Monday, September 30, 2013

BEYOND SCIENCE FICTION VS. ROMANCE PART II

Actual dime novel cover/ Syracuse U. library.


In Friday's post I argued that those of us who read, write and love Science Fiction Romance need to move beyond the old issue of whether SF and romance belong together and start asking ourselves some tougher questions.  This next one might be the toughest one of all. 

Can we move beyond our “dime novel” niche?  In the latter part of the 19th and the first part of the 20th Century, the new genres of science fiction, mystery and romance were launched as cheap short stories sold for as little as a penny (“penny dreadfuls”) and later as novels sold for the extravagant price of a dime.  This “pulp fiction” was not known for the quality of its production or its prose, and it earned its authors almost nothing, but it did keep its working class audience supplied with an endless stream of (mostly forgettable) stories.  Yes, some great authors did emerge from this sea of words—Edgar Allen Poe, among the earliest, Edgar Rice Burroughs, E.E. “Doc” Smith and others later on—but many others remain unknown today.

The digital revolution of recent years has opened up the world of publishing to new authors and new genres in much the same way.  Got a manuscript and agents and the legacy publishers won’t give you the time of day?  No worries.  There are dozens of digital-first and digital-only publishers to try.  If you don’t have the patience to submit to these publishers, you can always self-publish, with any number of helpers standing ready to provide editing, cover artwork, formatting and other services (for a price).

Digital publishing has been very welcoming to SFR, putting out dozens of titles over the past few years as digital-first or digital-only.  And yet, the digital revolution has come with its own problems.   The best-selling digital titles across the board are erotica, and SFR seems to be no exception.  Visit the website of the oldest and most established digital publisher online and it is visually impossible to sort out the strictly romantic SFR from the erotic SFR.  I like a good alien sandwich as much as the next gal, but that’s not what I’m looking for every time.  And it gives the impression, like the pulp fiction of old, that this is all we are.

The quality of self-pubbed titles (and even those from some digital houses) varies wildly and a few bad apples can really spoil the barrel.   Get burned a few times and a reader may begin to blame 1) digital publishing or 2) SFR.

Pricing is an ongoing conundrum and finding the sweet spot for a digital offering is anyone’s guess.  The idea that giving away books in hopes of gaining readers has become so entrenched in the digital world that it is almost a lost cause to argue against it.  Self-pubbers, especially, believe giving their hard work away for free or for $.99 will eventually get them a loyal audience.  Personally, I believe this practice drags us all down.  Because of the profusion of free stuff, readers have begun to expect to read for free.  That only encourages piracy.  In art as in life, you get what you pay for.  You should expect to pay for quality work.

Digital titles also tend to be short—novella length or shorter.  Since we can assume that the cost of producing a longer novel is not a major factor influencing the publishers here, what is driving this trend?  Is it truly that our readers don’t want to read longer stories?  Or that the current readers aren’t interested?  Or are we settling for stories that feature the same old kickass heroines and emotionally distant heroes, few secondary characters, a single, easily resolved plot and no subplots, a quickly sketched world and the clich├ęd aliens to go with it?  This is pulp fiction at its worst—or our version of category romance.  It has its place, I suppose, but we need to move beyond it or we will never “break out” in the market or in readers’ minds.

Finally, how do we find the gold beneath the dross—and make sure it shines? When was the last time you were so excited by a science fiction romance novel you’d read that you just had to tell someone about it?  What SFR author’s books will you rush to buy without even stopping to ask what they’re about?  Where do you go consistently to get recommendations you trust about the best in new SFR?  (This last question, at least, I have an answer for—Heather Massey at The Galaxy Express is my go-to for reading recommendations.)

We, as a budding “industry”, need to do a better job of sorting through all the masses of titles out there to make it easy for readers to find the kind of SFR they’re looking for—military, space opera, “hearth and home” (Heather’s term for mundane or Earth-based SFR and I love it!), erotica, science thriller—and find the authors they’ll like.  

There is a multi-blog effort afoot (of which Spacefreighters Lounge hopes to be a part) to do an SFR/mainstream author comparison, as in “if you like Sherrilyn Kenyon’s League Series you’ll like Marcella Burnard’s Enemy Within”.  A new online magazine, the Sci Fi Romance Quarterly, launching in November and edited by K.S. Augustin, Diane Dooley and Heather Massey, will also be devoted to all things SFR, including book reviews.  And, of course, there are the blogs and websites listed here on SL that stay on the cutting edge of SFR.

