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Romance Publishers Promises to Romance Readers Part 2: Branding

Part Two of the three part series on promises in romance. Part One was the delivery of promises and Part Two is about the promise itself. Part Three is about the breaking of promises or what I like to think of as When Good Authors Go Bad.

Broken PromiseBranding is an important concept for a business person. A brand is not the author name, logo, marketing package, or label. “A brand serves to create associations and expectations among products made by a producer.” (Wikipedia). Essentially, a brand is the promise an author or publisher makes to the reader through the books themselves. As a reader, I have associations and expectations of authors and publishers. It is the brand of an author or publisher that drives my buying decisions and the buying decisions of many other people.

Romance publishers create associations and expectations or “promises” to readers that they will publish romances first and foremost. On the back of a 1986 Jayne Ann Krentz category book, I found the following:

What the press says about Harlequin romance fiction..

“When it comes to romantic novels… Harlequin is the indisputable king.”
-New York Times

Harlequin is trying to change its brand from romance publisher to “The Ultimate Destination for Women’s Fiction” but I think that it isn’t having much success. To the general public, Harlequin is synonymous with romance books. It’s like Kleenex to tissue paper.

Avon has developed a brand or promise that isn’t necessarily positive. To many readers, Avon is synonymous with a certain type of historical romance. Bookseller Jolie calls them interchangeable. I would agree. When I read Candace Hern’s In The Thrill of the Night, I thought it was an Avon book. Ditto for Tracy Warren.

I am confused about Aphrodisia’s promise. Out of one side of their mouth they are saying that the line is erotica. On the label it says, erotic romance. The books are a definite blend of the two. Right now, Aprhodisia’s promise to me is that if I am not careful, I may be disappointed in the premise of the story. With Spice and Avon Red, I am convinced that these books are erotica versus erotic romance and haven’t bought a release since the introductory titles of those lines.

But brands and promises are not the exclusive provence of the publisher. Authors have brands too. With each book, an author sells a promise to a reader. If the reader likes that promise, she’ll be back for more. I am convinced that is the success of series. The reader is looking for a similar emotional experience each time she picks up an author A’s book. For example, Nora Roberts has established a promise for me. She will write character rich stories featuring strong heroines. I am likely to cut her slack on a book if it should start out slow because she’s lived up to that promise so many times in the past. The same goes for Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick. JAK will generally feature quirky, imperfect characters with strong familial ties. One character, usually the hero, will have featured some type of betrayal by a woman in the past but it DOES NOT affect his ability to love again. HelenKay Dimon established, with one book and three stories, that she will write sparkingly witty, modern dialogue. I love that kind of stuff and I know I’ll be in line (figuratively as I will be buying the ebook), to buy her next book Your Mouth Drives Me Crazy in July of 2007.

Edited to add: Tara Marie pointed out in the comments section how authors can create a negative brand. For me, that can happen with just one book. This can happen if I don’t like characterizations of the individuals in the book or if I don’t like the writing. Diane Whiteside is an author who is not going to work for me. I had the same problems with her writing as did Jayne. For me, that’s enough to take her off the TBB list to the DNB (do not buy) list. On the other hand, Shelly Laurentson’s voice is compelling for me. I haven’t loved all her works but I find her voice, her writing to be unique and refreshing so I’ll keep buying her even though she isn’t quite making the mark each time. How many books does it take to create a negative brand? or conversely how many books does it take to create a positive brand?

Brands are the promises that authors and publishers give to readers. If you are an author and you don’t know your brand, read a few reviews. If they all say pretty much the same thing, that’s your brand. That’s your promise to your readers and that is association and expectation readers have when they see your name. Readers, what are some brands of authors that you can think of?

In two weeks, we’ll discuss what happens when authors break promises or how many broken promises until you stop reading a particular line or author.

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

55 Comments

  1. Tara Marie
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 08:59:58

    I was one of the people who fed the Avon brand like crazy, and then realized that each and every regency I was reading could be interchanged with any other and even blogged about this way back when I started blogging. Complaining that one book sounded just like the next.

    You know when you’re reading Rachel Gibson your going to get something witty. Theresa Weir or Emilie Richards would give you something emotional. Thea Devine will give you something erotic and completely out there.

    When Tami Hoag slowly moved from writing romance to romantic suspense to straight suspense, I felt let down that a favorite was somehow gone. I miss Susan Johnson’s historicals with the footnotes.

    But, I also think it’s sometimes unfair to link an author with a “brand”. I remember when Julie Garwood started writing RS the ruckus it caused. Why shouldn’t she try something new?

  2. Angiew
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 09:05:22

    okay, sorry for the double post but I cut off the beginning of my comment. So I’m trying again :)

    I see authors everywhere cringing about this post because authors want to believe that they can write where the muse takes them and readers will seek it out, because they deliver consistently good books, not because they’re branded to a genre, heat level or otherwise. I’m with the authors on this one :)

    On the other hand, I do know that author branding occurs. Look at Julie Garwood. Has there ever been an author more the…victim? of branding. Years after she departed from historical romance, readers are STILL bemoaning the fact and wishing she’d go back to them. Many who are fans of her historicals state they don’t read her romantic suspense. But one could argue that that is not *just* author branding but also personal reader taste. Because not every reader loves every genre, so it’s logical that readers of Julie Garwood’s historical romance wouldn’t be thrilled that she moved to romantic suspense.

