Showing the Love for Romance Novels

Image: Flickr user Stephen Coles

Image: Flickr user Stephen Coles

Romance-reader friends, take heart! Another wonderful article about the romance novel genre, authors, and fans was recently published in the Smithsonian Magazine. Hooray!

This article specifically highlights the academic study of romance and the need to understand its impact on culture and society. While several romance courses exist for those who want to write, including an online program at McDaniel College, there is still a shortage of classes and study around those who want to research, investigate, analyze, and grow the study of the romance novel genre.

And although the dream of a full-fledge graduate program centering on the study of romantic works is still far off, the need and passion around this course of study remains strong. (If there ever was a graduate program focused on the study of romance novels you can bet I would be signing up in a hot second.)

For those interested in the academic study of romantic novels, check out the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance Facebook Group. I’m a member and come across all kinds of interesting articles and studies. I even read the academic journal which is full of rich resources and insights.

And of course – don’t forget to read the amazing article in the Smithsonian Magazine!

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Review: The Tempting of Thomas Carrick by Stephanie Laurens

The Tempting of Thomas Carrick - Stephanie Laurens - Review

It’s been a while since I’ve been back in the world of the Cynster Clan. I’ve missed them. A big fan of the original series (and you can read all about THAT here), I was so thrilled to hear that Stephanie Laurens was fulfilling every fan’s wish by writing the next generation of Cynster stories. I love even more than she started with Lucilla, Richard and Catriona’s daughter.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I was so enamored by the original family that I wasn’t sure how I’d feel moving onto the love stories of grown their children. However, when I read By Winter’s Light, Stephanie’s holiday novella, I knew that I was going to really enjoy reading Thomas and Lucilla fall in love.

Below is the book description (albeit a shortened version) and my review follows!

Book Description via Amazon:

Thomas Carrick is a gentleman driven to control all aspects of his life. As the wealthy owner of Carrick Enterprises, located in bustling Glasgow, he is one of that city’s most eligible bachelors and fully intends to select an appropriate wife from the many young ladies paraded before him. He wants to take that necessary next step along his self-determined path, yet no young lady captures his eye, much less his attention…not in the way Lucilla Cynster had, and still did, even though she lives miles away.

For over two years, Thomas has avoided his clan’s estate because it borders Lucilla’s home, but disturbing reports from his clansmen force him to return to the countryside. Duty to the clan leaves Thomas no choice but to seek help from the last woman he wants to face.

Strong-willed and passionate, Lucilla has been waiting—increasingly impatiently—for Thomas to return and claim his rightful place by her side. She knows he is hers—her fated lover, husband, protector, and mate. 

Lucilla sees that Thomas has yet to accept the inevitability of their union and, despite all, he can refuse her and walk away. But how can he ignore a bond such as theirs—one so much stronger than reason? 

Review

I remember being a young tween and wishing I could look into a crystal ball and see what life had in store for me. As someone who likes to plan and organize I would have felt reassured to know that good things awaited me in the future. Alas, while I did not have that luxury, our heroine, Lucilla Cynster, does. Since she met Thomas, and perhaps for a time before that, she has always know he is hers. Never wavering in her confidence, Lucilla takes advantage of the close proximity and unfortunate situations that bring Thomas back to his homelands and his clan in Scotland. Although resistant to Lucilla and his growing feelings, Thomas quickly recognizes the immediate chemistry and continues to tempt them both while bonding over trying to solve the unexplained and slightly bizarre happenings plaguing the Carrick clan. Of course, working together gives the couple ample opportunities to resist (and then to relent) to temptation, both physically and emotionally.

