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Romance Publishers Promises to Romance Readers Part 3: Good Authors...

Part One was the delivery of promises and Part Two was about the promise itself. Part Three is about the breaking of promises or what I like to think of as When Good Authors Go Bad. There are spoilers in the post below, so reader beware.

There was a lively discussion back in September about what constituted a promise from an author. I argued that authors, by their books, make implicit promises to readers. Readers buy into those promises and look for a similar evocative feel each time they pick up an author’s book. I believe this is why series are so successful. Authors did not like this pigeonholing of their writing skills and there are certainly authors whose brand or promise is to write different stories each time. Inevitably, though, the need for a brand remains. Angie W reported from the NJRW agent panel that agents are looking for authors who are actively seeking to create a brand for themselves.

Jill Monroe had a hilarious take on this. Apparently she refers to her book, Share the Darkness, as STD. It finally took one of her friends to point out the inadvertent “brand” she was giving her book, particularly given the word “share” in the title. Blue Moon offers an online article called “The Basics of Author Branding” which stated that branding was the creation of an “emotional velcro” wherein just the author’s name, by being associated with something positive, can get a reader to buy the book, regardless of the contents.

Of course, negative associations can happen which lead a reader away from buying a book. Or lopping off a writer’s name from the AutoBuy list. I’ve compiled a short list of examples. I am sure other readers have better ones or that some may take exception to my list.

  • Randomly killing off main characters. Charlaine Harris wrote a cozy mystery series featuring Roe Teagarden, a librarian who solves mysteries. She was introduced as a southern widow lady in her 30s. During the series, Roe fell in and out of love with different individuals but seemed to have finally found her match with Martin. Roe hadnà¢Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¬Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚ ¢t had much relationship success and her connection with Martin was a relief. In a Fool and His Honey, we see the two married and enjoying their new lives as newlyweds. The end of the book, however, ends with Harris killing Martin off. Like one Amazon reviewer said, I kept waiting for it to be a dream sequence. Another amazon commenter stated

    As an author, Charlaine Harris has the right to take her characters and storyline wherever she desires….as a reader, I have the right to say that she’s gone too far, and never pick up another one of her books.

    According to a Crescent Blues interview, Harris admits that A Fool and His Honey is her most reviled book but she just wanted to do it. One of my friends says that with Harris, you have about 4 books until she totally screws things up. We are eternally grateful that the Shakespeare series didnà¢Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¬Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚ ¢t sell well and Harris wrote only 4 books in that series. She didnà¢Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¬Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚ ¢t have the time to eviscerate all that we fans have grown to love. Her Southern Vampire series is a perfect example of Harrisà¢Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¬Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚ ¢ inability to stop ruining her series. Sookie Stackhouse is becoming a laughing stock, a character whom EVERY male wants to bone and whose powers seem to grow with every book. Hmm. That sounds like a suspiciously similar fictional character.

  • Breaking your own rules. Laurell K Hamilton is my best example of this although I am pretty sure it happens all the time. Anita Blake began as a tough nosed necromancer with very human vulnerabilities and an attachment to furry stuffed penguins. Her greatest fear in solving mysteries and fighting beasts was losing her humanity. The series also had a great underpinning of romance. There was a love triangle of sorts between Richard, the à¢Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¬Ãƒ-"normalà¢Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¬Ãƒâ€š? one (as normal as a werewolf could be) and Jean Claude, the undead vampire.

    Then LKH got divorced, proceeded to eviscerate the character of Richard (LKH had publicly declared her husband was the basis of this character), turned Anita into a sex fiend who had to have sex to feed her à¢Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¬Ãƒ-"arduerà¢Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¬Ãƒâ€š?, brought in another character called Micah to represent her new husband, gave him the biggest dick possible, proceeded to give interviews and blog about her personal sex life and how that it formed the basis of her books (ugh TMI!!!!) and basically ruined one of the best female urban fantasy series going at the time. Note: Ms. Hamilton currently denies her ex husband being the inspiration for Richard despite having said this repeatedly at book signings early in her career.

  • Moving to mainstream and being dismissive of your romance roots I started reading Iris Johansen in the 90s when she was writing for Loveswept. One of my earliest memories of her books is Wild Silver featuring a very bratty heroine and an overbearing but impossibly sexy Russian. Johansen authored some favorite epic romances, not the least of which would be the Wind Dancer series. She moved into suspense for good with the hardcover publication, The Ugly Duckling. When the Wind Dancer series was republished, Johansen rewrote the book and removed many traces of romance, particularly the sex scenes. She has been dismissive on her romance roots and prefers to call her past books “romantic novels” instead of romances. I find that a bit humorous.
  • Gone Fishin. I am pretty sure that Susan Johnson and Joan Wolf are just phoning in their books. Wolf is recycling characters, plots, and scenes. Susan Johnson hasnà¢Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¬Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚ ¢t published a book with a footnote since the 90s. These two very good authors works have been virtually unreadable for the last five years. Authors said that the only promise that authors owe a reader is a good book. Johnson and Wolf seem to be intent on violating that basic promise in the worst way.
  • The invasion of the body snatchers. This happens when an author builds up a certain character in a series and then when the character gets his or her own book, the character changes. Two examples of this would be Wes from Suzanne Brockmann’s Tall Dark and Dangerous series and Travis from the Crazy series from Tara Janzen. Wes, in all the preceding novels was short, short, short. In his own book, he miraculously grew to several inches. His height was an issue and part of his character in the past and rather than dealing with it and making Wes attractive because of it, or in spite of it, Brockmann cheats and makes him taller.

