The Blame Game

Blame GameI have heard that sales of historicals are down; that the historical is dead or dying. I attribute the death of the historical to the fact that there has been a publishing concentration in one sub genre and one location (Regency England) that the nothing in the historical market is fresh. To some degree, it seems that the historicals being published, regardless of publisher, are interchangeable. That Tracy Warren’s book could have been penned by Jenna Peterson who’s book could have been penned by Candace Hern. These three authors have polished works but their voices are nearly indistinguishable for me. The failure of publishing to foster historicals during other time periods and other settings is what has led to the demise of the historical. Its dull, bland and overdone.

On a listserv, recently, I read one author suggest that it is the reader’s fault for the market saturation of the English, Scottish historicals (and ergo, the demise of the historical). On the one hand, there is the argument that several years ago we readers obviously wanted this type of book, asked for more of these books to be published and now capriciously have decided we no longer want it, leaving authors and publishers angry and bemused. My believe is that in the last five years, there have been very few books set outside England and Scotland. Readers weren’t given a choice. There were a few books set outside the Regency time period and away from England and Scotland but most of the market was set in the 1800s and full of Prinny, Brummel and the ton.

The argument then goes, but you readers didn’t buy those different books and different time periods. To which I respond, you simply cannot expect a reader to buy a book set outside of the Regency time period JUST BECAUSE of its time and setting. The book has to be well written. We know that authors were being encouraged to write Regencies, no matter their expertise or desire. Take Madeline Hunter. She wrote exquisite medievals and then went to Avon changed periods and wrote dull Regencies. I understand her numbers were better but did she benefit from better marketing power, placement in the bookstores, handselling by booksellers instead of just the time period change?

There are books being published and read today, in large numbers, that are set outside the traditional English, Scottish settings. Jade Lee is a rising star and she writes books set in the Far East – books that are rich with cultural mores different than the Anglo-Saxons. Lydia Joyce’s Music of the Night was well received and it was set in Italy. Loretta Chase’s novel, Mr Impossible, was set in Egypt as are Bonnie Vanak’s series. Elizabeth Vaughan’s fantasy series is set in a . . . pre-neolithic? time period in the desert with different races (I include this series as a traditional romance because while it’s an imagined world there is little to no magic involved in this story). Susan Carroll’s French Revolution books were published by Random House this past year. (I would link to her website, but apparently she hasn’t gotten the word).

If there was such a trenchant stance by readers that any setting outside the Regency England/Scotland was not acceptable, why are paranormals, futuristics, fantasy books growing in popularity? Because readers are not finding the diversity that they crave in the traditional sub genres of historicals. I have heard by more than one reader that fantasy books are the new historical. They are fresh, with different settings and somewhat different conflicts.

Publishers, more than anything, force the reader to buy certain types of books. I am tired of the vampire stories, but when I go to the bookstore and that is all I am surrounded by from authors that I know, that’s probably what I will be buying. What I see happening is that one or two authors write really great stories in a particular time setting and the readers clamor for more. The publisher gives them more and urges other writers to write in the setting because that is what the reader wants. It’s a misconception. The reader doesn’t want all more of the same – they want more of the two authors that they read that were really good. Instead of fostering or marketing individual voices of authors, publishers seem to try to make them all the same. It’s what has happened in the historical genre. The sameness of these books is getting to me. (ditto with the vampire books).

Further, to understand the regular reader, you must take into account book prices and sales. My neighbor is a long time romance reader. She is what I would term an average reader. She is not online. She does not subscribe to the Romantic Times. She does not read reviews. She has a small keeper shelf of maybe 50 books. She buys about two romances a week. She is also a mother, a busy mother, and she does not have time to go to the bookstore outside of some other type of errand run (ie. a mall run, a grocery store run, a target/wal-mart run). She also says that with books 6.99 and up and the increase of books published in trade format she cannot afford to take risks. She has only about 10 minutes to browse the shelves, look at covers, and read the back before she has to make a decision and move on. With her time and cost constraints, she is going to buy something familiar.

I don’t believe that the reader is to blame for the downturn in historicals. We have so little control over what is going on in the marketplace. I feel like you are saying we readers are bad people for liking a certain book and buying it in droves. I think readers should be able to be excited about books like Quinn and Garwood and Ward without being punished by publishers when they force all the authors to write just like those successful authors. Reading is far more pleasurable when book A is different than book B, particularly with avid readers like romance readers who tend to burn through 2 to 3 books a week. Diversity is the key to a healthy romance genre. My hope is the publishers and authors realize that readers just want a good story. Deliver that and we’ll buy no matter the time period, the genre, or the paranormal creature.

What do readers think? Is the historical dead? Is it the reader’s fault? What can be done to revive the genre? or is it just cyclical?