What I found so intriguing about this particular story is the confidence Lucilla has that Thomas is her one and only and that she is responsible for helping lead him (and them) down their destined path. This, of course, backfires, because who their right mind (man or woman) wants their life to be picked out for them without a say in the matter? But what was truly interesting was the difference between Lucilla and Thomas’ feelings. For example, with her unshakeable confidence and inner knowledge telling her Thomas is “it”, Lucilla’s path to love seems a bit easier from the outside. She’s open to falling in love and fully expects a partnership like the one her parents share. She is more concerned with how to help Thomas come to that realization than about examining whether or not he really feels the same way (or could feel the same way). It of course leads for a great plot as Lucilla has travelled so far down the road of love only to look back and see Thomas several paces behind. Thomas, on the other hand, has a long way to go before admitting he’s in love or even in like. Traumatized by his parents death at a young age, Thomas doesn’t expect, nor want, to fall in love with his wife. It’s an absurd idea. His fears are the main block between recognizing and accepting that the chemistry he shares with Lucilla is only an indication of so much more. With so many heroines and heroes across the romance genre doubting themselves and their feelings, it was a refreshing change to see a heroine who absolutely knew what she wanted, what was destined, and what would make her happy…

…Of course the fall for Lucilla when things don’t work out the way she intended (at least at first) is that much harder…and make the love shared between them that much sweeter.

I also have to say – that this book included some of the longest steamy scenes I’ve read in a while. So if you enjoy the steamy, this is definitely a book for you!

Personally, Marcus, Lucilla’s twin brother, stole the show for me. He is such an interesting and contemplative character and I can’t imagine spending all this time investing in a space and in a community and knowing that it’s not your final place – and he handles it with such grace – as far as we know! I’m also dying to know who is really behind all the attacks within the Carrick clan. Stephanie is letting that mystery linger until the next book, which is out in April.

Also – if you haven’t take the time to appreciate the cover art work – please do! I really loved the cover and inside artwork for this book.

Overall, Stephanie does a great job reintroducing us to the Cynster clan, while still letting us know that the next generation is going to be vastly different than the last. She breathes life into these characters and their stories. Considering we’ve moved from the Regency to the Victorian era, I’m really interested to see how these stories evolve for the London cousins and the rules by which they live and love.

Why the Romance Series is SO Addicting

I came across this great Romance University article a while back and have been meaning to share it! As many of you know, I am a big fan of the romance series. Be it historical, contemporary, suspense – if it’s a series I’ll dig in. In fact, I don’t think I read any authors who don’t write series with the exception of Nora Roberts who writes one-off contemporaries still. However, almost all of my favorite authors continue their story and characters through out several books. I.love.it.

This RU article looks at why series are so addicting and why both authors and readers crave them. Some of the reasons include attachment, familiarity, and investment. All of which I agree with. I’ve written time and again that it’s hard to let go of characters, places, and stories once that final page has been turned. As readers, we feel like family. We can imagine ourselves at the family reunions and gathering, falling in love with the heroes/heroines, and finding our very own happily ever after.

Looking for some fantastic series that continue to live on? Here you go!

Stephanie Laurens

I fell in love with the Cynster clan a very long time ago. While several of Stephanie’s books have linked back or featured guest appearances by Cynster family members and their off spring, she just released The Tempting of Thomas Carrick, the first in the Cynster: Next Generation series. I owe you all a review, but the story brings back some of our favorites while introducing the youngest members of the family and their quest for love.

Stephanie Laurens - Th Cynsters

 

Julia Quinn

I was introduced to Julia Quinn through her Bridgerton series while I was still in college. They’re funny, heart-warming, and downright entertaining. They include all the best that Julia offers and they are still one of my favorite families. And good news! Julia recently teased in an interview that her next book will bring the Bridgertons back into the spotlight. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with and who we will be falling in love with.

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Bella Andre

When I came across The Sullivan Series by Bella Andre my heart stopped in pure glee. Not only are there so many books in this series (we started with an original family of eight siblings and have now branched into Sullivan cousins in Seattle) but books are still coming as we speak. Bella’s next release is in April and there are still so many siblings and cousins to write about…I’ve even heard rumors of Sullivan’s in Maine and New York. While this series technically spans several families, readers still get to visit with some of our original favorites and there is nothing quite like a Sullivan Family reunion!

Bella Andre - Sullivans

What are some of your favorite romance series or families?

The Pre-Order Rush

Ninety-percent of the time I pre-order my books from Amazon, especially if I’m reading a series. I mostly pre-order so that I have a record within Amazon for release dates and also so I don’t have to think about it or keep reminding myself. 🙂

However, I’ve noticed that authors are advertising the pre-order more than ever…and they are incentivizing readers. (Yay!) Pretty smart, eh? Here are three recent examples of how authors are encouraging readers to take the pre-order plunge and are perhaps building even greater reader loyalty.

