Romance

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

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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:

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

For the Love of Industry Data

13 July 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

Nielsen’s preamble to its romance market “snapshot” opens with McLean’s summation of the basic premise of romance as a bellwether sector:

“There is no other part of our business that combines such a passionate community of readers and writers with some of the most interesting and dynamic market forces at play in publishing today…

“For the romance reader, ebooks, social media, and an explosion of great content have made it easier than ever to enjoy reading what you want, when you want, and at a range of prices that make even the most voracious romance habit affordable…

“Romance has embraced new technologies, new production platforms, new channels of distribution, and new economics, and is blazing the way for the rest of us.”

Among the most interesting elements of the Romance Book Summit, co-chaired by Nielsen’s McLean and BISG’s Kat Meyer, is the fact that it’s devised to serve both publishers and authors. RWA, itself, is an event that brings authors and publishers together in the same program, so it makes sense to engage the field as widely as possible in a concentrated professional analysis of what has given romance such draw and staying power for so long—and how to sustain that.

. . . .

No trap door has opened beneath the high heels of good romance. Yet. The digital dynamic still fuels a robust romance sector, but Nielsen research indicates that it peaked in the States in 2013, with total output reaching roughly 318 million units per year from the traditional publishing sector, in both print and digital markets.

Since then, however, Nielsen will report Thursday, the trade has seen “a slow erosion in both ebook and print unit sales.”

There’s a corresponding decline in overall fiction sales in the US since 2013, revealed by Nielsen’s PubTrack Digital and BookScan data. And as more from the research is presented in the official sessions of the event, summit attendees will hear that there does seem to be substantial offset of that erosion in traditional sales coming from the busy self-publishing authors of romance. Still, there’s that warning that fiction overall is a softening market component—in Nielsen’s analysis, “as people increasingly divide their attention between multiple forms of media.”

. . . .

Romance also has the characteristic of selling at generally a lower average price point than other fiction, not least because its greatest fans read so many titles. Formats, preferred reading devices for romance ebooks, and the share held by romance in overall fiction, these are more of the factors on Nielsen’s program for report and study.

. . . .

As part of its research, Nielsen cites as much as 81 percent of the romance readership in the States being caucasian, 7 percent African-American, 6 percent Latino/Hispanic American, and 3 percent Asian-American. Among US romance authors, 98 percent appears to be caucasian.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to SFR for the tip.

Is PG the only one who is mildly annoyed when an article on the business of romance writing includes cutsie metaphors like “high heels of good romance”?

Once again, Nielsen reports on the business of publishing without access to information about indie author sales through Amazon, the largest bookstore in the world.

PG speculates that romance readers are significantly more likely to read ebooks because of the ease of purchasing/borrowing and great prices.

Additionally, the enormous impact of Prime Day yesterday almost certainly means that more readers will have access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and Kindle Book Lending thereby generating more readers and money for indie authors.

The “sales” that exist in Amazon’s book borrowing/lending world are completely invisible to publishing researchers like Nielsen.

Exciting News: Samhain Set to Keep Publishing!

26 June 2016

From RT Book Reviews:

Romance is Alive and Well at Samhain!

In early 2016, Samhain Publishing announced it was closing its doors, but after several months of analysis, Samhain is moving forward with the publishing company- much to the delight of their authors and fans! The publisher currently has 2500 titles available in print and digital, and is now gearing up to acquire and publish new titles in 2017.

After the announcement that they were closing, Samhain never stopped exploring alternatives.

Link to the rest at RT Book Reviews and thanks to Toni for the tip.

It’s Frustratingly Rare to Find a Novel About Women That’s Not About Love

22 June 2016

From The Atlantic:

I came of age without a literary soulmate. Growing up, I read every book recommended to me. Nick Carraway’s lucid account of the 1920’s seduced me. Huck Finn’s journey up the river showed me the close link between maturity and youth, and Ray Bradbury taught me to be wary of big government as well as the burning temperature of paper. While the male characters of literature built countries, waged wars, and traveled while smoking plenty of illicit substances, the women were utterly boring.The assigned, award-winning, cannon-qualified books about women were about women I didn’t want to be. Jane Eyre was too blinded by her love for Mr. Rochester, as were all of the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice. Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter was too maternal, and no one wants to grow up to be Anna Karenina. These women wanted to get married and have kids. They wanted to whine for 300 pages about a man who didn’t want to be with them. They wanted, it seemed, to be supporting actresses in their own stories. Their stories were equally about the men who shaped them as what they themselves wanted.

