Sneak Peeks

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Average Woman, The Alpha, and The Anti-Hero

Most writers have a dream. It usually involves a home office and a self-set schedule and freedom. What it doesn’t include is a frantic scramble to adapt to current sales trends and the retrofitting of a completed manuscript into the mold of what’s hot now. No, now. No! Right NOW!!!

To get the office in the house, you have to make sales. To make sales, you have to write what a decent portion of buyers read. That’s why we’re seeing a thousand knock-offs of the Fifty Shades of Grey series.

And it works.

Readers are eating it up. I just discovered a woman whose first two self-pub’d novels are selling at number one in their category just a month after publication on Amazon. I only read the teasers, but that’s really all I needed to find: first person writing from the female realtor’s perspective, a sex-driven alpha male forcing her out of her comfort zone, and even a special necklace thrown in for good measure. Yikes.... My biggest problem with this sort of formulaic writing - other than the borderline plagiarism - is...well...that I can’t do it.

I read an interview with one of my favorite authors a few years back. The interviewer was asking her how she did it, how she came up with such fresh ideas and exciting plot twists.

At that time I was still unpublished, still holding a notebook full of half-finished scenes and no completed manuscripts. I was on the edge of my seat, hoping for a gem, some miraculous Aha! tip that would show me how to put it all together. For years afterward I carried the disgusted sense of betrayal I’d felt upon reading her answer.

"It just...happens. Like I’m channeling them, just recording their life."

What!? Channeling? You’ve got to be kidding me!
Fast forward six years. Ask me how I get my ideas for my novels.

Okay, so I might not say channeling, but I understand now what she meant. When I’m writing hot, when the scene is flowing, things just happen. I didn’t plan for them to take the left fork in the road, but suddenly they did and it leads them into an unanticipated adventure that becomes the defining moment in the story.

I’m one of those kinds of writers. I begin with a glimpse of my characters: A magician on a stage. I see his eyes staring out at the crowd; see his gaze shift to the balcony. There’s a woman standing alone... And POW! I have to write their story. Yeah, like that. The story just builds itself. If I tried to write a knock-off of FSoG it would end up with the heroine dropping the sex-alpha out of a helicopter and flying off with a thief who was prone to wearing stolen earrings and finger-less gloves.

I just can’t do it, captain!
But what about the dream? The house and the office? How do I achieve success as a writer when I don’t want to write what everybody else is writing?

If you’re like me, you’ve realized that the dream is a bit bigger than the office. It includes what’s been typed on the screen of the computer on the desk. The stories that we writers have been constructing since we were kids.

The stories are the heart of the dream.

So, now the question is: how to write what we want to write, but still make sales?

I’ve read a ton of books on writing, and self-publishing, and marketing. I’ve read articles on demographics and sales trends. One piece of information that stood out to me, and that I’ve tried to take to heart, was to figure out what you like to write then figure out who likes to read that type of story.

This is where the title of my post comes into play.

I write romance novels. So the numbers I’m going to give you will apply to that chunk of readers. After pouring over a bunch of information compiled by the RWA and the Federal Bureau of Statistics I found these stats-

The average woman who reads romance novels is 42. 35% of readers are between the ages of 13 and 34 and 51% are 35 and over.

She is 5’4" and about 165 pounds.

She probably has had at least one child and is in a marriage or other long-term relationship.

She reads up to 5 novels a month and probably thinks that an e-book priced below $2.30 isn’t as good quality as those priced at about $3.00, but $.99 books are good to pass the time when she’s maxed out her budget.

30% of romance readers choose paranormal romance, but contemporary-mystery-romances are still the most favored sub-genre.

Her preferred method of finding new books is via recommendation by a friend, or seeing the physical title on a bookshelf at the store. She will also go back to an author who she’s read in the past if she enjoyed one of their titles before.

She probably won’t visit your author page, or follow you on Facebook, or go to a live event you throw, or watch your YouTube trailers, or follow your blog, or tweets. (But, 40% of romance readers will)

25% buy new novels on Amazon. 4% from Barnes and Noble.

Okay, can you see her in your mind? Is she basically you? Or probably you in a few years? You know this woman at the very least. You understand her.

You are writing for her.

Well, I’m writing for her. You might be focusing your writing for the twenty-something with no children who is highly connected to social media. That young woman is a powerful player. Connect with her, connect with the world.

Knowing who you're writing for is vitally important for marketing purposes. It's also a key component in figuring out where your niche is in the writing world.

And now that we have our heroine, let’s give her a hero.

The Alpha-

Just the name alone conjures up his image: Big. Dominant. Uncommunicative. Possessive. Powerful. Aggressive. Brooding. Stubborn. Injured. Spoiled. Hot.

Our alpha can take a beating and dish one out as well. He will kick ass for the woman he loves and take no prisoners. The alpha doesn’t talk about feelings. He doesn’t ask for anyone else’s opinion. He is gruff and masculine and has a past best left behind him. He will dominate our heroine, rescue her, possess her. She will be very feminine next to him. No matter her strengths, he will be stronger.

The alpha male is most attractive to alpha women.

Considering half of all romance readers have a master’s degree or higher, and live during a time when men are treated as equals and often stay home to raise the kids while she works, that’s not terribly surprising.

She wants to be a woman. She wants someone else to bear the burden of survival. She wants an escape.

The Anti-Hero is a bit more complex.

He often shows a wider range of emotion, especially humor and love. He has vulnerabilities, and vices. The anti-hero is physically attractive, but his strength is usually found in his wit and cunning rather than brute force. The heroine has a greater chance of rescuing him a time or two during their courtship than simply allowing him to drag her out of one pothole after another. The anti-hero gives our heroine the opportunity to be great.

This guy is most appealing to women who’ve run into the glass ceiling.

In today’s society women are too often compared to supermodels and movie stars. They can struggle their entire life and never measure up to these impossible ideals. They can work as hard (or harder) than their male counterpart and never receive the same recognition as him in business and academics. She is running a race she can never win and she’s more than ready to be the hero for once.

So, now that you know who you’re writing for, what next?

First, you need to decide if you are capable of riding the bandwagon. If you can spin out a super-similar story to the ones that are soaring high on the best-seller list then more power to you! The reason all of those knock-offs are selling is because that’s what readers want to read. If you can do it well, you’ll be successful, and there’s no better feeling than watching those sales numbers climb and climb, and reading a boatload of five star reviews.


If you’ve decided that you can’t stick to the formula, welcome to the club! For me, writing is far too organic to attempt anything more structured than a general outline (which usually falls by the wayside halfway through anyway).

When you love what you’re writing, or better yet, who you’re writing, the words just flow. Seriously. And if you have a favorite author, I bet you’ll notice that when it gets down to brass tacks, their hero’s all fall into one category or the other.

No way, this one was a vampire and this one was a human and this one was....

Stop. Think about it. Yes, they are all very different characters, but at their core? Most successful writers write what they love. And they usually love one male type, or the other.

I’m definitely drawn most to the anti-hero. He’s my dude. And no matter how hard I try to write about the alpha, he always evolves when I’m not looking into my anti-hero again.

I love writing. But I’ve found that when I try to force my characters into a mold they don’t fit in, I stop loving it as much. The words dry up and I stumble along, miles behind my daily word goal, wishing my anti-hero would come along in his homemade blimp and rescue me from the desert...

It all comes down to this:

Know who your audience is.

Figure out who your hero is.

Accept that recognition for all your hard work may take time.


Start channeling.



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