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.

Never Read a Romance Novel? Grow Up

23 August 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

A few years ago, I was invited to a writing conference at Mount Holyoke College. There were romance writers there—me, Judith Arnold, and Linda Cardillo. The other writers were mostly poets and memoirists, and there were a few well-known novelists. The keynote speaker was Andre Dubus III. In his address, he described the typical romance reader as “some woman reading a schlocky romance novel while simultaneously watching soap operas and eating.”

During the q&a period, Judith (a friend of mine) asked Dubus about his knowledge of romance books. He admitted he’d never read one. Most people who criticize romance haven’t, she countered. Dubus said he was put off by “those cheesy covers with Fabio” and went on to apologize—and change the subject.

Judith was valiant that day. I’ve been valiant, too, during more conversations and interviews than I can count. But here’s the thing: I’m tired of defending romance. I’m tired of giving a good-natured, tolerant you-should-try-it answer for the thousandth time. I’m tired of the media using the words bodice ripper and mommy porn. I’m tired of explaining that, yes, I too have read the great works of literature, and that, yes, I continue to read them today. I’m tired of being told I have the talent to write a “real” book.

Instead of defending romance books to those who’ve never read one, I’d like to say this instead: grow up. The categorical dismissal of the most-read genre in the world reveals ignorance, not intellectual superiority. This is a billion-dollar industry, and it’s not built on vapidity and cliché. It exists and thrives because romance authors offer readers an emotional experience that mirrors an elemental desire in life: to find a constant and loving companion; to become our best selves; to forgive our mistakes of the past and learn from them.

. . . .

 We work as hard as any writer in any genre, and we write of the vagaries and hopes of the human heart, of faith and tenacity, independence, strength, and forgiveness. The best romance novels depict characters that are flawed and complex, characters who struggle to create the life they want and who succeed in doing so.

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

“Marry me!”: Scenes from a Durjoy Datta book launch

26 July 2015


It’s not every day that one gets to see hundreds of Indian girls between the ages of 16 and 24, all dressed as if for a first date, break into a riot for the sight of a writer. And yet it’s a scene so common for Durjoy Datta, 28-year-old author of romance fiction who’s as adored for his rakish looks as he is for capturing the pulse of young India, that he can only look at it with distracted amusement.

The female adulation had started with the very first novel Datta wrote as a 21 year old, Of Course I Love You …! Till I Find Someone Better, the title unveiling the code of love in contemporary India. It grew manically as he went on to write one paperback after another drawing from the world of hookups and breakups around him: Now That You’re Rich!; She Broke Up, I Didn’t!; Ohh Yes, I Am Single!, You Were My Crush… With every new book, there were more Facebook friend requests, more likes on his gym selfies, more declarations of undying love on the fan pages.

. . . .

Datta’s good looks and their effect on young female readers are now at the core of marketing strategies for his books. Just after the release of his last book, When Only Love Remains, he asked his female fans to post selfies with their copies of the book on his Facebook page.

To promote his latest novel, World’s Best Boyfriend, the marketing team of his publisher Penguin Random House organised a contest in participation with the dating website OK Cupid, whose winner is shortly to enjoy exclusive online time with Datta.

At the Delhi launch of the book at the Oxford Bookstore last week, his editor described him to me as “hardworking”. Not every writer, she implied, could go on a 14-city tour, each swarming with hundreds of fans dying to tell him how much they loved him, and not complain once of exhaustion.

. . . .

I asked her what she liked the most about the book. “His dimples,” she said without wasting a second. For a group of 16-year-olds from a posh Delhi school, the most amazing about Datta’s writing was that he seemed to have “experience of love and relationship. He really knows what goes inside a girl’s head.” Also, they added, he was “very cute, damn hot.”

. . . .

The collective cry of “Marry me!” that followed was so loud that the representative from the publishing house had to call for complete silence. The girls were asked to organise themselves in a queue for “book signing and selfie” with Datta.

The anticipation of being up and close with Datta was ripe enough by this time that instead of lining up in a neat order, the crowd broke into a scramble, arms and legs flying about in every direction. In the middle of the mayhem, original groups reformed and plotted strategies to get to the front.  “See, you are short, so you will not be noticed squeezing your way to the stage,” the girl standing next to me advised her friend.

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

Why erotica writers are upset with Amazon

13 July 2015

From CBCRadio:

Amazon has announced changes to how it pays self-publishing authors. The changes apply to books that users borrow through Kindle Unlimited and Kindle’s Lending Library. Instead of paying authors a flat rate when someone borrows one of their books, it will now only pay authors based on the number of pages actually read — a rate as little as $0.006 per page.

