Ever since Chris Gerwel's post about why Science Fiction Romance is a niche before its time, there's been a lot of reaction to the topic. Heather Massey posted her response at The Galaxy Express, Misa Buckley and Greta van der Rol both posted about whether the science in sfr needs to be accurate (or as accurate as possible based on current knowledge and theories). Donna Frelick posted about the need to make the romance believable. Rinelle Grey posted about perhaps diluting the SF elements to make it more accessible to the non-SF loving audience.
And you know what? I started to get a bit frustrated. Okay, first up I make no secret of the fact that I fell into the genre by mistake, or perhaps even blindly. I'd never thought of myself as a romance writer (still tentative on that right now) but as a writer of scifi, even if I do keep my tech light and focus on character driven stories. I wrote and marketed Keir as straight scifi, and it took several people hammering me over the head with "this is a ROMANCE" before I finally opened my eyes to the fact my two MCs had pulled a fast one on me by getting all smoochy. And hey presto - as soon as I sold it as a science fiction romance, I got a contract. So. I AM a science fiction romance author despite my occasional identity crisis over it. The romance is important, and while I don't think it has to be the whole of the story, it should be an important enough part that removing it will drastically alter the story (see Donna's post here).
Second, yes, the science is important. I have to confess I keep my tech light because I don't want some science geek trashing my work if I make an error, but also because a) while I like technology I don't always want every detail in a story, pulling me out and slowing it down, as a reader AND a writer, and b) the characters don't necessarily need to know how a spaceship or AI works in order to use it, much like the average person couldn't tell you how a car or a smartphone works. We just accept the technology we use without having a clue how much of it actually performs the magic. That's not to say I don't read heavy tech scifi - two of my current favourite scifi authors write a lot of tech into their work, and I'm working on increasing mine. It comes down to this - if you don't mind some science nerd ranting at you for breaking Newton's Third Law of Motion, go ahead and write (see Misa Buckley's post here). Otherwise research it. Just because something is theoretically impossible now doesn't mean you can't have it in YOUR universe. Not when scientists are actually working on invisibility cloaks, teleport devices and FTL drives that really WERE total science fiction a few years back. Even things rated as impossible now could be explained away if you can find a logical reason (alien intervention, discovery of a new element etc). Just remember that a lot of things we see on the movies aren't always based on scientific fact (see Greta van der Rol's post for that here.)
Thirdly, if you cut or dilute the SF and/or romance elements, is it still SFR? TBH, I think the SF elements of mine are light enough already by choice, not to make myself more marketable. I have had readers who say 'I don't usually read science fiction but...' so perhaps this works. But it was never a deliberate intention. Not a marketing ploy or a game plan. Question is, should we really make such major changes to the genre itself to attract readers, because if we do, surely it's no longer the same genre? And I like writing scifi romance. I'd love to attract more to the genre, but if we change it significantly to attract readers, then we're no longer gaining fans to sfr. We may even be creating yet another subgenre.
To give you an example of some of the problems we face marketing scifi romance, I'd like to direct you to the comments on this post here. I was asked to take part in the A to Z challenge by submitting a post about Keir for the letter K. I've pulled out some of the comments particularly.
"One for the ladies." (well, I've had guys read and rate it too, but that again is a generalisation over the gender for romance readers)
"I’ve never really been into scifi and I think it’s just because I never tried it. I do need to branch out from my typical urban fantasy or contemporary genre that I tend to read and write. From what you post, it seems interesting and a good read. I can be a romance fan but it’s got to be more than strictly romance or else I may lose interest." (so, how do we persuade them to give scifi a chance?)
"I’m a scifi fan, for sure, and I enjoy scifi books with love stories, but I’m not sure I’ve ever bought a scifi romance novel." (so, a different issue - likes the scifi, but doesn't seem to know the subgenre existed)
These comments might seem disheartening, but in amongst them I found some hope for our genre. Like these -
"Sounds like a good ‘un – I’ve not actually heard of this book, so must give it a read. I have found for me that there has been a natural progression from reading urban fantasy to sci-fi books. Perhaps it has something to do with the amount of world building needed to pull it off?" (a natural progression?! Excellent! So how do we encourage that progression?)
