Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Pet Peeves

So I figure that since I have this blog, I may as well do something with it. And I have to thank my critique group for this particular topic.

Let me begin by saying that this blog will feature some of my work, some of the life of an author trying to get published, and some of what I think about my chosen profession. As with all authors, I am an avid reader. I love books. I can (and do) spend hours in bookstores and libraries. Now, as you may have guessed, my books of choice are romances. Romances in all their glory from the short and sweet HQ Romance to hardcore Erotica. I read it all. I wish I can say that I write it all but I mostly spicy romance, erotic romance, and more recently romantic suspense. But always with the romance. I can't help it, from the time I picked up my first Silhouette desire when I was 12, I was hooked. You never forget your first love, and while I may have forgotten the first romance I loved, I have never forgotten that I love romance.

Which brings me, rather long windedly, to the point of this blog, aptly names Pet Peeves.

One of my biggest pet peeve is romance writers who move into
more mainstream fiction and pull their romance readers along with them. I could name several but I'm sure that I don't need to do that. (Because one, I might meet them some day and two, I'm not that tacky.)

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with an author following their muse. I know that as artists, we need to write the book of our hearts, regardless of what other people may say. We need to be true to ourselves. No, my problem is not with a romance writer moving from romantic suspense to straight suspense. My problem is that as a reader I feel that sometimes I get duped or feel slighted when I go to the bookstore, see an author that I like, buy her book expecting one thing and getting another.

So a few months ago, this very thing happened. I was in a bookstore, saw one of my favorite romantic suspense writers, read the back cover, bought the book, read it, enjoyed it, but still left feeling...unsatisfied. Why? Because I bought a romantic suspense and got instead, a very fine...suspense.

WTF? It was in the romance section. The back blurb mentions a hero and heroine. The HEA (Happily Ever After) was guaranteed! What went wrong?!?!

Needless to say that this has happened once too often to me and I get a wild hair up my ass. I decide to write the author and tell her of my concerns.

Here is my letter (the names have been changed to protect the innocent):

Dear Ms. Romantic Suspense Author,
First let me say that I have always been a huge fan of your work from even your days with a top series romance publisher. I have followed your career and you have been on my 'Must Buy' list for many years. So it is with a very heavy heart that I write this letter. I recently bought and read your latest novel 'Romantic Suspense that is not really a Romantic Suspense.' I had to admit, I was very skeptical to buy it after your previous novel, 'Moving so far away from Romance' not because you were any less talented an author, but because I felt that you were straying away from the 'romance' in your 'Romantic Suspense.' But I put aside these hesitations and bought your book.

Before I go on, I want to say that I did enjoy the book. It was a very well-written suspense. But that was all it was, a suspense. There was no romance in it, in my opinion. Yes to two main characters ended up in a relationship, but even that seemed more of an afterthought. I know from reading your previous books that you have always balanced the two elements of romance and suspense extremely well. I was very disappointed that it seemed you strayed from that path.

I know that you're probably asking yourself why I am writing this since I did enjoy the book. I can only imagine that it feels like I'm patting you on the back with one hand and smacking you across the face with the other.

Well, the reason for this letter is simply to convey my feelings of aggravation and disappointment that this book was marketed as a 'Romantic Suspense' when it clearly was not. I have very specific expectations when I pick up your work. In addition to a well-written work, I cannot help but also to expect the 'romance.' I admit that I feel cheated when I see your name, know your 'brand,' and don't get what I wanted. It's kind of like buying 'Oreos' and getting 'Nilla Wafers.' Both are delicious but when you want an 'Oreo,' you want an 'Oreo.'

(Still) A Fan

So, all in all not a bad letter. I made sure to compliment her writing, which was very much quality. I was simply mentioning that I felt cheated. I felt I did it in a very classy way.

Her? Not so much judging from her response. My comments are in parentheses.

Sorry you were disappointed, Monica (bitch). Just so you don't have that problem with me again, please understand that the amount of romance is always and has always been dictated by the story, not from some arbitrary measuring cup (whatever!). That won't change; some novels will have more "romance" than others – and I won't know that ahead of time.

As for the marketing aspect, please contact the publisher, not the author; marketing is their job. And, to be fair, they've been marketing my work as suspense/thriller more than romantic suspense for sometime now
(YEAH right! Why did I find you in the romance section of my bookstore?), but the bookstores insist on continuing to shelve my work very often in the romance section (Now what she doesn't know is that I am in the 'business' so I know that publishers pay bookstores for shelf space. They call it 'real estate.' They want their authors front and center. They also pay bookstores to have certain books face out. That's not just a coincidence whose name you see on the bookshelves.) and many reviewers continue to view it that way as well (AND you work with your publisher on publicity. You know who they're sending ARCs [Advanced Reader Copies] to. You know that they want your book reviewed in RT Magazine, which is a ROMANCE review magazine.). Which is fine with me – except when I get letters like yours (WHOA, bitchy much?).

(Ex-) Romance Writer

Yeah, a more snarky, snippy letter I have never received. I didn't even get a salutation. And that last line! I KNOW that I am not the first person to writer her this exact same letter. As a reader, I know that I can be a rabid bitch. I have very firm opinions and I expect a lot from my favorite authors. I'm also very forgiving. I can excuse a book that is 'less than.' I will read you again.

But this is not about her talent. It's about my feeling cheated. I felt swindled, bamboozled.

Here's how I think it should've been handled. (Again, my smart ass comments are in parentheses.)

Dear Monica,

Thank you so much for your loyalty. (And for putting money in my pocket.) I'm glad that you enjoyed my book and my writing. I'm also sorry that you were disappointed. You're right, my career is moving into a different direction. My muse (0r whatever she wants to call it) is taking me in a new direction. I hope that I can count on your continued loyalty in all of my future endeavors (or some such shit!).

(Ex-) Romantic Suspense Author (who still has a devoted fan!)

Now, that is a letter that I would respond to positively. I'm not pissed. I don't vow never to read her again. I read her, just with different expectations. And that is, in some respects, what commercial fiction is about. Balancing reader expectations with your own artistic-ness (if that's even a word).

If not, if we (and though I'm not published, I'm still considering myself in the 'author' column) don't consider our readers, then we may as well write Literary fiction.


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