These things will help, but they are only a beginning as we move into the next phase of advocating for science fiction romance.  What other questions should we be asking, and where will we find the answers?

Cheers, Donna

19 comments:

  1. Finally!! Someone besides me is pointing out that the over-representation of erotica SFR is a problem.

    I don't read that stuff. I refuse to read it, because I find its explicitness offensive. And I'm not alone. We just don't say it out loud because there's always an erotica writer lurking somewhere ready to skewer us for daring to not like it. I fully expect to get skewered here, as I have been in other places while participating in these discussions.

    Being open to everything is fine and dandy, but we also need to realize that in being open to literally everything, from menage to same-sex, it turns a significant number of readers off. I want my romances straight up two-person heterosexual. I'm not interested in reading anything else. Again, I'm not alone. But looking at SFR you'd think readers like me don't really exist. It's hard for me to find stuff sometimes. Really hard.

    I also think the shortness of so much that's out there is part of the problem. We need to be snagging paranormal romance readers. These readers are used to 400+ pages of story. The longer the novel, the better I like it. I don't read novellas, and I feel cheated if I buy something expecting a novel and I get a long short story. The book I just finished was over 400 pages, and the one I'm starting tonight is also over 400 pages.

    Knowing that Styxx, the newest Dark-Hunter novel, is over 1200 pages, has me giddy beyond belief. Even though I'm nowhere near being able to read it, in series chronology. I'm closing in on the 700+ page Acheron, and it will be hard to get me to put it down. Love me some Ash. Give me something with meat! With real conflict incapable of being solved in a talk or one plot point.

    I don't write short either. I write 95,000 and up. I'm at 95K on my current WIP, and have at least 10K more of story to go. I could easily make it longer by fleshing out one of my sub-plots.

    Another issue is the craft of writing. A lot of what I've encountered in samples I've downloaded is writing I don't consider all that good. As a writer myself I have higher standards than most readers, but most readers are also aware of the easy outs, cliches, and over-reliance on tropes that I've seen in a lot of SFR. They may not be able to name why they put it down, but they know something's wrong.

    I don't buy or read self-pubbed. To me, it's an instant red flag. I have been burned on every single one I've tried to read, no matter the genre. Unfortunately SFR is the one that's burned me the most. (Probably because that's the one I've tried the most, but it illustrates the point of blaming the genre over the medium.)

    Again, I'm not alone. It pains me to see glowing reviews of the most recent one I couldn't finish, and it's why I refuse to talk specifics about it or name the title. The plot appealed to me, but the execution was trite and cliche to this seasoned romance writer.

    I don't have this hangup with small press. I'm far more likely to buy a small press book than a self-pub. With the small press I know it's had at least one professional edit, and editing is crucial. With a self-pub I don't know that, and this most recent one that burned me would have been a page-turner had there been a decent content edit done on it.

    These are the questions we need to be asking. These are the issues we need to be looking at. These are the things we, as a community of writers, need to be aware of. And we need to do it WITHOUT making those of us in the minority, like me, feel unwelcome to participate in the discussion.

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  2. Some of us who self publish do our utmost to ensure those works are as high quality or better than trad/small press works. As someone who wouldn't release anything that wasn't my best, I find the attitude that 'all self pubbed stuff is bad' disheartening. Some people just can't afford good cover art and editing, and I understand that - I'm currently having to hold off on releasing anything else myself because I'm broke. Some just don't care about the effort that actually needs to go into a well crafted work, and it is those that drag down the rest.
    As for erotica - there is well crafted stuff out there, and let's not forget that some of those erotica titles may have been what got SFR noticed in the first place, good or bad.
    Personally I don't think pointing the finger at any one group of writers within the SFR community and saying our lack of popularity/reputation etc is down to them does us any favours. We need to stand together to make our voices heard because we ARE a small group. And this from someone who has always stood back and kept quiet when these kind of discussions come up.

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  3. I actually don't have a problem with SF erotica EXCEPT that it is frequently impossible to separate it in a marketing sense from all other science fiction romance. When I go to buy SFR from the digital publishers who are the largest suppliers, I'd like to be able to quickly determine what is what. Right now, that is difficult.

