Fixing the Broken Experience of Genre Fiction Retail Online

16 October 2016

From Digital Book World:

For years, the numbers have been telling us that digital adoption among genre fiction readers is at least double that of the general and literary fiction reading audience. In fact, a recent report shows that romance, for example, makes up only 4.4 percent of print sales in the US, but a whopping 45 percent of all ebook sales. Stat after stat and survey after survey have shown similar trends for crime, fantasy and even YA (young adult) books. Yet we still seem to be trying to fit digital readers into one singular mold when we think of innovation in book tech.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried buying a book in your favorite genre but find you have to drill down three or four categories on your online bookstore website to get to the ones you want? The high-spending “whales” of reading who have cultivated specific bookish interests with time and are most particular about the titles they like have the most cumbersome shopping experience. This applies equally to readers of ebooks as well as those shopping for their print titles online.

The existing retail system, which is essentially a clickable catalogue dump of all books ever created, is flawed, and the romance, fantasy and crime readers buying in droves are doing so in spite of this broken experience.

. . . .

A good example of the attempts to court romance readers is Simon & Schuster’s Crave app, which connects popular authors with dedicated fans through daily book segments and multimedia content. Whether or not this particular formula works, book hangovers among series readers can be harsh, and this lingering connection to a book universe and its characters is certainly an avenue to be explored by publishers for greater digital immersion (and monetization).

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Stuff, Things and a Farewell to Ellora’s Cave

6 October 2016

From author Stacia Kane:

I imagine many of you have already heard about the closure of Ellora’s Cave Publishing.

When I started writing seriously in 2005/2006, EC was the biggest name out there in erotic romance. Everyone wanted to be an EC author; it was a goal of mine, and I’ll never forget the day I got that acceptance email from them. I was thrilled.

I know a lot of authors did not have a great experience with/at EC. I’ve heard (a few of) their stories. I know many people felt honestly cheated and betrayed by them, and those stories, those feelings, are valid; their experience was their experience, and just because mine was different doesn’t mean theirs was or is untrue. It’s the nature of publishing, to some degree, that different writers can have wildly different experiences with the same publisher. While I honestly saw/heard nothing that led me to believe EC was being malicious or deliberately mistreating authors, again, that does NOT mean that A) it didn’t happen; and B) that those authors are wrong to feel that they were maliciously or deliberately mistreated. In other words, if there are authors out there telling stories about their ill treatment at the hands of EC, I believe them–I absolutely do–and I’m not at all saying they’re lying or exaggerating.

. . . .

I stopped actively writing for EC because I’d moved in a new direction with my work and didn’t have the time (or the option clauses) that would allow it, but that is the only reason I stopped. I made good money at EC. I loved being, and was proud to be, one of their authors–I always will be proud to have been one of their authors.

. . . .

However, their closure does mean that the rights to all of my EC books revert to me. For a while I’ve been toying with the idea of getting them all together, re-editing them (mostly to remove stylistic quirks put in place due to EC’s rather specific house style, which I admit to never being a huge fan of), and releasing them all.

Link to the rest at Stacia Kane

Here’s a link to Stacia Kane’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

What happened to this industry?

13 September 2016

From author Colleen Hoover:

There has been a lot of divide recently in this writing industry. Many have noticed and many have not. A lot of very serious accusations, a lot of arguing, a lot of “he said, she said” going on. Most of it has been between authors, which is sad for the readers. I’ve been seeing a lot of comments and posts in my newsfeed lately from people who are saying it didn’t used to be like this.

You’re right. It didn’t.

When I first got into this industry at the very beginning of 2012, there wasn’t much of an online reading community. There were a handful of indie authors and a handful of readers who interacted with us. It was all new. It was exciting. It was surreal.

A lot of us had huge things happening in our lives. We were experiencing life changes that took us from being poor to actually making a decent living with the books we were writing. If you’ve been in this industry for a few years, you know that 2012 and 2013 were beautiful years to be an indie. Amazon had yet to introduce Kindle Select and other avenues that promote free books, and piracy was barely even an issue back then. The market wasn’t flooded and I could actually name on my fingers and toes all the indie authors who were writing contemporary romance.

