Monday, March 29, 2010

Why Are We Settling for Mediocrity?

As most of you know, my kids swim competitively. We are constantly talking about goals and achieving the best that they can be. Of course, when we talk about this competitively, it is not to say you should simply be statisfied with where you are at. Lately, their coach has really been talking about this idea

Aim for the moon, that way, even if you miss you'll still be amongst the stars! - W. Clement Stone

Unfortunately, as I look out at the romance publishing industry, I am not seeing people aiming for the moon or the stars. Instead, I am seeing people aiming up and if they make it up, they are happy. For me, this is not something I am happy with. I personally am not happy with mediocrity and it frustrates me to no end when I see other people "just settling."

I am always hearing the romance industry complaining about how they are not taken seriously in the publishing world. They hate the stigma of the romance being nothing more than a cheap "bodice ripper." Even when I tell people that I represent romance and women's fiction, many will say, "You know, I just don't read that stuff. Oh I did when I was a kid but I have matured." For them, they still see the romance industry as cheap fluff written by writers that can't handle it in the business.

So where does this problem stem from? Those people in the industry that are content with what they are doing and not willing to push the envelope. Now please do not get me wrong. I am not suddenly making a call out there for people to send me stories that, in their mind, push the envelope. The stories still have to be marketable. A large population of readers will want to read the story. What I am talking about is the over-all attitude of publishers, agents, editors and writers of stepping it up a notch.

I am calling for editors to not just publish anything. I don't care how great of a book selling history a writer has, if the story they submit is not satsifactory, then turn it down and make them fix it. I don't care if it is inexpensive to put the book out there on a server and let someone download it, if it isn't good, then don't publish it.

I have two writers who are in great hands with their editor Joanne Grant at Mills and Boon in London. This is one editor that I honestly have to say is not settling for that middle of the road. She is not afraid to really hold her writers to the grindstone and demand the very best. When Mills and Boon said it was time to refresh their look, Joanne was right in the thick of it demanding covers that moved as far away from the covers "your grandmother used to read." This is great editing.

But this issue goes beyond the approach the editors have. It has to start with the writers. I applaud those writers that are still unpublished but keep on trying to get there. They attend conferences, they work with the comments that come back from agents in those rejection letters, they work. More importantly, they don't just run to the nearest "publisher" that will take their work. The are not willing to settle for mediocrity just to "claim they are published." Many of these writers say this is "just a step in their writing career." Really? I honestly have to say that this is nothing more than a justification on their decision to settle for something less than what they want.

Please don't get me wrong. I am not saying anything negative about these publishers, or those writers that "want" to take this approach. Some writers are happy with this and I applaud them for standing up to that. I am referring to those that just took the route.

I would love nothing more than to see the romance publishing world redefine what they are expecting in their writers. Stories can be fast reads, but it doesn't mean we should eliminate the depth. Stories can take on daring subjects, and not be afraid to shy away from the issues. And most importantly, all of us in the industry can take a serious look at the quality of the over-all writing. Grammar, punctuation, voice, character development, theme, setting and so forth need to be amped up a notch if we want to really do something with this.

Of course, maybe I am the only one that wants to see the movement forward. Who knows.



  1. Scott,

    Thank you for that. I hope others listen. I am truly tired of romance (if that is what you can call it) that has that element of "oh, I have read that before." Then it gets put back on the shelf.

    By the way, thank you for the advice!!

  2. Bethanie,
    I have to say, I don't mind stories with a pattern to them. Besides, we know what we will see with a romance - the HEA. I think my biggest issue is the over-all quality of the general stories. As someone who has spent time working in Literacy Development, it is always a shame to see the quality of writing go down.


  3. It's true. I'll admit I was a little nervous about reading a Paranormal Romance simply because of the cover, but the stories were amazing! Yes, Romance was in but so was action and consequences that left me astonished. I never knew romance could rock.

  4. An interesting view, thanks Scott. I agree with your words, I think you sum it up well...

    I don't care if it is inexpensive to put the book out there on a server and let someone download it, if it isn't good, then don't publish it.

  5. What I resent when it comes to romance is the idea that there is a "formula." Yes, romance follows a certain pattern, but in my opinion, authors are individual, and their work will be as well. I think you can find the HEA in a unique way--and without mediocrity.

    I've recently read some books by authors I was previously impressed with and now find myself disappointed in their work. Why? Well, I felt the passion wasn't there anymore. It was evident the author was writing because she still had a book deal--not because she wanted to entertain her readers. How disappointing for devoted fans.

    My opinion: if you aren't going to put a genuine effort into the writing, then it's probably time to stop.

  6. It's not just romance. I was reading a best selling author--who I will never read again--and I'm still having a hard time figuring out why the editor didn't kick it back for the ending. It honestly looked like the author had run out of time, so she dashed something off, and no one bothered to try to get it fixed. What other reason would a book spend most of its pages investigating a crime, building up on the suspects, and then tossing out a "Oh, by the way, it was a random crime" ending?

  7. This is too interesting. Let me say again that there is an inherent problem here in that some of the top-selling books did not get to the top because of the quality of the writing, clearly, but because of the unique ideas contained therein. (Fill in book of your choice here.) What is one to do with those? Public appeal can't be argued with for long. Too much money to be made.
    Issue two. Romance already has at least one really wonderful writer, Shana Abe. Even though I do not read in the genre, I did read her Draikon series because it was so beautifully written. I even looked into the past books, and found them equally well-done, although I bogged down in the standard romance formula which does not hold my interest for long.
    Clearly the romance field does hold some accomplished writers. Now, how many writers, and agents, are prepared to hold out for that level of work? Especially when less-than-stellar writing still ay contain an engaging new plot idea?
    Which leads to the final problem, my suspicion that the kind of writing Abe produces in booki after simply cannot be taught in college classes, but is a gift from the gods. Now what? I do believe that competent use of the English language can be taught, but the not think so at all.

  8. Hi Scott. You have stolen my rant! To my mind, calling a book a "quick read" is a condemnation. Personally, I don't want a romance my eye can skim quickly over, like a magazine article. Yet I find fewer and fewer authors writing romances substantial enough that I can read them a second time (Lisa Kleypas is one of the few).

    Bravo to you for calling on all of
    us - editors, publishers, and writers - to raise the bar.

  9. Pattern yes, that is what you expect, but take the Twilight books. Stephenie Meyer did excellent work. I don't mind saying I have read them over and over, but then everyone jumped on the vampire bandwagon. I'll be honest I am sick of seeing vampire books on the shelves. As far as I'm concerned Stephenie Meyer cornered the market on them and everyone tried it and to me there are now way too many.

    I may be showing my lack of knowledge, but what does "HEA" stand for?

  10. Could it have to be with the fact that (from what I've heard) some romance publishers pay, at most, $5,000 for a book? That doesn't exactly inspire writers to spend five years writing the book of their heart - it inspires them to church out hamburgers.

    Those who DO put out a well crafted romance that has other aspects to it are going to look for a publisher that doesn't churn out 5 books a week and will really pay attention to their book.

    Just a thought...

  11. oops, churn out, not church out.