Sunday, September 7, 2014

SFR Authors As SFR Readers: A Wrong Assumption?



While authors are also readers and play the separate roles accordingly, there are times when their reader selves overlap with their author personas. Plus, social media technology provides more opportunity than in the past for readers to learn about authors and their interests. Therefore, if an author publicly shares the titles of books she reads, sometimes the act is a component of her marketing strategy, like a form of branding.

In general, I assume authors enjoy and actively read books in the genre(s) they write, at least when it comes to SFR. I enjoy learning about which SFR books authors like because a) it's interesting information that can inform my experience of an author's stories and b) I occasionally learn about new titles that way. I don't expect authors to be experts about SFR, but I do expect them to be knowledgeable. Not just in terms of craft, but about things like the genre's current market.

I also assume authors, for the most part, are interested in helping to raise the visibility of SFR as a whole (because it in turn can help individual authors). One way of accomplishing that goal is by routinely mentioning SFR titles they've enjoyed. Doesn't even have to be a recommendation, just a moment of sharing and paying it forward.

Lately, however, I've begun to wonder if my assumptions are off base.

The reason being is that when I encounter authors being asked about SFRs they enjoy or SFR characters they like in a public venue, the answers are frequently and perplexingly meager. I've seen authors sidestep such questions in interviews over the years. (Keep in mind that I read many, many SFR-related interviews and posts so I tend to notice such patterns. YMMV.).

In interviews, I've seen answers take the following forms (which, incidentally, have been by both mainstream print and digital-first authors):

* Authors don't read SFR when they're writing because of concerns they'll unconsciously copy ideas/passages from other books.

* They can't find any SFRs to read.

* They can find SFR, but not any they like (which is sometimes followed with a variation of "So I wrote my own" as an example).

* They share favorites from other mediums more frequently, like movies and television.

* They discuss non-romance SF books (or even fantasy).

* They only name title(s) by authors who share the same publisher.

* They mention SFRs, but only those by the most highly known authors (e.g., Linnea Sinclair and Catherine Asaro) and/or authors of classic romantic SF (e.g., Lois McMaster Bujold)--even though many other estimable books have been published since.

All of the above amounts to a collective signal boost when one takes into account the numerous interviews and posts authors do. What message is being sent? Why aren't more authors engaging in social media conversations about the SFR books they read?

Maybe I'm completely underestimating how competitive authors are. Perhaps they feel it's not in their best interest to mention any other books except those by the most established, visible authors.

On the other hand, perhaps the idea of branding oneself as an active SFR reader has been overlooked as a way of helping the genre grow.

To clarify, this isn't about establishing fan credibility. Most authors are clearly speculative fiction fans to varying degrees. But when an author writes SFR and her list of what she reads in the genre seems to be practically nonexistent, what kind of message does that send?

It makes sense to give credit where credit is due. Authors like Linnea Sinclair, Catherine Asaro, and Lois McMaster Bujold have worked hard in both their writing and advocacy of romantic SF and SFR. Subsequently, if they're truly the only authors worth mentioning over and over and over again, the implication is that science fiction romance authors whose names aren't Sinclair, Bujold, or Asaro must tremendously step up their games both creatively and marketing-wise if other gold standard books are to break out.

I'll leave you with this comment (via The Radish) as further food for thought.

46 comments:

  1. This got so long Blogger made me split it into two comments! This is PART ONE:

    The commenter on The Radish has a very valid point, and it lines up with me quite well. And thank you so much for the shout-out in your comment! I admit, it thrilled me more than a little to see my cover on The Galaxy Express.

    I have very specific things I look for in a book. First and foremost is a strong presence from the hero. Which is lacking in a lot of SFR I've looked at. If I look at something and don't buy it, there are two reasons for it. One, it's erotic, which I do not read or promote. And second, the hero appears in the sample to be more of an afterthought than an integral part of the story, or he's a bully or some other type of "hero" I don't like.

    I'm an outlier in terms of my love of the hero and wanting him to take center stage and I know this. At times, though, it almost feels as if that type of story is discouraged within SFR. There aren't many out there that I've encountered where he's at least as important as her. And there's only one I know of told entirely from his POV.

    My one experience with a Linnea Sinclair book left such a bad taste I haven't been able to talk myself into trying Games of Command. I couldn't even finish the first Dock Five book, because it was in first person and I wanted to rip the heroine's hair out and beat her with it. Gabe was WAY more interesting, and had far more at stake in the story, IMO.

    A lot of SFR is erotic. Which is not something I'm going to read or tell people about. I'm sure I'm not the only person who feels this way. Like it or not, erotic anything has a certain reputation, and it's been fairly earned. People who recommend it, for me personally, loose credibility. It's a fine line to walk and means the person doing the recommending MUST know their audience.

    I'm picky about what books I recommend. I recommend the hell out of anything Pippa writes, partly because Keir was the first SFR I read and I love Keir to pieces, and partly because I love her voice. I haven't yet found another author whose voice I'm in love with. If I ever finish A Storm of Swords I'll start perusing the Nebula Nights collection and looking for another voice to love.

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    1. Part Two:



      There's also a bit of an issue of quality. I've seen a lot of indie SFR that, for me, does not meet my quality standards and is in desperate need of a developmental edit. And covers, too. We indies need to be putting our best foot forward and making our books look as professional as we can. Even when it costs us money. Putting out a shoddy product does not help our genre gain visibility.

