Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Original Thinking in Romance Part 1: The Mass Market Paperback Market

Original Thinking in Romance
Part 1
The Mass Market Paperback Market
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

To find examples of current news Headlines you can rip for your next novel, you may want to follow my magazines on Flipboard:
https://flipboard.com/profile/jacquelinelhmqg  -- has a link where you can get the Mobile App (all free).

Labor Day is behind us, the world seems to be starting up again, ramping up to a major election in the USA and 4th Quarter GDP looms in Europe.

Do you wear white after Labor Day?  Do you even know what that question means or what the answer means about you? 

Who's in the mood for Romance in September?  The leaves are going to turn, apple cider will be reeking in the press, and Climate Change is the centerpiece of all discussions because of storms, sea-rise, drought, and shifting climate patterns.

So where are the science fiction titles working different scenarios about how all these factors (including wearing white after Labor Day) will eventually settle out bringing us a new world? 

There is a wide open hole in the Mass Market field -- but is it waiting for you to fill it with your own Science Fiction Romance novel?  Or is that hole a harbinger of doom for "Mass Market" anything?

I have 4 excellent novels here to point you toward as examples of Mass Market fantasy that relies heavily on Romance for the plot movement and character motivations.

Let's just list them.  I assume you've all read most of these or most of the rest by these accomplished authors:


Fire Kin is a novel of the Halflight City -- and builds an intricate fantasy universe where Fae live on the other side of a Gate from humans, vampires and shapeshifters.  A Peace was forged by the Veiled Queen, but she's now dead and war is breaking out.

War will feature in this Original Thinking series -- a lot -- and not because it has Mass Market Appeal, but because war is a feature of human culture we deplore, embrace, and study avidly.  We enjoy it as long as it doesn't hurt.

War Is About Counting

Remember that.  War is numbers, and it is all about COUNTING, enumerating, adding, subtracting, dividing.  It is also about probabilities peppered with Neptune driven "Idealism." 

In other words, the nature and effectiveness of War is a major source of Thematic Material.  Many (perhaps most) of the World War II films Hollywood made included a Romance.  I suspect the inventory of WWII films that have survived and been remastered digitally are wrapped around a core Romance story, even though muddy battle scenes are the visual feature.


Smaller conflicts than whole nations faced off in War can also explore the components of what it is about humans that makes them war-prone. 

The Grendel Affair is #1 in a new Lisa Shearin series, Spi-Files, and it sets up an intricate fantasy world with a group of people who form a mystically adept team to fight off various threats to our ordinary world.  The plot is essentially a Mystery with an amateur detective striving to become a professional member of a good-guys team.

The world of the Spi-Files includes a type of creature that eats everything especially humans called a Grendel.  It breeds by laying eggs that hatch hungry and grow fast.

On the side of the good guys is a (marvelous) Dragon that shape-changes and runs an organization that fights threats like Grendels and other such supernaturals.  Among the team of good-guys you will also find supernaturals. 

Don't let the description I extracted from this novel deter you from reading it.  It is excellent, and well written, smoothly paced, richly envisioned, and the relationships portend good stuff to come.


Iron Night is a sequel to Generation V which I've mentioned here,


This is a Vampire urban fantasy world where Vampires live among us.  How vampirism works in this world is a variation on established themes.  If you've been reading a lot of Vampire novels, you will recognize the genius behind these two novels. 

This series clearly demonstrates how fiction can replicate symphony music in "Variations On A Theme." 


Here is Reviews part 1 which discussed Jennifer Roberson's Sword Dancer series of novels about Tiger and Del. 


That review is a simple alert that the Jennifer Roberson fantasy titles (all of them) are must-read novels if you are at all interested in techniques of blending fighting, war, or just personal combat with world-building, themes, characters, and above all Romance with variations on why it is that violence and sex are related.

These 4 novels are all excellent, and marvelous examples to study.  They all satisfy the criteria I've been showing you how to employ in your writing throughout my writing craft posts here.  These writers have perfected the techniques I've been explaining.

But all 4 of these novels lack one thing that has, historically, been the hallmark of science fiction. 

Oh, yes, they are "Fantasy" genre so you wouldn't expect the hallmark of science fiction in them.  But actually the distinction between Science Fiction and Fantasy is very new, and mostly a publisher's convention created to target a Market.

Imprints exist to narrow and target a Mass Market. 

The Science Fiction hallmark that I expect to find in all Fantasy novels (with or without Romance as the plot-driver) is Original Thinking.

