Disclaimer

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:

‘Relaunching’ 

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?