    Travis, in the Crazy series, started as sensitive artist who had never handled a gun and whose sole business was sexual imprinting (whatever that was). A few books later and he is a covert op trained by the Steele Street guys to kill without hesitation and to carry out delicate and secret missions. Additionally, a romance that was given a lot of page time in a previous novel has been completely shunted aside. WTF is my response.

  • Writing about an adulterous deceased husband. I will never know why Stephanie Laurens chose to write the story of the marriage of Devil Cynsterà¢Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¬Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚ ¢s parents, Sebastian and Helena. We know from the Devilà¢Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¬Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚ ¢s Bride and Scandal that Sebastian cheats on Helena with some woman in Scotland and then dies a relatively young man. How is this a romance? It violates the very basic premise of the HEA because we know that they don’t live HEA, not only does Sebastian cheat and beget a child with another woman that Helena is given to raise, but he also dies. What is worse is that the cheating episode and subsequent offspring of the adulterous affair is NEVER touched on in The Promise in a Kiss. Another WTF.
  • Making the reader feel stupid. I hate being made to feel stupid. Call me ugly, foul smelling, a bitch and Ià¢Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¬Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚ ¢ll laugh it off. Call me stupid and it stings. Making me feel stupid by reading a book and I will be angry. I suspect other readers are the same. In Eloisa Jamesà¢Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¬Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚ ¢ book, Taming of the Duke, the hero masquerades as his brother in order to woo the heroine. The demasking doesnà¢Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¬Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚ ¢t take place until the very end and many, many readers were very confused about this wondering if they could really believe in this HEA which seemed so contrived.

    James wrote a spoiler trail which takes you through the book and points out all the obvious clues that indicate that the hero knew it was Rafe almost all along. She also wrote another chapter which is available online and to those who buy the reprinted version of the book. I am guessing if you have to write a spoiler trail and another chapter that it wasnà¢Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚ ¬Ãƒ ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚ ¢t that obvious.

All of these authors are hugely successful. None of the above authorial actions seemed to have affected the authors much, if at all. Readers won’t abandon an author who has broken her promise so long as the author has a history of keeping the promise throughout a number of books. One misstep for an author without the same history and the author is summarily cut off from the auto TBB list. For me, it took 4 single title contemporaries for me to fall out of love with Julie Garwood. Her promise of a good story no longer held true for me. Charlaine Harris broke the reader/author bond with A Fool and His Honey. I don’t buy her anymore, contenting myself with reading her here and there from the library because I just don’t trust her to carelessly take out my heart and stomp all over it, and not in a good way.

When a reader says that an author is uneven, she is really saying that author hasn’t fulfilled the promise with each and every book. There are alot of readers who bemoan the loss of an author to a different genre. Usually it is a favorite author going from romance to mainstream. You hear alot of comments where readers feel betrayed and angry. That’s because readers felt that they had exchanged promises with authors. Authors were to write romances and in exchange, the reader would promote the heck out of them, buy them in hardcover, give them away to friends in conversion packages, release Internet fire bombs on any opposing online commenter, and generally love them forever. The reader didn’t get the memo that the exchange of promises is over and the reader is MAD.

To authors and publishers, I say, mess with your promises at your own peril. You can’t know that it will have a positive outcome.

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

27 Comments

  1. Dee
    Oct 16, 2006 @ 07:08:27

    On the one hand, this scares me, because I do write across a wide board of styles. The voice is always mine, but the genre can change from comedy to para to dark drama, project to project. So, I’m going to say my promise at the moment is to at the very least “surprise” the reader. Somehow, lol.

    But on the other hand, these are all reasons why I’ve quit reading authors and refuse to go back. (Jude Deveroux, a perfect example.) I think the author promise is actually more important—and possibly more damaging when broken—than the branding. Artists need growth to stay fresh and many readers can take the risk and follow. But betrayal is often times too hard to forget, even when we forgive.