Never Judge A Lady By Her CoverSarah MacLean

We all know I am a huge fan of Sarah’s. She’s brilliant. Temple will forever be one of my favorite heroes (so tortured!). I deeply loved her Scoundrels series, so you can imagine my delight when she offered up a special reward for those who pre-ordered the final book in the series, Never Judge A Lady By Her Cover. The prize? A specially written interview between Sarah and her leading hero/heroines available ONLY to those who ordered the book before it’s release date. I received my “extra” scene via email a week or so after the book came out. I couldn’t wait to devour it. Why? Because I had just said goodbye to four amazing characters, each of whom I fell a little bit in love with, and it provided one last glimpse into the story. In fact, this pre-order prize could even be chalked up to dabbling in transmedia romance – although it didn’t move the story forward, it did provide additional insights into the characters and the writer herself.

Eloisa James Pre Order GiveawayEloisa James

After filling out the online form with a screenshot of my Amazon order number for Four Nights With The Duke, I’m officially signed up to receive a 10-page scene that was cut from the soon-to-be-released novel. This scene features the two main characters from the previous book in the series, India and Thorn (Three Weeks with Lady X). I’m really excited! Not only have I have been waiting for Four Nights for what seems Four Ever (get it? mwhaha) I’m excited to revisit some old favorites and see what they are up to. One of the great things about a series is that we can continually see and experience characters whose story already had their Happily Ever After. I think it’s pretty brilliant for Eloisa to reward pre-orders with a scene that didn’t make the final book. We hear so often that authors have to cut back on scenes or word counts or remove scenes or sub plots because they didn’t quite fit with the final story, so it’s wonderful that those scenes are being put to good use.

Stephanie Laurens Pre Order GiveawayStephanie Laurens

I’ve been reading Stephanie Laurens for a very long time. How did I not know that she is Australian? Having studied down-under I am even more excited about her upcoming Cynster (The Next Generation) series. Just today I filled out an online form showing proof of purchase/pre-order for her latest book, The Tempting of Thomas Carrick, and I’ll be rewarded with my very own Cynster family tree poster. I’m not sure if it’s an e-family tree or an actual printed poster – but either way it’ll be fun. Personally, I’m not one that gets particularly riled up about family trees, but they have come in handy when trying to remember whom is related to whom – especially while waiting for the next book in the series to come out. I will fully admit that while reading Stephanie’s Cynster Christmas story, By Winter’s Light, I got a little confused about which males were brothers and exactly whose wife was whose (that could get a bit tricky, couldn’t it?). However, it all came together in the end, but boy that family tree would have been handy!

I have to say, being someone who has almost always pre-ordered (for both print and e-book) for a very long time, it’s fun being rewarded for something I already do! However, I could see how this would also entice readers who perhaps wait for the book to come out to go ahead and secure their copy ahead of time. Additionally, for fans like me, who almost always purchase before the release date, offering the incentive only strengthens by ties to the story and the author, thus building and growing reader loyalty.

The incentive to pre-order is one of the things I love about the romance novel community for a few reasons.

1. Readers appreciate the smallest of gifts. Be it an interview with the characters, a special excerpt, a family tree, or a “deleted” scene – it is the small things that make us feel valued as readers and to immediately support and build buzz around our favorite authors and stories.

2. The incentives above are done out of love for the story, but they are also cost effective! For authors, this means that being able to offer incentives around pre-orders is feasible and well-worth the time and (little) money spent. Again, readers are just thrilled to read an extra scene, peak behind the curtain, or get deeper insight into their favorite characters.

3. The best part about these incentives is that it continues to build the story world (in most cases). I wrote recently about transmedia storytelling within the romance novel community and how this type of extended story world can benefit both readers and authors. These small incentives could easily be tied into a transmedia experience – especially to help generate excitment around a new release or keep readers loyal between books in a series.

What kind of incentives have you been offered as part of a book pre-order or order? What kind of rewards, as readers and authors, would you want to see/offer?

The Ultimate Bad Boy Appeal

Romance Novel Cover

Short post today as it’s a busy one for me! However, I immediately dropped everything I was doing when I saw this subject line appear in my inbox:

Sometimes a Bad Boy Can be Good For a Girl.

