So while exploring the concept of author ecosystem and learning that I’m a forest, I also learned that T. Taylor’s book, 7 Figure Fiction: How to Use Universal Fantasy to Sell Your Books to Anyone was a great guide for forest types. But let me back up for a moment.
What is an author ecosystem? In the words of its creator, “The Author Ecosystem helps you identify those things that will help you most and abandon things those that don’t serve you. Each of these ecosystems is deeply committed to fostering a devoted audience and building a supportive community for them.”
So what’s a forest? In short, forests are the authors least compatible with write-to-market dogma. They prioritize their own interests and are great at fostering close relationships with their fans by injecting their own personality into their books. Readers read their books not because it’s a dark fantasy romance that hits every trope they crave, but because it’s a, say, Taryn Moreau book. That’s definitely what I need to achieve as an author to make it because God knows I can’t write to market to save my life. I love dark eroticism too much to give it up and write dark fantasy, but love dark fantasy and casual nonmonogamy too much to give them up and write dark fantasy romance. So I write dark erotic fantasy and paranormal fiction, which isn’t a thing.
And that’s where universal fantasy comes in. Universal fantasy is the reason readers love a certain story. It’s not the trope or niche: it’s the why behind it. For example, bully romance’s universal fantasy is the fantasy of discovering someone desirable hates you because they secretly want you.
The Author Ecosystem creators suggest that forests, more than any other type, should intimately know the universal fantasy that runs through everything they write and fuels their muse. They should stick with that UF across every one of their books, even if they write in five different genres. They should then use that universal fantasy in their branding, marketing, and sales to find their ideal readers instead of relying solely on tropes. This will not only help them find the readers who will love them—it will encourage readers to read everything in their catalogue regardless of genre.
This concept is so freeing for me. Pretty much all of my favorite authors and my comp authors operate based on this principle, whether they were aware of it or not. Few, if any, sadly, capitalized on it in their marketing. I just had to stumble across one of their books, realize it was perfect for me, and proceed to read everything else they wrote (hoping that it stuck to the same universal fantasy that drew me in in the first place.)
What is My Universal Fantasy?
When I lay out the elements I couldn’t force myself to never write again, they look like this:
- Utterly compelling, attractive male villains who deeply desire the heroine: Whether the heroine spends most of the book/series fleeing or fighting the villain or serving him, truly terrified of him or as fascinated as he is, I crave stories about main characters in complicated, overly intimate relationships with compelling villains. This is at the center of pretty much every single story I’ve written. and every story I ever want to write.
- Noncon and/or hard dubcon: Almost as ubiquitous as the first element, noncon and/or hardcore dubcon is my favorite kink. Even when I’m dealing with a devoted servant story, I like having some reluctance from the heroine. She endures some aspect of the sex to please the hero, not because she wants it.
- Consensual nonmonogamy: This one’s not as much of a must-have as the other two, but still something I couldn’t entirely forbid myself from writing. The sex, itself, is often nonconsensual, but the nonmonogamy part is always wanted by the heroine, at least on some level. She finds it arousing, even if the H is sharing her without her consent. When the H sleeps with other people, the h knows about it before it happens and also finds it arousing. Cheating isn’t appealing to me at all. Neither is reverse harem.
So what’s the universal fantasy here? I would say it’s doing “bad” things you shouldn’t do, engaging in the taboo, breaking free of society’s restrictions to indulge in the richest, most forbidden marrow of life. That’s what I’m offering my readers. My villains are the portals to this off-limits world where my heroines get to be bad guys and indulge in forbidden acts, sexual or otherwise. Because the villain made them. They had no choice. My stories often culminate in my heroine embracing their dark side and living the most fulfilling life they could have at the right hand of the villain (though sometimes the exploring-your-dark-side fantasy is only for the reader).
This news-medical.net article sums it up nicely: “Fictional villains can offer a ‘safe haven’ for comparison to our darker selves…”
Of course, my stories aren’t as broad as exploring every potential facet of characters indulging in the wrong and taboo. I’d sum up my fiction more succinctly as spicy dark fantasy and paranormal fiction where the villain gets the girl. At least for now, that sums up everything I feel a burning desire to write while releasing me from the constraints of romance. Dark fantasy romance readers who don’t care as much about the romance beats and the characters mutually falling for each other but crave high spice, noncon/dubcon, and hot obsessed villains can take a look. If they hate books with sharing, they can only indulge in the novels I have without it. My hope, though, is that they’ll adore my books so much, they’ll read the sharing novels too.
So What Does This Mean For Me?
It means I’m ignoring the advice I got in a previous forum to separate my sharing and non-sharing novels into different pen names. It’s all going under the same pen, especially since I’m no longer writing romance. I’ll just carefully label which is which.
It also means I’m going to lean into building a marketing plan that’s specifically geared toward helping authors who don’t write perfectly to market. I know that getting a lot more exposure, targeting readers based on interests besides genre, building community, and branding everything carefully will all be part of that. Most terrifying of all, it means I have to start putting myself out there.
Expect to see some big changes from me in the coming months, especially at the beginning of 2024. I’m excited.