0 comments on “The Blame Game

  1. Word!

    Seriously, I’ve avoided historical romances for years because, with some exceptions, I can’t stand Regencies. I’m utterly disinterested in the time period–and I can’t believe I’m the only one.

    Speaking as a reader, I’d love to see some outside-the-box settings and periods for historicals. Ancient Egypt, China, Japan… I’d like to see Native American and Western romances make a resurgance.

    Honestly, I think publishers need to realise that readers don’t just want “more of the same” regardless of quality. When you get right down to it, that’s the problem. Because a certain author (or maybe a few, if you’re lucky) makes a huge splash, they assume that’s what readers want… and go out to buy more of it. Lots more of it.

    A friend of mine went to DragonCon this year and commented on the number of editors who complained about buying books they didn’t feel were ready for publication because their publisher wanted more of “that.” I’m not sure how widespread a phenomenon that is. It would explain why so much crap reaches print just because it’s in a subgenre that’s “popular,” though.

    Problem is, with most of the big New York publishing houses owned by huge conglomerations, I don’t think it’s down to “what readers want.” It’s what publishers think readers will buy–and I’m not sure how much quality comes into the equation. From a business perspective, I can understand it, but it sucks for the writers, who are prodded to write in a subgenre they may not be interested in, and the readers, who end up slogging through a lot of stuff that looks really good but is either so-so or outright dreck. 😕

  2. It’s what publishers think readers will buy—and I’m not sure how much quality comes into the equation.

    Isn’t it similar to television programming? There is one ground breaking or interesting program and the next season there are 7 clones of it. Because of ratings and advertising dollars spent on the success of the original program other networks try to capitalize on its popularity. Programmers blame the public and say “it’s what they want”. Where’s the quality in that? The originality?

    I know this topic is historicals, but couldn’t it apply to anything that isn’t a vampire or fantasy romance these days? I think it speaks volumes when a writer like Deborah Smith comes to this blog and confirms that a NY publisher wanted a gifted contemporary writer to write a vampire book. That’s horrifying to me. Honestly, I have to find her books. She’s a very good writer and why is there no advertising machine behind her?

  3. I think it’s a combination of all three, publishers, authors and *sadly* readers. When I say readers I mean the kind that will buy anything Avon publishes just because it’s Avon. I think many of them have almost a sheep mentality and I really do hate to say that about my own kind:( Then to a greater degree I blame authors who sell their soul *cough* Lorraine Heath cough*. But my greatest anger lies with “certain” publishers who build their houses on one format, causing many other publishers to follow suit. I don’t think most publishers really have a clue or give a damn what readers want. England set historicals outsold other genres ergo that’s what we publish. Forget the readers who buy outside their box – They don’t matter. Now I see the same thing happening with Paranormals. I’ve always been a reader who would rather read outside the box. Hell, I was reading vampire novels long before they became the hot ticket they are now. Linda Lael Miller’s series and Maggie Shaynes Twilight series (way back when she wrote the first ones). But now that publishers have declared they are they are what’s hot, with a few exceptions, I don’t read them. My favourite books are the ones that don’t get published much anymore, Hunter’s medievals, Heath’s westerns, Pamela Clare’s colonial books, Vanak’s Egyptian books. Some of them may not be quite so polished but they are “different” and that’s what I’m looking for. Sadly, myself and many other online readers aren’t the majority. As long as the majority keep buying the current trends, that’s what the publisher will publish.
    As for what can be done to revive the genre? I’m not sure I want it revived. I would rather spend my money on books that are different in other genres I want to see revived, like medievals, or westerns or colonial settings.

  4. Kristie stole my thunder–LOL.

    I will add that as much as I blame publishers for not realizing they need break out books just as much as standards, I also blame readers maybe even more than I would authors, though honestly I hate thinking some authors to quote Kristie “sell their soul” to keep the publisher happy. Aren’t authors some what caught in the middle. I’ll have to think about this.

    We buy these books. We (the collective, avid nuts on line and the average readers who think we’re all a little crazy) read one Regency period after another, we must be or the publishers wouldn’t still be shoving them down our throats. Bottom line, publisher are going to put out a product they think we want. It’s simple supply and demand, if we stop demanding them, they’ll stop supplying them.

    The more I think about it I think we’re equally to blame, honestly can’t historical authors come up with something else. Loretta Chase took “Regency England” characters and put them in Egypt, nice twist, much better than reading one more book with at least one scene at the dreaded Almacks.

    And, I think paranormals are definitely going in the same direction. I’ve gotten even pickier about them.

  5. For me, I read one too many historicals that used sex as the conflict, and that was it, I didn’t want to read them anymore. I probably read close to 20 books in a month and only read one historical every other month on average. I still pick up Celeste Bradley or Amanda Quick because I know I’m guarenteed a good read.

