Romance

The Changing Face of Romance Novels

9 July 2018

From The New York Times:

Growing up in Minnesota, Helen Hoang suffered from crippling social anxiety and struggled to make friends. She found refuge in romance novels, frothy stories that allowed her to experience intense feelings that were clearly spelled out on the page, always with the promise of a happy ending. “It was like I found a pure, undiluted drug,” she said.

Many years later, as a mother of two in her 30s, Ms. Hoang began researching autism and realized that she’s on the spectrum, a condition that makes it difficult for her to hold casual conversations, read emotional cues, have an office job and meet new people. She once again turned to romance. But this time, she wrote the story herself.

So far, romance fans have swooned over Ms. Hoang’s debut novel, “The Kiss Quotient,” a multicultural love story centered on an autistic woman who has trouble navigating the nuances of dating and courtship. Readers have flooded the website Goodreads with more than 7,000 positive ratings, and the book, which was published in June, is already in its fourth printing.

The novel’s unexpected success is all the more astonishing given the striking lack of diversity within the romance genre. Romance novels released by big publishing houses tend to center on white characters, and rarely feature gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people in leading roles, or heroines with disabilities. Even as the genre has evolved to reflect readers’ varied tastes and fetishes — popular subcategories include vampire and werewolf romance, military romance, cowboy romance, time travel romance, pirate and Viking romance — the lead characters are often confined to a fairly narrow set of ethnic, cultural and aesthetic types.

“Publishers aren’t putting out books by many people of color and they’re giving us limited space at the table,” said the romance writer Rebekah Weatherspoon, who has published some novels with small presses and self-published others, including “Sated,” which features a black heroine and a disabled, bisexual Korean-American hero. “It’s definitely not a level playing field.”

. . . .

“Readers want books that reflect the world they live in, and they won’t settle for a book about a small town where every single person is white,” said Leah Koch, co-owner of the romance bookstore the Ripped Bodice in Culver City, Calif. Last year, six of her store’s top 10 best-selling novels were written by authors of color, Ms. Koch said.

. . . .

Romance publishers say that they want to publish books with more diverse characters and settings, but argue that it’s a challenge in part because the majority of submissions still come from white authors. The genre’s largest organization, the Romance Writers of America, which has around 10,000 members, recently conducted a survey and found that nearly 86 percent of its members are white.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

The last time PG checked, KDP doesn’t ask for the racial background of an author before publishing a book. He suspects the large majority of traditionally-published authors have never told their agents or publishers their racial identity.

Is there an assumption that, unless an author discloses their racial identity that they are a person of no color? Is there an assumption that an author of color will always mention that fact? From what source does such an assumption arise?

PG is old enough to remember when apartheid (separateness) was the law in South Africa and each person received an official racial designation recognized by both law and tradition – white, black, coloured and Asian. That racial identity was the basis of how each person was treated socially, professionally and legally. Racial identity was the most important part of a person’s identity and underpinned a racial spoils system that distributed favors, prestige, rights and riches based upon a person’s race.

Apartheid was and is rightfully condemned as a violation of fundamental human rights and a deep moral failing of any nation that practices it.

For a very long time, a government and society that was colorblind, recognizing rights and providing favors and opportunities regardless of racial identity was the epitome of fairness and justice, the polar opposite of apartheid.

PG finds a renewal of apartheid in 21st century America and elsewhere to be disgusting and distasteful. The idea that we must always be aware of each person’s race and take steps to adjust individual privileges, talents and desires so that any group of individuals is comprised of all racial groups in the proper proportions strikes PG as apartheid with a data-centric face. There are, of course, exceptions to these rules that apply to almost any group in which persons of color are overrepresented. Overrepresentation of a particular racial group on the basketball team is fine, but overrepresentation on the swimming team is a problem.

If the Romance Writers of America need to pay a lot more attention to the racial makeup of its membership because the racial background of romance authors is an important metric of racial equality, what about the racial background of romance readers?

Should the owner of a bookstore recommend books by Anglo American authors only to white readers and steer African American readers to books by African Americans and Hispanic readers to Hispanic authors? Should a bookstore have separate sections for whites, blacks and Hispanics with appropriate signage and instruct its clerks to direct those walking in the door to books with the appropriate racial pedigree to the appropriate racial section? What is the store to do if it is unable to locate a book about the Balkan Wars written by an Hispanic author to stock in its history section for Hispanics?

