YPG’s Love Affair With Romance

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On Wednesday, September 21, 2011, YPG hosted “Some Like It Hot: A Love Affair With the Romance Market,” a Brown Bag Lunch devoted to the saucy world of romance novels. The panel, moderated by Mary-Theresa Hussey (Executive Editor at Harlequin), featured Abby Zidle (Senior Editor for Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster), Amanda Bergeron, (Assistant Editor for Avon Books/HarperCollins), New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Sarah MacLean (Avon Books), and Natashya Wilson (Senior Editor at Harlequin Teen).

The afternoon started with a discussion about trends in romance. All panelists agreed that the explosion of the paranormal romance sub-genre is one of the biggest changes in romance of the past decade. Previously, no such sub-genre existed; few romances featured vampires, shape shifters, magic powers, or the underworld, but now paranormal romance is its own genre—a strong one, too. Abby Zidle noted that more recently cowboy and western-themed romances are becoming popular again, perhaps because readers want a taste of simple country life and easier times. New locations are also starting to appear in historical romances, moving from the traditional England and France to unique places such as Constantinople (the setting for Anna Randol’s A Secret in Her Kiss, coming from Avon in February 2012). Natashya Wilson commented that dystopian settings are currently all the rage in the YA romance market, and most of the submissions they receive have a strong dystopian slant. Amanda pointed out that no matter the setting, though, good stories will always be the main focus and keep readers coming back for more.

When asked about changes in the market place, the panelists said that the economy and e-readers have had the most impact. While the economy has dampened print sales, the boom of e-readers has naturally caused a great increase in e-books and other forms of digital content. YPG’s consumer data provider, R.R. Bowker (www.bowker.com), graciously provided a print-out of market research on the romance genre with several facts supporting that point. According to Bowker’s statistical data of the romance market, “Led by the sale of e-books, non-print formats accounted for 7% of spending on romance books in 2010, up from 3% in 2009 . . . . Online retailers, which includes e-bookstores, accounted for 23% of unit purchases in 2010, up from 17% in 2009, while spending through online retailers rose to 26% of all spending from 17%.”

Romance readers continually keep their eye out for new material to feed their voracious reading appetites, and providing online content helps satisfy that market. Amanda talked about Avon Impulse, Avon Books’ new digital imprint that allows Avon to publish more content, more sub-genres, and new formats. While Avon Impulse focuses largely on e-books, it also publishes POD novels and novellas by Avon writers and new authors, and offers a new exclusive e-book romance each week.

The panelists commented on how involved romance readers are with online communities. Fans often like to get to know their favorite authors on a more personal level, and Sarah said the social media outlets, especially, make authors much more approachable. This sentiment was also supported by the market research handout, which stated, “Established authors typically sell best in romance and the author was cited as the reason for buying a book by 50% of romance buyers, topping ‘series’ as the most popular reason for buying a romance.” Sarah said many of her fans know her fairly well and will treat her like a good friend when they meet, asking her more personal questions than she’s sometimes used to. But not surprisingly, social media plays a vital role for authors. Sarah said Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels are necessary to get the word out about her upcoming books and engage with her fans, though she said it can be a fine line between promoting her books and being too pushy with the sale.

Sarah also spoke of her experience writing YA romance versus adult romance, saying she doesn’t “dumb down” her YA books compared to her adult books. Adult books have more descriptive sexual content, but the main themes involving love and relationships are still present. She said writing YA can actually oftentimes be trickier. While her adult heroines are typically independent and secure women, teenage heroines are more unsure of themselves, as they are still in the process of discovering themsevles, let alone the cute guy they have a crush on. Sarah admitted she wrote her first book, The Season (a YA romance), on a dare and it got picked up by Scholastic!

The discussion was informative and light-hearted, and laughs were shared as the panelists recounted the first romance they read and which one got them hooked; Sarah humorously admitted she introduced herself to romances by stealing her older sister’s Harlequin books from under her mattress when she was a pre-teen. The panelists provided a table of free books for attendees to browse through and stayed after the presentation to answer questions.

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