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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).

Return to SenderAdvertising 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.

From Karen Fox’s website (credit Sybil)

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.

In a recent Romancing the Blog article, Michelle Buonfiglio (she of the NATIONALLY syndicated romance review column), wrote

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.

She went on to comment that while she herself enjoys erotica and alternative romances

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.

Most every reader who has commented has felt the same way. If you say it is a romance, make sure that the novel includes one unit achieving an emotional committment that implies forever togetherness.

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)

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

81 Comments

  1. Diana
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 08:15:11

    I don’t think a story has to have an HEA to be a romance. I think Casablanca is a romance. I think the Terminator is a romance. I think Gone with the Wind is a romance. I think Nicholas Sparks books are romances. Some people on an internet board may not agree, but there is NO definition. “Expectation” — yes, I’ll gow ith you on that one. But perhaps it’s time for expectations to change — not just for romance readers, but for non-readers as well. Wouldn’t accepting more kinds of stories under the umbrella of romance do wonders for the accusations that the genre is ‘formulaic?’

    And I think you might be pulling my leg about the FTC thing, but if not… you’d have a hard time proving by the FTC or anyone else that there is any kind of “violation” going on and because, unlike laws for, say, food packaging, where there are very definitive laws that what is on the label must be what is in the package (i.e. no wheat unless it says, and warn us if there are peanuts, etc.), there is no law requiring certain things to be defined as romances or not. And there is no definition of romance — especially since people could argue that current “romance” is an issue of usage, and one definition of the novel as a whole, being “a new romance” in the tradition of the chansons de geste and other narrative fiction. Traditionally, ALL novels are romances.

    I for one am very pleased that more and more types of love stories are being included on the romance shelves. Of course, I love to see two people living HEA, but it definitely spices up the reading to think of the possibility that they might not.

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  2. Jane
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 08:30:23

    I am not joking about the FTC. A false statement can be false on its face or implicitly false and alot of the falsity depends upon consumer expectation. Further, by its own admission, Kensington is stating its advertising is false. By its own definitions, Kensington is engaged in false advertising (not using anyone elses). Look at the quotes:

    Aphrodisia is actually erotica, not romance. They are called erotic romance for the booksellers.

    Further books are subject to the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act which is commonly understood to empower the FDA in the labeling of food, but also applies to all non exempt consumer goods. Books are not exempt.

    As for definitions of romance being formulaic, of course its formulaic. Virtually all pulp fiction is (and maybe even literary fiction). Its not to say that the romance genre isn’t varied and deep but to ignore that it is formulaic is to be an ostrich.

    The examples you cited are not romance books. They may be romantic but they are not romances. I highly doubt the romance genre would be a billion dollar industry if all of the books ended like Casablanca or Gone with the Wind.

    As for changing expectations, sorry. I don’t want to read a bunch of stories with sad and depressing endings or endings which feature a couple that may or may not get together or even worse, a couple which is together in one book and then not together in the next. I invest my time and emotion on these characters and when their committment is not forever, I generally regret the time I spent with the authors’ books.

    If an author dislikes the “formula” of romance, don’t label yourself as a romance author. Don’t try to take advantage of the promises that other romance authors spent years fulfilling. The only reason why non romance authors want to be in the romance section is for the purposes of sales – getting that spendy romance reader to look and hopefully buy those books. Otherwise, why should a non romance author be concerned about what romance really is?

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  3. Diana
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 10:37:49

    The examples you cited are not romance books. They may be romantic but they are not romances.

    *You* think they aren’t romances. *I* do. Who decides? Who gets to vote? There are authors that insist that their books aren’t romances, who refuse to let even reviews of their book mention the word romance, and who, by your definition of romance, would not be considered romance novelists, and are still regarded by readers on the street as famous (if not the most famous) romance novelists, and shelved in romance. How about the people who claim to “never read romance” (no matter what it says on the spine) because to them, “romance” means that Fabio is on the cover ripping some poor girl’s bodice off. (this reader said her favorite author was nora roberts.) how’s that for consumer expectations? I don’t think there is a clear cut definition. I don’t think there ARE reader expectations. I read 5 romances — “romance” on the spine, happily ever after, several were even harlequin category romances — this month. I’d say I was a pretty avid reader. And my definition differs from yours, which differs from Danielle Steele fans, which differs from the lady reading Nora Roberts and insisting it’s not a romance. Whereas saying something does or does not have wheat gluten or Vitamin B in it or lower fat count than others of it’s type is something where you can set scientific limits and say you’ve met them. I do not understand what the requirements would be to define expectation, but I don’t know that you’ve got them in them in romance.

    Also, I think the line you say is proof of false advertising about “Aphrodisia being erotica, not romance” is being misinterpreted, if not fully taken out of context. Keep in mind that the quoted statement meant for AUTHORS, and so has a completely different audience. The storyline of a romance has a decided beginning, middle, and end which is not necessarily an important structural point for the reader. (An example would be the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which is structured EXACTLY like a romance, and is in fact a romance but was marketed as an action movie.) As a writer, I interpret these words as a statement about structure, maent as a jargon discussion among industry professionals and not necessarily about marketing. The focus of the line is not romance, but erotica. But there are many different types of erotica stories — erotica that IS romance, and erotica that is NOT romance. Just like there are science fiction stories that are romance and SF that are not romance — even by the more limited definition you presented here.

    And what of these “oftentime?” What of the books on Aphrodisia’s list that are indeed romance? One of these authors, who most certainly writes romance, says that her books are shelved in erotica in Canada, where they are more likely to have “erotica” sections of the bookstore, and romance in the USA. I’ve heard many an Is it possible that Kensington, rather than being sneaky, is actually responding to booksellers demand to describe according to “best fit?” And best fit, considering the many books within the line which ARE romance, is romance.

    I am reminded of a conversation I had with my editor when I got my LOC categories, one of which was “Greek letter societies.” You MUST pick a certain number of categories. This was the closest match they could find to my book about secret societies.

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  4. May
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 10:47:48

    Personally, I don’t care but I do understand why some feel that Aphrodisia shouldn’t be labelled erotic romance.

    One thing I don’t get: Why is a romance without a HEA automatically considered sad and depressing?

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  5. Sybil
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 11:20:22

    The whole lets redefine what a ‘romance’ novel is so this fits thing I will get to later… because tradition isn’t what we are talking about here.

    Romance is a genre. It HAS to have a HEA to be a Romance.

    As soon as you explain to me how a mystery can have no mystery and still be a Mystery novel. I will buy a romance doesn’t have to have a HEA. But like I said more on that later…

    First my question is – Are you sure about Avon Red? If so I totally misunderstood. From what I read, they are calling themselves Erotica. The only book I own is an ARC so I can’t go off that.

    What has Avon Red said to the book sellers?

    I know I googled about trying to see one way or the other. I came away with they are doing the flip of Aphrodisia. Saying they are Erotica and including erotic romance. And from what I have heard about Swept Away (which I haven’t read) books that would be better classified as steamy romances a la brava than erotica.

    Second question: Did you email any of the lines to get their take on this? Or are you just flying off the cuff and aiming at the readers since that is what this blog speaks too? I would be interested to know if they answered if you did. Or why you didn’t, if you did not.

    off to google more… ;)

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  6. Jane
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 11:28:25

    Syb – according to Bookseller Jolie, all the books by Avon Red are classified as romances for shelving purposes.

    I am emailing and sending snail mail letters today. (I wrote this article last night at 11 pm and didn’t have the energy to compose something else I probably would have included the letter as a download.

    As for romances without an HEA? Isn’t the HEA what defines romance? I think that the only reason why authors/publishers of books without an HEA want to be put in the romance section is because so many buyers are there.

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  7. Sybil
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 11:45:40

    You should email the letter as well as send it. LOL not that you asked me ;)

    But I can guess they rec shit loads of mail (as well as email) and it is possible you could sit on someones desk forever and evah. Of course you could get spammed, deleted or sit in someones in box for ever and evah.