PG apologizes for a political take on a topic related to authors and their books, but he finds the idea of a kinder, gentler apartheid and the excessive attention being paid to the racial composition of various groups of people to be insultingly retrograde.

Jane Austen’s Practical Concerns About Marriage Are Still Relevant

23 May 2018

From Lit Hub:

I wasn’t the type of young person to seek out Jane Austen on my own. Period manners and marriage plots? Thanks, but pass; I’d seen Clueless and was pretty sure I got the gist. But with few discernible interests apart from books (and tastes that, I’m mortified to report, leaned more toward Bukowski than Brontë), combined with an even less developed sense of professional aptitude, my undergrad self ended up settling into a new identity as an English lit major. Austen, naturally, became a part of my new life. My 18th-century British lit professor, an affable young adjunct with a clump of Day-Glo orange hair, put Pride and Prejudice squarely on the syllabus during our semester on the Romantic era. This novel, he told us, signaled a major shift in social values, and was therefore important to understand. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Pride and Prejudice famously concerns the courtship of a family of sisters who need to marry into money to preserve the family’s social standing as members of the landed gentry. The new, period-specific catch is that the sisters should also, ideally, be fond of the well-off dudes they marry—and it’s this new requirement of affability, even maybe something akin to love, that leads to dramatic tension and lessons learned by all. But to me, it barely seemed worthy of being called a predicament.

. . . .

It seemed much less intimidating to accept an eligible suitor on the simple grounds of mutual regard and material security—to say, “I like your bank account and can tolerate your person,” and move on. The clear directive to simply secure an economically advantageous match would have certainly taken the guesswork out of my own romantic future. I’d been brought up with the same expectations of a majority of my straight-leaning female friends: that it was not just possible but preferable to expect everything from one person, forever.

Austen’s era marked a relatively new way of thinking about the role of marriage, one organized on the individualistic notion of personal happiness rather than the participation in a tradition of social and family organization. The Romantic period made way, you could say, for romance. And in Austen’s novels, the folly implicit in the pursuit of romance drives the action. Not that Austen was herself a fool for love; as a writer and thinker she acutely recognized that the ideal relationship is a tough one to come by. (It feels mean but important to mention here that Austen died alone.)

Even considering how she put love on the agenda, the expectations of marriage Austen laid out in her works, by the standards of their 21st-century analogs, verge on the enviably quaint. Contemporary relationship narratives apply unending pressure to settle down without ever settling for. We are told, loud and clear and over and over, that Mr. Right will come along, and he’ll give us butterflies and the feeling of home, he’ll be our best friend and the man of our dreams. To compromise would guarantee a lifetime of regret and undermine our self-respect—the opposite of the girl power we’ve grown up with.

Austen’s heroines have been beloved through the ages because they still read as wise, rising above the bullshit that their more tragic foils inevitably succumb to. Elizabeth Bennet only accepts the hand of wealthy suitor Mr. Darcy once she recognizes his strength of character. Her younger sister Lydia, meanwhile, narrowly escapes social ruin by taking up with the moneyless cad Wickham, who then has to be bribed into marrying her. Austen’s heroines do not compromise; they just happen to gravitate toward their most ideal outcome, as though self-interest were commensurate with moral fortitude.

Link to the rest at Lit Hub

PG says part of Jane Austen’s genius was writing about fundamental human emotions, traits and behaviors that have transcended time.

He suggests it’s the same reason Shakespeare’s plays are still widely performed while plays written by contemporaries such as Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson have disappeared from today’s culture.

Fantasy for Romance Readers

19 May 2018
Comments Off on Fantasy for Romance Readers

From All About Romance:

I love romance for the same reasons I love other genres: intriguing characters with problems, who need others’ help to find solutions.  In romance, the main romantic couple are generally the intriguing characters, and they help each other to solve the problem, whether it’s loneliness or something more complex, like thwarting that evil old uncle who’s trying to divert your inheritance to his unsavory pals.  In fantasy, there may be a couple of main characters, or there may be a larger group with more complex interrelationships.

This post is meant to provide a beginner’s guide for romance readers who’ve wanted to try fantasy but were feeling daunted by all that’s available; hopefully, those who are fantasy readers already might find something new, though I’m focusing on older, ‘classic’ books that one might not come across in casual browsing.

