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Thursday Midday Links: Beauty and romance

Publisher talks with Borders do not appear to be promising according to the Publishers’ Weekly article. Brian Keene (who broke news about Dorchester) states that several Borders employees reported to him that they have been told to look for other jobs. Sarah Weinman, over at Daily Finance, says that Barnes & Noble will pick up about 18% of Borders’ sales.

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Here is a really wonderful article about the changing landscape of publishing by Brett Sandusky, Director of Product Innovation for Kaplan Publishing.

Several months ago, the president of my company tweeted about how she let all of her book industry association memberships run out without renewing them. The next day, she signed up as a member of the Software and Information Industry Association. And that was that. We were now a digital company.

Kaplan is giving away 130 of its digital study guides and business books. These can be found at Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Apple.

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Sony offers an online recycling trade in for electronics as does Costco. Best Buy has jumped into the fray. Sell back your old unused electronic devices for store credit.

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Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches had a great piece on the changing standards of beauty in romance.

I think there's good and bad parts to the female standard in romance novels. Among the good parts: sexual agency, self-actualization and discovery, physical and emotional achievement, and generally winning at the end, plus orgasms and being appreciated for who one is, without requirements that one change to fit another's world view. Also, orgasms.

And most goodest among the good: a somewhat slowly but still changing tendency toward away from youth, virginity, thinness, and the ideal pictured on the cover. The old standard, alas, was very troublesome to me.

Do you agree or disagree that romance heroines have become more varied in phenotypical terms?

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A fan of Sarah Mayberry or Karina Bliss? These two writers publish with the Harlequin Superromance line. The Super authors have started a group blog to keep readers up to date on their upcoming books and their backlist titles. I’ve read Molly O’Keefe’s “His Wife for One Night” and it’s a great angsty friends to lovers / marriage of convenience book. It’s all my favorite tropes smushed together.

The first week they will be giving away 2 sets of this month’s Superromance releases (2 x 6 books), and there will be a Kindle up for grabs in the first month. Wanda Ottewell, the senior editor for the line, and Victoria Curran, the other dedicated Superromance editor, will be blogging on occassion. Fridays will be dedicated to writing tips for aspiring writers, and the weekends will update readers on author news.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

27 Comments

  1. Julie M.
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 14:51:06

    So sad about Borders – I remember going out to downtown Ann Arbor and going through the two-floor store in the late ’70s – early ’80s. That’s my first recollection of Borders. Now we live not far from a store in Metro Detroit and visit at least three times a month. Sigh…..

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  2. Ridley
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 15:19:50

    Sarah’s post kind of bothered me, actually. Her “fuck you and your six,” referring to the clothing size, smacked of jealousy. The comments then devolved into a fat vs. skinny people pow-wow where skinny women were soundly trashed as shallow and self-centered.

    If you’re comfortable with your body, why feel the need to trash others for theirs?

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  3. Ann T
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 15:41:58

    I haven’t read Sarah’s post yet but I have to say – I’m not reading romances to read about “regular” women – I’m reading to read about beautiful, sexy, kick-ass and yes, often youngish women (although I’m not opposed to a beatiful, sexy, kick-ass 40-ish year old) and her gorgeous, sexy, alpha, yes, older counterpart and they get together for a happily ever after. I don’t want romance to change – I don’t want to read about what I look in the mirror and see every day. I want the fairytale, the dream, the rose-colored glasses. Real life is more real than I want.

    Yep, that’s me – shallow and as deep as a puddle. :-D

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  4. rebyj
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 17:37:35

    I like to see diversity in the main characters. Realism or over the top bodily perfection is neither here nor there, it’s the quality of the writing of character development that draws me in.

    And I’m sorry to hear of the Borders problems. I hope they can restructure and pull through in some way. Although I’m one of the guilty people who never go to a real bookstore anymore. Price and convenience means I shop for new books online and visit a local used bookstore once a month or so is all.

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  5. Heather
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 18:04:26

    Count me with the sad about Borders crowd. I, too, have fond memories of the original in Ann Arbor. You used to even have to take a test on books and literature to work there! For years it was my dream to work there.

    It’s still my go to bookstore, even though it’s in a hellish mall. I (or my guy) are there at least once a week to pick up a book on our TBB lists, coupon in hand.

    I hope they figure things out and stay open.

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  6. Suze
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 18:22:19

    @Ridley: I read the post, but couldn’t make it through the comments. I agree, there’s too much defensiveness from fat people (speaking as a fat person). Yes, we’re unfairly judged, but the fact is, North Americans are too fat. Demanding that fat be considered normal and attractive is nonsensical. It may be normal these days, but it’s not generally attractive.

