A New App Turns Your Romance Novel Fantasy Into Reality

19 January 2016

From The Huffington Post:

Reading a novel isn’t what it used to be.

There you sit, nose stuck in a book, á la Belle the Disney princess, when your phone buzzes with a text from your mom. After a long back-and-forth with her about when you’ll be able to make it back for a visit, you finally turn back to the book. Oops, another buzz — a text from your bestie containing just a string of random emojis. While you laugh, you swipe over to Instagram. I mean, as long as you’re checking your phone. Maybe you should just toggle over to Twitter too — surely you have some new faves on that last tweet; it was so clever. No? Well, it’s only been a couple minutes. OK, back to the book; you can check Twitter again after a page.

Bookworm Belle might have been able to remain engrossed in a book even as she wandered through a plaza packed with singing villagers, but she probably wouldn’t be any match for a smartphone’s endless stream of alerts.

So, what if all these distractions were part of the story?

. . . .

A new romance book app, Crave, which launched late in 2015, claims to reimagine the reading experience for today’s Snapchat-addicted consumer, and it looks like part of that means embracing those breaks in concentration.

As you scroll through an ebook on Crave, the app periodically breaks into the narrative to show you a text message conversation between two characters, a video of an actor portraying one of the characters doing an interview about the book’s events, a filmed moment (like the hero first looking up at the heroine) or even a reaction GIF.

But after around 1,000 words, you’re cut off. Crave slices each book into mini-chapters intended to take only three or four minutes to read, including multimedia. You can tune back in the next day for another bite-sized installment, generously salted with supplementary videos and text exchanges. Later, after you’ve returned to scrolling aimlessly through Twitter, you might receive a text alert from the book’s author, or even from the romantic lead of the novel you’re currently following.

Texts, notifications, GIFs — every part of how we communicate on mobile now becomes part of the storytelling medium in Crave’s platform.

And the folks behind Crave think this format might just save the novel.

. . . .

While the first week is free, a monthly subscription fee of $3.99 then kicks in — basically, once the reader is hooked, Crave starts to charge. But real devotees may find the price worthwhile; the app’s version of the book is packed with bonuses that provide behind-the-scenes glimpses at their favorite characters.

Paragraph created Crave after a meeting with Judith Curr, the president of Atria Publishing Group, a division of Simon and Schuster, in which she mentioned she’d like to forge still-stronger connections between their best-selling authors and fans. The app currently features major authors from Atria’s New Adult and romance offerings, like Hoover and Abbi Glines. These authors already have well-rooted fan bases and books that sell like hotcakes — ripe audiences for ambitious marketing.

“Romance readers are voracious,” Navoth pointed out, eagerly. “They read twice as many books as any other reader does. And when they discover an author that they love, they’ll read all of her back catalog.”

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

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The new Fabio? Inside the too-hawt-to-handle world of a romance novel model

14 November 2015

From The Los Angeles Times:

Cade Patterson grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. From afar, he has always carried a torch for Kara Knight, a fiery redheaded homecoming queen whose rich rancher daddy would never approve of Cade.

But now they’re all grown up. She’s a teacher; he’s a lawman. They haven’t seen each other in almost 10 years. And that’s about to change.

Did I mention they are from Texas? That there are dark family secrets that must be overcome before their love can bloom?

Or that Cade is not just hot, but hawt?

Cade is not a real person; he is the protagonist of a yet-to-be-published romance novella called “Blind Sided.”

He will be brought to life by a chiseled model named Jason Aaron Baca, who, at the moment, is standing under lights in one of California’s countless dream factories — a small photo studio — wearing jeans, boots and nothing else but a smoldering look on his chiseled face.

The author of “Blind Sided” is the prolific, bestselling romance novelist Eileen Nauman, who publishes romances under the pseudonym Lindsay McKenna. The story will be part of a multi-author, western-themed collection with the tag line: “12 cowboy lawmen who are so hot it’s criminal.”

Nauman has chosen Baca to represent her hero because she believes his face and body sell books.

“Jason,” said Nauman, “is probably one of the most wanted and desired models, and the reason is this: Most male models cannot emote, which means if you want them to look sad or sexy or thoughtful, their face never changes. But this guy has a range that is spectacular.”

. . . .

“My readers want to look into the hero’s eyes,” said Nauman, who has sold more than 20 million books in 33 countries. Sometimes Baca’s eyes are his natural dark brown. Sometimes they are Photoshopped into a piercing blue.