  6. I agree: I want diversity but with quality. That’s key.
    And I am tired of all the vampire novels. I say enough already.
    Readers aren’t at fault for anything that doesn’t work. I say publishers need to look at their talent pool.

  7. So…give us authors with strong, fresh voices and let them write in the setting that best suits them?

    I’m down with that. And hopefully I won’t have to sell my soul when angels and demons are passe, and am asked to start writing gladiator books (unless, of course, by then I really want to write a gladiator book).

    The only problem I see, of course, is that “…even if they don’t make money” seems to be tacked onto that statement above. What if Hunter’s medievals didn’t sell because of the setting? It’s hard to assign blame —
    (Why are we assigning “blame” anyway? what good does it do to absolve one party of responsibility and place it squarely on another? It seems to me publishing is more like a co-dependency…publishers wanting money, editors wanting money and good stories, readers wanting books that are worth reading, writers wanting to write and publish — and everyone is enabling everyone else and when something better comes along it’s like going after the last crack pipe. Oh, until someone spots a bag of heroin, and then everyone’s going after that instead. But eventually, you build up that tolerance and if you’re not mainlining it’s not good enough anymore…and then you wish for the days that a nice buzz from a shot of tequila was enough…which is a very long way to say: who’s to blame, the dealer who doesn’t have the stuff we readers want but will take our money for what is available, the teen in the meth lab who didn’t have enough Sudafed, or the farmer in Columbia who was told to add more fertilizer but it just made a sh*tty product, or the person who’s buying it? It’s all of us.)

    And I lost my train of thought. Back to the meth lab.

  8. Ah! I remembered.

    The sameness of these books is getting to me.

    Yes and yes. I’m…guilty?…of standing at the supermarket, and looking through the books available, and seeing a new writer in a new time period…but choosing the author that I know is going to deliver a quality story. (A few times, I’ve been excited about a concept but the excerpt didn’t work for me — one of those times a website didn’t work for an author, I guess, but really helped me out.)

    So I really want a new voice that is going to blow me away (even if it’s set in the Regency period, but then I like the Regency) or has a new approach to the same ‘ol stuff. And it doesn’t have to be a “new” author — someone can find their niche, just as Hunter’s seemed to be Medieval (although I enjoyed some of her Regencies, too). So I wonder — was it the setting alone, or just her love for the period and her research that shone through? (And how long would it have taken before that became stale, if medievals had a surge in popularity?)

    And to me, that’s what it comes down to — not the setting, but the approach. There’s just about no subgenre more conventional than Trad Regencies, but Carla Kelly is beloved because she’s unique. I haven’t read Ward’s books yet, but the one thing I hear over and over is that her voice is absolutely compelling. Because at the core, alpha vampires in leather aren’t so new — but her voice and execution are. But, still, how long until that newness wears off? When the tenth author comes out with her Ward-like series, are people also going to tire of Ward? (And readers will buy them, because Ward only comes out with two a year, and something’s got to fill in the space between that time, and don’t we all want that “maybe it’ll have that magic and grab me” feeling…which makes the letdown even worse.) But I’m guessing that even with the onslaught of similar books, Ward’s voice will still stand out (as, say, Julia Quinn still stands out amongst the Regencies, and Nora Roberts among the contemporaries.)

    Kristie said:

    Hell, I was reading vampire novels long before they became the hot ticket they are now. Linda Lael Miller’s series and Maggie Shaynes Twilight series (way back when she wrote the first ones). But now that publishers have declared they are they are what’s hot, with a few exceptions, I don’t read them.

    Oh, man, I loved those too! I don’t read as many vampire books either — it used to be every single one I’d search out like a madwoman. Now, it’s partially because of writing issues and time concerns, but also because — like Regencies — there’s so many that I’m more likely to stick with names I know and trust than try something that may not work.

    Which probably also means that I’m missing out on some really great books. And, yeah, that’s totally my fault (but won’t make me responsible for the eventual decline of vamp romances).

  9. To which I respond, you simply cannot expect a reader to buy a book set outside of the Regency time period JUST BECAUSE of its time and setting. The book has to be well written.

    Ah…exactly. See, not to be mean but many of these books with a different setting are below average in quality. I’m not even talking about plot–although goodness I would have some things to say about that too–but the quality of the writing in general. I always feel bad when I see a new book that sounds different but after reading an excerpt–or extended excerpts thanks to Amazon Search Inside feature–I see that it’s not going to work for me. I do want to see more diversity in Historical romance but I also want quality.

    Someone comented on a message board on AAR that he didn’t understand how some books published these past few years could actually make it to the shelves. And I agree. We are swamped with bland, disappointing books. There are a few gems in the lot but not many, and they’re hard to find.

