First, I want to say that we are extremely selective in the books we choose to publish. We put about 300 hours of our own work into each book, sometimes more. We do it for what is usually very little or even no money, once we've paid for marketing and all the other expenses that go along with publishing a book. There is no way anyone wants to spend that much time working on a book if they don't actually like it.
So when I say 'issues' here, I mean things about the way that people, either the target audience or not, might perceive the book. Not things you have to do if the book is just plain bad.
Why we have to consider 'not the target audience'
In this marketplace, meaning primarily via the Internet, it's very difficult to target only the exact readers who are going to love a given book. So you'll end up with some who don't like the book. Often the ones who don't like something are the most likely to write reviews. As soon as bad reviews start going up, it becomes a much bigger challenge to market a book. Many of the best marketing tools are promotional sites that exclude books that have bad reviews.
A book to consider
Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran
by Marion Grace Woolley
Due out on February 14th, this book is, arguably, a prequel to Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera. I say arguably because its protagonist is a minor character from Leroux's novel. It would be a stretch to say that it's about the Phantom. It's about a young Persian princess. As the author said to me, the book is for people who like their fiction dark and bloody. That in itself might be an issue, but the ones I'm going to address here are these:
1. The book is set in Persia in the 1850s. Most of the characters are Muslim.
This is not the best time to try to sell books about Muslims to Brits and Americans. I'm not saying that's how it should be. It's just how it seems to be. Many people are biased.
(Do not worry, people. These are fictional characters, and even in the book these events happened more than a hundred years ago. You're safe.)
3. The whole Phantom of the Opera conundrum.
Gaston Leroux's novel inspired films and a musical which is possibly one of the most produced and loved. It has fierce fans who have coined the word 'Phans.' You'd think this would be a hook into this book. Instead, it's a double-edged sword. The musical and the films don't touch on the Persian back story referenced in the novel. The musical is a tragic love story. The novel is gothic horror.
The main character in this book is the little sultana from Leroux's novel. Two early reviewers claimed that she wasn't part of the Leroux novel. I'm not sure whether they are really referring to the musical or film version, (where she is indeed not a character) or whether they just don't remember because she was such a minor character in the book. She never appeared on the page, but was referred to in conversations between the Phantom and the Persian (the darougheh in this book).
She was Marion Grace Woolley's inspiration for the book. She was the 'what if...?' and 'why?' But are Phans who haven't read the book going to panic at the way that this book reflects the darker aspects of Leroux's Phantom and not the romanticized view depicted by the musical?
No plan survives contact with the reader
My original thinking was that we shouldn't reference The Phantom of the Opera, but that we should just let people discover it for themselves. Like a lot of people, I'm not the biggest fan of musicals and it has put me off of ever reading the Phantom novel. (Or it did until I read this book.) But although the book hasn't been released yet, people have already noticed the connection, in both good and bad ways. (See above reference to readers saying the protagonist wasn't part of Phantom.)
I really love this book. It appeals to me for many reasons, not least of which is that its main character is neither solidly good nor solidly bad. She is instead terribly bad and yet still empathetic. She is jealous and petty and a tiny little tyrant, and yet she can almost be forgiven. For me, she is a symbol of the vengeance that I myself would never wreck but might imagine for a split second. (Mine would be less stabby and involve more karate kicks to the head.)
Her trouble is that because there's no one to tell her no, she loses control of her violence and takes it on the road. This is the stuff of story, without which she would be trapped in the harem. It's only by being bad that her life becomes this story.
So here's my new plan. It involves all of you. If I don't have people following me who are interested in this book, I will eat my hat. (And I do have a hat.)
This book answers the question: Who was the little sultana and what would make her so violent? You don't need to have read The Phantom of the Opera to enjoy it. (I hadn't.)
The main character is a young woman of color, though she is, by her birth, enormously privileged yet is a woman in a time and place where women didn't share the same rights as men. She is also bisexual or at least bi-curious.
In essence, the author has taken a classic novel and found a spin for it which makes it diverse, female-centric, anti-sexual violence, and sexual-orientation friendly. It's also intriguing, suspenseful and beautifully written. And it's even a bit risky in a way.
It's a book that deserves support at a time when the enlightened are balking at the overwhelming number of white male driven books. Especially because it's actually a great book. And as a bonus, there's a circus in it.
But to get it into the right hands we're going to need people to recommend it. So if you like a dark, murderous suspense story with a female protagonist who is also kind of villainous, please love on this book. (And if you're a reviewer, ask for a review copy here.