    I don’t really want to read about women who are overweight, hairy, with bad skin hooking up with short, bald, hairy fat men. I want to read about sexy people. Shallowness R Me.

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  7. Pat
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 19:58:51

    “Do you agree or disagree that romance heroines have become more varied in phenotypical terms?”

    Who cares? I don’t read books for the physical description of the heroine (or hero). I expect these to be pure fantasy. You could equally well complain that the HEA is unrealistic -’ convincing, maybe, but not truly realistic.

    If I want realism, I’ll read the newspaper.

    Like the news about Borders. Bummer.

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  8. MaryK
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 20:52:11

    I don’t read for real life scenarios either which is why I read few Contemporaries. But at the same time, I have to have some sense of connection with the heroine, something that I can identify with. Beautiful, sexy, kick-ass heroines start out with a sympathy deficit so their characterization has to be top-notch for me to enjoy them.

    Generally speaking, I like ordinary-heroine-in-extraordinary-circumstances scenarios. Though I’ve nothing against fantasy heroes. ;) We all have weaknesses, right?

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  9. Eva_baby
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 22:13:34

    Romance, more than almost any other genre I read tends to rely heavily on describing with much detail, physical features and clothing. It seems to be as much as part of the genre as the HEA. I think it would be fascinating to read a romance where the author doesn’t physically describe the heroine at all and see how readers react.

    Personally, nothing is more boring than sameness. Even the most beautiful, most kick ass, leather wearing tattooed feisty chick gets real, real, real old after awhile.

    I don’t mind a ‘regular’ heroine. In fact I actually like it when I come across a romance where the h/h tends to be more blue collar and not quite so romance-fantasy wonderful, because they are so rare.

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  10. Evelyn Lafont
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 22:56:16

    RE: changing standards of beauty in romance

    I think the standards of beauty are pretty varied–but what I do notice (and hate) is that most heroines are under 30. The emotional maturity that comes with aging is an extremely interesting and nuanced phenomenon that I would love to see utilized and explored more by authors.

    Physical descriptions in books don’t generally affect the character building all that much (they can, obviously, but generally life experience is what really has bearing). I can read a description of a character and still picture them slightly differently than the author probably intended, and still get the same experience in reading the book. But if an author wrote about a 40-year-old heroine, the story would be completely different than when it has a 28-year-old heroine.

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  11. Evelyn Lafont
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 23:00:51

    @Suze: “I don't really want to read about women who are overweight, hairy, with bad skin hooking up with short, bald, hairy fat men. I want to read about sexy people.”

    Hahahahaha–too funny. Speaking of which, what’s up with the books that mention morning breath? I mean, come on!!

    I don’t think it’s actually about whether or not the “appearance” of the characters is actually personally appealing to the reader (as in, I would–or would not–tap that), it’s more about writing the characters as attractive in the eyes of the person they are with.

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  12. Tori [book faery]
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 01:25:52

    100% agree with Ridley. It’s more important to be happy with yourself instead of being so negative about how others look. The negativity isn’t worth it.

    Fact of the matter is, books are an escape. We all have different tastes, so I say keep things diverse–including how the hero and heroine look. Some people prefer imagining themselves as that skinnier heroine. Some want a heroine to be able to relate with, whether she’s a 2, 6, or 12. People tend to recreate the character looks in their heads while reading anyway. That’s why reading is so great.

    Looks shouldn’t be the priority anyway; the story and character personalities should be!

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  13. MicheleKS
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 07:00:35

    I hope Borders can pull out of their troubles as I hate to see bookstores close and people out of work. I live just minutes away from a Borders but I buy most of my books online. And the main reason for that is when I did go over to the store for some new release that I really, really wanted they didn’t have it in stock or they didn’t put it out.

    And I read the comments over on SB and what kind of jumped out at me was how many people pegged their perception about their looks to characters in books. I’m fat and always have been but I never felt bad about myself when I read a book about a perfect size 6 heroine. No, I just sat there in awe and said that it would never be me but I was okay with that. Yeah, I love books where I can relate to the heroine in some way but if not it won’t diminish my reading experience.

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  14. Annabel
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 09:30:57

    I have to say I’m with AnnT and Suze. I love me some fantasy and escape in my romance. I actually love virgins and vulnerable heroines. I DO! I won’t apologize for it, LOL. But in the end, I also love imperfect, unusual heroines. If the story’s good, I’ll take any heroine at all–whichever one best fits the story.