      I guess to sum up, it's not always a matter of not thinking about it or being reluctant. It may be that the people who you say hem and haw and stick to pretty much three names, may genuinely have not found anything they *want* to recommend. It may be they haven't found their magic book, they don't want their name associated with a lackluster product, or the outward presentation of the book is amateurish.

      Diversity is all well and good, but there is such a thing as being too diverse, too scattered, and too unfocused. Personally I think that's still part of why SFR is floundering a bit. Yes, it's great to have all the things and have something for everyone. But we need to reach out to the masses of regular romance readers too. That's what I'm trying to do, because I'm part of that mass of regular romance readers.

      My final thought is this, and I'm prepared for it to be unpopular and for me to be the only one who feels this way. There is such a thing as too much "I are woman, hear me RAWR, you're purposely marginalizing me." I'm of the opinion we write the best damn books we can, and focus all our attention on that. When the overall quality of what our genre offers goes up, everyone benefits.

      My goal is to write the best damn book I can. I don't care if I'm excluded from lists or overlooked because I'm a woman. I'm not trying to reach those people for my reader base. I'm focused on my target readership, and THAT'S where I'm going to spend my time promoting.

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    2. Wow, thank you! *is blushing* I have a similar problem as Rachel in finding things I like to read. I prefer sweet romances and non-alpha males. I don't mind the heat level, but I have found a lot of erotica focusses purely on the sex, which doesn't make enough of a story for me. Exceptions to this are Jessica Subject, Melisse Aires and Heather Massey. The first two often write the sweetest and most heartwrenching stories, while Heather's are always thought provoking.
      Since I've come into this from being a SF reader as opposed to a romance reader, I'm afraid classifying something as SFR simply by slapping a romance on a spaceship without at least some other feasible SF elements is not going to hook me. Technology, world building and conflict have to be as strong, if not maybe a bit more, than the romance (and especially the sex). And as Rachel says, nothing turns me off quicker than a naff cover/blurb/sample.
      Maybe in trying to be diverse, SFR is trying too hard to be all things to all readers. Or maybe that's exactly what could help us hook readers that wouldn't look at SFR normally. I don't know. My commitment is to write the stories I want, and put them out in the best quality I can, and whenever possible promote the books I love.

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    3. Oh, also - how *did* you find me, Rachel?

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    4. Goodreads. I found the SFR group there, and Keir was on the bookshelf. I read the reviews for it, and as you know about the third time I saw "reads like a Doctor Who adventure" I knew I had to read it.

      Since I found my first SFR via Goodreads and the SFR group bookshelf, I made sure to put A'yen on the shelf there. So if anyone reading this hasn't done that, GO DO IT! It will get you readers.

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  2. I'm certainly guilty of it. I've read Sinclair and Bujold. I may even have read Asaro. I haven't read much else, at least not widely. A book here and a book there over the 40+ years I've been alive. And yet I've written - and had published - a SFR book. (There were three more under contract at the time I wrote the first, and why they haven't made it out in the world is a story I won't go into.) However, I've also written and published seven cozy mysteries, without reading more than a handful of cozies in my life. I never planned to write cozies. It was something I stumbled into. Someone offered me money to do it, and I said yes. Same sort of thing with the SFR. I had an idea for a story, it happened to be an SF idea, and I ran with it. Maybe it makes me a bad ambassador for the SFR genre that I don't read more widely in it, but I don't think it's made me a bad SFR writer, and that's really the most important thing to me.

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    1. I think being a good SFR writer is important. And at least if people like your book and want more you could always direct them to the Brigade library as a start. :)

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    2. > I don't think it's made me a bad SFR writer,

      Jenna, sorry I wasn't clearer in my post. The concept of reading the genre one writes in order to improve craft is perhaps related, but not the thing I was noticing. :) My goal was to discuss the issue of how it looks if there are repeated instances of some authors being asked about their SFR reading (sometimes at highly visible sites) and coming up short--and how that impacts public perception of the genre.

      Not reading SFR and staying quiet on the issue (or being transparent about it) is different from sidestepping a direct question.

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  3. I'm glad Rachel Leigh Smith wrote her two part reply, 'cause she saved me a lot of time. I too don't read or promote erotica (for values of erotica being: graphic sex is the point of the story. I don't consider Gabaldon's Outlander or Bujold's Sharing Knife series to be erotica, as the sex was a natural consequence of a damn good story. Even if some of those scenes did make me blush!) I also agree with her final two grafs...I don't write to please the radical feminist / radical most anything mindset. I write stories, and I try to make them damn good.

    Understand, I signed up to be part of the SFR Brigade, but then I realized I don't have the time/money to sort through all the authors and figure out which are erotic, which aren't, and among the ones that aren't, which ones I'd actually enjoy. So I'm not in a position to promote authors to the benefit of the genre.

    Now, what's interesting is that after reading Rachel's post, I figure at least two people have made sales: Rachel, and Pippa. Rachel explained what she liked, I like what she likes, and she said she liked Pippa. (Follow all that?)

