Not My Field

There’s an immovable object: Mike’s dairy farm in Somerset isn’t going anywhere.

And there’s an irresistible force: university lecturer, Carla, who has brought so much fun and joy into his life over the last few months.

But when she’s offered a senior position in a German university, they both know something’s going to have to give. NOT MY FIELD is a story about grown up people learning to take risks, make compromises, and in the end, choose love.

nmf-cover

Excerpt

Carla glanced at the open document on her computer screen. What she really wanted to do this morning was finish the essay for Professor Myren’s Festschrift. Technically, it had been due back with the editor last month, and it really only needed a couple more hours of uninterrupted work time. But Christopher Fulwood was on her back about the performance review forms again, and if he didn’t get them, he was perfectly capable of making her life a living hell. She’d have to try to finish her paper that evening and get the sodding performance review done now.

She twisted her hair up into a messy bun and stuck a pencil through to hold it in place. A pile of undergraduate essays were dumped unceremoniously onto the floor with a stack of books she’d been sent for review on top of it. Now at least she could see the wood of her desk, which always made her feel better.
The PRF was enough to make anyone’s eyes glaze over at the mindnumbing detail which the admin team expected all university teaching staff to be able to provide. Faintly, Carla remembered promising herself last year that she would keep an ongoing list throughout the year of all the relevant work she’d done, so that all she’d have to do at this point was copy and paste. Next year, she really she would do that and not just for the first two weeks. For this year, she pulled out her paper diary and began to leaf through it looking for the information she needed: classes taught, research students supervised, papers submitted, publications received, committees attended.

Carla was trying to make sense of the scribbled notes in her diary from last October when the phone rang. Grateful for an excuse to abandon the struggle, she picked it up with some relief and then, when she heard the familiar voice of an old friend, genuine pleasure.

‘Jürgen! How lovely to hear from you.’

She pushed her chair away from the desk and settled in for a catch-up. Of course, he wouldn’t just be ringing for a casual chat at ten o’clock on a Wednesday morning, but she definitely had time to ask after Gabi and the kids, as well as a few mutual friends before she let him get to the point. He assured her that everyone was well, apart from Thomas’s cracked wrist after falling from his skateboard.

‘Thomas goes skateboarding?’ She struggled to imagine the quiet, serious professor of English doing anything of the sort.

‘He was showing his son.’

‘Ah, I see.’ She grinned, imagining the look on Thomas’s face as he admitted that to his colleagues. ‘Tell him I hope he gets better soon.’

‘I will. Carla, I have been given the great honour of sounding you out about a position here.’

‘What sort of position?’

‘Direktor.’

She couldn’t have understood him. He was asking for suggestions, perhaps, names to throw into the hat now that Myren had announced his retirement. Or a reference for another candidate, maybe.

But Jürgen was still talking. ‘They want someone younger, with an interest in the newer developments in the field. Someone who’ll lead the whole department in new and innovative research. There’s a shortlist, of course. But you’re at the top of it.’

Director of the Faculty of Romance Studies. At Tübingen. She couldn’t quite believe it.

She’d sent Myren a card, thanking him for his mentorship at an early stage of her career and wishing him a happy retirement with Betta, and of course she’d agreed to contribute to the Festschrift. It had not once occurred to her that she would be in the running to succeed him.

‘I don’t know what to say,’ she told Jürgen.

‘Nothing yet,’ Jürgen replied, with a hint of his dry humour. ‘It’s all confidential at this stage. But I’ll confirm your interest with the committee and then you’ll be hearing from us in a more formal capacity.’

Still holding the phone to her ear, Carla stood and went over to the small, oddly shaped window in her office. If she twisted in the right direction there was a view across the city, with both castle and cathedral. Everything that summed up Durham framed in a two by four rectangle. She liked it well enough, but she’d never fallen in love with it. Not the way she’d fallen for Tübingen.
She’d done her PhD there, working on German interpretations of classic Romance language texts. She’d had fun, too, throwing off the tense shackles of her doctoral studies and learning to become more confident in her academic career. Jürgen and Gabi, had been great friends, and there were others she still kept in touch with.