    BUT I think each line should have a chance to have their say… at the same time I am sure emails will go to editors from authors anyway but still.

    LOL just my .02 not that you asked ;) Bookseller Jolie was your guest blogger right? If so Thanks Jolie! And can jane send me your email addy ::bats eyes::?

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  8. Tara Marie
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 12:09:02

    I don’t think a story has to have an HEA to be a romance.

    There’s a difference between a romance and a love story. Casablanca is a love story not a romance. The romance “formula” includes a HEA, love stories don’t have to have a HEA, but obviously do need to be romantic.

    I had to comment on that before commenting on your post–LOL.

    I don’t know that any of this really matters, it’s understandable that publishers are looking to cash in on the erotic romance market. I don’t think publishers realize that pushing the erotic envelope for romance readers has as much to do with the HEA as hot sex. I agree that there is a small level of dishonesty in marketing something as romance that isn’t. But, I think we need to wait and see where these lines are going over the next couple of years. Die hard romance readers once burned will steer clear of a line that isn’t romance. Given time, the publishers or romance readers will be proven right.

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  9. Janine
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 12:46:11

    [quote comment="4096"]One thing I don’t get: Why is a romance without a HEA automatically considered sad and depressing?[/quote]

    May, I don’t think it’s automatically considered sad and depressing, but at the same time, without a HEA, there’s a higher chance that it may leave some readers depressed.

    There are many readers who go to the romance section of the bookstore in large part because they know the books there are guaranteed to have a happy ending. If they pick up a book expecting a happy ending but then don’t find one, some might become more hesitant to pick up another book that calls itself a romance. So this could potentially hurt the sales of the romance authors who do write books that end in HEAs.

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  10. Nora Roberts
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 12:57:15

    While I’d use the term framework rather than formula, I agree with Tara Marie. Casablanca is a love story, not a romance. We’re talking marketing and advertisement, genre expectations, not readers’ feelings toward a book or story.

    Wuthering Heights=Love Story
    Jane Eyre=Romance

    Without the HEA, it’s not Romance. It may be wonderfully romantic, but it’s not Romance.

    The reader selecting Anna Karrinina, assuming due to shelving or publisher hype, that they’re buying a Romance novel is going to be pretty damn pissed when the heroine throws herself in front of that train. But she’s likely to be very happy at the end of Pride and Prejudice and Darcy and Elizabeth head off to their HEA.

    Someone reading one of my books may very well insist–for whatever reason–it’s not a Romance. That’s fine, it’s their book, and their choice what they prefer to call it. But a publisher has to respect the buyer and reader expectation of any type of genre in their promotions. And the author has to play square, too.

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  11. Sybil
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 13:14:00

    I completely agree with what you had to say tara except when you said it doesn’t matter.

    You nail the whole thing here

    Die hard romance readers once burned will steer clear of a line that isn’t romance.

    It is lose/lose for the reader and the author if the publisher isn’t marketing the books correctly.

    I think it is Nora Roberts that keeps pointing out the online fan is not the norm (I agree). We will know out of these 20 books with ‘erotic romance line abc ‘: bookx, bookk, booke and booky are erotic and to only buy or read them if that is what we want. The general romance fan who doesn’t go online, doesn’t read blogs, doesn’t check out reviews but just walks into the book store and heads to the romance section will be the one getting screwed.

    As will the authors of the other 16 books in ‘erotic romance line abc ‘ who are really really writing erotic romance. Lets face it, not all of these lines will make money or be here in a year. Not all of these authors will have contracts in a year. I would hope the lines that go under and the authors that fade to black, do so because the books are bad. Not because the publisher set them up to fail.

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  12. Janine B
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 13:18:46

    I’m with Jane on this one.

    Dr. Zhivago and Wuthering Heights, while romantic, are NOT the type of books I’m looking for when I browse the romance section of the bookstore. I’m also not looking for Debbie Does Dallas in print. As a romance reader, I want that committed relationship along with that HEA. If I don’t get it from a line, I won’t purchase from that line again unless I recognize the author and know what that individual author delivers.

    False advertising by being put in the romance section? Damn right it is. File those Fiction or Erotica.

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  13. Tara Marie
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 13:37:07

    Framework much better than formula.

    Sybil,

    It is lose/lose for the reader and the author if the publisher isn’t marketing the books correctly.

    I agree it does matter, but you’re not going to convice the marketing teams of large publishers that they’re not right until it shows up in the bottom line.

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  14. Diana
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 13:45:22

    I guess I’m missing when we decided to differentiate between “love story” and “romance.” What is a romance, if not a love story?

    Is that a marketing term, like all of a sudden deciding to call things ‘erotic romances” because the love scenes are on the spicy side? (I read a lot of 80s historicals, and I’m not seeing much spicier than that in “erotic romance” lines like Brava.) I know Nicholas Sparks likes to call his books “love stories” but I always thought that was because he wanted to distance himself as much as possible from the taint of “romance.”

    I’m not trying to snark; I’m honestly curious. The definition I think is being advocated by many of the posters is: a “romance” is a love story with a HEA ending, and a “love story” is a romance with an unhappy ending. Am I correct?

    It seems very confusing, and open to so much interpretation. Though I can understand this marketing term, I don’t think that the majority of readers would make this distinction. Certainly not the legions of Danielle Steele readers.

    As Michelle was saying in her RTB post the other day about needing an EXPLICIT statement of HEA — marriage or engagement or somesuch. I always got the idea in GWTW that Scarlet would indeed get Rhett back…tomorrow. So where would the line be drawn? It’s the same argument that can be brought against other efforts to “define romance” (say, by RWA). Many RWA members say that super sexy romances (not erotica, ROMANCES) are not romances because all that sex is “not romantic.” Friends who write Blazes have received “Not a romance” markings on their RITA scoresheets. The argument most often put forth during the RWA definition debates was that it’s the market which chooses what is a romance. In this case, the publishers are choosing to call a certain line of erotica romance.

    Sybil said:
    As soon as you explain to me how a mystery can have no mystery and still be a Mystery novel. I will buy a romance doesn’t have to have a HEA.

    In the same way that a mystery is a mystery because of the mystery, a romance is a romance because it has a romance. Nothing to do with HEA.

    I can certainly understand particular publishers talking about what THEIR requirements are (say, “the harlequin promise” of one man, one woman and a happy ending), but I don’t know if there is that expectation — not universally. Many of Danielle Steel’s novels (which are shelved in romance) do not end with anything like what I’d consider an HEA, and the author herself does not call them romances, but the readers do, and they look for her books there. They must not be part of the population that goes to the romance section of a bookstore looking for the HEA. I can imagine this population being upset, however.

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  15. Jane
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 13:57:14

    [quote comment="4107"]I guess I’m missing when we decided to differentiate between “love story” and “romance.” What is a romance, if not a love story?[/quote]

    Since forever. I am a romance reader. I expect an HEA. If it does not have an HEA, it is not a romance. That’s it. The discussion stops there for me. And for THOUSANDS of other romance readers. Diana, with all due respect, it doesn’t sound like you have spoken with many romance readers. Go to the bookstore. Stand in the romance aisle. Ask the buyers there: would it be a romance without a HEA?

    The average romance reader. The ones that comprise the majority of the billion dollars spent each year. They want an HEA. Not only do they want an HEA, but they want the sappy epilogue showing the two married with children. Why else are the epilogues so popular. Even online readers bought the second epilogues by Julia Quinn in such great numbers that they were online bestsellers for weeks.

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  16. Nora Roberts
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 14:17:32

    I’ve been writing in the Romance genre for over 25 years. Part of the genre’s reader expectations, and therefore an essential part of its framework is the HEA. They’re not called Love Story Novels, but Romance Novels, and their framework is different from a love story.

    Danielle Steel doesn’t write Romance novels, she writes Women’s Fiction, which may contain romance elements, of course.