    I think that's a model for a scalable solution among our community. I'm in the process of reviving my moribund blog by reading and reviewing books. If any of you have books you think I'd like based on this post, I'd be delighted if you'd send me a copy for me to read / review. I can also promise this: if I don't like it, I'll tell *you* why it fell flat for me...warning, I am picky. Bujold is the gold standard, and if the prose don't flow, I'll let you know. If I do like it, I'll post the review on my blog and on goodreads with a minimum 3-star rating (because if I can't give you at least that, I just won't review it in public. I don't need that kind of karma)...and at least one twitter and FB mention to tie the review to the blog. On the flip side, I would be happy to have review copies of "Forge" sent to you by the publisher, or send you my self-pubbed "Seeds of Enmity" if you'd be interested in doing the same.

    This is a solution that could work equally well for those of us who are on the erotic side of the romance spectrum. It would also help us to build a sense of community, helping the genre by helping each other.

    Since I've already done this for two books from authors at a website I hang out at (although in their cases, their samples hooked me and I paid for the books), you can see what kind of reviews I write here: http://bit.ly/So3M2y.

    Let me know if you want to send me your book, or if you're interested in reviewing mine under the same TOCs, at tesskanthony AT gmail DOT com, subject line SFRB Reviews.

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    1. >I too don't read or promote erotica…So I'm not in a position to promote authors

      Totally fine if it's not your cuppa, but this discussion isn't about promoting or not promoting erotica.

      >I don't consider Gabaldon's Outlander or Bujold's Sharing Knife series to be erotica

      Color me enlightened because I had no idea anyone considered those books to be erotica.

      >I don't write to please the radical feminist

      I don't understand the relevancy of this point.

      >which ones I'd actually enjoy

      That's a huge reason I started The Galaxy Express (http://www.thegalaxyexpress.net/), by the way, to help readers sort through the books to discover the ones that are right for them. I've done lots of tag posts and I regularly highlight non-erotic SFRs. Granted the number isn't huge, but there are enough to keep a reader busy for a while. :)

      In fact, here's a listopia to get you started:

      https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/45080.SFR_Sci_fi_Futuristic_Romances_that_are_NOT_Erotica

      There are 262 books on that list. Placement on the list isn't a 100% guarantee because taste varies, but that's a hefty number.

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  4. I think this is spot-on and kudos to Heather for summarizing this topic so eloquently and bringing it to the forefront. IMHO this says it all: "Subsequently, if they're truly the only authors worth mentioning over and over and over again, the implication is that science fiction romance authors whose names aren't Sinclair, Bujold, or Asaro must tremendously step up their games both creatively and marketing-wise if other gold standard books are to break out."

    Rachel's follow-up comments also have several great points, especially this:
    "I guess to sum up, it's not always a matter of not thinking about it or being reluctant. It may be that the people who you say hem and haw and stick to pretty much three names, may genuinely have not found anything they *want* to recommend. It may be they haven't found their magic book..."

    For me, that's it exactly. I do find many fair to good SFR books, but there's usually something that keeps the story from clicking all the boxes that makes that GREAT READ! neon sign in my head light up. I'm actively seeking the next potential breakout SFR book/s that I can tweet and blog and shout and generally enthuse about. Why are they such a rare find?

    I think the main problem is it's a tall order to write SFR and do it well. Not only do the characters have to be relatable, the plot well-paced and enthralling, and the romance tension-laden and compelling, but with SFR the world-building also must be imaginative and visual and the science or tech has to be slick and accessible. Yup, a very tall order, indeed.

    Maybe we, as the SFR community should be asking ourselves how we can help SFR authors write books that completely satisfy. But how would we go about it? A mentor program? A critique collective? A workshop referral page? It's a hard question to answer, but maybe one we might think about brainstorming as a group.

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  5. >may genuinely have not found anything they *want* to recommend

    I can understand not wanting to make recommendations in a professional capacity, but sharing something one likes and telling others "go read this, you'll love it!" are two different things. They're sometimes related, but not always.

    But staying mum, for whatever reason, still leaves the impression that one is not that enamored of the genre one writes in or very familiar with it. I'm trying to parse if staying mum is some kind of strategic business decision or if there's an unspoken agreement among some authors that SFR has a quality issue. Which is ironic considering that most authors probably think their books are entertaining and worthy of buzz!

    Rachel, you've been very transparent online about your preferences and you provide explanations even if most SFRs you've tried aren't your cup of tea. I've not seen that consistently.

    >Diversity is all well and good, but there is such a thing as being too diverse...the masses of regular romance readers too

    Could you clarify this point? Romance has many different subgenres and a diverse readership, and yet it's the biggest market. Now, if by focus you mean loads of marketing dollars that can push a handful of titles into readers' hands via bestseller lists, reviews, ads, etc., to make finding the books convenient (with the hope that the attention will trickle down) then yeah, that's something all niche genres struggle with. :)

    >My one experience with a Linnea Sinclair book

    That's totally valid, but is that a quality issue or a subjectivity/personal taste issue? Like any author, Ms. Sinclair will not appeal to all readers, but on the other hand, why is she one of the most well-known authors of SFR? It's probably a combination of quality of writing and marketing (which includes the book packaging). However, if taste is so subjective that even gold standard, widely recognized authors like Sinclair and Bujold have detractors, SFR may not have a quality issue so much as a huge marketing issue.

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    1. I'm not sure I can clarify the masses of romance readers part. Other than romance readers are voracious, and the SF element can put a lot of them off trying it. I guess what I'm really wanting to see more of is a balance, where more authors are consciously striving to pull in the romance reader, as opposed to the SF fan or the SF TV fan.