It would be a wonderful place to work again. Her friends in the language faculty would be stimulating colleagues. As Director, she’d have a chance to shape the department, focussing their teaching and research in a new direction. It was a dream job.

‘Don’t tell them anything yet, Jürgen,’ she blurted out. ‘I need… I need to think about it.’

‘Okay.’ He paused. ‘Are you okay, Carla? I thought you would be jumping at the chance? Gabi and I were so excited to think you would be returning.’

‘I’m honoured,’ she said carefully. ‘And I can’t think of a better place to work. I’d love to come back.’

‘Then what is your concern? Perhaps I can set your mind at rest.’

She twisted a finger into her hair, the way she always did when she was nervous. ‘I can’t believe I’m saying this, Jürgen, but there’s a guy.’

He was very sweet about it, telling her that he understood completely and refraining from asking all the questions she could tell he was dying to. At least it hadn’t been Gabi on the phone. She would have come straight out and demanded to know all about this man in Carla’s life.

At twenty-two, Carla had followed her heart. She’d thought she was in love and she’d assumed it was worth risking everything for. She’d been wrong, but she’d been lucky and she knew it. She’d been careful never to make the same mistake again. She’d had several very enjoyable relationships along the way but she’d always been careful not to risk the things which really mattered to her.
It was disconcerting, therefore, to find that she was hesitating about the Tübingen job. It would be a great achievement, moving her into the very top echelons within her profession. At forty-nine, she was still young to be offered such a prestigious post, but she knew full well that if she turned it down, there was no guarantee she’d ever have a chance at such a role again.

But then, on the other hand, there was Mike.

October 2014
Self published
13,000 word short story

Romantic serials

There is a truism among the self-publishing fraternity that the way to make money is to write a series of books, make the first one free, and watch the cash roll in. As a side note, this advice is useless to me, since I am congenitally incapable of writing series.

But there is a problem with series in romance. A romance has to have a focus on the central relationship AND an emotionally satisfying ending, whether that’s Happy Ever After (HEA) or Happy For Now (HFN). So how do you write book 2, when you’ve already reached that ending in book 1? There are a number of solutions: use a different central couple in each book; write books in some other genre with a single romantic arc over the whole series (technically, these are probably novels with romantic elements, rather than romances); or write a series of books in which the same couple face different relationship challenges. This third option seems to be increasingly popular recently. Actually, I can’t think of any examples from more than about five years ago (please let me know in the comments if I’m wrong about this). Some authors who do this will end each book on a resolution, but others won’t even do that, keeping readers hanging until the next installment.

As the self-publishing forums will attest, these series are very popular. You hook the readers with the first (free) book and hope you can keep them through the whole series. I’ve read a few and been caught up in the need for the narrative conclusion. At four o’clock this morning I was ready to click buy on book 4 in the most recent series I’ve been reading, only stymied by the fact that it isn’t out yet. I needed to get to the end of the series, because the end of the book doesn’t feel like a real end. That’s the point, of course, because that’s what gets you to buy the next book. But as a reading experience, Book X of Y in a Series is completely different from Stand Alone Book.

Part of the reason I love reading romance is the promise of the happy ending. Whatever else happens in the book – whatever else is going on in the world – there is a promise that the central couple will end up together and happy. There’s a security in that ending which makes the reading experience safe for me. There’s a resolution to the narrative which leaves me satisfied as I put the Kindle down, turn the light off and go to sleep. That’s a really, really important part of the romance reading experience for me.

It’s also an important thing from a narrative point of view. A standalone romance tells a complete story: beginning, middle and end. It is the story of that couple. It’s not necessarily the story of their whole lives, but it is the story which defines their relationship. We know that whatever happened before was background, and whatever comes after will be the outworking of the events of the book. We might enjoy another glimpse of the characters if they appear in the first sort of series, as secondary characters in someone else’s story. We probably expect that they will have ups and downs in their relationship like everyone else. But we know that their story has been told.

