Monday, October 08, 2007

Are We Boldly Going...?

I'm absolutely pleased ::Linnea points to previous BSP post on the upcoming workshop:: that the genre(s) of SFRomance and Futuristics are getting some coverage as of late. There was also a lengthy article on paranormals--including SFR--at All About Romance last month. Now, one could chalk this up to the fact that this is the Halloween season, so things that go bump or boo or boom in the night get attention.

I'm hoping it's something more than that. I'm hoping that Science Fiction Romance (and Futuristics and RSF, for those of you who break things down thusly) is finally being recognized as a valid (sub)genre. Worthy of coverage. Worthy of attention. Worthy of question.

This is something the lovely and delightful Susan Grant and I bemoan...oops! I mean discuss from time to time. Okay, we've been bitching a lot about it lately. Sue's one of the Grande Dames of the romance end of the genre (and that does not mean she's older--she's quite the young thing) and as she knows, I respect her journey tremendously and, as well, the avenues she's opened for the rest of us. On the SF end, we have Catherine Asaro and our own wonderful Jacqueline Lichtenberg who developed the romance, the "intimate adventure" side of the story over in the SF aisles.

Many authors have followed. But many have moved on to other genres (Carole Nelson-Douglas and CJ Barry come immediately to mind) and in speaking with them they've admitted that SFR/Futuristics genre just doesn't have the numbers. That is, the readership, the following, the sales. Both CJ (now writing as Samantha Graves) and Carole jumped over to mystery/romantic suspense.

Part of the problem--and this is something Sue's keyed on rightly in her emails with me--is that SFR has an identity crisis. Neither fish nor fowl, not quite comfortable in the romance aisles and not quite sure if it belongs in the SF aisles, SFR sometimes plays the part of the rabble-rouser (it is known for its kick-butt heroines) and sometimes the unwanted guest (read the reviews where the romance reviewer says there's too much tech stuff and the SF reviewer says there's too much mush). We're lumped in with paranormals (vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, dark angels and sorceressess) but I'm not sure we belong there. That's like lumping space-opera science fiction books in with police procedurals because, well, they both involve weapons and people die.

We also tend to throw the cover art departments of publishing houses into apoplexy. Too many spaceships on the cover and the romance contingent won't read us. But a muscles chest or a couple kissing scares off the SFers. I recently went through severe cover art issues with my books at Bantam when a series of covers was presented that were totally gorgeous and totally, absolutely, undeniably wrong for my books. They'd have been perfect for Laurell K Hamilton or some edgy, erotic, urban fantasy novel. They were frighteningly wrong for mine--frightening in that they delivered a message; no. They promised a kind of read I don't deliver. I feared a huge "reader disconnect" if they had been used.

Sue Grant ran into a similar problem but from a different end. Her covers have tended to the lighter romancey end, totally ignoring the deeper and yes, SF elements in her stories. While not fully chick-lit in design they did substantially play down the SF parts. Granted, Sue writes terrific humor, especially in her most recent SFR series, "Otherworldly Men". But there's a lot of humorous SF out there with
covers that don't ignore the SF factor.

So it's not just readers and reviewers who are confused. Publishers and their marketing departments are, too.
Which brings me to my title for this blog: are we boldly going where SFR needs to go? Or are we riding the coattails of paranormals and finding ourselves tossed about in the wake, so to speak (yeah, no one mixes metaphors like I do)? Does SFR need to push harder for its own unique identity? If so, what would that be?

With each passing year I watch our society become more and more technologically oriented. From iPods to iPhones to Tivos to Roombas to a car that freakin' parks itself... the lives we live have much more in common with the characters in an SFR novel than ones in a 14th century historical. Yet there is still a palpable resistance to SFR. Booksellers don't know where to shelve us. Art departments are confused over cover art. And fans of vampire, dark angel and high-tech hard SF novels wonder what in hell we're doing in their TBR piles.

I don't know if there've been any case studies done on the emergence of vampire romance novels, like those of Christine Feehan and Sherrilyn Kenyon. But there must have been a point, early on, where publishers and readers tried to stick the books with the "horror" label, and wrongly so. Feehan and others like her essentially created the paranormal romance genre.

I think it's time SFR created an equally bold and powerful name for itself in its own right.

I just haven't a clue how to do that.



  1. Anonymous5:44 PM EDT

    Ok, you know I'm the number one fan-rabble rouser on this issue. As someone who loves romance with her science fiction, it pains me that there is a finite number of books I can read that are true futuristics or SFR's. I mean, there are even more movies that satisfy the itch than books. Understated romance in SF has its place, but oftentimes I want more.

    I can understand the publishers' dilemma--and not. Speaking of which, I learned at Comic-Con this past summer that Laurel K. Hamilton was turned down by everyone she queried about her Anita Blake series. That really gave me, an aspiring author, a reality check. But it also made me realize that certain cultural factors have to bee in place for a trend to really take off. What this means for SFR, I'm not sure. I was struck by the statement in the All About Romance article that maybe just one good book will be enough to help SFR take off. I hope that happens.

    Your post inspired me to try and brainstorm ideas on how to help support this genre (after all, I've loved SF since age 12). Certainly, I'm guilty of popping up on blogs recently asking about or chiming in about SFR. Today as a matter of fact, I just learned that BookEnds is open to considering SFR (wink wink, nudge nudge). So I'll probably submit my own SFR to them soon.

    I'm also "documenting" my efforts in the query process over at Absolute Write. I'm sure it doesn't mean anything now, and partly I'm doing it for personal/motivational reasons, but if I can get my book published, it'll be interesting to see how things have developed from square one.

    But part of the challenge is that SF in general is more of a niche market. I think that continues to be less so, but a stigma still exists.

