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Why Mislabeling Will Hurt New Authors (or The One Where Jane...

DISCLAIMER: The following opinion letter WILL contain spoilers for Cameron Dean’s Candace Steele series. The post may contain cursing, negative statements toward the author, the publisher and basically the world. If you don’t like mean statements, I suggest not reading on. I’ve done all I can do to tell you not to read this post. You have been warned.

I read my ebooks on a fairly expensive electronic device. Even if I have read a wall banger, generally, I have been able to control my impulses. At the end of reading the final book in the trilogy, Eternal Hunger, I threw the IPAQ across the bed where it slid off and landed on the floor. Unfortunately, when I went to pick it up, it didn’t turn on. I had to unscrew the device and place a piece of scotch tape inside because I had broken some small plastic piece during the tantrum.

Between October and December, Ballantine released the Candace Steele trilogy. The series has “paranormal romance” on the spine, is designated as a romance in the bookstore computers, and is shelved in the romance section. The books were about Candace Steele, a vampire hunter, who does not want eternal life and the fact that her true love, Ash, is a vampire with eternal life. The first story wasn’t bad, the second story a bit dull, the third one a take off of Laurell K Hamilton’s books by ensuring that the sex to plot ratio is about 2 to 1. (I think out of the 20 chapters, 10 of them were sex scenes). The reader even gets the obligatory LKH orgy because no good vampire hunting series is complete without the orgy.

And the end of this romance series? The fine resolution to the conflict between true love and the desire to remain human? Ash dies. That’s right. My fingers didn’t stumble on the keyboard. The author kills off the true love of the heroine and has Candace hook up with her cop friend, all in the last two chapters of the final entry of the trilogy.

WTF? This is a romance? I slogged through three tepid books to find out the resolution of the conflict is to kill off the vampire hero? I kept thinking as Candace Steele engaged in various relationships with men other than Ash that – huh, this doesn’t sound like a romance but I will hang on. After all, the spine of the book says romance. Ballantine says this is a romance. It must be a romance right? I can live through the multiple partners and the separation so long as the hero and heroine end up together. Because that is the definition of happy ever after, right?

You market the book as a romance but kill off the hero at the end of the trilogy? What is the point of marketing this to romance readers? Put the stupid book in the sci fi/fantasy section. Shelve the book with Kelley Armstrong and Kim Harrison. If the book is good enough, it will reach the romance readers. Don’t market a book where you fucking kill off the hero as a romance because it will seriously piss me off and not just me. Look at the unhappy ladies at Amazon who are returning their books. (Oh, if only I had that option).

After reading Paula Guran’s blogpost yesterday about the new Paranormal Romance anthology that Juno Press is putting out (Juno Press is also the house that bought the Gail Dayton book) and Shannon McKelden’s post at Romancing the Blog, I started wondering who it is that wants romance redefined.

I listened to the podcast of an interview with Paula Guran of Juno Books and Elizabeth Bear about paranormal romances.* The interviewer must not read alot of romances because she starts out by saying that paranormal romance is ignored by two genres. (had to stop the podcast there because I was loudly saying WTF and missed the next part). The interviewer sees the paranormal romances occassionally in the Sci Fi section, but there is no separate section in the romance section. Again, WTF. There is no contemporary or historical sub sections. Its hardcover, trades, and then the rest are thrown together. That’s the purpose of the cover.

Back to Juno Books, the submission guidelines are as follows:

Some might call our books “paranormal romance”, but don’t let either word frighten you off. “Paranormal” really means “beyond the ordinary” and “romance” is defined as “an exciting and/or mysterious quality as of a heroic time or adventure” as well as “a story dealing with love”.

Doesn’t sound like a romance to me. Ms. Guran acknowledges that not all the Juno books will be romances in the traditional “category” “formulaic” sense. (her words). The interviewer suggests that the romances of old are exactly that – old and outdated. Romances featuring the bond mate or the one girl/one guy ending up happily together are not representative of life today. The three agreed that romances tend to revolve around the question “Do I go with him and live with him in fairyland or do I stay here and be sad.” and that “People don’t think that way anymore – that committing to a life with single man is the only way to find happiness. So you can have lots of different happy endings.” That’s true, but that does not mean that those books are romances.

I hear no clamor from romance readers saying, “boy I really wish there were more books where the hero and heroine don’t end up together. I really love those books.” or “I love it when the main couple, after a couple of books, end up with one dead. That really tickles my HEA jones.” Why doesn’t Harlequin put out a line that is Happily Ever After Alone, seeking romances where the relationship ends with at least one character dead or the two characters parting ways – going their own paths.

Sarah Frantz of Teach Me Tonight didn’t read Barbara Samuel‘s The Black Angel because based upon the storyline and the surrounding historical events, the couple only have 14 years of happiness together. I never read Stephanie Lauren‘s Promise in a Kiss because I knew that not only would the hero die but he would also cheat on the heroine and present her with a bastard to raise.

It’s not really that happy endings are the sole province of romances. How happy would readers be if Temeraire got killed off at the end of Black Powder War? Would Novik sell lots more of that series? How about if at the end of the whodunits, the mystery isn’t solved, or in the fantasy, the bad guy is not defeated. Where would be the triumph in those books?

Redefining romance isn’t necessary because the romance genre isn’t confining to authors. Authors are free to write whatever they want. They may not get their books in front of the millions of romance readers, but if they aren’t going to write romance, why should they? Don’t call it romance if it is not a romance because all it does is piss off readers and make them take LESS chances. Which means that new authors lose out. As commenter, Kimber An, noted at Romancing the Blog,

Seems to me the marketing goal is to snag new readers, because the veteran readers stick with their favorite authors. Do they realize it’s because these veterans have been burned?

Readers will stick to the tried and true because they know what they are getting and that isn’t this “new” idea of happy ever – not together – endings. It’s not that I don’t like books without HEA. I love the Temeraire series. I am very anxious to read Patricia Brigg’s end of the month release, Blood Bound, a book with no HEA in sight. But these books don’t promise me a happy ever after ending. To tell me that the book is a romance and then to kill off the hero? That sucks big time.

I won’t be buying any new paranormal romance series soon without reassurance from trusted sources that it is a romance with the romance ending, as sappy or out dated as anyone thinks that is.

*Its start at the 8:48 min mark if you don’t want to listen to the advertisement.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


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