Science Fiction (which includes fantasy and paranormal romance) is called The Literature of Ideas.  The Ideas referred to in that monicker are the product of Original Thinking -- thinking thoughts that nobody has thought before, just as going where no man has gone before is the theme of Star Trek. 

Originality is the hallmark of Science Fiction/Fantasy/ -- and indeed Romance. 

Think about that.  No couple whose story is told in a Romance Novel is anything "like" any other couple.  No two couples find their way to each other along the same path because the characters are different. 

Original Thinking has been the hallmark of these 3 genres.

That was the case up to the time when they became Mass Market Commodities.  Now it is less so.  But times are changing.  This series on Original Thinking in Romance is to give an over-view of what opportunities the changes in the world provide to writers who can do Original Thinking.  We may also cover a bit of how to incorporate Originality into character, plot, theme, story, etc. and find a market for the original product you produce.  Innovation is not as welcome in this world as the media depicts it to be.

One of the jobs of Science Fiction is to explore a topic, a theme, turn it this way and that, look at it from every angle, analyze it down to its smallest component notions, and re-arrange those notions to make the result look different.

The main reason Futurology exists is not to predict "the" future, but to give us a choice as to which future we want.  Act on that choice and you no longer have a choice.

Science Fiction is woven from 3 questions: "What if ...?"  "If only..." and "If This Goes On ..."  From the topics explored by those questions, the Science Fiction writer creates a world based on the answers.  The point isn't to guess the future correctly, but to present the reader with the full impact of the reader's own preferences should those preferences be implemented in reality. 

Romance is woven from 3 questions: "What does he see in her?" "What does she see in him?" "What must this couple endure to make it all the way to the Happily Ever After, a good life where every challenge can be met with sufficient resources to overcome it."  the point isn't to get the couple into bed, but to present the reader with the full impact of  the reader's own preferences in choice of spouse.

Science Fiction is about "saving the world" -- it is all about how the world around you (and your spouse and kids) works, what causes what to happen, how do you make your choices stick, what do you need to invent in order to conquer the forces of Nature that try to kill you or separate you from your loved ones.

Romance is about "creating the world" -- it is all about how the world around you could and should be, about where within you the power resides to make that world as it could and should be, make the world a cradle for your Love.

The two fields just beg to be mated, just as the various instrument "voices" beg to be mated into a symphony of uplifting sound.  Each instrument is whole by itself, but when combined under the discipline of composer and director, the result is far beyond the sum of the parts.

And in modern urban fantasy we are seeing Mass Market products -- on TV and in paperback -- play variations on this symphonic combination. 

I do hope you are reading the series of numbered reviews posts -- a survey of the field as prelude to the leap into very difficult writing technique posts.  This series on Original Thinking is going to open a list of topics that may illuminate the difference between Science Fiction and Romance Fiction, thus creating a new way to blend the two.

Of course the objective as in all my prior posts to to puzzle out why Romance has garnered such disdain when it really should be held up as the role model for great writing. 

Here is Reviews Part 9, Sex, Politics and Heroism:


You should be able to find the previous Reviews parts by searching keyword Reviews on this blog.

Eventually, I will make an index post for the reviews series, but the truth is I sprinkle reviews and comments on current novels throughout other discussions where the novels illustrate a point that you, as a writer, can use to shape your thinking process.

Now consider the sweeping panoply of Mass Market Paperback Fantasy-Paranormal-Science-Fiction-Action-War type novels that have flowed through your life in recent years.

I've done a couple of series of posts here on the writer's business model.  That business model is still morphing faster than anyone can keep tabs on it.  Indie writers are finding ways to establish themselves as "brands" and create a stream of novels that please a readership.

Many of those self-publishing or small-press operations are specifically averse to selling to the Mass Market industry.

Such Indie writers are willing to go through the agonies of production and promotion that the publishers make the big bucks for doing.

I've explained the pivot point, historically, in shaping publishing was a Tax Reform thrust by Congress that went awry, classing publishers with the makers of hammers.

That broke up the entire book distribution business model, publishers and distributors went bankrupt in every direction, went Chapter 7 or got bought.  New operations sprang up, failed, and it was a business-slaughterhouse for a couple decades.

In the midst of this, huge organizations swooped in and bought up publishers.

Now, previously, book publishing was a business that big businesses owned in order to book a TAX LOSS.  That was the purpose of publishing - to lose money.  So the flourishing editor careers were those founded on publishing books that "ought" to be published, books that said something NEW -- something people would talk about.