    Oh, I just had a thought...going back to Comic-Con--that is a huge promotional and marketing opportunity. Mary Elizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy moderates the book panels--it would be so cool to have a panel on SFR. I, for one, would be sitting in the front row.

    I know it'd be a monumental effort to start the process, but if given enough time, that is one thing that could realistically be accomplished. And I think renting a table in the Exhibitor's Hall goes as low as $300. Still a chunk of change, I know. But as the idea came to me, I thought I'd throw it out there.

    And since I come from a background in cognitive psychology, I'm a firm believer in the cycle of thoughts-emotions-actions. Change one, and changes in the others follow. So in other words, if more people, say, in online forums and blogs and such, start discussing SFR, and keep at it, then it may influence other people and help bring recognition to the genre. It kind of ties in with the title of the blog post. I believe SFR is going to become a trend; therefore I'm acting in accordance with my belief.

    I hope I'm being bold, in that sense.

    all the best,


  2. Okay, lemmesee, based on my experience with readers on-line and Real World.

    1) The SFR readers I know want it all. Fantastic Science Fiction and Romance. It's not enough to have hot-nookie-in-outer-space. These are intelligent people with demanding careers or college, most with families to care for besides. Many started out in Sci-Fi and rather skeptical of the Romance genre. Because of this, many are NOT speedy converts. I talked about GAMES OF COMMAND with one friend and she didn't read it until many months later. Now, she's a Linnea Sinclair reader. Readers like this will go back and read authors' backlists. If they ask, I can say, "Oh, if you loved Linnea, you'd better check out Susan Grant too." Or "If you loved Susan, you should check out Linnea Sinclair too." Pretty soon they're digging for Catherine Asaro and Jacqueling Lictenberg. It may be slow progress, but it is solid. And they tell their friends. You should definitely have a Web Presence for these readers and nurture it regularly if not often, so readers now when to expect to hear from you. Cyberspace is where all the little girls who fell in love with Han Solo hang out now that they're grown up.

    2) The second thing SFR authors need to know is that girls in our contemporary culture are socially pressured away from Science and Math by the Junior High level. Along with this loss of future astronauts and physicist goes your future readers. What can you do? Support Young Adult Science Fiction, which is often labeled anything but that these days to avoid Geekdom. Bev Katz Rosenbaum is one YA Sci-Fi author.

    And find a way to encourage girls to stay with Science and Math. Check out

    I know this may seem like a far-off thing to all you adults, but the fact is Little Girls Grow Up Fast. They're the future readers of SFR if you nurture them now.

  3. Linnea has put her finger right smack on the oldest problem -- from the very first story I sold right on to today I have this problem.

    For example, the Tarot posts I've been doing will add up to a book -- but New Age won't want to publish it because it's anti-New Age thinking, and other publishers won't want it because it's too New Age.

    Besides, how many writers study Tarot?

    So what we're looking at with SFR is not a problem with the art or with building audience -- but with marketing to reach audience.

    The only way to do that these days is with TV and film -- or downloadable productions on the internet.

    That's where the young audience for SFR is -- that's where we have to go with it.

    My current newest burst of understanding of fiction marketing via genre labels comes from Blake Snyder's second book on screenwriting, Save The Cat Goes To The Movies.

    He has identified 10 genres of STORY -- factoring away all the PLOT elements, and all the SETTING elements, to lay bare the actual emotional payload a story delivers.

    Do please look at my review of his new book before it gets buried among hundreds:

    Somewhere in this book's subtext lies the actual answer to this conundrum!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  4. Heather, I think Comicon and the like are great promo venues. It's one of the reasons I did Archon this year. But it's not only SFers we need to draw in. It's the romance-ers.

    Romance readers are about 60% of the market--the largest single purchase-contingent of all genres. SFF generally accounts for about 7%. Huge difference in numbers.

    The one thing both have in common is they're avid fans. Both create loyal fan bases.

    The question becomes how to reach both without alienating either.

    Vampire/Paranormal romance for the most part focused on the romance readers. Sure, there are horror readers who read Feehan and Kenyon et al. But the decision to be PN*R* was what launched the genre, IMHO. As I said, I wish I could find some older essays on how that came about.

    SFR has not been able to create that same kind of presence in either camp. And quite honestly, it's as "niche-y" as vampire romance. I mean, think about it, what's so all-appealing about a lover who sucks your blood? This was brought out in the AAR article. Dracula was the antagonist in the originals. Now, the Dracula-clones are the heros. How did that happen?

    SFR, by comparison, doesn't have that same problem. Our intrepid star fleet captains were the good guys and still are the good guys. Yes, there are some anti-heros, some James Dean/Han Solo naughty boys turned nice.

    But by and large we fit nicely into a previously workable "romance arc" and "adventure arc" formulas.

    I don't understand the reluctance to embrace the genre. As you pointed out, movies/TV are fair more likely to than readers. ~Linnea

  5. Kimber, I agree that girl children are still not being offered up math and science as life path to follow. I wasn't and it's sad things haven't changed in those decades. And totally, YA SF is a huge boon. I can't write it but I encourage others to do so. Start 'em young. ~Linnea

  6. Jacqueline, the Tarot posts would make an excellent on-line course. It would make an excellent book, too, and I do think there are publishers out there for it (I'd check into Gryphon, the house that puts out Deb Dixon's GMC and other writerly books). But the advantage of an on-line course would be the feedback.

    I know Tammy Cowden (I may have her name wrong) started doing on-line classes for her Archetypes and Characters workshops, which I think is now a book.

    SAVE THE CAT--read it, loved it, lent it out so I do need to get it back. The essence resonated with me and it's something I work with in all my books: giving an emotionally satisfying experience for the reader because that is, after all, why s/he reads. Swain says essentially the same thing as Snyder in how to structure a story. Snyder just goes more into the marketing element of it. But I'm a devoted Swain-ite and I found the two completely compatible.