    Labels might be annoying on some level–I get that–but for the purposes of defining the basic elements expected, even required, in genre fiction, they’re essential.

    Romance is, basically, a love story with sexual tension, conflict, emotional committment and a happy ending. You can do a lot with that framework, twist it, turn it, build on it, blend in other elements from other areas of fiction. But if you leave any portion of it out, you’re not going to have a Romance.

    Speaking as a reader and a writer, if I picked up a book billed as Romance, and the h/h pull a Romeo and Juliet at the end, I’m going to be seriously pissed. Even if they just walk away from each other at the end, thinking, meh, I can do better down the road, I’m pissed.

    I picked up Romance. I damn well want my lovers in love and together at the end of the page.

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  17. Sybil
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 14:25:36

    I guess I’m missing when we decided to differentiate between “love story” and “romance.” What is a romance, if not a love story?

    ::blink::

    I could be wrong but I don’t think this is a new idea. Or that the genre is something new.

    RWA explains it this way. Guess they could be wrong too.

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  18. Sybil
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 14:29:20

    [quote comment="4107"] Many of Danielle Steel’s novels (which are shelved in romance) do not end with anything like what I’d consider an HEA, and the author herself does not call them romances, but the readers do, and they look for her books there. They must not be part of the population that goes to the romance section of a bookstore looking for the HEA. I can imagine this population being upset, however.[/quote]

    Danielle Steel doesn’t write romance she writes women’s fiction… And I totally agree she shouldn’t be in the romance section.

    In many book stores she isn’t. Not sure why she is in some of course I have no clue what her publisher labels her. Do they say Romance?

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  19. Janine B
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 14:48:00

    Speaking of Danielle Steele… You are right, she should NOT be in the romance section. I was burned by her. I picked up Palomino YEARS ago… and was absolutely horrified by the ending! Her I was expecting a wonderful HEA, and got a paralyzed heroine. It was depressing and not what I was looking for. Did I ever buy her book again? Nope. It was actually the book that made me be much more cautious in trying a new author.

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  20. Sylvia Day
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 15:01:16

    Due to a well-meaning soul sending me a link to this blog and post, I find myself posting a response to this. Now, I’m not aware of all the advertising done by HarperCollins for their Red imprint (which publishes a few of my novels), but I can say as the owner of all three presently released Avon Red titles that nowhere on the book is it called a “romance”. Not on the spine or anywhere else. Just above the ISBN on the back cover they are labeled simply “fiction”.

    On the HarperCollins website it says:

    In today’s marketplace, Erotica is one of the fastest-growing segments of women’s fiction. Avon Red is committed to providing the best, most sophisticated erotic fiction available in the industry, written by the most talented authors. With our striking cover designs and steamy narratives, Avon Red is in a class by itself.

    In their “spotlight” at the RWA Conference they specified that they want romance submissions for the Red imprint, but they aren’t marketing the imprint as romance as far as I have seen. Like I said, I may have missed something somewhere.

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  21. Jane
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 15:12:52

    Ms. Day – Avon Red is not advertising itself as romance but it categorizes itself as romance for bookshelving purposes. If the line is not a romance, it probably should be categorized as fiction. So your books, if not romance, should be shelved next to Davies, Robertson instead of Dain, Claudia.

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  22. Bev (BB)
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 15:13:22

    In the same way that a mystery is a mystery because of the mystery, a romance is a romance because it has a romance. Nothing to do with HEA.

    So, let’s see. That means that a detective can get away with not solving case after case and still make the best sellers list?

    Hehehe. Yeah, right.

    Hey, Ms. Roberts, what would happen if you tried to get an In Death book where Eve Dalla doesn’t catch the bad guy past your editors time and again? Not just once but more than once?

    I mean really, people love Eve and Roark’s relationship but I seriously doubt they’d overlook the baddies getting away time and again just to see those two cuddle. ;p

    See, we’re not talking about individual cases here. Sure, an individual love story with an open ending to the relationship can be considered a romance in the cosmic sense just like an unsolved case can be considered a mystery but will that “formula” sell over and over again like the tried and true HEA one does?

    Not likely. Sorry.

    Tara’s right, too, in that mislabeling will only work until it doesn’t and then they won’t do it.

    And what if it does work? What if they do manage to sell the books and people are happy with them? Does anyone here really expect reader expectations about romance having a HEA to change all that drastically?

    That wasn’t rhetorical. I’m really curious as to how deeply ingrained the rest of you believe the need for this HEA is in devoted romance readers. Personally, I believe it’s pretty ingrained. Maybe it should be and maybe it shouldn’t. I don’t know. I just what I expect and I also know that there are other readers out there who aren’t on the Internet who are even more insistent on that HEA than I am. So, yeah, I believe the market will take care of the problem itself. Eventually, the readers will find the books they want whether those books are labeled romance or not by the publishers.

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  23. Jane
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 15:15:21

    My fear for those authors who have sold to the aforementioned lines who are mixing HEAs with non HEAs will be that those lines will go the way of Bombshell. I hear that Next and possibly Luna are also on the chopping block.

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  24. Janine B
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 15:28:35

    Ms. Day, I have yet to read a book of yours that doesn’t have an HEA! Thank goodness! (And please, don’t anyone point one out to me that I missed as a non-HEA, it would surely break my heart.) So you count as author name recognition for me… I would purchase your book no matter what line it came from… Unless it lost the HEA. ;)

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  25. Bev (BB)
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 15:41:42

    [quote comment="4117"]My fear for those authors who have sold to the aforementioned lines who are mixing HEAs with non HEAs will be that those lines will go the way of Bombshell. I hear that Next and possibly Luna are also on the chopping block.[/quote]

    So, every single experiment, er, line that’s ever been started is supposed to succeed? And every single author that’s ever been published is supposed to continue to be published?

    Yeah, I know that comes off as way sarcastic but I’m not sure I don’t mean it that way to some extent. Primarily because I’m not sure we can gripe about a decrease in quality overall and worry about everything continuing ad nauseum at the same time. The two tend to play against the other. There are limits and it may be a form of unnatural selection but sometimes bright ideas just don’t work.

    And sometimes they do.

    Have there been years when I couldn’t find something I really liked on the romance shelves? Well, yeah. But you know what? Other years I found more that I could read in a lifetime.

    I can also remember when there weren’t even romance shelves . . . there were “those” books hidden amongst all the others that everyone knew about but no one wanted to admit what was actually in them. They were sometimes called romantic suspense, sometimes mysteries, occasionally even fantasy and mostly just plain fiction, but they were romances, plain and simple. So, mislabeling on the shelves has been around forever and will continue to be around.

    I can’t help but find it ironic that something is now hiding behind the romance label. Have we come a long way or what? ;p

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  26. Jolie
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 15:55:07

    There is one very important point to this discussion — especially for me as a bookseller. Reader expectation. As Nora said, it’s all about a reader’s expectation of reading a romance novel — where the HEA is perceived to be a guarantee.

    It’s important because without its distinction booksellers would have no idea where to shelve the books. Certainly fans of Nicolas Sparks may enjoy the romances written by Nora, but again, expectation comes to mind. With Nora, we expect the HEA — without it, we’ll be sending her emails screaming with disappointment!

    In your local bookstore chances are there is a separate section (apart from Fiction) labeled Romance. When a customer is shopping that section they expect ANYthing they pick up will end with “an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending” (From the RWA National website quoted earlier by Sybil.)

    This means for ME, the bookseller, that I have to be sure a book is a story that contains an HEA. I CAN’T tell you how many romance novel buyers who would have my head on a platter if I tried to sell them something that didn’t give them that HEA that they’re expecting.

    Expectation.

    I see it as VERY important part of my job. If I don’t place the RIGHT book into the RIGHT hands, how will the customer trust me to suggest something again?

    Since this particular blog is about ‘false promises,’ you have to ask what expectation the reader has when picking up one of the erotic novels from the romance section of the bookstore.

