12 September 2010

Redefining "Commercial" in Romance

I'm a member of RWA (Romance Writers of America) and I just got the September issue of the member newsletter, Romance Writers Report. There's an interesting article by Irene Goodman, a prominent agent, on "Common Mistakes by New Authors."

An entire section of the article is devoted to "Uncommercial Subjects," with Goodman advising aspiring authors to focus on subjects that are saleable. One line, in particular, caught my attention: "A 28,000-word historical romance set in Germany is not going to sell, no matter what" (p. 20).

I assume Goodman is referring to traditional tree-book publishing out of New York, because nowhere in her article does she even mention e-publishing, which is where a 28K historical romance set in Germany would not only get a read by an editor, but might very well sell.

E-publishing is redefining "commercial." Shorter length books set in time periods and locations that New York publishers spurn are being published successfully. For example, Carina Press recently released a historical romance set in Austria called Song of Seduction by Carrie Lofty. The same publisher has a  shorter M/M medieval romance and a book featuring a sixteenth-century Native heroine living in the Sonoran Desert.

While I can't comment on how well these books are selling, they are being published. By a division of Harlequin, no less. Goodman's essay indicates a lack of awareness of the rapidly shifting landscape of publishing that I find troublesome in an industry newsletter intended to represent "the voice of romance fiction."

Of course, Goodman is entitled to her opinion. As a very successful and respected agent, she's more than earned the right to comment on the industry. Nevertheless, I couldn't disagree with her more. And I hope aspiring authors won't be discouraged by her words, because I'm convinced that a well-written 28K historical romance set in Germany can sell.

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