When an indie author published a book, it was likely the only book being published that week, so it got pushed by everyone. The business was growing exponentially. The authors who were in it at the time were getting more and more publicity. We were all flying high and it was great and the world was at our fingertips. It’s easy to not feel jaded or respond negatively to life when everything is going right with your career and the sky is the limit.

And then 2014 happened.

The industry was such a great place to be, everyone became a part of it.

. . . .

When I look at this indie industry now, I am blown away by how much it has grown. There are so many releases each and every day, it’s impossible to keep count now, and that’s a beautiful thing. There are more blogs than we can keep up with, but even with that many blogs, there are more authors than bloggers can review. Every day it grows and every day many reminisce about “the way it used to be.”

I assume we’re all struggling now, but I’m just going to use myself as an example here.

I have a much larger audience now than I did in 2013. I probably had about 20,000 followers on Facebook back then. Now I have over 300,000. My signings in 2013 saw about 20-30 people in attendance. Now I sometimes draw crowds of hundreds, and even upwards in the thousands.

Yet, I sell maybe 1/10th of the books I used to sell.

Link to the rest at Colleen Hoover and thanks to Alexis for the tip.

Here’s a link to Colleen Hoover’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Her Fateful Debut

18 August 2016

For non-TPV veterans, TPV is not a book blog.

To be clear, there’s nothing disreputable about book blogs. Some of PG’s best friends operate book blogs. But just like a frog is not a Chevrolet, TPV is not a book blog.

Which means that PG doesn’t introduce new books, regardless of their merit. That would be Chevroletish.

There is one exception – Mrs. PG’s books.

Her Fateful Debut is Mrs. PG’s 25th book.


Her Fateful Debut is a romance of the Regency persuasion.

What’s it about?

Penelope is a person of the female persuasion. PG was about to call her a woman, but that seemed very Twenty-First Century. Girls are, of course, not to be designated as such these days if they have reached courting age.

So, what is the proper term for Penelope?

Since the BBC is never wrong about proper terms, PG imagined the heroine in a historical BBC production.

Penelope is standing in an ornate drawing room filled with chatty people when the Maggie Smith/Judi Dench character walks in. Looking down her nose, Maggie-Judi takes in Penelope and asks, “Edmund, who is that strange gel?”

Penelope is a spunky gel from Northamptonshire, the British version of South Dakota. Or maybe Alabama. Anyway, Northamptonshire is not London and no one is going to mistake Penelope for a big-city London gel.

Penelope has her own doubts about London – too many unreliable-looking people, including a guy (How would Maggie-Judi say guy? Not as well as gel, PG thinks.) with a lavender jacket.

There’s a person named Lord Winston Saunders, Viscount Wellingham who Maggie-Judie would call Beau and a toffee-colored Pembroke Corgi named Wordsworth. PG doesn’t think we ever find out what color Beau is.

The gel eventually meets Beau and things go on from there. You’ll never look at a lavender jacket the same way again.

Her Fateful Debut is promo-priced on Amazon at 99 cents.

Mrs. PG is 70 pages into book number 26.


Fifty Shades Incest Acquittal

17 August 2016

From St. Edmund Chambers:

Last week my client was dramatically found Not Guilty of 8 counts of incestuous rape over a six year period. His daughter had given a compelling interview to the police and my client had absolutely no real defence other than “I did not do it”.

I was brought in very late: 2 days before the ground rules hearing, a week before trial. The week before trial I spent hours poring over the papers and drafting three separate major legal arguments. The complainant’s interview was going to be really tough to crack. She had described not only what her father had allegedly done, but how her body felt as a result. The only odd thing was the use of certain words, phrases and descriptions of how she felt which seemed beyond her years.

My first conference with the client was on the day of trial. Most of what my client described in response to my questions was unremarkable – apart from her favourite book – about a millionaire who takes a young woman under his wing and “teaches her about art”. He had no idea what Fifty Shades of Grey was about.

. . . .

