Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Wednesday News: B&N Rebrands PubIt! and Water Is Wet

But only 11% of overall revenues are from digital (but circulation revenue is not being separated out entirely because many of the subscriptions are a print + digital access). But the worst data point is that three of ten readers have abandoned news outlets because “it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to.” Anyway, interesting stuff there. Newsonomics

Nook Press

The part that I thought was interesting was this tidbit “Customer demand for great independent content continues to dramatically increase as 30% of NOOK customers purchase self-published content each month, representing 25% of NOOK Book™ sales every month.” Amazon has said that a quarter of its top 100 books are self published. That’s not exactly the same statistic but those numbers give weight to the encroachment of self publishing into the book budgets of consumers.

The Nook Press Terms of Service indicate that the self published author is not in charge of retail pricing. “Customer Prices. We have sole and complete discretion to set the Retail Price at which your eBooks are sold to the customer.” Royalties are paid off the list price, however, similar to Amazon. Also, like Amazon, the price cannot be greater “at any other the eBook’s List Price at any other retailer, website, or sales channel.” Meaning, if you put a book on sale at Smashwords, it should be lower at BN as well. DRM is optional. Publishers Weekly | Press Release

But it’s the formula that Vivanco is critiquing here, not the writing. Because these novels are so formulaic, they are policed rather than edited. Anything that transcends the formula will be edited out if the publisher thinks that The Reader or The Buyer (much more important) will not like it, so applying the principles of literary criticism to a formula seems a bit pointless.

Don’t worry your pretty little heads about it, though, because, after all, WHO ARE THOSE WOMEN WHO READ THOSE BOOKS? ““But clearly there is a vast and satisfied readership out there who want to read novels written like this: they choose to buy these books, and that’s the problem.”

We’ve written about formula and romance a few times like here and here.

Romance is often criticized for being formulaic, but in a way that suggests that the genre is synonymous with formula, and that formula is bad.

Romance, as a form, has come to be known by three main elements: a) a romantic love story, b) that is central to the narrative, c) and resolves in a happy ending for the lovers. But within that form are many formulae. For example, take one broody rake, mix with an impoverished but noble housemaid, add in a dash of villainy from a long-lost mother, and shake until true love prevails.

When people call Romance formulaic, it’s generally in a denigrating way, as if to imply predictability, triteness, and staleness. However, both form and formula are important to generic integrity, because while form ensures coherence and definitional consistency, formula provides familiar elements that a reader may like and want to see in particular combinations. Category novels, for example, often rely on formulae, and in the case of lines like Harlequin Presents, the formula is practically announced in the book title: The Incorrigible Playboy; The Greek’s Blackmailed Wife; Spanish Magnate, Red-Hot Revenge. The common mistake people make in denigrating genre as formula and formula per se, is the assumption that structural and narrative limits are bad, and that they contravene artistic freedom and creativity.

But Defensive Romance Reader(TM), no need to head over with pitchforks out because Rosyb says “First of all, VL is friendly to ALL genres and is regularly invited down to the Romantic Novelists Association Awards because a lot of people and a lot of writers appreciate that we do read and critique all genres – whilst not being a specialist site. If you want a specialist romance or Mills and Boon site, this isn’t it.”

There are problems within the Harlequin lines, of course, but it’s pretty insulting to describe these lines as policed and the authors oppressed. A category title is supposed to be rigidly defined. That’s the point of the category but there are voices that are stars within the category lines and authors who are more popular than others. In sum, some of Kate’s assumptions she draws from reading a conclusory scholarly work on the HMB category books aren’t wrong. But identifying readers as problems and authors part of the same hive mind comes across as insulting and, well, inaccurate. Vulpes Libris

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

24 Comments

  1. Laura Vivanco
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 04:46:45

    Kate doesn’t actually read HM&B books

    Kate apparently “used to read Mills & Boon about twenty five years ago when I was a literature student, but they didn’t suit me” and she seems to be basing her current opinion of them on the quotes I used in my book. As I wrote on my blog, my book

    certainly wasn’t intended to be read as a sort of anthology. Some of the quotes are pretty short and they weren’t specially selected in order to give a flavour of their authors’ different styles. They were chosen because they illustrate the particular topic under discussion

    As I said in the comment thread at Vulpes Libris, the topics covered were

    1) the balance different novels strike between fantasy and reality (for example the protagonists of the Nocturne line’s paranormal romances are very different from those you might expect to find in a Superromance)

    2) ways in which authors have adapted traditional plots, including the Pygmalion myth, the tale of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast

    3) ways in which the texts themselves sometimes address (and question) the distinctions drawn between “high” and “low” culture

    4) uses of metaphor, particularly those relating to the building of relationships, the flowering of romance and the hunt of love.

    I had hoped that the book would demonstrate the variety that exists in category romance, and show that they can be far more complex than many non-category-romance-readers would image. Clearly, for Kate, my book didn’t work as I’d hoped it would.