These female characters had love stories of heartbreak, but no stories of solitary self-discovery. Like many young adults, I didn’t necessarily want stable. I wanted to drive On The Road and stop off in small towns and drink more than was probably appropriate. I wanted to question who I was and be my own Catcher in the Rye. There are no Jack Kerouacs or Holden Caulfields for girls. Literary girls don’t take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men.”Great” books, as defined by the Western canon, didn’t contain female protagonists I could admire. In fact, they barely contained female protagonists at all. Of the 100 Best Novels compiled by Modern Library, only nine have women in the leading role, and in only one of those books–The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark–do the leading women strive to do more than find a husband or raise their children. Statistically, one percent of the Best Novels are about women doing something other than loving.To be clear, I love a beautifully told love story. I cry during The Notebook and love Mr. Darcy. I’d just as soon advocate for the banning of metaphors as I would for the banning of stories about love (which is to say never). Love stories are needed because they mirror real life. Men and women alike search for and find partners–be they for a moment or a lifetime. Love stories are huge plot lines in real life, but they aren’t everything.

These days, most women develop personal lives before love lives. They struggle, make decisions, and grow up long before they worry about finding a life partner. Women are getting married later with the average marrying age at 27 according to the most recent Pew Report. That’s four years older than in 1990. Additionally, women’s roles in the workforce have changed radically in the last 50 years. Though incomes between men and women still remain unequal, more women are joining and staying in the workforce, even after they have kids. Their literary counterparts, however, don’t reflect that.

. . . .

There are not many books that star a woman without a man to hold her hand and guide her, or a mess of domestic tasks for her to attend to as her first priority. In the 33 years since Housekeeping’s publication, few–if any–books have mirrored Robinson’s example. Female protagonists like Orleanna Price of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible or Margaret Atwood’s Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale, participate in political agendas, fight in wars, and generally have goals other than their love lives. Likewise, some popular fiction has begun to feature leading women with larger career goals and less focus on love. Skeeter of The Help by Kathryn Stockett chooses her career over love as do Edna Pontellier of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and even Andrea Sachs of Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada. These women and their goals are the main thrust of these novels, but they all include a love subplot.

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

PG came of age in a different century, but he doesn’t remember caring about the gender assigned to any fictional character in any of his early reading. Scout would have been equally cool and interesting as a boy. Gatsby was as driven and destroyed by passion as Anna K.

PG also disagrees that only a woman author can create an accurate female character. He remembers one of his professors in college (a lovely old woman) saying that Theodore Roethke’s Mediations of an Old Woman was uncannily accurate at capturing the hidden thoughts and feelings of an old woman.

The Western literary canon preceding the twenty-first century is what it is. Absent the unlikely discovery of a new literary genius in a pile of dusty manuscripts, we’re not going to find a striking 18th century female protagonist choosing career over family.

The authors of the 18th century wrote in the context of that age. Elizabeth Bennet would have been a fascinating character in any age, but in the early 19th century, her material self-interest was tied to marrying the right man. If she were going to have any significant personal independence of the kind 21st century women may seek in their careers, Elizabeth’s adult life had to begin by marrying money. Absent such a marriage, her world would become immensely more constrained. Jane Austen certainly understood that, as did her contemporary readers, male or female.

In 21st century America, if you don’t finish high school and go to college, your prospects in life are much narrower than for those who do graduate from college. Some future observer may find this arbitrary condition extraordinarily boring and limiting for one or more identity groups, but that’s the context for our world. Authors who write books set in today’s world will either explicitly or implicitly recognize the class distinctions between a high school dropout and a college graduate (or a Harvard graduate vs. a degree from The Tulsa Welding Institute).