A few big hits would pay the rent, and the rest of the publisher's list lost money but stirred and promoted original thought among our entire population. 

Tax Reform pushed through too fast to accomplish other goals produced the inadvertent consequence of stifling innovation in fiction. 


By the time Congress got around to trying to fix this problem, it was too late.  You can't turn the Queen Mary on a dime, and you can't restore bankrupt companies to former glory.

This trend of ultra-commercializing product that used to be produced because of its intrinsic value to Original Thinking swept through Hollywood - both in TV and film industries - and in a way has also affected the Videogame industry, though perhaps not as much yet.

During the 40 years or so after that tax bill, the government of the USA has zigged and zagged its way through more tax reform proposals apparently clueless about what the consequences of a given piece of legislation might be.  Or maybe they're better futurologists than we are? 

No, that can't be because currently the US government operates mostly on paper Haven't you seen Congress and Senators carrying thick printouts of paper around, referring to paper during hearings, carrying brief cases thick enough for Alan Greenspan's Federal Reserve meetings?  Computers the government is operating are so antiquated they can't talk to each other and are impossible to secure.  The Obamacare roll-out disaster is only one small example of what's hidden from the eye.

Of course, we don't elect people to Congress or the Senate because they openly display agile Original Thinking. 

Candidates can't speak off the cuff for fear they might offend someone, so we can never know how they think and thus have a chance to reshape what they think while they are in office.  Original Thinking is not a trait to give your politician-character if you want him to win an election on his way to Happily Ever After. 

Here are some links to previous posts on the writer's business model:





There are a few more.  I haven't indexed them yet.

So the pivot point on Originality in publishing that we are looking for is linked to Tax Reform by non-original-thinking individuals. 

What is the relationship between the Mass Market Paperback market and Politics?

And what has that relationship between romance novels and politics to do with the rise of the Indie author, self-publishing and tiny Indie Press publishers? 

I see, behind all this, a macro-trend. 

As technology (smart-phones, mobile devices, spectrum auctions,) impacts business and the customers of businesses, we are seeing patent disputes, Supreme Court decisions, and now Telephone Companies like AT&T and Verizon (also now Internet Service Providers) buying Satellite TV/Internet providers like Dish Network and Direct TV, I see the trend for consolidation.

It has been called the Battle (remember I mentioned war at the beginning of this discussion) the Battle For The Living Room.

Of course, few families spend any time in "the living room" these days -- even less time all in the same room at the same time.

Back in the 1920's (way before I was born) families gathered around a difficult to tune radio as big as a small refrigerator, pressing their ears close to decipher the scratchy static of comedy shows and news.

In the 1950's families still gathered in the living room in the evenings fighting over which of the 3 shows on the 3 networks to watch on the single HUGE TV set with a TINY screen full of static in black and white.

There was a "living room" and it was "under control."  (and not by the families gathered within it).

As TV sets were deployed to all economic classes driven by innovation that brought the prices down and the level of expertise needed to operate the thing also down, we became a nation united by our TV programs.  We all saw the same thing at the same time.

Likewise, Magazines (like Life Magazine, Time, Newsweek) were nationally distributed -- there weren't many and everyone read the same ones, sometimes in the living room, occasionally while watching TV. 

That was the MASS MARKET.  The paperback book is called "Mass Market" because it is cheap and is aimed at a market, a collection of individuals bound together by taste, limited budget, and access to a distribution point.

To succeed in the Mass Market, the item has to have Mass Appeal. 

In merchandising, Woolworth created the 5&Dime store mass-marketing stuff everyone used.

Today that's Sam's Club, Wal-Mart, Costco -- they don't do luxury, or specialty, they are just the pipeline to deliver what everyone uses at the lowest price.

Sam's Wal-Mart, Costco also carry books, mostly paperbacks and some hardcovers that are "remaindered" (sold without paying the author a royalty).

So American innovation and originality has created entire, huge, business models based on Mass Market concepts -- every customer gets the same because every customer wants the same thing. 

To create a Mass Market you have to hammer all those who don't fit into the same mold that most of your market fits.  You have to get more and more people into the "mass" that you market to in order to grow your business (and thus please Wall Street.)

That Mass Market is precisely what the Indie writers and publishers are shunning, and they are more adamant about it than anti-Romance readers are about shunning the HEA.

