Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Is There a Market for non-HEA Romance?

Greta van der Rol asked in the SFR Brigade's Facebook group a while ago about any scifi romances that don't have a HEA. Someone had commented on her post about 'What do romance readers think of science fiction romance?

 "I was telling my coworker the other day Star Wars wasn’t sci-fi! I’m curious about this genre (which I admit I have never read), how do you get around the fact that most romances (that I know of at least) have happy endings, and most (ok, again, stuff I’ve read) sci-fi does not? Which way do you lean? And are you aware of any sci-fi romances out there that lean more sci-fi in a kind of horrific way, like a robot falling in love with a human and accidentally killing them sort of a thing?"

Now, as far as I'm aware, and from what I've seen in publishers submission guidelines, a HFN is the minimum requirement for ANY romance. Is this because that's what all romance readers want? Is there any kind of market for romances without it?

Greta was kind enough to suggest my SFR short Terms & Conditions Apply as a possible for the reader's request. Some people have commented that my HEA is somewhat...unconventional, and some aren't sure it's even a HFN. But on the other hand, I've had comments by readers who disagree and find it perfectly acceptable as a HEA. One of the benefits of self publishing is not having to conform to publishing requirements or expectations, therefore offering something different (although I think spec fic offers that opportunity as standard if we chose to take it) while maybe running the risk of not finding an audience for it. I enjoy the chance to write things that may not find a home with even the more adventurous small press. But is SFR is already niche enough without aiming for an audience that might be miniscule?

Heather Massey posted not long ago about authors not necessarily pushing the boundaries in SFR as far as we could - Should Science Fiction Romance take more Risks? and Could Science Fiction Romance become a Fearless Leader? Perhaps this reader's request is an example of at least one area we should explore. One thing SFR can offer is diversity. But is a non-HEA ending to a romance a step too far? In horror and dystopia, for example, a non-HEA is probably the expected standard.

What do you think? As a reader would you feel cheated if a romance didn't give you at least a HFN? As a writer, does the idea repel you or intrigue you?

Pippa's Journal

Oh. My. Word. What a week! The controversy over SFR and female SF authors appears to be settling down, with everyone saying what they felt they had to say. I've taken a step away from it now because of a.) my ongoing tour for my YA scifi release - Gethyon - and b.) admin for the SFR Brigade blog hop. Gethyon has received two shiny five star reviews, so I can breathe a bit, lol. As for the blog hop...

We now have 41 participants currently signed up, compared to 30 something last year. Our prize fund is also rapidly approaching a massive $300, with a big bundle of ebooks accumulating. As of this afternoon, the Grand Prizes now stand at -

1st Prize - $150 Amazon or B&N gift card (winner's choice) and an ebook bundle (currently Alien Adoration, Dementional, Wytchfire, Ghost Planet, The Iron Admiral, Games of Command, The Key, Once Upon a Time in Space, Winter Fusion, Wither, Clash, Bayne, Maven, Break Out, Ghost in the Machine, Keir and Terms & Conditions Apply)

2nd Prize - $50 Amazon or B&N gift card (winner's choice)

3rd Prizes - three $25 Amazon or B&N gift cards (given to separate winners and their choice)

A huge, huge thank you to everyone who has contributed so far. This is going to be a fantastic event!

Ping Pong

@Laurie 'SFR is its own genre.' Hell, yes! Let's stop using that 'sub' prefix (having proved SFR authors and their works are anything BUT submissive, lol). It's no longer the young offspring of SF and R, but has come of age. :P

@Donna - it is tough finding a place when SFR still seems to be a genre not recognised by some publishers. I know when looking for SFR titles on Amazon a while back, the virtual bookshelf was stuffed full of PNR, clearly not SFR. Time to give us our own shelf!

@Sharon - loved the thank you letter to the romance readers. They know a good story when they read it. 

That's it for me! There's only ten more days to the blog hop - I hope you've all marked your calendars! 


  1. As a romance reader I definitely feel cheated if there's not at least a HFN. Romance by its definition ends with the couple together and happy. If they're not together and happy in some way then it's a love story. There's a big difference between the two.