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  2. Ren
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 05:04:19

    The Nook Press Terms of Service indicate that the self published author is not in charge of retail pricing.

    AKA “Publishers are no longer allowed to tell us we can’t have a sale, and neither are you.”

    I’m having a good chuckle at all the moaning in my feed about “the good old days” of Agency pricing. The end times are upon us!

    Again.

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  3. coribo25
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 06:12:20

    Is the new Nook Press still for US authors only?

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  4. Ros
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 06:40:04

    @coribo25: Yes. “NOOK Press is currently for U.S. authors/publishers. NOOK Press requires a U.S. Bank Account and a U.S. Tax ID that are both tied to a U.S. address.”

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  5. Meri
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 07:38:52

    @Laura Vivanco:
    I don’t understand how she feels qualified to critique the focus and content of your analysis considering her lack of familiarity with the genre.

    And of course, there’s the obligatory mention of Radway’s work as an example of a good study on the subject.

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  6. Laura Vivanco
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 08:23:22

    @Meri:

    I don’t understand how she feels qualified to critique the focus and content of your analysis considering her lack of familiarity with the genre.

    I think the key sentence re this (and her approving mention of Radway, whose Reading the Romance I’m not particularly keen on) is:

    I have worked on very similar fiction, mass-market novelettes published in the 1890s. I got nothing of interest by looking at their literary quality, but found vast amounts to write about when looking at them as book history.

    Presumably if 19th-century novelettes are judged to be of interest only in relation to book history, then the same must also be true of Harlequins/M&Bs when Harlequins/M&Bs are (on the basis of the quotes I gave) deemed to be of a similarly low literary quality.

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  7. Meri
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 08:30:42

    @Laura Vivanco: I’m not sure what she based this comparison on, though – how can one argue that two categories of books are similar (and lacking in literary merit) without having read anything in one of them?

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  8. Laura Vivanco
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 08:36:32

    @Meri: She read the quotes I included in my book, and “was more than disappointed by the quality of the writing in those quotations: I was appalled.”

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  9. Meri
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 08:45:49

    @Laura Vivanco: That is an impressive level of expertise indeed. I just don’t understand how someone can make such a sweeping argument based on so little knowledge, and why she and especially Rosy seem so surprised that people are taking issue with it.

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  10. Laura Vivanco
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 09:10:48

    @Meri:

    It did sadden me, as many of the romances on which I focused in more detail were ones I thought and/or many other romance readers think, are particularly good ones. They included Jennifer Crusie’s Getting Rid of Bradley, Manhunting, and Strange Bedpersons and Marion Lennox’s Princess of Convenience (which won a RITA in 2006). I also find it hard to understand how someone could think that “the formula smothers the individual voices of these Harlequin Mills & Boon writers” because I very much doubt I would ever confuse Jayne Ann Krentz’s voice with that of Betty Neels, for example, or Paula Marshall’s with Kristan Higgins’s. I can’t help but wonder if it makes a difference that I’ve read whole novels by these authors, rather than just a selection of quotes from them, but then I think that if someone’s appalled by those quotes, they’d probably be just as appalled if forced to read the novels in their entirety.

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  11. Sunita
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 09:26:14

    I was shocked when I looked up the author of the review and discovered that she was a published academic. I would like to think that such a flawed analysis would be harder to publish at a peer-reviewed publication, but that’s probably optimism on my part. Aside from the slams at M&B and its authors, editors, and readers, it displayed such ignorance of the subject, the author (Laura) and the context in which she was writing.

    It’s not considered good analysis to complain that the author wrote the book she wrote rather than the book you wanted her to write. And it’s especially ridiculous to say that when there are already books out there that provide that approach. If the reviewer wanted to know more about individual authors and M&B marketing she might have followed a couple of footnotes and discovered Jay Dixon’s work. Had she done so, she might have learned why M&B authors used pseudonyms (it was not necessarily because they wanted to hide their identities but had more to do with M&B conditions). Had she done the simplest Google search of the authors Laura cited she would have discovered that some authors have strong reader followings, and that readers seek out particular authors within the lines.

    I don’t even know what it means to “police” rather than edit. I assume that phrase is supposed to be clever. And yes, I do know what police do, I just don’t see it as a useful analogy.

    Academics debate regularly whether blogging should count as academic productivity and be treated as comparable to other published work. This column is Exhibit A for why it shouldn’t. There’s no process to check the quality or the accuracy and demand revisions when those standards aren’t met. And when authors and readers disputed her review in the comments, the instant reaction was that they were somehow whipped up on a fan board. Good grief.

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  12. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 12:34:07

    The fun thing about that review is that when we point out how patronizing it is, we’re told we’re wrong.

    It’s almost as bad as when somebody is telling us we’re not having somebody mansplainin’ to us.