    I do wonder though…isn’t it kind of hypocritical that as we ease the requirements of feminine perfection in our heroines, we still demand a kind of stereotypical perfection in our heroes?That is an interesting thought.

    As for the technology publishing thing, I’ve been thinking of this a lot lately. I think for economic reasons, booksellers and publishers would prefer that we move to digital books. SOO much money saved on warehousing, shipping, printing books that go unsold, etc. However, I don’t know if those savings will be offset by the losses that will come through piracy and file sharing. It will be interesting to see where things end up.

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  15. Fionn Jameson
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 11:34:27

    It makes me so sad that Borders just might be going under. It’s the closest bookstore to my home and I’m usually there a couple times a week, writing in their Seattle Best Cafe and getting a book or two a week. Much as I like the convenience of online shopping, I don’t think anything beats walking the aisles and just browsing.

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  16. LaurieS
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 11:42:38

    I’m sad to hear about Border’s and their woes but honestly when I shop a real bookstore I frequent the USB nearby or B&N. Border’s is always dead quiet and they close far too early. The news doesn’t really surprise me.

    As for what Ridley said about the “size” post, I totally agree. I don’t read books to compare myself to the heroine. I’m stick thin, even after having kids, but have never been jealous of an imaginary heroine’s “voluptuous” boobies and curves. The whole thing was weird to me and rather offensive.

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  17. LaurieS
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 11:47:07

    That should have read UBS. The fingers are quicker than the brain. I’m cheap and local Annie’s will discount new books for me.

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  18. cead
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 13:50:00

    Count me in with Ridley, Tori, MicheleKS, and LaurieS.

    My best friend has this gorgeous curvy hourglass figure. I’m built like a ballet dancer. I think she’s gorgeous; she thinks I’m gorgeous. We tease each other about how she’d kill for my legs and I’d kill for her boobs. But when it comes down to it, we’re both happy the way we are and we’re not threatened because we’re built differently. Different women come in different sizes and shapes; we ought to celebrate that.

    I get the sense that romance heroines do come in different shapes and sizes; the one I’m reading at the moment (Anne Stuart’s Lord of Danger) has a short, plump heroine. Unless the author slips in some digs about the heroine’s body being “right” (and often in these cases, the heroine is on the heavier side), I think that’s cool, and it certainly doesn’t prevent me from identifying her. What bothers me more is actually the typing of the secondary characters: villainesses are almost universally thin; plump secondary female characters are almost universally sympathetic, particularly if they’re young.

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  19. TKF
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 14:25:14

    “Do you agree or disagree that romance heroines have become more varied in phenotypical terms?”

    Who cares? I don't read books for the physical description of the heroine (or hero). I expect these to be pure fantasy

    I agree up to a point. Sadly, I have discovered authors over the years that made my “do not buy list” simply because they constantly harp on the physical perfection of their characters. I want the protags to be hot for each other, but I get tired of being beaten over the head with their beauty (esp when it's from an omniscient POV!).

    When it gets to the point where I'm rolling my eyes, you've lost me as a reader.

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  20. Sarah
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 15:28:52

    In terms of my “FU/6″ comment, my ire was directed at the fact that Sweet Valley books repeatedly cast the size 6 as “perfect” – over and over again, “perfect size 6″ – thereby excluding anyone who was on the lower or higher end of the clothing spectrum. SVH descriptions of the heroines seemed in line with the descriptions of romance heroines at that time: there was a narrow definition of what was considered heroine-appropriate, and that included a very slim build.

    I love that there are wider (ha) ranges of beauty now, and that heroines can be a variety of sizes, even if their feeling about their own bodies continue to trip up their self-confidence.

    @cead: “What bothers me more is actually the typing of the secondary characters: villainesses are almost universally thin; plump secondary female characters are almost universally sympathetic, particularly if they're young.”

    That is so true. I hadn’t looked at it that way. Thank you. Now I’m going back over the last few books I’ve read with female secondary characters to see if they fit in that description set.

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  21. MaryK
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 17:23:32

    @TKF:

    they constantly harp on the physical perfection of their characters. I want the protags to be hot for each other, but I get tired of being beaten over the head with their beauty

    I think when readers have a problem with perfect heroines, especially thin ones, this tends to be the reason. As others have said, it can be fairly easy to ignore physical descriptions and imagine characters however you want. But if the perfection is harped on or held up as the ultimate in beauty it’s hard to ignore and can be a characterization shortcut that overshadows whatever else is going on in the story.