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  27. Jolie
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 16:24:11

    [quote comment="4114"]but I can say as the owner of all three presently released Avon Red titles that nowhere on the book is it called a “romance”. Not on the spine or anywhere else. Just above the ISBN on the back cover they are labeled simply “fiction”.

    In their “spotlight” at the RWA Conference they specified that they want romance submissions for the Red imprint, but they aren’t marketing the imprint as romance as far as I have seen. Like I said, I may have missed something somewhere.[/quote]

    I absolutely agree with you! I have received ARCs from Avon Red, they are indeed categorized on the marketing plan as Fiction/Erotica. But they will be shelved in romance because Harper Collins is selling them to the corporate romance buyers and not to the popular or literary fiction buyers (and certainly not to the relationship buyers who purchase Penthouse Letters)!

    This is the central issue that Jane is addressing. As I said in my previous post it comes down to reader expectation.

    Out of curiosity, would you rather see your Avon Red titles with your Bravas in the romance section or shelved in the relationships section right before -said- Penthouse Letters XIII?

    Seriously, all I want to do is get the — Sylvia Day Bravas and Avon Reds — into the hands of readers — romance readers. What I don’t want to see is someone who has never read a Sylvia Day, but who reads reads erotic romance, MISS OUT on your Avon Red titles simply because that reader had been burned by the previous Avon Red by not getting the HEA they were looking for!

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  28. Rosie
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 17:01:53

    Jolie is bang on as far as I’m concerned. It is alot about a reader’s expectations. I buy between 20 to 30 books a month most of them new. While they cover a wide range of topics and genres I get the most put out when I feel like I was tricked by the book promotion. Sometimes it isn’t JUST the labeling, or the shelving, sometimes it’s the blurb on the back.

    There is absolutely an expectation if the book is in the Romance section for their to be an HEA. It’s not that I don’t read erotica, I do. It’s not that I don’t read chick lit, I do. I just don’t want them in the section where I expect to find a book about a love story between two people who have an HEA. Buying a romance novel shouldn’t be so much work, but I do it because while I have a generous book budget, I don’t want to waste it on a book that will not be finished or thrown away.

    The end result of feeling tricked by shelving, labeling or the book blurb is that the author probably doesn’t get another chance at my purchase dollars, not just the line s/he writes for.

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  29. Diana
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 17:09:47

    I’ve talked to lots of romance readers. I’ve spoken to ones who don’t think they are romance readers (the Nora Roberts fan who says it’s only a romance if there’s fabio on the cover) and the many, many many people who say that Danielle Steele is the most famous romance novelist. I have been a member of RWA for going on five years, and a romance reader for five more than that. And I think it’s important to make the viewpoint that this is not agreed upon by all.

    Danielle Steele is shelved in romance because that’s where her readers EXPECT her to be. Her publisher certianly doesn’t push that (We have the same publisher, and the same editorial team). (And look at the example of the battle between Diana Gabaldon and Barnes & Noble for how long it might take for people to pay attention, or RDI and Waldenbooks — in both cases, they didn’t want to be shelved in romance) I’ve written extensively about romance writers and readers, in college and for my old newspaper. And it was in doing this that I learned that the RWR view is not necessarily the view of people who go to the romance section of bookstores.

    I am not saying that many readers — especially the internet and market-savvy ones who have been reading up on the RWA definitions do not have the expectation of the HEA. Indeed, janice Radway’s study shows that a majority of readers surveyed find the happy ending to be indispensible. For them, as for Jane, the discussion stops there. But in that same study, the bookseller subject says that she recommends many novels to her clients that are not like that (she calls them “misclassified”), because most readers are as interested in the DEVELOPMENT of the love between the hero and heroine.

    But I don’t thinkthe conversation CAN stop there. I’m still trying to figure out how “love story” is differentiated from “romance.” They may not be called “love story novels” but is this a matter of marketing industry jargon or actual “definition” that the person on the street grasps? I think it’s more likely that a person on the street would say that something called a “romance” is “bad” and something called anythighing else, regardless of ending, is something else.

    I understand what a romance is in the RWA and market terms (which is why I would never call my book a romance) but then again, I have been in RWA. I think most of the people who come to a romance reader site like this one and quote RWA and Book industry websites have a more in-depth understanding of industry definitions of genre.

    To take it out of the romance for a moment , most people would probably classify Star Wars as “science fiction,” because it’s in outer space, though people with an in-depth knowledge of SFF genre know that it’s actually a space-set fantasy and someone who was seriously versed in genre differences would be pissed if they were introduced to Star Wars as “the greatest sci-fi epic.” And yet, TV guide is going to call it sci-fi, and it will be shelved in sci-fi in the video store, because that is where people are going to go to look.

    I’m just saying that there are a lot of readers (many more than thousands, for sure) who, in defining books like Danielle’s as romance, clearly have a different view. If they are used to reading the books in the romance section of their bookstore, then their expectation of what a romance has in it are not necessarily in keeping with accusations of false advertising. Which was why I made this point to start with.

    Should this be the case? I’m RWA-trained enough to say i like my HEA in my romance, but I know that there are plenty of people who don’t — enough, perhaps to mount an argument that it’s not fraud. I don’t want to dominate the discussion, and I seem to be the lone detractor on this board. (Which makes sense, because I’m talking about a group that is unlikely to use the internet. for their reading discussions. I recall the harlequin company talking about how they got a very different response on their surveys online than they did from their sales figures.) So no more on my dissenting view. :-)

    Great discussion, Jane!

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  30. Diana
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 17:17:00

    Oops, My editor has reminded me that it’s DANIELLE STEEL.

    (She totally caught me not working on my revisions.)

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  31. Sybil
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 17:17:20

    [quote comment="4119"]So, every single experiment, er, line that’s ever been started is supposed to succeed? And every single author that’s ever been published is supposed to continue to be published?[/quote]

    I agree with you bev but I would rather they fail because they suck not because the authors were passed over.

    Or that when the lines fail, the good authors in that bunch aren’t lost. There will still be some because that is just how it goes.

    And I agree we can talk about it forever and it won’t change a thing until the money comes in (or doesn’t).

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  32. Joy
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 17:25:48

    I was shocked to discover that Black Lace is now publishing books with “romance covers” and they are shelved in the romance section (at least in Borders as of yesterday; the black covers are still in the sexuality section – I checked ). Much like the Cheek re-issues of Black Lace novels, if you don’t know what Black Lace is, you may get a book very different from what you were expecting.

    I read genre books because I know what I am getting. I’m more likely to get a Romance, or Mystery, or Romantic Suspense (which may be dual-shelved mystery and romance) than Fiction because I know what type or story I’m getting. The HEA for Romance is important to me because even if the characters make me cry it the middle, I know they will be happy at the end.

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  33. Sybil
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 17:26:47

    [quote comment="4113"]Speaking of Danielle Steele… You are right, she should NOT be in the romance section.[/quote]

    well I guess it depends on the store and site… amazon doesn’t have her linked with romance and Barnes and Nobles should have on the shelves in fiction…

    Not sure about Borders but I don’t know anyone in their corp office to email and ask ;). I know I see her in both fiction and romance at Half Price Books.

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  34. Angiew
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 17:28:42

    I don’t want to enter into this debate because I’ve already debated it extensively, lol, but I want to know WHY in all the other blog posts about this, I’m the only one to get admonishing email from Kensington?

    And I think Diana’s editor should tell us what she thinks since she’s lurking and correcting Diana’s typos *grin*

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  35. DS
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 17:39:53

    Gotta say something. I’m not a die-hard HEA reader. Sometimes an HEA is right, sometimes it isn’t.

    But I have this fabulous vision of the bureaucrats at FTC being asked to define romance. They are better off doing what they are supposed to be doing, protecting consumers from dangerous and fraudulently mislabeled merchandise. They also deal with anti-trust and competition matters and the Federal Data Quality Act.