This has some authors up in arms — especially those who write short stories, cookbooks, children’s books, and erotica. They say the change disproportionately affects their shorter-length works and that they can no longer make a living wage with the new pay structure. We talk to erotica writer Lexie Syrah, who has pulled all eight of her titles off of Kindle Unlimited and is calling on other authors to do the same.

. . . .

Your books are quite short. Why is that?

I went into writing shorts because that’s what the people are asking for. People read erotica for a variety of reasons, but most people read erotica because they want to feel excited. They want to have a fantasy. And so they don’t want to read 200 pages about the colour of a bed or the setting of a bedroom. They want the down and dirty. And they want it right now.

. . . .

So you’ve taken all of your publications then off of Kindle Unlimited. Where do you go from here, what are your other options for making a living?

Well, I still sell my books on Amazon. That is in no way associated with Kindle Unlimited. But I am really starting to utilize a site that I found called Smashwords. Honestly, I wish I would have found Smashwords far before I ever found Kindle Unlimited. They make it very easy as somebody trying to self-publish. They have a How-To manual that really does just state everything you need to know to be able to format your book.

. . . .

Could you not argue that the new system that Amazon is implementing when it comes to the Kindle Unlimited might actually be more fair? Because it rewards those writers who keep readers reading and gives them more of an incentive?

I’m not saying that people with very large books that are good, that keep them reading.. I mean that’s a great thing, that’s awesome for them.

But it’s not that I can’t keep my readers reading or that any of the other short story erotica writers aren’t keeping their readers reading. It’s the fact that their books are only supposed to be so many words long. I currently have 17 books. It doesn’t take that long for any individual person to get through that many erotica stories.

Link to the rest at CBCRadio and thanks to Cora for the tip.

Erotica Authors Pull-Out on Amazon KU

2 July 2015

From author Selena Kitt:

Erotica authors were impatiently waiting for July 1, for a look at the new dashboard and the opportunity for a glimpse into the Bezos crystal ball at what they might be paid for the month of July, when the Kindle Unlimited changes took place.

Looks like the numbers are (kind of) in… and the outlook is rather dismal. Erotica shorts authors knew it was going to be bad. I just don’t think most of them thought it was going to be quite *this* bad. Because it looks as if authors will be making about $0.0057 per page. That’s slightly less than half a penny a page, folks.

. . . .

But we’re erotica authors. We are the most versatile, adaptive and scrappy bunch of people I have ever known. And if Amazon thought we were going to take this lying down?

Bwahahahahahahahahahaha. Then they don’t know us very well!

Introducing the #releasetherate campaign

The objective is twofold:

1. Get Amazon to tell us how many people are borrowing our books, without which our page counts are utterly useless

2. Get Amazon to tell us how much they mean to pay us – NOW. IN ADVANCE. No more of this, “Enroll your books, choose to go exclusively with Amazon, and we’ll tell you later how much you’ll make” crap!

Link to the rest at Selena Kitt and thanks to Toni for the tip.

Here’s a link to Selena Kitt’s books

E.L. James event backfires when ‘Grey’ critics air grievances using #AskELJames

30 June 2015

From The Los Angeles Times:

E.L. James was thrown a curve ball on Monday when critics of her “Fifty Shades of Grey” erotica series crashed her social media event, using the hashtag #AskELJames to challenge the author for writing books they allege perpetuate rape culture and sanction domestic violence.

The social media event was planned after the release of “Grey,” a follow-up to her novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” that retells the story from Christian Grey’s point of view.

A sampling of the backlash:

. . . .

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Times and thanks to Shelly and several others for the tip.

U.S. Romance Readers Outnumber Gun Owners

27 June 2015

From  author Giulia Torre:

Did you know they stopped counting?

The last time anyone counted the number of romance readers in America was 2005, when marketing research group Corona Insights conducted a nationwide telephone survey for the Romance Writers Association (RWA).

The conclusion was that in that year 64.6 million Americans read at least one romance novel. In 2002, it was estimated at 51.1 million romance readers in America. In 1998, 41 million readers.

Ten years later, I predict that number has increased, based on the rise of self-publishing, the advent of the eBook, and the explosion of the erotica market. It’s been a big decade for reading in general, and romance has been a principal in the revolution.

Corona’s figures at the time were extrapolated by a definition of romance that adapted to readers. According to Kevin Raines, the CEO and founder of Corona who worked on the 2005 survey, although RWA had a strict definition of ‘romance’, survey respondents were allowed to self-identify the genre.