    I think one of the reasons SF fans are some of the most devoted out there is because of the tremendous emotional impact much of SF offers. The bad guys are really really bad and the good guys really tough it out to win. Stories are often on a large--well, galactic scale. Overblown? Maybe but it does help hammer home a point.

    The other thing I've noticed in my SF reading over the years is that protagonists are just as often "the working man/woman" as the upper crust. Even though the main characters may have been born in another star system, their desires and goals are ours. Their struggles are ours. Bren Cameron--clearly one of my favorites--in Cherryh's FOREIGNER books is a lower level government flunky and translator (in the beginning) who gets thrust way over his head in problems.

    We're not talking the Lord or the Duke born to privilege as in so many historicals but Average Joe or Josephine doing his/her job when things go awry.

    Even your Krinata Zavarrone downplays her family's heritage and is by her own admission working at a very unglamorous position when her life goes awry in DUSHAU (and I want a PIOL!).

    I think that's also the appeal of Sue Grant's Evie in EXTRATERRESTRIAL. She could be any one of us.

    So I do think SFR plays into all those emotional needs Synder and Swain discuss.

    But I will get the MOVIE book just so I can learn to do it better. ;-) ~Linnea

  7. Anonymous8:26 PM EDT

    I only have time for a drive by post cuz I have to make dinner, but I just was wondering about the possibility of doing an SFR roundtable using existing author/reader/reviewer blogs? Discussing topics related and such. I will think more on it and post later.

    Regarding Comic-Con, the great thing about it is it's transforming into more than just a venue for comics and SF. Genre fans from all walks of life and interests go to it. Books and movies are as much of a draw as the dealer's room. The romance readers are there (admittedly, maybe less than at RWA, but they are traipsing the corridors). So that's why I mentioned it.

    >but Average Joe or Josephine doing his/her job when things go awry.

    grr...that's my SFR hero exactly. EXACTLY. (Of course, he's hella gorgeous, too!). I just hope one of these agents agree I've told a good tale, with all the right elements.

  8. P.S. I should add that the best way to reach the first group of readers I mentioned is to just keep putting out excellent novels and to be accessible on-line. Get a Google Alert on all the titles of your novels so you can pop into their conversations in the Blogosphere with a thoughtful comment. This means a lot to them.

    This group builds slow, but solid. Trends come and go fast. If you want a permenent sub-genre of your very own, it seems to me 'slow and solid' is the way to go.

  9. Oh, one more thing, use the cover art of your latest release as the icon for your comments in the Blogospere. That way the readers who are not good with names, but are good with images will know your book when they see it in the store.

  10. Linnea, awesome blog! Grand dame...? Damn, grand damn! But in the next breath you called me a young thing, so I guess we're okay. ;D Great comments here, too. Many excellent points made.

    I will now place a few thoughts, stir up trouble :) and ramble. First, to the authors to be, Kimber and Heather, it's really not so much up to what we as writers can do to break out--our Internet activities are not much in the bigger picture. What IS is reader buzz, fan buzz, that's not author generated. It's going to happen with massive word of mouth with books that have the elements readers hunger for, even if they didn't realize they were hungering for it. The vampire explosion didn't come to be because of the vampires, IMO. I was there on our Dorchester author loop when Christine Feehan first started, I saw, we all saw as she reacted in shock as she began selling out on Amazon and all over with her first book. Word of mouth spread the news. Readers did! Fans took the books to the next level, not Cris's promotion and certainly not our publisher's. We didn't have blogs in 1999, or Myspace. I don't even think Cris had a website at first. And, from my eyes, it wasn't really the vamps that readers reacted to so favorably, it was the high sexual content, the passionate almost addictive quality of her stories which looked and sounded So Different from anyone else's at the time but what returned to gothic roots with the helpless female and alpha male and hit on a need in the market. I seriously think if she'd written aliens in the Carpathian society on Earth and not vampires, the books would have been as successful. (think: Dara Joy)

    Many of you youngin's don't know alot of the history here. You seem to act as if we are just beginning this subgenre. Not in the least! At the time (late 90s), Dara Joy's SFR books were hitting the NYT list! she was a phenomenon until she self-destructed because of publisher difficulties (lawsuit). Maybe Heather (and others who might be here lurking) who bemoans the fact often and publicly that there is no decent SFR on the shelves needs to read more widely and see what is out there, past and present. As I recall, you didn't know who I was when Dear Author reviewed Planet, and I'd written some of the classics of the genre, The Star King, etc. How come? I thought. Why don't fans of the genre know of my books? Is it becsuse they are on the +gasp+ romance aisle? I was a also little dismayed that because of that one review you were so quick to dismiss my entire career of efforts and all my books, all of which are in print. Correct me if i am wrong, but I got the impression you would do so without even reading one. How is that supporting our genre? I don't get it, though we are all entitled to our own tastes, to be so harsh, so picky, helps no one. Then others chimed in. Do you know how many people (romance readers) read that blog? It was our big chance to sing the praises of our subgenre, and we blew it. Blew it! How many other potential SFR readers did that turn away? I think we need to be more responsible if we want our genre to succeed. No, we all won't like all SFR books and authors, i know I don't, but for every book I adore, someone doesn't and visa versa. Indicating to potential readers that there's nothing but crap on the shelves (well, except for Linnea's, or mine, or Patricia Waddell's or etc etc) isn't helping the cause. All right, off that soapbox. What we ought to be saying for readers to overhear is that there are so Many Varieties of SFR that there is a story for everyone! Do we see the difference, the benefits, here for us as fans and writers of the genre to generate buzz like THAT? In a positive fashion? As opposed to summarily hinting that except for an author or two, there's nothing but crap on the shelves. How would that make anyone on the fence decide to pick up a SFR? OK, I really, really am off the soapbox now. I just felt the blog comments that day over at Dear Author were a sad moment for our subgenre when instead of making lemonade out of lemons, we joined in and disparaged our own genre!