    For example, Nicholas Sparks writes love stories. There's a romance in there, but he also ends on a tragic note with a separation of some kind or a death.

  2. >Which way do you lean?

    Like Rachel said, a romance, in terms of romance genre conventions, ends with an HEA or an HFN. If it doesn't have either of those then it's a love story or an SF story with romantic elements.

    SFR focuses on the time in a couple's life when they meet and fall in love. What happens beyond that is another story.

    I don't think it's an either or--it's more of a mood thing. What am I in the mood for?

    If I'm in the mood for an HEA, I look for stories that guarantee one. If I want a story that could go either way or is bittersweet, I seek out SF titles.

    >And are you aware of any sci-fi romances out there that lean more sci-fi in a kind of horrific way, like a robot falling in love with a human and accidentally killing them sort of a thing?"

    Three SF stories with romances and tragic/bittersweet endings that come immediately to mind are:

    SILVER METAL LOVER by Tanith Lee
    IN THE GARDEN OF IDEN by Kage Baker
    Twilight Zone episode "The Lonely"

    I'm sure there are more. If I think of any I'll drop back in.

  3. After I wrote this, all I could think of was Romeo and Juliet, probably the most classic love story that ends in tragedy. But I remember watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which had a love story in it, and I was furious when one of the two young lovers died in the end. Does that mean an SFR, by definition, MUST have at least a HFN? If the ending is tragic, is it classified as SF only?

  4. >If the ending is tragic, is it classified as SF only?

    That's my understanding. My two cents: if the romance ends tragically, then the romance/romance subplot isn't about an emotionally satisfying, transcendent bond representing a certain stage in the lives of the couple--it's a commentary/exploration about something else entirely.

    In terms of romance genre conventions, love happens and survives despite the odds. In SF, love happens, but it may or may not survive the odds.

    I'm not sure how many SF readers would consider romantic SF stories wherein the romance ends tragically, as SFRs. Perhaps some do and some don't.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg once blogged about her suspicion that the bias against romance might be because of the HEA, not necessarily the romance itself.

    Many SF readers will willingly read books with romance subplots, but if it evolves into an HEA, that may be why some of them balk.

    Maybe they think a tragic ending to a romance is somehow more speculative--i.e., valid--in nature? And that an HEA is less plausible.

    Her theory is interesting. Makes me wonder if SFR might gain broader appeal among men/SF readers if there were more stories with HFNs.

    For example, a story that ends with the couple realizing they're in love right as their home planet enters an apocalyptic state after an alien invasion or plague. It would deliver the satisfaction of an HFN without going all home-sweet-home-white-picket-fence on a reader.

    I think there are quite a few ways to tweak the HEA in order to meet SF genre conventions half way or even more.

    KS Augustin's BALANCE OF TERROR is a story with that kind of tweaked ending. TERMS & CONDITIONS APPLY is another. :) And I do something similar in my novella QUEENIE'S BRIGADE.

  5. As a reader, I expect something that's tagged as a romance to have a HEA, it's part of the promise to readers, as far as I'm concerned, and I don't think adding sci-fi changes that expectations. A story without a HEA could be a sci-fi love story, but not a romance.

    However, the HEA I expect is for the characters. I'm undecided how I'd feel if the characters got together in the end, but everything else they cared about was destroyed, for example? Personally, I don't think I'd like it, but could it still be called a romance?

    I'm uncertain why there's the perception of sci-fi having tragic endings though? I see it more as exploring the harder topics in life, and seeing how science can help us surmount them. In my world, science is the good guy, who triumphs over the bad guys, whoever they may be.

    Rinelle Grey

  6. @Rinelle - perhaps because of dystopian scifi stories?

    Okay, so if a non-HEA ending disqualifies a story as SFR, what about space opera? I'm hazy on the definition even after researching the term. If a story is SF with romantic elements but not even a HFN, could you call it space opera? Because I'm wondering if I should re-classify one or more of my stories in that case.

  7. @Heather - thanks for your thoughts. I have Balance of Terror on my TBR pile - now I feel inclined to bump it up in the queue. Much as I love SFR, I'm in the mood for a tweaked ending just now. I'd better add Queenie's Brigade too. ;)

  8. This topic is one I've been personally struggling with lately in regards to my Interstellar series. They are classified as Space Opera or WOman's Fiction with romantic elements, but I've been trying to find a term to easily describe it to readers (and potential readers).