Elizabeth Bennet’s indefatigable determination to not compromise love for money is a terrible career move. It’s like becoming a welder instead of an investment banker. She’ll be giving up income, promotions, influence, a large apartment in a fashionable neighborhood, travel, independence, social status, etc., all for the simple pleasures of living in a shower of sparks joining pieces of metal together day after day.

The true distinction between contemporary heroines with ambitious career goals and important political agendas and Elizabeth Bennet is that Lizzy is interested in love.

Fiction written in the 18th century about subjects other than fundamental and timeless human emotions has disappeared. On the other hand, PBS could not survive without Jane Austen and the Brontës.

There is a reason that romance outsells every other genre, including women’s fiction. It’s the same reason that people read and reread Jane.

“We are all fools in love.”

Overcoming Awkward Fear of the Romance Genre

13 June 2016

From BookRiot:

I have a somewhat complicated relationship with romance novels.

I respect them, I know they’re there, have read a few, but past experiences have left me well, a little traumatised.

Let’s start from the beginning- the actual beginning, before my mum gave birth to me, in fact.

Due to illness, my mother had to be in hospital when she was pregnant with me for the last month of her pregnancy. So you can imagine she was going a little bit stir-crazy being cooped up in a bed with nothing to do. In comes my Nan. Nan is an avid reader, of only one genre. Yeah, you guessed it- romance novels. This is Mills and Boon and Harlequin Romance stuff. ‘Stick Books’, as my Nan calls them. Anyway, Mum read a bunch of these in the days leading up to giving birth to me, and it was in a Mills and Boon novel that she came across the name ‘Carissa’.

. . . .

Fast-forward to me being a precocious eleven-year-old, stocking up on the maximum amount of Sweet Valley High and Baby-sitters Club from the school library before going to stay with Nan and Pop in rural Australia. In true Carissa-style, I’d read all of these by day three. So I had to raid Nan’s book collection for the remainder of my time there. I read one of these books, and oh my goodness gracious, there was some romance going on. It wasn’t graphic, like Fifty Shades of Grey, but it was all soft-lighting, laying a woman down by the fire and whatnot. And all the sex they had was passionate as hell.

. . . .

As a teenager, the only real love stories I ventured into, were by VC Andrews , which were dark and complex. Apart from the Wildflower series, I would be tentative about letting teenagers read anything else by her, because it’s a wee bit intense and there are some horrific stories of abuse of women within them. TheWildflower stories were more coming-of-age than romance, but I found that there were more realistic depictions of relationships, particularly within the titles Misty and Star. However, during my teenage years, my favourite relationship within a series was with Lee and Ellie in The Tomorrow Series by  Aussie YA writer John Marsden.

. . . .

Fast-forward a few more years when I’m dating a guy, and his mother finds out I like reading. She loans me her entire Nora Roberts In The Garden trilogy. Considering I was on a bit of a Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs kick at the time, I found Roberts a little bit soap opera-ish.

. . . .

In university my beautiful best friend introduced me to Phillippa Gregory, a lady skilled in the art of historical fiction. You might be familiar with her works that have been made into films such as The Other Boleyn Girl (which they grossly mis-cast the role of Henry, who was supposed to be a borderline impotent old man, not sexy Eric Bana), and also the The White Queen, The Red Queen, and The Kingmaker’s Daughter will be adapted into televised dramas for the BBC. I have to admit, that The Constant Princess was my favourite.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Publisher Threatens Writers Association With Defamation Suit After Being Kicked Out For Not Paying Royalties

1 June 2016

From TechDirt:

Back in 2014, erotica publisher Ellora’s Cave sued the person behind the influential and respected website Dear Author for defamation in response to a post questioning the imprint’s financial stability and detailing multiple authors’ claims that the publisher wasn’t paying out royalties in a timely manner.

Dear Author based its post on statements from Ellora’s Cave writers, as well as public records, which included a handful of tax liens against EC founder Tina Engler (a.k.a. Jaid Black). The post was a balanced and sobering examination of the publisher’s financial problems and included plenty of citations for every assertion it made. Rather than address the issues raised by the post, EC/Jaid Black decided to sue.

. . . .

