance section. Though I’m black, I don’t typically go out of my way to search for the elusive AA section unless I’m in a particular mood. The same goes for any other flavor for that matter. If it’s not right there, it’s hardly worth my time to search unless I’m a fan.

    For example, I love books which feature Native Americans. They happen to be in the mainstream romance section. I don’t have to ferret out the bottom shelf in some dark corner for them. I just grab a book which looks interesting and head to the front–simple as that. If the Native American romances were segregated, I probably wouldn’t even bother.


  • I guess I’m confused why these television pairings can find multiracial fans, but written I/R stories cannot. Oh well, something else to ponder.

    Because I think that how a reader interprets a book can vary wildly, depending on how they generally think, and what their unconcious prejudices are, whereas it’s harder to argue with something that’s in full colour in front of you. In other words, the idea of IR relationships is probably more daunting than the reality of watching an IR relationship unfold in front of you on your TV screen. It also helps if the black protag is classically good looking or beautiful. Being light-skinned doesn’t hurt either. Zoe Saldana anybody?.

    Cynical? Moi? Never.


  • Randi
    May 5
    8:56 pm


    “For example, from contemporary setting to – say – post-apocalyptic world. Or even a steampunk romance, set in some other country. She could even try a go at writing a romance for YA readers. Or am I talking crap again?”

    Very interesting! Possible she could go Sci-Fi, too. And no, you’re not talking crap. Heh.

    @Victoria Janssen:

    “As a side note, interracial relationships seem to be more common in paranormal romance and urban fantasy, at least in the books I’m reading.”

    Yes! I just bought “Stormwalker” by Allyson James today, which is urban paranormal, and the heroine is Hopi. She even looks Native American on the cover (*gasp*)!.


    “It also helps if the black protag is classically good looking or beautiful…”

    Well, yes, but I’d say this is the rule for everyone, not just non-Caucasians. Addtly, it’s generally the rule only for women. Men can be ugly as sin, but MUST be partnered with a good looking woman; regardless of the race of either.


  • hootchiekootchiwriter
    May 6
    12:49 am

    Just a thought…since when is it bad to write things that will sell? Isn’t that what those upstart writers did? You know, Shakespeare, and Dickens and Thomas Hardy…

    Historically, writers wrote what the public wanted to read. Writing the story of your heart is nice. But it doesn’t put groceries in the pantry.


  • I think I/R pairings go well on TV because it’s a serial format where you get a chance to know and like certain characters, AND because for the most part, the tag “I/R romance” means black woman/white man for black female readers (just as “multicultural romance” is code for African-American romance, and not romances with non-white protagonists).


  • I’m certainly open to reading AA books or I/R romance or anything really. I’m interested in the relationship between 2 people and I don’t really care what racial background they are from. That said, most of the books I read feature caucasion leads because they’re the books that are “in my face” more. I see them in stores, they’re featured on the blogs I visit or in romance book catalogues I receive. I have such a large TBR pile that I don’t need to go searching for something to read. I guess that’s a longwinded way of agreeing with an earlier suggestion to get more publicity via blogs and via Amazon reviews etc. I also don’t have a problem with the idea of writing a story from the heart in a commercially popular subgenre. And, I think Avatar has a point too. Shakespeare wrote for the popular audience so there’s nothing wrong with that, provided one does it well.


  • It’s got nothing to do with principals and everything to do with business, IMO.

    Writing IS a business, for writers, and it’s something I never let myself forget.

    By no means does this mean she should start churning out crap just for the sake of crap and making money, but if it’s possible she could tell strong, powerful stories and make better money under another name? Go for it.


  • CEAD
    May 6
    1:47 pm

    I think dancechica’s idea of switching ethnicities throughout a series is a really good one. One of Tessa Dare’s books featured a secondary romance between a biracial man and a white woman. I was very disappointed when she tied up their story in one book rather than giving them their own, and to judge from her website, a lot of her readers felt that way.