If you’re in search of epic fantasy, Kate Elliott has a couple of series that should appeal. Beginning with Cold Magic [2010], she created a world in which Carthage never fell, with consequent huge differences for Europe and North and South America; there’s an “opposites attract” romance as well, though not until the second volume.

. . . .

Many romance readers already love the addictive work of Lois McMaster Bujold, either her long-running and devourable Vorkosiganscience fiction series, or her more recent fantasy series, Chalion [2001] and The Sharing Knife [2006]. Bujold is known for her large casts of likeable characters who face seemingly unsurmountable challenges…until they conquer those challenges in ways you would not expect. Her series are especially fun because they reward re-reading.

Link to the rest at All About Romance

Advice for Fathers in Romance Novels

15 May 2018

From BookRiot:

I’ve read a fair number of historical romance novels in my day, and though the genre has a wider range than its detractors would have us believe, there’s one thing that remains by and large consistent throughout: 90% of the main characters’ fathers suck eggs. Whether distant and cold, wildly irresponsible, or flat-out abusive, romance novel dads are by and large the absolute pits.

. . . .

Since their failings generally fall into familiar patterns, especially where the Regency is concerned, I thought I’d put together some advice for any fictional fathers who might be looking to improve their parenting skills. Especially if they’re dukes.

  • Don’t raise your highly sensitive child on a dilapidated estate on a remote, howling moor, constantly reminding them of your family’s past glory while the house falls to pieces around your ears.
  • Don’t encourage older sons to tumble the parlourmaids (or tumble them yourself).
  • Don’t deliver coldly dismissive lectures or hypocritically pious sermons from behind a massive desk in your well-appointed library or study, an ornate and heavy desk that looks as massive as a ship to a child’s impressionable eyes. If you must deliver such lectures, just be aware that your child will have sex on that desk after your death in order to exorcise those demons. It’s just a thing that’s going to happen.

. . . .

  • Don’t get yourself embarrassingly deep into debt with the local tradesmen and then die.
  • Don’t be gouty.

. . . .

  • Don’t construct any of the following rooms on your estate: a dark, cavernous dining room far too big for two with a table so enormous it impedes conversation; a cold and unwelcoming nursery with no toys; a study in a constant state of disorder meaning that key financial papers will be lost amongst your voluminous correspondence after your death; a lengthy portrait gallery featuring only your most unattractive and disapproving ancestors and perhaps one haunting likeness of your dead wife. Maybe try a solarium instead? Solariums are nice!

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Fond First Times… Our first experiences with romance novels

12 May 2018

From All About Romance:

Most of us remember when we first started reading romance, who introduced us to it or how we discovered it ourselves, and – perhaps even – which book we first read. Did we read romance in secret or with a group of friends or other people? Did we hide our reading from others – did we need to? – or were we open about our choices? And overall, what made us fall in love with romance novels?

. . . .

As a child and young adult, I received books on cassette tape through The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. For the most part, librarians did a good job choosing age-appropriate books to send out to patrons, but one of them mailed me a copy of Velvet Angel by Jude Deveraux. I was around fourteen at the time, and I remember being utterly captivated by my very first adult romance novel. It swept me away to a time long past, and I hated to put the book aside to return to more mundane things like chores and homework. My parents were never big readers, and they never paid much attention to the books the library sent me, so I didn’t have to worry about them disapproving of the novel, and after I sped through that one, I requested a bunch more similar romances. I’m not sure why the librarians agreed to send them my way, but I’m so glad they did. Those historical romances have a special place in my heart, even though I haven’t read a Deveraux book in years.

. . . .

When I think about my early days reading romance, there are two experiences that come to mind. Both occurred when I was around thirteen years old. The first was in grade 7, when I shared a locker with a friend. She would bring some of her mother’s Harlequins to school, and she let me borrow them. I remember being thoroughly shocked but intrigued by a Presents plot where a young woman was lusting after an older man who was technically her new step-brother after their parents married. Who knew it was ahead of its time, given the current craze of step-sibling romances!

During those same teenage years, I spent time during the summer at my grandparents’ house in Northern Ontario. They lived across the street from their local library, which had racks upon racks of historical romances, and with (what seemed to me) the entire collection of Barbara Cartland releases. I read as many of them as I could in the two weeks I spent there, and then, the next summer I did the same thing. I was very clever at hiding the romances I was signing out by having some other innocent looking books (like Nancy Drew) stacked on top.  I’m sure my grandma knew what I was up to, but she never said anything.

