Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Mainstream Versus Romance Genres

I was offered a contract for my Victorian Novel by a small press with a growing reputation who have been enthusiastic about the story. I was happy to cut 10k of the manuscript to suit their wordcount requirements. However, there is usually a catch isn't there, and today I received this:

.... the hero and heroine must meet much sooner and the romance between them needs to be increased.......and, it must be written only in the hero and heroine’s POV's.

I know it’s my own fault – the story is really a Mainstream Historical Novel, but as an unagented writer, the vehicles for querying manuscripts is restricted and to be fair, this particular company is a romance publisher.

I realise I may be too close to the story as it’s my ‘baby’, but after careful consideration and compiling a synopsis to conform to all the changes I was asked to make, what remained left me cold, and certainly not something I would want to read - A run of the mill boy-meets-girl story with the two of them wandering round a country house throwing each other longing looks –yeuck!

And as a dear friend and critique partner who knows the book intimately said to me: -
I hate that dumbed down romance formula that says "they have to meet here, their first spark of attraction is on this page and they have to kiss here" and now we can add to that, "and let's make it so it's all about their angst because no other persons colour their world or have a viewpoint on the lovers". [She has strong views on this one - bless her]

Who decided readers want ‘clone’ stories that are identical but for the time and setting? I don’t understand it at all. Has anyone written a review of a romance novel which said: ‘It completely threw me that the hero and heroine met in Chapter Four instead of Chapter Two and I had to plough through three scenes that dealt with a subject other than the lover's feelings, so it confused me!’

I doubt it! So on this one, I’m going to say, ‘Thanks but no thanks’.

However, on a positive note, I have heard this publisher is excellent to work with. Several of their authors are friends who speak, and blog, glowingly of their relationship with them. I realise they are a commercial concern and their focus is on the bottom line and the need to make sales in a competitive and difficult market.

Perhaps I should plan a story around their guidelines rather than make a finished manuscript fits neatly into their jelly mould, because I would still be thrilled to published by them and see my name on their author list.

By a staggering coincidence, or not, as this subject seems to be at the forefront of the writing world recently, Jane at Dear Author blogged today about a similar subject – do go over and read it, it’s a good article. I paraphrase her here: Publishers rely on hegemony to drive their industry – If a subject sells, replicate it and keep on replicating it until the public screams ’No More’. How many 'Holy Grail' stories were churned out after the success of 'Da Vinci Code'?

And another thing - as the proud owner of a Sony E-Reader, why am I expected to pay as much for an electronic copy of a new release as a paperback? Can anyone come up with an acceptable explanation for this piece of flagrant profiteering?


Alleyne Dickens said...

You're doing the right thing. Tell the story that's in you and believe in it. No one else can tell that story. Be strong!

Kim Smith said...

Anita darling! You are SO doing the right thing! And you are totally right in your reasoning for doing it. Write the story for the reader, not the publisher! If publishers listened to the reader and what they love about a story rather than what their marketing people said had to be done in order to make a book sell, there would be NO problems in the book industry right now.

readers matter more than marketers and story rules over all. Fuggedaboutit.

Ginger Simpson said...

I was told the same thing about Sparta Rose... my first editor wanted me to par off the first fifteen pages and start with a gunshot because it was more of a hook. Sure, it was, but I would have lost everything that showed the reader who my heroine was, gave them a taste of her impatience and personality.

In Sarah's Journey, I was rejected by Wild Rose Press because my hero and heroine didn't meet in the first three chapters. Well, that would have been pretty hard, since she was traveling with a wagon train, was the solve survivor and had to find her way back to civilization before he found her. Sometimes, our stories aren't meant to fit into the box some publishers want them in. I applaud you for sticking to you guns and holding true to your voice and storyline. I refused to bow with Sarah and Sparta Rose, and I'm glad. That's the nice thing about most publishers...you can write from the heart and not from the menu. You know I love your writing, and I'm a picky reader.