    As for self-pubs, not all take the care you do with their work, Pippa. I think that hurts you as much as it does them. Unfortunately, I don't have an answer for that. The success you've had definitely shows there are trade-offs to the idea of self-publication. When it's done right, it can showcase both the author and the genre in a wonderful way.

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  4. >Someone besides me is pointing out that the over-representation of erotica SFR is a problem.

    I hate to rain on your parade :), but this isn't a new conversation. It's been a while since we in the SFR community have blogged about it, though.

    But like Pippa said, this isn't an erotic vs. non-erotic issue. It's not a quality vs. non-quality issue. It's not an indie/small press vs. trad published issue. It's not even a word count issue.

    It's a marketing vs. non-marketing one. Regardless of heat level, readers can't read books they don't know exist.

    Pornography built the home video empire. Fans couldn't obtain it in mainstream venues, so they became willing to seek it out in niche mediums. Then other people realized you could watch all kinds of movies in the privacy of your own home, hence the mainstream transformation. Yet it bears repeating that it was the early adapters who led the initial charge.

    Same goes for erotica and erotic romance. Fans were willing to buy indie and hunt the stories down in the niche corners of the Internet. In this case, Internet technology and digital publishing helped build the erotica book empire.

    Perhaps these readers were more invested in content than pedigree.

    Are fans of non-erotic romance willing to go to as much work to seek out the stories they like, or are they content to wait and see if mainstream publishers will drop the stories in their laps? Have they become too complacent as consumers?

    This issue is why, in a recent post at TGE, I encouraged readers to become more proactive. Develop a new perspective on getting one's entertainment needs met, one that dovetails with the current and ever expanding technology. Otherwise, you risk losing a chance to actually help create a market for something you love.

    There really hasn't been a time when non-erotic SFR has been plentiful in the mainstream market. I have to wonder why fans of non-erotic SFR don't seem to be as motivated to seek out stories with sweeter heat levels. Is it because they've been conditioned to believe that mainstream venues are the only source of those types of books?

    I worry that having such a mindset negatively impacts the willingness of authors to write more non-erotic SFR. Why should they make the effort when no one will come to the party?

    Non-erotic SFR exists--and is co-existing with erotic SFR in the same niche corners of the Internet--but one has to know where to look and be willing to make the extra effort, which sometimes means taking a risk on a story one isn't sure about.

    Publishers aren't perfect with categorization. But we can almost always email an author or publisher to obtain information about heat level before purchasing a story.

    In time, the search process may become more streamlined, but currently, yes, we the fans are the curators. If non-erotic SFR is important to a reader, then she may need to actively participate in the expansion of that market.

    I'd also like to see authors of SFR become more proactive.

    Other authors are not your competition. Obscurity is your competition.

    So why not ally with other like-minded authors more often?
    Read widely in the genre and regularly pay it forward by blogging/tweeting, etc. about SFR titles you enjoy or think others might enjoy (quite a few authors do this already, for which I as a faithful reader am thankful). All the brief posts or tweets various authors can do for books other than their own will add up quickly.

    Donna, thanks for a thought-provoking post, and also the shout outs!

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  5. I agree, Heather, that the dispute about the heat level of SFR is an old argument and not really one I was trying to make here. I just think we (that is, the market) could do a better job of distinguishing between true erotica set in a science fiction milieu (in which resolution of the sexual issues between the MC's provides the main conflict) and SF romance of all heat levels (in which there is a well-defined external plot, internal plot and romantic arc).

    You're absolutely right that FINDING the good stuff is the main issue. It's becoming the main issue for everyone across all genres, but even more so for SFR, a small, "niche" market hoping for bigger things.

    And I'm with you, Rachel. I LOVE the big books. I struggle to get my own work down to the 110K range.

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  6. Pippa, you're right. There is some good self-pub stuff out there, and you definitely qualify! Unfortunately the dreck far outweighs the gold. I've been burned so many times by self-pub I'm not willing to keep trying to find the gold.

    We do need to do a better job of differentiating between romance SFR and erotic/a SFR. Because there *is* a difference. The average romance reader isn't all that interested in erotica. Erotica is about the sexual journey. Romance is about the H&H's journey to being together, with sex on the side. BIG difference.