I don’t recall discussing romance books with any of my friends. No one was into reading as much as I was, though we did have some favorite soap operas that we watched, where the romance storylines were clearly the most popular. With the exception of a hiatus I took when my kids were born, romances have always been a part of my life.

Link to the rest at All About Romance

Romance author trademarks the word ‘cocky,’ sending other romance writers into an uproar

7 May 2018

From The National Post:

Here is a list of just some popular romance novel titles: Cocky Bastard, Cocky Chef, Cocky Biker, Cocky Fiancé, Cocky Cage Fighter, Cocky Client, Her Cocky Doctors, Mr. Cocky, My Cocky Cowboy, The Cocky Thief and, my personal favourite, simply, Cocky.

Notice a pattern? Yes, romance literature loves a rugged, arrogant heartthrob. And a double-entendre.

 But with an entire 17-book series based on a pair of, well, cocky bastards, writer Faleena Hopkins decided to trademark not just the title of her series, Cocker Brothers of Atlanta, but the word “cocky” itself.

It’s worth noting that Hopkins’s trademark for “cocky” is as a word mark, meaning a text-only logo treatment of the word. Hopkins has a specific font and style for her use of the word, so if others use that same style, they’d have a problem.

. . . .

Despite this, and what looks like a misunderstanding of her own trademark, Hopkins has been sending various romance authors, including Nana Malone, Jamila Jasper and Claire Kingsley, who have used the word “cocky” in their book titles, copyright notices and cease-and-desist letters, even regarding those books that were previously published.

On Twitter, Hopkins defended herself against claims of copyright bullying, saying, “Copying a series to be found in keywords is the money grab. They keep their money and everything if they retitle. I am taking nothing.”

Link to the rest at The National Post

Romance – Indies vs. Traditional Publishing

26 April 2018

From a commenter on TPV:

The current buzz in author loops which serve romance: that traditional publishing and agents are ceding the ground to indies because they can’t compete financially. In response, they are steering their stable to women’s fiction, especially bookclub women’s fiction, because these books still command semi-reasonable advances and are comparatively print-centric.

If true, that will be a seismic shift in the publishing landscape.

Also, most romance writers are skeptical about their readers being willing to follow authors to a different genre. So if women’s fiction flops, you can see where things are headed in the next few years or months…

Do Romance Authors Receive Worse Treatment from Publishers Than Anyone Else?

25 April 2018

PG is trying to extricate a client from a nasty publishing contract with a large romance publisher. Both the client and the publisher shall remain nameless.

PG is frustrated. The client is frustrated.

PG has conducted extrications from enough publishers to have come to a conclusion.

Across the broad range of different types of books and different varieties of publishers with which PG has dealt, as a group romance publishers are the worst. Worst contracts, worst behavior, worst attitude towards writers.

A public event PG can talk about began in 2012 when a class action was filed against the company on behalf of Harlequin authors who signed book contracts with Harlequin between 1990 and 2004. The suit was filed in 2012 and settled in 2016. You can find information about the settlement of the class action at Harlequin Class Action Settlement.

The lawsuit was based on Harlequin’s practice of sublicensing e-book rights through a Swiss subsidiary, which resulted in authors receiving 3% to 4% of net profits from their works rather than the 50% Harlequin agreed to pay in its publishing contracts.

PG has previously blogged about this case. You can see prior posts, including some court documents, by Clicking Here

Basically, the story was that HQ didn’t mention ebook royalties in its publishing contracts. Those contracts included a catch-all clause which essentially said HQ could license other rights and split the proceeds on a 50/50 basis with the author. The contracts also included a provision which said if HQ licensed the other rights to an affiliated entity, the royalties paid to the author had to be equivalent to market rates for licensing those other rights to a company not affiliated with HQ.

When ebooks appeared on the scene, rather than asking its authors to sign new contracts or ebook addenda to their existing contracts, HQ decided to license ebooks to a related Swiss company for a royalty of 6% of the cover price. The Swiss company then sublicensed each book to HQ print and ebook companies to distribute, so HQ-Switzerland kept 94% of the ebook proceeds and paid 6% to HQ-SorrySucker.

Under the “other rights” clause in the publishing contract, the author would be paid 50% of the amount of the license fees received by HQ-SorrySucker. HQ-SorrySucker paid the authors 50% of 6%. Even English majors know that results in a royalty paid to the author of 3% of the cover price each ebook.