    A more recent example is Karen Marie Moning. She’s publically stated her new release, Darkfever, is a departure from her romances. Not that there won’t be romance in Darkfever but she’s not guaranteeing a HEA in this book. I’ll still buy it. Why? Because I like KMM because she writes good books and as long as I know what to expect (ie, been warned it’s a different genre) then I’m cool with that.

    Truthfully, I love authors who can show diversity, because I think it prevents their books from having a homogenized feel.

  3. Jane
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 09:12:27

    I deleted the double post, Angie W. I like a diversity in authorship too, but I know that the familiar is comfortable and that is why branding works for readers, including me. Julie Garwood is discussed in the third part of my series. It’s clear that she “broke her promise” but overall it didn’t seem to hurt her career any and that has generally held true for most authors going “mainstream.” i.e., Brockmann, Howard, Brown, Johansen.

  4. Tara Marie
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 09:18:34

    One more thought about branding…

    It can work in reverse too. There are authors I wont read because I don’t like they’re characters, plots or stories in general and yet is it realistic that I’d never like anything they’d write. Probably not. I’m going to be nice and not list the authors who I’ve negatively branded. I’m sure I’m not the only person with a “Will Never Ever Try Again” list.

    Truthfully, I love authors who can show diversity, because I think it prevents their books from having a homogenized feel.

    I agree with Angie. If Julie Garwood had shown her diversity earlier in her writing career it would have been easier for some readers to accept. If I have a favorite author I want to read what they want to write. Good writers are consistant no matter the genre.

  5. Jane
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 09:21:55

    I completely agree with the negative brand, TM. I definitely have my list of Don’t Buy authors because of just one book experience. I should add that to my post because I think that’s an interesting topic. How many books does it take to make a brand.

  6. Daisy
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 09:27:40

    Hi Jane:
    I’m a Fan member of the Aphrodisia Writers and Fans loop, and as such, I’ve read nearly every Aphrodisia book published! Sure, some are better than others, although that’s likely a matter of preference, but I don’t know what you mean when you say that you might be ‘disappointed in the premise of the story.’ What? You don’t like the endings? Or the back of the book leads you to expect a different story than what you read? I don’t know, Jane. I think you’re wrong. I myself find these books to be romance loaded with sex, which is pretty much what I find when I look at the covers.
    Shrugging,
    Daisy
    p.s. To answer your branding question: Vivi Anna = great action with sex; Sasha White = raunchy sex; Susan Lyons = classic romance with sex

  7. Tara Marie
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 09:52:35

    What? You don't like the endings? Or the back of the book leads you to expect a different story than what you read?

    Can’t speak for Jane, but I think some have problems with the fact that they’re marketed to romance readers but some aren’t romances. Dear Author has had long discussions on what qualifies as a romance and almost all readers expect some sort of HEA ending. When Aphrodisia books all have some sort of HEA or they market themselves as Erotica and not Erotic Romance their branding will be less confusing.

  8. Robin
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 10:01:50

    I’m ambivalent about branding. On the one hand, I think some of the biggest problems in Romance right now — lack of diversity, homogenization, watered down characters and plots, anemic history in histsorical Romance — are the product of a publishing industry that doesn’t value writing as a craft. While not all writing is art, writing in general is an art form, or at least a craft form, and I think Romance publishing needs to be reminded of that. OTOH, though, I concede that even literary fiction writers are being branded, so branding, in and of itself, isn’t the evil empire I am sometimes inclined to think it is. To me, as a reader who wants unique voices and more diversity in the genre, I think the dilemma is one of balance between recognizability and originality. How that balance is to be struck, I’m not sure. But right now it feels off to me.

  9. Emma Sinclair
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 10:03:29

    I’m glad you gave examples of what you mean by branding.

    You said Nora Roberts “will write character rich stories featuring strong heroines.” What you didn’t mention was genre and I think that’s a very important distinction!

    I think that’s where writers tend to get…upset. Someone says the word “brand” and we hear, “you can only write time-travel romances featuring scottish lairds and feisty redheads for the rest of your career.”

  10. Keishon
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 10:20:26

    I know for me, Laura Kinsale will always provide dark, emotionally or physically flawed heroes/heroines with well done characterizations and hot love scenes. That’s my expectation. I know she’s working on a lighter story right now. That’s her brand for me and she’s always delivered. Judith Ivory is not as dark but she does very well writing characters along with hot love scenes. Agree with what you said about JAK with her witty dialogue and quirky characters. DNB authors for me? Hmmm, too many to list. More often than not, characterization is a problem for me for most authors writing romance. Nora Roberts, my expectations are the same: strong family relationships with realistic dialogue.

  11. Keishon
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 10:27:37

    Truthfully, I love authors who can show diversity, because I think it prevents their books from having a homogenized feel.

    I think Connie Brockway would qualify. She’s about the only one I can think of that can write dark and light romance books very well. I’ve enjoyed some of her books with My Dearest Enemy being my absolute favorite followed by the darker, very good All Through the Night.

    What other romance authors can you all list that are as diversified? I can’t think of no one outside Connie Brockway. No one likes being put in a nitche or be stuck in one genre but some authors are like Julie Garwood who has already been mentioned. She’s so thoroughly button-holed into her historicals that her fans aren’t giving her an inch. BTW, I did enjoy a couple of her romantic suspense novels but unfortunately, she wasn’t very good at it. Dialogue was stilted and I found her last couple of titles, uh, boring.

