Dear Bitches, Smart Authors Podcast

27. Contemporary Romance

Surprise, you're reading category romance! In this episode, we talk about the success of self-published romances marketed as single title contemporaries, and how many of them are very much like category romances. We also talk about aspects of stories that make us stop reading, and we discuss some books we're both enjoying – including Sarah's book club selection, Storm, by Brigid Kemmerer.

Here are the books we discuss this episode:

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The music this week was provided by Sassy Outwater, and the track is called Pro Terezku (Reels) by Dún an Doras. You can find them on MySpace and on iTunes. Thank you, Sassy!

And big huge happy thanks to Harlequin for sponsoring the podcast!

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I will be recording interviews at RWA, so if you see me wandering around with a big phallic-looking mic (smaller than the Yeti, but still plenty phallic) feel free to stop and say hi. 

And! If you have questions to suggest for interviewing people, or if you have a question you'd like me to ask for you, please leave a comment. I love to have your random questions (“Boxers or briefs” at an RWA national won't make much sense, alas) and specific questions and out-of-curiosity questions – so let me know what you'd like me to ask!

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  1. 1
    DesLivres says:

    Nice Podcast – I’ve been feeling much the same in my hunt for something good to read – and I’m not obliged to read 3 books a week!

    To introduce someone to good category romances I’d give them Below the Belt by Sarah Mayberry or Wife for a Week by Kelley Hunter. The problem with that though is it raises expectations – other than Sarah Morgan I haven’t found anyone else anywhere else nearly as good as those two.

    A big turn-off for me is if I really don’t like the heroine – in fact, while I may finish the book to see if the hero/heroine transform/evolve, I tend to avoid that author for ever ever after.

  2. 2
    Ros Clarke says:

    Jennifer Probst’s book is not self-published. It was one of the first titles in Entangled’s Indulgence imprint.

  3. 3
    Ren says:

    “Boxers or briefs?” is a perfectly valid question to ask women. I, for one, would assume you were querying my preference. And I, for one, would follow you around, waiting until you found that one deviant who says “Oh, I like a man in a purple leopard-print thong,” so I could say “YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM” and pelt her with cocktail peanuts.

  4. 4
    Mims says:

    I liked Harlequin historical romances back in the mid 90’s. I’ve tried Harlequin contemporary romances, but I find that for the most part they’re not very memorable and with so many books out there to read, I just don’t want to waste my time with them.  I tried Sarah Mayberry, but they’re just not my cup of tea.  I’ve read two or three of her books and I’m just put off by a heroine who sleeps with two brothers (One Good Reason), or the heroine who sleeps with her best friends ex (Her Best Worst Mistake).  I know she writes/wrote for a soap opera so maybe that is bleeding through. 

    I’ve read The Marriage Bargain and gave it two stars on Good Reads.  I didn’t like the hero.

    Weekends Required, I read this book and I remember that I hated it but I had to check my Good Reads review to refresh my memory and OMG.  This book is everything that is bad about romance: a sexist hero,a doormat heroine and a retrogressive attitude about women.  The heroine works part time for a party planning company and one of the jobs that she does is jump out of a cake in a bikini and because of this the “hero” considers her a stripper and thus a slut.  The heroine is not upset because of the hero’s douchy attitude, but rather because she is not that kind of slut, she is a very good girl.  And then there was this:  at location 589 the author is giving a description of said bikini cake jumping which I found unintentionally hilarious, “At just the right moment, a small spotlight flashed to the cake and ‘Wala’! Out pops a girl with her arms raised in the air!”  Not long after I saw someone else write out ‘voila’ as ‘wala’.  Is that a thing now? Or maybe it is just the same person running amok all over the internet butchering French?  A part of me feels bad for pointing that out because maybe that is the one thing the author doesn’t know (a la the “Legend Daddy” episode of HIMYM).

    I really liked and enjoyed Tammara Webber’s ‘Easy’, which I think was mentioned in an earlier podcast or blog entry.

  5. 5
    Liztalley says:

    Enjoyed the podcast and up front, I’ll admit to being a Harlequin author, vaguely newish since my first book was pubbed in summer of 2010, and I always pop by looking for posts/podcasts such as this because I’m alway looking at ways to better myself as a writer and promoter of my books.

    Everyone has her right to dislike Harequin books. I understand and accept a person might try one or two and that experience doesn’t fill her with anything other than a “meh” type reaction. If I’m being honest, it was much my attitude for many years…even though I came to my love of romance via Harlequin Medicals and Superromances. At some point, I felt my reading IQ was far above Harlequins. The deal was I hadn’t read them in a loooong time. When I finally picked up some -specifically Superromances- in prep for pitching to the editor, I was surprised by much of the quality. Sure, there are some styles and storylines that don’t float my boat, but as I studied writers like Molly O’Keefe, Kimberly Van Meter and Karina Bliss (and, yes, Sarah, too) I found the writing and theme very current. My visions of heroines wearing cat jumpers and hiding behind overly large glasses vanished. There was complexity, humor and sophistication.

    I belong to an online group of readers on FB who discuss various books. I’m a member as a reader, not an author, but I was shocked to find how much these 30-40 yr old women loved Shades, Marriage Bargain, etc. So I started recommending books to them -category books that on the kindle didn’t look like category books. It tickled me how much they liked them because they were short, intense, and romantic. So I’m predicting that more and more e-book readers will try Harlequins. They’re reasonably priced, tightly edited, vetted, and the covers don’t matter because no one sees them. Over the past few weeks, more and more of my reading group is buying these types of books because they’re finding a good product for the money spent. So I’m cautiously optimistic.