. . . .

From 1998 to 2005, according to Corona’ s figures, the US population of romance readers saw an average annual 8% growth, a number too large to apply going forward at liberty.

In fact, based on revenue alone, RWA claimed in 2005 that romance fiction generated $1.4 billion in sales. However, that reported number has since dipped, with RWA reporting $1.08 billion in revenue in 2013, a 22.8% drop.

. . . .

Guns are a lot like romance novels. People advocate on their behalf. Collect them. Buy them with variable frequency. Sometimes lie about the number they own. And, like romance novels, most guns don’t need to be registered.

Somehow, in spite of these vagaries, credible numbers are reported.

According to University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, the number of people who reported having a gun in their home in the 1970s averaged about 50 percent, the 1980s averaged 48 percent, the 1990s at 43 percent and 35 percent in the 2000s. Now, numbers are being reported at an all-time low of 30%. By my count, that’s 72.8 million American adults.

. . . .

Based on the most recent numbers we have, and the arguable trend upwards in romance consumption and the reported trend downward in gun ownership, romance readers by now may actually outnumber gun owners.

That’s good news.

Link to the rest at Giulia Torre and thanks to Christopher for the tip.

Here’s a link to Giulia Torre’s books

PG says this is an interesting hook for a blog post about romance readers. It hooked him.

He will make a couple of observations:

1. A lot of romance readers are also gun owners.

2. He believes that survey respondents substantially underreport their gun ownership due to social attitudes towards guns.

In the US, if a person wants to purchase a firearm through a licensed firearm dealer, he/she fills out a form which dealer submits for a criminal background check by a division of the FBI. The firearm can’t be sold unless the FBI reports confirms that the purchaser has a no criminal record.

While the number of background checks understates the total number of gun sales because not all sales require a background check, the relative number of background checks is a generally reliable proxy for the increase or decrease of gun sales over time.

The FBI keeps track of the number of background checks it performs. That number increased every year from 2002-2013. In 2002, a total of 8,454,322 background checks were performed. In 2013, a total of 21,093,273 background checks were performed so it was more than a minor increase over 10 years. There was a slight drop in background checks in 2014 to 20,968,547. (See the 2014 Background Check System report from the FBI for much more information)

Ms. Torre cites the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey for the proposition that fewer people report having guns in their homes now than in past decades.

While PG has no doubt that the University of Chicago is accurately reporting its survey results, but its information is based on answers given to survey questions in face-to-face or telephone interviews.

In the 1950’s and ’60’s gun ownership was common and held no particular social significance. PG purchased a shotgun when he was 12 years old and, other than having his father accompany him to the hardware store, no formalities were necessary, no records kept. He needed a license to hunt pheasants, but no license to own or carry a gun.

During this era, more than a few homes had military rifles and pistols that had been brought back to the US by returning World War II veterans. When he was about 10 years old, PG went deer hunting using the standard military rifle used by the British Army during the war. He shot the rifle once and it almost knocked him over. No deer came close to being harmed during this exercise.

Over time, gun ownership became subject to more and more disapproval in certain segments of society and gun regulation, both federal and state, grew much more stringent. Strong and well-funded anti-firearm organizations were created.

The net effect of these changes is that a growing segment of gun owners stopped talking about their guns to anyone other than friends and fellow gun owners. PG suggests that today, a significant portion of gun owners answering questions from a stranger about guns in their home would be inclined to lie based upon the belief their guns were nobody’s business.

In addition to the growing increase in FBI background checks for gun purchases, since the election of President Obama, who supports increased restrictions on gun ownership, US gun and ammunition manufacturers have enjoyed booming sales and wonderful profits.

Rapidly-growing gun sales are reflected in rising stock prices of publicly-held gun manufacturers, Smith & Wesson Holdings, up 150.1% in the last five years, and Sturm Ruger, up 370.6% in the same period. The stock prices of large publicly-held retailers with significant gun sales have also boomed, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Cabela’s, up 168.7% and 423.1% in the same five years, respectively.

PG definitely does not want to start a comment war over gun ownership and regulation and he strongly favors ever-increasing sales of romance novels. He doesn’t, however, believe that romance sales and gun ownership are inversely related to each other.

Breaking Out of the Cage

22 June 2015

From author Gaelen Foley:

After 16 years of being continuously under contract with Big 5 publishers–
which also meant being continuously on deadline nonstop for 16 years—I decided upon completion of my 20th book (not counting several middle grade novels) that I owed it to myself to finally take a bit of a breather.