    I don’t think readers are to blame either. Readers who aren’t online buy what’s available. And if they don’t like a book they’ll never give negative feedback to the publisher. All the publisher sees is that one more book was sold.

    I don’t think things will get better anytime soon. In fact things are getting worse I think. Some fabulous authors like Lorraine Heath, Madeline Hunter and Connie Brockway write only average, bland books these day. They gave us some exceptional stories a while back.

    One of the only authors who hasn’t sacrificed her art is Laura Kinsale. You may cringe at some of her heroines from time to time but boy can that lady write! She’s a true credit to the romance genre. That’s the quality of writing we should see in *every* book published.

    I wouldn’t mind reading about Regency over and over again so much if the story was told well.

    I’m down to reading a couple of romances a month. I find it very sad. And with the prices of books these days I cannot afford to take blind chances. $7.99 is way too expensive for a 350 pages long paperback with huge type. You’re basically buying an air-padded 200 pages story. At least that’s what it feels like.

    But then I’m just a picky frenchwoman so I’m probably in the minority :o)

  10. All our needs are different–publisher, writer, reader–even if the end goal of a wonderful book is the same. The publisher MUST make money, or the publisher is out of business. That’s a fact. The writer must make a living–unless he or she is independently wealthy and writing only for love. The writer must also write for love, and most certainly will write best if allowed to create what compels her. But if she writes ONLY what compels her without a thought as to what’s being bought by publishers–and readers–she has to be really, really lucky and extraordinarily talented to pull it off and make that living.

    The reader needs entertaining, intriguing, well-written books. And most genre readers need lots of them. A chunk of those readers, due to simple finances, search out books, or a portion of them, in libraries and used bookstores. Otherwise, they just can’t afford to read as much as they like. Another chunk really enjoy the comfort of the familiar so are drawn to the same authors, same period, same type of book. Others crave the unique voices, the unique settings or plotlines that still deliver the expectations of the genre.

    The publisher wants to satisfy as many of those readers as possible. That’s why they’re in business. A writer wants to reach as many readers as possible while writing what they love–and while wanting to make a living.

    If Regency Historicals sell briskly, then a publisher is bound to want to publish more. And a writer, wanting to sell, may target their storyline in that direction. Same goes for any of the sub-genres. Then, the market and the reader become saturated. That sub-genre slides off, another lifts up.

    It circles and cycles, ebbs and flows. It always has.

    I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault, just as I think we could all do better.

  11. I’m agreeing with a lot of what Estelle says (about seeing a lot of poorly written books) but then I hit this about Laura Kinsale’s work:

    That’s the quality of writing we should see in *every* book published.

    And I wonder: are you kidding? (With a smiley, of course.)

    Someone like LK is in a total class by herself, and she somehow CAN write for her art. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t love everything she’s written, it’s not always to my taste, but I recognize really freaking good writing — and I do think that all writers should strive to put out the best story possible, and publishers should try to buy quality…

    But that they shouldn’t put out a book unless it is at LK’s level? The problem there is: the only time you’ll get a book like that is when LK herself writes it. That’s going to be a long wait between books.

    I have high expectations when I pick up a book. I want to be entertained, I want the writing to be fabulous, and I want it to be as good as the books that are on my keeper shelf. But the sad reality is there aren’t that many GREAT writers out there. There are lots of good writers, some really good writers, but great? Not as many (Stephen King talks about this in his On Writing book, and I think he’s right). And romance books are the same. There’s a lot of good, some really, really good, but few great.

    Holding every book read to an LK standard, and comparing it to LK, I can understand. But to expect — or even demand — that every book published be at that standard (or whatever book an individual reader deems is the best of the best (Mine would probably be Katherine Kingsley’s No Greater Love) … I dunno. I don’t think any publisher, author (even LK, if she’s having a bad year) can live up to that.

  12. The one imprint I’m paying more attention to these days is Zebra. When I wrote to the Kensington CEO in praise of Jo Goodman and the fact that she hasn’t been forced to sacrifice her longer more complex books for the “market,” he indicated in a very gracious reply that Kensington is reinvesting in the historical, recognizing that their roots are in that sub-genre. They also sell new authors at like 3.99 or 4.99 to grab attention, which I think is absolutely brilliant. So I’m trying to buy more Zebra authors to see if I can get some new voices that way — and to encourage that reinvestment.