      My own stuff is light on the SF. Because I'm a romance reader first, and I'm writing for the romance reader.

      It's a fine line to walk, and not everyone is capable of it. But I would like to see more SFR authors attempt it and be open about the fact they're attempting it.

      As for Linnea, it was purely a personal taste issue. But it also means I'm not going to recommend her, for the most part, because I had such a bad experience with it. It wasn't all the first person either, because I read Grimspace, enjoyed it, and would recommend it if the right person for it crossed my path. But am I going to shout from the rooftops about Grimspace? No.

      Am I ever going to rec Linnea to anyone? Probably not. It's very easy to make me not like a heroine, and pretty hard to make me like her. I don't even remember the heroine's name in Gabriel's Ghost. That's how much I hated her. I've wiped her from my memory. And I know I'm an outlier on it, for the most part.

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    2. >the SF element can put a lot of them off trying it.

      I don't buy that argument because the same went for PNR, a supposedly "dead" genre at one time. Sure, some folks needed a bit of persuasion, but tastes obviously changed. PNR went from total obscurity to having its own spot on book spines.

      SFR may have a bit more of a challenge, but I don't believe readers would be as turned off today by the SF elements as they might have been in the past.

      Plus, people's tastes change, both in terms of culture and over the course of one's lifespan. This includes women. SF used to be shunned and now it's *all* over the place in terms of movies, comics, media tie-in novels, videogames, you name it.

      Plus, if we keep having conversations about how off-putting SF elements are and perpetuating myths about the role of women in SF fandom, readers may very well wonder if they should even bother with this genre.

      >where more authors are consciously striving to pull in the romance reader

      My reading experience indicates that many, many authors very much have romance readers in mind. If romance readers aren't buying SFR in droves, that's more of a niche genre/visibility issue than a content issue. IMHO.

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  6. (Oh-oh, wrote this before Heather's comment.)

    Great summary of points from Heather, as usual.

    As a writer of SFR, I read it as well and have found my own focus changing over the past year or so. I am moving away from erotic because I see a lot of readers make a judgement on a book based solely on the erotic elements, and it's frustrated me. Just because a book contains erotic elements doesn't mean it's light on the plot or philosophical questions, yet that's what it's judged on: (a) how many sex scenes are in the book, and (b) are they hot? I'm through with that side of the genre.

    @Rachel Leigh Smith: I hear ya (and feel so-so about Sinclair myself) but I still think you're being a bit harsh. Yes, there are a lot of indie books that are less than stellar in terms of quality, but... Let's go back and look at the related genre of SF. Read the stories that were published in Astounding and through the 40s and 50s in the so-called "Golden Age". Most of them were crap. They were stories from writers who were developing their own skills. Ten years later, some came out with novels that were polished and they stand as some of the "greats". Others sank into obscurity. But they all had to start somewhere. They had the pulps. We've now got self-publishing.

    "It may be that the people who you say hem and haw and stick to pretty much three names, may genuinely have not found anything they *want* to recommend. It may be they haven't found their magic book, they don't want their name associated with a lackluster product, or the outward presentation of the book is amateurish."

    No. You are a very picky reader and you found Pippa Jay. You see, it's not that difficult. I consider myself extra picky too, am *not* a Sinclair fan, think that Bujold has been phoning it in for the past couple of books, and yet I *will* devour a book from Cathy Pegau or Greta van der Rol.

    "There is such a thing as too much 'I are woman, hear me RAWR, you're purposely marginalizing me.'"

    I understand. But so what? The thing is, women *have* been marginalised. Try reading about female authors who try to sell hard SF. They can't. Why? They're women. The marginalisation is not a figment of someone's imagination; it's a reality non-male authors have to deal with all the time. So now, in SFR, we're getting a plethora of kick-ass women who (I'm sorry to say) sometimes do improbable things? Why not? SFR is a genre that's just taking off where geek girls can pour their yearnings onto pages. That's actually okay with me. It's over-compensation, to be sure, but it's understandable over-compensation. Justifiable over-compensation. As the genre continues to evolve, things will settle down, as they always do. (For me, as a brown-skinned, black-haired woman, I'm hoping the red-haired heroine finally gets killed off. If I go by fiction, it would appear that 60% of the female population on Earth have red hair!)

    We may be expecting too much too soon. In purely technical terms, SFR has been around for decades. In actuality, it's still finding its feet, both with its authors and readers. I don't disagree with Heather calling on SFR authors to step up their game--that's something we must constantly do; it's our duty as writers--but I also don't think we're somehow remiss because SFR didn't spring from Fantasy's loins fully-formed, sophisticated and fabulous.

    I see SFR as a journey and, while I'll admit trying to prod it here and there every now and then ;) , overall, I'm pretty excited about where it might lead. Give it time and *critical support*, and I think we may all be surprised.

    Kaz Augustin ('cos I'm never sure how I'll appear in comments!)

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    1. When we have a reputation online for being a group of people who are always doing the "I am woman, hear RAWR, you're purposely marginalizing me," is that the impression we want readers to have? Do we want readers to think that's all SFR is about? And I'm not saying we do have that reputation, but it's easy for me to see how we could since someone is always dropping into these conversations and talking about how women are marginalized in SF.