So I did.

I turned in the last installment of the very long and very complex Inferno Club series, pretty well exhausted by that project, and in need of some time to rest, reboot, reinvent—and digest the seismic shifts going on in the publishing industry.

Behind the scenes, I have been a very busy bee. It might have looked to the world like I was being very quiet (if anyone even noticed), but it was a year of deep work overhauling many of my basic paradigms about what it means to be an author and how to run my business in new ways that’ll better serve my readers and also be sustainable for me for the next leg of my writing journey. Some of my particular areas of focus included:

  • Learning to write faster
  • Taking a hard look at the content I produce and stripping off the blinders I didn’t realize I had on
  • Getting much more organized in the systems that I rely on to create a new novel from start to finish
  • Exploring new romance subgenres, thus opening up areas of fresh creativity
  • And the biggest and hardest step of all—what I call my Regency reboot—finding a fun, fresh approach to my most familiar subgenre.

. . . .

Within four months, I was nearly done (80,000 words clean and ready to go) of what was to have been a 90,000 or so full-length Regency when…the entire book fell apart on me.

This had never happened to me before. (I can sense my fellow authors’ collective shudder of dread reading this right now. Apparently, most everybody goes thru this sooner or later. A career rite-of-passage, I guess, like getting that first “hated it” review.)

I had sent the manuscript to my wonderful agent to get going on negotiations for a new contract, and she pointed out a few “small flaws” with the story set-up and the characters. They seemed at first like no big deal to fix, but when I dug in to try to straighten things out, I realized these were not little tweaks but huge structural defects. Basically, my book died on me.

To say I was freaked out would be the understatement of the year. I could not fathom how someone who had been hitting bestseller lists consistently for a decade could make such idiotic mistakes and not even see it until the whole project was nearly done.

. . . .

I told my publisher I’d be in touch with them when I was ready to try again, but I realized that could be a while, at least on a Regency, because by that time, I was on the verge of panic attacks over my writing and wondering if I was just a total loser who did not know how to write her way out of a paper bag.

. . . .

Between this experience and the extremely disturbing 50 Shades craze, which kinda goes against everything I stand for, at this point I admit I did briefly consider walking away from romance altogether in favor of the kidlit, which is doing very well.

. . . .

Rather than go thru the long, drawn-out process of submitting the “new thing” to New York and sitting on my hands for 2 years waiting for it to come out and leaving all of you hanging, I just decided to release it under my own independent label, the same way I do the middle grade novels.

The publishing process is relatively easy and fun, and hassle-free. Because of the E.G. Foley releases, we’ve already developed a network of excellent freelancers for things like editing and cover design.

Having 16 years of professional experience in the business and being already groomed to perform at an international level is also a big help. There are things I can do as a small business owner that the New York behemoths cannot do based on their multinational corporate model. For example, I’m happy to say the e-book will be very affordable and readers in the UK, Australia, and Europe won’t have to wait. Everyone will get the book at the same time.

. . . .

For this one–if you want the paperback–you’ll simply have to order it online and get it delivered to you.

This does not only mean Amazon, by the way. It will also be carried on the Barnes and Noble website and through any indie bookstore that has its print book offering online for customers to order and chooses to carry it. It’ll just be unlikely that you’ll find my new books sitting in the front of bookstores as before.

I apologize to any inconvenience to you on that, dear reader, but from the author’s point of view, frankly, I’m fine with it. Been there, done that, have the T-shirt. There are tons of ways the bookstore model can go wrong, anyway. Like last year, when Secrets of a Scoundrel came out, here at my local big chain superstore, where I’m a local author and have actually done events at that store, they fricking LOST my book during the critical 2nd week of my new release.

The manager could not find it anywhere in the store or in the backroom or any place, even though the computer said they should’ve had multiple copies on the front tower–where my publisher had paid thru the nose to have it prominently displayed.

. . . .

If you want something done right, do it yourself…

Link to the rest at Gaelen Foley and thanks to Eric for the tip.

Here’s a link to Gaelen Foley’s books


6 Lessons from ‘Pride and Prejudice’ That Are Still True Today

7 June 2015

From Bookbub Blog:

There’s a reason why Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is loved by millions more than 200 years after publication — it’s still relevant today.

. . . .

1. Be proud, not boastful. 

Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.

. . . .

6. Finally, there’s no better place than a library.

I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

Link to the rest at Bookbub and thanks to Julia for the tip.

Love Between the Covers

27 April 2015

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