“We try to fold, spindle and mutilate the covers into what readers desire,” she said.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Times and thanks to Toni for the tip.

Someone Taught a Neural Network To Talk With Romance Novels

7 November 2015

From Gizmodo:

Computer scientists studying machine learning have trained artificial intelligence using human knowledge of the, uh, carnal variety.

Neural networks are a form of artificial intelligence that “learn” using images or text. They then use that knowledge by mimicking our own brains. They’ve had a huge year, with major advances made by independent researchers, academics, and huge companies like Google.

We’ve seen neural nets that are trained to identify animals in photos. We’ve seen neural nets trained to describe videos. Last week, Google said it’s using a neural network to generate responses to your emails.

. . . .

Today, one of those tinkerers–Samim Winiger, whose work we’ve covered recently–sent along his latest experiment. He used an open-source neural network that was trained on 14 million passages of romance novels by a Ryan Kiros, a University of Toronto PhD student specializing in machine learning. Called the Neural-Storyteller, the network was trained to analyze images and retrieve appropriate captions from its vast store of sexy knowledge, creating “little stories about images,” says Kiros.

And what stories! Winiger fed the network a series of images, and it’s hard to even decide where to begin.

. . . .

Not all of the stories (or any of them, really) make perfect sense: What we’re seeing is an artificial neural network struggle to identify objects in a photo, and make links between images and the passages that it’s trained on. For example, take this nonsensical story about Trump:

Link to the rest at Gizmodo and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Gay-romance novelist accused of plagiarizing straight-romance novelist

29 October 2015

From The Washington Post:

Any writer knows that finishing any book isn’t easy. It takes craft. It takes persistence. It takes guts.

But a romance novel isn’t exactly “Infinite Jest.” Though some bodice-rippers are dirtier than others, there is a formula — at some point, the wealthy heiress or the lady-in-waiting hooks up with the horse wrangler or the errant knight, and jeans come off or, well, bodices get ripped.

But the fill-in-the-blanks quality of some romance novels seems to have been quite the hurdle for Laura Harner. The self-published author of romances featuring gay people has been accused of plagiarizing the work of a best-selling author of romances featuring straight people — and, in a statement, Harner has all but admitted it.

. . . .

“I was just notified by a reader that she started reading M/M romance recently and read a book by another author that is almost VERBATIM my book My Kind of Trouble with the exception it’s a m/m book!! I need a recommendation for a good literary attorney fast!!”

It appeared “Coming Home Texas,” a work by Harner published in 2015, was a lot like McGraw’s “My Kind of Trouble” (2012). The similarities between the books were apparent from their opening pages.

“My Kind of Trouble“: “The only regret she had at the moment was driving her old pickup back to town instead of her BMW convertible. That had been a stupid, sentimental decision. Bessie had taken her out of town ten years ago, and Cassie thought it fitting that she should bring her back. Since she’d gotten the call from Imelda, the closest thing to a mother that Cassie had known since her own mother died when she was ten, Cassie had been in that mode. Once she decided she needed to come back, the memories she thought she buried ten years ago would not leave her alone. Thoughts of Luke Matthews would not leave her alone.”

“Coming Home Texas“: “His other regret at the moment was driving his old pickup back to town instead of his BMW convertible. That had been a stupid, sentimental decision – Old Blue had taken his sorry ass out of town nearly a dozen years ago, and Brandon though it fitting that she should bring him back. … Since he’d gotten the call from Isabella – the closest thing to a mother that he’d known since his own mom died when he was nine – Brandon seemed to be stuck on a never ending sentimental highway. Once he decided he needed to come back, the memories he thought he buried long ago wouldn’t leave him alone. Thoughts of Joe Martinez won’t leave me alone.”

Link to the rest at The Washingon Post and thanks to John for the tip.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

23 October 2015

I Write Short Books On Purpose

20 October 2015

From author Rebecca Rogers Maher:

As a reader, I do a lot of skimming. Especially in contemporary romance, where word count requirements often lead to long stretches of info-dumping that don’t need to be there. Or because characters are endlessly explaining ideas or emotions to themselves that have been obvious to the reader since page one, and which most real human beings would have understood a hundred years ago. When I see that in a book, my brain shuts off. Because it’s already been said. Seven or eight times. And I don’t need to hear it again. So I skim.

