In Your Corner: A Month of Romance (part 2)

Seamless pattern of Valentines Day candy. Fancy chocolate bonbons with love you message.

Let’s simply pick up where I left off in my last post, with the question:

Who writes romance?

The second question we have to grapple with when it comes to romance relates to authorship. As with readership (and our previous conversation on that), there are many misconceptions about who writes within this particular genre. And first, to deal with the elephant in the room: Yes, the Romance Writers of America recently went through a major reckoning with some internal racism that the organization really shouldn’t have been silent on, ever. I won’t say much more about it (but if you’re unfamiliar, you can read up on it in almost any major news publication, including the Guardian) other than to congratulate those who were willing to speak up and who have helped the organization evolve. What’s relevant here is that the Romance genre has history–and a lot of it, both good and bad and misunderstood. Outside perspectives have been almost as important to the Romance market as inside ones, with many of the 1800s and early 1900s Great Thinking Men dismissing the earliest English language novels (which were often romances, as is the case with Jane Austen’s) as frivolous and like as not to rot the reader’s brain and foul the author’s character. But of course, Jane was writing in a time of near-continuous war, and the other novels of the period were either examples of pure escapism or ponderous tomes that passed government censors. 

Because so many of Romance’s greatest (as in, most anthologized) authors have been women, and English-speaking white women at that, it would be easy to assume (and many go right ahead and do assume) that Romance is the province of female authors and female authors only. Here again, the Romance Writers of America comes in very handy; their website provides some useful reportage on the state of Romance past and present. On a page they title “Romance Trailblazers,” one can find plenty of English-speaking white women authors, yes, but there are also a good sprinkling of authors who are none of these things, or at the very least not simultaneously. (On that note, don’t overlook RWA’s diversity and inclusion resources, which include this fabulous crowd-sourced list.) I would also point you to the diversity reports from The Ripped Bodice, the only exclusively-Romance-selling genre bookstore in the United States. The 2019 bestsellers reflect exactly the kind of diversity that has made the genre so popular and given it such staying power; it may not always be beloved of the critics, but Romance has never lacked for love among the people. The Ripped Bodice reports also lay bare some interesting facts about the main publishing houses and their romance imprints, which simply don’t reflect their diverse readership fully in the authors they publish. There are some opportunities for nonwhite authors opening up, but we still don’t see anything like a realistic reflection of reader demographics there. This also holds true if we’re looking at percentages relating to LGBTQIA+ authors, who are vastly underrepresented within the major publishing houses. Meanwhile, male authors have had a foothold in Romance writing all along, with authors like Nicholas Sparks and John Green representing some of the latest success stories.

Luckily, we’re in the business of self-publishing, and in self-publishing, there are fewer obstacles (I won’t say “no obstacles whatsoever,” since I can’t speak for each and every situation) to Romance authors than there are in making it through the Big Five. But I can say it time and time again until I run entirely out of breath: self-publishing is a democratizing influence on the market. Since anyone can self-publish, readers are shifting away from finding their books exclusively in the turning racks at local bookstores and in end-caps at the grocery store–and they’re turning to fanfiction sites like Archive of Our Own and to services like Wattpad. They’re also turning to subscription services like Kindle Unlimited and to individually sold (and well-reviewed) ebooks. The pandemic has seen that shift become something of an avalanche, with many readers unable to venture out and many brick and mortar bookstores shut completely or open only for curbside deliveries. 

The only downside of this shift is that there is no standardized reporting on ebooks. Since ebooks don’t even technically require an ISBN for distribution (this depends entirely on platform), there’s no way to track how many Romance ebooks there are out there in the world, much less report on who’s writing and reading them. And if we expand our notion of ebooks to include completed stories on web-based platforms, the numbers get even muddier. The best that can be done are “best-of” lists and compilations by reviewers and Romance influencers who have sampled widely–but even these lists aren’t representative of anything other than that one person’s taste or that one platform’s sales data. So while we can point to countless authors who both fill and subvert the standard profile of a white English-speaking woman author, we can’t point to any comprehensive reports. And we certainly shouldn’t take Amazon’s word on its own sales without a sizable grain of salt; any for-profit company, especially one with carefully coded algorithms to boost sales of particular authors who fit particular profiles, has its own best interests in mind, not the general public’s.