This was at a time when Amazon would license ebooks from authors under KDP for royalties of 70% of the cover price. If HQ-SorrySucker had taken the normal route taken by other publishers, HQ authors would have received royalties at the rate of 35% of the cover price.

The following is from an Amici (the plural of Amicus or Friend of Court) Brief filed in the case by Romance Writers of America and the Authors Guild:

In the spring of 2011, Amicus The Authors Guild began receiving reports from its members that their e-book royalties from Harlequin were extremely low. These members believed Harlequin was self-dealing by licensing e-book rights to one of its corporate affiliates for 6% of the cover price (i.e. suggested retail price). Because the royalty payable to the author under the “all other rights” clause is 50% of the amount received by the publisher, a 6% royalty to the publisher results in a royalty to the author of only 3% of the cover price – far below the customary range for sales in secondary media. The Authors Guild contacted Harlequin to voice these concerns and to request a copy of Harlequin’s inter-affiliate license agreement. Harlequin declined to provide the document on the ground that it was proprietary.

During the same timeframe, Amicus RWA was also in communication with Harlequin regarding e-book royalty issues. Harlequin  provided to its authors, RWA, and other industry participants the following explanation of Harlequin’s inter-affiliate licensing practice:

Our authors contract with Harlequin Books SA (“HBSA”), our related Swiss company.  HBSA licenses  the right to publish an author’s work in print and digital to our operating companies and to third-party publishers, which then bring books to market in their country (incurring costs of translation, production, distribution, marketing, branding, etc.). In return, HBSA receives a license fee.

The NAR [net amount received by the Publisher] is the license fee. For editions where the author is to be paid 50% of NAR, the author’s royalty is therefore 50% of the license fee received by HBSA. The license fees are expressed as a percentage of cover price. Historically they ranged from 6% to 8%. The author’s 50% share of that fee would then equal 3% to 4% of the cover  price.

As noted, the publishing contracts at issue require that in any affiliate licensing arrangement the “Publisher” must receive license proceeds that are “equivalent to the amount reasonably obtainable by Publisher from an Unrelated Licensee for the license or sale of the said rights.” Based on their considerable reservoirs of knowledge and industry data sources regarding royalty rates in the publishing industry, the Amici confidently represent  to this Court  that  the  6% to 8% royalty that Harlequin Enterprises elects to pay to  its Swiss “Publisher” subsidiary is a small fraction of the proceeds that the “Publisher” could obtain from an unaffiliated licensee in the open market for e-books.

. . . .

Generally speaking, a book publisher makes money by exercising the rights that it has licensed from the author of a given work, through the sales of books or sub-licenses of publication rights in various sales and distribution channels.

Historically, the primary sales channel for print book publishers was through retail book stores. In the modern era of e-books, publishers sub-license their digital copyright rights to online “e-tailers.” The most well-known e-tailers of e-books are Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple, but there are many others in the field.

There is no hard and fast rule or convention in the publishing industry on the royalty rates or license fees paid by e-tailers to publishers for e-books. There are, however, numerous sources ofdata on the market’s behavior. In the experience and collective knowledge of the Amici, publishers are almost universally able to extract from an e-tailer at least 50% of the cover price of an e-book. A 70% split for the publisher is quite common and can be obtained even from industry power­ houses such as Amazon and Apple.

It is clear to the Amici that if the Harlequin’s Swiss “Publisher” subsidiary operated as a normal market participant, it could readily license the new e-book versions of its backlist for license fees of 50% to 70% of the cover price of each work sold. In this scenario, the 50% royalty payable to authors under the 1990 to 2004 publishing agreements would be 25% to 35% of the cover price of each work sold. Instead, however, the Swiss “Publisher” licenses the e-books to its parent, Harlequin Enterprises, for 6% to 8% of the cover price, and the authors’ 50% royalty is thus only 3% to 4% of the cover price. From the perspective of the Amici, it appears that Harlequin Enterprises has simply siphoned off 42% to 64% of the cover price before the money reaches the Swiss “Publisher” subsidiary, so this amount will not have to be split with the authors.

PG has calmed down now, but he still wonders whether romance authors are treated worse than other authors by the publishing establishment.

PG does know Amazon loves romance authors and it shows its love by paying them money.

PG has never had a client ask him whether he thinks the author can make more money from HQ than from Amazon.

PG was not a math major, but he could probably figure out his answer to that question without a spreadsheet.

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