    Smooches,
    Dee

  2. Robin
    Oct 16, 2006 @ 08:13:42

    I actually don’t mind it when authors do something unexpected or risky in a series, as long as there is an internal logic that makes it plausible. But I totally agree that in a genre like Romance, where careers and sales and even the genre definition itself, sales are built on reader expectations to a large degree, an author has only so much reader “good will” to use and abuse. While I wish there were more risk-taking in general in the genre, I wonder sometimes if most readers prefer the comfort of sameness, even if it’s boring sameness, over the possibility of being disappointed by something new. Like does a new author have to introduce something new to be taken seriously? And when that is no longer new, does someone else have to come in to fil in that “new” gap? IMO there is some real tension between innovation and comfort reading in the genre.

    As for poor little Sookie Stackhouse (how many ways can I say I love love love the Southern Vampire series), I wonder if your reaction changes when you haven’t read Anita Blake? Not having her to compare Sookie to, I’m not annoyed by the stuff other former Blake readers are, and, in fact, I think Harris is approaching some aspects of Sookie’s character with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek (Sookie is only at 2 sexual partners life time total, remember). As for Sookie’s mojo attractiveness, Harris just offered an explanation for that in the last book that I thought was pretty clever. If anything, I think Harris is allowing Sookie to grow in her very human powers of authentic self-confidence and self-acceptance.

  3. Sandy AAR
    Oct 16, 2006 @ 08:34:12

    Very interesting blog and I agree with about 98% of what you write.

    Another example of an author willfully and joyfully kicking her readers in the teeth is Elizabeth George. I have faithfully read this mystery series almost from the beginning and, though I have become somewhat immune to the miserable circumstances she continuously forces on her main character Tommy Lynley, she finally went to far in the series most recent book. I won’t detail it here, but the catalog of woes to which she has subjected this character are not only over the top, it is highly improbable that any one individual could be quite this unlucky. There was, not surprisingly, a massive reader reaction (readers love this character) to which her response was decidedly truculent.

    I am very hooked on this series and will definitely read the next book, but I will do so in the hope that she can finally allow this character – and her readers – some happiness. Or at least not abject misery.

  4. Tara Marie
    Oct 16, 2006 @ 09:04:35

    Randomly killing off main characters… as romance readers we come at this from a different position than mainstream readers. We expect HEA to be forever, we want long happy lifetimes filled with only good things. Reality is something else altogether. I was under the impression that the Harris series wasn’t romance but had romantic overtones. Killing off is a romance no no, but not a mainstream one.

    Breaking your own rules… I’ll start by saying I don’t read LKH, and probably wont in the future. 1. This seems like art following life and definitely has a TMI feel to it–LOL. 2. Don’t you think characters grow and change in long term series? My attention span isn’t great and rarely go beyone 3 or 4 books, so I can’t say if morphing happens often–LOL.

    Moving to mainstream and dismissing your romance roots… The moving to mainstream doesn’t bother me, I expect authors to evolve, so moving mainstream may be disappointing but not the end of the world. Dismissing your romance roots is annoying, if they want move on to other things fine, but don’t insult the readers that helped build your popularity.

    Gone Fishing… this makes me disappointed. But, I wonder how much this has to do with the publishing industry. I remember reading somewhere that editors were no longer interested in Joan Wolf’s lush, longer books and wanted simpler stories–of course, she took this to the extreme and fans are left scratching their heads in disbelief that this is the same author who wrote such wonder books. But, maybe there are new readers that like this style of book?

    The invasion of the body snatchers… This used to bug the heck out of me, I’d nit pick something like this to pieces. I remember an old Linda Lael Miller series that had a character having something like 4 kids in a time period that wasn’t possible. I was the only person in my reading group that even noticed this. The author is making the character fit her story instead of fitting the story to the character’s existing characteristics. I’ve since moved on and decided to be more zen about the whole thing. But what happened to Alex’s pregnancy at the end of Catherine Coulter’s The Sherbrooke Bride? Maybe I missed it, but I don’t remember any children besides the twins. So maybe these things still bug me a little–LOL.

    Writing about an adulterous deceased husband… this one doesn’t bother me in the least. There are all sorts of story possibilities, that I can see working. I used to read SL, but never made it this far…my attention span thing kicked in.

    Making the reader feel stupid… This annoys me, but I didn’t find how Eloisa James dealt with this situation a problem. She wrote a book that didn’t work and to keep readers happy she did what she thought best. I found Lydia Joyces reaction to negative criticism much more insulting. Basically telling readers who didn’t like her heroines behavior that we were the ones TSTL instead of her character. That one sent steam out of my ears.

    Good topic.

  5. Zeek
    Oct 16, 2006 @ 09:39:23

    Good Article and I agree with almost all of it, (Like Robin, I don’t mind authors taking risks- if they make good come of it!).

    The biggie for me is “moving to mainstream and dismissing your romance roots- ¦”. That really chaps my ass. I can see needing to change and grow as an artist, but C’mon! It’s what got you where you are! Why dismiss it??