Hell. Yes.

Romance University puts out another great article, this time by author Rie Warren, about the Top Ten Steps to creating a believeable, rough and tumble, sexy alpha male that will melt the heroine’s (and readers’) hearts.

Read it here. It’s a great read and really outlines how to create a re-deemable and lovable bad boy, if that’s how you see your hero.

Looking for alpha-male inspiration? Here are a ton of books that produce strong male heros – all for your reading pleasure.

Transmedia Romance: Expanding & Extending The Story Universe of Traditional Romance Novels

Transmedia Wallflowers

As any true lover of the romance genre, I think we can all agree that there’s something a little sad when we finish a book or a series and have to say good-bye to characters we have grown fond of (and maybe even fallen a little bit in love with). Ever since I got caught reading picked up my first romance novel (Julie Garwood’s The Wedding) I’ve always wondered what happened after the epilogue…then I stumbled across trilogies and series and a whole new world opened up. More characters to love, more stories to devour, more information about other characters/stories I had once read…more everything! It was a dream come true.

But as a romance junkie this only satisfied me for a short while. And with romance readers being some of the most vivacious readers of them all, I was constantly looking for new books and authors. (My secret? A Google Doc that tracks new releases by date and another that tracks by author. Yes, the project manager in me had to make some kind of organized chaos with the amount of romance novels I consume.)

However, what may be even harder than letting go of your favorite characters, is the usually very, very, very long wait in between books in a series. Every so often I find a new series that all the books are out and then I consume them all in a three day period – much like I did with the books we’ll be talking about today, The Wallflowers Trilogy by Maya Rodale. But most of the time, I’m just bidding my time, twiddling my thumbs, and constantly checking Amazon pre-order links until the next book is out.

In my opinion, while the wait in between books can bring a certain anticipation (I literally was jumping up and down on release day for the final book in Sarah MacLean’s Scoundrels Series), it also causes several interruptions and frustrations as a reader.

So, here’s why long release dates cause problems for readers and authors and what we (yes, we) can do about them….

Where Did the Magic Go?

Long wait times in between books cause readers to lose touch with the magical story world authors have built. You know – that special place where you can taste the punch in the ballroom, hear the first notes of a waltz playing, see the gorgeous dresses…THAT place! The wonderful, warm place called the story world, where authors expertly transport me and I become deeply engrossed in their writing and characters. I LOVE that place.

But I tend to lose that sense of wonderment and immersion when there’s a long waiting period between books. This is by no means the author or the publisher’s fault – authors can’t produce quality stories in a time frame that would align with how readers consume them. But as a reader, I end up consuming anywhere from 2-3 books a month, which means I’ve read anywhere from 24-36 additional books from when I read the first book in a series until the next comes out, assuming a series has a year-long waiting period for the next book. (Which, many do.)

That’s a lot of books. A lot of characters. A lot of love stories. Don’t get me wrong – I adore them all. I will always read faster than authors can distribute. But it makes it more difficult for me to jump back into the magical place of each series when I’ve waited for such a long time and consumed a large amount of additional stories.

Was She a Duchess or a Countess? 

In addition to losing the magic of the story – I forget the story when there is a long wait between book releases. I know the general plot. I know the characters. I don’t remember the details. And sometimes it’s the details that make the thing.

Especially if it is an author with either a very long series (more than three or four books) or an author with similar stories, I struggle to remember all the jokes and nicknames and plot points. Right now, I’m totally struggling with this for Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green series. I LOVE those books. But I am trying to remember what happened in the last few books, especially since they go back and forth between characters in two families (brilliant, by the way).

With so many books, so much in-between-time, I can’t fully appreciate when authors weave in characters from another story (or series if they are really good) to the next. I can’t appreciate the smallest details that hint at the next heroine or hero. I can’t remember the jokes! A lot of time goes into the jokes!

So, yes, sometimes I forget part of the story or I get the characters mixed up with ones from other series…and then when I’m reading in the back my head I’m going Where have I heard that name before? Is that the same Duke? So she’s his sister…right. Or his cousin. Dang it, they’re related, right? Maybe she knows his sister…

Okay, it’s not as bad as I’m making it out to be. But I do find that when I can consume a series or trilogy in short order, I remember more. I appreciate it more. I even think I fall a bit more in love.