      I'm an outlier on this issue too. Which may be just the perspective we need. I don't care about whether or not women have been marginalized. I don't care about being excluded from genre lists. I don't care about anything related to that. I'm almost an anti-feminist, to be honest. So much of it leaves a bad taste and impression with me. Which means even though I am a bit of an outlier, I'm not the only one who feels this way.

      If I wasn't writing SFR, these types of discussions and what I've noticed being said in various places, would make me steer clear of the genre. Why? Because I'd think the majority of the books are like this. In my mind an author's online persona matches what they write. Which is why everywhere I go I focus on the hero in a romance. That's who I am as an author.

      As in all things, moderation and balance is the key. We don't need to be known as the group of genre writers always arguing that we're being marginalized and excluded because we're women. Is there a place for it? Absolutely. Does it need to be our reputation? Absolutely not.

      Balance. And write the best damn book you can.

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    2. >since someone is always dropping into these conversations and talking about how women are marginalized in SF.

      Discussing is not the same as arguing and whining.

      And we'll have to agree to disagree because the day women are equal to men in all things is the *only* day I stop discussing and being concerned about the issue of marginalization.

      To all: please let's keep this discussion focused on the content of the post from now on. Thank you.

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  7. >the next potential breakout SFR book/s

    Readers enjoy plenty of books that aren't breakouts, though. Some of my favorites will *never* hit the bestseller lists for a variety of reasons and it's not always related to the writing. In that sense, I can't help but wonder if some of the time we're asking the wrong question?

    Yes, quality of writing is important, but the best written SFR in the world (however one defines it) won't be read if readers can't find it.

    I also was thinking that authors today are navigating very different publishing waters from 10-20-30 years ago and that may be impacting the style of books currently getting published. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing--just a new angle. Like the way media tie-in novels became a part of the SF world. Some of them have very good reputations among readers.

    >clicking all the boxes that makes that GREAT READ! neon sign

    Hmm, do you think that's a general quality issue, or a "not enough books in SFR" issue?

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    1. I think it's both. For some of us it's quality, and for some of us there just aren't enough to feed our reading habits.

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    2. > if readers can't find it.

      and again, we're back to the visibility issue. THIS is still the problem.

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    3. Bingo, Pippa - We've only had our own category on Amazon for what, a year? I have noticed an upswing in sales, though, since sci-fi seems to be taking over paranormal in the tv/movie realm for both teens and adults...

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  8. I can only speak from my own experience, but it would really surprise me if there was any kind of unspoken agreement. And regarding authors being fearful of promoting other authors in the genre for competitive reasons, in my opinion that's pretty short-sighted and I would hope not! Rising water floats all boats, and all that.

    So with that said, I am one of the people you are talking about, and I can only speak for myself. When I wrote my debut novel, I did not even know I was writing SFR. I didn't know there was such a thing as SFR (as you and Laurie will probably recall!). I only knew what I liked to read and write -- stories equally balanced between a strong, speculative plot and a romance (which includes SFR, but also lots of other stuff). So I started in this business with a lot of catching up to do as an SFR reader. And having started my writing career as a mother of a small child and with a day job to boot (like many authors) and not to mention critique partners to support and contests to judge, "catching up" has been very slow going. There's also the fact that I enjoy several other genres and am not willing to give those up. (Not only do I enjoy them, but I feel exposure to lots of genres has a positive effect on my writing.) And just for good measure, there are the science books I read because let's face it, writing strong SF is tough! Er, and the fact I've had to become an expert in online marketing in the last three years.

    Okay, you get the idea! I guess all this is to say that at least in my own case, if I only mention a handful of SFR titles in an interview, it's because of all the stuff above, and not because I've decided against it for some other reason. Finding a book -- SFR, fantasy, classical, whatever -- that really speaks to me is one of my favorite things. And if cupcakes are somehow involved too, it's almost more happiness than I can stand.

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    1. Sharon, if anyone starting writing "SFR" even five years ago, I doubt they would have recognised it as such, either. I certainly didn't.

      The things you mention are, as you pointed out, things all of us do. Two kids. Homeschooling. IT consulting. Magazine wrangling. Wife. Mother. Cook. Nurse. I don't think any writer anywhere began as a marketing expert or only reads narrowly within a single genre. At least, not any *competent* writer.

      For me, Heather's post resonated for more than just the SFR angle. It's like asking, "who's your favourite female SF writer?" and hearing "Ursula le Guin" ad nauseam.

      I admire le Guin greatly, her writing style is so elegant and full of meaning that I'm struck dumb with jealousy. Constantly. But, come on, she's not the only female SF writer who's ever existed. I feel it's the same kind of thing here. Sinclair, Bujold; Bujold, Sinclair. It's just too easy. When I found myself answering "Ursula le Guin" one time too many (yes, it was me!), I had to stop and admit I was being lazy. It was wrong of me, as someone who writes SF herself, to come up with only one measly name to answer the question. And, not only that, but the same name, over and over again!