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  13. Ros
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 14:18:51

    @Shiloh Walker: I know. We are too stupid to know when we are not being patronised, I guess.

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  14. MaryK
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 15:32:04

    VL is friendly to ALL genres and is regularly invited down to the Romantic Novelists Association Awards because a lot of people and a lot of writers appreciate that we do read and critique all genres …

    … except HQN/M&B.

    they choose to buy these books, and that’s the problem

    How freaking arrogant!

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  15. azteclady
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 17:14:01

    The one thing that made me giggle a little–in the middle of a good head of steam of the “who the hell do you thin you are, to call readers “a problem”, you (expletive deleted) you!?!”–was when Rosyb wondered I am getting the impression this has been posted to a forum. Is that correct?, because, hey, obviously this is not a discussion for the plebes who are the problem–just for them there educated academics who know literature when they see it.

    How dare we show up and comment–the cheek.

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  16. Susan
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 17:18:27

    Eh, I’ll admit I didn’t read Kate’s whole post (haha–just like she didn’t bother reading any of the books) since my peeve-o-meter is already running on the high side today. But when see things like this, I always think of Michael Dirda’s review of two of Rebecca York’s Harlequin books: http://home.comcast.net/~glick/dirda.htm. He certainly wasn’t worried that people are writing and reading this type of book–gasp. (BTW, he’s also mentioned that he did a lot of his reading openly on the Metro. I would have loved to have witnessed that.)

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  17. MaryK
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 17:20:17

    Just back from the comments over there. Way to go, Ros! Well said.

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  18. sarah mayberry
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 19:48:07

    When I chose to be a writer, I wasn’t really aware of what it means to work in the public sphere – by which I mean that by it’s very nature, my day to day work is offered up to and judged by the public. That aspect of wanting to tell stories didn’t really occur to me at first. Being more conscious of this wouldn’t have changed my mind about what I love to do, but it certainly would have made me more aware and prepared me for some of the crap that gets flung my way. I write serial drama television and category romance. In TV terms and literary terms, I am considered to be scraping the bottom of the barrel by many, many critical viewers/readers. Because my work is “public”, people seem to have no problem criticising it to my face, in a way I would never even consider criticising someone else’s livelihood or profession. I have had people openly insult me – one woman literally curled her lip into a sneer – when I told her what I did for a living. Mostly I don’t let it get to me, because I know I have an amazing job, creating characters who feel real to me and writing about emotional stories that (I hope) reflect the kind of hopes and dreams and challenges we all deal with in our real lives. I have little time for people who look down on stories that choose to focus on the smaller, more intimate world of the emotions, dismissing them as irrelevant, because I actually think they’re hugely relevant. Most of us will not be international spies or teenage wizards or go on mythical journeys, but we will experience love and loss and lust and love in our lives. I am proud to write stories that explore these very human and relatable conditions. But that article by Kate Macdonald made me feel incredibly angry and patronised and insulted. To purport to understand a genre based on her reading of Laura Vivanco’s book and then to dismiss and critique that genre in such striking, decisive terms based on a such a limited exposure strikes me as being highly arrogant as well as poor form in the academic world. There are many, many subjects I would not attempt to critique at length, but I certainly wouldn’t tackle one that I had no first hand knowledge of, based on the reading of one analytical text. So probably I shouldn’t be so thoroughly crapped off. And yet I am.

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  19. Kaetrin
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 22:00:27

    I’d like “Defensive Romance Reader” on a t-shirt.

    ReplyReply

  20. MaryK
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 22:34:37

    @Kaetrin: I had the same thought! Except I wanted “Problem Reader.”

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  21. Kaetrin
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 22:40:38

    @MaryK: Maybe that could be on the back? :)

    I couldn’t even be bothered commenting over there. Her mind is made up. Why waste my breath? (Although I am grateful for the people who gave it a red hot go).

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  22. Sunita
    Apr 11, 2013 @ 09:44:33

    @sarah mayberry: It’s definitely poor form, and it’s even poorer substance. This is the type of review I would use to teach my graduate students how not to do a critique; it’s a great example because the material that undermines and rebuts it is easy to find and plentiful.

    Like you, I’m surprised at how annoyed it made me. Perhaps it’s because I don’t usually come across ignorant “scholarly” denunciations of the romance genre on blogs that purportedly review romance novels open-mindedly. When I go to JSTOR, on the other hand, I know what to expect. Live and learn.

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  23. azteclady
    Apr 11, 2013 @ 16:40:51

    Dr MacDonald is not reviewing the book, she’s reviewing the genre–based on out of context quotes. And now she has “other commitments” so she won’t answer anything on the thread.

    Awesome all around.

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  24. Michelle
    Apr 11, 2013 @ 17:15:36

    Yes I loved the I can’t defend my post and I can’t refute your arguments, but I am so busy I won’t be commenting any more.

    ReplyReply

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