What happens when you stop writing romances and start writing serials is that the promise implicit in the ending is broken. I can’t leave the couple at the end of the book (even if it appears to be a happy ending) secure within those pages, because I know that more is coming. Whatever the ending is, it’s only going to be provisional. For me, that means it is unsatisfying. The book doesn’t give me the same reading experience as a romance novel, even if in every other respect it looks like it fits the definition of a romance novel.

The other thing that happens when you stop writing romances and start writing serials, I think, is that the books inevitably take on a soap opera kind of character. Because there is no final resolution in most of the books, there’s always a forward drive. One storyline may appear to be resolved but another one will be left hanging. Or we’ll know that whatever resolution there appears to be, something will happen to threaten it in the future. So there’s never the same satisfaction in the resolutions, or the same fear in the black moments. Plots cycle round, dragging readers with them in a tumble dryer of emotional manipulation.

It’s addictive. You want to know what happens next. But ultimately for me, it’s never a satisfying reading experience. Even if the series is completed, I find that the repeated cycles of conflict and resolution leave me anxious and cynical. And sometimes bored. There was a huge outcry last year when Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series was extended from three to five books. I’d read the first two and been looking forward to the third, but when I heard that I didn’t buy it. Partly because I thought that was a cynical move on the part of Day and/or her publisher and partly because I’d already been through enough with that couple. I wanted resolution, not more dragging out of their story.

And, of course, that’s another danger with serials in progress – they may never be finished.

So I’m going to try to avoid serials from now on, and I’m going to hope that this trend will die a quiet death before too long.

How to build an author website

Following a recent twitter convo, it occurred to me that this is a question which comes up again and again, and about which I have strong views. So here they are, helpfully gathered into one place in the hope that one day they may be useful to someone. Maybe you!

First, know yourself. The best way to build an author website will depend, in large part, on who you are and what you want to do. If you have no interest in learning how to do it yourself, and have money to throw at it, then find yourself a good web designer and let them do the heavy lifting. I think it’s worth getting them to walk you through the basics of updating content so that you don’t have to shell out more $$ (and waste time) every time you have something you want to add or amend on the site.

If you don’t have the cash for a web designer, or if you want to be more hands on, then there are several good options. These divide into two main groups: those which are all-in-one hosting and design services, and those which involve paying for hosting separately. In the first group are services such as Wix and Weebly, which offer great tools for site-design and which will then host your finished website for you (at a price, of course). In the second group, you’re looking at hosting sites such as GoDaddy, Hostgator, and the one which I use, Hostpresto. Then you’ll build your website, probably using one of the content management systems such as Drupal, Joomla or WordPress.

WordPress? But I thought they were a blogging site? They are. And they aren’t. More later to explain that.

There is a third way if you are really strapped for cash and are prepared to live with limited functionality. Set up a free blog at somewhere like Blogger or WordPress.com. With canny choices about theme and presentation, you can make these work for you. I would strongly recommend paying for your own domain name, however, so that your url looks professional and so that you don’t have to update all your promo when you become a bestselling author and want to upgrade your site.

If you pick method one, then I don’t really need to tell you much else. Look around at great author websites you love and ask them who designed them. Talk to the designers and find out what they offer in terms of ongoing support and training you to use the site yourself. Be clear with them about the functionality your website needs (e.g. newsletter sign up, contact forms, blog, printable booklist) as well as the tone and style you’re aiming for. As far as possible the brand of your website should match your author brand. Do not, under ANY circumstances, let them install autoplay music or videos.

If you pick method two, you’ll still need to be clear about the functionality, tone and style of your website. Then you’ll need to work out how to achieve that. My experience is with WordPress. I’ve heard good things about Drupal and less good things about Joomla, but I haven’t used either. If you’ve ever blogged with WordPress.com you’ll find that the WordPress.org system you can install on your hosted website has a very similar backend. The main difference is that there are many more themes available to you, and that you can install a huge array of plugins which add all kinds of functionality to the website. I use a theme called Suffusion which has a LOT of customisation options, and I also work with the html and CSS coding. YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO THIS. There is no reason to get involved in coding unless you want to. Many themes have their own customisation editor which will let you upload background images, set fonts, colours and other styles. You’ll have a range of page styles to choose from – full width, sidebar, magazine layout and so on. You’ll want to make sure that you have your homepage as a static page, rather than a blog page, and you’ll want it to include links to the top-level pages on your site (Books, About Me, Blog, etc.) RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO ADD AUTOPLAY MUSIC OR VIDEO.

