Sports-Themed Queer YA Series an Indie Hit
How Nora Sakavic’s All for the Game series hit the bestseller lists without any promotion.Nora Sakavic’s sports-themed All for the Game series has become an unlikely hit for an author who does zero self-promotion. The self-published books have been #1 bestsellers on Smashwords and top-10 bestsellers in Amazon’s sports fiction category. They’ve also racked up more than 13,000 ratings and 2,000 reviews on Goodreads. There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of posts on Tumblr about the series and its characters. There is fan art in almost every medium—homemade team logo T-shirts, graphic novel interpretations, and photo collages. The series, which comprises The Foxhole Court, The Raven King, and The King’s Men, features a setup that would be hard to come by in traditional publishing: the adventures of several gay male characters who play on a fictional college sports team together. The website Gay Book Reviews sums the work up nicely: “Rough, raw and violent.... Completely unsuitable for teens. You should totally read it.”
“Coming to terms with your sexuality can be really difficult—even dangerous—and being able to see yourself in the books you read is comforting and empowering,” Sakavic says of the importance of LGBTQ representation in the media. “It’s a ‘Hey, I see you, you are valid, we’re in this together.’ ” She notes that it’s the prospect of the M/M relationships that has attracted readers to her books. In other words, they come for the romance rather than the sports. Although, Sakavic says, romance is a lighter and kinder word for what Neil, her main character, gets involved in. The series is heavy on violence and includes scenes of physical abuse, drug use, and plenty of swearing.
Sakavic says traditional romance readers were initially wary of reading something sportscentric—and she admits she isn’t a huge sports fan herself. She’s played both soccer and lacrosse, but notes that, because her series features the fictional sport of exy, there was little sports research involved. “One-third research and two-thirds fudging anything I could get away with,” she says. In the series, exy is a type of lacrosse played on a court the size of a soccer field, with all the physical violence of ice hockey.So, how did a non–sports fan end up writing something like All for the Game? Sakavic isn’t quite sure. It started as an interest in fan-fics and anime. Sakavic was immersed in the world of “shipping”—a fan-fic staple that involves pairing up real or fictional characters for romantic relationships that are unlikely or nonexistent in their respective worlds. (This is where you’ll find things getting hot and heavy between Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, Margaery Tyrell and Sansa Stark, or Jack Frost and Elsa.) Sakavic decided to try her hand at writing her own M/M stories. The three books remain atop the Smashwords bestseller lists and are among Amazon’s top digital sellers in their category. “To have so many people take a chance on such a strange story is so far beyond what I’d hoped for that sometimes I don’t even know how to handle it,” she says.
In a world where indie authors spend hours a day promoting their work across social media platforms, Sakavic is an outlier. There is no contact form on her blog for readers to reach her easily. Her Twitter is set to private. “I’ve done almost squat to promote the books,” she says. Part of this reluctance was initially motivated by a fear of how the books would be received. (While she’s proud of the series, she also refers to the books as a “self-indulgent angry mess” that wasn’t intended for public consumption.) When she finally self-published the series, she didn’t tell any of her friends. Many of her friends still don’t know she’s a writer. It was Tumblr users who found and championed the books. “Tumblr’s community is really enthusiastic and creative, and the books would be nothing without the legwork [my fans] put into talking about them,” she says.
Sakavic says traditional publishing is still a dream of hers. “The thought of walking into Powell’s and finding something of mine nestled on the shelf is just so exciting,” she says. As for her next projects? “One’s about an ace teenage witch in San Francisco, and the other, well, if I ever figure out how to summarize it, I’ll let you know.”