It’s Begins and Then It’s Over

As we’ve determined, romance readers can make their way through a large stack of books in a very quick time frame. We love to read. We love to read romance. Ain’t no shame.

But because we love it so much, it’s over as it’s just beginning. I turn on my kindle and dig into Chapter 1 and the next time I look up it’s 3am on a week day and I’m debating calling in sick so I can finish the last six chapters. A blessing and a curse.

Of course, reading a series we know it’s not over for good. There’s at least one more story to tell! But after consuming a book in eight hours we are right back where we started. Waiting. For the next book. Oh, the torture!

So what’s the solution here? As readers, we can’t expect authors to meet this demand. We can keep piling up on our author lists (although many of us already keep track of 15 to 20 of our favorites…hence my Google Doc). We can keep trying to remember certain elements of the story. We can re-read. OR. We could expand the story world in a number of ways. Authors, publishers, readers – together we can create a transmedia experience to keep readers engaged, knowledgeable, and in that magical place in between waiting for books to be released.

What is this Transmedia You Speak of?

Transmedia storytelling is the technique of telling a story or expanding a story experience across multiple platforms and formats with each addition contributing value and meaning to the overall story world. Transmedia storytelling isn’t the retelling of a story such as turning a book into a movie. Transmedia is the addition or continuation of story worlds and characters through different platforms with the viewer/participant gaining new information and insight with each element that unfolds.

If you’re looking to learn more about the basics, here’s a white paper I put together on the subject. It talks about transmedia from both a storytelling and marketing perspective.

I think transmedia storytelling would be an amazing addition to the romance genre and in helping solve The.Long.Wait.Period. in between books. How would this work in romance? Let me give you an example…Maya Rodale’s The Wallflowers Trilogy. (Read the review here.)

In addition to her historical trilogy that follows three young Regency-era ladies as they look to land husbands before a very important ball, Rodale has incorporated transmedia elements that enrich her story and give her readers something to look forward to during the wait period in between books.

The first is that she wrote a contemporary series that cannons the historical one. These contemporary novels feature the “author” of the Wallflowers Series, Jane, and her love story. Through this contemporary series, readers learn more about the Wallflower series – what events influenced it, how Jane wrote and completed the novels, the inspiration behind plots and characters. While not traditionally transmedia as it doesn’t expand directly on the Wallflower world, it would still be considered a transmedia element as fans of the books could consume this new expansion of the story world and still relate it back to the historical novels.

TransmediaWallflowers_current

The second transmedia element is Rodale published a version of The London Weekly, the fictional London newspaper that plays its own starring role in all three Wallflower books. Fans of the book can read a digital version of the newspaper that so influences London society within the Wallflower books. Through this channel, readers can experience another element of what Ladies Emma, Olivia, and Prudence experienced during the season including the Fashionable Intelligence column the girls read religiously. Additionally, Rodale even promotes one of her books, The Rogue and The Rival, to “ecstatic reviews” and touts the book as “suitable for ladies” within the newspaper’s pages. Gotta love it.

Fans of the story can consume this new piece of content and gain new insight into the world of The Wallflowers. They can read about news that would be relevant in that time such as marriage and death announcements, theater reviews and so much more – giving them new details into the world as well as gaining a new experience that expands their understanding of the overall story.

While this doesn’t seem like much, perhaps, to the average romance reader, imagine Rodale promoting this a month after the first or second book came out? Imagine it held a teaser for the next book such as a piece of gossip that the Mad Baron was coming back to town and rumor has it he’s looking for wife #2. (How juicy, right?)

Rodale also has a Pinterest board, which includes inspirations for her Wallflowers books and its contemporary counterparts. A fun idea here might be to pin from Jane’s perspective (contemporary book) or to use it as a “digital wardrobe” for one of the girls in the historical books.

Another transmedia element could be the publishing of The Mad Baron, a gothic tale referenced in several of the Wallflower books and loosely based on Lord Radcliffe (aka The Mad Baron).

