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Archive for July, 2015

Face PalmSo the romance world has another outrage to deal with, but this time it’s been perpetrated on us rather than by us. A writer named John Havel decided to “expose” Amazon’s bestseller list practices by plagiarizing a novel and then manipulating it onto the list. Havel justified himself by saying that all the profits he made through his project would be donated to charity. So even though his whole enterprise was based on theft of someone else’s labor, it was okay because he was both demonstrating Amazon’s dishonesty and not keeping the profits for himself. Kat Mayo has summarized this entire saga, and you can read about it here.

This whole project was, of course, ethically suspect from the beginning. But it might have been less so had Havel chosen a book that was truly in the public domain (Moby-Dick with a sexy new cover, for example). But instead, he chose a Harlequin Sensation, Untamed Billionaire, Undressed Virgin, by Australian author Anna Cleary. Cleary, needless to say, knew nothing about this since Havel didn’t bother to ask her permission or to explain his project. She only found out that someone had taken her book, changed the names of her characters and her title, and posted it online for his own profit when other writers informed her.

All of this is sordid enough, but the real source of the outrage (beyond outrage for Cleary and her stolen royalties) is Havel’s reason for choosing her book. It was a romance. Romance, we are told, “sells big,” is easy to scam, and is an object of contempt as far as Havel is concerned. Reading Mayo, you get the impression that Havel doesn’t consider romance novels to be “real” books. Apparently those of us who write in the genre are scam artists ourselves; therefore, our books are open to plagiarism without consequence.

Romance writers confront contempt frequently. It’s never fun, but it can usually be dealt with in one of two ways. First, you can say that reading is all about personal taste and that our readers enjoy what we write. Second, if the contemptuous one seems amenable, you can list a few of the many romance authors who might confound his/her expectations and recommend a little reading.

However, we shouldn’t have to argue that our books belong to us. That they’re real, and that it took a lot of effort to write them.

Havel’s ultimate argument—as Mayo points out—is that all romance books are the same, thus their readers are so gullible that they’re asking to be scammed. As Havel sneers, “Plus, don’t you remember seeing cheesy paperbacks with Fabio on the cover at the grocery store check out? How’s this different?” But the thing is, Mr. Havel, those “cheesy paperbacks” weren’t all the same. They were written by different authors with different approaches and levels of skill and different readers, as you’d know if you’d ever bothered to read a few. The fact that you didn’t like their covers doesn’t mean the books themselves were something you could treat as a joke. And it sure as hell doesn’t give you license to steal them.

Oh and by the way, John, Fabio hasn’t appeared on a romance cover since the nineties. But compared to the other things you seem ignorant of, that’s probably a minor point.

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Finding Mr. Right NowSo Finding Mr. Right Now is out of my hands now. It’s been on the shelves since June 3, which marks the beginning of the final phase of the book’s life with the author: sales and reviews. I don’t have much influence over sales (and for a lot of reasons, I won’t really know much about the sales for a few more months). I do have some influence over reviews—at least I can make sure the book gets into the hands of potential reviewers.

Most authors have mixed feelings about reviews. In the old days, you only got reviewed by a few sources: Romantic Times magazine was the biggest, but there was also Affaire de Coeur and less specialized publications like Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. Needless to say, the internet changed all of that. Now there are dozens of review sites out there, from
Guilty Pleasures
to Harlequin Junkie to Long and Short Reviews and beyond. But those are the professional and semi-professional reviewers. These days you also have the people who post reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Goodreads. The possibilities for reviews have grown by quantum measures, and so has authors’ agony.

A lot of authors I know say they don’t read reviews, but most of us do, whether we like it or not. The only way to read your reviews is to make the words “nobody can please everybody” your mantra. Because there will be blood, probably yours. You’ll get negative reviews because everybody does. Even authors I idolize, like Sherry Thomas and Joanna Bourne and Loretta Chase, get negative reviews (although when your reviews number in the hundreds, the negatives tend to get buried). But they still sting.

The worst thing you can do, of course, is argue. Or even comment. The net is full of stories (sometimes they seem to pop up weekly) of authors who become unhinged by what they consider to be unfair reviews. From The Greek Seaman controversy to famous authors misbehaving, we now have multiple examples of what not to do when reviewers hurt your feelings. This is even true with manifestly unfair reviews (of which there are now multiple examples). I read one of Sherry Thomas’s books during a single day’s drive from Lubbock to Denver, pausing only to wipe my tears. It was one of those incredible reading experiences against which other books can be measured. Later I checked the reviews and found that most readers agreed with me—it was a stunning book. Except for one jerk who not only wrote a snarky review but illustrated it with animated gifs. I was appalled, but the lesson is that even superb books get slammed. Also, of course, jerks will be jerks.

So Finding Mr. Right Now is on its way for better or worse. Go to it, book. Have a good life. Look for Love In the Morning, book 2 in the trilogy, come January. And the whole process begins again.

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