    It's hard for me to read widely in SFR and pay it forward. It really is. Because so much of it is erotic, or too short, or the romance doesn't ring true for me. That's why I'm devouring so much paranormal right now. Within PNR I get all my romance needs fed, from a well crafted romance arc to lush world-building introduced in perfect bite size pieces that build up in layers to create the required story world.

    Heather, I don't think the issue is entirely one of marketing vs. non-marketing. The best marketing in the world is a well-crafted book.

    When I'm reading samples that's what I look for. A well-crafted book. Unfortunately, for my definition of a well-crafted book, I don't see it much in SFR right now. Which makes me sad. To qualify this statement, I also don't think Christine Feehan knows how to craft a book well. I won't be reading any more of hers.

    Another thing I think we need to do is make the world-building more accessible to the average romance reader. Sneak the SF elements in, if you will. Yes, there are millions of readers out there who would enjoy it if they just tried it. But most readers won't if they perceive SF as something impenetrable. A lot of people have that impression, and it's not entirely wrong.

    Ultimately I think it comes down to giving ROMANCE readers what they want. And what do romance readers want? Story. Great characters. Accessible world-building. Interaction with secondary characters. Set-up for a series is also important. Show the past MC's in future books, let us see how their HEA has developed.

    I still believe the PNR readers are the ones we have to get. They're voracious, and they're ready for something new. PNR has peaked and we have a gold opportunity to grab those readers and use their momentum to make SFR recognizable.

    But to do that we have to catch them with the romance, and dribble the SF in where they don't realize what they're reading until they're hooked. I'm reading the Psy-Changeling series now, and that's exactly what Nalini Singh has done. There are some amazing SF elements hidden in her world-building and I'm eager to see how they'll develop. She's slipping it into her readers through things they're already familiar with.

    Does the series qualify as true SFR? Not by a long shot. But we could learn a lot from her approach, and from other PNR writers.

    PNR is full of lush worlds, complex characters, high word count novels, and genuine conflict that goes beyond the surface and beyond the hero getting into the heroine's pants.

    We have to embrace the fact that the romance elements being the most important are what it's going to take to really break out. Until the romance is given as much thought as the world-building and the science, we will remain a niche genre struggling for visibility.

    I'm a romance writer first. The science comes second. And it shows in that I've been able to get romance fan friends to read my SFR, because above all else it's a romance.

    We have to look beyond what we as the SFR writers want, and figure out what the READERS want. Then we have to deliver. I couldn't care less whether SFR is known as the all-inclusive genre open to anything. What I care about is does the genre provide me with a stellar romance read. If we don't have ROMANCE as the key focus of our efforts, the best marketing campaign in the world won't help us capture romance readers.

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  7. >the market) could do a better job of distinguishing between true erotica set

    @Donna Oh, I completely agree. Publishers rely on "sex sells" so dang much and categorize titles under the erotica label even where it's not applicable (e.g., LGBQT romances that are non-erotic).

    A lot of times the burden falls on readers to compensate for that. It's an extremely frustrating situation.

    > I LOVE the big books.

    I just found a few big book SFRs from author Christine Pope:

    http://christinepope.com/the-gaian-consortium-series.html

    I'll be blogging about the first in that series a few hours from now. :)

    >I also don't think Christine Feehan knows how to craft a book well. I won't be reading any more of hers.

    I find your response to her work ironic given that Feehan basically jump started the PNR craze with DARK PRINCE (1999). Readers at the time loved it so much they buzzed it left and right.

    And this was a title from Dorchester, an independent publisher that (when it was still operating) wasn't backed by a huge corporation.

    Even if they took issue with the craft, thousands of readers still obviously found her stories compelling. My understanding is she was one of the first if not the first romance author to reinvent vampires into romance heroes.

    >PNR is full of lush worlds

    PNR has lush worlds, but with SFR it should be: "SF elements hidden in her world-building"; "dribble the SF in where they don't realize what they're reading"; "Sneak the SF elements in"?

    Why the difference? Did PNR hide or sneak in the worldbuilding in the early days? Maybe they did--I honestly don't know.

    >But we could learn a lot from her approach, and from other PNR writers.

    So should the SFR worlds be "lush," in the manner of PNR books, or not?

    >The best marketing in the world is a well-crafted book.

    I agree it's important to keep delivering more books with compelling stories (I'm deliberately side stepping the issue of craft because frankly, it's not important to all readers), but I'd like to see how the sales statistics play out when mainstream print distribution is taken out of the equation. Distribution alone is a form of marketing.