  12. Keishon
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 10:31:24

    Must mention one other thing in that I would follow Laura Kinsale and Judith Ivory into another genre as I think they are strong enough to write anything outside romance and I would encourage them by buying their books. Also, I was rather disappointed to learn that Katherine Sutcliffe had retired. I thought that she did write romantic suspense novels very well and she was one of my favorites and she also did write historicals too. Loved Dream Fever. She’s another author that I will miss.

  13. Daisy
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 11:06:45

    Hi Tara Marie:
    I guess I just haven’t read theAphrodisia stories that lack the HEA… Which ones are you thinking of? Even Vivi Anna’s HELL CAT has an implied HEA, which is followed through in INFERNO.
    Daisy

  14. Rosie
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 11:23:18

    When it comes to branding I think my closet association is with the author and not the publishers. Which isn’t to say that I don’t understand how much sway pub houses have over authors. I’m just saying that for me the brand name recognition I most closely identify with is the author themselves.

    While I’ve been disappointed by authors switching gears it has more to do with them leaving romance behind completely or trying to mainstream and disassociate their career with its beginning and loyal fan base. That just seems suicidal to me and having read a few interviews when an author says she is trying to “move away” a bit from their romance roots implies they are trying to move to a better neighborhood. THAT just ticks me off.

    When all is said and done though I don’t mind reading something different from a favorite author. As long as I know before I buy what I’m getting…so marketing is key there. Also, not every author can make a genre jump successfully while others do much better.

    I couldn’t get through a Janet Evanovich category romance when she wrote for Loveswept and was reluctant to buy ONE FOR THE MONEY when it was gettting rave reviews. Those Stephanie Plum books had a completely different voice and attitude and it just worked for me. So in her case a move worked great and I believe she got more fans.

  15. Charlene
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 11:40:15

    Er. So when all those reviewers comment on my “trademark humor”, they’re not kidding about the trademark? Good God, I have a brand. Why am I the last to know?

  16. Lucinda Betts
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 11:40:31

    What an interesting topic! I’m just catching up with the Part 1 of this series which said that we should contact our editors to complain about the fake billing. Wow, what an idea! I don’t think I’d change the spine of my book, even if I had the option.

    I write romances that have a lot of sex, thus my appreciation of the ‘erotic romance’ tag. Some of the sex is edgy with explorations into darker fantasies, but I consider myself a romance author first and an erotica author second. I consider myself a romance writer because the prime motivation of my stories is the evolution of the relationship between two people. My editor hasn’t told me to make my stories more erotic or less romantic, and each of my stories (I’ve written seven so far; and have a contract for six more) has a HEA. I LOVE HEAs!
    SWAK,
    Lucinda

  17. Janine
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 11:50:06

    [quote comment="4317"]I’m ambivalent about branding. On the one hand, I think some of the biggest problems in Romance right now — lack of diversity, homogenization, watered down characters and plots, anemic history in histsorical Romance — are the product of a publishing industry that doesn’t value writing as a craft. While not all writing is art, writing in general is an art form, or at least a craft form, and I think Romance publishing needs to be reminded of that. OTOH, though, I concede that even literary fiction writers are being branded, so branding, in and of itself, isn’t the evil empire I am sometimes inclined to think it is. To me, as a reader who wants unique voices and more diversity in the genre, I think the dilemma is one of balance between recognizability and originality. How that balance is to be struck, I’m not sure. But right now it feels off to me.[/quote]

    That’s a good point, Robin. I think an author’s writing style and her general sensibility can be part of her brand. For example, when I think of Judith Ivory, I think of a rich, sensuous writing style and a sophisticated, worldly view of people that is accepting of human foibles.

    If authors don’t want to feel boxed in then they need to think about ways to brand themselves without tying themselves to a particular subgenre.

  18. Janine
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 11:53:36

    What other romance authors can you all list that are as diversified? I can't think of no one outside Connie Brockway.

    Anne Stuart comes to mind. She has written both dark and light books and readers have embraced them both.

  19. May
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 13:01:21

    If I like your voice enough, I’ll probably even read your grocery list.

    Do I think branding is bad? Not at all. But I don’t quite think you should call branding, in this case, a promise.

    I don’t think that the fact that Author Y has written 3 historicals can or should be construed as a promise to readers that she’ll continue writing historicals. An author owes readers a good read, that’s all.

  20. Keishon
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 13:01:59

    Just thought of yet another author: Kathleen Eagle. I brand her with her trademark sexual banter that is often hotter than any love scene. She’s another romance author I love. Could kick myself for not thinking of her sooner. And she’s a great storyteller. Have many keepers from her on my shelf.

  21. Keishon
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 13:03:26

    Anne Stuart comes to mind. She has written both dark and light books and readers have embraced them both.

    I do like Anne Stuart and her bad boy heroes. Good job.

  22. Nora Roberts
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 13:11:03

    I don’t think it’s breaking a promise when a writer moves–as Garwood did–from historical romance to romantic suspense. Or when Gaffney switched from romance to women’s fiction. A writer is entitled to write the story he or she wants to write. I agree with May–the only promise is to write a good story (which, of course, is subjective.)