    I truly believe SFR romance won't break out until we break out in +romance+ with the vast amount of romance readers. Sorry, that is where the majority of readers live. It won't happen on the SF side, 7 percent as Linnea said and all that. The proof is in the pudding: Laurel Hamilton. Grand Dame that I am :) I was there when she broke out, too, and it wasn't from the horror/SF readers, it was because we romance readers discovered her. I was one. I loved those early Ace books! I watched Sherilyn Kenyon break out as well. Sure she rote some pirates in the beginning but it was her Dark hunters that broke her out. She too had the exotic, larger than life storylines and a high sexual content. Again, these were the elements that had more to do with their success than any particular creatures, I feel. However, now "vampire" has become a code word for highly erotic stories, even violent stories, craved by romance readers. So they see vamp and auto-buy.

    As for us, SFR, we HAVE hit big before--Dara Joy wrote about aliens. I know, I know, some of you who come to this from the SF side will look down your nose at her books just as some of you look down on mine and others writing SFR on the romance side, (its a form of self-hatred, that snobbery inherent for the romance genre overall) but maybe you are missing the fact we HAVE hit big and maybe we aren't right now because we aren't producing exactly what hits the right chord with readers. I don't say we aren't having success--we are. Sales are climbing, Linnea and I have both seen this for our books, but it isn't the kind of massive nuclear explosion like when vampires hit. But that was historical in nature, a phenomenon--when had they ever happened before? It may be fifty years before something somes on on that grand of a scale and changes the face of romance and mass market fiction across the board--and like I said, it wasn't so much because of the creatures as it was the erotic content and gothic elements of the stories that hadn't been seen since romance broke free in the late 70s/80s. Dara hit big. why aren't we? Are we too snobby to write the unabashedly over the top, sexy storyline that readers gobbled up? Like a drunken Star Wars, that's what her Matrix books reminded me of, the dude who's a total blast to party with but who you are slightly embarrassed to be seen with.

    OK, gotta get back to writing this military suspense. (Can I tell you guys are hard it is NOT to have aliens land in the middle of a rebel uprising in Northern Europe?) In the meantime I hope I raised a few eyebrows and even a few hackles. I adore our genre and want to see more romance readers trying it. I want to see our genre be varied with books for varied tastes, hunky Han Solos in violent erotic tales and hunky Han Solos in chaste YA tales, and even hunky Han Solos in romantic comedies. That's what we need and want. How can we best attract readers to US. How? Responsibility online is a start. Let's watch what we stay in public forums. I'm not saying be Polly annas, but good God, self-lynching ain't gonna do it, either.

  11. I started out reading Romance and then swerved way over into Science Fiction like Clarke, Asimov and Gibson. Then I discovered Catherine Asaro and was ecstatic that I could mix my two genre loves. I'm happy the trend has continued and I'll look for these kinds of books no matter where they're shelved.

    I like this comparison between SFR and PNR. The main difference between the challenges of each subgenre is that the audience of Science Fiction and Romance see themselves as being mutually exclusive. The stereotype of the SF reader is a geeky young male, the complete opposite of the stereotype of the Romance reader.

    I do think Science Fiction readers will read a SFR if it doesn't have "Romance" on the spine and it's shelved in the Science Fiction area. I think many female readers, however, who are home in the Romance section, are intimidated by the science, but they shouldn't be.

    Maybe one way around this is the "kick-ass heroine" approach (what Shomi is doing, what Bombshell tried to do but missed the mark). This kind of character is one both audiences enjoy, something that's pretty darn evident if you look at TV characters like Stargate's Carter and now the Bionic Woman.

    I also think some of the early SFR that were short on the science burned some readers.

  12. " also think some of the early SFR that were short on the science burned some readers"

    Burned what readers? Science fiction readers? Romance readers loved the books (I'm talking about Dara Joy's). As far as I know, she is the only author who wrote of aliens, etc, that hit the mega bestseller lists. So maybe there wasn't enough science in them for you or for me (there wasn't), they were much loved and VERY popular. So here we have a disconnect again between SF and romance readers coming to the genre from different sides. What you said about that is a very good point

    Catherine Asaro...I remember when I first discovered her books back in the late 90s, thought I'd gone to heaven. To have cutting edge science and hot romance in the same book, I was over the moon!

  13. Good point. I honestly don't remember the ones I read and didn't like because they didn't stick with me.

    For me, Science Fiction Romance is the blending of the two to the point that without one or the other the book falls apart. Several of the early ones I read just didn't have that deep integration.

    That trend didn't seem to last very long though, thankfully.

  14. Sue, you made some terrific points and--like the title of this blog--boldly so. Things needed to be said.

    It does hamper the genre when the "futuristic" readers disparage the "RSF" readers and vice versa. Or the SFR-ers do the same to the Futs. What is GOOD, very good about the genre is that there are three fairly distince levels (though a lot of us cross them) of tech-to-romance. But these levels do not indicate right vs wrong, better vs worse.

    I've been an avid mystery reader. I can read Andrew Vachss' graphic and violent books and also enjoy a Miss Marple cozy. I've mentioned this before and I'll bring it up again because you opened the door: I never hear readers of gritty police procedurals dissing cozy readers. Why does that happen here?

    Okay, next point. Dara Joy hit big because of her hot content. That was new(er) then. But hot content is damned near ubiquitious now. Not that that's right or wrong. It's simply reflective of what's out there in other media: ads are sexier, TV shows are racier, the Ten Words George Carlin couldn't say on TV (showing my age here) are now routinely said. So I don't know how much more of an "over the top" storyline we could write in the context of steam, that's not already been done (ie: the need is being fed).