    This HEA stuff is something that gets argued about a lot on line but doesn’t mean anything in the regulatory world.

    Sorry, not tryiing to be snarky, but this is a tad over the top.

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  36. Sybil
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 17:49:28

    [quote comment="4114"]In their “spotlight” at the RWA Conference they specified that they want romance submissions for the Red imprint, but they aren’t marketing the imprint as romance as far as I have seen. Like I said, I may have missed something somewhere.[/quote]

    Do you have a link for that anywhere (a rwa write up on red) I so thought I had read they didn’t have to have HEA but I can’t find it now!

    Well it is the same at B&N as with bookseller Jolie, they are coming over as ‘romance’ and being put in the romance section. Thanks goes to J for not only looking it up in the computer but getting off her butt and going to the floor to look up books and placements for her me *g*.

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  37. Keishon
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 18:18:23

    Books without HEA’s shouldn’t be shelved in romance. What’s the point in labels if we can’t depend on them? I use them as guides but if publishers are misusing these labels (fiction, romance, erotica, romantica) to trick readers into buying into something that’s false – then readers need be more vocal in their dissent of this practice. It’s all about reader’s expectations. When you label a book “romance” I expect to have a HEA. Period.

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  38. Sylvia Day
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 18:23:34

    Unless it lost the HEA.

    Janine,

    No worries there! :) I’m a romance author. I write about one man having hot vanilla sex with one woman, and making a commitment to be together at the end.

    I was hoping my existing readers would know what to expect from a book with my name on it, regardless of what imprint it’s published under. Because of this, I’m very relieved to hear your comments. Thank you!

    ******

    Out of curiosity, would you rather see your Avon Red titles with your Bravas in the romance section or shelved in the relationships section right before -said- Penthouse Letters XIII?

    Jolie,

    Certainly, I would prefer my Reds to share shelf space with my Bravas (and upcoming mm Zebras). Regardless of the imprint or setting, I’m writing the same stories for everyone — one guy with one girl falling in love and having hot sex. The different imprints simply distinguish the various sub-genres — historical, paranormal, futuristic, contemporary. They don’t reflect the sexual content or a lack of HEA. I write all over the map. I can’t guarantee a setting or a sub-genre, but I can guarantee that you’ll get an erotic romance.

    Seriously, all I want to do is get the — Sylvia Day Bravas and Avon Reds — into the hands of readers — romance readers. What I don’t want to see is someone who has never read a Sylvia Day, but who reads reads erotic romance, MISS OUT on your Avon Red titles simply because that reader had been burned by the previous Avon Red by not getting the HEA they were looking for!

    Bless you! I’m hugely grateful. :)

    ******

    Do you have a link for that anywhere (a rwa write up on red)

    Sybil,

    Here’s from Cynthia Sterling’s Market News:

    May Chen spoke about the Avon Red program. Avon Red publishes one erotic romance each month in trade paper. They’re looking for romance-driven erotica with a strong emotional under-current. Books may be historical in any time period, contemporary, paranormal, fantasy, urban fiction and either short stories or full-length novels. 25,000 – 40,000 words for short stories, 80,000-90,000 words for novels.

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  39. Jolie
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 18:58:32

    Thank YOU, Kate Duffy!!! (And therefore, Sylvia Day because I found this on her site!)

    “Erotic romance is sexual love and desire combined with deep emotional commitment. It is not erotica. It is, first and foremost, romance, exemplified by its sexual expression." ~ Kate Duffy – Editorial Director, Kensington Publishing Corp. (http://www.sylviaday.com/books/)

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  40. Alison Kent
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 19:52:24

    [quote comment="4133"] When you label a book “romance” I expect to have a HEA. Period.[/quote]

    Exactly. “You” expect it to. But not every buyer who shops in the romance section does, which is Diana’s point. As a romance reader, I only need an ending with promise; I don’t need to see a commitment, a wedding, a proposal or any of that. “The possibilities” is my version of an HEA, but it’s not going to be everyone’s.

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  41. Keishon
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 20:11:21

    “You" expect it to. But not every buyer who shops in the romance section does, which is Diana’s point.

    Oh, sorry for the repetition. Just got in from work and didn’t read all the responses.

    Re your response: Fair enough and true enough for me these days because some of these romances have these “quickie romances” that don’t warrant more than a “promise” of something more between a committed couple. I don’t need the baby, the baby shower, just a commitment of a relationship at the end. Each reader has their own expectation of what comprises the HEA and I’ll concede that I don’t always look for the wedding bells either.

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  42. Jane
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 20:12:08

    It’s obvious to me that being categorized as a romance is important. Why? Because of the dollars spent on romances. Those same dollars aren’t being spent on Penthouse Letters, chick lit, women’s fiction, mystery, science fiction, or fantasy books. It’s romance that comprise a huge majority of the mass markets sold today. That account for over $1 billion in sales.

    So what is it about romance that people are buying? Two people falling in love and living HEA. It seems so simple to me. Don’t want to write that kind of story? Want to write about two people meeting and deciding they aren’t for each other? Great. But don’t label it a romance. Why would you even want the romance label?

    It makes no sense to me. But you know, authors lobby to have your books included in the romance section without the HEA. In the end, the authors will only hurt themselves and other romance authors when sales decline. Like Tara Marie said, the market will tell.

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  43. Janine
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 20:22:57

    I wonder if we’re even all talking about the same thing when we say the word HEA. For me, a HEA doesn’t have to mean marriage and babies, but it does mean the romantic relationship will continue. A book that ends with a breakup is not a romance to my mind. Maybe it is to someone else, but I think romance readers who feel that way are in the minority.

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  44. Jane
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 20:29:04

    Janine – I think that it is true that HEA can mean different things but it is not Casablanca or Gone With the Wind or Wuthering Heights. It is not boy meets girl. Boy and girl develop a strong relationship. Boy and girl go separate ways but are better for it.

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  45. Kristie(J)
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 20:48:44

    I’m probably doing this backwards – I haven’t read all of the responses because I just got in but something I read early on in the discussion

    “As for romances without an HEA? Isn’t the HEA what defines romance?”

    says it all. For me it doesn’t have to be marriage and the baby, but it does have to be a definite commitment with marriage at least discussed. I think the lack of the HEA is one of the contributors to the death of the Harlequin Bombshell line. And with Aphrodisia not promising tha required HEA – I do think it’s false advertising. I can’t remember seeing any of them in the stores around here – but I did notice that the Avon Red line is being shelved in the erotica section.
    Of course the publishers are going to want to shelve their books in the romance section – that’s where the money is. But that doesn’t make it right to mislead the fans of romance who expect that HEA.

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  46. Sybil
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 20:54:16

    Old at the back fence… that touches on HEA
    Mary Gillgannon and Dana Ransom both went on to write under different names after their non HEA books but Sandra Brown seems to have survived killing off someone in a later book.

    As everything online has been done before:
    HEA reader and author response part I

    part II

    part III

    It makes for interesting reading if nothing else. To me though, the point here isn’t WHAT is a HEA. But trying to sell a book as a romance novel when it isn’t one.

    OR trying to sell something as erotica when it isn’t…

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  47. Rosie
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 20:56:20

    Danielle Steel hasn’t been in a Romance Section I’ve shopped in years.

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  48. Jane
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 21:07:16

    Oh, yes, the infamous Sandra Brown books: Another Dawn and Sunset Embrace. Here’s a book I never bought: Stephanie Laurens A Promise in a Kiss. I just didn’t want to read the love story between Sebastian and Helena knowing that Sebastian would cheat on Helena.

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  49. Tara Marie
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 21:43:25

    1. Another Dawn and Sunset Embrace… Two of my old favorites, but haven’t reread in years and years. I think I still have Another Dawn on my keeper shelf. I never had a problem with the killing off of the hero from SE, it’s 20 years later and he was an outlaw living on borrowed time, at least that’s my memory. It was sad, but not horrible.