On the morning of Day 3, I started my cross-examination gently to put the complainant at ease. She agreed her father was strict, and that she was really annoyed with him for “ruining her life”. I then went straight to my final question – that she was so angry with her father that she had made this all up. She wavered. I raised the striking similarities between her interview and the book. She suddenly broke and said I was absolutely right. She had made the whole thing up because she was angry with her father and wanted to teach him a lesson. I asked her whether she had got all the ideas from 50 Shades of Grey. She confirmed this book, and others – which she named. After seven minutes we were finished.

The Prosecutor re-examined on each point. She was adamant that none of the allegations were true. The jury were given a break, the prosecutor took instructions and no evidence was then offered. The Judge directed the jury to acquit, stating that this case is “unique” in the whole of his career at the Bar and Judiciary.

Link to the rest at St. Edmund Chambers and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Will Reading Romance Novels Make Artificial Intelligence More Human?

12 August 2016

From JSTOR Daily:

This past spring, Google began feeding its natural language algorithm thousands of romance novels in an effort to humanize its “conversational tone.” The move did so much to fire the collective comic imagination that the ensuing hilarity muffled any serious commentary on its symbolic importance. The jokes, as they say, practically wrote themselves. But, after several decades devoted to task-specific “smart” technologies (GPS, search engine optimization, data mining), Google’s decision points to a recovered interest among the titans of technology in a fully anthropic “general” intelligence, the kind dramatized in recent films such as Her (2013) and Ex Machina (2015). Amusing though it may be, the appeal to romance novels suggests that Silicon Valley is daring to dream big once again.

. . . .

But there is more to intelligence than logic. Logic, after all, can only operate on already categorized signs and symbols. Even if we very generously grant that we are, as Descartes claimed in 1637, essentially thinking machines divided into body and mind, and even if we grant that the mind is a tabula rasa, as Locke argued a half-century later, the question remains: How do categories and content—the basic tools and materials of logic—come to mind in the first place? How, in other words, do humans comprehend and act upon the novel and the unknown? Such questions demand a fully contoured account of the brain—how it responds to its environment, how it makes connections, and how it encodes memories.

. . . .

But if there was a latent romanticism in the field of artificial intelligence, it did not survive the 1980s, a period informally termed the “AI winter.” The ’80s brought not only diminished funding, but also a series of crippling attacks on the field’s basic theoretical conceits. In 1980, the philosopher John Searle argued that the ability of computers to perform intelligent behaviors—his example was reading Chinese—is not a proxy for how human intelligence works because the underlying architecture is so different. A stream of water, for example, always finds the most efficient and expeditious path down the side of a mountain. But to call this behavior an example of intelligence is to depart from the basic meaning of the term. Intelligence, at its roots, means to choose (legere) between (inter) a pair or set of options. Water does not choose anything, since choosing requires something more than the lawful interaction of brute physical particles—it requires consciousness. And even when they are navigating us around the far-flung cities of the world, finding us dinner dates, and beating us at AlphaGo, there is no serious suggestion that these “intelligent” machines are conscious.

. . . .

But we have, in nearly all technologies, from the calculator to the chess-champion computer, made the trade that Turing was unwilling to make: We have exchanged humanness for intelligence. Little surprise, then, that these technologies are ill-equipped to handle many stubbornly human tasks and activities, like putting a patient at ease, interpreting the final stanza of The Waste Land, or teaching someone to ski. For all of its practical and philosophical flaws, there may be something to be said for Turing’s “imitation game” as an index of progress in artificial intelligence. There are, after all, many existing and conceivable technologies for which humanness is, if not all that matters, certainly what matters most.

This seems to be the conclusion that Andrew Dai and Oriol Vinyals, the researchers behind Google’s romance novel gambit, have reached. Dai told BuzzFeed News in May that the project was initiated in the hope that the “very factual” responses of the Google app can become “more conversational, or can have a more varied tone, or style, or register.” Then, for example, Google’s automated email reply feature, Smart Reply, could be trusted to carry on a greater share of a user’s correspondence as he plays in the backyard with the kids. Dai and Vinyals are hoping, in other words, that it can become a fully functional Turing machine, writing emails and messages in an increasingly human voice.

Link to the rest at JSTOR Daily and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG notes that Google researchers chose romance novels rather than science fiction novels.

