LAST POST, I TALKED ABOUT HYBRID BOOKS, The Tattooed Witch, my debut novel that spans both speculative fiction and paranormal romance, and my frustration with the Big Five NY publishing houses that insist that fantasy and romance genres remain within strictly defined guidelines. (Thank heavens for my publisher, Five Rivers Publishing, which diverges from the traditional publishing model and allows its authors an authentic voice.) I went on to criticize some of the traditional romance formulas, which include a dominant alpha male hero and a tolerance for rape. Shortly after I posted Romancing the Crone on Suzenyms, there was a lot of discussion on my Facebook Timeline about the romance memes, why romance writers adhere to them, and how readers don’t necessarily think the same way writers do. Diane Walton, friend and fellow editor at On Spec, sent me this e-mail (slightly edited, so as to protect identities). She wrote: I asked two acquaintances to read your post about romance writing, since they write romances and paranormal romances. Here’s what one of them said:
“As much as I agree with her (meaning me) about romance writing, we still have a publisher's formula to follow. In fact, we tried to write a thoughtful, exciting, and historically accurate romance novel, and a lot of it was edited out…as new authors, we are at the mercy of editors' and readers' preferences. If these formula novels were not popular, they wouldn't be selling.”
This note started me on a very interesting back and forth with the writer in question. I suggested to her that perhaps I’d been a bit harsh in my criticisms. I asked her if I could share our correspondence, to which she agreed, as long as we maintained her anonymity. She was worried about offending her publisher. I find what she writes very illuminating:
She goes on to point out the romance book industry accounts for 68% of overall book sales in North America (I haven't verified this number and I've seen other stats that differ, but the percentage is substantial.) With regards to women romance readers wanting to see a shift in terms of what the industry offers them, she said this is what she continually hears on discussion panels.“I don't necessarily think the formula is a good thing, and for some women who are far more educated and sophisticated in their reading habits, they still love romance, but not the ‘old style’ romance. Many are shifting to historical lit with romance stories built in to get better stories with more depth and richness. I got into romance on the whim of my publisher—the book I co-authored was written as historical lit. She changed it and edited it to fit the romance cube.If you hate formula romance, you will also hate this one, I think. We had a damn good book until the publisher and editors took out all our careful research and wonderful plot and had my co-author, who took over the rewrites during editing for the experience, insert some hackneyed, horrible ‘sensual scenes’ that are stilted and awkward. (I already had experience working with editors and publishers so I wanted her to have the opportunity.) I’m not putting down my co-author—being a new writer she was intimidated and obeyed—but I wish I’d known. She had to insert love scenes where they didn't belong. I didn't know what was going on until it was too late. It was my mistake. I should have taken over the editing process with the editors and publisher of this book.Frankly, I'm on a mission to change the ‘formula’ and make romance into an intelligent, sophisticated, thoughtful, and exciting genre, instead of the same old crap that’s being pumped out there. If I have to write romances for this publisher, I want them to be good stories. From what I hear, most women readers are shifting towards this as well, but the romance industry is simply not listening.”
So, how do we change publishers' minds in terms of what readers might rather see in romance novels or hybrid books? We speak up. We offer differing opinions, whenever and wherever we can. We encourage our readers to do so, too.