    2.

    Stephanie Laurens A Promise in a Kiss. I just didn’t want to read the love story between Sebastian and Helena knowing that Sebastian would cheat on Helena.

    Sebastian cheats on Helena, that’s just not right.

    3. Non-romance readers think Danielle Steel is a romance author, romance readers know better.

    4. The degree of HEA doesn’t matter, but it’s not a romance without one, whether it a promise, a commitment, an engagement, or a marriage with 2 kids, a dog and cat it’s still a HEA.

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  50. Miki S
    Sep 25, 2006 @ 22:49:38

    Like almost everyone else here, I want my HEA if I buy a “romance”. I belong to more than a dozen romance email lists, and the consensus for all of them (when this issue is raised) is that an HEA is a must. In fact, usually when the issue is raised, I’m considered a bit of a “rebel”, because I’m willing to have an HEA that’s just a promise of the future, rather than pinning it down to marriage. And I think I could go forever without reading another baby epilogue ;-).

    For the person who commented why couldn’t a romance be okay without an HEA, I’d say that it’s like asking about the sound of one hand clapping. It doesn’t make logical sense. HEA has always been a part of the definition of romance, and believing or wanting it to be different doesn’t make it so.

    To me the question would be, why not allow for the difference between a “love story” and a “romance”?

    When I go to a Chinese restaurant, I’m not there to order lasagna (or even Thai or Indian food). I’m looking for Chinese. Maybe spicy, maybe sweet, maybe fried rice, maybe lo mein…but still Chinese.

    I have enjoyed love stories, but I picked them up knowing I wasn’t going to get a standard HEA (whether that HEA is demonstrated with marriage & babies, engagement, or just a commitment to give life as a couple a try). I read them with a box of tissues handy, because I tend to find “love stories” are often sad as well as sweet. I wouldn’t have given up “The Time-Traveler’s Wife” for anything – but I would have hated it if I’d picked it up to read a romance. It just would have been too depressing.

    And, to the point Dear Author is making, I would have felt lied to by the publisher if it had been labeled a romance.

    Will I write the lines she’s listed here? Nope. I’m burned out on erotic romance. I doubt I’ll be buying anything in those lines at all. I’m tired of the vulgar language used in erotic romance – even while I strongly enjoy the sexual openness. I just prefer not to be pulled out of the story by “shock” words. But that’s a different topic for another day.

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  51. Robin
    Sep 26, 2006 @ 01:06:58

    Okay, so here’s my question: if Romance — generically speaking — requires a HEA ending, why doesn’t the RWA just say it that way in its Romance definition? Why do they use the term “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending”? It’s not like they’ve been shy about setting clear boundaries. ;)

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  52. Robin
    Sep 26, 2006 @ 01:28:29

    Should this be the case? I’m RWA-trained enough to say i like my HEA in my romance, but I know that there are plenty of people who don’t — enough, perhaps to mount an argument that it’s not fraud.

    What I can’t stand is the trite, forced, or overdone/melodramatic HEA, and if a book doesn’t convince me that the couple are HEA, I’d rather the ending be much less insistent on that HEA. I can be “emotionally satisfied” with an ending that isn’t HEA if there’s a broader sense in which “all’s right with the world,” because those books that try to sell me an unconvincing HEA lessen my emotional satisfaction with those final pages and consequently, with the book as a whole. I actually think it takes a lot of talent and discipline and thought to write a compelling and believable HEA.

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  53. raine
    Sep 26, 2006 @ 02:37:26

    The “HEA” tag is debatable. I don’t necessarily need an ending with marriage, an epilogue with two or three kids, etc. A “happily right now” will do for me personally–but the hero and heroine must be happy and together if I buy it as a ‘romance’.
    An important point here is that the MAJORITY of romance readers EXPECT the HEA–not how many might or might not be open to alternative endings. And if this is what the majority expects, you’re talking about pissing off a lot of readers who will expect that duck to walk like a duck and quack.

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  54. Keishon
    Sep 26, 2006 @ 07:54:50

    I think as readers we all agree that HEA has to at least be defined as having the couple be together at the end and end happily – it can end with a promise of something more, or end with marriage or marriage with kids, etc. What we don’t want to see if someone killed off, two people who meet and decide to break up. Any of that falls under the lable of fiction to me. Under the “fiction” label I wouldn’t expect a HEA but it’s nice that almost 50% of them tack one on. Under Mystery, SF/F, Chick Lit, Erotica, Romantica –all of these labels come with expectations and if you f. with that – as readers we start to get pissed off. So what if you don’t want the wedding dress, at least have the couple together at the end and that end must have a happy ending. That’s romance to me. Period.

    Of course if you ask each reader what they mean by HEA – they’ll give you a million different answers but I betcha one thing won’t change in their answers: it must be a happy ending. Period. Define that as you will. And like Kristie J said, romance is defined by the HEA and publishers want to go around slapping their books that contain non-HEA with romance – guess what we’re gonna do with our wallets? Keep them closed and stick to a line or author who does write with a HEA as it has been defined for years and years. Why mess with this now?

    All in all (yes, I’m up early and this bothers me), this is a marketing issue, period. I clump it with the other instances of false advertising when authors were rewriting their books and publishers were renaming them and putting the original title somewhere in itty, bitty print. Making readers double and triple check copyright dates. It was annoying.

    Anyway, that’s all from me.

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  55. Keishon
    Sep 26, 2006 @ 08:05:26

    Tara Marie wrote:

    I never had a problem with the killing off of the hero from SE, it’s 20 years later and he was an outlaw living on borrowed time, at least that’s my memory. It was sad, but not horrible.

    I don’t think I’d have had a problem with that considering the situation. Maybe this was Brown’s first attempt at breaking away from the romance mold and stepping into a world where actions actually have consequences despite that it’s a “romance”. I haven’t read either of these books but I do own them. I’ll read them one day.

    To go slightly off topic a little bit: Another book that most romance readers read and most of us couldn’t accept the ending was The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. I remember I went crazy and had to be calmed down because of how it ended. It was horrible. It really bothered me but it was fiction, hey, so I had to accept it. However, the author, thank goodness, felt the need to continue their lovestory so I am glad that she eventually gave them a really good ending. I still have the third book, The Summer Garden, unread. I have to be in the mood to read her stuff as it is almost always depressing but captivating read nonetheless.

    Some fiction titles have some great romances in them so it’s tricky to read them and not know how they end up since they are not required to have a HEA. I will usually read the end for such books to make sure they are “together.”

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  56. Jami
    Sep 26, 2006 @ 12:28:45

    I’m curious as to how many Aphros the Ja(y)nes have actually read. I’ve read several, and they have all featured HEAs. Once Kensingt realized the marketing issues and reader disgruntlement they would face, they quickly amended the guidelines and strongly encouraged authors towards HEAs, whether that meant marriage, engagement, or an obvious monogamous committment.

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  57. Jane
    Sep 26, 2006 @ 12:32:09

    Jami – I have bought 8, read 6, and reviewed 4 of them.

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  58. Janine B
    Sep 26, 2006 @ 13:03:07

    Jami, where did Kensington change their guidelines? I haven’t seen it posted on their site. Can you give me a link?

    Thanks!!

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  59. May
    Sep 26, 2006 @ 13:06:42

    They’ve changed the guidelines? On their site they are calling Aphrodisia their erotica line, and Brava their erotic romance line.

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  60. Janine B
    Sep 26, 2006 @ 13:11:35

    On the RWA national website, each Aphrodisia book in the new release section is shown as Erotic Fiction.

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  61. Jami
    Sep 26, 2006 @ 15:45:32

    Well, aprhos are reviewed in RT as erotic romance, and from what I hear from the writers, editors are strongly encouraging their authors to resolve the stories in HEA.

    also, Chick Lit, which also doesn’t guarantee a romantic HEA, is also often shelved with romance. Is that also false advertising?

