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The Hero’s Agency

The Hero’s Agency


During a past discussion about the lack of representation of non nobles in historical romance, there was one comment that by Darlynne that stuck with me.

Maybe it says readers want people of power in their romance novels. You don’t have to worry about the hero being ground under someone’s heel or treated badly, not when he’s the most powerful SOB in the area. If someone else has the power to destroy the hero, if the world is skewed so far in favor of a ruling class, how can he keep the heroine safe?

As I thought about it more, I realized that what readers in the romance want is a hero with agency  not necessarily one with wealth.

Romance readers seek certainty. An author can do all kinds of terrible things to her characters including beatings, sexual assaults, near death, actual death, and everything in between and it is all excused if the main protagonists achieve a state of cojoined happiness. It is the certainty of the ending that makes it safe for the reader to embark on the journey. Safety is another part of the happy ever after.  In fact, I believe that part of the popularity of military individuals is this idea of personal safety.

In the article I linked to earlier last week, a professor recounted this:

At one point during class I was talking about male privilege, and one student asked me to explain. He noted that he is a man and he doesn’t feel particularly privileged. In response, I noted my own privilege: “When I leave the building late at night, I don’t give a second thought to my safety as I walk to my car. If it’s ten at night, if it’s dark, I just assume that I’ll be fine. But for many women, there is a constant thought process: Do I find someone to walk me to my car? Is it safe at this hour? What are my options?” And then I asked, “who has gone through that train of thought recently?,” and every woman in the class raised her hand. And then they told stories: About avoiding parts of town; about setting their schedule in certain ways; about making sure that they had someone to walk them out; about being on their guard, all the time. The need to guard against the possibility of sexual assault is simply not part of most men’s everyday thought process, while it is a major part of many women’s everyday lived experience.

It’s not that I think that women walk around full of fear for their safety but I do think that a woman alone can have qualms.  I get nervous in elevators when there is only myself and a male I don’t know, particularly if the male tries to talk to me, particularly if he mentions something about my perfume or my shoes or my hair (all things that have happened).  I keep one hand on my cell phone and keep thinking to myself, “don’t talk to me, don’t talk to me.”

Yet, the hero of a romance story can only provide safety, security and certainty if he has agency. Agency means the hero has the freedom to make decisions and affect the outcome of his life regardless of those who might have power above him.

Individuals with agency include small business owners, law enforcement individuals, paramilitary individuals, rich men.  This concept of agency works well with cowboys because the land is so wide open (purportedly) that there are no laws but those that they make. If the hero’s will is being challenged, the hero moves outside the societal paradigm to gain agency such as “going rogue”.  Sometimes, the hero’s journey is gaining agency perhaps through clearing his name or getting the bad guy.

This agency can be imposed upon by “feelings” such as familial obligations, revenge, the hero’s sense of morality or even in deference to the heroine, but it is the hero’s agency that allows him the luxury of choice.   Concomitant with the hero’s choice is the ability to impose his decisions on those around him.  In this fantasy representation, heroes are not controlled by downturns in the economy or irrational bosses.  Their criminal activities are offset by the immorality by those in power, more Robin Hood than Robber Baron (and even the latter are present on the hero side).  Their positions are either unassailable or forgiveable.  It is why the hero is always an alpha in a pack of werewolves (even if he isn’t the top alpha which, of course, makes no sense but he cedes power to the other alpha by choice, not because it is required of him).  Thus is the power of agency.

I submit that the most important trait of the hero is to have agency, whether he steers his own ship through self employment at a small scale such as a tavern owner or the billionaire, whether he carries an official badge or works black ops, whether he is a duke or a pirate king, so long as he is the one who determines his own outcome.  Over to you, commenters.

Wednesday Midday Links: Liking the Unlikeable Character

Wednesday Midday Links: Liking the Unlikeable Character

Tribute Books has announced that beginning in 2012 it will become solely an e-book publisher young adult titles. They are looking for authors who are ready have a book published to a royalty paying press and are offering a 50% off the net retail price in royalties. They want to work with 12 authors, publishing one book per month.

This is not an endorsement of Tribute Books, but merely information that I’m passing along.


Amazon has announced its quarterly earnings. While it enjoyed a 44% increase in North American revenue because of spending, profits had declined over 70%. Amazon anticipates that there will increase between 20% – 44% compared to last year in net sales. More here.


