After the discussion about labels on romance novels, and prior discussions about series books in the romance shelves, one author and I had a rather lively discussion via email about series books and whether the same rules and expectations should apply to them as to romance novels. Since this author doesn’t want to be seen as trying to sell her own books, she asked that I post her rant anonymously so that it would be evaluated on content and not as a potential marketing attempt. Normally we’re all about owning your comments, but I can see her point – she wants her argument to stand on its own without being judged as an attempt to build buzz around her series. So – Anonymous Author defends Series in Romance, take 1.
Ignoring the whole OMG-bad-language-naughty! aspect of what Madeline Baker wrote, her comment that “Lately I’ve read several books that have â€˜paranormal romance’ on the spine. In my opinion, a good number of them haven’t been romances at all…” got me thinking: are there still hard and fast romance rules? Or has there been a gradual change with the new guard of readers taking over the old when it comes to what a romance “should” have?
With the recent popularity of paranormal series novels, where happily-ever-afters aren’t automatic, does the Romance label on the spine still imply to people that there are certain formulas inside? Or has the romance genre changed to where formulas/guaranteed HEA’s/Heroes with Big Cocks are more, to quote Captain Barbosa from Pirates of the Caribbean, like ‘guidelines’ than actual rules?
I could be biased but I think there should be some leeway for series novels when it comes to a HEA. If a book is a true stand-alone with NO other novels being written containing the same characters and it’s labeled a romance, then I can see how people get their bacon burned when there isn’t a HEA. But if you have a series, be it paranormal or mystery or whatever, then you know there’s more to say and the HEA might be just delayed, not eliminated.
I guess what bothers me is how readers blame the authors. Unless you’re an established money-making author, you have NO say over how a publisher markets your novel. Especially if you’re a new author, you do a lot of smiling and nodding, not much else, because the publisher doesn’t give a shit that your newbie hasn’t-made-them-a-dollar-yet ass disagrees with their marketing scheme.
But when some people get upset about a book not having a HEA if it’s labeled a romance, they don’t email the editor or pub house – they bash the author. If a book has “romance” on the label, yet no HEA, or perhaps half the plot isn’t about the romance, remember that the author didn’t chose the marketing label. The publisher did. After all, it’s not like an author can pull a fast one and sneak in a non-HEA after a novel’s been edited – the publishing house would have known it wasn’t there when they bought it.
Several of my author friends are in the same boat, having a “romance” label when their books don’t follow old-school romance formula, but what’s a new author to do? Pull out of their contract in protest when they see how their book’s being labeled?
So to wrap up a loooong ramble, IMO, I’d say series books should have a somewhat different set of rules when it comes to romance. But if that still doesn’t appease, then readers who are unhappy about not having their expected formula/HEA should go to the person who did the labeling with their complaints, not the author (unless the author is self-pubbed, then yes, readers can bring on the bitching to us!)
I personally am not fond of series, though I do see this author’s point. She’s right that the issue isn’t that the publisher said to the author, “Hey we really like this romance but it should be a series – think you can hack off the happy ending and make it so the book doesn’t really come to an end?” The series idea was there from the get-go, and the publisher knew it when the book was sold. There are also plenty of series books in romance now – from paranormal to contemporary to historical – and there are those readers that LOVE series books and write the date of the next issue down in their planners so they can buy the next one.
I, with my shoddy memory and inability to remember things and my terrible recall and…um… oh, my bad memory, am not one of these people. I like my happy ending in hand, thanks. Not only will I not remember to pick up the new book in the series, I’ll likely not remember what happened in the last book. And I’ve said a few times how irritated I get when I am 30 pages from the end and I realize there’s no way the romance and the plot can be sewn up satisfactorily in that time. But is the publisher subject to a smack on the wrist for putting the label “romance” on the spine? Does the designation “romance” demand a happy ending? Is there another subgenre descriptor we need to use to designate a series with a pair of primary protagonists and a plot that continues over multiple books? I think the term “series romance” is already taken.
But really, my biggest beef is one that I bring to the author AND the publisher: there are several series that start out fantastic and fizzle . I don’t even have to name them – I’m sure you can tick them off on your fingers for all they’ve been discussed here and elsewhere. And I blame both parties for that problem – neither the author or the publisher seems to have an end or at least a resolution in sight, and both keep churning out new issues of the story without the larger story arc in mind. It reminds me of everything that went wrong with television shows I loved – characters change into villains for no reason other than easy tension, the triangle of “who will s/he choose?” gets old and stale far too fast, and there’s no consideration for the larger story and the smaller story within each issue.
So if the publisher hangs a “romance” label on a series that doesn’t have an end point in sight, much less a HAPPY ending, I do get irate. It’s not a question of violating formula; it’s neglecting to mention that the book in my hand is not going to meet what I hold as the most important tenet of romance: everything will be ok in the end. With a lot of current series, there is no end and it’s definitely not ok!