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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Write the story that's in your Heart


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.


Pippa's Journal

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.

Events
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!

Ping Pong
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!

30 comments:

  1. You know what? I totally agree with writing what's in your heart. My stories are classed as sci-fi romance, but for me, the love story is the heart of them all. Whether I include aliens, clones, or have them set in space or on another planet is secondary. Some (my clone story in particular) involve more research than others. But I write MY stories, not what someone thinks I should write.

    I've had many readers try my stories who have never read sci-fi romance. How? I go to romance sites, parties, etc, and drag them over. LOL I think the key to gaining new readers is to reach out to new and unlikely places, expose ourselves to new markets. But that's just me. Everyone has their own way of doing things. :)

    Congrats on your win and upcoming release!

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  2. Pippa, I think you have made the best point possible with your image. Write what is in your heart. It will find it's way into the hands of the people who are drawn to it. Truthfully, I am frequently a reader who picks books by the picture on the cover..... yes, I know that is silly.... but it works most of the time. Lots of good books found that way. Tools like Goodreads will also help people to find books outside their normal favorite genres by reading reviews from friend or reccomendations. Don't worry about how much SciFi is in the book or if the amount of romance is enough. Write what you write, how you write it. If you try to change who you are as a writer, or change the genre to suit what you want it to be, you will at it forever. Be yourself. Let your muse guide you and don't worry about where the book will land till it's on paper. Once the book is finished you can decide where it best fits. Books are like people. you wouldn't expect the same pair of size 10 jeans to fit 100 different people the same way... so why do you expect the genre to fit every book wearing it the same way....

    Ok. Obscure rant over.

    ~Andra

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  3. @Jessica -
    Yep, I think if you don't write the story you love, then it'll show.

    No, I think you're absolutely right about trying new places. I've been doing more of that lately, going to new places and trying to be more active elsewhere than just in what has become my safe zone, and it HAS made a difference. Not a huge one, but enough that I can see the jump.

    And thank you!

    @Andra -
    lol, I have always picked up a book for its cover. But then the blurb and opening page has to hook me too, or it goes straight back, pretty cover or no. That's what breaks my heart about some of the awful covers I've seen.
    Oh, I know different people like different things. I just feel everyone should love scifi and scifi romance as much as I do, lol! But it's like when one of my boy constantly refuses to try a new food - nine times out of ten he likes it once he's tried it. Sometimes I delude myself that all that's needed is to convince everyone to read sfr. But you're right. It doesn't work like that, and I shouldn't get so worked up about it. Ranting isn't writing!

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  4. I agree. If you concern yourself about your genre, then the story changes from what you originally intended. Myself, I try to keep the focus on characters and their story. The backdrop is the scifi elements. And one other thing...for those hard core scifi fans who love tech talk and the science and everything in detail...even Dune was SFR. There was the love story between Paul Atreides and Chani, Lady Jessica and the Duke, even Princess Irulan in some respect for pining after Paul to no effect. Without THEIR stories and what motivated them to do the things they did, it just be a book about worms. :)

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  5. Anne McCaffrey mostly wrote SFR, oddly enough, yet most of her work is classed as straight scifi. So maybe appealing to her name in relation to SFR might attract a few readers?

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  6. I believe the key to our marketing success is getting urban fantasy and paranormal romance readers to PAY ATTENTION OVER HERE!! I really wish I knew why they aren't. In Meyers' case, TWILIGHT was a YA phenomenon; THE HOST was an attempt to write for adults that revealed the author's obvious flaws. I did have one huge PNR/UF fan tell me aliens scared her, as in the possibility of alien abduction was real, vamps, weres, etc. were not. So we are in the category of romantic suspense, rather than fantasy. Or something. Weird.

    A great writer once told me, "just follow the story." Selling it may be another matter, but you have to write what the story demands first.

