Jennifer's Journal


Monday, July 23, 2012

Trivial Romance?

Writers should avoid reading reviews for their own peace of mind. And yet, like passing an accident scene on the highway, we are compelled to look. I’ve been paying attention lately because of a disturbing trend that seems to be developing. It shows up more often in customer reviews on Amazon and other similar places, but can also be found on dedicated book review sites.
The gist of it seems to be that today’s reviewer wants stories which focus solely on the relationship between hero and heroine.  They consider books that include more than this to be something other than romance novels.

They want few descriptions of setting or atmosphere as this gets in the way of what they consider to be the “meat” of the story. Accurate food, clothing, architecture or room furnishing details are seen as unnecessary.
They dislike secondary plots as these take up pages that might be utilized for give and take between hero and heroine.
They don’t want secondary characters unless they further the relationship between the two main characters and/or provide comic relief.
The logical and timely development of the male-female relationship with its attendant sensual tension is not enough. They expect immediate sexual activity, no matter how unlikely that might be within the context of the story or the given personalities of the hero and heroine.

They don’t want explanations of historical events in their historical romances. Never mind that the story plot would make little sense without this background.

Also in historicals, they demand proactive, modern-thinking heroines regardless of the social dictates of the times or likely consequences of inappropriate, even stupid, action.
They object to violence in any form, and have little taste for controversy or anything that might require concentrated thought.

They have scant appreciation for theme and often fail to understand the concept. Many seem to have the mistaken notion that theme and story situation are synonymous.

They consider character development to mean altered physical appearance or change in social status rather than mental or emotional growth.
They prefer that the majority of a book’s text be in dialogue between the hero and heroine, and often admit to skipping everything in between.

They like direct sentences with scant use of metaphor and simile, also short paragraphs and common, nonspecific word choices. Symbolism is regarded as pretentious.

What they want, in fact, is a straightforward, “feel good” experience, the simplified version of a romance as represented by Harlequin category books.

The net effect if writers attempt to please these reviewers must be the trivialization of romance novels.

Now, there's nothing wrong with an uplifting read in a shorter length which prevents the use of much beyond the central relationship. I've written these myself, and enjoy reading them on occasion. But to maintain that all romances must follow that pattern or be considered outside the genre is a serious error.

Yes, the male-female relationship -- the eternal love affair that ensures the continuation of human life -- is central to all romantic stories. But it isn’t the only thing that can or should take place in one. Broad, dramatic events, complicated plot lines, vital secondary characters and ingenious secondary plots are just as valid in the romance genre as they are in any other type of fiction.

Literary style in romances should be as varied as the people who write them.
World building with accurate details of time and place  can be, and of often is, an integral part of the romance experience.

A writer’s life view or acquired wisdom about human relationships is as allowable in romance as in any other genre. No theme available to authors of fiction should ever be excluded.
Reviewers need to study the romance genre in depth before imposing their opinions on writers and readers. They should broaden their horizons, look for more than mere light entertainment.

Romance is not and never has been a trivial genre. Let’s not turn it into one.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Book Edition Puzzle

SEDUCED BY GRACE, Book 3 of my medieval Three Graces trilogy, has just been published in the UK in a hardcover large print edition from Chivers Press. The book has a lovely cover, and I appreciate the vote of confidence it represents but—Book 3?

Book 2, BY GRACE POSSESSED, has also been published in a large print hardcover edition. Yes. But in the U.S. By Thorndike Press.

What happened to Book 1, BY HIS MAJESTY’S GRACE?

Why did two different publishers release different books of the trilogy, but neither choose to start with Book 1 or to issue all of them? Or has Book 1 been published in a hardcover edition by someone else entirely, but no one let me know it?

This isn’t the first time something similar has happened. LUKE, Book 2 of my 5-book contemporary Louisiana Gentleman series, was published in hardcover large print edition by Severn House in 2011. Book 3, ROAN, came out this past spring from Severn House, all right, but so far there’s been no sign of Book 1, KANE. Nor of Books 4 and 5, CLAY and WADE, if it comes to that.

Did whoever selected the titles for these editions not realize the books belonged to sets? Did my original publisher suggest them to the hardcover houses without giving their publishing history? Were choices made based strictly on sales figures or some other criteria? Or are the various publishers waiting for readers to clamor for the other books before they go to the expense of printing them?

Who can say? Certainly, no one has explained the process to me. In fact, I only learned these books had been reissued in later editions when author copies arrived on my doorstep.