So if we can’t definitively answer our own question, what can we depend on when it comes to authorship in the Romance genre?

  1. Currently, the numbers that can be gathered about the Romance genre indicate that a majority of both authors and readers are women, that a majority of both authors and readers are white, and that a majority of both authors and readers seem to be getting their Romance novels in English. 
  2. The numbers that can be gathered and compiled into comprehensive reports either come from the Big Five traditional publishing houses or from for-profit companies like Amazon and Barnes & Nobles, and these industry stalwarts are largely responsible for the lack of diversity in which authors they choose to let in the gates they keep.
  3. A lot of work remains to be done to bring traditional publishing in line with its readership if it wants to take full advantage of a new generation of digitally savvy and diverse readers.
  4. Self-publishing in the Romance genre is, from all that I’ve heard, doing juuuuust fine. And by that, I mean it may just be the top-selling genre of fiction among self-publishing companies and free platforms. (And those fan sites? They’re, like, 90% romantic takes on movies, shows, and books that don’t quite go there on screen or the page. And a lot of those takes are … well. Check the tags on each story before diving in, since many of them fit the Romance genre’s alternate description: bodice-rippers.) Readers are hungry for self-published romance titles. And they’re hungry for diverse titles, whether we’re talking about gender or racial parity among authors, or representation of LGBT+ and other marginalized groups in content. Since the Big Five aren’t anywhere close to providing good numbers of any of these authors and actions, self-publishing has picked up the slack.

With all this said, a more useful alteration to the original question would be:

Is there room in the Romance genre for me?

And the answer is, of course, yes. YES. There is definitely room for your personal voice and take on Romance, and there is a readership eager and ready to read what you write.

As for what to write, we’ll start to tackle that in my next post. Watch this space!

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Self-Publishing News: 8.11.2020

On-trend 2020 calendar page for the month of August modern flat lay.

And now for the news.

Highlights from this month in the world of self-publishing:

This week on Bustle, contributor Megan Reid covered the story of Nikki Giovanni, one of the most foremost surviving figures of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, which also included the Amiri Baraka, founder of BARTS in the wake of the assassination of Malcolm X. Her 34th poetry collection releases in October of 2020. What does this have to do with Nikki Giovanni? A whole lot, as it turns out. As Megan Reid sums it up, “She self-published her electrifyingly vernacular poetry to wild success, selling about 20,000 copies of her first two collections, and was already recognized as one of the preeminent artists of the Black Power generation alongside fellow writers and activists like Angela Davis, Toni Morrison, and her good friend Maya Angelou.” And that’s just where her authorial story starts, publicly speaking––she has become a voice for so many who rarely saw their experiences transformed into public art. We cannot recommend reading Reid’s full interview wit her on Bustle.

Storytelling is often a political act (although this often depends on how you define both ‘storytelling’ and ‘political’), but rarely have we seen a decade of presidential politics so steeped in story (both for and against, Republican and Democrat in takes, or polarizing in how each story is received. This month, however, is an unusual one in that the storytelling platform in question is one affiliated with self-publishing, and this has brought the democratizing power of indie options back into the limelight. As the New York Times’ Elizabeth A. Harris and Annie Karni put it, “His plans to self-publish, however, along with the book’s unconventional rollout and distribution plan, make it something of a curiosity in publishing circles.” Now let us pause for a second to roll our eyes––not at the book author, but at the kind of highbrow exceptionalism that it takes for newspaper companies that also celebrate their identities as “tastemakers” and “literary gatekeepers” to call the fundamental nature of self-publishing a “curiosity.” We love occasional highbrow moments ourselves––fresh-ground coffee really is superior, and looseleaf tea knows what it’s about––but it seems a bit self-serving at this point for the literary establishment to dismiss self-publishing because of its (new this month!) association with politics. At least it’s a step up from being stigmatized simply for existing? Much of the rest of the article focuses on continuing to cast shade at the author, and color us disappointed to see self-publishing so poorly thought of that anyone associated with it must automatically lose face within the literary establishment. We’d really prefer for the world to see us as we really are, supporting the freedom of expression across the political spectrum. Democracy is the stronger for having self-publishing in the mix.