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  7. @TK - fantastic point about Dune! I read it as a teen, so I guess the romance went over my head (same with McCaffrey). But thinking back on it now, aside from the Arthur C Clarke books I read, all of them had at least romantic elements in them. They just weren't labelled SFR then, as Donna says. And lmao at 'a book about worms'!!
    @Laurel - yes, there's Anne McCaffrey, and others like Linnea Sinclair. But I'd hesitate to compare myself to McCaffrey in any way other than genre. If her work is still listed as SF, then we either need to list ours the same or make a big hoohar to the non-SFR reading community that it's SFR.

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  8. @Donna - exactly. Short of kidnapping a few PNR/UF readers, though, I think Jessica had the best suggestion, and that's to show our work in as many different places as possible. Maybe find PNR bloggers who have already rated a SFR or two, and to blog or chat in places where we wouldn't normally. Or all start writing YA.

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  9. Well said, Pippa. It's still all about writing the story banging around in your brain.

    My SF elements are very light. I need the SF context to tell this story, but it's very much in the background. I have identified my target readers though, which helps a lot. I'm going after fans of Sherrilyn Kenyon's The League. I'm one of them. Lord have mercy am I one of them!

    The other thing I'm piecing together is a mash-up of SF and paranormal. Kinda sorta Gena Showalter's Alien Huntress series meets Sliders meets shapeshifters.

    Snagging some of the UF readers could be a good way to go. My CP writes romantic suspense, but she also started reading UF right before I started my SFR journey. Between that and my book she was the one who grabbed Born of Night first and made me read it. She's self-pubbing a UF novella series that she can cross-market as SFR/futuristic AND urban fantasy.

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  10. Hi Pippa,
    I'm going to try and keep this short. I'm usually a lurker on this blog, but I had to speak up. I am a science fiction fan, I have been fascinated with space travel, other worlds, aliens, and the mystery since I was a child. I have to admit, I didn't really read science fiction novels. I usually got my fix through movies, and television shows. That being said.. I have been an avid reader all my life. When I was 14 I picked up Johanna Lindsay's A Pirate's Love, and fell in love with Historical Romances, at 21 I was pregnant in the hospital and needed something to read. I picked up Christine Feehan' s Dark Prince, and that begin my love of paranormal romance, and I never looked back. I had no idea that there was a Sci Fi romance sub genre, until on a whim I picked up Linnea Sinclair's Gabriel's Ghost(she was writing as Madeline Baker then), and thus I was introduced to Sci Fi romance, and I WAS HOOKED! I searched all over the net for these kinds of books, and was shocked at how many were out there. Now, 95% of the time if I pick up a book to read for pleasure it's a Sci Fi romance. I can't get enough of them. You ladies have found a way to combine my two favorite subjects, and I get lost in your stories, and the worlds you create. I'm always recommending them, and when I get review request on my blog from an author of a Sci fi romance, you would think it was Christmas in my house. To be honest I don't care about how believable the "science" is. I care about a relate-able hero & heroine, a solid plot, and HEA. Don't get me wrong, the science is fun, and like you said it can be believable... Alien technology, alternate universe, an act of god.. Whatever. The important thing is that you take the reader on this incredible fantastic journey, and at the end you leave them like "wow" That's how I felt about Keir. So please keep writing, because I will definitely keep buying. *I guess I didn't keep this short, but I hope I made my point* :)

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  11. Thanks, Rachel.
    Yeah, I see no reason not to mix in UF or PNR elements into SFR if it fits the story, but I couldn't do it simply to make something more appealing. That said, you've pinpointed a particular issue for me - I'm still not sure about my target audience. I feel like I'm playing catchup in terms of finding readers because I don't know any comparable books. The only way I can fix that is to keep trying out my books in different arenas and to keep reading! O.O

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  12. Awww, thanks Tawania! And thanks for commenting, because that's exactly the kind of encouragement that *will* keep us writing.

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  13. >I feel like I'm playing catchup in terms of finding readers because I don't know any comparable books.

    Duuuude...forget the books--you should totally ride the Doctor Who wave with KEIR! We need a female Doctor already--like yesterday--and KEIR is a way readers can get that fix *now*!

    ;)

    ps thought-provoking post and I'm totally linking to it in my TGE post tomorrow.