      So I educated myself. And not because I had loads of time on my hands (because, as anyone who has known me for any length of time knows) I don't. I educated myself because it was the right thing to do. And now I can say that James Tiptree, Jr. was prescient of social movements in a way that's frightening; that Joanna Russ has a deceptively subversive way of communicating ideas; that CJ Cherryh writes exciting space opera in a universe I'd love to visit. I can say that CL Moore was a ground-breaker for her time; that Sheri S Tepper is able to weave such wonderful worlds out of mere words; that I will pick up anything (including a movie-tie in!) from Vonda McIntyre because she's just that damned good. I can talk about Octavia Butler as well as Mercedes Lackey, Robin McKinley and Storm Constantine, even though the latter group write (shudder) fantasy. ;) I can even talk about those female authors I'm not really a fan of, and tell you why.

      But those same same names in SFR? Sorry, too easy. Just as it is in SF.

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    2. You make a great point, but I do hate to hear any of us refer to ourselves as lazy. Sometimes adjustments in time management and prioritization can be very useful, however. :) When Laurie Green and countless others gushed over LAST HOUR OF GANN, you bet I made time to read it, and it's like 3 books in one. Also I agree that this is not unique to SFR. I have always loved fantasy but I haven't read a popular newer title (such as THE WAY OF KINGS) in many years. But I have very much enjoyed some of the quirkier speculative authors I've been reading as I've gotten older (Neil Gaiman, Jo Walton), which for me has been a worthwhile trade-off.

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    3. >Rising water floats all boats

      That was my thought as well. I might have gotten a bit Mulderish about the "unspoken agreement" part. :P

      >a lot of catching up to do as an SFR reader

      That's a good point and I doubt you're the only one. The SFR online community started building in earnest around the same time that ebook technology became prominent, whereas previously it was much harder to find titles or posts about the genre.

      >am not willing to give those up.

      Nor should you or anyone else! My post was more about the *cumulative* effect of author non-disclosure or recycling certain authors in interviews when directly asked and how it might impact perception of SFR as a whole.

      Not all authors will have favorite reads in the genre they write in (and lack of interest/time doesn't equate to a subpar story), but given how often the question comes up for authors of any genre it seems like a topic readers are consistently interested in.

      >if I only mention a handful of SFR titles

      It doesn't need to be a whole list--that's asking for people's eyes to glaze over. :) Heck, if ten more authors even shared the same two SFR titles they enjoyed other than Sinclair, Bujold, etc. over the course of a year that'd still be more new titles shared than in the past. And while not a recommendation necessarily, it potentially helps readers discover new books. IMHO.

      Delete
  9. >They had the pulps.

    That's a good framework.

    >I see SFR as a journey

    Co-signed!

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  10. And yes, I do know I sometimes come across a little harsh about self-pubbed stuff. It's because every single time I've tried one (with the exception of authors who are also trad published) I haven't been able to finish it. Every. Single. Time. Usually because, in my opinion, the book needs a solid developmental edit. Once it was, again, the whole I hated the heroine thing.

    That's why I've invested so much into my own self-publishing adventure and found an editor who gets me, has experience with SFR, and I've also spent years and thousands of dollars learning how to craft a good story. And I shelled out money for a custom cover that, as all of you know, I'm beyond in love with.

    If a self-pubbed book has a professional looking cover I'm more likely to get a sample. And I'm still trying self-pubbed books, hoping I can find some that meet my needs. I've picked up quite a few romantic suspense self-pubbed freebies over the summer because I'm feeling the urge coming to find some new authors to love.

    I've softened a lot in my thoughts on self-pubbed stuff, after seeing some of the quality work put out by the Brigade. More of the issue in SFR, for me, is I have a hard time finding stuff that grabs my attention and gives me the hero dose I need. But I'm constantly looking, and have bookmarks in every single issue of the Quarterly of books I want to check out.

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  11. Had someone message the page about SFR recs - I directed her to the Brigade library, Heather's blog, and the Sci-fi Romance Quarterly.

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  12. Commenting at 4am is dumb... Okay, part of the reason I directed this new reader's enquiry to the above resources is: 1. She didn't give any criteria other than she didn't mind what heat level, and 2. I know I'm not that widely read (aside from Anne McCaffrey, I couldn't name anything specifically SFR a few years back), while I know Heather likes a huge range. On recommending other SFR - if someone likes a specific sub category of SFR and I know books that fall into it, I'll tell them books I've read. I don't default to Linnea for the simple fact I've come late to her books, so maybe it hasn't become an automatic response for me. And in my self pubbed books, I've recommended similar titles by other authors that I've read and liked (as well as the rest of my own). But I have to have read and liked them, and perhaps that's also part of where the difficulty rises. As an admin in the Brigade, I sometimes feel torn between being neutral about other members' work and sticking with what I've read and loved. A discussion about reviews came up in the FB group. I will read books by other members (but not on request), and I will only post reviews for books I enjoyed. This opens up a whole can of worms - I could be accused of promoting my friends for example, which could actually be bad for their books - but as a reader I want to talk about the books I loved, so I will keep doing it. However, I'm doing less and less reading because I'm too busy writing. So in my case my hesitancy in recommending other SFR is mostly my limited experience with it, even though it tends to be the only thing I read now. This is also why we run SFRB Recommends, which isn't a review but simply a recommendation. But few Brigaders volunteer for it. Laurel does it most - Rachel, Sabine, myself and Jessica have contributed, but no one else seems willingly.

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    1. >Heather likes a huge range.

      Indeed, I do. :D

      Regarding recommendation, it's a different beast from being directly asked "what SFR are you reading now" or "what's your favorite SFR?" Some readers may take that kind of sharing as a recommendation, but that's on them. I never assume that another reader's favorite will become mine, however given the new information I might investigate the book.