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  62. Jami
    Sep 26, 2006 @ 15:46:36

    Also, Aphrodisia is listed on the Kensington web site under Romance.

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  63. Janine B
    Sep 26, 2006 @ 16:40:34

    [quote comment="4172"]Chick Lit, which also doesn’t guarantee a romantic HEA, is also often shelved with romance. Is that also false advertising?[/quote]

    Yep, to me it is. :D

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  64. Jane
    Sep 26, 2006 @ 18:41:08

    I don’t see chick lit shelved with romances in my area. They are either in their own section or they are shelved with fiction. The only trades in the romance section are the erotica/erotic romance and the Bravas.

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  65. Janine
    Sep 26, 2006 @ 18:59:12

    [quote comment="4176"]I don’t see chick lit shelved with romances in my area. They are either in their own section or they are shelved with fiction. The only trades in the romance section are the erotica/erotic romance and the Bravas.[/quote]

    I think it depends on the store. My local Barnes and Noble shelves most chick lit with general fiction, but the Red Dress Ink books are shelved with romance.

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  66. Jolie
    Sep 26, 2006 @ 22:34:33

    [quote comment="4172"]Chick Lit, which also doesn’t guarantee a romantic HEA, is also often shelved with romance. Is that also false advertising?[/quote]

    Chick Lit for both BN and Borders/Waldenbooks are supposed to be shelved in Fiction. The reason you may see Red Dress Ink (which I’ve heard is no longer going to be printing) in romance is because it’s published by Harlequin, whose lines are 99% romance. (Yet another saga of let’s put it in romance because it *sorta* is!)

    Or it could be what we call managers preference. Meaning that a manager can change a companany’s directive if he/she feels that their market warrents it. For example, in my store we shelve romance in the front portion of the store because we sell so much of it. Whereas in other stores you may find the romance further back into the store.

    Oh and to answer your question, yes, marketing chick lit as romance is false advertising.

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  67. Janine
    Sep 27, 2006 @ 10:52:10

    [quote comment="4148"]What I can’t stand is the trite, forced, or overdone/melodramatic HEA, and if a book doesn’t convince me that the couple are HEA, I’d rather the ending be much less insistent on that HEA. I can be “emotionally satisfied” with an ending that isn’t HEA if there’s a broader sense in which “all’s right with the world,” because those books that try to sell me an unconvincing HEA lessen my emotional satisfaction with those final pages and consequently, with the book as a whole. I actually think it takes a lot of talent and discipline and thought to write a compelling and believable HEA.[/quote]

    I agree with all that you say above, Robin, but if the main focus of the book is the romantic relationship, can an ending in which the protagonists break up or one of them dies present a broader sense that “All’s right with the world”?

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  68. May
    Sep 27, 2006 @ 10:55:23

    [quote comment="4188"]
    I agree with all that you say above, Robin, but if the main focus of the book is the romantic relationship, can an ending in which the protagonists break up or one of them dies present a broader sense that “All’s right with the world”?[/quote]
    I’m inclined to say yes, but I am frankly prejudiced against the Must Have HEA POV.

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  69. Jane
    Sep 27, 2006 @ 11:33:57

    the thing is that a romance is defined by an HEA. The Time Traveler’s Wife or The Bronzed Horseman are not romances. They focus on the relationship. Not all is well with the world at the end of the story and they ar both glorious books but they aren’t romances.

    I think a reader, if asked, will say that she does not require a HEA in all books. But that is not the question. The question is whether romances, those labeled, marketed, packaged and shelved in romance, should have an HEA. For the huge majority of readers, the answer is yes.

    Will those same readers accept a non HEA in a non romance? Absolutely but I refer to that as reading outside the genre and so do many, many other readers.

    I can only come back to the original statement and that is, if you are writing a relationship focused book and it does not have an HEA, the only reason why you want it categorized as a romance is to get the romance buyer to look at it and buy it and not because it truly is a romance.

    There does not need to be an expansion of the romance definition to include books that have non HEA endings. Those books can be marketed, shelved, packaged and labeled as fiction. It’s not as if there isn’t place for those books in the market. There is. It’s just not next to Nora Roberts, Julia Quinn, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Eloisa James and the rest of the romance authors.

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  70. Robin
    Sep 27, 2006 @ 12:48:21

    the thing is that a romance is defined by an HEA.

    For many readers this seems to be the case. What I find interesting is the broader language of the RWA. I’m trying to discern whether the situation there is at all akin to the claims that some readers make that Romance is defined as a love story beetween a man and a woman, even thuogh the RWA definition doesn’t put it that specifically. And if it’s a different kind of situation, why is it different?

    if the main focus of the book is the romantic relationship, can an ending in which the protagonists break up or one of them dies present a broader sense that “All’s right with the world"?

    For me it can, I think. For example, I agree that the Time Traveler’s Wife is not a Romance, but I don’t make that categorization based on the ending. I make that distinction because to me TTTW is not really a love stor at its center; more than anything, I see that as a book about how time orders and shapes our identities and about how loss shapes our relationships.

    It’s difficult, I think, in today’s Romance market to see the genre as separate from the HEA because the love relationship is so often characterized as destined or as “THE ONE” which seems to make the HEA a logical requirement. BUT if the genre evolved a little, and became less reliant on that “fated” aspect of the love relationship, I could see more types of endings that would be “optimistic” and “emotionally satisfying” without having the HEA as we know it today. That’s why I brought up my question in respnse to Jane’s question above. How much of what the RWA definition is doing is setting guidelines that can accomodate different permutations within a broad generic definition.

    Do I like a really good HEA? Sure — I find that emotionally satisfying and optimistic. But if an author can convince me that a character’s death or a break-up is the not something to brood over, then yes, I can embrace Romance without the HEA. As it is, I don’t think many of these couples will make it in the long run, anyway! And do we really want all those people staying together for the sake of the children?

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  71. Jane
    Sep 27, 2006 @ 13:26:14

    What I find interesting is the broader language of the RWA.

    I don’t think that matters in the real world. Like Diana Peterfreund posted below, most readers don’t know the RWA definition. In making generalizations, I am relying on my own experience in the bookstore, my discussions with other readers over the past 15 years, Jolie’s bookstore experience where she meets, greets and sells books to hundreds of customers, and Michelle B’s readership which is likely in the thousands.

    If you look at the quotes by the editors, they know it is not romance as well which is were the misleading part comes in. In their own publishing minds, they have declared these books as non romances.

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  72. Nora Roberts
    Sep 27, 2006 @ 14:15:48

    It’s not a matter of definitions, but again, of expectations. The majority–vast majority, imo, of ROMANCE readers expect the HEA when they buy a Romance novel. And, imo, the majority of that majority probably demand it.

    Stories where lovers die, part, change their mind, sacrifice love for the greater good? All can be compelling reading, wonderful, satisfying stories. But not what the Romance reader is looking for, paying for, when they deliberately, specifically pick up a Romance novel.

    Writers and publishers within the genre know this perfectly well. If we want to tell a story that won’t meet, can’t meet, shouldn’t meet that basic expectation, we just can’t call it a Romance Novel.

    There’s a difference between evolving and mutating. Once you remove one of the essential elements that forms a Romance Novel, it’s another animal altogether.

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  73. Janine
    Sep 27, 2006 @ 14:24:56

    It’s difficult, I think, in today’s Romance market to see the genre as separate from the HEA because the love relationship is so often characterized as destined or as “THE ONE" which seems to make the HEA a logical requirement. BUT if the genre evolved a little, and became less reliant on that “fated" aspect of the love relationship, I could see more types of endings that would be “optimistic" and “emotionally satisfying" without having the HEA as we know it today.

    This is a thought-provoking conversation, but the more I think about it the more I think that some of the deepest pleasure I get from reading romances comes from those swooningly romantic moments. If a book is successful in evoking that kind of emotion in me, I do not want the couple to separate or one of them to die. It’s not my idea of emotionally satisfying or optimistic.

