Thursday, July 24, 2014
Picky Picky Picky
I’ve wrapped up my edits on Jessalina’s Pets and will be sending them off to the publisher right after I post this blog. It was pretty easy this time around: few requests for sentence changes, even fewer typos. Nobody mentioned the fact my white-skinned heroine bought a brown-skinned slave. It’s set on a futuristic fantasy world, so I suppose such things are irrelevant. Looks like I needn’t have worried.
Oh yes, said the editor, a couple other things: make it so the woman repents her slave-owning ways, and have the thief regret being a thief. While you’re at it, she only marries the one guy. Does that mean she’s giving up the other one? Do they just get a Happily For Now?
I handled this the way I do all editorial changes. Upon receiving the email, I skimmed through the entire manuscript and read over the editor’s comments/suggestions. Then I pouted and sulked. This phase usually lasts from an hour to as much as a day. By the next morning I was ready to get to work.
Why these particular changes? Because the editor feared my characters, who are involved in a hot threeway without benefit of marriage, might be perceived as less than noble after owning slaves and stealing things. Seems pretty silly on the surface, but apparently readers look for that sort of thing in their romance characters. They also expect a Happily Ever After, preferably for all the characters involved. The publishers know what their readers want—they’d better, if they want to stay in business—and the editors let us writers know by asking us to conform.
If I don’t want to make the changes, no big. The book will just be reclassified as a Menage and More, where only two characters get an HEA and they’re allowed to have less-than-perfect pasts, as opposed to a Menage Amour, where everybody gets an HEA and the characters have higher moral standards. Yes, those are two different imprints, and yes, they’re that sharply delineated. I’m sure there are also two different audiences, and there may or may not be crossover.
Such strict catering to a niche audience isn’t anything new if you’ve got cable TV. There’s the Golf Channel, the History Channel, the SyFy Channel, Cartoon Network, the Food Network, and several channels devoted to movies. And that’s just broadcast cable. Sign up for HD or subscription channels and you can get all sorts of boutique networks. Love pro wrestling? The WWE has its own channel now. You can watch the Rock 24/7. You get the idea.
Harlequin is no stranger to subgenres. They have different lines for mainstream, sweet, spicy, paranormal, romantic suspense, and billionaires with secret babies, each with its own devoted audience. Romance e-book publishers have gone down this same route. Most have separate lines for erotic and mainstream. From there they break down into male/female, male/male, female/female, one chick and two guys, one woman and a boatload of horny guys, and so forth. The lines can diversify even further, as my experience demonstrates. For instance, a ménage can be either M/F/M or M/M/F, depending on whether or not the two guys get it on. I initially wanted mine to be classed as F/M/M, because my female lead was the dominant partner. However, my publisher doesn’t carry that category. Other publishers do.
And the readers can be downright picky when it comes to their preferences. M/M fans won’t read M/M/F because the boys’ relationship gets contaminated by girl cooties. Readers of M/F/M may avoid M/M/F, depending on whether or not two men enjoying themselves as well as the woman squicks them out. A dominant female lead may turn off a lot of readers, which could be why my publisher doesn’t advertise that category. And everybody likes the HEA.
As a writer, I should know this. I should be aware of the differences between the lines that indicate reader preference. It’ll save both me and the publisher a lot of time if I don’t send my M/M/F opus to a company that specializes in M/F/M. They’re not the same, and readers know the difference.
In the case of Jessalina’s Pets, I wanted all three of my characters to end up together, but wasn’t clear enough on the three-way marriage thing. I further muddied the waters by having the woman say the other man needed “a wife.” (They’re different species biologically and can’t have children together.) I’m sure this is what led to the HEA/HFN confusion. Luckily it’s an otherworld fantasy, so I can make up rules that let all three marry each other. I can also see the logic in having them repent their pasts. It’s part of the slave romance trope. They have to end up as equal, loving partners by the end. Otherwise nobody’s going to respect the characters, and there goes any chance of sales for your next book. Besides, repentance means there’s a character arc. Character growth and change is always a good thing in fiction. I couldn’t quite make my thief fully repent, but he does retire from the biz. I hope that’s enough for the line.
For all I know, books with HEAs sell better and have a larger audience than books with HFNs. Here’s hoping I find out.
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In other requested changes, the editor wanted me to develop the relationship between two of the leads more fully. She was right, and I know how it happened. The book was inspired by publicity photos for Supernatural season 9, with Sam and Dean in cages. Being a Sam girl, I tend to favor the “Sam” character over “Dean,” and it showed up in the writing. Dean may get the better lines, but Sam gets the meatier story arc, and always gets the girl. Sorry, Dean, but I have to be honest: Mom really does like him best.
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Finally, Han Solo’s photo graces this blog because in my correspondence with the editor I used him as an example of an unrepentant rogue who nevertheless remains loveable. That might not be good enough for demanding romance readers. I suspect movie audiences are more forgiving, especially since you can see the guy’s cute, cocky smirk rather than just read about it. I ended up dedicating the book to Harrison Ford. Whether or not he ever reads it will depend on which camp he’s in, HEA or HFN. If I get a fan letter on Star Wars stationery, I’ll be sure to let you know.