    Could MY books be written hotter? Oh, definitely. Will they be? Probably not. So if there's a guilty party in not writing over the top hot stuff, it's me. I will always write intense sexual tension. I won't write graphic sexual scenes. (IE: the chase interests me far more than the capture).

    But that's ME and there are plenty of other SFR/Fut authors out there capable of burning up the pages and power to them to do so.

    But see, that goes back to what Sue said: there's something for everyone in our genre. It's not all hot and it's not all tame.

    The "science" end of it: I think both Lisa and Heather commented or referred to this. That's an area that does bother me.

    We're not writing textbooks. We're writing fiction and as long as there's world building **logic and consistency**, I wish some critics would get off the "silly science" or "lazy science" bandwagon so often aimed at SFR/Futs. Trek and Star Wars, BTW, suffered from the same detractors early on (and in some circles, still do). Yet both have incredibly broad appeal, have created cultural icons and are probably singlehandedly responsible for an increase in interest in the sciences more than any other fictional work.

    Because, as Jacqueline points out and as SAVE THE CAT! teaches, they hit deep emotional nerves in readers/viewers.

    THAT to me is the key of a good read.

    Lisa, the kick-ass approach HAS been done for years in SFR. Go back and read Sue Grant's 2176 series. They don't come more kick-ass than that. Or her Star King/Star Prince etc books. Female military jet pilots (like Sue herself) as protagonists. My own books are filled with strong, independent female protagonists. I honestly think the Shomi stuff has taken what SFR and Futs have done and made it "younger" (ie: geared to the 20-somethings). RSF has no lack in the books of Asaro and Viehl, among others. We've been there before Shomi.

    Author buzz v author web presence: Sue is dead on right on that. The web is a small part of readership. I know that seems odd to those of us who live on this damned thing ;-) but it's true. My agent's thrown the figures at me and I've promptly forgotten them, but for all of Amazon and other on-line bookstores' presences, they're less than 10% of the market (or something equally as small). For all the hits the internet reader sites and such get, the majority of readers never visit them. Yes, certain sites are powerful to reach certain readers but that overall number is still small. Reader buzz--friend telling friends, librarian recommending to patron, bookseller handselling to client--THAT'S the key.

    I was greatly interested in Sue's recounting of Christine Feehan's initial success. BEFORE website and such popularity. I'd not heard that info before and I think that brings home the point.

    Which brings me back to why I started this particular blog: SFR/RSF/Futs need an identity. Cutting-edge romance? Exotic action, forceful characters? I don't know but what we write should appeal not only to SF readers and romance readers but military/adventure readers, for the most part. I see huge potential. But somehow the message isn't getting out there as it should. Rather than focus on how "niche" we are, perhaps we should be telling people how widely appealing we are?

    I will also admit impatience. ;-) Given all I see in the visual media, given how high-tech our daily lives have become, I see a natural match.

    On the Dear Author blog: I feel terrible I didn't chime in but as Sue knows, I had a medical emergency in my family at that point and life didn't settle down for a bit after that. (Meidcal emergencies seem to be the soup-du-jour of my life in 2007). So see my comments above on SFR v Futs V RSF.

    I think I covered most things? Not sure. This blog gives you this little teeny tiny space to write in. Drive me more nutz than I usually am. I'm also out of coffee. Big crisis, that.

    Looking forward to more great input! ~Linnea

  15. "Are we too snobby to write the unabashedly over the top, sexy storyline that readers gobbled up? Like a drunken Star Wars, that's what her Matrix books reminded me of, the dude who's a total blast to party with but who you are slightly embarrassed to be seen with."

    Had another thought in reference to the highly-sexual PNRs that broke out the niche market and what SFR can learn from that. The kicker here is that vampires are innately sexual so the partnership syncs easily, but many SF elements are not so sexual. At least not in a way friendly to women -- think of those early SF stories where a male MC finds himself on a planet of she-creatures. That's part of where the teenage boy stereotype comes from.

    I really do think attracting a Romance audience to SFR means strong heroines those female readers can live vicariously through.

    Sort of on this topic but on TV -- Has anyone caught the vampire hint to the Wraith on Stargate? Essentially these creatures are the basis for vampire myth on Earth. I think it's an interesting twist, and a kind of alien otherness that Romance readers could find appealing. On the one hand it's a known element from PNR, but on the other it's absolutely SF. If they found a love interest for the Michael character, then you'd have a heady combination of PNR and SFR.

  16. For the record, I've read just about all of Linnea's and Susan's books and loved them all. They're right up there at the top of my favorites list.

    Certainly there have been authors writing in this niche before publishers tried to market it, but it's the marketing we're trying to sort out here and how to get women interested -- in greater numbers -- in reading SFR.

  17. Lisa, Jacqueline's THOSE OF MY BLOOD and DREAM SPY merges the SF/SFR/Vamp genres and IMHO didn't get the attention they deserve. She also explains how vamps came to this planet. ;-) Great minds! ;-)

    But they're definitely more RSF than Futs or SFR.

    And I'm not sure publishers KNOW how to market it. That's why Sue and I and Jacqueline (and others) get these dialogues going. Because I think the push is going to have to come from readers, not houses. IMHO. ;-)

    One arena that has been supportive is Romantic Times BOOK reviews magazine and the RT Convention. I'll be hosting the Intergalactic Bar & Grille party for the 2nd year (and I'll miss Sue! ::sob::). It's something I started solely to get SFR out there in front of people.


  18. Well now I have to go get THOSE OF MY BLOOD and DREAM SPY and add them to my huge TBR pile. So many books, so little time. :)

  19. Anonymous6:17 PM EDT

    Susan, I am so glad you're stirring up trouble!