In a day when opinions are so varied and are often prejudiced by the holders own likes and dislikes, I'm amazed that one person can have such authority for a publishing house. It seems there should be a panel of people...I do know of one house that does that, and to prove their fairness, they rejected the owner's story. *lol*

Be proud of yourself!


Anita Davison said...

Alleyne, Kim amd Ginger - you are stars! I hear it said a lot, but now I know what it means to have confidence in something I have written and not be prepared to compromise with it - thanks to you all.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

You are so right to stick to your guns, Anita! When you conform to the publisher's formula it's no longer the story of your heart. I was so hoping this was the house for you, but it sounds like it isn't after all. Guard your baby, find somewhere that will honor its essence - and be glad you held out. It has substance to it, on top of the romance, and will win you many fans in the long run.

Best wishes,

Jane Beckenham said...

Hi Anita, It takes a strong writer and determination and courage to turn down a contract. As a writer you have to believe in your characters and your writing, it's a hard road. However, that said, you have to be happy with what you write and how it's presented by a publisher, so if they ask for things you're not comfortable with, you have to say no.

That said, i believe we as writers must see what is SELLING, and analyse why it works, or doesn't for us, and where we fit on that scale.
There is no formula for writing romance, only that it is a happy ending. It is the characters story, but with a publisher's specific word count, you only have so many words to play with the story, so that is often why they say get the characters together quick smart. For e.g. M&B like their characters to meet at least in ch 1, preferable in the first few pages, if not p1, or p2. Often we find that the stuff we have written before is backstory. So put aside your story, leave it for a month or so, then go back with a fresh eye, and ask yourself what is working, and what doesn't and if you're still really happy with how it is, then you know it is working and the story is as it should be.... okay, off my soap box.

Jane Beckenham

Phyllis Campbell said...

Anita, I've been privileged to read "The Maze" twice now. First when it was in rough draft, and second when you added more to it. It is a book that is going to break the mold...and it can. This story is that good! It doesn't need h/h meeting on the first page--or they don't need to kiss by chapter four. This story is about a girl's life, which happens to have a little romance in it. It's totally perfect the way it is, in my opinion. You WILL get this baby published, and they won't tell you that h/h have to meet on the first page, and they don't have to kiss in chapter four. This story is unlike any I've read before...and I'm used to reading those formula stories. Shoot, I'm usually writing those formula stories. But I totally fell in love with this one because it was so different. I'm proud of you for not caving in. This story needs to remain just as it is.


Lisa Yarde said...

Anita, I'm so glad to be good company with the others who believe you did the right thing. I've known you for some years and you're not a diva who can't take due criticism, but you are a wonderful writer, who knows your characters and settings intimately. To read one of your stories is to be drawn into the vibrant world you create, where the main and subcharacters, the plot and subplots make the story so enduring. But as you know, not everyone will see it that way - you can't please everyone.

So chalk this experience up as the publisher not being the right fit for you - there's that tried and true romance formula you talked about. And don't worry, The Maze will find its suitable home.

Hugs, Lisa

Julie Connor said...

From Julie Connor via e-mail:

First, congratulations! Really, it's absolutely wonderful that they want The Maze. I'm not surprised at all. It sparkles and I get a sixth sense feeling that it should, and will, be published. And I'm doubly impressed that you had the strength to turn them down. (Side note--how dare they even suggest tearing down my bathtub reading book!) I've heard absolute hell stories about authors who rewrote their story to fit the publisher's guidelines/suggestions, and then were turned away! Bottom line... if what they're asking you to do makes you squirm and feel like your pimping yourself for money, DON'T DO IT. Your book is great as is. Some compromises are do-able, but changing the structure and time line of a story isn't when there's no need of a change. Hang tight and stick to what your inner voice is telling you. She's right! You did the right thing :-)

V. L. Smith said...

Anita, you did the right thing. The Maze is not category Romance - and I think, in your heart, you knew that all along. It is, and always was, something better.

I think The Maze represents a turning point for you as a writer. I don't think you WANT to write formulaic romance and I see this whole situation as an opportunity.