Here’s why option two works for me:
I can’t afford option one;
I like messing about with coding;
I like messing about with design;
I like having control of my content.

That last point is the main reason I am wary of services like Wix and Weebly. While they produce great-looking sites, and my be more intuitive to use than WordPress, all your content is locked in to their service. So if at some point in the future you choose to leave (say, they change their TOS, or start charging ridiculous prices), you won’t find it easy to export any of your posts or pages to use on a different provider. I’ve also seen some reports of Weebly sites being blocked by ISPs in some countries, though I don’t know if that’s still true.

What about option 3? It’s easy to set up and it’s very cheap. You’ll need to do some work to make your site appear professional. Make sure you’ve set up a static home page, for instance. And choose your theme carefully. I had a quick look through the free wordpress.com themes and would recommend Motif, Bushwick and Confit as being worth a look for author sites. Or you could pay a few dollars for a premium theme. Be careful, though. By the time you’ve paid for 2 or 3 upgrades (domain name, premium theme, no ads) you might well have spent as much as a year’s hosting and domain name would cost you elsewhere, but you won’t have anything like the flexibility and functionality that would give. A lot of what you see listed as WordPress (themes, plugins etc.) will ONLY work on self-hosted WordPress.org installs, and not on the free WordPress.com sites.

If you register your domain name, the good news is that you can always take it with you if you decide you want to switch to a different service. That is by far the most important thing to do, whatever method you pick.

So, here’s the bulleted list (not necessarily in order):

  • Get your own domain name registered
  • Have a static home page
  • Choose a theme which is responsive (so it can be read on mobile devices)
  • Make the style and tone of your website match your author brand for your books
  • Think about accessibility for non-standard users (e.g. adding alt-text to images for visually impaired readers. I am bad at remembering to do this but I know I need to get better.)
  • Make a list of the content and functionality your site needs. Spend time looking at and using other author sites. See what works and what quickly becomes irritating.
  • You don’t have to have a blog, but if you do, I think it looks more professional to have it as part of your website rather than a link to blogger
  • DO NOT HAVE AUTOPLAY MUSIC OR VIDEO. I may have mentioned that before but it bears repeating. There is literally nothing more likely to make me and many other readers reach for the back button in the browser.

Most of all, I think, you need to remember that the website is not for you. It is for your readers. So yes, it should reflect something of you and your books, but your customer should be your priority. Give them a good experience.

The prisoner’s dilemma of self-publishing

I am not an expert in game theory but I have watched a lot of game shows. A few years ago, there was one on British TV which involved two strangers having to negotiate with each other before secretly selecting either to share or take all the money. If they both agreed to share the prize, they would do so. If one of them said they would share while the other said they’d take it all, the sharer would get nothing and the take it all person would take it all. If they both said they’d take it all, they’d both lose.

Classic game theory. It’s the prisoner’s dilemma. Of course they ought both to say they’d share. And of course, most weeks, one or both of them would get greedy and want it all.

Here’s a thing that self-publishers have to decide: to go exclusively with Amazon or not.

Amazon really want you to sign up to their exclusive programme (Select). If you’re in Select, they’ll let you run promotional days with your book available for free. They’ll let readers borrow your book and pay you for it. They’ll promote your book more via their own algorithms. And, as of today, they’ll sign your books up for Kindle Unlimited, their new subscription reading service. But if you’re in Select, you can’t sell your book anywhere else. You can’t give it away anywhere else. You’re not even really supposed to have excerpts on your own website, though I don’t think they enforce that one. You’ve agreed to make the book content exclusive to Amazon. That’s great for Amazon, obviously.