      I think we're wading into the area of influence. Squeeing about a book we love may influence others to check it out, but squeeing about a story isn't the same as urging someone to read it.

      >But few Brigaders volunteer for it

      Sorry to hear that. Lack of response could be a time issue, which is why I thought that if many authors are already reading SFR, then interviews, which many authors do, are a convenient way to mention a few titles here and there compared to writing up a post or even a paragraph about them. But again, I shouldn't assume too much. If SFR is in an early, active development stage as Kaz pointed out, perhaps more time and books are needed before authors who want to be active SFR readers can become more regular with fav book sharing.

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  13. Also, as admin I probably shouldn't say this, but part of the issue with the Brigade is that a lot of people are joining simply to pimp their own books. They're not interested in contributing to the community. They're not interested in promoting the genre. Some just have one SFR title among a bunch of other genres they're probably more well known for and asked about. Because we've worked hard as a community and provide good promo opportunities, some people are taking advantage of that for their own personal sake. As admin I see that more because of the number of times I and the others have removed self promo posts from the discussion group, mostly made by those who make no other contribution, commitment, or even comment in the community. Member numbers become irrelevant if people are too centred on their own work as opposed to supporting the genre.
    And yes, I probably could read and promote more SFR. But to give an example - last time I binge read, I had five SFR titles. Two ended up DNF, one I couldn't rate at least three stars so I didn't review, and the remaining two got four star reviews (which I posted to any retail sites I could, Goodreads, and posted to the fanpage). Whenever I do an interview and I'm asked my fave books, I usually list the most recent. We could all technically do *more* but we all have limits, right?
    Sorry, rant over.

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    1. >Member numbers become irrelevant if people are too centred on their own work as opposed to supporting the genre.

      Agreed. I'd also like to raise the (rather obvious) point that SFR authors typically lack significant marketing budgets, mainstream print distribution, and the type of insta-prestige that comes from places of privilege. It's a niche genre, too, despite the romance association.

      On top of that, women authors are consistently marginalized (plenty of review statistics alone support that). So how else can authors of SFR compete?

      One very powerful tool SFR authors and advocates have is community. Why not use this strategy as often as possible, especially since it's *completely* under our control? Members can take on many, many roles within the community. The hope being that the responsibilities are balanced for everyone.

      Yes, it requires lots of work, but it's the main tool available barring a billion dollars dropping into our laps. :)

      >We could all technically do *more*

      That's one of the reasons I questioned my assumptions. I assumed many authors are already reading SFR. But if they're not, then yes, the idea of reading SFR may seem like more like a work-related task/chore than a pleasurable one. And so I can see how the concept of being an active SFR reader would lead some to feel pressured when it comes to the business side of things.

      So for authors who don't want to be SFR readers or can't for whatever reason, no worries--just ask interviewers to drop the "what's your favorite" question and focus on other ones. And consider contributing to the community in other ways.

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    2. >>One very powerful tool SFR authors and advocates have is community.<<

      This is why I didn't just join the Brigade. I became active in it and I'm a regular contributor to the blog. It's important to me to be active in the genre community I'm writing in. I did/do the same with the historical romances I like. My things are European continent settings, specifically Russia, and Civil War-era.

      We have a bright future I think. The numbers of non-erotic SFR are slowly growing. There's more now than when I joined the Brigade.

      Visibility is absolutely still a factor too. The answer for this is for us to keep putting ourselves out there, looking for promo places, and of course writing the best damn book each author is capable of. Good books find readers. Bad books don't.

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    3. >I became active in it

      While SFR may develop differently than PNR, it's the participants being active that made a difference in PNR's early days (from what I've heard).

      Dorchester releasing Christine Feehan's book is an important factor, but I haven't heard anything about the publisher mounting marketing campaigns. A lot of it came down to readers (and probably some authors).

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  14. I think my biggest problem is one already mentioned - finding SFR that I want to devote my limited time to reading. I'm not interested in sex-in-space, shape-shifters-in-space, dubious consent, and erotica-in-space. When I read science fiction, I want science fiction. When I read science fiction romance, I want SCIENCE FICTION romance, not romance that just happens to be in space.

    I like intimacy (I actually prefer a scene or two in romances instead of fade to black), but it must add to the story. Too many times, I've run into romance authors taking their Story-sex-sex-story-sex-sex-HEA formula and sticking it in space and calling that SFR. To me, that's not SFR... that's Sex In Space; and it seems my no-dubious-consent rule has made at least half the so-called SFR out there a non-starter for me. (Maybe that sounds harsh.. but I'm honest.. I don't want space-rape, space-captor-rape, 'it's okay because he has a big cock; or mars needs more women who don't fight back")

    And yes, I want strong female characters. They should have flaws, have soft sides (just like the men should, too) but they shouldn't be rag-dolls or decorative props to their heroes. And they most certainly shouldn't be okay with dubious consent, being kidnapped or otherwise taken advantage of.

    I read/write mostly space opera for the reasons bemoaned above - I want books that deal with bigger topics than just a H/h getting their HEA. I want books that make me think, stirs my imagination, has some good space adventure, existential exploration and world building that makes me want to stay in the universe for as long as possible.

