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.

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.

Tuesday Book Review: “The Marriage of True Minds”

Book reviews are a great way for self-publishing authors to gain exposure. After all, how can someone buy your book if he or she doesn’t know it exists? Paired with other elements of your book promotion strategy, requesting reviews is a great way to get people talking about what you’ve written.
When we read good reviews, we definitely like to share them. It gives the author a few (permanent) moments of fame and allows us to let the community know about a great book. Here’s this week’s book review:

The Marriage of True Minds ll field

silver-award

IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards – Silver Medal in Romance Fiction

The Marriage of True Minds: Experience the World of 18th Century England during the Reign of George III

by L.L. Field

ISBN: 9781478728733

Synopsis*:

Journey through 18th-century Georgian England with the Earl of Stoneleigh as he struggles to secure the future of Harcroft Hall by producing an heir with his beautiful wife, Anne of Sudley Manor.  Discover his father’s secret past and meet his mother, the indomitable Dowager Countess of Stoneleigh who will have suitors of her own as one of the liveliest characters in the book.  L. L. Field captures all the details of the period with characters and settings so well-drawn you will not want to put the book down.

 * courtesy of Amazon.com

Featured Review

Field’s debut historical novel takes a look at upper-class life in 18th-century England.

Viewers of the hit television show Downton Abbey and fans of modern-day British royalty are certainly familiar with the pressure on aristocrats to produce an heir. Geoffrey and his wife, Anne, Lord and Lady Stoneleigh, adore their five daughters yet worry over the future of their estate, due to their failure to produce a male child as an heir to the family fortune. The story of Geoffrey and Anne’s marriage and daily life introduces readers to their social circle of wealthy men and women, all living on prosperous estates in the English countryside. As Geoffrey and Anne struggle over questions of the future, Geoffrey’s widowed mother delves into her dead husband’s past to find answers regarding the existence of his former lover. The dowager must also decide how she feels about the present-day attentions of her old friend and neighbor, Lord Wortham. Meanwhile, Wortham’s son, Lord Lynnhurst, attempts to win back the affections of his childhood love, Miss Compton, despite her lower social status. These personal conflicts whirl amid a plethora of fancy dinners and extravagant balls, and Field does a marvelous job of sketching out her characters and settings. She beautifully captures the intimacy and mutual respect of Geoffrey and Anne’s relationship and realistically presents the complicated dowager’s many facets and motivations. There are vivid descriptions of sumptuous feasts (“silver trays laden with venison, sirloin of beef…and bowls of steaming buttered potatoes”), and the author revels in bringing ladies’ fashion to life, detailing frocks of “iridescent silk” or a “taffeta brocaded gown interwoven with lace.” In addition, she touches on broader politics and societal trends—such as the controversial Enclosure Acts, which wrested land rights from poor farmers—and the vicious gossip and whims of London society. The work even crosses genres: Field’s detailed research offers a fine contribution to historical fiction, and her passionate love scenes will satisfy those seeking a titillating romance.

A feast for readers looking to taste the luxurious lifestyle of the English upper crust.

– reviewed on Kirkus

Other Reviews

What a wonderful read! Like another reader, I read it on a friend’s recommendation, and was completely captivated. Field masterfully has created a great story line and an extraordinarily well-crafted view of all aspects of upper class England in the mid-to-late 18th century. The pacing is perfect, the characters are developed thoroughly, with humor and wit, and it leaves me hungry for the sequel, which is in the works. It’s particularly skillful at conveying how women found their place, and power, in such a society. I heartily recommend it!

 – reviewed on Amazon by Sharon Hope

This novel is what I’d call a genre-buster. Looking for a bodice-ripper? You’ll be more than satisfied, as Field’s sure hand delivers one of the best you’ll ever read. But if you crave something beyond the thousand you’ve read, here’s your unexpected treat. “True Minds” is true literature; not the stiff stuff you were made to read in school, but rather what you love to read, elevated to a sophistication and a level of intelligence lesser writers deny their readers. Field confidently ascribes to her audience the capability to understand and appreciate her keen sense of history, place, custom, and — most of all — human relationships, complete with their squalor and splendor, their tragedy and fulfillment, their public and private, the frailties and the sinew we all share. The reader is transported convincingly to another time, but vividly recognizes on every page her own regrets, elations, dreams both dreadful and uplifting, and finally, the triumph of the human will and of the human spirit. Celebrate and enjoy this blessedly non-mass-produced work. And Encore!

 – reviewed on Amazon by David C. Bender

Author Website

http://llfield.com/books/the-marriage-of-true-minds/overview/

 


tuesday book review

Thanks for reading!  Keep up with the latest in the world of indie and self-published books by watching this space!

Self Publishing Advisor

selfpubicon1

Self-Publishing News: 7.25.2016

And now for the news!

This week in the world of self-publishing:

“Authors of thrillers and mysteries who have endured the woes of traditional publishing may find that the indie route is the best way to go,” declares Nicole Audrey Spector in this July 22 article for Publisher’s Weekly.  The phenomenon of genre fiction authors finding success within the liberations of self-publishing is nothing new: romance and fantasy/science fiction writers have a long and storied relationship with going rogue in order to escape both the stigmas and the constraints unfairly imposed by the gatekeepers of Western literary canon.  And while crime fiction may come as a surprise to some, but Spector writes that “crime fiction lends itself well to self-publishing, in part because authors can pump out a ton of books in a relatively short time while building and engaging with an active audience online.”  Of course, it’s not without its challenges, Spector notes: “It’s a lot of work, but well worth it for those crime authors whose careers have taken off as a result.”  And those ranks are expanding, as more indie crime writers navigate the muddy waters of self-marketing to become “authorpreneurs.”  For the full story, check out Spector’s article at the link!