You Should Read More Romance Novels

26 July 2016


Libertarians like their genre fiction just fine and read lots of it. Science fiction is a staple, from Ayn Rand’s Anthem to the works of Robert Heinlein to Joss Whedon’s dearly departed television series Firefly. Murray Rothbard is on record as a reader of detective novels. Rand praised Ian Fleming and Mickey Spillane for the rough heroism of their potboilers. Rose Wilder Lane’s and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s independence-minded stories of settlers on the frontier have been staples of children’s literature for generations.

But when it comes to romance novels, it seems as if fans of the free market aren’t buying what Fabio is selling. Hayek isn’t on record anywhere as a fan of Gone With the Wind. And Coase and Mises are strangely silent about the charms of regency romances and modern gothics. Maybe it’s the lurid covers, with their heaving bosoms and metallic lettering? Maybe there’s something to the stereotype of libertarians as emotionless rational calculators? I prefer a third thesis: Maybe libertarians just don’t know what they’re missing under these covers.

In fact, modern romance fiction is filled with lessons about the things independent thinkers value—or ought to value—most highly. If you’re a reader looking for novels that understand the importance of work and markets, that promote the bourgeois virtues, and that enthusiastically support Millian experiments in living, you should be reading romance.

. . . .

The basic structure of most romance novels is not terrifically complicated. The hero and heroine are introduced to the reader and one another very early on. As savvy readers know, even if the protagonists claim to despise one another, they are destined for a happy ending by the novel’s final pages. So the job of the romance author is to throw a compelling obstacle in their way.

Sometimes the obstacle is a past insult (like Mr. Darcy’s famous snub of Elizabeth Bennett early in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). Sometimes it’s a tortured past (such as Mr. Rochester’s mad first wife, locked in the attic at Thornfield Hall). Really, the thwarting device can be anything—an overly protective older brother, a difference in class status, a run of incredibly bad timing, a poorly chosen outfit, a cursed demon amulet. It just has to keep the hero and heroine apart for enough tantalizingly torturous pages to make the happy ending feel satisfying and earned.

What’s interesting, though, is how often the obstacle is work. While Fifty Shades of Gray has made us all annoyingly familiar with the “mysterious billionaire” subgenre of romance novels, in which the hero has a seemingly endless supply of wealth while apparently doing very little to obtain or maintain it, other romances manage the realism somewhat better.

Melia Alexander’s Merger of the Heart, for example, begins with the heroine’s discovery that her grandfather died moments before selling the family construction business out from under her. The hero is, of course, the man who was ready to buy it. Conflict ensues.

What’s great about Merger of the Heart is that we hear the details of the heroine’s business. She’s anxious because Grandpa purchased construction equipment rather than leasing it and wasn’t able to pull in enough work to break even with the cost. She’s worried about the fates of her 200 employees. Throughout the novel we consistently see her thinking about and working on the company on a daily basis.

The trouble with Merger of the Heart, though, is one that plagues “contemporaries,” or romance novels set in the current time. The company that wants to buy our heroine’s family construction business seeks it to raze the corporate offices, get the zoning changed, then redevelop the valuable riverfront property. The heroine protests because of her emotional investment in the business. It’s a familiar cliché, and it’s as present in contemporary romance fiction as in popular culture writ large: The big company is always the bad guy, and the hero who works for the big company only achieves redemption and wins the heroine’s heart when he realizes that mom-and-pop shops are more important than big, faceless corporations. Atlas Shrugged it ain’t.

. . . .

In Sabrina Jeffries’ How to Woo a Reluctant Lady, our heroine Minerva is a gothic novelist who wants to arrange a fake engagement to an inappropriate man in order to encourage her grandmother to release her inheritance. (The basic plot of the romance may be simple, but there are endlessly delightful variations and rococo complexities to discover.) What Minerva finds, instead, is a lawyer and fanboy: “I’ve read them all,” he says of her books. “When she’s with people she hides behind her clever quips and her cynical views, but you can see the real Minerva in her novels. And I like that Minerva.”