    >We have to look beyond what we as the SFR writers want

    Genre conventions are important--even paramount--(e.g., it's not a romance without an HEA/HFN), but beyond that, why can't authors write a variety of stories to meet the needs of readers with varied tastes?

    If Nalini Singh is a prime example of what SFR authors should be emulating, why isn't every author of SFR releasing romance stories in a near-future setting that features three races, two of whom are extraordinary in some way? Just deliver the same type of underlying fantasy and dress it up in a similar way. I mean, shoot, why make things harder?

    Isn't one of the reasons many readers are feeling PNR fatigue is because the same fantasy has been dressed up in the same way for many years now?

    Personally, I don’t want authors to write what they *think* I want. In fact, they can't predict what I want because sometimes even *I* get pleasantly surprised by a story I didn't know I wanted.

    I want authors to write stories that excite them first and foremost. If the story is up my alley, the chances are strong that I will be excited by it, too. There are no guarantees, of course, but that is part of the risk that comes with art.

    >I couldn't care less whether SFR is known as the all-inclusive genre open to anything.

    For the record, I care--very much so. Following genre conventions and being inclusive are not mutually exclusive.

    SFR can offer stellar reads while also embracing diversity. If authors like Nalini Singh, Meljean Brook, and Suzanne Brockmann combine romance conventions and diversity, isn't it okay for other authors to do it?

    p.s. It's okay if we disagree. :)

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  8. Part 1 of 2:

    I think you're taking me a little too literally. It's the ideas and concepts I'm driving at here, not trying to turn a PNR type of world into an SFR type world. There are differences, to be sure.

    Our SF worlds must be lush, fully fleshed out, and above all else REAL. PNR authors excel at this. They can make us believe the Greek pantheon still exists and meddles in human affairs. They can make us fall in love with a vampire, or believe the land of the Fae is real and hidden behind a portal in Central Park. We can learn so much by studying how they build these worlds.

    I know we've just about beat this horse to death, but the fact remains many people, including romance readers, view science fiction as cerebral, full of tech talk (LaForge and Scotty, anyone?), and not a lot of emphasis on character development. SF has a reputation for being issue driven fiction, for a good reason. That's not a bad thing. Romance readers aren't that interested in issues beyond how are they going to work their differences out and live HEA.

    Romance readers read for escape. SF readers tend to read for the exploration aspect, or to see something through a different set of ethics or morality.

    Again, don't take that too literally because there are exceptions. We can all point to things that break that stereotype of SF as impenetrable, but the truth is the stereotype exists because there is truth in it. Star Wars is an outlier. There hasn't been a true SF blockbuster at the movies since Star Wars (superheroes don't count in this example). And it's the mythic component to SW that pulls people in, not the SF elements.

    Doing what you described with copying Nalini Singh exactly is outright plagiarism, IMO. I'm talking about the concepts. How did she take something familiar and put an SF twist on it? Albeit a small twist, but it's still there. It's in the background of her world-building.

    We don't need or have to dress up the same PNR fantasy. I'm saying look at the concepts. Study the layering especially. Study the character interaction. PNR characters rarely operate as lone guns, and if they do there's a damn good reason for it.

    PNR characters are part of a community that's not built around the military. I love me a good military thriller every now and then, but I don't want a steady diet of it. But I could happily live on the Dark-Hunter and Lords of the Underworld universes for the rest of my life

    Something about the PNR formula really speaks to romance readers, and we can learn from it. I'm in the process of picking a lot of it apart for my own personal writing education.

    The reason I say we should look at sneaking in the SF elements (and that's what I'm doing in my next project) is because of the cultural stereotype about SF. PNR doesn't have that hangup. It never has, thanks to Bewitched, Dark Shadows, and I Dream of Jeannie on TV in the 60's. At their core those were all romances. Between a witch and a human, a genie and a human, and Dark Shadows was Gothic romance on TV. All had an amazing supporting character cast that deepened every aspect of the story world.