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  22. Ridley
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 17:30:23

    I actually really like variety and realism in romance, so long as the books don’t make an issue of the characters’ differentness.

    One of my favorite erotic romance novellas I read last year had a size 16 heroine. But what I liked about it was that her size wasn’t a big deal. The hero didn’t love her because she was big, he loved her because she was her, no matter what her body looked like. There wasn’t a big angsty conflict over her size or digs at how boring skinny bodies are. The heroine was the size she was, that was that, and the plot marched on.

    Diversity where the authors’ are blowing the airhorn to draw attention to their imperfect characters is a false diversity, I think. If their difference from the norm is made a plot point, that only emphasizes how different they are and how “normal” the ideal is.

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  23. Isabel C.
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 19:49:27

    What I didn’t mention at SBTB, because I’m just thinking of it now: the SVH stuff is uber-ridiculous, because no woman I know, no matter her build, is “a perfect size 6″ or “a size 4″ or “a size 14.” I’m somewhere between a 4 and an 8 in pants, somewhere between a 2 and a 6 in shirts. Dress sizes are a *little* more consistent, but even there, one designer is not like another.

    The numbers seem like a kind of lazy shortcut–and, for SVH, sort of a prudish one. We can’t actually mention that the girls have slim waists and legs but full-yet-perky breasts and gently curving hips, so…shorthand!

    On heroes…enh. I like my heroes hot, and this doesn’t bug me. Mostly because the prevailing standard for an “acceptably attractive” women is crazy–thin plus big breasts plus hairless except on the head plus no wrinkles plus bouncy wavy shiny hair plus really good makeup and clothes–and women are supposed to be satisfied if guys shower every day and maybe put down the Cheetos on occasion. Most guys I encounter could use a little more expectation to live up to, honestly.

    With heroines, I like either conventionally or unconventionally attractive, but the hero has to find her hot and vice-versa. And I like male virgins, but female virgins…meh. Though I can deal as long as they’re not overly naive or scared.

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  24. Kristine
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 20:03:56

    I am really sorry about the fact that Borders may be going under. The main reason that will leave only one book store chain in the United States, I think I may be wrong but I think that will be the case, and B&N is not Romance friendly in the least and the few times that I have gone in there the store with their high shelves that make me have to reach for the ones that are top one is not something that makes me inclined to browse so I check out what cookbooks are new, the one type of book that I will not buy in electionic form because I use them in my kitchen and I do not want to risk ruining my I-pod in there, and if I want something I buy it and try to leave as soon as possible. Before I moved I mainly shopped at Borders and most of the comerical fiction was on shelves that I could easily reach and that will make me want to browse and maybe incline me to buy more that I planned. I think that lack of competition is not good thing because it limits diversity that it is in the marketplace and the lack thing the Romance genre needs is less diversity because if the example of the historical Regency romance that was reviewed, and generally panned for the most part by the reviewer, a couple days ago is considered what is good about the genre then I shudder to think what the books will look like if more book stores shut down and companies that do not understand books beyond profits are the main sellers and this leads to even worse books that may sell but are ridicious in plot or premiss and this may be all we can buy because the only major book store chain will be B&N and they seem to hate the genre in general and only sell it because they have to. I hope that the new e-book wave helps but a large number of people will never get an e-book reader because it is more complicated than just picking up a book and the fact that a chain that sells at least 20% of the mass market paperbacks in the United States is going to have a major effect on the market and places like Wal-Mart are going to have even more influence than before, and the fact that Wal-Mart’s opinion on whether they are going to buy book or not determinates whether a book is going to be published is now considered a major factor drives me nuts as it is, which means that more books that follow the traditional pattern of, this is based on historicals for the most part, Regency England, Titled hero, wallpaper setting, unrealistic plots, martyr heroines, and nothing that will offend anybody that possiblty might read the book in the first place. I think that what doomed Borders was that they did not realise what effect e-books would have on the market and never really created an e-reader that would allow them to compeate with Amazon or B&N and this may been their downfall because e-books are exploding and more books are being sold via them everyday and Borders never caught up with that fact that this may be the biggest reason that they are going under. I hope that it is not going to happen but I think it will and this can only make things worse because there will be fewer places to buy books and that can only be a bad thing.

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  25. Tweets that mention Thursday Midday Links: Beauty and romance | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 21:16:40

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  26. jennifer armintrout
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 21:15:16

    That’s too bad about Borders. Borders, Sue Grimshaw, specifically, was so supportive of me at the beginning of my career. I don’t believe I’d have been a USA Today Bestseller without them.

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