In the short term, it’s also been good for a lot of self-published authors. They’ve found that they can make more money from the Kindle lending library than they do in sales from other retailers. They like the extra boosts from the promo ops and the free days. They’ll probably make some money from the new scheme as well.

In the long term, I think it’s a disaster for self-publishing, and for most self-published authors. Amazon want to be the only game in town. They want exclusive content because they want to be the only online bookseller. That’s their end game. And once they get there, they’ll be in a position to dictate any terms they want to authors. Earlier this year they announced a drop in royalties on self-published audio books from 50-90% to a fixed 40%. For non-exclusive content, that dropped even lower, to 25%. They could do that because, for most self-publishers, the Amazon service is really the only way to get audio books made and distributed. Authors had no choice but to accept Amazon’s new terms, because they had nowhere else to go.

At the moment, I make about half my income on my self-published books from Amazon, and half elsewhere. If Amazon’s terms become too heinous, I can leave. I’ll lose out, but I won’t lose everything. If too many authors (especially the big name sellers) also found the terms too heinous and decided to leave, it could be enough to make them reconsider. Amazon needs content, especially for things like Unlimited, which means they need content providers. I don’t think they’re yet at a stage where they would risk dropping royalty rates on ebooks, or at least not by much. But if everyone were to sign their books up to Select, that would effectively put B&N and iTunes and Kobo out of the self-publishing marketplace. And that gives Amazon exactly what they want: power. Authors couldn’t pull their books, or threaten to, because there would be no alternative retailer to take them.

It’s in the best long-term interests of all self-published authors for there to be a competitive marketplace. Even if you don’t sell much at B&N, you are still better off because they are there. Even if your book is currently in Select, you are better off because B&N is still there.

And that’s the point about game theory. It’s true that you can make the quick grab now by giving Amazon exclusivity. But you can only do that because enough other people are sticking with the other markets and keeping Amazon honest (for some value of honest). If we all go for the grab, if we all throw all our books in with Amazon alone, we’re all going to lose out in the end.

Probably. I mean, I’m neither an economist nor a business analyst nor a game theorist. But I’m a farmer’s daughter. I know what it means to be a tiny supplier in a market dominated by huge corporate retailers. It’s bad enough trying to get a fair price for milk when there are five big supermarket buyers. But if there were only one? I shudder to think.

So, I’ll be keeping my books up on all available platforms, and I’ll be encouraging other authors to do the same.

What kind of happy ending?

I read Courtney Milan’s latest book last night and this morning. I really, really liked it. One of the things I like about it is the way it ends. I’m not going to spoil it for you but I am going to say what I did on twitter earlier. I think Free epitomises the ‘undiminished heroine’. That is, she ends the book with more opportunities and choices than she had at the start. She has her man, yes, of course. She has love, deep and fierce and real. She’s had to make choices and compromises. But when Edward says to his brother, “Haven’t you figured it out? I married her to unleash her on the world, not to keep her under wraps” we know that he means it, and that Free as Edward’s wife will be herself, only more so. He’s in a position to open doors for her at a practical level, but more importantly he doesn’t want her to change who she is, he wants to give her freedom to flourish. It’s not all about her, of course. He will be stronger and better with Free at his side than he would have been alone, and that is important too.

Something about the undiminished heroine trope speaks very strongly to me. It is the ultimate romantic fantasy for me. Not only that a woman should be loved so deeply and strongly, but also that being loved does not take away her choices. As Ridley put it on twitter, it’s a question of agency. The undiminished heroine does not lose agency by virtue of loving and being loved. She doesn’t always get to have it all, but she gets to make her own choices and compromises, and she will expect her man to do the same. Where there are compromises to be made, it won’t be assumed that she will be the one making them. Both parties will be stronger together and will work to give each other their dreams, whatever they happen to be. It’s not always about her getting the career or the external validation, but it is about self-realisation. She gets to decide who she will be. I want that. I want the fantasy that says I can be loved without giving up any of my dreams.