    I LOVED Iris Johanson’s old books. I followed her when she changed but promptply stopped soon after. I cannot believe she edited the Wind Dancer series! (Thank GOD I still have my originals!)

    Anyway, it wouldn’t be so bad if I could find authors to replace them! I don’t think I have a single “autobuy” author anymore and I used to have several … makes me sad.

  6. Dee
    Oct 16, 2006 @ 09:54:32

    I don’t think risks are the problem. Risks can be good. But killing off mains bothers me. That’s not a risk, that’s a stunt. Calling it in…not a risk. That’s suicide. Breaking your own rules, again, not a risk. It’s cheating. Authors acting like they aren’t “romance” or acting as if romance is beneath them. That’s just irritating and insulting to readers who buy you. If I can satisfy a reader because they like how romantic I am, I’m happy. If they like the way I write jokes and the romance is secondary or not a factor, cool. Pleasing people is so easy people can do with less fans? I don’t think so.

  7. Charlene
    Oct 16, 2006 @ 09:58:18

    Hmm. Lots of food for thought here as usual. I know there are essentially two kinds of series, episodic where the characters don’t change much from book to book, and more character driven plots where the characters grow and change. I find the growth and change more interesting to read, but I can see that it’s a risk if the character’s growth seems inconsisent with who they started off to be, or changes so radically that the entire series takes on a tone (or brand) far from the brand that “made” it.

    One of the reasons I admire Lois M. Bujold so much is that her Vorkosigan series allows the characters to grow but never in a way that violates who they began as. Their mistakes are inevitable in retrospect, the growth natural. I don’t think this is easy to do. But episodic series don’t seem as satisfying, because after a while it doesn’t seem realistic that so much could happen to a character and not impact them.

  8. illyria
    Oct 16, 2006 @ 10:30:59

    This all sounds very similar to the “jump the shark” moment(s) on tv shows.

    I don’t mind if a writer tries something different – whether it’s writing in another genre or killing someone off or whatever else they decide to do; I only mind if it’s not done well. Which is of course rather subjective.

  9. Nonny
    Oct 16, 2006 @ 11:42:14

    Note: Ms. Hamilton currently denies her ex husband being the inspiration for Richard despite having said this repeatedly at book signings early in her career.

    *snort*

    She’s posted about it in her blog. I don’t feel like slogging through for the entry, but I remember being rather shocked… but then, speaking as a writer, I think it’s stupid to base your characters on people you know, because you’re going to be way too emotionally attached to them, as a result. /rant

  10. Kristie(J)
    Oct 16, 2006 @ 22:02:22

    Very interesting post! Although I don’t think I’ve read any of the authors you used as examples – well with the exception of Travis from the Crazy books – and I agree – the author did change his character around 100 degrees, I agree with everything you said.

  11. jmc
    Oct 16, 2006 @ 22:23:47

    I read a relatively new YA book today that randomly killed off a main character in the very end of the book, literally the last line. Now, the preview of the next book makes it seem like maybe he’s not completely dead and maybe he’ll come back. But reading that was too little, too late. This is the first in a new paranormal series, and a lot of the book was spent in setting up the world and introducing the four main characters….and it really pissed me off to read the last page. I felt invested in them by the time the final chapter rolled around; not so much now. After all, if the author is going to kill one for series-bait, who’s next?

  12. Marg
    Oct 17, 2006 @ 05:03:33

    I’ve been thinking about authors going mainstream and then ditching their romance roots this week! Just this week I was looking at an author website for an author who has written quite a few romance novels, but has now written a book that appears to be chick lit. All references to her romance novels have been removed from the site – for all intents and purposes it looks as though this is her first novel published.

    I wonder how romance readers who constantly talk about the need to not feel defensive about the reputation of the genre, and yet writers hide their own romance past!

  13. Nora Roberts
    Oct 17, 2006 @ 06:42:18

    ~I wonder how romance readers who constantly talk about the need to not feel defensive about the reputation of the genre, and yet writers hide their own romance past! ~

    This is a pet peeve of mine–one that not only irritates but baffles. Switching gears is one thing, but disavowing what got your engine revving in the first place is quite another.

    Another is the reader who says she wants something different (within the genre), and when different is delivered responds that she enjoyed the book, the writing was engaging, the characters interesting (put in your own terms), BUT it wasn’t what she was expecting–ergo she’s somewhat disappointed.

  14. Jane
    Oct 17, 2006 @ 07:22:50

    Dee – I think you are in the best possible position to write varying types of books. You are a new author and haven’t really established that you write one thing so I don’t think you run the risk of ruining expectations.