  13. Speaking of publishers going crazy over what they deem to be the latest in-thing, I did notice that in some of Lisa Kleypas’s later books, the sexual content seemed to grow at an alarming rate. Now I love hot books, but even I noticed that some of the sex scenes seemed to be dumped on the reader, rather than the natural and gradual progression that her fans have come to expect. I remember wondering if she’d been asked to write more sex. (Not necessarily a bad thing, but it has to be appropriate to the story line)

    There are only a handful of hysterical writers that I’ll read, Kleypas being one of them, but every now and then, I’ll take a risk and try a new-to-me author. My problem is the amount of regency authors who’s heroines aren’t up to much, and who’s heroes, I’d happily take a blunted knife to. I hate weak characters, and with the exception of the likes of Gaelen Foley, I pretty much hate the atypical historical heroine.

    Admittedly, I’m a bordeline feminist, so reading about virgins being forced to wed to save their families, does grate on my last nerve. Although, I’m sure a well written book would make a believer of me.

    As a Brit, I’ve always wondered about the U.S fascination with European (OK English and Scottish) hystericals.

    There are so many more far interesting places in the world, places that are truly steeped in history, that it seems crazy that a whole genre could be borne out of one itty bitty island in Europe.

  14. Holding every book read to an LK standard, and comparing it to LK, I can understand. But to expect — or even demand — that every book published be at that standard (or whatever book an individual reader deems is the best of the best (Mine would probably be Katherine Kingsley’s No Greater Love) †¦ I dunno. I don’t think any publisher, author (even LK, if she’s having a bad year) can live up to that.

    Point taken :o) I might have bit a bit extreme there. It’s just her name was on my mind at the time I wrote my first post–I’d just reread Seize the Fire–and so my fingers typed it.

    About the amount of time it takes Kinsale to write books…would it be so bad to wait? There are many authors out there, and if, say, 80% of them were able to write good quality stories in twice the time they currently take–heck some write 4 books a year these days!–the wait wouldn’t be so terrible and the cash would still be coming in for the publishers. The way I see it they’re going to go through a very rough time. There’s no way that readers will continue to buy en masse with the price of books these days. As soon as an author gets a bit famous the tag price is raised to $7.99. In two years will we be asked to pay $10?

    It seems to me that publishing has become a bit like the fast-food industry: fast/lots/unsatisfying after ingestion. Society is like that nowadays. We want a lot of things and we want them fast. And quality has been dropped from the equation.

    Things are very different in France, mostly because there isn’t a romance industry. We do get awfully translated books from American and British authors but there are no French romance writers. Publishers catter to 2 different sort of people: the ones who will pay $20 to $30 for a book–trade format–and the one who will read only massmarkets with a tag price of $6 max–can rise to $8 if it’s a meaty 900 pages book. The prices on these massmarket books have been almost stable for the past 15 years and the publishers are doing very well. Of course that’s not to say that everything is quality but you get a great variety of choices.

  15. ~There are many authors out there, and if, say, 80% of them were able to write good quality stories in twice the time they currently take—heck some write 4 books a year these days!—the wait wouldn’t be so terrible and the cash would still be coming in for the publishers~

    This is assuming that if a writer took more time to write, the result would be a book of what you believe is good quality.

    This doesn’t factor in the natural pace of the writer–and quicker or slower doesn’t mean the result will be better. It doesn’t factor in individual talent, the particular storyline, or particular vision.

    LK has her writing pace, her talent, her vision. No one else is going to reproduce this by simply taking twice the time to create the book.

    I write quickly–you may or may not like my work, but I write at a pace that’s natural for me. I write 6-8 hours a day on average. Some may only be able to write for half that–and some of those may be able to create in that time as much as I do in double it.

    Pace is only one element, and there are those who assume slowing the pace improves the result. This would only be true–and probably only partially–if the writer was working at a pace that wasn’t natural for her.

  16. Nonny – To some extent, I can understand the desire for publishers to jump on the bandwagon, but that attitude is self defeating. As we have seen, those genres that experience a glut (regencies, chick lit and vampires) are now dismissed by the reader because they have read so many poor quality ones. It’s short sighted to publish what’s hot.

    Rosie – I hate hearing that an author is being asked/forced to abandon their voice in favor of the current trend. But I also wonder at those authors. If you are going to write what the publisher wants, don’t be down on the reader when they tire of it.

    Kristie(J) – I do think readers have some responsibility but I also feel like we get “punished” for liking a book. Oh, like vampires then for the next 5 years all you are going to get is vampires. You bought it and now that is all you get. Maybe the online readers are the vanguards of the genre, pushing it out of stagnant trends and toward fresh ones. Isn’t that what happened with Ellora’s Cave.

    Tara Marie – The authors selling their soul is a good concept. I know that Bev blogged in the past about how it seems a bit odd to her that authors expect to make a living at writing when the statistics for that kind of thing are fairly low. It really blows Kinsale’s theory out of the water that writing is like an art, to be appreciated as an art. If you are not following your muse, but the dollar, then the author is a commercialist.

    As for supply/demand, I agree that there is some symbiotic process there but I also think that publishers dictate demand to a large degree.