    Thanks for the podcast – very interesting!

  6. 6
    DesLivres says:

    I’ve avoided a couple of Mayberrys that I didn’t like the plot outlines of. For some reason Below the Belt managed to press all my Good buttons, even though I hate boxing, am not into sport, and some of the story occurs in Dubbo. I’m not really into books set in Australia either, but somehow Mayberry talks me around.

    I thought the podcast nailed one of the big issues I have always had with Harlequin/M&B (I like an author “in spite” of the book being a H/M&B) – the “disposability” issue. People subscribe to H/M&B and get x amount of medical, presents, or whatever books per month. The implication is that series books are interchangeable. A Harlequin is a Harlequin before it is a Maya Banks or a Betty Neels. They are on the bookshelf in the supermarket for a minute, and then disappear into bargain bins at second hand bookstores. The implication is that if the publisher treats their product like that, the product must deserve it. There is also an uncomfortable inference in there about the readership.

    I’ve been learning better, about the CONTENT through my hunt for good books to read, and following up on recommendations here and elsewhere, but there is certainly a rebuttable presumption against series romance for that reason.

    Am considering changing my name from DesLivres to WaLa.

  7. 7

    Have you read Karina Bliss and Molly O’Keefe? You should give them a try and see how it goes. I think if you’re a fan of Sarah Mayberry, Sarah Morgan and Kelly Hunter, chances are you’ll love them also. One book I really enjoyed was The Way Back by Stephanie Doyle. I think that’s her only Harlequin, though. I’m out of recs for now ;-)

  8. 8
    DesLivres says:

    Thanks for the tips Brie – I’ll check them out!

  9. 9
    LauraN says:

    I finally got around to reading an excerpt from the book club book, and I am both surprised and intrigued.  Or perhaps I should say that I’m surprised that I’m intrigued.  Off to buy . . .

  10. 10
    Michelle C. says:

    LoL, I agree with you, but would modify it to be “boxers, briefs or commando?”

  11. 11
    vi says:

    Liz Talley, I am reading your “Waters Run Deep” at this very moment and enoying very much.  You are now on my watch list for your next book.

    Re Harlequins, I have been reading them for over 40 years (I’m 57)  and they have changed tremendously. 

    I had generally stuck to the Blaze and the American line before the last year, but I got tired of vampire cowboys in the Blazes and cowboys with no visible means of support in the American line.  I started picking up some Superromances and even the Traditional Harlequin line.  In the Superomance line, there seems to more room for a plot to be developed.  There are some excellent reads to be found, many authors have been named here, Karina Bliss, Sarah Mayberry, Molly OKeefe and of course now a bow to Liz Talley.  The plots range from improbale to wonderful.  When I picked up some of the traditional Harlequins, I was surprized to read “adult” themes covering soldiers and PTSD (Soraya Lane) and breast cancer and self image (Michelle Douglas).  There was one that also had an incident of infidelity within a marriage by the husband.

    So my rambling point is that there is a great variety of reads within the category series,
    and there are a lot of them.  For me, an occasional WTF got this book published is a
    small price to pay to access to lots and lots of romance titles.

    Happy reading to all.


  12. 12
    Liztalley says:

    Thank you, Vi. I appreciate the kind words though WRD is a bit of a departure for me. Suspense is harder to write than I thought :)

    This topic has been much on my mind today. I’ve been dwelling on how to break out of the corner in which I’ve been relegated merely by being a Harlequin author. But I’ve had no break throughs…only a sort of bittersweetness in regards to my career thus far. I love what I write because it’s real to me. I love my editor who has continued to develop my writing and urge me to better storytelling. I love being able to tell people that I write for Harlequin and watch the light go off because they recognize my publisher. But I hate being painted into a corner by the expectation that my writing is crappy because it’s disposable…because it’s a Harlequin.

    I’d rather it be crappy because someone read it and thought it was crappy than be crappy by association. Somehow that doesn’t seem fair.

    But here’s the real truth – life ain’t fair. All I can do is control what I CAN control -my writing.

    Thanks, Sarah and SBTB, for promoting the contemporary for the past…7 years? It’s such a wonderful, rich genre.

  13. 13
    DesLivres says:

    Here’s an interesting thing about those “disposable” romances – I am very attached to my collection of ancient battered Betty Neels, Mary Burchell and Dinah Dean. Also Georgette Heyer originally published with Mills & Boon.

    Romance readers are voracious, loyal committed and enthusiastic. Once they find you and decide they like you, they will follow you and keep an eye on your work in a manner disproportionate to other genres. When Catherine Coulter moved to those hardback FBI novels, she already had a readership ready to pounce on them. As time goes on, you might have to accept that there will be a whole readership who notice when you die, and are annoyed because they won’t be getting more of your novels (SO annoying when authors do that!).

    So the benefits are also the detriments looking at it from the outside – on one hand Harlequin is an established brand with an incredible marketing machine, established readership, disciplined editing, base-line level of quality.  Struggling new authors in other genres would kill for the editing support, marketing support and guaranteed readership harlequin provides. On the other hand, the books are at the mercy of the established brand and that enormous implacable machine.

    Of course once the book is actually read, a whole different relationship is established between the reader and writer, and the whole “category” thing only signifies that the writer is likely to write lots of books (excellent!).

  14. 14
    Amy Andrews says:

    Can I clarify for Sarah? Yes, the books that go out in Presents as Presents Extra were published as Mills and Boon Modern Heat in the UK which is now called RIVA. They’ll continue coming out in Presents Extra until early next year – my Jan PE release The Devil and the Deep is one of the last I think – because now apparently MH/RIVA are going to be a new line called KISS.

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