I could send a query, of course, but I left the original publishing house for these titles back in the winter. I doubt my show of concern would have noticeable effect on future publishing decisions for them or anyone else. Some few details will surely show up on a future royalty statement, but I have little hope of a full explanation. The case of the missing titles may have to remain a mystery.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

New beginnings

Today is the first day of the rest of my blogging life. After months of confusion while reading articles and books on how to blog, what to write about and how often to post, I’ve decided to ignore all the advice and do it my way. This means returning to my original plan when I named this blog Jennifer’s Journal: it will be an online record of my days to let readers know what’s happening with my life and career. And if I sometimes post the odd thought that runs through my mind, perhaps you‘ll bear with me.

This is such a minor decision compared to some I’ve taken recently!

Last November, I submitted a proposal for a new medieval trilogy called the Tudor Heiress Brides Books. My editor approved it and made an offer. The advance was somewhat less than for the previous Three Graces trilogy, but came with promises of a sizeable commitment for promotion. Three-way negotiations began between me, my agent and the editor.
But in the middle of these talks, my husband had a heart attack that resulted in quintuple by-pass surgery. It was a traumatic time, with long weeks spent in hospitals. It seemed something was telling me I needed to get off the merry-go-round of constant deadlines I’d been on for over 30 years and enjoy our time together. I turned down the offer for the trilogy and withdrew the proposal.

As one door closes another opens, so they say, and that’s how it turned out. I’d been in contact with a niece who writes as Phoenix Sullivan ( She had indie published two of her books on Amazon, as well as an anthology of stories by several of her online friends. Not only was she familiar with the process, but she had impressive data geek credentials, as well as having held writing and editing positions at a series of high-tech firms for more than 20 years. As it happened, I’d been reading about the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing phenomenon. We began to talk about the possibility of putting some shorter titles of mine online, novellas I’d done in the 1990s for which rights had reverted to me as the author. The more we talked the bigger the plans become—and in December we established Steel Magnolia Press.

A sizable factor in this undertaking was that several of my full-size backlist novels, out of print but out there as ebooks from E-Reads, Inc., were coming up for rights reversion. Then I had another niece, Tamelia Tumlin, who had worked with several online publishers, a daughter, Lindy Corbin, who had published a book with a traditional house that went belly-up, and another daughter, Katharine Faucheux, who was at a place in her life where she might finish a couple of great stories she’d started. A couple of other relatives had writing ambitions, Phoenix was working on new material and I had several things in my files that could be revamped. Then that new medieval trilogy lurked in the background. With lots of possible books lined up for publication, we forged ahead.

Discussion about the reversion of my backlist titles began immediately, but turned into a lengthy dialogue. Agreement was finally reached for the release of 36 titles, but more weeks passed while previous ebook versions were removed from their online sales outlets. Meanwhile, much work went on behind the scenes at SMP. New covers were commissioned from Dara England of LFD Designs, and new text formatting put into place. Different descriptions were created and more complete copyright and review details added. A production timetable for all titles was finalized and promotion schedule established.

The changes made did not affect the stories, in case you’re wondering. Beyond minor editing on a couple to comply with modern usage, the text in each case is the same as when these books were printed by traditional publishers. The main purpose behind the revamping was to give them a brighter, more romantic look and feel for greater reader appeal.

The first quartet of books now out includes ARROW TO THE HEART, MIDNIGHT WALTZ, SILVER-TONGUED DEVIL and TENDER BETRAYAL. As the stories are all set against the backdrop of antebellum Louisiana’s aristocratic plantation society, they’ve been dubbed the Louisiana Plantation Collection. Each is a stand-alone book, however, with no connection to any of the others. Special promotions will be coming up for these titles in the near future, so check back often for information on them.

August will see another four titles released in a collection which chronicles different time periods and events in my home state's colorful history. Others will follow in additional groups of four to six over the next eight or nine months. And I can't wait to have them all online!

Mine weren’t the only titles released this week by SMP. I’m delighted to announce the debut of NIKO’S STOLEN BRIDE by my older daughter, Lindy Corbin. Set on Sanibel Island, Key West and the Bahamas, it’s an exciting tale with a gorgeous Greek hero who is determined to prevent a bride from changing her mind after canceling her wedding to another man. My niece, Tamelia Tumlin, also has a new book out. DEADLY IMAGE is a different genre for her, a Christian romantic suspense tale about a young woman who must depend on a handsome but suspicious FBI agent to find her missing daughter. Tamelia has updated her web site in honor of this release. See it here:

Something new and different seems to happen every day with this venture into independent publishing. I’ll be keeping a chronicle of these events, as I said before. Meanwhile, what do you think about this development in the book world? Do you prefer reading "real" books or on an electronic device? If you use an e-reader, how many books do you download per month, on average? Leave a comment, and let’s start a conversation!

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