From The Mailbag: KUMQUAT and Romantic Comedy

Goodreads has a feature where people can post questions to authors. This one came in, and I decided to give a long, rambling answer that I could use as a blog post.

Robert Baker asks: Hey! I bought all your [stuff] and enjoyed it. Surprisingly, I enjoyed KUMQUAT the most. Do you have any plans for another romantic comedy soon? 

Thanks for the question, Robert. Sorry I replaced the s-word.

The answer is: Maybe….?

KUMQUAT is in my top five favorites of my own books, and I was thrilled by how well readers responded to it. It is also one of my poorest sellers.

It was written as a mainstream comedy, not necessarily a romantic comedy. It’s an outlier in my own work, but also unquestionably a “Jeff Strand” novel. Same sensibility, different genre. FANGBOY is a very strange novel that was quite obviously never intended to have universal appeal, but I think that almost anybody who enjoys my work would like KUMQUAT.

I sent the book to my agent. She dismissed it as “kind of slow getting started” and that was the end of that. (It would her repeated but never fulfilled promises to read CYCLOPS ROAD before I finally got the hint, like a clueless boyfriend who didn’t realize he’d been ghosted.)

I considered trying to find a publisher, but books like WOLF HUNT had done so well for me in the self-publishing realm that I decided to go that route for this one. I knew that it would be a harder sell, so I offered advance digital copies to anybody who wanted one, to help get the word out.

Early reactions were outstanding. DWELLER probably has more passionate supporters, but almost everybody loved KUMQUAT. The book came out, the reader reviews were the best of my career, and…it didn’t sell all that well. The hype didn’t matter. Most of my readers were simply not going to buy a romantic comedy.

Now, I hadn’t called it a romantic comedy (I went with “road trip comedy”) but that’s basically what it is. After a few months, I decided to try to go after the audience that WOULD want a romantic comedy, so Lynne Hansen did a new cover and I reworked the description and I went all-in on this tale of awkward quirky love.

Nope. Didn’t work. The reviews may have backfired a bit in that regard, because so many of them were a variation on “A romantic comedy written by a HORROR author??? Whaaaaaat???”

It could be the title. I love the title. Many other people love the title. But I’ve also heard “Who the hell would buy a book called KUMQUAT?” Fair enough.

So that’s where it stands. A book that many readers consider a favorite that didn’t sell very well.

At the time I wrote KUMQUAT, I had a full-time day job and, honestly, it didn’t matter all THAT much how well a book sold. I wanted a thriving career but it didn’t impact groceries or rent. Now I’m a full-time writer, which means that whenever my Amazon rankings start to slip I break into a cold sweat and scream “NOOOOOOO!!!!” at my computer screen.

Do I have plans for another romantic comedy soon? No. Do I have plans for another romantic comedy eventually? Yes.

I’ve got a decent chunk done of a novel called DROP THE MIC about a stand-up comedian, which I think is my funniest book by far. Commercial prospects are limited. This one is quite a bit darker than KUMQUAT because, like many stand-up comedians, our hero is prone to a bit of self-loathing, but it’s also a sweet and funny romantic comedy. I fully intend to finish it someday; it’s just not a currently active project.

And I wrote sample chapters for a novel called A PLAYFUL TUNE, a comedy about an office manager who calls in love with a woman who performs novelty songs after he saves her from an enraged audience that she accidentally offended with a poorly timed joke. This one is a romance novel. A funny romance novel.

But my next novel is a thriller.

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