To market to a Mass, you must first have a Mass.  A "mass" is a collection of things or people that are all the same, as uniformly the same as possible -- and then a bit more uniform and identical.

Under the impact of the mobile device and 4G or wi-fi (and more vast changes to the signal delivery protocols are already in the pipeline to be funneled to the masses), the Mass itself has fragmented.

We are seeing a breakup of that Living Room that multi-company-mergers creating gigantic conglomerates are currently at war with each other for control of.

And it is war - a war to the death of these huge companies still trying to create a Mass for them to Market To.

Some, however, are beginning to change CEO's and new, younger-thinking people are beginning to grasp them impact of the mobile device (and e-book, streaming, webisodes).  These new CEO's are trying to do some Original Thinking to envision The Living Room.

Microsoft, Sony, etc are deploying game consoles that also deliver Netflix etc. and all kinds of streaming.

Amazon is marketing a TV box device to compete with Roku and Apple TV.

If you haven't used any of these plug-in devices to put your TV on the internet, please do yourself a favor and take the leap into this new world.  I recommend Roku, but any which way you connect your TV to the Internet will begin to give you an idea of what this series of blog posts on Original Thinking is about.

It's about the business model of the Mass Market - yes - but it is also about the break up of the mass market, and what that breakup means for fiction writers with novels based on Original Thinking, not Variations On A Theme or Trope.

TV News goes on and on about "the second screen" -- people watching a Breaking News Event (like a fire, earthquake, train derailment) and live-tweeting about it on their phone.  Also people read or watch video on an iPad while the TV runs through commercials.  TV Series are integrating that second-screen into their strategy to take over the Living Room -- getting people to Shazam a song or log onto the network's web page and play a game as the character in the show.

In other words interaction and customization are creeping into TV watching habits.

Another trend noted on TV News is how families don't sit together and all watch the same thing at the same time.  They break up, go to their bedrooms or outside on the porch -- go off alone -- and watch streaming TV or movies or video or whatever sort of entertainment each individual wants on their tablets or phablet or phone. 

These mega-giant corporations are conglomerating into bigger international mega-giant corporations to fight to the death for control of the living room while families are fleeing the living room. 

That's the market you have to market your novel to. 

The Mass Market is over.  The Mass Market is so 20th Century.

The Customized, Interactive Market hasn't formed yet. 

The Family as a life-model seems to be over, too.  Is that going to be permanent?  Or will the Millennial (coming out of college into joblessness) re-construct The Family and thus The Living Room along new lines?

Will Data Service Providers control that Living Room?

Is a well-controlled, single data service provider dominated, Living Room the symbol of the Happily Ever After being achieved?

Is the reason so many shun the HEA as impossible simply that the Living Room is gone forever, and therefore the dream of family is impossible? 

We are living in interesting times, and will return to the topic of Original Thinking as a marketable commodity in later parts in this series.

Meanwhile, pay close attention to the Democrats vs. Republicans war of annihilation at the 2014 mid-Term elections.

Search for any Original Thinking you can find.

Analyze the Left vs Right formulation of the questions, the issues, and the problems to be solved by the next iteration of government in Congress and the Senate.

While you're doing that, review my posts on Astrology Just For Writers.


Pay special attention to the 1st House/7th House dichotomy in the Natal Chart.

Note that Astrological Natal Charts do not provide any data on the individual's skin color, eye-shape, hair color, etc - the visually distinguishing marks. 

1st House/7th House is the axis of Self vs. Other (family, Spouse, country, Group or clubs, the public -- bound groupings of individual selves)

Trace out some original thinking about the right way, or an optimum way, or a Romantic Way, for an individual to relate to a group.

Remember Spock's famous quote about the good of the individual not out-weighing the good of the many.  He said that when he was about to go into a radiation filled drive chamber to fix the drive and save the ship -- but die because of it.  (at the time he didn't know he'd end up brought back to life by the Genesis Planet.)

It is the angst-question of our time -- what is the best relationship of the individual to the Group -- child-to-parents, citizen-to-country, citizen-to-other-citizens ratting out the NSA.

Within that classic Nietzsche question lies the entire paradigm of right vs. wrong.

Oh, and just to add icing to this cake, think about 1st House/7th House as the battle of the sexes because that's just what it is -- which is the reason it's so vital to a study of the Mass Market potential of Romance Novels in a world where there is no Mass Market.

The matter of defining an individual as a member of a Group can be summed up in that innocent little question I asked at the top of this post.

Do you wear white after Labor Day?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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