Titling Peeves – in reaction to an email


I don’t generally read category romance. Not because I write it off as a genre. Like all genres, it has its problems, most of which dovetail with my reasons not to pick up a book. I do at times read non-category books which are packaged as romance (and historicals and ‘novels’ etc), especially Ibbotson and Austen and Heyer. I did spend a miserable week at boarding school laid out with a bad back (or was it after I had my wisdom teeth out) reading through the house mistress’s stash of Mills & Boons because I couldn’t concentrate on a story which took more than 50,000 words (the misery was due to lack of concentration, not what I was concetrating on). A few of the books were astonishingly well written. And the circles I swim in overlap with romance readers and writers from time to time, whose opinions I respect.

So, with that in mind, I read an email today and reacted as follows:


Angus and Robertson, according to the email I received today, is “relaunching” Mills & Boon books in their stores. I do not know what “relaunching” means, or why it is not happening in all stores. Beginning to stock again? Repositioning them? Putting them cover-side out instead of spine?

The Competition

The email offers the chance to win a “pamper hamper” (the contents appear to specifically ignore the fact that a not-insignificant number of romance authors are male) by submitting a first paragraph in the “Mills & Boon” style and emailing it to publicity-at-angusrobertson-dot-com-dot-au before April 16 (not more than 200 words, in case you decide to go for it).

Some Tips 

The submissions are to be judged on “the skill of their writing, use of detail, development of character and understanding of the… genre.” Fair enough. They then give the following tips:

  • characters should have unusual names like ‘Slade’, ‘Blaze’, ‘Calliope’ and ‘Sergio’ – Actually true, and not just for category romance but for… well, a lot of genre fiction.
  • detail and description is extremely important – But they’re short books and *you* only have 200 words.
  • love interests are often Princes, Earls, surgeons, pilots or thieves – One of these things is not like the other ones.
  • giving a character amnesia is a useful narrative tool – ahahahahaha.
  • the bachelor rogue always has a heart of gold, he just needs the right woman to tame him – oh… ew!
  • the first kiss between the lead characters is perhaps the most important part of the book – Possibly in about the 40s. Before then, you were lucky to get a kiss at all (in books – Austen, after all, was writing in one of the more stunningly debauched periods of British history). And now… kisses are pretty passe. One of the reasons I don’t generally read category romance. And why is this in tips for writing the first 200 words anyway?

So at this point, apart from thinking “I wonder what the ladies at SBTB will make of this” (and I’m letting them know, so will let you know if there’s a response), I was wondering “Are they serious? Do they realise they are completely mocking the genre they are trying to promote?” I just can’t get a feel on whether they are being tongue in cheek, think these actually are part of the secret formula, or are using ‘relaunch’  as code for ‘have decided to stock in the humour section’.

The Titles (in which M&B tries very hard to shoot itself in the foot)

Okay, enough A&R bashing. I’m still peeved with them for other reasons. They can’t, however, be held responsible for the images of book covers at the bottom of the email. More specifically, the titles. These are, again, direct quotes, and in order – I’m not editing for impact.

  • Silent Guardian – Yeah, okay. A bit emo (can you say that about category romance?) but nothing out of the way for genre fiction – this could be fantasy, sf, horror, urban fantasy, space opera, military fiction, medical fiction etc just as well.
  • Soldier Surrender – No. The only way I can get this to work is if you put a comma in the middle and give it to a protest song.
  • The Firefighter and the Single Mum – Snrk.
  • The Greek Tycoon’s Convenient Bride – What the? What? I just… Do they hear themselves? “The Greek Tycoon’s Convenient Bride”? Who the heck calls a book that? Who the heck buys a book called that for any other reason than in spite of the title?  

I can only conclude that category romance has some very loyal readers who are hanging on for grim death while their publishers treat them abominably. These titles seem to be disrespectful to the authors, the stories, the genre, the readers and general human intelligence. Possibly even to tabloid magazines, who generally pull of similar headlines with noticeably more flair and some human interest.