spa-news

As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog each month to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “Integrity Based Policing” by Dan Barry (Memoir)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Experience firsthand policing in America’s Playground. This book contains stories that are based on my thirty-year career with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Despite all my “peaks and valleys,” I never lost my love of policing, or passion for the people I served. While many of my experiences are amusing, they also are enlightening for people considering a career in law enforcement. My most important lesson learned is that decisions must be based on ethical soundness, as opposed to other motivations.

The challenges facing American police officers have never been greater. Besides the dangers from criminals, they also need to navigate through administrations that are often more concerned about tomorrow’s headline, than providing true leadership. As opposed to considering ethical soundness, agencies are often most concerned with only the politically popular path.

My prayer is for police agencies to work in partnership with the citizens they serve in making our neighborhoods a safer place. For this to be achieved “Integrity-Based Policing” must become the new standard for all agencies to adopt.

REVIEW:

This is the year, and this is the book, my friends.

Dan spent thirty years in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, and in those years, he saw many things: the rise and fall of Community-Oriented Policing (COP), the development and erosion of trust within the department’s command structure, and the unfolding (as well as conclusion, in some cases) of careers as those he worked with rose through the ranks and came into their own. He worked in a number of assignments, from serving as a patrol officer to commanding the Organized Crime, Criminal Intelligence, SWAT, and Patrol bureaus. Basically … he’s seen it all, and he’s probably worked almost every possible position within the LVMPD in order to write a memoir that is also, in many ways, a call to action to re-orient the direction of policing in the United States.

Have I mentioned that this book is timely yet?

The elephant in the room here has to be addressed: There are presently numerous calls to “defund the police” as a result of widespread protests associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ve spent some time over the last few weeks attempting to understand what exactly this means, and while there are likely a range of opinions all being voiced under the umbrella term, the general idea seems to be not so much “get rid of all police, all police are bad” but rather “let’s reroute some of the funding currently going toward policing into community-based programs that aim to eliminate the root causes of crime.” And while I’m sure some would say that’s a very gentle interpretation, I do think it’s one that in many ways is relevant to the work Dan Barry did within the LVMPD, the changes he witnessed, and where he hopes to see policing go in the future.

Barry emphasizes ethics time and time again throughout Integrity Based Policing, drawing a line under the fact that much of the leadership he saw was warped by appointees jockeying for perks and power within the police hierarchy. From the first page to the last page of this memoir, Barry argues in favor of Community-Oriented Policing (COP), which I probably can’t do justice to in summary but which seems fairly well defined by its name. Throughout his service, he privileged what he called “face time” in the community, with officers stationed within the communities they served so that they could better serve their needs before a crisis situation could develop. He describes several examples of COP in action during his time commanding various bureaus, and the erosion of public trust that took place every time a unit was taken from his command and required to move away from the COP mentality. And trust is a big deal to Barry, to the point where it is actually his central mantra and service motto:

  • Truth
  • Respect
  • Understanding
  • Stability
  • Transparency

To Barry, all five of these elements must be present in order for a police unit to be effective, and these five elements do seem to be exactly what many of today’s protesters most want (particularly transparency and respect, I think). Whatever else we think of the BLM movement (I don’t want to get hung up on that for the purposes of this review), I am grateful that conversations around trust and community policing are back in the public dialogue. And I’m even more grateful that we have Dan Barry’s thoughtful, experience-based memoir as well. I think that readers of all demographics and political perspectives will find something useful and compelling here, whether it’s Barry’s dedicated pursuit of eliminating corruption among the city commissioners, his years promoting policing as something more than just once-and-done interactions with the public, or his growing exhaustion after years–decades–of pushing back against all of those who used the police bureaucracy to promote their own personal agendas. His calm and fact-based writing keeps readers invested, and more importantly, keeps readers’ trust.