    Robin – I agree. Authors can do something unexpected and risky if it fits. If not, I’m probably not following them in a new direction. I am kind of interested in Kenyon’s new venture even though I have heard a small hue and outcry about her new direction from regular fans.

    My reaction would not change regarding Sookie Stackhouse. My distaste for the novels is that you cannot become attached to any of her characters, such as Bill, because Harris enjoys manipulating the reader into liking someone and then destroying the character in some way. It’s just not where I want to go. I think Sookie has changed and been given so many powers (faerie? please) that were not recognizable before. It’s as if the whole paranormal world began with her meeting Bill. It makes no internal sense to me.

    SandyAAR – Thanks for coming over. AAR provides a great resource for romance readers. I, too, have authors that I keep following even though they disappoint me over and over. (Joan Wolf being one of them). We are a bunch of masochists. LOL.

    Tara Marie – I think that you cannot kill off a main character without it being integral to plot or character development. Just because an author writes outside the romance series, doesn’t give them license to manipulate readers. I definitely feel that is what an author does when they kill off a main character for the fun of it. They are trying to evoke a reader response without having worked for it.

    Zeek – I have those old wind dancer books too. Keishon wrote a post about this but I couldn’t find it. maybe when she gets back from vacation she’ll pipe up.

    Dee – I agree that killing off characters is a stunt. I think Lilith Saintcrow has to be very careful to avoid repeating this “stunt” too many times lest fans become uninvested in her books.

    have to run now, but will be back to comment on the other posts.

  15. Kristie(J)
    Oct 17, 2006 @ 08:56:15

    Further to what Tara, Marg and Ms. Roberts (sorry – something in me just has to call her that :) wrote about authors denying their romance roots, this really bothers me too! I don’t mind to much when an author moves on to mainstream. I may be sad if I don’t want to follow them, but I fully understand that’s what they choose to do. But to deny one’s roots is insulting to the very people who got you where you could do that. It’s turning your back on the group who helped you up that ladder.

  16. DS
    Oct 17, 2006 @ 09:24:23

    This Comment contains spoilers.

    With regard to Harris, I enjoy her novels even when she kills people off. But I’ve been reading Harris since I came across her first couple of novels which are not related to any series she is writing now. I didn’t regard killing off Martin as a problem. In fact I didn’t particularly care for him as a character, so I thought it opened her mysteries out to other stories and places she couldn’t have gone with Martin in the picture. I guess she could have done the old soap standby and have him crash in the coporate jet in some remote jungle.

    However there are some romances where a main character from an earlier book is killed. Sandra Brown did it to much distress in a Western Historical duo in the early 90’s. Sunset Embrace and Another Dawn. In the second one she killed off the hero or maybe both main characters from the first book. Roberta Gellis killed off the hero from the first Roselynde book although she did it off stage. I can think of a couple of others I’ve read and I never really thought of them as a “deal breaker.”

    Maybe just expectations? Until fairly recently it never occured to me that a happy ending had to be more than a satisfying resolution on an upbeat note.

  17. Bev (BB)
    Oct 17, 2006 @ 11:13:33

    I tend to believe that emotional resonance with the author’s voice is more important than the types of books they write. Not that their voice won’t influence the types of stories. It’s just that the comfort level we feel with certain authors comes as much from their voice as the stories themselves.

    I also have a difficult time believing romance is the only genre with such strong reader expectations, particularly considering how many people are mentioning disappointments with specific mystery/suspense series/authors in this thread.

    On authors moving on and changing their careers – I became fairly good friends with someone online when I first got connected and during the course of our conversations reintroduced her to romances. She’d read them as a teenager but hadn’t in recent years. She promptly decided she could write one.

    Now, you might think you know where this is going but you might be wrong. The truth is that she’s a pretty good writer and had actually wanted to write when she was younger but didn’t pursue it then. I knew if anyone really could get a book published, she could. So, to make a long story short, she began checking out things, joined her local writers groups, etc. etc. Last I heard, she had a couple of manuscripts on option with one of the larger publishing houses.

    I have no idea whether they’re romances or not, however. Only time will tell. You see, our online friendship came to a rather screeching halt several years ago when she made the mistake of mentioning to me that writing romance would probably only be a stepping stone to greener pastures for her . . .

    She did not particularly care for my response. For one thing, she didn’t care for being told that if she really wanted to sell that first romance she should probably read more than a few to begin with. Sigh.

    Sometimes I get so tired of hearing that good writing is good writing no matter the genre. Yeah, and raising apples is the same as raising rice, too.

    I do wonder at times, though, just how common or uncommon her thought processes are with “wannabe” writers. I mean the serious ones, not the off-hand snooty ones who only think they could write. Or for that matter how much does it show up in already published writers.

    It does make one appreciate the Krentzs, Roberts, Howards of our world plus the others following their example, though, you know.