    But if it’s marketed as Romance, and isn’t, someone’s certainly breaking a promise–and betraying reader expectations.

    And another but. When a writer shifts genres then takes swipes at the genre that launched their career and built their readership, it–to me–shows not only a lack of gratitude, but a lack of class.

  23. Nora Roberts
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 13:16:49

    For another viewpoint on the above, I wrote 100 books for Silhouette over 20 years. When that relationship ended, and I stopped writing category, I got many letters from readers who were FURIOUS with me. Some that claimed I had an obligation to continue writing category romance–and if I didn’t mend my ways, they’d never read me again.

    This, of course, is ridiculous. I’m not a hostage.

    There were many reasons I parted ways with Silhouette–but if there’d only been one: That I no longer wished to write category romance–that would have been my right and my choice. As much as I value readers, they don’t make career or creative decisions for me–or any writer.

  24. Jane
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 13:19:35

    I agree that the author has the right to write whatever she wants. But I don’t think it is unreasonable for a reader to be upset when the author moves in another direction. It’s just human nature. Readers invest so much, emotionally and financially, in their favorite authors that it does seem like a betrayal when the author moves on. Maybe the next topic should be titled, “how to know when to let go.”

  25. J B
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 13:31:36

    [quote comment="4336"] Maybe the next topic should be titled, “how to know when to let go.”[/quote]

    I walk away slowly, probably too slowly. It took me years to finally walk from Julie Garwood. I was one of her diehard historical fans and kept hoping that I would enjoy her RS style as well. It took me awhile, but I finally did it. And I wish her well with her new audience.

    Yes, with a long history, it takes a while for me to leave. But one book (on the rare occasion, i’ll try two) is all it takes to hit my DNB list.

  26. Nora Roberts
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 13:36:49

    I understand disappointment–but not betrayal. Then again, if the reaction is that intense, it says something about the writer’s work and its connection to the reader. I know I’ve been sad and disappointed when a writer I particularly liked changed directions, but I wouldn’t say I felt betrayed. I would if the writer started saying: That stuff I used to write was crap. Because that insults me as a reader who enjoyed it.

    Do I wish, for instance, Gaffney would write another historical romance? I do, I do! Even though I sincerely love her books since she moved into women’s fiction, I’d love to have one more taste of her romance style. It happens Pat’s one of my best pals–but she’s not going to listen to me on this one. She is, however, always going to respect and acknowledge her roots in Romance.

  27. Jorrie Spencer
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 13:40:46

    Interesting post and discussion.

    As a reader, I’m of two minds about branding. On the one hand, when an author consistently delivers the kind of book I love and adore that is great. Wonderful! And those authors tend to be autobuys.

    On the other hand, there are some writers where, after I dunno, 2, 3 or more books, I’ve realized I never have to read them again. Because they all seem to be saying pretty much the same thing. I’ll give an example from my non-romance reading days: Mordechai Richler. Loved Joshua Then and Now. Loved it. Reread it. And, while I started a couple of other books, I really never had to read him again. (Obviously, others have read him differently.)

    That’s an extreme example, but still. Anyway, an author needs some variety or it becomes same old same old, but too much variety and they are going to lose some readers (and perhaps gain others). I think that range of story varies from author to author and is not entirely under their control. Crusie is not going to write an Anne Stuart book is not going to write a Lora Leigh book, etc.

    I had a writing friend who once told me we all write the same story over and over again. Which I guess is true in its way.

  28. Lucinda Betts
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 14:12:15

    Nora Roberts is right. I’m a new author, with my first book PURE SEX on the shelves only last July. I have six more erotic romance fantasies coming out over the next two years. But if I wanted to change from erotic romances and write straight romance, series romance or straight fantasy , I would hope that change wouldn’t constitute a broken promise. The promise I make to myself–to be the best author I can–would superceed fan expectation. And being held hostage by fan expectation isn’t good for the creativity any reader expects from an author.
    SWAK,
    Lucinda

  29. Rosie
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 14:15:23

    And another but. When a writer shifts genres then takes swipes at the genre that launched their career and built their readership, it-”to me-”shows not only a lack of gratitude, but a lack of class.

    This is what I’m saying…I follow writers. All I ask is the story be good, not a phone in and that they don’t take a swipe at their roots.

  30. Jane
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 14:17:56

    The promise I make to myself-”to be the best author I can-”would superceed fan expectation. The promise I make to myself-”to be the best author I can-”would superceed fan expectation.

    I am not saying that you shouldn’t write what you want, but if you write 6 books of steaming hot sex and then write a 7th that is a sweet romance don’t be surprised when your readers come back and say WTF.

  31. Alison Kent
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 14:23:26

    Harlequin is trying to change its brand from romance publisher to -The Ultimate Destination for Women's Fiction- ? but I think that it isn't having much success. To the general public, Harlequin is synonymous with romance books.

    From DrunkWriterTalk: 6. AS A WHOLE – HARLEQUIN IS RETURNING TO ROMANCE. EVERY LINE IS GETTING MORE ROMANCE CENTERED. I hadn’t heard that until seeing this conference report.