As in policing, so too in writing.

IN SUMMARY:

Dan Barry stuck with his vision for ethical policing through thirty years of difficult policing, and continues to do so in his memoir, Integrity-Based Policing. He provides exactly the kind of experience-based evidence that point toward effective means of reforming police departments across the country and winning back public trust–and it centers on being part of the community, of being in the community, and being of the community. His emphasis on preventative measures and face time are a refreshing change from the charged dialogue currently dominating the news; change can be made, should be made, and here are some additional, practical ways to bring it into being.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Integrity Based Policing wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Patrick McLean’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I’m going to completely pivot directions and take a dive into some health-related writings next time!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


SONY DSC

ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

Self-Publishing News: 8.5.2020

On-trend 2020 calendar page for the month of August modern flat lay.

And now for the news.

Highlights from this month in the world of self-publishing:

That’s more like it! Last week might have been a slow news week for self-publishing, but this week has more than made up for it. We’ll start with Rob Price’s opinion piece on Cleveland.com earlier this week, a piece which sets out to explain why it is that self-publishing is where it is right now, poised to take huge chunks of the publishing market share with the advent of COVID-19 and a big turn towards reliance on e-books. And Price should know what he’s talking about, since he’s the president of Gatekeeper Press as well as a former chairman of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA). He himself has sold 200,000 copies of his self-published books, so he’s writing as both an industry professional and an author who has achieved incredible success. Price, who founded Gatekeeper Press in 2015, writes that “When the coronavirus pandemic hit five months ago, something big happened: Author consultations and publishing services skyrocketed.” (This confirms what we’ve suspected for a while, and we’re very much looking forward to retrospectives once the full year’s book data comes in.) But why? Price points to authors having more free time as a result of the pandemic, as well as the society-wide emphasis on storytelling during both the pandemic and the  BLM protest movement. This is also a time of fast-moving news headlines and struggle, so the timeliness and turnaround speed of self-publishing is a major asset, getting books into peoples’ hands before public attention moves on. He’s also certain that in a time of great disconnect and distancing, the personal assistance a small press or self-publishing can provide is critical to the forward momentum of new and inexperienced authors. We recommend taking a look at all of his points in more detail!

This week on Entrepreneur, contributor Ken Dunn brings us an interview with bestselling author Jack Canfield, who co-created the “Chicken Soup” series that has become one of the world’s top-selling nonfiction series of all time. (His founding partner was Mark Victor Hansen.) Writes Dunn, “Jack’s books have sold over 500 million copies around the world. Although there is no way to confirm this definitively, Jack Canfield is likely one of the top non-fiction authors of all time.” That’s quite a resume. What Canfield goes on to tell Dunn amounts to a rousing top five suggestions for authors looking to break into self-publishing, and they include knowing who you’re writing for, and how you want to help them; finding a competent editor before publication; embracing persistence in an industry that requires both lots of attempts and lots of legwork; taking advantage of free media opportunities like podcast interviews to boost public awareness of your book; and lastly, following the “rule of five.” Says Canfield, this “rule” requires self-published authors to “Do five things a day toward the achievement of your breakthrough goal. Our breakthrough goal was to get this book to be a bestseller.” And eventually he and Hansen achieved that goal––but it wasn’t by way of immediate breakout success. After fourteen months of work, they hit their first bestseller list, and after a slow ascent it stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for three years. This success depended on the authors’ dedication to that rule, Dunn implies. You absolutely must check out the full article.