    I knew they weren't clear cut SFR, though the romance element is very strong, but the endings are borderline HFN, depending on your concept/definition of "life".

    I think I like the whole SF Love Story thing.

  9. If you take the SF factor out of the discussion, a relationship story with at least HFN can be classified as women's fiction, and if you kill of at least one of the main characters, it might be an Oprah pick. I think the SFR is broad enough to allow for a lot of interpretation but if a writer invests me in a couple, then yanks away at least the promise of a future for them, I can tend to get cranky.
    Our world of writing is evolving at an increasing pace, no telling where we'll be this time next year. If a book is good, we'll read it an recommend even if we can't fit it into some narrow box.

  10. I think Pippa knows I'm struggling with this. On the SF - SFR continuum my books lean more to SF. The love story is part of the plot, not the reason the story exists. Which means, I suppose, that most of my SF is not R. I guess I just have to accept that's the way it is.

  11. Greta, I'm the opposite. If I take my romance out, no matter the setting, my story falls apart.

    Another handy trick to know if it's SFR or SF with romantic elements is this. If you can remove the romance and the story falls apart, it's a romance. If the story doesn't fall apart it's romantic elements that enrich the story. Usually it'll be a little flat without the romance, character-wise, but you still have a complete story.

    Learned this several years ago and it was a real light-bulb moment for me. If I remove the central romance element from my space opera I lose the meat of my story. My hero has no motivation without it and becomes a cardboard cutout sitting on a stage. He's not a man meant to be alone.

  12. >there's the perception of sci-fi having tragic endings though?

    I think the reputation came about because enough of the stories *do* have tragic/bittersweet endings and/or somber tones. I'd love to see some hard numbers on that, though, because there are just as many SF stories that end on a positive note--in the sense that the villain is vanquished and/or the obstacles are overcome and/or disaster is averted.

    Other genres have HEA endings, just not of the romantic kind.

    >If a story is SF with romantic elements but not even a HFN, could you call it space opera?

    If that's the setting, then yes, absolutely--because we're talking about where the story takes place. "Space opera" isn't synonymous with romance (assuming I'm understanding your question correctly).

    I've seen some people use "space opera romance" to describe an SFR story. If I only see the tag "space opera" then for me the default is a story without a romance unless the actual reading experience tells me otherwise.

  13. SF with romantic elements but not even a(n) HFN -- In Conquest Born [or is it In Conquest Reborn) by C. S. Fridman.

    Jean Johnson writes mostly fantasy romance, and has a collection of stories which are adult fantasy and SF romance fairy tales. Her SF series from the Ace imprint (as opposed to her fantasy romance under Berkeley imprints--same corporation, different publishing imprints) is not romance 'there's a failed romance in the seco," the author has said.

  14. I think that most space opera actually -does- have romance plots in it. "We Guard the Black Planet!" by I think Edmond Hamilton was a romance, as was much of his other space opera. EE Smith's work was full of romance plots. There were romances in Heinlein's books. There are romances in Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald's Mageworld books (three siblings all get pair-bonded, and the generation before, their mother and father get pair-bonded).

    Meanwhile, there's a complication concerning the term "romance" itself: Doyle's SF Genre Rant

    my own theory is that SF novels aren't really novels, in the taxonomical sense, at all. They're actually romances -- again in the taxonomical, rather than the sales-rack, sense -- and therefore need to be judged by standards other than those which we usually apply to novels. Which means, among other things, that Richness of Invention (or, as an SF reader might put it, "lots of really neat stuff" ) will take precedence over Realism every time.

    Debra Doyle also has

    ...The Girl Cooties Theory of Genre Literature, as applied to sf and fantasy.
    We start by positing the existence of a body of sf readers and writers (numerically perhaps fairly small, but nevertheless extremely vocal) who are deathly afraid of getting girl cooties. .... The incorporation of romantic elements into a work of sf, therefore, has to be done with considerable care, not to say deviousness.

    Moreto the


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