  32. Robin
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 14:26:11

    I wonder how many Romance readers are author driven v. book driven? I happen to be book loyal, but not so much author loyal. But I don’t think Romance is really set up to foster book loyalty; in fact, I think the genre works very hard to inspire author loyalty — so it doesn’t surprise me at all that a genre that is so intent on connecting readers to authors as brands, phenomena even, should also inspire feelings of betrayal from readers who feel they’ve been let down. While individual authors may not understand these feelings, IMO the culture of the genre already so personalizes the relationship betwen reader and Romance (think of those “Dear Reader” letters Harlequin is making authors write, for example), that such reader responses are simply the flip side of the loyalty some authors and publishers want to create in readers.

  33. Jane
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 14:26:48

    Let me add one more thing. I don’t think the brand/promise/expectation making machine makes places one author inside a box creatively because I think the brand is more about voice, style than about sub genre. I have read about 50 Nora Roberts books. I like her voice and her style and I think I could recognize it in a blind taste test, so to speak. Ditto with Jennifer Crusie, Suzanne Brockmann and others whose books I have read many of.

  34. Angiew
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 14:29:24

    You make a good point, Robin.

  35. Nora Roberts
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 14:39:51

    ~think of those -Dear Reader- ? letters Harlequin is making authors write, for example), that such reader responses are simply the flip side of the loyalty some authors and publishers want to create in readers. ~

    Just want to say the `Dear Reader’ letter isn’t exclusive to Harlequin, or even to the genre. Stephen King used to write them, quite often, to kick off or end one of his novels. I imagine there are a lot more publishers, genres or authors who do this sort of thing, too.

    The Romance genre may create a more intimate sort of relationship–or the illusion of one–between reader and author simply because it’s a genre that spotlights relationships, but reading is an altogether personal form of entertainment, and I don’t think this personal relationship between author and reader is seen only in Romance. You’ve only got to visit a few SF boards to see this same thing.

  36. Shiloh Walker
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 14:53:16

    if you write 6 books of steaming hot sex and then write a 7th that is a sweet romance don't be surprised when your readers come back and say WTF.

    I’ve done this. Most of my books out are erotic romance. That’s because I hit that market right when it was exploding and that was what was selling. That didn’t keep me from writing non-erotic romance. Or non romance, period.

    I love writing romance and I don’t see me leaving the genre any time soon, if ever, but I dont’ necessarily want a brand of erotic romance tagged on to my name. Because that doesn’t necessarily reflect who I am as a writer. I don’t want that reflecting who I am as a writer. I want to be a good writer. I want to be able to tell a great story, to make it as good as I can make, whatever the story may be.

    Branding seems to put a writer in a box. I don’t think any writer wants that.

    To me a broken promise is when the story gets lost. If the sex or the violence or the story of the next door neighbor’s lost cat gets in the way of me enjoying the story, then that’s a broken promise. If it happens too often, after a couple of books, I may stop buying. When stuff is thrown in for shock value, that’s a broken promise and I won’t want to read anything more from that author. But there is probably going to be somebody out there that enjoyed the very aspects I didn’t.

    Of course, I really, really don’t want to read a romance, or any book period, by somebody that goes around insulting their readers. I dont’ want to read a book by an author that insults their publishers, other authors, their readerbase, their would be reader base…it’s a lack of professionalism and common courtesy. No, thanks.

  37. Robin
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 14:56:29

    Just want to say the `Dear Reader' letter isn't exclusive to Harlequin, or even to the genre. Stephen King used to write them, quite often, to kick off or end one of his novels. I imagine there are a lot more publishers, genres or authors who do this sort of thing, too.

    That may be the case, but one Harlequin author (Karen Templeton??) indicated on AAR not too long ago that authors were now required to write letters about how they were personally inspired to write X or Y story — to make a more personal connection to the reader. Blech. Of course reading is a personal activity, but Romance marketing capitalizes on that in ways specific to the genre. That a genre like sci-fi might also have its own dynamic doesn’t, IMO, lessen the impact of the way Romance builds readerships – and it’s an aspect of the industry I find troubling at times.

  38. Nora Roberts
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 15:21:39

    I can’t speak to if or why Harlequin might be requiring writers to do Dear Readers because I don’t write for them. But…

    ~lessen the impact of the way Romance builds readerships~

    First, you can’t build readerships if the books don’t appeal. It wouldn’t matter how you tried to personalize things, it wouldn’t go anywhere. And second, imo, every genre–and certainly most publishers through marketing and publicity–attempt to make a connection, a personal one, between the book/author and the readers. It helps sell books and helps create reader loyalty.

    I’m just saying this is not exclusive to Romance, or even invented by or through the genre and its publishers. Off the top of my head I can think of a non-Romance author who helped forge her career by making that connection personal. Jacqueline Suzanne.

    I skimmed through a board on SF recently, and the knowledge–or claims of knowledge about certain writers’ personal lives were jaw-dropping. The mingling between writers and readers claimed at conferences rife. I’ve read plenty of Acknowledgements in Mystery novels, for instance, where the writer talks about their husband or wife, their kids, their pets, etc, etc., how and why they decided to tell this story. All it lacks, really, is Dear Reader as salutation.

    Approve or not of the strategy–if that’s the word. That’s not the issue. I only disagree with singling out Romance.

    It may be–and I’ll cop to it–that I get cranky when Romance, those who write, read and publish it–are separated out of the industry and accused of utilizing–even exploiting tactics that are simply part of the business at large.

  39. Nora Roberts
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 15:23:09

    And I’ve just realized that my last comment probably had little to nothing to do with the topic at hand.