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  14. You are not alone, Pippa. I fell into sci-fi romance myself, and was pretty surprised when I realized what hay cart I was riding on. :) Actually it was Laurie who told me what I was writing, way back in 2009. I had made a fairly deliberate choice to write a sci-fi story, but I had not actually read much romance (written before, oh, say 1900). I've been in the same boat as you (mentioned in a comment on Donna's post, I believe), reading the names of all the female SF/SFR writers listed on the various blogs this month and realizing I have a ton of catching up to do!

    Anyway, terrific, thought-provoking post!

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  15. Great post Pippa Jay.

    I totally agree with this bit:

    "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."

    I've loved reading all the different takes on sci-fi romance recently, and I think (hope) that they're bringing sci-fi romance onto the radar.

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  16. I've often been told to "write the story you're inspired to write" but when it comes to SFR, selling it does seem to be a difficult task. I suppose if I wrote Historical Romance I wouldn't have such a struggle, but that's just not where my passion lies as a writer.

    The idea of luring PNR readers to the SFR side has made me rethink the order of some of the stories still in holding pattern in my head in favor of a novel that is much more a PNR crossover. The downside is that a publisher may choose to label and market it as PNR.

    As for what readers want, I think this pretty much sums it up:

    "My brain cannot process the phrase “sci-fi romance” and I really can’t figure out why."

    I've heard this so often and I can't figure out why this feeling is so prevalent. Han and Leia are romantic icons. Avatar was a huge blockbuster with its alien romance. Why does SFR in print "not compute" for readers?

    Just want to say it's great to see some of our readers chime in on this topic. We love hearing your thoughts.

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  17. @Heather - lol, I have debated pushing the Whovian comparison, although some die-hard DW fans would be horrified! Maybe I should post some of my old DW stories (what's now labelled fanfic) as I actually wrote a female Doctor. That might draw some readers. And thanks - I honestly didn't expect my post to get so much response!
    @Sharon - thanks, and funnily enough it was Laurie who opened my eyes to the fact that science fiction romance was a genre!
    @Rinelle - thanks. Yep, I think we need to offer a variety so there's something for anyone. The great thing is there are lots of talented sfr authors all doing their own thing to provide it.
    @Laurie - I think it's difficult because while we're all writers, our agents and publishers have to think about selling it. So we have to bear that in mind, which is where I baulk somewhat. I also find that statement the most frustrating because I want so badly to find some way to help bridge that gap. As you say, if you write a crossover it's likely to get marketed as PNR because of its popularity.
    One thing I did notice is that when I specifical looked for sfr on Amazon.com, Twilight and various other PNR titles were all mixed in with the SFR. So if they aren't being separated there, you'd think that maybe the odd few would get picked up by the PNR readers, even if by mistake.
    And yes, wonderful to hear from some SFR readers!

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  18. Laurie, historical romance isn't any easier a market to break into. It may be more established, yes, but it's by no means easy. That's the genre I left, because nobody wanted the type of historical I write.

    It amuses me that I switched to the one genre that's still not quite a genre and an even tougher sell. But that's okay, because I'm more excited about writing than I've ever benn.

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  19. Hi again,
    I wanted to add that blog tours & street teams help out a lot to spread the word. I have had many of my readers tell me they picked up a book, based on my review, or the book spotlight, excerpt from my blog. I discovered Jessica's books from a blog post. I also belong to a few street teams, and we band together, and promote the authors new release & backlist books on all our social media sites. I always attend the TRS Release Parties, and I have discovered a lot of authors & books there too. Also, a lot of bloggers are happy to spotlight your books, without incentives. A giveaway is not required on my blog, but if the book being spotlighted appeals to me, I might ask the author if I can review it too. As for the street teams I belong to, all the authors tell us they have seen a rise in book sales since starting the teams. If you don't have one, it might be worth looking into.
    Just adding my two cents again. :)

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  20. Laurie said:Why does SFR in print "not compute" for readers?

    Once upon a time, paranormal romance didn't compute for readers, either, whether print or digital.

    That said, vampire romances repackaged a certain type of fantasy in a bold new way.

