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Romance writers and the future of publishing

25 January 2014

From Harper’s magazine:

The New York literary industry stands at the front door and frets over the guest list, while everyone else is sneaking out the back. There are many better parties. Though e-books — and soon we’ll call them books — will not destroy the publishing industry any more than paperbacks did, they have already fractured and decentralized it. You can feel, in literary corners of the city, the depreciation of old-style New York–centered prestige. It manifests as a sense of lessening atmospheric pressure, a feeling that you do not have to be here to make it.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you don’t want an invitation. Few writers appear more covetous of old-media respect than Jennifer Weiner, the author most recently of the bestselling novel Then Came Youand an agitator, on her website, Twitter, and elsewhere, for the inclusion of commercial fiction — and by extension commercial fiction written by and for women — in the New York Times Book Review. Weiner’s self-advocacy aroused enough emotion to earn her a profile in the January 13 issue of The New Yorker, and many people are now debating in the very forums that exclude her work the question of whether she belongs. The New Yorker will never publish her fiction, but a profile is another story. Weiner may not realize how flattering old media finds her attacks. In her, it has found someone whose cultural influence isn’t limited to literary New York, and yet who shares its belief that New York is the only town in the game. Aspirants validate establishments.

Weiner has a few things straight: she’s a commercial rather than a “literary” writer, and female writers of commercial fiction for women are perhaps the least-respected writers in America. They are definitely the least respected by the male-dominated New York houses and magazines. But in tracking the conversation about Weiner, it’s easy to forget that the most popular and lucrative genre of writing in the United States is commercial, female-dominated, and almost completely independent of New York.

. . . .

Good romance writers can earn a living without anyone in New York publishing knowing their names, because they publish and promote their work themselves.

. . . .

Romance titles are priced low, usually around four or five dollars, which makes it easier to sell a lot of them. A known author, rolling with Facebook and Goodreads promotion, can move more than a thousand units daily on Smashwords alone. A 60 percent cut of two thousand $5 e-books is $6,000. If your book sells well for a week, you’ve made $42,000. Publish two books a year, a not-unusual pace for an e-book author, and you’ve earned $84,000 before taxes. And that’s just from Smashwords — because contracts with most e-book distributors are nonexclusive, you can sell through other distributors, too, so you may have comparable revenue coming from Kobo, Amazon, and others. And this is assuming you’re not a top-tier author. The writers in the winner’s circle, which in romance is big, can easily pull six or seven figures.

. . . .

[R]omance novels haven’t been well served by the New York bookstores where the literary industry shops. For her 1984 book Reading the Romance, still the definitive study of the subject, Janice Radway had to travel to an all-romance bookstore in an anonymous Midwestern town in order to gather enough readers to anthropologize. Today, outside the purview of New York publishing’s sales and distribution, romance writers have found success with e-books and self-publishing. “What’s now becoming clear to everyone,” Smashwords founder Mark Coker told me, “is that romance was underserved by the traditional retail model.”

Link to the rest at Harper’s and thanks to William for the tip.

Here’s an excerpt from Jennifer Weiner’s latest blog post:

Back in the summer of 2010, some female writers (including me) used the occasion of the orgy of coverage around Jonathan Franzen’s FREEDOM to make a point that seemed obvious to anyone paying attention: the New York Times does not do a very good job at covering women writers.

After a tsunami of indignation swelled across the Internet – a tsunami that, unfortunately, was directed not at the Times, but at the female writers who dared to complain about its policies — Slate.com confirmed the problem: of the 545 books reviewed between July 2008 and August, 2010, 62 percent were by men, 38 percent were by women…and of the 101 books that were reviewed twice in that time period, 71 percent were by men.

Did the Times do any better a year after FREEDOM?

To quote Reverend Lovejoy of Simpsons fame, short answer yes with an if, long answer no with a but. No male writer received the kind of saturation-level combination of reviews, profiles, think-pieces and mentions that surrounded Franzen’s new book…but if you’re hoping for equality, the paper’s got a long way to go.

Link to the rest at A Moment of Jen

Romance, Self-Publishing

4 Comments to “Romance writers and the future of publishing”

  1. “The New York literary industry stands at the front door and frets over the guest list, while everyone else is sneaking out the back.”

    Bwahahahaha. So true. What if you gave a party and nobody came? Or stayed? 🙂

  2. Romance doesn’t get the respect, but it rakes in a lot of moola.


    P.S. RWA’s numbers don’t include a lot of indie writers.

    I think the other thing that matters is we interact with our readers. In the last two weeks, two of my readers had surgery, one was dealing with no water because of the Freedom Industries chemical spill, and one lost her mother. Our books distract these ladies from their problems and pain for a couple of hours. A few words of encouragement can make a difference in their day. Is that too much to give someone who basically pays my bills?

    Can you see Jonathan Franzen sending a get well or sympathy card to any of his readers?

    • I don’t write romances but it was -50 at G’s house in Minnesota last week, and it snowed in Texas at D’s house this morning. A is packing up her household and moving to the East Coast.

      No, I can’t imagine Franzen or Turow caring about their readers.

  3. If you saw William Ockham’s comments about who reads the most books in the US, you suddenly, if you didn’t before, understand how it is that many romance writers the NYT and the NYM have never heard of are multimillionaires. 3% of the adult population reads 25% of the books. I’m guessing a LOT of the members of that 3% like romance novels. And most of the rest are likewise some kind of genre addicts.

    Incidentally by his math that 3% (+/- 1%) ALL BY THEMSELVES read at least roughly 750 million books per year. Get their attention, and you are all set.

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