    Sorry.

  40. Jane
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 15:35:50

    Ah, sci fi books and the inappropriate disclosure of personal details. Can we say LKH? LOL! That’s 95% of the reason I can’t read her Anita Blake series anymore. I keep picturing Jon as Micah and recalling how LKH writes this character with the GIANT penis. Excuse me, I just threw up a little in my mouth.

    You could always write an opinion letter for Monday posting, Ms. Roberts!

  41. Nora Roberts
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 15:43:09

    ~You could always write an opinion letter for Monday posting, Ms. Roberts!~

    Thanks, but no. LOL. First let me say that since I discovered this site I’ve really, really enjoyed the opinion pieces. Thoughtful, interesting and obviously written by people who love books. And I like sticking my oar in occasionally in comments.

    Much oar sticking today as I just finished a book, and am feeling sociable, opinionated and mouthy.

    It will pass.

  42. Robin
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 15:45:15

    The fact that Romance continues to be viewed with derision or at least suspicion in mainstream society is somewhat unique, though. And what do those unfamiliar with the books have to go on in forming their negative opnions but the marketing? Octavia Butler, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Sharon Shinn, for example, are not branded in the same way as Mary Balogh, Jennifer Crusie, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Branding not only affects insiders, but outsiders, as well, as Jane’s reference to Harlequin demonstrates. IMO, in the same way individual authors are branded, so is the genre of Romance as a whole.

  43. Lucinda Betts
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 15:48:27

    if you write 6 books of steaming hot sex and then write a 7th that is a sweet romance don't be surprised when your readers come back and say WTF.
    If my readers said WTF after I changed, I would blame my publisher more than myself. If the reader can’t tell whether a book is fantasy or contemporary by looking at the cover, there is something wrong. A reader shouldn’t get into a book (after paying for it, no less) and then get surprised by the genre or subgenre. That’s the whole point of publishers putting each of our books into these subgenres, isn’t it? My contemporary erotic romance cover does not look a thing like my erotic fantasy covers. Why would a reader say WTF if she knows what she’s buying? A sweet romance would never come with Kensington’s “Warning! This is a REALLY HOT book” warning. That’s what I think, anyway!
    SWAK,Lucinda

  44. Nora Roberts
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 16:03:06

    I so completely disagree with this:

    And what do those unfamiliar with the books have to go on in forming their negative opnions but the marketing?

    Most negativity I’ve experienced has NOTHING to do with the marketing of the books or the genre, but a bias, usually without reading the books or paying any attention to how they’re marketed. It’s simply that they’re books about love, sex with a happy ending. But especially the sex–or especially that they’re most usually for women.

    That has nothing whatsoever to do with Dear Reader letters, blogs, message boards, personal relationships between readers and writers, etc. It has to do with entrenched and stuck in concrete prejudice–the sort that automatically equates Romance with 70′s style bodice rippers, naked pirate books, and labels them Valium for the mind or porn, and refuses, absolutely, to see the variety and quality offered within the genre’s framework. (And there’s nothing wrong with naked pirates, btw.)

    I’ve had my books termed bodice rippers–and I’ve never written one. This is 30-year-old terminology that doesn’t apply. If these people were paying attention to marketing, they’d know that much, at least.

    Those who have this opinion most usually haven’t read the genre (or don’t know they have), and have paid no attention whatsoever to how the books are marketed. The negativity is primarily a matter of a lack of knowledge rather than too much, and a knee-jerk or elitist attitude. Those who smirk don’t give a damn if there’s a Dear Reader letter inside the covers, because they’re never going to pick up the book in the first place.

  45. Robin
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 16:17:14

    Those who have this opinion most usually haven't read the genre (or don't know they have), and have paid no attention whatsoever to how the books are marketed.

    Do you really believe this? You don’t think clinch covers feed these negative views? Or how about television shows like “Mr. Romance,” on which Brenda Novak appeared wearing a toga and selecting among scantily clad male cover model wannabes? Or how about FABIO? Or lifesize cardboard cutouts of barechested men standing next to the Romance section in bookstores? That many of these negative opinions are wrong doesn’t mean they’re plucked out of the ether; the Romance industry has contributed to its own lack of mainstream respect.

  46. Nora Roberts
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 18:23:31

    Fabio? Come on, Fabio is so beyond over for anyone who’s remotely savvy about Romance. He’s like two decades ago, and nearly as dated as Bodice Ripper. This is what I mean, exactly. If you’re paying attention to today, to today’s marketing, you know better than this. And your claim was that those unfamiliar with the genre form their views from the marketing of the genre. Who’s marketing Fabio these days?

    And what does Fabio have to do with Dear Reader letters or a personal relationship between writer and reader? He was a face, lots of hair and a shaved chest.

    Mr. Romance? Who in the mainstream paid attention? I’m in the genre and I didn’t pay attention. These are silly, even ridiculous cliches perpetuated by those who have no true understanding or respect for the genre, and sink to its lowest level. Like the kid in his parents basement writing blogs in Klingon being touted as the yardstick for SF.

    And no offense to Ms. Novak–seriously–but I don’t even know who that is, and I bet most people who shoot arrows at Romance don’t either.

    Clinch cover certainly perpetuate the negative views–if they’re the type that get snarked on SB. No escaping that. But there are embarrassing and derivitive covers in EVERY genre. Why is Romance singled out?