But there are other fantasies too and sometimes I want those. Miss Bates mentioned Betty Neels and it’s true, her heroines do not really fit into the undiminished mould. Whatever their aspirations are at the start of the book, however competent they are to achieve them, by the end they are given over wholly to the hero. A Betty Neels heroine always ends up as a wife, whose role is to run the house and have children. She’ll have gifts lavished upon her and all sorts of luxuries. She’ll be taken care of and provided for. She’ll be rescued.

When I’m tired. When life is hard. When I’m lonely or sad. When I’m not sure how I’m going to pay next month’s bills. That’s when I want a Betty Neels book. That’s when I want this sort of ending. To lie back and trust someone else to look after me. It sounds blissful, for about five minutes. And then I remember the sort of person that I am and realise that actually, I don’t want that life at all. I don’t want someone who’ll make all my decisions for me, on the assumption that he knows me better than myself. I don’t want everything that I am to be subsumed into my love for another person. I still want to be me.

How about a more realistic ending? One that does involve sacrifice. One that means making hard choices and giving up things that are important, because the relationship is more important. I like those books, too. I like heroes and heroines who have to talk about stuff like grown ups and can’t find an easy way to solve all the problems. I like that they have to commit to each other and forge a relationship based on compromise. I think those endings can be very satisfying, but for me, they aren’t quite the fantasy. They’re hopeful, because they paint a picture of what life might really be like, but they do leave me yearning for a better world.

That’s something that Free says, too. She isn’t turning the world upside down. It’s already upside down and she’s trying to set it straight. I think romance novels can do that, a little bit. At least they can show us what the world could be like, rather than what it is like.

By nature, I’m a hopeless idealist. I can’t get my head round politics because I just want to throw it all out and start from scratch. I’m not very good at working out the best way to deal with how things are, and I much prefer to think about how they ought to be. So I guess that’s why I like best the endings which offer me the fullest promise. I want to believe, at least for the time that it takes me to read a book, that the world can be re-made in order to make two lovers happy.

Category, continuity and familiarity

At the RNA conference I talked to several authors who write for the Harlequin Kiss/M&B Modern Tempted line. Or at least, authors who used to write for that line, since it’s being pulled. It’s had a chequered history, further complicated by the way it’s been marketed differently in different geographical markets. In a twitter discussion earlier, I wondered where writers like Kelly Hunter would now find their niche and several people said that her books used to be published as Presents/Modern. I was surprised by that, so I did a little googling.

I think her career is illustrative of the problems that Harlequin/M&B have had with marketing these younger, less angsty, less fantasy romances, so I’m going to take a little time to outline it.* Hunter’s one of my favourite contemporary romance writers and her books have won many accolades. I don’t know why she’s had so many rebrands, re-titled books, and moves across line but it sucks. She’s not the only one, of course. All of that contributes to the confusion surrounding the different lines and none of it is the author’s fault.

(The dates are UK release. Sometimes this was before the US release, sometimes later.)

2006:
Wife For a Week/The Trouble With Valentine’s: Modern Extra/Presents
Priceless/Bedded for Diamonds: Modern Extra/Presents

2007:
Sleeping Partner/Trouble in a Pinstripe Suit: Modern Extra/Presents Extra

2008:
Taken by the Bad Boy/The Maverick’s Greek Island Mistress: Modern Heat/Presents

2009:
Exposed: Misbehaving with the Magnate: Modern Heat/Presents
Revealed: A Prince and a Pregnancy: Modern Heat/Presents
Playboy Boss, Live In Mistress: Modern Heat/Presents

2010:
Untameable Rogue/Single Girl Abroad: Modern Heat/Presents Extra
Red-Hot Renegade/Her Singapore Fling/Single Girl Abroad: Modern Heat/Presents Extra

2011:
The Man She Loves to Hate: RIVA/Presents Extra
Flirting With Intent: RIVA/Presents Extra

2012:
Cracking the Dating Code: RIVA/Presents Extra
With This Fling: RIVA/Presents Extra

2013
The One That Got Away: Modern/Kiss
What The Bride Didn’t Know: Modern Tempted/Kiss

40% (6/15) of her books have had more than one title. That’s tough to deal with when you’re trying to build a brand. Fortunately, the re-titling seems to have mostly stopped.