I end up skimming at least half of most of the books I read.

Which always disappoints me. As a reader, I want to be pulled so hard into a story that I can’t stand to miss a single word. As soon as it becomes possible to skim, as soon as that thought occurs to me as a reader, the story is lost on me.

. . . .

I know that personally, there is constant pressure on me as a contemporary romance writer to pen longer books. It’s taken as gospel that readers want 90,000-word stories, and that may be true. Longer books do sell more copies. They feature a certain type of pacing that readers are used to. It’s a pacing that allows you to relax and float along, which is what many readers come to the romance genre to do. I get that, and I respect it, but it’s not what I come to romance for, personally. As a reader or as a writer.

I’m not in this for passive pleasure. When I write a story, my deliberate intent is to provoke. I want you to feel bothered when you read my books. I want you to be awake and thinking. I want you to be moved.

. . . .

Jane Eyre, for example, tells the story of Jane’s moral development from childhood to adulthood. Her romance with Rochester is only part of that story. It takes forever before we even meet him.

That would never, ever fly today. We’re supposed to meet the hero on page ONE.

Okay. So we meet the hero on page one. Immediately, that becomes a book about the relationship between the hero and heroine. That’s the primary focus. I’m fine with that, because it’s interesting. But it’s not 90,000 words worth of interesting.

Link to the rest at Rebecca Rogers Maher and thanks to Kay for the tip.

Here’s a link to Rebecca Rogers Maher’s books. If you like what an author has written, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

A best-selling author by night

11 October 2015

From The Spencer Daily Reporter:

By day, Lisa Stallmann is the director of accounting and human resources for a real estate firm in Omaha, Nebraska, where she lives with her husband and children. By night, she is Lisa De Jong, a best-selling author of romance literature.

“I’ve always been a writer,” said Stallmann, who grew up in Spencer and graduated from Spencer High School in 2001. “I wrote poetry and other things. But when I was on maternity leave with my third child, I decided to start writing a book.”

Admitting that she “didn’t know if she’d finish it,” Stallmann continued. “I just finished my eighth book.”

“It’s an escape from my black-and-white world,” she said. “I’m someone who enjoys using both sides of my brain. My day job is not very creativity-centered, so this gives me an outlet to step away from that and into somewhere else.”

Stallmann writes new adult literature, a recently-defined subgenre that helps bridge the gap between young adult and adult literature.

. . . .

Her success as an author was not automatic. Despite working full time for the real estate firm, she spent hours marketing her first book even before it was released.

“I had to do a lot of legwork,” she said. “I don’t know if people realize that when they self-publish a book. When you go to hit ‘publish,’ it’s not guaranteed that you’ll sell books. You have to make some connection with an audience.”

Stallmann reached out to bloggers with large audiences and partnered with a PR company that helped set up a blog tour. Her first book sold 37,000 copies.

“I never expected that,” she said.

. . . .

“My day-job is very stressful, and writing is a creative release for me,” she said. “I disappear into (the characters’) world. Anything going on in my world disappears for the time, and it’s just me, my music and my computer. It’s as much a stress reliever as it is creative.”

Because she works full time and has a family at home, she takes advantage of any available time to write.

“I do it pretty much whenever I get a chance,” she said. “If I don’t do it for a while, I can tell in my mood.”

“I have a great husband who supports what I do,” she continued. “It’s a balance. Two nights a week he gives me as ‘writing nights’ and usually an afternoon during the weekend. When I started, I intended it more as a hobby, but it’s become more of a job. He understands that too.”

Link to the rest at The Spencer Daily Reporter

Nora Robert Interview

16 September 2015



Being in the Kindle Scout Program

2 September 2015

From author and TPV regular Sariah Wilson:

How I got involved – I had been published traditionally by a small niche publisher many moons ago. I found myself disenchanted by the entire process – not being allowed to write what I wanted, having my titles changed and some not-so-fun covers, in addition to the very small royalty checks twice a year – after three historical romances and two non-fiction books, I decided it wasn’t for me. I left my groups, stopped reading blogs, and fell away from the industry. It helped that I had two babies right in a row (twenty-one months apart), and they took up all of my time, along with a cross-country move.

. . . .

