How do the speed at which romance writers put out new books and digital tools for tracking sales combine to make romance one of the most market-responsive genres in publishing? Editor Sarah Frantz explains how romance shifts quickly to reflect cultural fantasies and anxieties.
How does romance respond to the market?
Romance has always been very market driven; it has always been very responsive to the market. It takes a while for a romance to get through the stream and actually get published. So, from initial submission to release can be as little as nine months, but that’s pushing it; it’s usually more like two, two and a half years. But that’s still very responsive to the market in ways that I think other fields aren’t necessarily. So you get a breakout hit and then a year to two years later you see a lot more of that type of novel.
With Amazon nowadays where you can literally see as a publisher how many books you’ve sold in the last hour, and how many books you’ve sold in the last day, and you can track: on Tuesday we sold 40 and on Wednesday we sold 50 and on Thursday we were reviewed at this website and we sold 100. And then on Friday we sold 80 and Saturday it went back down to 40. And you can track what’s happening literally hour to hour and day to day of how you’re selling and why you’re selling.
Mm, the why you’re selling is a little bit more difficult. Amazon, unfortunately, does not actually show trackbacks, which would—you think—be something that Amazon would be really interested in doing. Where did this person who bought this book come from? Did they come from a review website or did they just do a Google search or did they come from a recommendation at this website over here. Amazon does not allow trackbacks to publishers, it doesn’t show the publishers where their readers are coming from. But we can see, minute-to-minute and hour-to-hour, how many of our books are selling and I think that that responsiveness is going to speed up.
Authors are also expected nowadays to write books much more quickly. It used to be that an author would release a book once every two years, once every 18 months, and then it was once a year, and now as an author if you expect to remain with a strong reader base and remain in the publishers’ eyes, you have to release at least two books a year. And if you’re writing two books a year it’s much easier to be much more responsive. Well, this book which had these elements in it sold really, really well and this book which had these elements in it did not sell very well at all. So let’s write some more of these elements over here that sold really well and it’s going to be much more easy to be much more responsive to that because you’re writing a book every six months. And so you can see your returns, especially your electronic returns, much more quickly. So you’re not getting royalties once a year; we pay royalties out once a month.
[. . .] So I think that the market with the digital publishing, with Amazon, with immediate sales and immediate royalties—rather than once a year royalties, no connection to the fan base—with Twitter, with Facebook—where authors are expected to interact with their readers nowadays rather than expected not to interact with their readers—we’re going to just increasingly see a much more responsive nature to the books that are released. [. . .]
How does romance respond to current events?
It took a while for 9/11 to show up in books, I think that was untouchable for a while, but it’s showing up in books now [. . .]
[. . .] Katrina was eight years ago now; so I’m editing an author at the moment whose characters were in Katrina and they were 15 and 16 when they were in Katrina and so it becomes part of their history rather than part of their immediate background. And those things show up.
But also in paranormals. Immediately after Katrina, a year or two after Katrina, we had paranormal romances where the heroes and heroines could control the weather instead of not controlling the weather. And so, we’re going to see those anxieties, those cultural anxieties showing up a lot more and a lot more quickly in the romances.