His genuine affection and respect throws Minerva for a loop and she finds that she doesn’t hate him after all. But here comes the mandatory obstacle: She believes their professions mean she can never have him, since a king’s counsel requires a wife of pristine reputation and she could never be that. She could never play the part of adoring spouse exclusively, and he would come to resent her need to write. Two hundred pages later they’ve found a way to continue both their careers and their romance.

. . . .

My favorite discussion of work, however, happens in Loretta Chase’s Silk Is for Seduction. Here, the Duke of Clevedon must learn to appreciate and even participate in the bourgeois virtues of the dressmaker heroine, Marcelline Noirot. Her job, he points out to her, “isn’t employment. It’s your vocation.” They begin working together, combining his connections and her talents. By the end of the book, they have gotten into business, and into bed, together.

In romances like these, appreciating a heroine’s occupation means appreciating the heroine. A woman who is free to be herself in her working life is free to be herself in her romantic life. And no happy ending is possible without that.

Link to the rest at and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Maverick women writers are upending the book industry and selling millions in the process

23 July 2016

From Quartz:

“I just wanted a story with a nice guy.”

In late 2012, author H. M. Ward had an experimental manuscript collecting proverbial dust on her computer. It starred a woman named Sidney and a man named Peter—an impossible nice-guy combo of handsome, strong, smart, patient, and, oh, super wealthy.

Ward had been writing since 2010 and had been down the traditional publishing route before, finding an agent and shopping her work around. Her instinct told her that publishers would have no interest in Peter. “If you take a nice-guy book to a traditional publisher,” she says, “They’re like, ‘That’s weird. Nice guys are boring.’”

So in April 2013, she published her manuscript online on her own. “I just put it up out of curiosity to see what would happen,” she says.

Despite reports that e-books are dying, Ward’s chance paid off, and continues to pay out today. According to the author, Damaged shot to No. 6 in Amazon’s Kindle store within a few days and held the No. 1 spot for several weeks. It spent a month on the New York Times bestsellers list for combined print and ebook. It was the first in two series of nice-guy books that would go on to sell 12 million copies in three years.

Publishers took note. In the year after Ward published Damaged, she was offered a series of deals from various publishers totaling $1.5 million, by her estimate. She turned them all down, and by the time she said no to her last contract, she was making eight figures as a self-published author. “It would have been a colossal mistake to sign with them at that point, financially,” she says.

Romance novels, home of heavy lids, hot breaths, and grabbed wrists, have long been the embarrassing secret money-maker of the book industry. But today, a renegade generation of self-published authors like Ward are redefining the romance novel, adapting to digital in a way that has long-lasting lessons for the book industry.

. . . .

 “Romance readers are a really, really different animal from any other kind of reader out there,” says Laura Bradford, who founded the San Diego-based Bradford Literary Agency, which focuses on romance fiction, in 2001. “They are incredibly voracious. They consume content like locusts.”

. . . .

Ward now earns seven figures a year. She writes in an email, “I’ve been able to hire staff, rent an office, and I admit I might take a private jet now and again. I was living below the poverty line when I started in publishing.”

But she claims none of it would have been possible with a traditional publisher.

. . . .

 With less overhead, self-published authors can set prices far lower than traditional publishers can, usually $3 or $4. Despite the lower prices, the high payout of self-publishing means that some ultimately take home far more than if they go with a publisher, even after accounting for their marketing and editing costs. That’s an added advantage for romance, where authors set their prices extra low because they know their readers read more, and are especially price-conscious.

Link to the rest at Quartz

Romance Publishers and Diversity at the Nielsen Summit

17 July 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

On a day when the term silo was heard many times relative to the experiences of publishers and authors in the romance space, transparency was a welcome word—and it came from Malle Vallik, Editorial Director with Harlequin Books, in commentary about working well with market-savvy authors.

Vallik was joined by Grand Central Publishing’s Leah Hultenschmidt, Editorial Director of the Forever and Forever Yours imprints; by Deb Werksman, Editorial Director of Sourcebooks’ Casablanca division; and by Kensington Publishing CEO and President Steven Zacharius. “Romance Publishers Talk Shop” was a panel in Nielsen’s Romance Book Summit.

. . . .

