Romance Publishers Promises to Romance Readers Part 1: False Promises
Stay tuned for some exciting features at Dear Author (exciting for us at least). The week of October 2nd through October 8th we will be featuring an interview and several reviews of an author that the Two Ja(y)nes and Janine love. Today marks the first of a three part series on Romance Publishers Promises to Romance Readers. Today’s articles addresses Advertising (the delivery of the promise), next week will feature an article on Branding (the promise), and finally we’ll end with What to Do When a Good Author Goes Bad (or when the promises are broken).
Advertising is the one way that the promise of an author or publisher is delivered to readers. Of course, the writing is the ultimate delivery of the promise that authors and publishers are making but to get a reader to read the promise. In romance, the promise is that there is a committment, a love, between a core group of people. In mainstream romance, generally one woman and one man overcome obstacles to achieve a lifelong togetherness. Publishers deliver the promise a couple of ways:
- spine labeling
- bookstore placement
- advertising online, in trade magazines like Romantic Times, or in bookstore promotions
Way back in May, I questioned whether Kensington was engaged in false promises in the promotion and sale of it to romance readers. The original quote that got the discussion going was smartly caught by Angie W. During an interview with PNR Paraphernalia, Aphrodisia’s Editorial Director stated this:
Audrey L.: While very hot and sexy, Brava still follows the “rules” of traditional romance–"one man and one woman fall in love in the course of the book and arrive at some sort of permanent commitment at the end. Aphrodisia throws away the rules–"anything goes, as long as it's super hot, sexy, explicit, legal, and all about a woman's sexual pleasure. Oftentimes the woman does find and fall in love with her soul mate, but that is not a requirement. However, a happy (or shall we say an extremely satisfying?) ending is a must.
Since that time, other Kensington quotes have come to light.
Audrey LeFehr buys contemporary romance, historical romance, romantic suspense, women’s fiction, thrillers and Aphrodisia. Aphrodisia is actually erotica, not romance. They are called erotic romance for the booksellers. They’re always looking for talent. You can query Audrey in email, then send in entire manuscript if requested.
From Booklist: Core Collection: Erotic Romance, by John Charles and Shelley Mosley, Kate Duffy is quoted as saying:
In 2006 Kensington launched Aphrodisia, an erotic fiction line. Although it can be difficult to distinguish between erotic romances and erotica, Duffy has a simple yet effective way of separating the two kinds of books. “While there is often a lot of really great sex in an erotic romance, the focus of the story is always on the romantic relationship between the two protagonists. In erotica, while there might be a relationship between the two protagonists, the focus of the story is on the really great sex.”
From both Bookseller Chick and Bookseller Jolie we know that Aphrodisa, Avon Red and Harlequin Spice all categorize their books as “romances” for the purposes of shelving at the bookstore. The more I read this type of blatantly false advertising, the angier I get. Almost all books feature some type of love story but love stories aren’t romances and love stories are not what the romance reader is looking for.
If the hero and heroine aren't engaged or married by the epilogue, is it really a romance?
I say nope. No way. For me, a romance follows this simple form:
1. Boy meets girl.
2. Girl kicks boy to curb.
3. Boy –" figuratively and/or literally on his knees –" learns he can love without losing his intrinsic masculinity.
4. Boy and girl get engaged, get married, or at very least make it clear they'll probably wed after they've lived together a couple years.
I don't wanna know for nothin' else.
Let's face some facts, though. I don't promote those alt romances in my column because they aren't mainstream and aren't what the majority of romance readers are buying.
The facts are that Aphrodisia, Avon Red, Harlequin Spice know exactly that they are doing in telling booksellers that the books are romance. They want placement in the romance section where billions of dollars are spent. Not in the self help or sexuality section where few romance readers have EVER looked.
Originally, I thought I would file a complaint with the FTC. The Lanham Act defines false advertising as:
“Any advertising or promotion that misrepresents the nature, characteristics, qualities or geographic origin of goods, services or commercial activities” (Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C.A. § 1125(a)).
It’s pretty clear that Kensington is engaged in a blatant violation of federal law which exposes them to fines from the federal government and lawsuits from consumers, possibly even a class action suit. But as I thought about the rights I had as a romance reader, I also thought about authors. Authors have no control over the advertising done by the publishers. A lawsuit or complaint to the FTC may adversely affect the innocent author’s pocketbook.
I think the better thing to do is to write the lines that you care about and tell them that you don’t want books without HEA marketed as romances. I think it is fine for Aphrodisia to include erotica as well as erotic romance but I don’t want to pick up a book labeled “erotic romance” and have it be some chick lit/woman’s fiction novel about one woman’s exploration of her sexuality.
What I find most interesting is that whenever there is a topic like this posted on blogs, authors come out in droves to say “My book really is a romance”. Should an author of a book in the romance section or labeled an erotic romance have to come out and say read me, I’m really a romance? It’s a poor waste of comment space. Their time and energy should be spent saying “Read me, I have an emotionally wounded alpha hero who is scared of love but falls hard for a strong but emotionally vulnerable woman.” Or “Read me because my story is the ultimate in childhood friends awakening to their love for each other when their friendship is threatened by outside sources.” Or “Read me because my vampires are funny as hell as they drink, bite, and fall in love.”
My suggestion is that readers and authors write to the editors of the lines they care about and tell them that if a book is labeled romance or asked to be shelved in the romance section, that it needs to have a HEA. Not a satisfying ending, but an HEA featuring a lifelong committment between the main protagonists.
- Avon Red: Executive Editor, Lucia Macro (lucia.macro at harpercollins.com ), Erika Tsang (erika.tsang at harpercollins.com), May/Mai (?) Chen (avonromance at harpercollins.com)
- Aphrodisia: Editorial Director Audrey LaFehr, Hilary Sares, or John Scognamiglio. No email addresses were unearthed. Best to send a snail mail. Kensington Publishing, 830 Third Avenue, 16th Floor, New York NY 10022-6222; 212-407-1500; Fax: 212-935-0699. OR you can email the president, Steven Zacharius (szacharius at kensingtonbooks.com). and you could try out that naming convention for all the above editors, ie., alafehr at kensingtonbooks.com.
- Harlequin Spice. Susan Pezzack,. 225 Duncan Mill Road, Toronto, Ontario. M3B 3K9 CANADA. No email address found. You could email Katherine Orr at public_relations at harlequin.ca
What do readers think? Should non-romances be shelved with romances? Are authors being forced to assert their book has an HEA? Is it false advertising in your book for a publisher to request its non HEA book to be placed in the romance section?
Next week: Branding (How promises are made)