In the UK, she’s written for Modern Extra, Modern Heat, RIVA and Modern Tempted. One of her most recent books, The One That Got Away, came out as a Modern. With that exception, all her books have actually come out in the same line here since Modern Extra, Modern Heat, RIVA and Modern Tempted are renamed, rebranded versions of more-or-less the same thing. At some points they have been branded to look very similar to the Modern line and at other times they have been branded completely differently. With the shift to RIVA, the line expanded to include some authors who had previously written for Romance, and thus had a lower heat level than the Modern Heat books. But the overall feel of the line was much the same. I’ve written before about the distinction between Modern and Modern Heat (and how it’s nothing to do with heat).

Four rebrands for that line in 8 years. That’s a LOT. No wonder readers are confused. There were periods when the line disappeared altogether. There were times when books with old and new covers were available simultaneously. You had to work hard to follow what was going on. And it seems, since the line is finally being pulled, that none of the re-launches had the desired effect of reaching a new (younger?) audience. It’s impossible to know what would have happened if they’d messed around with the branding less, but I can’t feel that the chopping and changing helped.

In the US, it is even more complicated. Several of Hunter’s books were Presents and several were Presents Extra. The One That Got Away was one of the launch titles for the Kiss line, which was somewhat unfortunate since it’s really much darker than most of Hunter’s books and didn’t suit the line at all. And was given a massively inappropriate cover.

The One That Got Away UK cover:
onethatgotawayuk

The One That Got Away US cover:
onethatgotawayus
There are no yellow balloons in that book.

Presents Extra was always a mix of some books that were M&B Modern and some that were Modern Extra/Heat/RIVA. I think that must have been incredibly frustrating and confusing, since the two lines really are quite different. Kelly Hunter’s books and Lynne Graham’s books, much as I love them both, have virtually nothing in common. If you’re hoping for something Graham-esque and you get something Hunter-esque, you have every right to be disappointed.

So, I have no idea what the future is. It’s not obvious to me, from here in the UK, that Hunter would write for Modern, since she’s only had one Modern title before, and that was somewhat atypical of her style. I can see exactly why US readers might expect her to write for Presents, though, since her books have always been divided between Presents and Presents Extra. I’ve always thought of her voice as the epitome of the RIVA/Kiss/Extra line – it’s fun, it’s contemporary, it’s intelligent, it’s sexy but it’s not high-fantasy laden with dramatic emotional intensity. It’s not what I’m expecting when I buy a Modern.

And that’s the thing. Category romance is predicated on the idea of selling a consistent product. People want to know what they’re getting when they buy a Presents or a RIVA or a Modern Extra Hot Pepperoni. Rebranding and remixing the lines is ALWAYS going to have some negative fallout because it removes that confidence. When a category line is new – or looks new – it’s unfamiliar and it’s uncertain. So if you’re going to launch a new line, you’ve got to be sure the positive gains will outweigh that. You need – through your branding and your titles – to make it crystal clear what promise the line makes to its readers. And, I think, you have to give the new line enough time to settle in and become familiar.

I guess the decision will be different for all the Kiss authors. Maybe some will move back to Romance/Cherish. Others to the intensity of Modern/Presents. Maybe some will move to single title, or another publisher. A few have written Cosmo Red Hot Reads and I can see that being a natural home for some of these voices. I’ll read whatever Kelly Hunter writes next, but I’ll be a bit sad if there isn’t a home for books like hers in a Harlequin/M&B category line any more.

*I’m slightly worried that this post comes across as obsessively stalkerish and I don’t mean it to be! I thought it was helpful to talk about the category changes in terms of a single author’s career because it’s much easier to understand in concrete terms. And I picked Hunter because I’ve read all her books, I think she has a very distinctive voice, and she’s gone through a lot of the changes I wanted to talk about. It’s not really meant to be a post about Kelly Hunter. I’m sure she understands her own career better than I do! Also, because it’s a post about Harlequin/M&B, I haven’t included the details of her other books.

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