No issue drew as much attention or debate during the day as the question of diversity in a genre that, according to Nielsen research, is heavily white and female—as is US publishing overall—both in its writers and readers.

. . . .

The question of needed multiculturalism in publishing isn’t limited to social considerations, of course: it’s also a key point around business interests.

As McLean reminded delegates at the conference, Nielsen’s The Multicultural Edge report indicated in March 2015 that between 2000 and 2014, some 92 percent of growth in the US population was generated by multicultural consumers.

More focus: 21 of the most densely populated 25 counties in the United States have populations with multicultural majorities.

. . . .

  • The share of female romance buyers who report their sexual orientation to be heterosexual or straight: 85 percent
  • The share of male romance buyers who report their sexual orientation to be heterosexual or straight: 88 percent
  • Male (61 percent) and younger readers surveyed said it’s important that characters in romance reflect diverse ethnic backgrounds
  • Non-white respondents who said it’s somewhat or very important that characters reflect diverse backgrounds: 78 percent

Needless to say, publishers in the romance sector today are acutely aware of the issues reflected in such findings. And publishing houses are frequently criticized by authors for rejecting or ghettoizing multicultural work into special, under-supported imprints. Retailers hear the same criticism for categorizing and displaying multicultural romance as “social studies” or as ethnicity-specific work, as in cases of African-American romance sold in “Black Studies” sections where romance readers won’t find it.

. . . .

Harlequin’s Vallik, she said, is in charge of directing “author engagement,” something she described as “a unique position that exists solely because of the indie world out there. My job is to develop and execute on strategy to show authors why they want to publish with a traditional publisher. Also to transform Harlequin to think differently about that entire world.

“We do an author survey. Three years ago about 75 percent of our authors—and we have around 700 authors—published exclusively with us and 25 percent with somebody else, as well. We just did another survey in February” and found that the authors were publishing some 50 percent of their work with others. So that’s a huge change.” And a lot of it represents hybrid publishing, she said, meaning publishing both with the trade and in self-publishing.

To capitalize on what she says are the creativity and energy that hybrid authors can provide, “We’re really open when you want to do something else. How do we schedule it together? Are there any marketing opportunities we can do together?” Mallik said she runs workshops on ways authors and publishers can coordinate their resources. She agreed with Sourcebooks’ Werksman that publishers aren’t always as good about explaining how things work to authors as they need to be.

“Some things, even our own editors don’t understand, and that’s part of our changing landscape: making sure our staff knows, and how do we talk about it with authors?—part of our transparency issue, being upfront about the marketplace and what the changes are.”

Hultenschmidt from Grand Central agreed, applauding Mallik’s use of the term transparency. She talked of a dashboard that her program provides to authors after a title is out for eight weeks to brief them on where and how many copies are selling, which accounts are buying, and other details.  “They’re able to use that if something is taking off,” she said. “We can often leverage that to keep it going well. Having that kind of immediate reaction” helps authors know how the company might be adjusting marketing.

. . . .

By way of demonstrating the kinds of obstacles publishers, like authors, can run into, she mentioned “a very popular author” with Harlequin who had a new book releasing with a cover “which we loved, showing black characters. And it was when it started going to the accounts that we got some pushback.” Retailers, she said, were asking “whether it couldn’t be an ‘iconic’ cover, instead?”

“And our answer was, ‘No. This is the cover and it suits the book.’ But the point is that sometimes, even when we’re yes-yes…there are other obstacles to get through, too,” in order to place more diverse material within consumers’ reach. “It can be the accounts and distribution channels” that present the barriers, she said, “not just the publishers.”

. . . .

“I can see this going two different ways,” she said, getting close to a question that dogs a lot of publishing efforts today among writers who say multicultural work is placed in imprint “ghettos.” On one hand, she said, “you can push to the mainstream audience, branding and building it for a mainstream story—the accounts will have no trouble with that. Or—and this works better on the digital side—you can have a smaller audience that might be more niche.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

2016 Romance Writers of America RWA PAN Presentation

16 July 2016

From Author Earnings:



. . . .





. . . .



. . . .


Link to the rest at Author Earnings and thanks to SFR for the tip.

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