    If a book is not successful in evoking that feeling in me, then it’s somewhat disappointing, and I don’t see how having the couple part or having one of them die will make it more satisfying or optimistic.

    About whether I want to the focus of romance to shift away from the other person being THE ONE and the two characters being destined for one another, I have only found a few books that make me feel that way in the first place. But I love those books, and I wish there were more, not less.

    What I would like is for the characters in many romances to stop acting as though they know the other person is THE ONE from the moment they meet. How would they know that? I want more realism and less fantasy in my books, but the reason I want it is because greater realism can enhance the romantic fantasy.

    What I’m looking for in a romance is a romantic relationship that I can imagine will continue happily for the most part. I don’t demand a lot of the things that many other readers demand, such as complete monogamy even before marriage much less after, or no long separations, or for the heroine to be a near-virgin. But I do want to believe that they will be happy together.

    Do I like a really good HEA? Sure — I find that emotionally satisfying and optimistic. But if an author can convince me that a character’s death or a break-up is the not something to brood over, then yes, I can embrace Romance without the HEA. As it is, I don’t think many of these couples will make it in the long run, anyway! And do we really want all those people staying together for the sake of the children?

    I don’t usually judge the relationships I read about in romances in that way. Most of the time I can imagine them okay together. Not that they are destined, or amazingly right for each other (except in a few books), but that their relationship will work, yes. I don’t think it’s that hard to make a relationship work if both people are committed to that goal.

    And I think it would be far, far harder for an author to convince me that a hero or heroine’s death or a breakup is not something to brood over.

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  74. Robin
    Sep 27, 2006 @ 15:20:03

    It’s not a matter of definitions, but again, of expectations.

    To me, anyway, expectations and definitions are not necessarily synonymous, although I think they are conflated often enough in discussions of genre fiction.

    I have nothing against the H EA in Romance, and, in fact, find a convincing HEA wonderfully appealing. Where I get nervous, though, is in saying that Romance is “defined” by the HEA, because, for example, when Jan Butler tried to make that argument about male/female Romance, it didn’t fly for readers (including me) who believe that m/m or f/f Romance also fit in the RWA “definition” of Romance. So since there is also ambiguity in the way the RWA defines the end of a Romance, I feel like somewhat of a hypocrite in taking whatever my expectation for an HEA ending might be and insisting it’s a definitional requirement. I’m not saying this is the case for other readers, but since I don’t think Butler had the right to limit Romance in the way she did, neither do I think I can definitely say that Romance — by definition — requires an HEA. I’d love to know how other readers who don’t find this to be a contradiction resolve it, because I can’t seem to.

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  75. Robin
    Sep 27, 2006 @ 15:26:06

    I also want to make the comment that I’m NOT arguing that marketing erotica as Romance ISN’T false advertising, because expectations can be extremely powerful and valid for readers who rely on said advertising to choose a product. I’m looking at this more from the perspective of the actual definition of the genre and not the false advertising claim. I think a publisher that wants to market a book without an HEA as Romance can only be in good faith by warning the reader about what they can and can’t expect from the book. And if they’re trying to sneak books that readers won’t expect into the shelves in disguise of those expected books, IMO that is at the very least bad faith, if not out and out false advertising.

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  76. Keishon
    Sep 27, 2006 @ 15:29:09

    Another thought I had was when a romance author crosses over to say another genre be it chick lit they’d want to put in the romance section, I would think, to maintain their readership. Brava titles and Kensington titles are shelved in the romance section. I see so many of Tami Hoag’s romances shelved in Mystery when they’re not mystery. Lucky’s Lady is romantic suspense, not mystery. And poor Diana Gabaldon, still trying to get her books OUT of romance because they clearly don’t have HEA’s in them and all is not right in the world. How many times have Jamie and Claire been through hell and back? They truly are and should have been labeled fiction and shelved there but her book is a hybrid of so many different genres that they just didn’t know where to shelve it and romance readers took to her books and loved it and that’s where they still sit today.

    Carry on.

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  77. Angiew
    Sep 27, 2006 @ 15:40:30

    I swore I wasn’t going to enter into this conversation again, but as I was reading some of the responses, I keep thinking to myself that a book can be “romantic” and it can have “romance” but not actually be a romance in the end. Like Nicholas Sparks’ Message in a Bottle. Very romantic, definitely has a romance but in the end…so not a romance.

    But why? Well, in my mind (and I’m only claiming it for myself, not putting the presumption on anyone else) because of how it ended, how the romance between the two of them is ended, there’s not even promise of a happily ever after for the two of them.

    And for it to be a romance, I need that emotional satisfaction that comes at the end, that things they’re going to be happy and escape life’s tragedies. So heck yeah, there was romance, it was romantic, but it wasn’t “a” romance.

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  78. Janine B
    Sep 27, 2006 @ 15:49:37

    I am jumping the track a little here, but I was pleasantly surprised by Karen Marie Moning’s admission about her new upcoming book, Dark Fever, not being a mainstream romance. She even states that she is providing information so that she does not have a backlash of disappointed fans. I, for one, am quite grateful that she admits there is no HEA in this first book. Did she lose me as a sale? For this book, yes, because I NEED my HEA and I don’t care for first person. Will she lose me as a fan? Absolutely not. I think it’s very admirable that she makes it clear to her fans on what to expect from this book.

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  79. Robin
    Sep 28, 2006 @ 00:19:01

    . . .the more I think about it the more I think that some of the deepest pleasure I get from reading romances comes from those swooningly romantic moments. If a book is successful in evoking that kind of emotion in me, I do not want the couple to separate or one of them to die. It’s not my idea of emotionally satisfying or optimistic.

    I understand what you’re saying here, Janine (I keep wnting to spell your name Jeanine, because a friend of mine spells hers that way, and she’s the only Jeanine I know), but I think my focus tends to be more on the central love relationship as definitive of Romance than on the end, per se. In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about whether I would argue now that Wuthering Heights is a proto-Romance, and not just romantic (and Romantic). Because for me, the relationship between Heathcliff and Katherine so overshadows everything else in that book, not only in the writing, but in the plot itself. And while both leads die, the book ends optimistically, IMO, with the promise of family healing for future generations (and a fruitful romantic attachment between the families) and the reuniting of Heathcliff and Katherine, ostensibly forever. This is a little bit of a change in my own thinking, but even though I don’t find WH particularly romantic (although I don’t find Jane Eyre romantic, either), I’m thinking it might satisfy my own criteria for a Romance with an emotionally satisfying but unconventional ending.

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  80. Janine
    Sep 28, 2006 @ 16:47:00

    You make an interesting case for Wuthering Heights as a romance. It’s very focused on the romantic relationship and it’s even true that I didn’t brood over Heathcliff and Catherine’s deaths (Heathcliff did enough brooding for both of us ).

    I might be persuaded to view it as a romance, but I think that many romance readers would be frustrated if they found a book with such a storyline on the romance shelf of their bookstore. I also don’t believe there are many writers with Emily Bronte’s ability to craft such a satisfying and optimistic ending out of this kind of tale.

    I do see your point, however, and it leads me to wonder: Who is it that defines a genre? The writers? The publishers? The bookstore buyers? Or the readers?

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  81. Robin
    Oct 01, 2006 @ 14:36:58

    I do see your point, however, and it leads me to wonder: Who is it that defines a genre? The writers? The publishers? The bookstore buyers? Or the readers?

    My first, tongue in cheek (sort of) response was that literary scholars define genres, but I’m pretty sure that to non-academics, the answer is very different. I see the word “define” as pretty strong and, well, definitive, but I’m starting to understand beter that not everyone has the same perception of the act of defining. My own answer is that readers help shape a genre, as do publishers and authors (especially). But obviously there are many people who think that it’s primarily readers who define a genre. Would the same argument be made about the length and form of a sonnet, though? I guess it depends on how you define genre to being with.

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