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  9. No matter how well crafted a book, it won't make a scrap of difference if readers don't know it exists. Rachel, you say you won't look through the drek self pub stuff for the gold, and you can't find the non-erotic SFR in amongst the erotica. So how the hell will anyone else find it?! That, I think, is the real problem, not just some of the quality. I agree it is hard to find - when I went hunting for SFR titles with a bunch of Amazon gift cards, I found it swamped in PNR titles. Visibility is a huge issue.
    Besides, SF is supposed to be about diversity and exploration, so it should be open to all. However, I'm not going to attempt to write what I think readers want. Readers want all kinds of things, as proved by the reviews I can get on a single title. I write the stories I want to write and to read, because that's where my passion lies, and I will put my heart, soul, and craft into it. Then I try to find and connect with the readers who might like it. It's hard. Often it seems unrewarding. But that's why I write.
    Also, I've read some PNR and UF, and found it unsatisfying in terms of world building and depth. If someone shoved PNR into an SFR setting, I'd probably enjoy that. But on the whole, it's PNR that leaves me cold. Which probably proves how subjective readers are overall.

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  10. Part 2:

    The SF offerings at that time were of the pulp and Star Trek variety. Which meant not very accessible to the average person. The ratings and cancellation of original Star Trek confirms it. Star Trek became a cult phenomenon in re-runs and led to the original six movies. Had that not happened TNG, DS9, Voyager, Enterprise (gag!), and the movie reboots would not exist.

    Even the channel formerly known as the Sci-Fi Channel has eschewed a lot of SF content in favor of fantasy and paranormal. I don't know why, but it probably has to do with ratings and ad sales. Again, there's a lesson in there somewhere.

    I'm not saying I agree with what they've done, and I've been mad at them since they cancelled Farscape. But I also realize they have bills to pay and access to information I don't.

    I read one of Feehan's more recent ones, from 2004, the first Leopard People one. She burst onto the scene with something new, as did Sherrilyn Kenyon. With both of them it's all about the romance. The romance is what pulls readers in and makes the world viable. I love me some SK and adore The League. But Christine's voice and style choices get on my nerves.

    On the subject of marketing: What is marketing exactly anyway? It's finding your target audience and making sure they know you exist. I've yet to see a viable definition of SFR target audience that can be used to mount a marketing campaign for the genre as a whole.

    Part of the problem in finding that target readership is the almost over-emphasis on diversity. You don't plant a full grown climbing rose. You start with the vine as a baby and train it and trim it and allow it to grow in a controlled environment, until it becomes strong enough to climb everywhere and even cover the side of a house.

    Fragmenting our target audience before we even develop the full strength of said target audience isn't doing SFR any favors. It's hurting us on the visibility front, not helping. I know there are a lot of people who don't want to hear that, but ignoring it doesn't make it any less true.

    I know who my target audience is. I'm part of it. I can write things that excite me, while still appealing to the majority of romance readers. I'm doing an Earth-based, near future SFR next, with multiple dimensions and aliens. But I'm not going full out on the SF elements in the beginning. It's about the character relationships. I'm building a world PNR readers (like me) will find fresh and exciting, but still familiar. I hope!

    I'm all for being diverse. But me personally in my writing, I'm not going to do it for the sake of doing it. Because it removes 7/8th's of my target audience. If it fits the story or the character I'll do it. But do it for the sake of doing it? Not going to happen. It won't ring true.

    We are such a diverse writing community we'll never fully agree on tactics. But it does a disservice to the genre as a whole to not evaluate other definitions and viewpoints, and to not learn from other genres.

    Again, I'm a romance reader. I'm a romance writer. I look at all of this through the eyes of a seasoned romance writer who's been pursuing publication seriously for close to five years. Overlooking the expectations and desires of the core romance audience is a mistake. They're the only way to make SFR recognizable and as valid in a brick-and-mortar store as it is online.

    We can have our cake and eat it too. But it may require giving up the three-layer pistachio ganache in favor of yellow with chocolate frosting to get to the point where we can have the three-layer pistachio ganache. I'm willing to do that, and am in the process of doing it.

    Besides, pistachio ganache isn't my thing anyway. I'm a yellow with chocolate frosting.

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  11. Pippa: I would not be reading SFR if I hadn't started writing it. I'd be happily ensconced in PNR and not looking past it.

    I looked for it because I realized I was writing it. I started doing market research for my proposal, and 90% of what I found was erotica. Had I not been doing market research I would have given up then and there.

    I joined the SFR Goodreads group to ask for titles that weren't erotica. The list is pitifully small, and most of them I've read the samples and couldn't even finish the sample, or they were in first person. Which I hate 90% of the time.