    Jody – Having just read one of those books with sex as the conflict, I could not agree with you more. Those types of stories with constant mental lusting and will he or won’t she have sex is dullsville. I love Amanda Quick too.

    Keishon – I am tired of the vamps too. I wish that there were less books published and more focus on the quality of the book. It’s like the publishers have a certain amount of slots to fill and will throw up anything to see if the author sticks to the wall. I have read a number of YA books and have yet to read a real wall banger. I wonder if those editors have less money and therefore are more careful about the books that they choose.

    Meljean – Jacqueline Kesslar wrote and asked if I was interested in Hell’s Bell’s. I said I was but asked her if demons were the new hot thing, particularly after reading yours and receiving another inquiry. She said it was the new black. LOL. Thankfully, I think the demon world is quite fresh and has room for significantly different world building as not so many iconic books exist about hell and demons and I would love to see a gladiator book from you!

    RE: Hunter. I think it was her love for the period that made it the settings so rich. I goes back, I believe, to an author writing from her heart instead of her pocketbook.

    Kristie – Me too! My neighbor said the same thing about time travels. She was reading O’Banyon long before time travels were popular.

    Estelle – We readers must be picky Frenchwomen too because we tend to have similar opinions. I agree that I don’t see a change for the positive. I read somewhere that publishing used to be about books and now it is about the money. I understand that but I don’t have to like it.

    Nora Roberts – I don’t necessarily agree with the statement that the end goal is the same for the publisher, writer and reader. I think the reader wants a great book and possibly the writer (although, sometimes I think that writers just want to sell, regardless of the qualitative aspect), but publishers? Their bottom line is the dollar. As for writing out of love, I used to believe that but more and more I see authors as businesses instead of artisans and that their bottom line isn’t a great book, but a commercially salable book. It goes back to what Bev said and I guess would make for a good op piece and that is, more and more authors want to make a living off of writing. To do that, you have to be a trend follower because only a few authors are going to set trends.

    And I think that the publisher wants to satisfy the group who are seeking the familiar because for a business, that is the safest route. I recognize you know more about publishers than I do. I am just writing from my perception.

    Robin – I love Jo Goodman. She is becoming commercially successful too, despite the lack of the marketing powerhouse of Avon or other publishers. I also love the new author pricing. Another Zebra historical writer I like is Caroline Linden. We’ll put up reviews of her two books next week, but I found her writing to be crisp. (maybe a little reminiscent of Jane Feather?).

    Karen Scott – I noticed the increased sexual content in Lisa Kleypas’ books too. It was like she was given some checklist at Avon wherein it stated, you must have at least one carriage sex scene, one take her from the rear sex scene, one recipricol (sp?) oral sex scene. It was awful and hampered the true quality of the books.

  17. Another Zebra historical writer I like is Caroline Linden. We’ll put up reviews of her two books next week, but I found her writing to be crisp.

    Oh, good, since I haven’t tried her yet. One of the reasons I’m picking up Tracy MacNish’s books is because she’s a Zebra author, as well.

    As for supply/demand, I agree that there is some symbiotic process there but I also think that publishers dictate demand to a large degree.

    How many independent Romance publishers are there? When you factor in all the conglomgerates? It feels to me very much like a closed market, where publishers limit the choices to begin with, take few risks to diversify, and then call it readers’ choice when an even narrower selection of books happens to sell to some acceptable standard. And when Romance readers want the what the genre has to deliver formalistically, I think they’re sort of a captive market that publishers can exploit.

    Anne Stuart said some very interesting things on AAR about her negative history with publishers, indicating that her current publisher views her work more as “boxes of cereal on a shelf” rather than books. Candice Proctor has been very vocal about why she left historical Romance (publisher resistance to her changing up periods and settings) and blames the lapses in quality on the general push to write quickly (she wrote a great essay that’s reprinted on her site). Someone posted recently on the AAR Porpourri Board that she heard Proctor at a recent book fair actively discouraging people from trying to get published because of the emphasis on sales (she was talking about mystery, too, I think). Lisa Kleypas and Connie Brockway are writing contemps for St. Martin’s. Where’s Laura Kinsale’s new book? If you’d think ANYONE could get a publishing deal that didn’t require a two book contract, it would be Kinsale. Avon just republished Judith Ivory’s very first book, renamed it “Angel in a Red Dress” (so much like “Beast,” don’t you think?) and gave it a typical Avon cover. Maybe things are just going to have to bottom out before they get better. If Zebra can give me some good reads, I’ll be happy to throw my money their way.

