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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Friday, December 02, 2005

"Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall..."

Let's review why we like romance, in all its nuances and subgenres. Actually, I guess we'll have to stick with reviewing why I like romance, since no one else is writing this blog entry and no way I'm doing a poll at....wait a sec...10:08 p.m. You're stuck with my opinion, only. But I'll venture a guess that I'm not so different than any other rabid romance reader out there.

I like romance because of how it makes me feel as I'm reading it. There's a sense of euphoria, of anticipation, and I'm frequently struck by the very real belief that I am capable of great things. This is as I'm sitting, or curled up, or even standing in line at the grocery store - in other words, while not in motion, not doing anything at all except reading, I feel...empowered. I know what I like - it hasn't changed since I picked up my first Barbara Cartland when I was 13 years old. I like manly men and interesting women, and great dialogue, and intriguing plots with great twists and love scenes that make my stomach do that flipping thing. That's not to say that I don't like chick lit, or action adventure, or literary fiction, or Dear Abby. I'll read anything if it'll hold still long enough. But what I love is romance. Nothing else feels the same. Nothing else moves me in quite the same way.

So tell me why it is that I've read a few romances over the past year or two that just didn't meet my expectations? They were good books - with all the ingredients I mentioned above. But just like the red velvet cake I tried to make on Valentine's Day, which had all the right ingredients, they fell flat. I began to think it was me. Had I reached some level in life that romance no longer punched my buttons? I read more, and discovered that no, it's not me. I did read a few that gave me That Old Feeling. So it has to be the books, right?

Silhouette recently rocked a lotta boats when they came out with new guidelines for what I'd thought was their bestselling line - Desire. It seems that the line will now be more like Harlequin Presents, complete with rich, alpha men and stories that are more plot-driven than character-driven. I have to wonder, why did Silhouette make this change? Could it be that the line isn't selling as well as previously? Is this a knee-jerk reaction, an attempt to get readers to come back? If so, where did the readers go? Did they defect to erotic romance? To vampires? Werewolves? Chick lit? Are all these other subgenres of romance intruding on sales of tried and true romances? After all, how many readers can there be? It's by nature a finite number, and if the demographic analysts are correct, that number is shrinking because young chickies just ain't into the romance thang. Why is that? My daughters want romance in their lives - why don't they read it? This is purely conjecture on my part, but I think it's because young women today are jaded. They lost their innocence and dreams of fairy tales to MTV and The Real World. Yeah, like that's so real. As if.

I notice that almost every house is adding an erotic romance line, no doubt chasing the magic that is Ellora's Cave. (Side note: I question how well the erotic romance books will do in print - I think one of Ellora's biggest draws is that the books are purchased for online reading, in the privacy of the reader's home.) But every house can only print so many books, again because of that finite number of readers. Where will they cut back? Historicals? Romantic suspense? Chick lit? Does it matter? Only to the readers of those subgenres. Meanwhile, the erotic romance readers are no doubt rejoicing.

But I digress. I want to know, is romance as we know it going the way of the dinosaur? Will the number of books I can buy that give me That Old Feeling continue to decline? I hope not, but the fact is, I'm finding it harder and harder to locate them. Maybe it's as I said - maybe the publishing houses are so hell bent to find 'the next big thing', they've abandoned what's carried them through the past three decades. Or maybe it's us, the readers, demanding more books, more variety, more....what?

But this still doesn't explain what I remember one editor called 'meh' books. Yeah, it's all there, but it's just 'meh'. Nothing I'm going to remember five minutes after I put the book down. Nothing to give me That Old Feeling. Why is that? I'd love to think it's because I'm a writer, that I'm much more persnickety, that I pick books apart. But that can't be it. I've read books within the past year that I was so absorbed in, I forgot to eat. No way was I paying any attention to craft while I was reading. I'm afraid to say this out loud - but the hard truth is, there are some books out there that are just 'meh' books, and that's what's hurting sales. It's not the additional genres. It's not the inability to gain new readers in the youngsters' ranks. It is the defection of romance readers - people who get tired of shelling out 6 bucks for a blah read.

I had someone in the industry - someone who's been working it for 25+ years, tell me that she sees the problem as authors getting in a rush. They write so fast, they forget to add the magic. They take classes, read books, learn every facet of writing, then sit down and write a perfect book. But it's 'meh'. It's got no soul. No take-away.