    The fact that Fabio and bodice rippers are tossed around, long, long after these elements are so completly over as far as the genre goes, doesn’t mean the genre, its readers, its writers, its publishers are to blame for it. It means the people who have no clue fall back on the least common demoninator–which are decades done–to denigrate an entire area of fiction because they just don’t get it.

    That has nothing to do with branding, with reader expectation, with marketing–because nobody but I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter is marketing Fabio these days. It has to do with abject laziness on the part of the media.

    Please point out an instance in the last five years in which a Romance writer or publisher hyped Fabio or an author wearing a toga as the voice of Romance. Or even as an element typical of the genre.

    Even then, the SF reader or writer costumed as an alien, or the reader or writer at a Mystery convention dressed as Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t generate as much smirking.

    So, yes, I absolutely believe what I said in my previous comment.

  47. Robin
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 18:56:56

    Please point out an instance in the last five years in which a Romance writer or publisher hyped Fabio or an author wearing a toga as the voice of Romance. Or even as an element typical of the genre.

    On my very first pass on Google, I found this:

    http://www.romantictimes.com/resources_covermodels.php?article=175

    You may not have caught “Mr. Romance,” but lots of people did (it was on Oprah’s Oxygen network), and it was hosted by . . . Fabio, who, by the way, is also being marketed these days by Oral B. Here’s an article from USA Today on branding and female consumers featuring the Fabio-Oral B relationship: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/products/2006-03-19-webwomen_x.htm.

    And no offense to Ms. Novak-”seriously-”but I don't even know who that is, and I bet most people who shoot arrows at Romance don't either.

    http://www.brendanovak.com/index2.php

    I don’t read Novak, either, but, as has been pointed out by you, I don’t exactly constitute the “average” Romance reader. I think, actually, Novak is closer to that core Romance reading audience.

    That many, many, many people — normal, average, not in the press but intelligent and educated nonetheless people — have skewed images of Romance obviously means they are outsiders to the genre. No argument there. I wouldn’t expect them to be “savvy” about Romance marketing, because they have no experience in the genre. And, as you’ve pointed out on several occasions, the average reader of Dear Author of Smart Bitches isn’t the “average Romance reader,” either, so how many Romance readers are even savvy about marketing the genre? Personally, I don’t think most of them give a flying fig that Fabio is still considered the Romance cover boy, or that clinch covers are considered tacky by some of us or that Brenda Novak wore a toga on national television. In fact, I think the so-called “average” Romance reader, who’s buying Romance novels that AAR won’t review, is the target market for television shows like “Mr. Romance” and series like the Kensington-owned “Precious Gem” line of Romances sold exclusively at Wal Mart (the line where Shannon McKenna got her start — although I understand they aren’t sold anymore).

  48. Robin
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 19:13:47

    Please point out an instance in the last five years in which a Romance writer or publisher hyped Fabio or an author wearing a toga as the voice of Romance. Or even as an element typical of the genre.

    http://www.romantictimes.com/resources_covermodels.php?article=175

    Oral B is also marketing Fabio these days, and here’s an article from USA Today talking about it as part of branding for female consumers: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/products/2006-03-19-webwomen_x.htm

    Mr. Romance? Who in the mainstream paid attention?

    Women who watch Oprah’s Oxygen network? The series actually got quite a bit of coverage from what I could tell.

    And no offense to Ms. Novak-”seriously-”but I don't even know who that is, and I bet most people who shoot arrows at Romance don't either.

    http://www.brendanovak.com/index2.php
    I haven’t read Novak, either, but I know I’m not the average Romance reader. Apparently, she’s very popular, but the genre is so large, there seem to be many different types of readers.

    Fabio is so beyond over for anyone who's remotely savvy about Romance.

    But isn’t the point that people outside the genre aren’t savvy about Romance? And why should we expect them to be? Frankly, I think that there are more Romance readers out there who think Fabio is just fab than there are like me who are critical of some aspects of the genre. There are tons of Romance novels AAR will never review, but are nonetheless great sellers. Look at the Precious Gem series Romances Wal Mart does (did?) sell exclusively (this Kensington-owned line is where Shannon McKenna started): http://www.crescentblues.com/2_4issue/precious.shtml.

  49. Lucinda Betts
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 19:45:49

    The SF writer dressed as an alien would be called called clever–not derided! I think romance gets picked on because we Americans like to think of ourselves as battle hardened cynics. We’re rough and calloused and cynical. Romance flies in the face of that. Romance exposes our white underbelly. No marketing in the world can change people’s perception of romance, because romance is by definition–romantic! Calculating business men are brought to their knees by emotion. Rodeo cowboys cave to a woman’s touch. Of course we’re laughed at! But it doesn’t bother me a bit! I laugh all the way to the bank, because the romance genre always makes money. Why? Because nearly everyone alive has fallen in love. We can poo poo it (isn’t that a word?), but it’s true. Romance is universal! SWAK, Lucinda

  50. Jane
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 22:55:32

    I think we can agree that publishers encourage authors of all genres to foster cose relationships. Those close relationships can lead to enormous reader disenchantment. I don’t know much about sci fi/fantasy other than LKH and her readership has been dismayed by the direction of the Anita series. So readers of all genres can feel betrayed by what they perceived the author to be promising.