Instead of trying to fit your story into a box, why not free yourself from the whole concept of "Romance" and consider the tale through a different lens? I have always said that you have the capacity to write for the literary genre and The Maze could easily go in that direction. Why not try it?


Vicki Smith

Eilidh said...

I had a similar experience when an agent took a work of mine and said: "Oh, but that's not a romance."

My point is that when JK Rowling tried to publish Harry Potter she heard that "wizards are out". Nobody but Disney would set his bet on a Pirate Movie.

Nobody has the crystal ball. I do believe that a good story will be published. And you write good stories.

All the best


Mirella Patzer said...

Anita, You have done the right thing and the article you wrote telling us all about it was wonderfully done. I also took the liberty of following your link to Dear Author and read the article on the high cost of ebooks by some publishers. I too have a Sony Reader and I also read ebooks on my smart phone in Peanut Press format.

Sadly, I have to admit that I've only purchased 3 ebook in my entire life. The reason being is the multiple formats out there fore digital books. Also, with the Sony Reader, when I try to read a book in Adobe format (which Sony supports) is often illegible due to the tiny print and cannot be adjusted to a large enough font to make reading it possible or easy. So in frustration, I only use my Sony reader for free classics from Project Gutenburg or reading copies of books in Word format sent to me by the author for review. I think the publishing industry has to wizen up. They don't get it yet. I also find Sony ebooks more expensive than ebooks on Fictionwise. So until someone in the publishing world gets a clue and creates something like the IPOD and use one simple format for digitizing books, I'd rather wait.

I think one day there will be one smart person who will create one system that's affordable and accessible and easy to use which will revolutionize publishing. The Amazon Kindle is part way there. Now, if only the Kindle can read other formats or other readers can read Kindle then we might be getting somewhere.

During this economic time of crisis, I'm making it my mission to read the 200 books I've got waiting on my book shelf rather than buy anything new.

kathryn said...

Stick to your creative principles, Anita. You are an inspiration, and I'm sure that your wonderful book will find a great publisher. So I wouldn't have any regrets.


Wendy said...

Hi Anita,
It's all been said - follow your instinct, it is YOUR story and needs to be told your way. From the response of people who have read The Maze it sounds as if you are on a winner and you just need to search out the publisher who will do it the justice it deserves.
Congratulations on be so strong to make that seemingly impossible decision.

Anne Whitfield - author said...

You know my thoughts, my dear! LOL
So, all I will say (again) is Get. An. Agent.


Anita Davison said...

Easier said than done, Anne. And thanks for the link, I have signed up!

Augustina Peach said...

The same sort of thing happened to me back in November. An agent told me she loved the first five chapters but that after that point the book needed to focus more on the "central relationship" between the characters instead of on the "distracting external events." Those "distracting" events WERE the story, in my opinion (the couple was pioneering to Texas)! She suggested I rewrite the second half of the book. I wrote her a nice "no, thanks" message, and I meant it, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered if I was being a stubborn fool. This blog entry is very encouraging to me.

As I told myself after that experience, I owe these characters more than to force them into a cheap, shallow formula just so I can make a few bucks.

Best of luck in finding a different publisher!

Julianne Douglas said...


I'm with Anne. Maybe this book will be the one that will snag an agent. Why not give it a try?

I definitely think you did the right thing refusing to change your story. Next step: find the agent/publisher who loves it as it is!

Sandie Hudson said...

You know your story better than anyone, if your heart is saying no to this publisher than you made the right decision.

I have a friend that did endless rewrites for a publisher the story changed so much from the original she didn't if it was her own work in the end and then they said 'may be this isn't right for us after all.'

You'll find an agent, who wouldn't want you on their books. The right one is out there for you.

Anonymous said...

I understand whay you're going through, Anita. I've been fighting this battle since I started writing. Everyone tells me to write a formula romance, but I write mainstream historical fiction. I don't like formulas.
Your novels are mainstream like mine, and we shouldn't ruin them to conform.
I wish publishing would wake up and take more chances.