  • On the optimistic side: I find younger people (high schoolers and younger) are not as concerned with race as those in my generation and older. Yes, they see the colors, but not necessarily in a way which says one shade is better than the other. Most still date within their own race, but mixing is not as big of a deal. It makes me think multicultural romance will be more mainstream in the future rather than the oddity. Personally, I’d prefer for any multicultural novels I write to be placed in the mainstream shelf than a specialty shelf anyway.

    I’m not from the UK, but I’ve noticed the television programs also seem to be more open to I/R dating/marriage than in the US. I also see fewer “token” non-white people on British TV and more non-white people with significant roles on the programs. Of course, TV doesn’t necessarily portray the culture accurately. Still, it opens up another market to consider.


  • Kelly S. Bishop
    May 6
    3:38 pm

    To put it the other way around, if you write what you HATE, no matter how successful you are… You’re going end up with ulcers.


  • I agree that television has a more immediate impact than a written novel. The characters are “fleshed out” a lot quicker and the audience has a chance to connect that much quickly, also. Factors like a character’s race may take a back seat to the action and plotline (unless the plot deals specifically with race) and the audience is given more of a chance to relate to the character, to know him or her on various levels other than race.

    It is a privilege to write what you love, but as several have pointed out, writing is also a business and sales are the ultimate goal. If we just wanted to write what we love without thought to the bottom line, we could satisfy our audiences with free stories on our website (which I have done). So all of the suggestions are viable ways to increase sales.

    Reena (my cousin’s name, BTW), my hardcopy books were shelved in the traditional “Romance” section, but did not sell comparatively well. The first book featured a partially nude black woman on the cover that was very tastefully done. Actually, I thought it was a very beautiful shot. I hope that potential readers read the blurb at least. If they decided not to buy based on the story line, that was a legitimate decision. However, if they made erroneous assumptions b/c they knew the female protagonist was a black woman (assumptions that the storyline would be race-based), then they missed out on a story they very well may have liked.

    In considering a possible venture into direct-to-Kindle publishing (totally eliminating any middle man), I am researching the popularity of various genres. I still want to have romance in my plotlines but I am seriously thinking of venturing into horror. In other words, a genre-bending book that might have elements from various genres. The one thing I want to be able to do as a writer is elicit a visceral response from my audience, and that can be done through erotic romance or horror, or a melding of the two.

    Thanks ladies for your suggestions. You’ve given me a lot to think about.


  • Possible she could go Sci-Fi, too.

    If you ever go the science fiction romance/erotic science fiction romance route, Sharon, please do look me up at The Galaxy Express. Loads of potential and interest in couples of all kinds in this subgenre.

    Also, an author who just started re-releasing her books on the Kindle is author Ellen Fisher. She’s been blogging about the experience so that might be worth checking out.


  • Uh, did I make it clear that Ellen Fisher is an author? D’oh!


  • The first book featured a partially nude black woman on the cover that was very tastefully done.

    IIRC, that one had a flower…??? somehow used?

    That cover was beautiful-it’s the sort of cover authors just hope and pray for.


  • Heather: Thanks for the info. I will definitely check out both Galaxy Express and Ellen Fisher.

    Shiloh: Yes, the flower was the model’s only covering. A large calla lily. A very striking pose.


  • Ms. J
    October 2
    9:41 pm

    Okay, I must say as a writer trying to break into the world of commerical lit, I don’t any writer should sacrifice what they want to write about for a dollar.

    Plus, I’m tired of trends. Do you honestly want to read another bad boy vampire romance? I know paranomal is hot, but it’s starting to feel like overkill.

    As far as race, Sharon should stick to what she does. She should not be forced to change the races/sex/etc of a charater. If she wants to wrtie about other races, different time frames, let her. But I wouldn’t “advise” her on it just to make a sell.

    I know, I know, we all need to make a dollar.

    Write because you love it, not for the love of money.

    Ms. J
    Author of SNAP SHOT (Kindle edition, see Amazon.)


  • I mentioned trends to my husband the other day. Most of the new releases we see on the shelf were written two years ago. Given that, writing based on trend is rather pointless. By the time you even think about jumping on the bandwagon, it’s so full, you’d be lucky to get the first joint of your pinkie toe in.


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