  18. Diana
    Oct 17, 2006 @ 12:19:13

    While I fervently hope that it’s too soon to mourn the loss of Jennifer Crusie, Romance Writer, it does seem that her inexplicable attachment to co-author and “adorable” blog partner Bob Mayer is not a good thing. I, for one, smell sell-out. Crusie courted her loyal fans — selling them on the Mayer collaboration; she expected us buy it and we did, by the thousands. You know what they say about fool me once. The book was just as half-hearted as we should have expected. Cruisie allowed her voice to be overpowered by Mayer, who crows his disdain for “Yucky Emotional Content” on the he said/she said blog. I feel abandoned and dismissed by a beloved author.

    Jennifer Crusie, please come home.

  19. Jane
    Oct 17, 2006 @ 16:43:35

    Charlene –

    I want to see character growth, but I think it needs to be consistent with the parameters of the world created by the author. I know that with LKH, those people who are “new” to her series don’t much mind the direction but many long time fans are very disappointed.

    But I agree that a series without character growth can be very disappointing. One of the reasons I don’t read Janet Evanovich anymore is that Stephanie Plum hasn’t grown. She still can’t use her gun. She’s still quite incompetent. She still has no idea how to act like an adult.

    illyria – Jolie mentioned that to me but sometimes the “event” is isolated and doesn’t mark a sharp decline in an author’s works.

    Nonny –

    I think it’s reasonable to base characters on people you know. Just don’t admit it!

    Kristie(J)-

    With the exception of Travis from the Crazy books – and I agree – the author did change his character around 100 degrees…

    I’ll await your report of Crazy Sweet as I won’t read it.

    jmc-

    the last page is so shocking! I would be very upset.

    Marg-

    I've been thinking about authors going mainstream and then ditching their romance roots this week! Just this week I was looking at an author website for an author who has written quite a few romance novels, but has now written a book that appears to be chick lit. All references to her romance novels have been removed from the site – for all intents and purposes it looks as though this is her first novel published.//

    There is another author who I thought was dismissive of her romance past but wasn’t quite sure. Maybe I read something into her comments but it makes me lose respect for those authors. It’s like they are dismissive of the readers too.

    Nora Roberts –

    Another is the reader who says she wants something different (within the genre), and when different is delivered responds that she enjoyed the book, the writing was engaging, the characters interesting (put in your own terms), BUT it wasn't what she was expecting-“ergo she's somewhat disappointed.//

    I think I have said this before. When I pay hardcover for a Jayne Ann Krentz book I am looking for a specific emotional experience. If I picked a JAK book up and it was some gory, hardcore mystery aka Karin Slaughter and I thought it was going to be a romance, I know I would be disappointed even if it was good writing. It may not be fair to do that but I won’t deny that I am guilty.

  20. Robin
    Oct 17, 2006 @ 22:01:21

    Nora Roberts said: Another is the reader who says she wants something different (within the genre), and when different is delivered responds that she enjoyed the book, the writing was engaging, the characters interesting (put in your own terms), BUT it wasn't what she was expecting-“ergo she's somewhat disappointed.//

    Jane said: I think I have said this before. When I pay hardcover for a Jayne Ann Krentz book I am looking for a specific emotional experience. If I picked a JAK book up and it was some gory, hardcore mystery aka Karin Slaughter and I thought it was going to be a romance, I know I would be disappointed even if it was good writing. It may not be fair to do that but I won't deny that I am guilty.

    Until you answered, Jane, I wasn’t sure I understood the complaint, and I’m still not sure I do.

    I guess in the same way that authors get sick of hearing about how bored readers are, some readers (i.e. me) get tired of hearing we’re never satisfied. I personally haven’t seen a ton of readers who complain about the lack of diversity then complain about the new books they do read. I’m not saying it doesn’t occur, just that I haven’t really seen it.

    Also, each reader who yearns for something different doesn’t necessarily want the same thing. And regardless of what each reader wants, there is still, IMO, the issue of how a book is marketed to the Romance reading audience. Is it hawked as the same JAK to get the solid JAK readers when really it’s a Slaughter-like book? Then IMO the reader has a right to be disappointed without sacrificing the undisturbed right to still want more diversity in the genre. If it’s marketed as something different, though, then the reader is on notice and disappointment might be only the responsibility of the reader. Also, is not getting what one expected always tatamount to disappointment? Plus, I’ve read a number of “different” books that still aren’t all that good, and while I appreciate the attempt at different, I’m not going to love a book just because it’s set outside Regency England. OTOH, I do try to BUY those “different” books to send what little message I can to the publisher. I’ve also made a small attempt to write a nice letter to the publisher when I read and enjoy a different book. Hopefully my letter will be read in counterpoint to those of readers who don’t want a sexually experienced heroine. :)