Our final must-read news item for the week comes from Forbes, which has over the last couple of years made a point of regularly publishing articles on self-publishing by various contributors. This week’s contributor is Serenity Gibbons, whose work centers on entrepreneurs and how they achieve success. Despite the quick uptick in e-book sales as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown, Gibbons answers the question “Has digital content demolished print books?” with the answer: “No more than elevators replaced stairs, points out British comedian Stephen Fry.” She goes on to make note of the fact that over the last few years, print sales have been slowly increasing their market share, not decreasing in the way that many expected after the first advent of e-books and their sharp rise in sales. She also notes that many wealthy readers consider print books “because they view this material as more meaningful than what they read online.”  Gibbons draws upon conversations with a number of authors to lay out her ten recommendations, which run the gamut from purpose to planning to researching the competition to cultivating feedback and partnership and creating a “circle” of personal influencers. We highly recommend reading up on all ten of her tips!


spa-news

As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog each month to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

In Your Corner: A Month of Romance (part 1)

 

gettttttttt

This being Romance Awareness Month, I thought this would be a great time to tackle the genre here on the blog .We have never done a deep dive into romance before, which I find somewhat surprising, given the number of romance authors I have worked with over the years. So today, we’ll be breaking new ground as I start a new series following the publishing and marketing processes behind releasing a romance novel into the world.

(If you do not write romance, never fear! Many of the steps through which a romance novel must go are the same or quite similar to the steps through which books of other genres must go as well. You’ll simply need to apply your own lens to the information in order to apply it to your work.)

Today I want to ask two very important questions we all have ready-made answers to, but which I think we must revisit to discover what’s really going on.

Who is romance for?

In 2016, Nielsen compiled its research on genre readership into one very handy infographic: “Romance Readers by the Numbers.” While I’m including the infographic here, I absolutely encourage you to read Nielsen’s entire report! It’s full of fantastic information that totally re-oriented my perspective on romance readership.

nielsen-romance-readers

At its base level, many of your assumptions are true––of a majority. But I think it’s taking a closer look at those minorities, because if you consider that more than one in four fiction books on the market in 2015 was a romance, and that 16% of the readers reading those books are not female, that still leaves you quite an important market share––compared to, say dystopic science fiction. Nielsen hasn’t updated these numbers in a few years, but if the percentages hold true, that could equate to around 32 million reported units being read by men. Sure, women might be reading five times that many books, but 32 million is not an insignificant number if you’re smart in how you promote your book.

The same holds true, of course, for other minorities! Consider that more readers are not white than are not female, percentage-wise––up to 38 million readers of color relative to the (admittedly rough) 32 million calculation for male readers. And while the Nielsen infographic doesn’t have room to show it, LGBT romance ebook sales are on a sharp rise now that its authors have moved from fanfiction websites into the main stream of publishing and self-publishing. 

Keep in mind that Nielsen can only track books that are sold and tracked with ISBNs, and only about 1/3 of the ebooks sold in the year covered by the infographic (2015) had ISBNs. With ebooks soaking up around half of book sales overall, with that percentage leveling out but still growing (especially during quarantine), that’s a BIG chunk of ebooks that are just … an unknown quantity. Another report from the same year says that “the 2015 Smashwords sales report shows that 89% of their sales are fiction with romance taking 50% and erotica another 11%. K-Lytics indicates that romances on Kindle outsell cookbooks, for example, by a factor of 27 to 1!” Publishing numbers are still, five years later, trying to figure out how to measure and quantify and compare numbers coming from platforms that aren’t selling the written material they’re publishing, or that are publishing paid stories that are not in “book” format. Consider WordPress, storytelling podcasts, and interactive book apps like the ones created for Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar (as an easy-to-remember example). 

One also has to consider the old library sales that “if you make it, they will come”––readers have to know something exists and is attainable before they come looking for it. So if the Nielsen’s reported readership doesn’t match up to what you know your friends and fellow readers are interested in but aren’t being offered, that might be a sign that you need to help carve out a new niche. It’s not easy, but when it works––wow, does it work! Consider young adult fiction, which wasn’t a significant market share before the one-two punch of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. Now there are dedicated rooms in libraries and bookstores dedicated to that readership. You can definitely launch new trends!

So yes, the majority of romance readers are white and female. But a significant number are not, and for many authors that means that yes, there is room for your unique take on romance. 

This ran a bit long, so I’m going to answer my second question next time so as not to overwhelm you just now:

Who writes romance?

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.