    Please check your email since I used the time I normally would spend here sending you a message...then you may or may not want to resume the discussion back here. If you even feel like acknowledging me...and if you don't, I understand.

  20. Just remember, if it's word-of-mouth you're hoping for, don't discount any reader. One thing I've learned about readers across the board is they LOVE to tell other people when they find a book they love. Behind each new reader is five more and behind each of them is five more, and so on. So, the readers I know are slow-to-warm-up and they exist in a minority. But, they've got a LOT of friends on-line AND in Real Life.

  21. Kimber An, I don't discount any reader or their friends. ;-) That's why I use blogs like this to see what readers are thinking as well as to bring them into the business end of an industry they often don't know about. It's like the discussions of cover art that I've had here and as well, those that pop up in other blogs. There was a reader who told me she'd NEVER read me again because of a cover Bantam gave me. She admitted she knew I had no control over that but she still would boycott my books.

    Comments like that help me understand what readers are thinking and, as well, contribute to the dents on my desk. ;-)

    If any authors-to-be think their work is over with the submission of their manuscript (and acceptance), take heed! Your troubles only begin. The author has two masters: the reader and the publishing house. And we have little control over either.

    What authors try to do with opening dialogue like this is find fuel with which to nudge our publishers in the direction where readers think they belong. But readers have to also understand we come at the issues from a different perspective now.

    So we ask for forebearance from both and hope for workable input from either.

    And in the meantime, we're on hellacious deadlines and trying to beat our muses into cooperating.

    More coffee, anyone? ~Linnea

  22. Linnea, would you like me pour you a cup of thick, rich dark Vietnamese coffee? (served with sweetened condensed milk of course?)

    Piggy backing on what you said, this kind of dialogue is fantastic. For instance, with the Dear Author discussion, my concern was not that a reader/author-to-be didn't like my books or not, but that she'd never heard of my books. IMO, the latter is MUCH more significant than the former. Does this make sense? I now know different, but at the time i posted here, it was to use the example ot aske the question WHY don't people know of our books and what we can do to change that, as well as finding ways to do so without denigrating the genre.

    As for you, Heather, I find you smart, funny, and motivated,
    and love your excitement at the prospect that YOUR book will be the great SFR novel, and maybe it WILL be!!! I hope you DO
    sell your book--you and Kimber, both. I hope it's something I love if the back cover copy piques
    my interest and I purchase it. I look at you guys as little sisters up and coming in this genre and wish you both the BEST of success! Then you can join Linnea & I in our hand-wringing. lol

  23. Oh, I know you don't, Linnea. You're always one of the shining examples I point out to people.

    What a drag about the cover art turn-off. I've read plenty of books with awful cover art. I just rip it off. Makes great campfire starter.

  24. aah! Vietnamese coffee! Sue's going to laugh when I admit this: I bought a can of condensed milk this week. See, I'm a serious coffee addict. Sue had no idea what she started by lovingly describing said coffee in her blog a few weeks ago. I hunted down the recipe. I'm determined to duplicate it. It's not enough the huz bought me my own latte maker. Nooo, now I want Vietnamese coffee.

    I just need to buy the apparatus. Then I shall sip and sigh and make Sue jealous because I can have it whenever I want. She has to fly to Vietnam to get it. Of course, given her day job...


  25. Anonymous1:10 AM EDT

    >I was struck by the statement in the All About Romance article that maybe just one good book will be enough to help SFR take off. I hope that happens.

    Before I say anything else, I just want to clarify that by this statement, I did *not* mean that I think my wee little SFR story has anywhere near that potential. I was referring to someone *else's* book, whoever that person is. I mean it. I am too doggedly realistic to even consider such a thought. thank you for allowing me to clarify.

  26. Let's see if I have better luck with typos this monring...

    Linnea: I smiled at the condensed milk purchase.

    Kimber: "Just remember, if it's word-of-mouth you're hoping for, don't discount any reader." Who DO you mean when you say this, then? In all my years writing or visiting with authors before that, I never met one who discounted readers.

    I HAVE however heard this as one of the first things bandied about when authors dare speak up, the latest being Jen Cruisies blog which a friend told me to go read. The "author doesn't care about her readers" comment always baffles me. Unless you meant your remark it in general, then...

    Heather--about the Great SFR. We all would love to be that book, and I'm sure the ladies here all are equally humble and yet hold out a flicker of hope it'll be them. I disagree with Linnea here, though, that there will be One Book. There was no Hit Book with the Vampires taking off, more like they all did (Feehan, Hamilton,) at around the same time. I think it will be that way with us. When Linnea's Zombie hits big this fall, readers will go poking around looking for similar, they will I HOPE find my Star King, Star Prince, and Contact, for example, and so on. Besides, we already see there is a problem in our genre, a disconnect if you will between SF readers and romance readers wanting and loving DIFFERENT things about their SFR. I don't see how it can be One Great Book. But ya never know! and yours has just as much chance of being IT as any of ours!!! And it's okay to wish and dream, I always say! I do!

  27. Should we be asking ourselves why we love science fiction and how can we communicate that to other Romance readers? I wonder if many Romance readers just see SFR/Fut/RSF as a different species and don't realize they can get the same emotional payoff out of it that they get from other kinds of Romance.

  28. Lisa, what many publishers have done with the books is to disguise them. A friend gave me a heads up on this new one by Patricia Waddell. The plot sounds right up my alley! I love the backcover copy. But notice the PINK lettering and the "Paranormal Romance" on the front cover. Me thinks they are disguising what is clearly a fut/SFR so romance readers won't be scared away. Sad we haven't come past this yet. Take a look--what do you think?

  29. The link isn't taking...hmm. I'll try again:

    You may have to copy and paste. I don't know how to post a pic in comments.

