Friday, 28 September 2018

'Best Friends...' or 'Brave Nude World'?

I recently noticed a trend in sales of my two books on Amazon. For the past few months, I have sold exactly twice as many copies of Best Friends With a Naked Girl as I have Brave Nude World.

That's something I find interesting, as my experience as a customer on Amazon tells me that people who read one book by any author are usually encouraged by the site's advertising and algorithms to at least be made aware of, if not actually purchase, books by the same author.

I've no complaint at the way my sales are occurring. Every sale makes me happy, and I'm glad my readers are finding something to enjoy in my work. But it does have me wondering why someone might 'prefer' (or be drawn to) Best Friends... over Brave Nude World.

Firstly, I should say my own assumptions about the two books. I had believed that, of the two, Brave Nude World would have greater appeal.

For one, it was my second novel (although I wrote the majority of it before I turned the Best Friends... short stories into the Best Friends... novel, my experiences writing Best Friends... as a novel were invaluable in the editing and rewriting process that I went through before Brave Nude World finally saw publication). As a result, I tend to feel it is the stronger of the two in many ways.

Secondly, I believe that if you want to judge a book by its cover, Brave Nude World has the better one. I love the image that Danielle, my cover artist, created for me, and by this point I was myself more experienced in putting book covers together. My working relationship with Danielle was stronger too, such that they were able to make suggestions that I could use to improve my construction of the cover. I think Brave Nude World's cover looks more like a professional book cover, compared to Best Friends... which, although brilliantly illustrated, does look more like a self-published amateur work due to some decisions I made about the design and lettering before I knew better.

Lastly I assumed that Brave Nude World would have slightly more universal appeal. Best Friends... is a small-scale story of two teenage girls, one an exhibitionist/nudist, the other very much not but also haplessly falling in love with the first. Brave Nude World has an older protagonist, a mid-twenties woman, who lives in a (deliberately nameless) city in the USA and explores the social experience of public nudity as well as having the character experiment with, and accept, an exhibitionist side. I assumed more people would want to read about the latter than the former.

But those are my assumptions, and what is interesting is to look at how my work is selling and being received, and challenge those.

Best Friends... might have been my first novel, but that might be one reason why it enjoys such popularity. People who had been following my work have read the versions of the stories that appeared on short story websites and knew me for that particular work. As such, the fanbase I have built up definitely finds the ideas in Best Friends... appealing. Brave Nude World is a slightly different work, in setting, theme and characters, and it may be that some of my fans simply prefer Best Friends... with its British setting, teenage (18+) characters and themes of romance and coming-of-age sexual exploration.

The feedback I have received for Best Friends... indicates that even if readers bought it because of the nudity/exhibitionist angle, they found the relationship between Lisa and Becky to be compelling and likeable. At their heart, I think fans of that book are romantics, wanting a happy ending for the characters, and there are perhaps more people who read my fiction for those reasons than just the titillating elements.

Brave Nude World has less focus on romance; this is deliberate, Rachel is intended to be a rather typical millenial, with a typical millenial's attitude to dating. She's not a teenager in the flushes of first love; she is an adult woman navigating metropolitan life, making immediate choices rather than looking for a long-term and permanent partner. At the end of the book she has some sort of relationship, but whether that has a future is down to the reader's imagination. I stand by the choices I make for my character, but I accept they don't give the reader a relationship to root for the way that they might for Lisa and Becky's.

Cara Delevnigne's selfie
which inspired the cover of 
Best Friends With a Naked Girl
Simple things, like the cover, may also come into play here. Brave Nude World may have a striking cover image; Rachel standing nude on the subway platform surrounded by clothed commuters, nobody batting an eye. But the cover of Best Friends..., with the clothed Lisa and the naked Becky posing for some sort of Instagram-style selfie together, has a lot of pull too. It's arguably more overt in its display of nudity than Brave Nude World. To be sold on Amazon, I felt it best to make some minor censorship of Rachel's bare bottom on the retail version of the cover, whereas the image I had decided on for Best Friends... (inspired by a photo posted on Instagram by the model Cara Delevnigne) reveals about as much of Becky's body as it is possible to get on a book cover on Amazon without being banished forever to the depths of the naughtiness dungeon. So in terms of looking interesting and sexy, I suppose Best Friends... rather trumps Brave Nude World (the cover of the former is based on a titillating picture from one of the world's sexiest women, the latter takes its inspiration from a scene in a French comedy film).

I imagine it's possible that even the titles of the books have some effect on how they are being received. While both titles imply nudity, Best Friends... is rather more overt in what it suggests; the title assures the reader that whatever else they can expect in the book, there will be at least one Naked Girl. Brave Nude World, my clever/terrible play on the title of Aldous Huxley's most famous work (seriously, I can't believe I was the first person to publish a book with that title) might seem to me less clumsy, but it also tells the reader less about what the book might involve.

Ultimately I'm delighted with the recent sales of both my novels and I know I have a number of readers who have probably read and enjoyed both equally (even if for different reasons). But it's interesting (not to mention a little intimidating!) as I move into the final stages of writing the sequel to Best Friends... to try to imagine what it is that attracts people to that particular book and what they enjoy about it, to make sure that they enjoy the new one just as much.

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