"I haven’t read too many Sci-Fis but have been known to indulge in a romance every now and then. Could be something to check out!" (so a romance reader who might be persuaded to try sfr)
"Neither a hard core sci-fi nor lovey dovey kind of romance fan. But the combo??" (not sure if that means they're interested or not, but it seems the idea of the merger might attract them more than it being one or the other)
"My brain cannot process the phrase “sci-fi romance” and I really can’t figure out why. I like paranormal romances because they’re usually pretty action heavy and you’d think sci-fi ones would be, too. So why the mental block? No idea. Maybe I should give it a try just to challenge my preconceived notions." (this seems the key comment to me. A paranormal romance fan who struggles with the idea of scifi romance, but can't figure out why. To me, this is the most frustrating.)
It seems to me to sum up one point in particular. It's getting readers to TRY scifi romance. But the secret lies in how do we do that? Could we all find a paranormal or urban fantasy romance that matches our scifi romance titles, as Heather Massey did with a fan of The Host by recommending Ghost Planet? Can we draw the fans from one to the other without them baulking at the whole idea of 'scifi'? The idea kind of reminds me of Sharon's concept in Ghost Planet. Can we pair up a paranormal fan to a similar SF?Maybe we could find a group of PNR fans/readers/bloggers/book club members willing to read a few sfr titles, and share them if they enjoyed them. Maybe we just need more vampires in space like Nina Croft's recent Break Out? Maybe we need a new slogan - Give Skiffy Rommers A Go!
I really don't know. I don't read a lot of paranormal or urban fantasy, so the chances of me finding something comparable to Keir for example are small. And even then, I have doubts. Heather posted about how The Host hasn't had the impact that the Twilight films did, despite being written by the same author. I found myself thinking of the huge fanbase for Harry Potter, and yet the Percy Jackson film (which, to me, comes across as a similar kind of theme/story) hasn't taken off in quite the same way. So maybe even drawing parallels between popular PNR titles and SFR ones won't cut it. I really don't know.
For me, at the end of the day there's only one rule I really believe in when it comes to writing, and one that I will never break.
WRITE THE STORY THAT'S IN YOUR HEART.
It's the only thing I can be sure of. I'd love to be popular - I'd even love to be making a living out of this, maybe a career. But I can't make myself something I'm not. I can work on improving my writing, expanding my fan base and backlist. I can work on my marketing and find new ways to promote. But none of that will mean anything if I don't write what I love, and love what I write.
So how can we draw in more readers and expand our appeal? Keep writing. Keep writing excellent stories whether they be tech light or heavy duty science, romantic elements to hot erotica, from popular tropes to breaking all the rules. The more titles we have out there and in a variety of flavours, the better the chance we have of a few people picking them up and passing them on, even the ones who don't normally read SF. That's my thought anyway.
There are days I struggle with what and how I write, whether I'm doing the 'right' things. But what I do know is this. My name is Pippa Jay, and I'm an author of science fiction with a romantic soul.
What's happened -
I'm delighted to announce that Terms & Conditions Apply came 2nd in the Gulf Coast RWA Chapter Silken Sands Self-Published Star Award in the short story category. This is the first win for my sfr short, so I'm chuffed! My second short story submission - Flaming Angel - went off to Champagne for their in-house anthology call, and I'm trying to finish a third for the Sword and Laser anthology, which Liana posted about on the Brigade's main blog. The deadline for that is May 15th. In the meantime I'm waiting to hear about my submission of Tethered.
What's coming -
The tour for Gethyon's release in June is now official, and you can find details here. I'll be posting about the SFR Brigade's 2nd annual blog hop very shortly, scheduled for the end of June as well - 21st-25th. In the meantime, I have Diane Dooley sharing her favourite covers on my blog tomorrow, and I'm still looking for more participants for this for May onwards please! All I need is your five fave covers and why you like them, plus a cover of your own, bio and links.
Right now there's a vote going on over at the SFR Brigade's main blog on backgrounds and banners for the revamp. Go vote!
Dear co-bloggers - sorry for my absence!
Laurie - loved the post on what makes a hero, and on the unpronounceable names. Time and time again I've heard that complaint about scifi stories (although I've seen it for fantasy and paranormal books too, so scifi writers aren't the only sinners). Anyone who's read Tolkien will have been trying to twist their tongues around a lot of the elven names.
Donna - your post on the trouble with tech made me chuckle. Right now I'm blogging via my phone due to the untimely death of my computer - what fun! Turns out it might just be down to clogged vents. And great work on keeping those film reviews coming.
Sharon - still thinking of you!