The RWA has basically cut Ellora’s Cave off for violating its Code of Ethics — which includes things like not paying royalties on time. It has banned EC from RWA conferences and forbidden it from using the group to recruit new writers.

The last lawsuit apparently didn’t reverse EC’s downward trend. Apparently, the publisher has enough money to fund litigation, even if it’s still having trouble paying its authors. Nate Hoffelder of the Digital Reader has rounded up comments from EC authors indicating the publisher is anywhere from 8-11 months behind on royalty payments.

Link to the rest at TechDirt

Ellora’s Cave Now Threatening RWA With Bogus Defamation Lawsuit

23 May 2016

From The Digital Reader:

The romance publisher Ellora’s Cave has moved on from trying to silence book bloggers with a SLAPP lawsuit; now it is reportedly making threats against the Romance Writers of America.

The RWA is the leading writers association for the romance genre. While it has no legal authority, it does have considerable industry clout. It can sanction publishers for violations of the RWA’s Code of Ethics for Industry Professionals, and has done so in the past when publishers cheated  authors out of royalties or otherwise tried to exploit authors (Harlequin and DellArte Press, for example).

Throughout Ellora’s Cave’s ongoing financial problems, the RWA has been pressuring the publisher to pay authors overdue royalties or release the authors from their contracts. The RWA has banned Ellora’s Cave from conferences and forbidden the publisher from contacting RWA chapters to recruit new authors.

. . . .

Author Kellie Jamieson has revealed on Facebook that Ellora’s Cave is making legal threats against the RWA. On Thursday she published part of a notice which she says the RWA sent out.

RWA has repeatedly contacted management at Ellora’s Cave to demand payment to authors. RWA has also requested that the publisher revert rights if it is unable to pay authors in full. The response we received was a letter signed by Steve Mastrantonio, attorney for Ellora’s Cave, in which he states, “any premature comment by RWA that Ellora’s Cave is in breach of their agreements is reckless, false and Defamatory.” Mr. Mastrantonio asserts that Ellora’s Cave is paying authors as it should, and “any false comments by RWA to harm his clients reputation will be dealt with in a forceful manner.

In light of Ellora’s Cave’s lawsuit against the Dear Author book blog, that is not a legal warning so much as it is an outright threat, an attempt to silence the RWA through legal intimidation.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

Google Is Feeding Romance Novels To Its Artificial Intelligence Engine To Make Its Products More Conversational

6 May 2016

From Buzzfeed:

“Her blouse sprang apart. He was assaulted with the sight of lots of pale creamy flesh bursting out of a hot pink bra, the cleavage high and perky. It was a gorgeous surprise, all that breast she’d been hiding under her crisp tailored shirts.”

That passage may not turn you on, but it’s certainly working for Google’s artificial intelligence engine.

For the past few months, Google has been feeding text like this to an AI engine — all of it taken from steamy romance novels with titles like Unconditional Love, Ignited,Fatal Desire, and Jacked Up. Google’s AI has read them all — every randy, bodice-ripping page — because the researchers overseeing its development have determined that parsing the text of romance novels could be a great way of enhancing the company’s technology with some of the personality and conversational skills it lacks.

And it’s working, too. Google’s research team recently got the AI to write sentences that resemble those in the books. With that achievement unlocked, they’re now planning to move on to bigger challenges: using the conversational styles the AI has learned to inform and humanize the company’s products, such as the typically staid Google app.

. . . .

Romance novels make great training material for AI because they all essentially use the same plot to tell similar stories with different words. “Girl falls in love with boy, boy falls in love with a different girl. Romance tragedy,” Dai said. By reading thousands of such books, the AI can detect which sentences contain similar meanings and gain a more nuanced understanding of language. Romance novels work better than children’s learn-to-read books, since they offer a broad range of linguistic examples for the AI to draw from.

. . . .

After ingesting those romance novels, Google’s AI engine composed sentences of its own using what it learned from them. It then evaluated these new sentences against the original text. The process was repeated over and over again, with the AI self-calibrating as it went along — writing better and better sentences.

Link to the rest at Buzzfeed and thanks to MKS for the tip.

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