  18. I think what Zebra doing is brilliant! I’ve noticed recently they’ve changed the marketing a bit. The first release of a new author is $3.99 (slightly higher in Canada), the second is $4.99 (again slightly higher in Canada). I buy most of them unless the story sounds real bad. I’m impressed that the publisher is willing to give the new authors a chance to build a readership by offering their books at reduced prices. Plus they stand out more on the shelves. By the time the third book is out, most readers will know if they like that author or not. I wish other publishers would do something similar to promote new authors. Speaking of that – I know they have a website where you can check them out. I’ve found it a time or two but didn’t mark it as a favourite and now I can’t find it again. Anyone know what it is?

  19. Kristie, I think you’re talking about this (I made it a tiny URL, though, so it would fit here):

    It’s where they list all their current releases with sample chapters, etc.

    I’m willing to pump more $$ into Zebra right now because I want to send the message to them that I appreciate what they’re trying to do.

  20. This is assuming that if a writer took more time to write, the result would be a book of what you believe is good quality.


    Pace is only one element, and there are those who assume slowing the pace improves the result. This would only be true—and probably only partially—if the writer was working at a pace that wasn’t natural for her.

    I’m aware that more time isn’t the only thing needed. But from the comments made by authors here and there on the net I got the impression that some of them were writing ‘at a pace that wasn’t natural for [them]’ as you justly put it. I’ve got no problem against authors who write fast and well. Only I find there are so few of them. I’m a fan of your In Death series by the way.

    And, again, I do not wish every author to be a copycat of Kinsale. As you said, she has her own unique style. I was speaking of the quality in general: the well researched period, well-rounded characters, interesting and intricate plots, time spent on polishing sentences and, most of all, heart. Lorraine Heath stated–and I don’t remember where–that she started setting her books in England because she was told that was what sold these days not because she wanted a change. There’s such a great disparity between her wonderful earlier work set in the US and the last books she’s delivered. All the heart seems to have flown from her work. I know I’m not the only one who thinks so; we’ve been having a debate over this at AAR.


  21. ~If you’d think ANYONE could get a publishing deal that didn’t require a two book contract, it would be Kinsale.~

    I’m puzzled by this as writers often sign for only one book at a time. I know Pat Gaffney signed a one book contract a few months ago, because that suited her better. I routinely sign one book for my hardcovers. I’m surprised LK would have any trouble opting for this.

    I agree–no question–that the publisher has profit as their bottom line. But I do know from dealing with lots of publishing people over the years, that the hope is for a wonderful book that they’ll be able to market and sell for a solid profit.

    I don’t disagree that a writer is in a commercial business–at least not those of us writing and publishing popular fiction. But I do believe the book will be better if the writer loves to write, loves the story, the characters. Done only for love, without any finger on the pulse of what’s marketable? That’s why I said, in that case, the writer must be extremely lucky and extremely talented.

    But I don’t agree that to build a readership one must follow trends. I’ve never paid any attention to trends and done just fine. I’ll always believe it’s about the STORY itself. I think others have commented here that if they’re given a good story, well-crafted, with compelling characters, they’re there. That’s how I feel as a reader.

    I understand the frustration that many here aren’t finding enough of those reads. I don’t have the answer.

    Maybe, a publishing strategy such as Zebra’s will shake things up some, push a few fresh voices out of the chorus. Time will tell.

  22. 200 nos and still going strong. Irene Goodman said it best

    rom: Irene Goodman []
    Sent: Wednesday, March 22, 2006 1:05 PM
    To: Shone, David
    Subject: Re: Jean Plaidy’s work

    I think Russia is going to be a difficult setting in a market that seems
    stuck on western Europe.

    —– Original Message —–
    From: “Shone, David”
    Sent: Tuesday, March 21, 2006 9:16 AM
    Subject: Jean Plaidy’s work

    > Good day Ms. Goodman,
    > I am writing you on a friend’s advice. She thought my style reminded her
    of Jean Plaidy. That’s quite a compliment. If it is true, you would be the
    ideal judge.
    > Here’s her words:
    > Hi Dave,
    > I’ve read all of the Crimson Snow material you sent to me and I think it’s
    a compelling story. I am not currently up on Russian history, (although I
    know I studied all of this at some point…a long time ago…) so I assume
    it’s correct. I found the second chapter really got me interested more than
    the intro–people murdering Rasputin certainly had a lot of action, but it
    was the character of Serge that began to draw me into the story.
    > Your choice of subject matter and writing style reminded me of a book I
    read about 15 years ago in high school. The assignment was for everyone in
    class to read a different current historical novel and do a book report. I
    read Jean Plaidy’s The Lady in the Tower, about Anne Boleyn, publ. in 1986.
    I wonder if the same company that published her books might be interested in
    yours, assuming they are still around and still publish the same type of
    work. It was Fawcett Crest, part of Ballantine Books. This author published
    20-30 books along the same lines, at least, and she also wrote romance
    novels under the name “Victoria Holt.” I can bring my book to the meeting
    Mon if you want to look at it. It’s the only one of her books I’ve read.