There is controversy in the industry about this style of title at the moment. See, for example, the discussion and horrifying examples at SBTB (and be warned, most of the site is unrecommendable to my regular visitors and decidedly nsfw). It isn’t the authors’ faults. Books with very … bookish titles in Britain have been retitled in this style in the USA, whose lead we appear to be following (because that’s never got us into trouble *cough-housingmarket-cough*).

Parlour Games  

And because there seems to be a strong cross-section of romance readers and writers capable both of eloquent indignation and very robust good humour, there is also a good deal of silliness in the industry as well.

An enormous amount of fun can be had simply by retitling classics in the Mills & Boon style:

  • The Obsessive Captain’s Albino Whale
  • The Organised Crime Boss’ Innocent Well-Born Orphan
  • The Clueless French Aristocrat’s British Husband’s Secret Identity

And that’s the end of my lunch break. Anyone want to continue the above? Develop a generator for tabloid titles?

14 thoughts on “Titling Peeves – in reaction to an email

  1. The Small Man’s Interesting Item of Jewellery

    The Proud Aristocrat’s Prejudiced Second Daughter of a Poorer Gentleman (or was that the other way around?)

    The English Teacher’s King

    The English Teacher’s Married Man

    The English Pilot’s Married Woman

    The Farmer’s Innocent Well-Born Orphan

  2. I’ve worked them all out except the last one.

    The Widowed Farmer’s Mail-Order Bride

    I’ve found that with all the one’s I’ve done so far, if you work out which character the title is describing, you end up with the main character’s name. Not intentional, but it might be a simple way to retitle the worst offenders (although you could end up with a searing coming-of-age story told through the lens of one woman’s private history instead of a category romance). Retitle “The Millionaire Boss’ Pregnant Greek Firewoman” Blaze Calliope for example. It gives more scope for cover artists, too.

  3. Your last is Sarah Plain and Tall, but to be honest I still don’t get your second one.

    My last one was Lorna Doone.

    That’s what I thought yours was to begin with, but the organised crime boss isn’t the love interest for the innocent, well-born orphan.

    To be fair, too, Ralph Fiennes was not a pilot.

  4. The Obsessive, Jealous Fiend’s Unprincipled Minx

    Or wait! What about:

    The Charming Rogue Magician’s Old Lady

    The Prat’s Sack of Potatoes

    The Dressing Gowned Magician’s Ex-Goddess

    Oh boy. We should have done DWJ a lot sooner…


  5. How about some Shakespeare?

    The Scottish Billionaire’s Deranged and Suicidal Wife

    The Ruthless Italian Merchant’s Meant-To-Be Pound of Flesh

    The French King’s Irritatingly Virginal Daughter

    Think how famous he could have been, if only he’d thought of retitling.

  6. Hi Jenny!

    It’s been a little while now but I think these were the answers:

    The Obsessive Captain’s Albino Whale: Moby Dick

    The Organised Crime Boss’ Innocent Well-Born Orphan: Oliver Twist

    The Clueless French Aristocrat’s British Husband’s Secret Identity: The Scarlet Pimpernel

    The Widowed Farmer’s Mail-Order Bride: Sarah Plain and Tall


    The Small Man’s Interesting Item of Jewellery: I think this was The Hobbit

    The Proud Aristocrat’s Prejudiced Second Daughter of a Poorer Gentleman (or was that the other way around?): Pride & Prejudice

    The English Teacher’s King: Anna & The King

    The English Teacher’s Married Man: Jane Eyre?

    The English Pilot’s Married Woman: the movie with Ralph Fiennes in it.

    The Farmer’s Innocent Well-Born Orphan: Lorna Doone

    The Obsessive, Jealous Fiend’s Unprincipled Minx: No idea

    The Charming Rogue Magician’s Old Lady: Howl’s Moving Castle

    The Prat’s Sack of Potatoes: Deep Secret

    The Dressing Gowned Magician’s Ex-Goddess: One of the Chrestomancis


    The Scottish Billionaire’s Deranged and Suicidal Wife: Macbeth

    The Ruthless Italian Merchant’s Meant-To-Be Pound of Flesh: Merchant of Venice

    The French King’s Irritatingly Virginal Daughter: I’m not sure – Henry V?

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