    Unfortunately, I've found the above to be a minority in all the reading I do through Netgalley, my review blog (TracingTheStars.com) and just stuff I pick up off Amazon. With my "Life's too short and my TBR pile to large to read Bleh books" motto, I would say that the number of books/authors I promote is limited.

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    1. Agreed, the preponderance of erotic SFR is a significant factor (some of them may even be mis-categorized and are actually erotic SF, which complicates the issue).

      >space-rape, space-captor-rape

      Plus we seem to be in a period of time where grimdark and taboo content is in demand. Forced seduction et. al. never went away--it just took on different forms. Although I'm beginning to wonder if the expression of such is more overt in erotic SFR than it was in PNR, especially given the impact of ebooks.

      On the bright side, the accessibility of digital-first publishing creates the same opportunity for non-erotic SFRs to hit the market as often as their steamier counterparts. Both can co-exist peacefully.

      The challenging part, I think, is that the first few waves of non-erotic SFRs may have to "take one for the team" because competition from erotic titles is very, um, stiff. If the majority of authors feel erotic SFR is the only way to make a career, then it creates a self-perpetuating cycle.

      The only way to discover if readers who enjoy non-erotic SFRs are underserved is to release a huge batch of books and monitor the results. Some authors are taking the risks, but seems like the numbers need to be higher for us to learn more.

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    2. I think were are hitting a new category issue. Before SFR had its own category on Amazon, we were lumped into Space Opera and Paranormal Romance.. then BAM we get SFR category *rejoice* ; however, what we don't really have yet is a Science Fiction Erotica category .. there is in the smaller venues like All Romance.. but not on Amazon, so even the Erotica / more sex-than-scifi books get mixed in with everything else.. leaving me to judge books by covers and blurbs >.<

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    3. >hitting a new category issue.

      Plus, some books straddle marketing category lines. It can come down to individual taste.

      And some steamy covers are for non-erotic SFRs, all of which is why tagging books is so helpful.

      Delete
  15. I mentioned Goodreads and the SFR group there in a comment above. I'll expand a bit.

    I wrote My Name Is A'yen having no idea SFR existed. I knew it was in movies and on TV, but had no idea there were books too. And it never occurred to me to look.

    When I did start looking, the SFR group on Goodreads was the first place I found. That group led me to The Galaxy Express. But it was the Goodreads group bookshelf I picked my first SFR titles from. Keir, and Sara Creasy's Scarabaeus duet.

    Goodreads is an amazing tool, and we need to use it more, IMO. The bookshelf in the SFR group hasn't had new titles added to it in a quite awhile. Mine is the newest one by at least a year. It's a resource we need to make use of.

    I'm also putting my book in newsletters in the groups I'm in that offer one. I've also participated in one author Goodreads fan community enough that the admins are going to let me have a thread for A'yen on release day. There are readers in this group who would love him if they'll give him a try, and since they've seen me talking and participating there, they're more likely to give it a try.

    Community is a HUGE part of selling books these days, because it's all about relationships. Gimmicks don't work anymore because people are tired of them.

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    1. >Gimmicks don't work anymore

      Agreed. They're more about the person/publisher doing the selling than the reader.

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  16. I do have autobuy SFR authors. I should bring back my Current Reads blogpost.

    I suspect one aspect of recommendations is that many authors are like me--99.99%of the online people I connect with are other romance authors. The huge number of promos,recommendations, reviews etc we run across in a week tend to become the visual equivalence of white noise.


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    1. >bring back my Current Reads blogpost.

      sounds cool! feel free to send me the links if you do.

      Delete
  17. I came to SFR through the science fiction side when I realized I actually wanted more romance in the SF I read. As far as non-SF romance I tend to enjoy them more if they are single titles as opposed to something like Harlequin. I've even read a few different lines from Harlequin but they still sounded too similar even to each other for my taste.

    My first SF title I can say I read was Jude Devereaux' "Knight in Shining Armour" It's time travel. It has two steamy sex scenes in it but they serve a purpose and are not erotica. I loved it perhaps because it went back to the medieval period because History is big for me too.

    My next two titles I loved were Blue Galaxy and Blue Nebula by Diane Dooley. I know she's reading this thread but I'll still be honest. I bought them because I said I would but I was not really expecting to like them all that much but I ended up loving them.

    I don't mind sex scenes I'll even read a little bit of erotica but it's got to be believable. I read this military SFR where they were on a 12 hour march after a few hours of hard fighting the alien horde down. But seemed to have enough energy, after putting up their tent to have awesome 3 hour sex. I am not believing that and I don't care how in shape you are. But then maybe that is true for all erotica. Maybe it wasn't a well written erotica? But I tend to shy away from the more intense erotica.

    Pippa, I didn't know there was a recommendations thing to do. I thought it was writing reviews which I suck at because I end up giving the whole story away. But I can do recommendations. I'm also getting up the bravery to volunteer to write a post for the blog but I have nothing published and I feel like I'm not professional enough yet or some sort of insecurity like that. If being published isn't a requirement I'll put my insecurities aside and think of something.

    Also if you click on my name it goes to my Florida History blog. I don't have an author blog, at least not until I get published. I just have an author page on Facebook.

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    1. Ah sorry this is Lyra Torres I am Beyond Tourism. I thought my name would show up.

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    2. >But I can do recommendations

      Every little bit helps!

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