Friday, March 7, 2014

SFR: LIFTOFF ACHIEVED, BUT HOW TO HIT ESCAPE VELOCITY?



An interesting discussion prompted by Charlee Alden’s post over at Smart Girls Love SciFi this week took up the matter of how best to define success for science fiction romance as a genre. As individual writers, the decisions we make will not only make or break our own careers, but expand or contract the small foothold SFR has made in the publishing industry.

Charlee noted that, historically, SFR has been best served by the digital publishing industry and has grown as digital publishing has grown.  Indie publishers, small presses, self-pubbers and the digital-first trend among traditional publishers have all benefited SFR, primarily by having an open mind about the genre.  As a consequence, online is the no doubt the first stop for readers looking for SFR.  Since SFR fans are a pretty tech-savvy bunch, this hasn’t been a problem.

Still, many SFR writers, like any other writers, cling to the dream of seeing their work in print.  The book may be a “dying” medium to some, but the hard-copy (that is, paper) publishing industry still controls 70% of sales.  Charlee asks whether the SFR community should continue to work toward more traditional publication as a goal.  That’s not a bad question to ask.  Will we ever have the respect we’re due if we don’t have a certain number of titles and authors in print?  It’s easy to marginalize digital and indie presses, though the RWA did give its first RITA to a digital-first publisher title in 2013.  Maybe over time the “gloss” attached to traditional publishing will tarnish completely, in which case, why all the fuss?  (I have to say, personally, though, that it is very hard to give up this particularly goal.)

No matter what format the books are published in, however, it seems clear SFR has not yet found the magic formula to break out from its “niche” status and appeal to a broader reading audience.  What would it take for the genre to find that larger audience?

Some suggestions were made in the comments to Charlee’s article.  Melisse Aires thinks ensemble stories, particularly space operas, would be popular, since readers are already familiar with the concept from television and movies.  The same writer stresses that series are necessary to build reader loyalty.  Both concepts are key to success in other romance subgenres, particularly paranormal and contemporary, where readers hang on tenterhooks waiting for the next book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood (J.R.Ward) or Virgin River (Robyn Carr) series, featuring characters they know from previous novels.

I’m pinning my hopes for success on these concepts with my Interstellar Rescue series, companion novels that stand alone, but share both a world and several characters.
I also believe it helps to have a strong romantic arc and to aim for that romance audience, a much bigger, more welcoming group than the science fiction readership.

Then, of course, you might try for something completely different.  Pauline Baird Jones would love to do a web series.  It would certainly bring more interest from a new segment of the public.

Science fiction romance has been standing on the brink of breakout success for a long time.  We’ve managed liftoff, but we keep waiting for that one novel or author to help us achieve escape velocity.  Maybe it won’t work that way.  Maybe it will be more like achieving critical mass, one exceptional novel or series at a time.  The only way to accomplish that is to keep writing.

DISCOVERIES

Charlie Jane Anders has some excellent advice for fledgling SF writers in 10 THINGS THAT EVERY BRAND NEW CREATOR OF SCIENCEFICTION SHOULD KNOW at io9.com.  That certainly includes any SFR writer, newbie or otherwise.

Cheers, Donna

5 comments:

  1. The problem with defining our "lift off" as coming through traditional publishers is that they aren't known for innovation. They 'discover' genres that have achieved that velocity in other ways.

    For that to work with an SFR book, IMHO, is for the publisher to give it the boost (money) needed to make it high profile. They tend to reserve that money for books/authors already high profile.

    So I still believe lift off will come through digital innovation from small press and indies and then get "discovered" by traditional after lift off has been achieved. (One publisher recently called indie publishing the new slush pile.)

    (insert wry grin here)

    But this is of course IMHO.

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  2. Great blog, Donna. And I think Pauline also hit the nail on the head. But I think there's also a key to getting there.

    SFR writers can make a difference for the genre by being a cohesive community--supporting other authors' works, helping spread the word on new releases they enjoyed reading, and helping to introduce their readers to other peers.

    For now, trad publishing is still where it's at. But the quest to reach the high stratosphere of traditional publishing is a solitary journey each writer must decide for themselves whether or not to undertake. It's a long and frustrating journey, to be sure (Patience, Paduwan), but some of us do make it (*nods to co-blogger Sharon Lynn Fisher*). For every SFR published by a Big 5 publisher, it brings more exposure to the genre as a whole, and makes it a more "legitimate" genre in the eyes of the reading public.

    Paranormal Romance broke out as a genre by building an audience with e-pubs long before the Big 5 began to accept PR manuscripts. I believe SFR can follow the same path, but it will require time and quality work. PR authors didn't have the same opportunity for success by self-publishing in those days--and that might have been to their benefit.

    The fact remains that just because a story can be self-published doesn't necessarily mean it should. Unfortunately, rushing a novel through the process just to "get it out there" can often result in a flawed work that fails to build a large following for the author and hurts the genre as a whole.

    The time needed to scrub a novel (or novella, etc.) via reliable critique partners, several rounds of revisions and thorough editing, and then the acid test by beta readers is something I feel every potential author should be willing to invest in (painful as it is). In order to succeed at achieving orbit, the body of SFR should offer something special and unique to readers--something they can't find in other more established genres--or we'll lose credibility with our developing audience.

    The clincher is that the SFR community can only guide and suggest. The quality of the end product is ultimately the responsibility of each individual writer.

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  3. While this article talks about self publishing, I thought the information on who publishers target was interesting. I'd read this a few others places, too, and it gave me an aha moment on things that had puzzled me about how publishers pick books. Anyway, thought you'd find it interesting (or that's the hope in posting the link - grin)

    http://russellblake.com/a-self-pubbing-future/

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  4. I love that idea, Pauline, about the indies being the new slush pile. Or maybe the new midlist (ala Joe Konrath's dissection of Donald Maass recently). The legacy publishers can cherry-pick the authors who have been "vetted" by readers through the self-pub or indie publication process. The bottom line, though, is that we still haven't broken out into wider recognition, either through that process, or through great new authors like Sharon or more established ones like Linnea Sinclair making a splash.

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  5. Maybe we just need more quality stories out there. We're taken the slow space elevator instead of a rocket-fueled takeoff.

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