What's the answer to the dilemma? I have no idea. It's about as quantifiable as finding out how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. What do you think?

EDIT: After reading this over, I realize there may be some authors, paticularly those who write for Desire, that might think I'm criticizing the line. Please know, that is not at all the case. Desires have always been a favorite of mine. I only pointed out Silhouette's decision to change the guidlelines, and my curiosity about it. I could also point out the folding of other lines and the beginning of new ones that are not, in the purest sense of the word, romance. It points to an upheaval in the industry, and that, in my rambling, long, ovulating way, is what I was getting at with this entire blog. I want to know - why?


At 11:54 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

I know what you mean about the "meh" books. I've read many that I've forgotten soon afterward, but there are those that stick with me for years. And it's all because of the characters in those books. Fabulous, three-dimensional characters.

As for the explosion of erotica, I'm not sure if that's new or something that was always there but kept quieter. I have seen a lot of Ellora's Cave on the bookshelves, and other "racy" books are following. I know I actually stopped in my tracks when I went to a nearby Walden's and saw row after row of EC books. I figure they must be selling well if that small store was filling so much of its shelf space with it. Though I must admit I'd turn the color of of cherry tomato if I tried to write erotica. :)

At 12:14 AM, Blogger Stephanie Feagan said...

Ditto, Trish. I've read maybe 4 or 5 erotic romances. Of those, one was very, very good - memorable. The others, while well written, didn't stick with me.

That said, I admire SO much, anyone who writes erotic romance. There's an art to it, and one has to be unflinching. Me - I suck at regular love scenes. The notion of writing explicit, hot ones - multiple times, makes me laugh. It would make an editor laugh too. Not exactly the reaction we want!

I really do worry about the future of romance. In one way, all the choices out there makes me salivate. In another, I guess I've been disappointed often enough, I worry about spending money on something, well, 'meh'. And it's not as though you can totally count on reviews - it's all so subjective, you know?

Truth to tell, in the past six months I've mostly stuck to buying books written by friends. Most of which I've still not read, because I don't have time. But Christmas time, when my girls are home, I hope to do some catching up with the tbr pile.

At 5:51 AM, Blogger Angela James said...

Re: your question of how erotic romance does in print

It must be well, since Barnes and Noble has their own publishing line that produces erotic romance and is figured prominently in their displays of romance (Magic Carpet Books- go to Barnes and Noble and look).

I don't remember the exact figures, which makes me mad since I just read this article, but when Waldenbooks made their deal with EC to sell their books, they expected to see have something like 300,000 dollars in sales. Instead, in the first year, they had MULTI-million dollar sales. In a speech given at RT this past spring, one of the execs from Waldenbooks said erotic romance (in the form of print books from Ellora's Cave) was a shot in the arm for their romance sales.

I actually hear readers state quite often that they don't buy the books online- they wait for them in print. Many people still don't like to read e-books. Some of the attraction of erotic romance has been in its availability online and in a wide variety. But much of it has been because women- romance readers- are looking for a story that opens the bedroom door.

And I feel you on the reading 'blah' feeling. I hate that and I hear it from romance readers often. I wonder if it goes in cycles as the industry suffers the growing pains of reinventing itself to suit the newer generation of readers, or it it's actually the readers themselves going through growing pains?

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Stephanie Feagan said...

Wow, Angie, color me gobsmacked! Part of my problem is that I live in Hickville in west Texas, where our only bookstores are Barnes & Noble - and it's one of the 'small' ones, and Hastings. I never go to Hastings because they've begun shelving used books next to the new ones, which just seems really unfair to me, and as for Barnes & Noble, they don't even carry all of the current releases in romance. I've seen maybe 2 EC books on the shelf there.

This is really fascinating! Thanks so much for posting the information. Next time I'm in Dallas, I'm going to check out a Waldens. This is great news for erotic romance writers, isn't it? I'd love to know about demographics. Who's reading the erotic romances? Is it the younger women? Or is it across the board?

This also goes to show that I'm guilty of talking out of my ass. But that's nothing new. LOL!

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Stephanie Feagan said...

Oh, I forgot to say, I'm definitely going to look for Magic Carpet books - but you know, it doesn't ring a bell. I wonder if they're only in select stores? Meaning, I wonder if they don't stock them in the smaller stores - especially in uber-conservative strongholds like Midland.