Another transmedia element could be a brochure or advertisement for Lady Penelope’s School for Young Ladies of Fine Families or other promotional materials the girls and their families may have received when deciding whether or not to attend. Even a virtual tour of the school, the ballroom, or one of the girl’s (or hero’s) homes. Perhaps Jane (again contemporary novel) could have a blog that she posts to once or twice a month to keep readers engaged and attach them to the contemporary novels while waiting on the historical ones. What if Olivia’s mother kept a diary or there was a blog of “overheard statements from so and so…” Maybe readers receive emails that contain the gossip columns or an announcement of the Duke’s new machine or a flyer for its first showing.

TransmediaWallflowers_additional

See? Lots of really interesting and fun ways to keep readers engaged as they become more involved with the story. These transmedia elements would only serve to enhance the story giving readers a taste of that magical story world every so often.

What’s really great about creating a transmedia experience is that it helps with all of those pesky audience problems listed above. Readers can continue to indulge in the story world and can build upon their knowledge. Transmedia can also introduce sub story lines and plots, new characters, and new experiences outside of what the books have to offer. It’s important to note that transmedia isn’t simply just about creating online content, the content can be physical such an event or a mailer, but no matter the medium, transmedia content must have a purpose and drive the story forward in some way. Reference content is wonderful (and we so appreciate it!) but we have a hunger for more about the story. TV shows and movies like The Matrix and How I Met Your Mother are current examples of how transmedia storytelling expanded and enhanced those story worlds. From graphic novels to blogs to websites to so much more.

It’s my belief that romance readers crave the more. And it’s to everyone’s benefit to give “the more.” To give readers a chance to continue to explore the story, to learn about new characters, and to keep falling in love even while they wait for the next big release. And what’s great for authors is that it builds buzz and excitement for a series over an expanded period of time. It gets fans and readers talking about the books early and often and sharing their transmedia experience with each other and, even perhaps, with new readers, introducing them to the work.

The argument could (and should) be made that readers couldn’t possibly follow every transmedia story for every author they read. Totally true. Participating in transmedia does require some effort on the part of the reader. However, spaced out appropriately and feed to readers via social media, email, author websites, direct mail and other mediums that they normally seek out or opt-in to, it would be very feasible for readers to experience several or more stories of their choosing.

Additionally, my counter argument would also include that the transmedia experience doesn’t live on forever. It lives on for as long as the series lives on. Once the final book is written, unless an author wants to continue the experience or end the story on a different channel, readers have come to expect that eventually the final chapter will be written and read it’ll be time to move on. Every great story should have an ending so another great story can begin. And of course, let’s not forget fan fiction. While an argument can be made for the pros and cons of fan fiction as transmedia storytelling, I think in certain cases, such as Amazon’s KindleWords, it could fall into that category as writers must write within the story boundaries and then expand the story.

As for authors and what they can produce – the beauty is that it can be small, it can be digital (cost-effective), and as long as it’s consistent, it doesn’t have to be all-consuming. Transmedia is all about sharing the story, even the smallest details or the larger ones, if an author is so inclined.

So – to all my romance readers, authors, publishers, fans, and more…would a transmedia experience be of interest to you? Would you participate and what would you want to see? I can just envision an MTV Cribs episode featureing Jane and her millionaire hunk, can’t you?

Contact me about turning your story into a transmedia experience!

 

 

 

 

 

A Romance Digest? Don’t Mind If I Do…

Romance Digest - News that Sizzles

Hi folks! I have some really exciting changes happening here, and elsewhere on the Interwebs, over the next few weeks and can’t wait to share everything with you. One thing I can share is that I’ll be starting a new monthly email news letter called Romance Digest – News That Sizzles. (Catchy, right?)

This monthly newsletter will shoot the latest and greatest in romance news and information curation right to your inbox. Lots of times I come across some pretty spectacular stuff, but don’t always have time to write about it. This monthly digest will fill you in on what is going on in the romance genre from both a writing, academic, and fan perspective. I promise, it’s worth signing up for.

Of course, I will never sell your email address or spam you – I want to be friends, really.

So without further adieu, here is the link to sign up. The first Romance Digest will go out in mid-February – right in time for Valentine’s Day. Hooray!