    If I have trouble finding it, and I know my way around market research and looking in obscure places, Pippa is right. How the hell is anyone else going to find it? I'm still having trouble finding stuff that can suck me in. I keep getting burned. Again, if it's happening to me it's happening to others too.

    When we get burned one too many times we stop looking. How many potential fans have we burned because amidst all the diversity (which is fine), they couldn't find anything "normal" that grabbed them?

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  12. Rachel, I think you make quite a few valid points. And as a romance fan and regular PNR reader I think our natural future fan base will come from PNR and urban fantasy readers looking for something new. Nalini Singh's Psy-Changling series IS, in my opinion, SFR, in that Singh offers a scientific explanation for the way her world has evolved. Her world is close enough to this one, though, that readers can relate to it, which is the secret of her success--that and the fact that no one used the dreaded "science" word in marketing it! :)

    Somewhere between perception and reality is the market for SFR. Connecting good writing and eager readers is the challenge.

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  13. I'm a bit puzzled by the view that there's a lot of erotic science fiction. I've been writing this genre and find that there's a lot of erotic paranormal fiction, but there's very little fiction which has both sex and speculation central to the plot.
    Rachel says that she only wants portrayal of heterosexual monogamous relationships. I'm puzzled by how a story can engage in honest speculation about sexuality while being limited in such a way.
    I get concerned when I see that SFR should make itself more popular by abandoning speculation and becoming nothing more than romance in space.
    But then I'm a science fiction reader and a science fiction writer. I like stories which include a romantic arc, but only if it's part of interesting speculation. I feel strongly that speculative fiction at its finest explores and moves beyond current cultural taboos and that means moving into the territory of gender, sexuality, and eroticism. Even, or particularly, if such material is disturbing to most readers.
    I see nothing wrong with calling something science fiction if that's what it is. Vegetable parading around as cake makes for bad vegetables and bad cake.

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  14. >I see nothing wrong with calling something science fiction if that's what it is.

    The idea of masking a genre (in this case, SFR) seems to arise when there's concern it's not selling as well as it could. This concern arises for authors and publishers alike.

    The paranormal label was (and maybe still is in places) applied to various spec genres like SFR, fantasy romance, etc. for a long time. But even when the "paranormal" marketing label was used routinely for SFR stories, it didn't seem to make a significant difference in terms of sales, popularity, and visibility (at least for those stories with a *clear* technological setting).

    When loads of digital-first SFR are struggling for visibility, I'm not surprised when folks turn to things like marketing labels or content as a possible culprit. I've gone down that road myself.

    That said, SFR has yet to replicate the vampire romance phenomenon, which in retrospect seems like such a magic bullet. Just transform a vampire into a romance hero, pair him with a human heroine, and voila, near instant success.

    Maybe SFR is heading toward such a signature transformation, or maybe it could become more popular simply doing what it's doing right now.

    Personally, I'm going to continue hand-selling SFR based on what it currently does best.

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  15. The beauty of SFR is there *is* room for everything.

    But if we're talking marketing and making the genre more visible, we've got to look at ALL the options. Including the ones that make some SFR authors uncomfortable.

    Marketing is not just publicity. The key to good marketing is targeting the right demographic.

    If we're going to raise visibility of the genre we have to be targeted in our marketing. We have to find the right readers. You can't just throw something out there and hope the right reader finds it.

    You don't have to be outside the box to engage in honest speculation about something. If we limit exploring issues and diversity only to sexuality, we're limiting what we can do.

    I for one don't explore sexuality. I explore relationship factors, cultural backgrounds, character trauma. Things like that. Those explorations are just as valid and just as worthy of being called science fiction.

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  16. Wow. This post and the comments were rather enlightening.

    I love reading more about the marketing aspect of writing, since that's the part I'm least familiar with. And it's interesting to see different views.

    I think the comments alone show how diverse SFR is and why it can be so difficult to market it as a single entity.

    I remember the first SFR I read, though it could probably be termed futuristic romance. I don't remember what it was called, but it was by Stobie Peal. And it was one of those classic "historicals in space" novels. But the book had enough of an impact on me as a reader so when my husband recommend I turn the UF novel I was working on into SF, and I thought, Well, I haven't even read SF, I remembered that book and wanted to find others like it.