  30. Anonymous5:08 PM EDT

    >Should we be asking ourselves why we love science fiction and how can we communicate that to other Romance readers?

    Lisa, that was my thought, too. I thought that if enough dialogue about this genre gains momentum, it might create demand. Well, despite feeling warm and fuzzy from Susan's wonderful words of encouragement, it's obvious I thought wrong (and discouragement is seeping in).

    If reader generated buzz is the only promotion/marketing that truly works (and I've read about this conclusion elsewhere), then I have to question putting so much effort into that sort of campaign.

    From what the established, experienced authors have said, it seems like everything under the sun has already been tried. If it's a certain book satisfying a hunger readers didn't know they had, well that tells me that maybe the whole trend issue (or even just a solid establishment of a genre) is, in the words of the venerable Professor McGonagall, "pure, dumb luck." Because you can't predict what will take off.

    But that's's part of what makes art so cool. It's a cultural zeitgeist thing.

    But on the more practical end, if there just aren't enough published authors writing in a certain genre, or enough editors don't want it, then that's that. Just a reality check. But it also points to how powerful reader buzz can be...because from what I'm hearing, that is the main factor that could actually reverse the numbers. Not online discussion/promotion/marketing/etc. I was going to share some "marketing" ideas I had (just to share--a brainstorming exercise--not assuming i know everything, because I don't.), but I'll bet they've been tried.

    Am I accurately reflecting back the issue here?

    Sue, (do prefer Sue or Susan?) when I first saw Patricia Waddell's cover, I actually *did* think it was SF. I thought the "paranormal romance" bit was just the usual ginormous umbrella that publishers use to make a distinction (i.e., that it's not a suspense or historical).

    Is it a numbers/business thing, that clear SF romance stories aren't labeled as such? I mean, I remember when paranormal romance wasn't a category on the shelves...maybe SFR will evolve in a similar fashion?

    oops--toddler is awake--gotta go.

  31. Lisa said: *Should we be asking ourselves why we love science fiction and how can we communicate that to other Romance readers? I wonder if many Romance readers just see SFR/Fut/RSF as a different species and don't realize they can get the same emotional payoff out of it that they get from other kinds of Romance.*

    And yes, to Heather and Susan and all. This is exactly the issue. How do we convince chocolate lovers that mocha java is just as good?

    A big issue is the STIGMA of the word "science". That's why marketing somewhere back when came up with FUTURISTICS except that's a misnomer. Not all our books take place in the future. Actually, most don't (ie: GAMES OF COMMAND is Sass's present day and not our future or anyone's future). Granted, future can portend "high tech" but it's still not accurate enough or catchy enough though the label is in wider use.

    The way I see it is this: either SFR/Futs has to be rebranded so that the romance angle is clearly known, or we need a new label/brand that encompasses the fantastical (not necessarily fantasty) basis of our books as well as the romance angle.

    You know. I grew up with the terms garbage collectors. Now the term is sanitation engineers.

    UNTIL the label or brand is appealing, all the wonderful kick-butt characters don't amount to a hill of (coffee) beans because readers aren't being drawn by the brand to pick up the books to meet these characters, savvy? (And I'm NOT saying our books aren't selling. They are. I'm talking in general terms here as a means to improve.)

    I don't think there's going to be ONE break out book, no. I was using Feehan as an example because I think she was one of the earlier vampire authors. (I'm not a vampire reader so I can't speak as intelligently on the emergence of that genre). What I think it will be is a the genre as a whole--from both aisles--catching fire because reader buzz catches fire. I was hoping that the Firefly series hadn't been cancelled, andn BSG. I think those shows feed our genre and/or create new readers.

    But yes, we need more authors in the genre so that readers can get a continual 'fix'. ::nudges Heather and Kimber:: My books aren't available on the shelves in the grocery stores, for example. So I miss out on those serendipitious sales by a reader who says, hmm, looks interesting...on her way to the beach/doctor's office/whatever.

    It's word of mouth. It's exposure. It's availability. It's branding.

    But I'm still not sure quite how to do all that. However, there's been some great info thrown out here...keep it comin'! I'll put on another pot of coffee... ;-) ~Linnea

  32. No toddlers here but two homework-ridden teens, so have to be quick. :)

    Linnea, your garbage collector example was soo good. It's REALLY got me wanting to find a great title for science fiction-romance hybrids. I've assigned a dark corner of my twisted mind to work on it.

    Heather, you're right about the ginormous umbrella, but I like that umbrella in the current sales atmosphere. My books have either romance or paranormal romance on the spine. I prefer paranormal because it attracts more readers. Right now, anyway. There was a time my former editor and I used to brainstorm ways to make the books NOT sound like paranormals because they were as yet unpopular. (back in 2000, 2001) Go figure.

  33. Anonymous10:00 PM EDT

    I'm a wannabe science fiction reader. I read Del Rey and Norton when I was growing up and those were great adventure stories, but as I grew older I wanted more emotional depth so I pretty much abandoned s/f in favor of romance. Along the way, I hunted down all the SFR that was available but very few satisfied. Anybody remember Kenyon's Born of the Night? Loved that book at the time. I haven't reread it recently to see if it holds up to today's SFR, but I recall being sooo happy to find a SFR with not-fake-feeling s/f. Back then, I didn't have the resources to identify and then track down copies of s/f that might've satisfied me. So I'm very illiterate when it comes to the precursors of the current SFR, like Asaro and Lichtenberg.

    The first Susan Grant I read was The Star King, and I've followed her ever since. I can't remember if I picked the book up cold or read a review that piqued my interest. I discovered Linnea Sinclair in the Dream Quest anthology - one of my first ebooks. It was a Megan Sybil Baker story with a blurb about Linnea Sinclair, and I was off and running. I actually bought Dream Quest for the J.C. Wilder story; I've found that I discover a lot of new favorite authors by association. J.C. Wilder -> Linnea Sinclair -> Stacey Klemstein -> ???