Entangled Pub has announced they will begin to compete with Harlequin on a category book basis. Despite invoking the name of Harlequin, it appeared that category means length to Entangled Pub. As any long-time reader of category romances know, the category line promises a specific type of book. The press release, however, indicates a different focus.

Launching the Indulgence imprint offers the company the ability to focus on the 50,000-60,000 word stories which adhere to the tried and true tropes readers expect from category romances.


“There will be something for everyone in the Indulgence line,” says publisher Elizabeth Pelletier.

The press release goes on to say that it will offer Flirts which are 10-15K words and “Ever Afters” which are 30,000-40,000 word novellas.  This press release sounds like a reset. Hey guys, we are out here publishing books and we are going to be publishing more, in a variety of lengths. Hopefully the reset will include a reduction of prices. It does appear that prices are declining.  The book I reviewed here (positively I might add) cost $7.99 for an under 80K word novel at the time I reviewed it. The price for it is currently $3.99. It’s sequel is on sale for $6.99. There was no word in the press release about the price of the category books (or the shorter works).

Most of what I have heard about Entangled Pub is their denying legitimate bloggers review ARCs from Net Galley and sending semi offensive rejection notes. One thing I have experienced first hand is that Entangled Pub is very slow at responding to requests. I requested an Entangled Pub book and it took several weeks to get a response. I actually requested the book twice. (And both requests were approved on the same day). Many other bloggers have reported delays in responses, often the response being a rejection.

Lori Wilde, the acquisitions editor for the new line says that these categories are fresher than what is in the current market.

“These aren’t your mother’s category romances,” says Lori Wilde.  “They’re quick paced, exciting contemporary stories, whether funny, sexy, mysterious, edgy, or emotional, that showcase what it’s really like to fall in love in the twenty-first century.”

Hallmarks of the line will be the rapid-fire dialogue, fast moving plot lines, sizzling sex, and realistic characters.  Above all, the heartfelt emotions that speak to the way young people live, love, and work will be at the center of every story. “There has never been a more exciting time in history to be an author,” Wilde says. “Dare to seize the future!

Press releases are a tricky thing. Obviously they want to raise awareness and excitement for their new offerings but instead this release kind of slights existing category readers (and writers) as well as suggesting that their own offerings don’t contain a young, fresh, outlook with rapid-fire dialogue.  I do think that competing with Harlequin is a great idea.  I just don’t know that Entangled, with its near silent marketing squad, is ready to take them on.


There is something funny about seeing a debate over low brow lit fic and high brow lit fic and what those in the lit fic crowd believe are deserving of literary prizes.  It means more, suggests one judge, when a readable book is judged along side others…less readable?

One anonymous publisher was quoted in the Guardian saying, “We need icy indifference to public opinion from our Booker judges, and we expect at least a few impenetrable, dark, tricky novels on the shortlist. That way it’s all the more surprising when a Life of Pi emerges.”

Impenetrable fiction for the win is the clarion call of some:

And yet there’s a consortium of people, headed by literary agent Andrew Kidd and supported by a host of literary types, who last week announced they were putting together a prize, to be known as The Literature Prize, for “writers who aspire to something finer.”

Why not just have a category for “books we think we are supposed to like because they are incomprehensible to us”?   More here.


Lionel Shriver writes at about the need for more unlikeable characters.  I’m not convinced by Shriver’s piece.  She begins by defining the unlikeable character by parsing out what is not an unlikeable character.  It is not an anti-hero, a villain, or someone unattractive by accident (wherein the author meant to write a loveable character but failed by making the character annoying).  Shriver can’t encapsulate what a truly unlikeable character is that we should enjoy reading.

Maybe we’re getting down to the nugget: it is possible to sympathize with characters, while still despairing of their misjudgments and even finding them irksome. Eva’s plight as the mother of a high school killer is sympathetic, whatever her shortcomings as a parent, for the scale of her punishment has been disproportionate. Willy’s career disappointment is heartbreaking, even if her rivalry with her husband is ugly and catastrophic. We can sympathize with people of whom we sometimes disapprove, and whom we may not entirely like.

I think Shriver wants you to like her characters because they are flawed and difficult but not because they are unlikeable.


Here is another (expensive) entry into the lighted cover ebook market.  It’s from Lightwedge and the cover is called Verso.  The unique thing about this is that it is charged via a USB cord rather than batteries.  The cost is $59.99.

Verso Phosphor