Now my curiosity is killing me - and I want to go out and get Janice Lynn's Jane Millionaire anyway....looks like I'll be heading to B&N today!

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Colleen Gleason said...

Great post, Stef.

Angie, thanks for the info re: EC and the print v. ebook sales. That is very interesting!

I agree there are a lot of "meh" books out there, and it's an interesting thought that it could be because authors are rushing the writing. Many write in more than one genre, or for different houses, and I wonder if, after awhile, it gets harder to remain fresh because of the spread of time and idea.

But there are also a handful authors who delight me every time I buy them--and I buy many of them in hardcover. That must be why they are mega-stars (although I will admit there are some mega-stars who have begun to disappoint).

I am also delighted to have a group of friends who are also talented authors and who write many books that give me that Old Feeling, which helps to keep me from getting into a slump where I have nothing to read.

In between Noodler books/reads, I have been resorting to rereading some of my favorite keepers--some I have read more than ten times, one of which I have read twice in the last six months and will probably pick up again in the next few weeks. I'm getting that "itch" to revisit those characters and events that I know so well.

Colleen, who will be juggling the reading of Janice's Jane Millionaire with the re-reading of a favorite, and her newfound infatuation with Matthew Fox on LOST.

At 10:08 AM, Blogger Angela James said...


Don't feel bad for not being familiar with Magic Carpet Books. NO ONE is familiar with them. I happened to notice there were a lot of these books in my local Barned & Noble and BDaltons, so I blogged about it after my internet search turned up nothing.

Someone contacted me off my blog and said it's rather hush-hush on B&N's part, but that they are either full or outright owners of the company, thus why you'll find a wide selection of their books in B&N stores, but very few EC books. I'm not sure if they're trying to cut out the competition by not carrying much EC, but it seems like bad business practice given how well EC seems to sell.

If you're looking for Magic Carpet books, they're trade size, have kind of subdued covers, and are found in the romance section.

At 1:08 PM, Anonymous Esri/Kiki said...

I think the speed at which people are turning out books is definitely a factor, but I have to laugh at editors saying that the impetus for speed comes from authors, when we know that the pressure authors get from publishing houses to produce quickly is extreme. It's hard to find outstanding books these days, and you have to wonder if people, given the option of video, games and the Internet, will simply get out of the habit of reading books. If so, it would take a LOT for the publishing industry to recover.

At 4:07 PM, Blogger Jennie Lucas said...

I wonder if the mediocrity you're talking about can be attributed to the fact that all publishing decisions are now made by committee at a corporate level. Even if an editor is willing to stick her neck out and put her career on the line to buy a crazy-but-brilliant book, if the marketing department can't figure out how to market it, they're unlikely to buy it. Easier to just publish a book that they *know* there's an audience for, because they've already sold umpteen books just like it. (This holds true for the movies coming out of Hollywood, as well.)


At 9:59 PM, Blogger Candice Gilmer said...

Great post, I agree with you on that...

And Jenna -- I can see what you mean about teh committe bit -- Just look at the current movies that have come out in the last few years.. EVERYTHING Is a remake of something, a television show (Scooby Doo movies, Dukes of Hazzard, Aeon Flux -- originally a cartoon on MTV probably 10 years ago or longer), video games (Doom, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil), comic books, (Spider Man, X Men, Fantastic 4, Hulk, Catwoman, Batman, Daredevil, Electra, the list goes on and on and on) or even older movies. (The ORIGINAL Yours, Mine and Ours which will always be way better than this remake,). I mean my husband and I were just having that conversation the other day.

I'm trying ot think of any good original movie ideas

IS HOLLYWOOD OUT OF GOOD IDEAS? Kind of sad that they are... So many good stories otu there, too bad there's committies to kill them all..

What did Dave Barry say? Something like The road to Hell is paved with meetings and committies?

At 10:03 PM, Blogger Candice Gilmer said...

OH! I forgot, original movie ideas!

Let's see this year -- Serenity, (a must see, if you haven't already) and, um, (Because I'm a total SW GEEK) SW Revenge of teh Sith, (okay, it's high box office and all that, but still, at least it's somewhat original), and um... well... Oh, Harry Potter... (original idea, but stil from a book)... anything else? Nothing comes to mind.

At 11:06 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Jenna, I think there's a lot of truth in what you said.


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