    Maybe it would help to do a coordinated strike with some big name. An anthology with Nora Roberts, maybe. J.D. Robb sells like hotcakes and to romance readers. I know her books lean heavily toward mystery, but they are "paranormal." She's been in anthologies with Laurell Hamilton for Pete's sake. To me, that's a much bigger stretch than a Robb, Sinclair, Grant, ??? anthology would be. If you had a SFR anthology with a big name draw and mixed "levels ... of tech-to-romance," a lot of readers would be exposed to different types of SFR and might realize what they're missing.

    Anthologies are great for getting a taste of an author's style, but SFR anthologies are pretty thin on the ground. Linnea, I don't think I've seen you in an anthology since that first one. A SFheavyontheR anthology (with a heavyontheR cover) could be a great tool.

    I'd buy it :D

  34. Grocery stores in Alaska stock the novels of Linnea Sinclair and Susan Grant. In fact, Freddies (Kroger's to you Lower 48ers) keeps restocking THE SCARLET EMPRESS.

    I wonder if all our military bases, heavy dependence on the aviation industry, and high-tech professions have anything to do with it?

  35. MaryK, I love the idea of anthologies. Unfortunately I had a lot more clout in small press than in NY. Sue Grant has been in four anthologies, paranormal flavor (wasn't Mysteria adapted for the screen?) but the way anthologies work in NY (I've been told) is one is ASKED by the house/lead author. I've not been asked.

    I'd love to do an anthology with JD Robb! ::thud::

    While I'm a short story fiend, not everyone is. How well do anthols sell in NY, Sue?

    Kimber, I'm thrilled I'm in Alaskan grocery stores. I'm not in the lower 48. In fact, I finally found myself in an airport bookstore in DFW and was so jazzed I took photos of my books on the shelf with my cellphone camera.

    From what I understand, the distributors who stock bookstores aren't the ones who stock grocery stores. So it's up to the publisher to negotiate where books are placed. I have no say.

    Sue, if your twisted mind (courtesy of your teens, I'm sure) is at work on it, a solution isn't far behind! ::grin::

    ~Linnea on her second latte...

  36. This is a great conversation and I have so many thoughts, let me see if I can get them all out in a coherent manner.

    First, I discovered Linnea at an agent panel at the RWA National Conference that included Kristin Nelson, who spoke up after an editor basically said that 99% of SFR was "crap." Kristin took the high road and acknowledged that merging these two genres is difficult, but it can be done well and cited Linnea as an example. I discovered Susan via reader buzz. Plus I worked in the business aviation industry for a while, so I wanted to check out Contact and how the heroine rolled that airliner. :)

    About the Patricia Waddell cover, I'm really surprised that Tor, one of the flagship SF publishers, put out a cover with pink on it like that. I'm not liking the pink. It almost feels like the same trend other marketers are doing to attract women by slapping rhinestones and pink hello kitty on everything. However, it's been done before. Here's a photo of Asimov's The Gods Themselves with his name in pink. Go figure.

    I do think re-branding, as Linnea said, is part of the solution -- a brand that can cut cross both Romance and SF genres. I'm not sure how to do that though. The SFR/Fut/RSF terms I don't think sit well with either Romance or Science Fiction readers. A brand that hints at both might be the way to go, but that's a tall order. I'm thinking something akin to "new wave."

    I do like SFR covers with images of the couple in the story, but I don't need the classic "clinch." An element of Waddell's cover that I do like is the metropolis backdrop, which definitely gives it a SF feel. Having the couple on the cover in some way is enough for me to see it as having Romance elements in it.

    I like the anthology idea. There are SFR authors being published as both Romance and SF, so it would be interesting to pull them together.

    Linnea mentioned BSG, which is interesting since, despite being part of the SciFi channel, they marketed that show as a "drama in space." One actor was quoted as saying that it wasn't really Science Fiction -- which of course annoyed the SF fans -- but they were trying to reach a non-SF audience.

  37. Anthologies seem to be much more popular in the SF genre than in Romance, in due part maybe to there being such a bigger short story market in SF.

  38. Anonymous3:00 PM EDT

    >but two homework-ridden teens, so have to be quick. :)

    I have always admired parents before I became one, but now that I am one, those who have two or more have my eternal admiration. That's a multi-tasking achievement of monumental proportions! I don't know that I could do that. And I have it easy!

  39. About covers, I'm not happy, either, with covers of the type I think you were referring to. Too many paranormal romance and urban fantasy novels have covers that make them look like erotic romance, whether they are or not. Like the illustrations currently displayed on Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake novels, even the reprints of the earliest ones -- for which those covers are totally inappropriate. (The first few Anita Blakes were dark, violent horror-suspense with no sex at all. Anita firmly rejected Jean-Claude's advances over the course of several books.)

    RE vampires: As I mentioned in my "questionnaire" post, as far as I know, vampire romance constituted the origin of PNR as a separately recognized subgenre. Christine Feehan's success built upon at least ten years of popularity (waxing and waning in mass market publishing, constantly growing in the small press and e-book business) enjoyed by earlier vampire romance authors.

  40. Lisa,
    The Gods Themselves was my favorite Asimov book.


  41. I was really intrigued by Susan's comments about the Dear Author blog, so I looked it up.

    Comments appear to be still doable.

    So... for those who regret that they did not comment, I guess on the internet it is never too late.

    All the best,

  42. Thanks Rowena, I'll go check out the Dear Author thread.

    I see the conversation hasn't started yet with Susan's "otherworldly men" book discussion at HQN.