    SFR offers alternative types of fantasies, but I'm not sure if it's doing so in an extremely bold way, meaning bold enough to give readers whiplash as they turn their heads to find out more.

    Either that, or most readers aren't ready for what the stories have to offer. It would be frustrating if there's a true cultural-creative mismatch happening, but it's possible.

    But you know, not everyone likes chocolate and vanilla all the time. There's something to be said for fulfilling an unmet need, even if it's on a niche level.

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  21. A couple of years ago, I wrote this post, about how SF Romance is not an oxymoron. ( http://www.wired.com/geekmom/2010/10/science-fiction-romance-not-an-oxymoron/ )

    There's resistance from romance readers worried about the SF and geek girls worried about the romance. However, I'm amazingly encouraged by fandom, because they love their 'ships. And 'ships is just another word for romance. It's going to hit the tipping point at some point. :) It's why I'm going to toss out a panel proposal for Geek Girl Con on the subject.

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  22. Needless to say I violently agree with everything you said :). I have had many of the remarks you've had about "I don't usually read SF, but..." I've also had quite a few guys read my books and enjoy them.

    At the end of the day, all you can do is write what works for you. If it works for other people - lovely. The marketing aspect? No idea. McCaffrey and Moon both had romance elements in their works, but neither were labeled as SFR. Maybe we have to be brave and spruik our stuff in the SF mainstream.

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  23. @Rachel - I think as long as you love what you write and are pragmatic about the marketing side of it and that it's not going to be an easy ride, then it doesn't matter if it's a hard sell so much.
    @Tawania - I'm in the middle of planning a blog tour for my next release, and have been trying out blogging/guesting at new places. I've heard of street teams but I've no idea exactly what they are or how you go about setting one up.
    @Heather - I think the only thing we can really do is try to make our books as easy as possible for people to find and hope that at some stage it takes off in the same way as PNR. I don't know about not being bold enough. I've read sfr that's pushed my boundaries.
    @Corrina - yes, maybe we're just waiting for that tipping point. We just can't see how close we are - or not.
    @Greta - this is why I think I'd rather step up the SF elements than lighten them.

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  24. Inspiring and encouraging post, Pippa. You've eloquently stated what I feel in my heart - write for yourself and your heart first and the rest will follow. Be true to your story first.

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  25. It can be very disheartening though. I've made it further with my SFR than I ever made it with one of my historicals.

    I keep forgetting to mention this to you, Pippa. You totally should work the Doctor Who angle! When I was trying to decide whether or not to buy Keir I read the Goodreads reviews for it. About the fifth time I saw "reads like a Doctor Who episode" I knew I had to have it. And I was not disappointed. I could watch an episode before I went to bed, then crawl in bed and keep the vibe going with Keir and Quin.

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  26. Keep the fair, Rachel! I must admit there are days that I wonder why I do this, then I get a review or a burst of sales or a mention, and I know there are readers out there who do love sfr, and are always looking for new stories.
    And lol, the DW references always make me smile. Because that's where it started. :)

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  27. I've written a great deal of Sci-Fi romances, because I think romances will always be with us, even in the future. However, I've never YET published any because for the longest time because I knew it wouldn't be published. I am thrilled with the birth of Sci Fi romance. And I'm working on a series right now to send it out for submission.

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  28. Liza! Come and join the Brigade!
    https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/130939813657941/

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  29. Pippa said: "I don't know about not being bold enough. I've read sfr that's pushed my boundaries."

    It could be stories that push boundaries, or it could be stories that reinvent old tropes in unexpected ways.

    For example: there are many similarities between the current Alpha motorcycle heroes and vampire heroes. I also learned recently that underground boxer heroes are trending among romance readers.

    Motorcycle characters have been around for decades, but only now have they become romance fodder in a major way. It's the bold twist element that SFR may still be seeking. Not for all stories, but perhaps for break out ones.

    @Corrina, who said "It's why I'm going to toss out a panel proposal for Geek Girl Con on the subject. "

    If you end up doing that panel, I'd love to get a guest post recap from you for TGE if you're game!

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