    I also don't remember if it was published by Dorchester or not, but Dorchester eventually came to be my go-to publisher for finding the types of books I wanted to read. It's kind of funny, because I never knew I wanted to read those types of books or that I would even like them so much as to feel almost "homeless" when Dorchester went under.

    From a reader's point of view, I don't even know what Dorchester did to make me think that they were the only place I could find SFRs, or at least ones with a similar level of quality in storytelling, characters, an romance.

    I wish SFR had another publisher like Dorchester. Now, it feels like I have to do more work to find the books I want to read. Yet, I'm equally glad there's a lot more places to find SFR. And that Heather Massey does such a wonderful job maintaining the Galaxy Express, which has become my new go-to place for finding SFR to read.

    As a newish reader to the genre, I just want to add that I think because SFR can be so broad, there should be mentions of the different sub-genres within it. Such as the futuristics, straight up SFR, romantic SF, erotic SF, Earth-based SFR, etc. as a way of letting readers who may not be familiar with how all encompassing SFR actually is to help them look for stories they might be interested in.

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  17. >You can't just throw something out there and hope the right reader finds it.

    You're right. But no one here has proposed that strategy.

    The point of raising marketing issues is the need for it to happen. Now, the need for it and our collective ability to do it as a community may be two different things. Even if we were able to target the ideal group of readers, there's still the matter of executing a marketing campaign.

    It could very well be that regular access to mainstream print distribution is what's needed for SFR, above all else. Short of that, our efforts will have to continue at the grassroots level.

    >Those explorations are just as valid

    It occurred to me earlier today that non-erotic SFR may be in the same position today that erotic SFR was years ago. Meaning that non-erotic SFR isn't easily available via mainstream venues (i.e., print, and the ones that *are* available are very few in number), so readers who want it have to search extra hard in niche ones.

    See also a post at Dear Author called The Vanishing Closed-Door Romance:

    http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/the-vanishing-closed-door-romance/

    And yet, even with so many readers clamoring for erotic romance, I'm not sure the available erotic SFR books have raised the tide for the genre as a whole. That's why I keep circling back to the issue of overall visibility and marketing.

    If sex can't sell this genre and increase visibility, then maybe the right marketing plan could, whatever that might entail.

    @Yttar Thanks so much for visiting my blog!

    >mentions of the different sub-genres within it.

    I did a post about that topic once, but it was a looong time ago. Perhaps its time to revisit it!

    >what Dorchester did

    From what I've learned, they really embraced SFR early on. Because they were an independent publisher, they were able to take more risks. They had a Shomi line and even experimented with highly stylized covers.

    Hence, their reputation as a go-to place for genres like SFR.

    >I wish SFR had another publisher like Dorchester.

    Digital-first publishing has fractured the SFR market even as it increased opportunities for more stories. Right now there doesn't seem to be an easy way around that.

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  18. Rachel wrote; "I for one don't explore sexuality. I explore relationship factors, cultural backgrounds, character trauma. Things like that. Those explorations are just as valid and just as worthy of being called science fiction."

    That’s too bad. It’s fun to speculate about sexuality. It’s my favorite aspect of SFR. I love stories which show how romance develops in societies with unusual biology or cultural expectations.

    If both types of speculation are valid, there shouldn't be a problem with erotic material being included as SFR. The difficulty may be in distinguishing between books which explore sexuality, books which play it safe, and books which are pure smut.

    So we are back to the problem of letting readers know what they are getting into. Those who want to avoid taboo subjects such as polyamory or explicit sex might feel offended if the story is marketed as SFR. Those who read purely for the sex might be offended by the same story for not having enough sex.

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  19. @Heather, I think you're right that digital-first publishing has fractured the market for SFR (and other genres) even while increasing access to that market for authors. The same thing has happened to music over the last generation. When broadcast radio held sway, you heard everything from Motown to the Beatles to Frank Sinatra on a Top Forty station and had a chance to decide what you liked. Now, God knows how you develop a taste for something new in a fragmented market where everything is "tailored" to a narrow definition of who you are. It's like driving on a fast-moving six-lane highway and finding yourself on an exit ramp you didn't really mean to take. "Wait a minute! I didn't really mean to buy that military space thing! I'd rather have a dystopian alien romance!" (No, sorry that was two exits back! Or did I see a sign for it up ahead?) We need better signage, people! Or some way to get off the highway and onto a side road. Or something.

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