    The current marketing trend for romances does include bare chested men to a great degree. They are not Fabio but they are nude men. I actually like some of the nude men covers. The ones over at Angie W’s site today are particularly delicious (minus the underwear guy).

    I do think that the covers of the books can lead to generalizations about romances. I asked Ned tonight what he thought of when I said romance books and he replied “covers with naked men.” Of course, i kind of like the nude male chest covers but not the clinch cover. I wonder why that is?

  51. Miki S
    Oct 02, 2006 @ 23:34:01

    I can certainly see both sides of this issue (branding – good sense or unfair expectation).

    I’ve come to appreciate authors who use pseudonyms for their various forays into different genres.

    Jayne Krentz is one who comes to mind. I love her science fiction romance as Jayne Castle. Enjoy her romantic suspense (and older romances) as Jayne Krentz. But I’m not sure I’ve read more than one of her historicals. Maybe same voice, but historicals are something I just don’t “glom” on. Too much fuss about clothes and balls for my taste. *grin*

    When I first started reading with abandon and experimenting with different genres and authors, I was frustrated with pseudonyms. Before the ‘net, it wasn’t always easy to know who was who (uh, whom?). But now, if I find a new author, I can check her website for pseudonyms to see if I like her other “lines.”

    And I know myself enough to know that if I hadn’t been forwarned about Linda Howard’s “To Die For” (how it had a more light-hearted, comedic tone than her other works), I’d have been frustrated at the least. It would have pulled me out of the story. So in that, I guess, “branding” has its hooks in me.

    But I know I wouldn’t want an author to feel in any way compelled to write in a format or genre that no longer interests her. Nor would I want her to feel she couldn’t or shouldn’t branch out and expand her writing horizons.

  52. Robin
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 00:01:24

    Of course, i kind of like the nude male chest covers but not the clinch cover. I wonder why that is?

    I’m not a big fan of clinch covers because they mostly look stupid to me — some chick with her dress hanging off of her and a barrechested duke of something or other holding her at a totaly unnatural angle. In the case of historicals (which seem to be the only cliches I see these days) they belittle the actual history part. Naked male chests, though, when done well, can be luscious looking to me, in part, I think, because I’m not worried about whether they’re accurate or whether the weather is right for a cape but no shirt (like that horrendous cover art for Kleypas’s Devil In Winter). The best of them don’t look awkward or cheesy to me — except for the cover of Chase’s Lord Perfect, though, in which the guy’s chest looked like it was cast from wet silly putty. I don’t mind naked; but I do better if I’m not actually associating the cover model with the details of the plot, the history, or the characters. And you’re right, Jane — those covers at Angie’s site are fiiiiiine.

    What’s interesting to me about covers, though, is how I feel — as a reader — that they’re helping to brand sub-genres in Romance; when I walk through the aisles at Costco, where all the books are displayed on the tables, I can pick out a Romantic Suspense versus a historical, etc. And chick lit also stands out, but despite the insistence that it’s not Romance, when I see some of the covers, it sure looks to me like they’re hoping to attract readers who recognize contemporary Romance covers. Colors, patterns, fonts, illustrations — unless I’m actually looking for a specific book, I’ve gotten into the habit of picking up any book that isn’t instantly recognizable to me by genre, and often those books are my impulse buys. When I order online, I pay almost no attention to cover or book size, though.

  53. Nora Roberts
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 06:14:28

    RT isn’t a Romance writer or a publisher of Romance novels.

    I agree that those who don’t read the genre have these perceptions–we’re on the same page there. I said those who don’t aren’t paying any attention to how the books are marketed. Oral-B and the fake butter people aren’t writing or promoting or publishing Romance novels–they’re marketing their products.

    Do many `outsiders’ see Fabio and link him to Romance novels? Yes. I participated in a piece just last year for CBS Good Morning, and they frigging launched it with Fabio. It’s annoying and it’s frustrating. And it goes right back to what I said earlier in this discussion. It illustrates that people who deride the genre, who don’t read it and elect to smirk at it aren’t paying attention, but have their perceptions stuck ten, twenty and thirty years behind the now. And that the media is often lazy and lacking creativity when they report on the genre or its authors.

    I don’t object to naked guy covers either. There are covers, marketing techniques, personalized blogs and mbs and so on in every genre that push certain images. My objection was to singling Romance out.

  54. Nora Roberts
    Oct 03, 2006 @ 07:33:56

    ~And what do those unfamiliar with the books have to go on in forming their negative opnions but the marketing?~

    This was your statement. Mine is that most unfamiliar with the books aren’t paying attention to the marketing. You cited Fabio–and he’s not being marketed by Romance. The Mr. Romance thing? Maybe that sort of thing baffles me, but I don’t see it as an active trend of marketing the genre, generated from publishers or the majority of the writers. I don’t even know when this was broadcast. I honestly can’t remember anything about it.

    Mostly, I don’t see how Fabio or Mr. Romance relate to branding–or even to the current marketing of the genre. I don’t see how either relate to making, or attempting to make a personal or close relationship between an author and the readers.

    The fact that they stick in the non-Romance reader’s perception is another thing altogether. Though I can say while I often get Fabio tossed at me (ha) in an interview, I’ve never had a reporter ask me about Mr. Romance.

    So I don’t get why marketing–active, current marketing generated by publishers and writers of Romance–is what forms the negative opinion of those unfamiliar with the genre.

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