I knew who Joe Konrath was. Back in my early days of trying to make it, I had heard a lot about him – about how he was a marketing genius and had sacrificed a lot of money and a lot of time to trying to get his work out there (something his publisher should have done, but didn’t). His blog was one I used to read all the time, and I thought he was so smart in how he chose to do things – I specifically remember him saying he wished he could give a book away for free because he felt like that would be the best way to build an audience, something I wholeheartedly agreed with.

Now he was talking about publishing independently with Amazon. It was like I had been standing in a dark room and someone had turned all the lights on. I spent about three days in front of my computer devouring all his posts. For the next two weeks, it was all I wanted to talk about. The revolution was here. I could publish what I wanted how I wanted and when I wanted. To say I was excited would have been an understatement.

When I tried to share this excitement with other authors, I was categorically shut down. I was told only outliers would make any money, and that I was foolish to be doing this. It was a fad that wouldn’t last. (I can’t even tell you how many of those authors are now self-publishing. Probably like 90% of them). But I knew this was the future.

. . . .

I’m not a big fan of doing my own marketing (I know, boo-hoo on me, I need to get over it). I have total admiration for those people who either have a talent for it and succeed naturally or are bad at it like me and do well anyway. When I heard some of the success stories of indie authors (not outliers, but regular people), many of them had done well because they had been “noticed” by Amazon. I wanted to be “noticed” by Amazon. They started their own publishing lines, and I realized that Amazon was who I wanted to be in business with. Who could do more advertising for me than the biggest bookseller in the entire world?

Their contracts were reputed to be extremely fair and honest, something lacking in regular publishing houses. Problem was, you had to have an agent to submit. And part of the point of going the indie route was never having to worry about agents or New York publishers ever again. I also didn’t want to give someone 15% of my money forever for very little work (I know there are agents out there who earn their money and then some, but I didn’t think this was a situation like that).

Since I had no hopes of getting a publishing contract with Montlake (Amazon’s romance line) all I could do at that point was hope that somehow, somewhere, Amazon would notice me and I’d get picked up with the advertising. But how to get it done?

. . . .

The very day I finished the book, a member of Indie Author Hub (an online group I belong to) talked about an email she got about something called the Kindle Scout program. I read through it and got super excited, unlike the rest of the Internet. People were upset about the royalties, which is understandable when you’re indie and you get to keep all the money.

My thinking was this – have you ever seen the TV Show “Shark Tank?” It’s one my family and I enjoy watching (and even own some of the products!). The premise is somebody who has a small company or a great idea comes in and pitches to these extremely wealthy and successful entrepreneurs/millionaires. Those entrepreneurs then either pass or make a monetary offer in exchange for a percentage of the company. Many times those people say no to the offers, because they “don’t want to give away that much of their company.” At that point, I am usually throwing things at the television. Because by themselves, the people may be making like $100,000 a year (nothing to sneeze at!). But the Sharks can turn that into $10 million a year for like 40% of the company (they have to have skin in the game to care about it being successful, right?). Because as far as I can tell, $6 million dollars is much better than $100,000. I would take those deals in a heartbeat because I’d rather have a smaller piece of an enormous pie, than a tiny pie all to myself.

Not only that, but Amazon gives you back your copyright if they’re not making you money. Who does that? Can you imagine the Sharks doing that? “I didn’t make you money, so I’m giving you back your company.” It would never happen. So I felt like there wasn’t even any risk involved.

I knew I was supposed to enter Kindle Scout. I knew, in my gut, that I would be chosen, and that this could be a stepping stone for me into a much larger partnership with Amazon. So I hired a cover artist, had some beta readers go through it, and I submitted (no editing of any kind, at that point).

. . . .

I was among the first people chosen, and when the initial ten Kindle Scout books were released, I was one of those first ten. Which meant a lot of publicity as Amazon did a massive press release. It was pretty exciting to see my name in publications like “Business Week” and “The New York Times.” I know it worked because when the book was on pre-order, the “Also Boughts” were my nine fellow Kindle Scout winners.

It was one of the reasons why I wanted to get it on the ground floor – I figured it would be like the first season of “American Idol” – where a Kelly Clarkson was launched. What was fun and exciting at the beginning might lose its shine as time went on.

Then the launch day…and in the first couple of weeks I got as low as #204 in the overall store. I had never been that high (low?) before, and I couldn’t stop grinning. I was #1 on various subcategory lists, and I did very, very well. Even with the royalty share, it was still good money.