Anything with “Maverick women writers” in the title is bound to catch my eye!  Self-publishing has long provided refuge for the marginalized and the oppressed, given voice to those who have no means of their own and no access to the traditional publishing model, so it should come as no surprise that indie publishing has come to attract its fair share of women cut from a different cloth.  Says Maria Corte for Quartz in this July 22 article, chronicling the successes of authors like H.M. Ward, whose nice-guy Damaged series was too “weird” to fit comfortably within the bounds of traditional publishing.  Forced into self-publishing by the nature of her books, Ward met almost immediate (and overwhelming) success–books in the NYT bestseller list, massive sales–all while turning down offers from traditional publishers who wanted to capitalize on her now-proven success.

“Romance novels, home of heavy lids, hot breaths, and grabbed wrists, have long been the embarrassing secret money-maker of the book industry,” writes Corte, “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.”  The average American reads just 12 books a year, notes Corte, but those who fall in love with the romance genre tend to read far more (including one reader who owns up to reading 5 romance novels a week).  However you look at it, good news for the mavericks turns out to be good news for everyone–the more books a reader consumes, the more they support the publishing industry as a whole, traditional  and indie.  For more of Corte’s article, follow the link.

This week’s last big piece of news comes from Publisher’s Weekly, in Mark Coker’s annual list of trends to watch published on July 22.  “The future of publishing is fraught with opportunity and peril,” Coker warns before launching into his list; making note of the fact that many authors (self-publishing and otherwise) lack a complete understanding of market trends (past and present) and that these trends play a large hand in shaping the success or failure of a book’s sales.

But there’s plenty of good news in store for self-publishing authors, too, says Coker.  One of his ten trends centers on the democratization of publishing and distribution as a direct result of self-publishing: “Ten years ago, agents and publishers were the bouncers at the pearly gates of authordom,” writes Coker.  “Publishers controlled the printing press and the access to retail distribution. Today, thanks to free e-book publishing platforms, writers enjoy democratized access to e-book retailers and readers.”  That’s a rather rousing endorsement if ever I saw one!  And indie authors keep raking in the good news; three more of the ten trends include “The rise of indie authorship,” “Indie authors are taking market share,” and (happily) “The stigma of self-publishing is disappearing.”  It’s also worth noting that Coker closes with one final bit of good news: “Indie authors are writing the next chapter of their industry’s story,” he says.  It’s not all fun and games, however, and Coker warns against the continued power Amazon plays in undermining the individual self-publishing authors’ potential.  For more information, check out the original article here.


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 every Monday to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Friday Conversations With A Self-Publishing Writer 02/13/15

redeeming loveLOVE CAN BE MESSY

Someone once told me that “being in love…is like marching through knee-deep mud.”  “Wow!” I answered (with compassion), “that’s a great piece of dialogue for a Romance novel!”  As you might imagine, my friend rolled his eyes at me and shook his head.  However, he didn’t “march away” mad.  Instead, we spent the next couple of hours weeding through his reactions to his girlfriend’s actions in an attempt to clearly understand what was happening.  I won’t delve into that specific situation here; however, I will say that my opening statement, “Love can be messy” is not an understatement.

There is also a parallel statement that must be recognized when writing love storiesLIFE CAN BE MESSY.  In dramatic fashion, my friend’s parting words that day were, “I don’t know if I can live without her.”  Oh, that’s cliché you say?  Maybe.  However, it is also the way many people feel when experiencing a messy relationship.  In steps, the Romance Writer who develops characters, scenes/settings, plots/actions demonstrating how “real” (fictional) people can not only survive rocky relationships, they can become stronger and mentally/emotionally healthier.

I was introduced to one of my favorite Romance and Historical Fiction authors Francine Rivers when a student of mine gave me a copy of REDEEMING LOVE.  It is set in the California Gold Rush days.  The heroine, Angel, becomes a woman in the midst of “life’s” messiest of circumstances—sold into prostitution at the age of eight.  The cruelty of men (basically all the men) in her life is heart-wrenching. Then Michael comes into the story and falls in love with Angel.  This author moves readers through realistic bitter/sweet, happy/sad, emotions that speak the truth of how sincere, honest, real love conquers all ills.

I’ve included an illustration of this book to point out the statement highlighted in the beige inset: ONE MILLION COPIES SOLD!  And, it’s still selling!  What are some of her creative writing secrets?  Here are a few of the best interview excerpts I’ve found.

  • Research! Research! Research! Details about time periods and events are crucial.
  • It rarely works to develop a fictional character using all the specifics about a “real” person. Trying to bend actions/events around them will keep you from developing enough drama and conflict to make the story interesting to readers.
  • Imagination NOT “speculation” shapes and develops characters and events. Some readers think it strange to say that fiction characters take on a life of their own. But they do—in our imaginations. When their stories begin to move in unexpected ways, that’s when writing becomes really exciting!
  • Don’t be afraid to TELL the TRUTH. Bad things happen. Ugly things. Sad and malicious things. There is also the TRUTH that good people make a difference. Their concepts of love, Faith, values, and doing what is right because it is right will make a difference in the plot, too.

SO…I leave you today with these encouragements.  This author is an excellent example of what you can do, too.  If you’re not already deep into typing your novel, BEGIN TODAY!

Royalene ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene Doyle is a Ghostwriter with Outskirts Press, bringing more than 35 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their writing projects. She has worked with both experienced and fledgling writers helping complete projects in multiple genres. When a writer brings the passion they have for their work and combines it with Royalene’s passion to see the finished project in print, books are published and the writer’s legacy is passed forward.