    Seeking representation on a completed work of historical fiction entitled Crimson Snow, a dark epic set during the Great War. Word count is 87k.

    As a three hundred year old Romanov dynasty teeters on the brink of oblivion, an unlikely hero emerges from a six-month drinking binge to do a simple favor for his father place his troublesome cousin Prince Felix on a train heading south. Sounds fairly simple. But within this small act lies the twist of fate that has repercussions for one of the world’s greatest empires. What was the young prince’s true involvement in the disappearance and likely death of Father Rasputin, the Empress’ good friend and spiritual advisor? Hate, jealousy, love, or was there something more?

    Based on actual events and real-life characters, Crimson Snow takes the reader on a fast-paced journey through St. Petersburg’s fine palaces, ritzy clubs, and busy streets in search of the truth.

    Self-taught scribbler, my passion for Russian history stems from an old portrait in a room that sees too little light. What else is there to say? I have devised a compelling story from interviews, research and imagination that allows a reader to witness a world of majesty that no longer exists.

    Crimson Snow — Synopsis
    By D. Shone

    The year is 1916. The winds of war blow across Russia, but Prince Sergei Platonovich Konstantin, a wounded war hero, no longer cares. Six-months ago, Sergei lost his wife as she delivered their first child. The next battle after finding this out, he rushes the enemy lines single-handedly in an effort to join his dead wife and child. His act of insanity rallies the Russian Army from certain German defeat. A few days later, Sergei’s luck runs out when he took three bullets to the chest. He does not die. Instead, as Sergei recovers from his wounds in St. Petersburg, he is given Russia’s highest honor, the Order of St. George for his valor.

    Now, perched in a penthouse in the Hotel Europe, the prince drinks himself into oblivion. His only salvation comes when Inspector Renko, second in charge of His Majesty’s secret police, asks him to do a simple favor for his boss, Serge’s father- place his troublesome cousin Prince Felix on a train heading south.

    Sounds fairly simple. But last night a most influential man was misplaced and Prince Felix is believed to be involved. The man who disappeared is Father Grigory Rasputin, Empress Alexandra’s spiritual advisor. The authorities believe Rasputin was somehow baited to Prince Felix’s palace where he was shot and killed on the palace grounds. Her Majesty thinks the attack on her trusted aid is the first step in a plan to remove her husband from power. So, Alexandra orders Prince Felix’s under house arrest. Then, she requests the tsar to return home from the front, where he is currently planning the spring offensive, in an effort to restore authority.

    This is exactly what the regime’s opposition led by the tsar’s own cousin, Grand Duke Vladimir, wants. Twenty years ago, Vladimir’s father had been passed when his own brother, Tsar Alexander III, handed down the Crown to his ill-prepared son Nicholas, instead of his own brother. Since then, the Grand Duke feels Tsar Nicholas is sitting in his seat. His loyal legions plan to strike late on Monday night — the day when Nicholas returns from the front. Rasputin’s death was their bait.

    To add to the oddity of all this, the German-born empress is in secret negotiations with Nicholas’ cousin, the Kaiser. Kaiser Wilhelm desperately wants a separate peace with Russia to free up the million of his battle-tested men from that theatre of war, and move them to the front that counts — the Western front. There, his troops have been in a two-year stalemate with the joined forces of France and Britain. With the rumor of America’s entry into the war on the Allies’ side, the German monarch must act quickly. By securing peace in the east, the Kaiser can add a million more men to the Western front by the spring offensive and upset the stalemate. By the summer, the war could be won by Germany before the Americans even enter it.

    This fact is not lost on Sir George Buchanan, the British Envoy to the Russian Court. Sir George knows his only task now is keeping Nicholas and his army of 15 million men in the war. At least, until the Americans join the fight. So, his men are desperate to search out the Kaiser’s agents administering the peace talks in Russia. Thus enters Malachi Jones, Serge’s close friend and old roommate from his days at Oxford. He is asked to contact Prince Sergei in an effort to set up a clandestine meeting with Serge’s father, General Konstantin, the man who the British believe is orchestrating the separate peace terms for Their Majesties.

    When Tsar Nicholas returns, he is greeted by an unlikely dinner guest — his wife’s brother, Duke Ernest of Hesse — the man the Kaiser chose to complete the armistice. As traitors in his own army prepare to strike, Nicholas discovers what the empress has been up to while he had been away fighting the war — much mischief. As the phone and power lines are cut, the Alexander Palace disappears into darkness. Prince Sergei’s discovery of the coup may have come too late? An exciting finish to a compelling story.

    Sorry for the long drawn out post….

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