Of the billion-dollar romance novel publishing business, gay male romance books make up a small fraction — $20 million. But for a one-man imprint like Robert Winter Books, it’s a rich and growing market in which to find one’s niche.
Winter, who has lived in Provincetown with his husband since 2015, is the author of a handful of gay romances, from September to Asylum, and the winner of a Rainbow Award for Every Breath You Take. Provincetown even served as the setting for Asylum, his most recent novel.
Though Winter says he always knew he wanted to be a writer, it’s actually his third career. After graduating from the University of Texas in Austin, he took a job with I.R.S. “Things were kind of rocking along,” he says, “and I had been out of school for eight years, and I realized I still didn’t know how the world worked. I decided I needed to go back to school for something more advanced — business or law school.”
He scored well on the law boards, went to law school at Georgetown, and was soon practicing with a large firm in New York City, eventually working out of Washington, D.C. Winter practiced law for 20 years, doing corporate bankruptcy work, dealing with such high-profile cases as Enron, Lehman Brothers, and US Airways. “The cases were interesting, but I just really hated it,” he says. Finally, he decided he had had enough.
He began contemplating the next chapter of his life. “I wanted to see if I could write something,” Winter says. “I wanted to see if I could finish a book. I would have an idea, I would putter a bit, but it wouldn’t go anywhere. That’s when I discovered gay romance.”
Initially, he wasn’t all that familiar with it. “I was reading my Kindle one night, and all these ads would pop up, like, ‘You might like this,’ and there was one for this book called Try, by Ella Frank,” Winter says. “It looked kind of spicy, and on a whim, I picked it up. It was really engrossing and really filthy and I just loved it. I could not believe that a woman was writing these really erotic novels for gay men.” In fact, many women write man-to-man romances, or M/M, as it’s referred to in the business.
Winter decided to try to write one himself. “I could see the structure of it,” he says. “You could see from the beginning where it had to end up. It was then a question of working back from that. Who the people are, what obstacles you wanted to put them through — good and bad and in-between — the structure just worked for me.”
Winter began to churn out page after page, and success soon followed. His first two books were published by Dream Spinner Press and developed a following. But when his pitch for a third book met with some resistance, he started to think about self-publishing.
“Having been through the process with Dream Spinner, I knew what to do — the editing, the formatting,” Winter says. “There was no reason to give Dream Spinner 60 percent of my royalties and let them control the timing and all the things I wanted to do myself. Unless you are a big author, you are not going to get book tours and marketing support.”
The company he formed, Robert Winter Books, is perfectly suited to his needs. Winter hires his own editors to review the content; he has line editors who help him fact-check details such as locations and data. And he has an artist design the cover. Finally, a Thailand-based company formats the print and electronic versions of the book, turning his manuscript into a finished product in a day’s time.
For the printing and binding, Winter uses a company called CreateSpace, now part of Amazon. “You upload your book, and it’s printed on demand,” he says. “You don’t have to worry about printing thousands of copies. Bookstores can order what they want. This dramatically lowers the upfront costs.”
Things unfold like clockwork. “From the time I decide that the book is as good as it is going to get and I am ready to pull the trigger, it now takes about a month to publish,” he says. “With Dream Spinner, it could take over a year. I decide my advertising, my schedule, my book readings, and when the book comes out.”
Winter has some projects in the works. “I have another couple of ideas I want to go back to,” he says. “Characters I have created that I want to revisit and figure out what their happy ending will be.” In becoming the spinner of gay erotic dreams, he has found the career he always wanted. “It’s been fun,” he says