    To me, at least, diversity is the key word — not one or two kinds of different, but an array, a choice, a selection of different types of Romance among which a reader can make a real choice, not the choice between that Regency mystery and that Regency paranormal. Not all of us are going to like the same books, even those of us who want more difference and more diversity. But IMO there really isn’t enough of a diverse market for us to be making choices that aren’t dictated by publishers experimenting with a handful of “different” Romances. If we don’t like the few new choices, we’re fickle and difficult to please (talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy in favor of the status quo). Lucy Blue recently said on AAR that her publisher wouldn’t let her write straight medieval Romances (without a paranormal element), and now they’re cutting off her medieval paranormal series (market glut, anyone?). Give us real diversity, and I think you’d see a very different sensibility emerge in the way readers receive and respond to books.

  21. seton
    Oct 17, 2006 @ 22:20:07

    Great blog post.

    I didnt know that about Iris Johansen. So disappointing. I LOVE her Loveswepts and re-read them all the time.

    I laughed when you pointed out about Susan Johnson’s footnotes. I found them admirable and at times interesting but didnt even notice that she stopped adding them until you pointed it out. LOL.

    I must be oblious because the pin-pointing of when she knew in James’s THE TAMING OF THE DUKE never bothered me. I thought it was one of her best books.

  22. Robin
    Oct 18, 2006 @ 00:07:51

    I laughed when you pointed out about Susan Johnson's footnotes. I found them admirable and at times interesting but didnt even notice that she stopped adding them until you pointed it out. LOL.

    Even at her least meaty, I still can’t resist Susan Johnson. I still think Pure Sin is pure genius, but even some of newer, thinner stuff has a good-naturedness and sense of fun about it that usually wins me over. As much as I enjoy some of the newer voices in Romantica, I think a number of these authors could learn a few things about writing over the top sex from Johnson — a “pioneer” in that area, so to speak.

    I tend not to get disappointed in authors when they change direction, per se, but when it seems that they’re either pandering (badly) or simply writing stupid books. Susan Donovan’s latest, for example, was IMO an absolute scandal of ridiculous plotting and condescending characterization. It was a huge disappointment after her first few books, which I found smart, sexy, and out of the box. Poor writing, rote plotting, and overall sloppy craftsmanship are really the main things that will disappoint me in any significant way.

  23. illyria
    Oct 18, 2006 @ 02:40:55

    Another is the reader who says she wants something different (within the genre), and when different is delivered responds that she enjoyed the book, the writing was engaging, the characters interesting (put in your own terms), BUT it wasn't what she was expecting-“ergo she's somewhat disappointed.

    I don’t think unexpected always means disappointing, and sometimes it may take a while for a book to grow on a reader (at least it does with me; it’s happened a few times that I like a book more on subsequent reads, but there has to be something there that’s compelling me to pick it up again, even if it underwhelmed me the first time). On the other hand, different doesn’t always mean is going to be good and I don’t usually feel inclined to try to enjoy a story more just because the author is doing something different. If I’ve noticed in the first place.

    Genre and subgenre was not really something to which I had paid much attention until I came across blogs and forums on the interweb where people have discussions (or rants) about how authors tend to stick to a certain style or subject or theme. I would just pick up books by authors I liked and see if I liked the book; that they might have been trying something different didn’t quite register, or if it did, I didn’t think it was a big deal, certainly not to the point of feeling betrayed or mislead (upset, underwhelmed, disappointed, maybe, but not betrayed – but maybe I’m splitting it too fine). It still is not usually the deciding factor when I buy books.

    I also think it’s possible to to genuinely like the book but still feel that there is something missing, maybe because the author has tried something new. Sometimes it happens even when the author has not – I think Eloisa James’ Taming of the Duke would be such an example for me. I liked it but was thrown off when Imogen didn’t recognize Rafe (and I know exactly which scene it was that I thought didn’t fit; I was spoiled for it, however, so I knew going in that there might be some problems with that part of the story).

    Interesting about Charlaine Harris. I haven’t read past the 3rd book of the Shakespeare or Stackhouse series. But I think killing off a main or secondary character can be done well, depending on how and maybe why it’s written. I think I’d be far less forgiving of destroying characters, even if they’re not dead.

    I also really dislike when authors pander to the readers. It makes me a little nervous when authors start asking what readers want to see – have they run out of ideas? are they going to compromise their story to try to please as many people as they can? I think it would be unwise not to consider reader reaction at all, but at the same time, it’s not possible for the author to please everyone, and compromising tends to bring the story down, I find. I recently read Rachel Gibson’s latest book and I thought she was pandering to romance fans a little, what with the MC being a romance writer and defending the genre with (IMO) a few anvils.

    Jolie mentioned that to me but sometimes the -event- ? is isolated and doesn't mark a sharp decline in an author's works.