And even better? Sales of my one indie book skyrocketed. I can only imagine how much better I would have been doing if I had ten books for sale instead of two. For those asking whether Kindle Scout is worth it, my resounding answer is YES. I have found the people at Kindle Press (the publishing line for the Kindle Scout winners) to be amazing and intelligent and so helpful. I have nothing but good things to say about Amazon and Kindle Scout.

Link to the rest at Sariah Wilson in two parts – Part I and Part II

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

Subjectivity and Reader Shaming

24 August 2015

From author Jami Gold:

Throughout the history of fiction, a divide has separated literary fiction and genre fiction. We only have to look as far as the review pages of “serious” journalism sources to see the difference in how much respect each is accorded.

If we write genre fiction, we might bemoan the lack of respect or media coverage, but the same lack of respect occurs at the reader level too. At various times in recent history, readers of science fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, young adult, and romance have also been looked down on (along with probably more genres that I can’t think of off the top of my head *smile*).

Within the romance genre, many outsiders have attempted to make readers ashamed of their reading choices:

  • “Oh, you read that?”
  • “I can’t take anything with those covers seriously.”
  • “Aren’t they just porn for women?”

Therefore, as a romance author, I try very hard not to shame readers for their reading choices. We all read for different reasons, and there shouldn’t be a pecking order for how valid or noble those reasons are.

. . . .

My point is that our reasons for reading and what we personally enjoy are extremely subjective. Because of that, conversations that imply that readersshouldn’t enjoy certain types of stories make me very uncomfortable.

I might find no redeeming qualities in a story, but that doesn’t mean others wouldn’t. Or that the story wouldn’t speak to anyone else. Everyone will have different measures for how to quantify that very subjective “good” or “enjoyable.”

Yesterday, members of the romance writing community received their scores from this year’s RWA RITA and Golden Heart contests. As usual, many were shocked by how their scores were all over the map.

. . . .

RWA doesn’t provide guidelines for how to score entries. In past years, the only hint for providing a score was essentially “how much did you enjoy this story?”

That’s a great scoring mechanism for duplicating how non-writer readers might react to a story. Readers will either like our story or they won’t, and they probably won’t analyze why.

But when those judge-readers aren’t a story’s target audience, it’s tougher to get consensus on which stories are “better” than others. What are they judging each entry on? How much it doesn’t offend them? Or irritate them? Or hit their pet peeves?

. . . .

The romance genre is made up of several subgenres, which each feature their own tropes and expectations. Some romance genres focus almost entirely on the romantic relationship. Other subgenres can include extensive worldbuilding and/or a strong external plot that might (in the eyes of some readers) take away from the romance.

For example, the romantic suspense subgenre includes a strong mystery or thriller plotline, as the characters attempt to evade the bad guys. Paranormal romance might have extensive worldbuilding of made-up cultures and a big “save the world from the bad guy” plot.

So what happens when a reader of contemporary romance has to judge a packet of romantic suspense entries? They might give higher scores to those stories light on suspense, as they’re looking for the focus on the characters and relationship alone.

Or what happens if a reader of historical romance has to judge a paranormal romance featuring a psychic working for a secret government agency?

They might not realize that paranormal romance features far more than vampires and figure the story is off-base. Or they might look at all those worldbuilding scenes between the psychic and her boss establishing the conflict with the Big Bad (and where the hero is nowhere to be seen) and think the story is “not a romance” (which can disqualify an entry).

. . . .

I’ve seen statements that this book should have been disqualified from the RITAs because the power differential between the hero and heroine prevented consent, so it couldn’t have been a romance.

That’s a very slippery slope. We see huge power differentials in romance tropes like billionaires and their secretaries. In paranormal romances, the non-human member of the couple typically has abilities the human member doesn’t.

In the niche of dark romance stories, motorcycle club and fight club criminalheroes are downright threatening to the heroines. There are even a few sex-trafficking-victim-falling-for-her-kidnapper stories out there.

In short, romance has stories with power issues everywhere. In fact, as Sarah MacLean teaches in her conflict workshop, every romance will have a conflict rooted in power.

The heroine needs something from the hero and vice versa. The story often is about the couple’s power negotiations.

Link to the rest at Jami Gold and thanks to Ron for the tip.

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

Between yesterday’s eruption over the Hugo awards and Jami’s experience with the RITAs, PG wonders if contests for books are a marketing tool that has passed its prime, particularly given the tradpub/indie author divide that appears to be a bit sharper all the time.

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