    That’s true. One (or a few) bad/mediocre books doesn’t necessarily mean that the author can’t rebound. But it might make me a little wary of buying more of his or her books without having read them first.

  24. Nora Roberts
    Oct 18, 2006 @ 07:12:02

    Jane, I agree with you completely that if you’re buying a (for instance) Krentz, marketed as Romance and get a gory mystery you’ve got a right to be disappointed. In fact, I’d be pissed. I meant different within the genre–say JAK decided to write a Romance set in ancient Briton. (I don’t think she’s done that.) Then the reader who’s claimed to be looking for different states that the story was solid, the writing good, the characters compelling. BUT she doesn’t expect ancient Briton from JAK, so she was disappointed in the book.

    I do think there are readers, like Robin, who are genuinely seeking the different. But there are others who might say they are, then pick up what they consider a known entity and express disappointment when they perceive the author colored outside the lines.

    But like someone commented earlier, I may be splitting this too fine.

  25. Robin
    Oct 18, 2006 @ 11:54:39

    Genre and subgenre was not really something to which I had paid much attention until I came across blogs and forums on the interweb where people have discussions (or rants) about how authors tend to stick to a certain style or subject or theme.

    I’ve been inching toward the conclusion that there are some readers who are genre loyal first, then author loyal, then book loyal. Then there are some readers who are book or author loyal first, and who will have different expectations than the genre loyal readers. I’ve accepted the fact that even though I read quite a bit of Romance, I’m not a genre loyal Romance reader, in that I don’t have a problem when genre authors try to color outside the lines. But genre loyal readers sometimes do, and I completely understand that. For the most part, I think genre loyal readers drive the market, although I’ve noticed more genre loyal readers calling for greater risk taking and diversity in the genre, which I hope will have a more significant impact on what’s published over time.

    Someone on AAR quite a while ago also brought up the difference between subjective and objective readers, which I have hung on to since then. I realize that I’m an objective reader, in that I don’t tend to identify with or get really invested in any particular character in a book, and might not get upset when a main character is killed off or revealed as unsavory. But a more subjective reader might find those things disappointing. IMO it’s a trade off: I don’t get so disappointed in some things, but I also don’t get that great immersion experience of reading that a subjective reader does.

  26. spyscribbler
    Oct 19, 2006 @ 19:41:02

    Making me feel stupid by reading a book and I will be angry.

    Boy, I really agree with that statement! John le Carre makes me absolutely furious. Don’t get me wrong, I respect and admire him, and his ability to evoke emotion in me, but I throw the book across the room ten times before I finally fall in love with the story around chapter seven.

    This was a great post; I hadn’t realized what had happened with LKH. It makes a little more sense now, but it’s sad!

  27. Elizabeth
    Oct 19, 2006 @ 20:09:06

    Jane,

    One of the reasons I no longer buy certain authors is because they have left their romance roots behind. Iris Johanson is a perfect example to me. The problem is that for a long time she continued to promote her books to romance readers and many, like me, felt that romance would still be a part of it. It took about 3 books for me to realize that she was out of the romance business. I like romantic suspense and mystery, but the romance must be a really important part of the book in order for me to be interested in it.

    One of my other pet peeves is a writer that deliberately manipulates a reader into having to buy the next book. I left Janet Evanovich because of this. What I mean by this is that unless the book is advertised as part of trilogy (ala Nora Roberts style), if I buy a book, I do expect certain finality with that book. Regardless of the pigdeon hole her publisher wants to put Evanovich in, I can think of a single fan that I have talked to that would read the Plum books if there were no romance going on between the characters. If it were Plum and her bounty hunter job only, this series would have been dead in the water 6 books ago. I know a book that is not labeled a romance has the potiential for no HEA. But after 3 cliffhanger endings in a row, I had finished with this form of manipulation. Enough already!

    I think that in the end, that form of manipulation is what drives the readers away from a writer. In the case of Johansen, she marketed her books hoping to carry her romance fans along with her. Should she be surprised when eventually those fans begin to feel let down. I don’t think so. I also would certainly be upset if she had tried to “erase” a previous romance to fit her new standards. Kinda like a slap in the face to the fans that helped to support her writing in the first place.

    I am going thru this with a very much favored author (not Roberts, so far her books are still number one for me), but for a different reason than the mystery thing. She is going more novel mainstream fiction. While I have been overjoyed with all her previous work… more and more lately she is moving away from the relationship being the focus of the book. While I read some fiction, I can’t help but be let down that her books no longer give good romance. She has always been a romance author. I don’t own her… I don’t have the right to say waitttttt a minute.

    So the only thing I can do is just not buy the book. I want to support great writers, but the quandry is do I do that when I no longer feel I am getting a good book… or getting the type of book I like to read?

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