I love to read. I love the act of reading, the sensation of sinking mind-first into a story. I need a certain amount of reading if I’m to function at full capacity. I consider it a physiological necessity, like sleep, or chocolate. Sure, I can get not-quite-enough for a few days, but sooner or later if I don’t catch up, I get very cranky.
So yes, I read a lot. Ten to twelve books a week, on average. Not all of those are Romance, of course — I genre-hop with the best of them* and devour all sorts of non-fiction as well. But Sturgeon’s law says that ninety percent of everything is crap, and Romance is no exception. Which means that in and among the many stories that make my mind happy is… a lot of crap.
That’s right: it’s time again for my yearly whinge! The column in which I trash all the things I don’t like about the Romance genre. As usual, I won’t name titles or authors; this is about trends I dislike, rather than specific examples.
Romance readers and writers alike love witty repartee. I think that’s due to the inimitable Georgette Heyer, who had an extraordinary ear for clever dialogue. More recent writers who exemplify conversational exchange are Jennifer Crusie, and Joanna Bourne, partly because they understand that characters cannot banter with one another all the time. Far too many other writers make that mistake.
It’s understandable: who doesn’t enjoy spending time with people who make you laugh? But people who make you laugh constantly are comedians, not characters. Characters who always go for smart remarks are tiresome rather than funny. Especially when it comes to zingers and one-liners. Someone who always goes for the laugh at someone else’s expense is an idiot at best, but a bully at heart. And bullies? Should not be the heroines and heroes of Romance novels.
Luckily, the cure is simple: just stop. Stop trying so hard to make everything funny. The dialogue will immediately become less strained. An occasional quip is fine, but don’t force characters into banter at every opportunity. People aren’t funny all the time; neither are characters. Sometimes they’re bewildered, or angry, or profound, or working hard. Refusing to let them get past ‘sarcastic’ is a waste.
(The same goes for Three Stooges style pratfalls and physical humour. First, theirs is a visual shtick, which doesn’t translate well in text. Second, it was never funny.)
Ebooks and Entitlement
Let me put this out there before there’s any misunderstanding: I think ebooks are great. No, really. I know as a bookseller I’m supposed to fear them, but that’s just… silly. I love the idea of writers getting paid for their work. What I don’t love is the sense of entitlement that seems to have grown up around ebooks. It comes in several flavours.
Reader entitlement. Imagine hearing someone say “I bought/was given this bookshelf; therefore the books that go on it should be free.” You’d laugh in her face. But a persistent and ugly segment of ebook readers seem to think exactly that. I know the arguments: there’s no physical cost to ebooks; there’s no distribution, blah blah blah.
Here’s how it actually works. The physical cost of a book, including production, storage, and distribution, accounts for 10-25% of it’s cost. The rest of the cost is for editing, marketing, formatting, author payment (which isn’t much) and profit (again, not much). So if a paperback is $10, the least an ebook should cost is $7.50. That’s a price that has frothy jackwagons posting one-star reviews out of pique.
All those folks should slap themselves in the face with a half-frozen haddock. Why should a book – that cost the writer months of work – be worth less than a dollar? Having an ereader does not entitle anyone to free books. If you want free, get a library card.** Quality costs. Deal with it.
Writer entitlement. Writers who game the system bear some responsibility for that sense of reader entitlement: if the market is flooded with $.99 books, people begin to expect that books should cost less than a dollar. But annoying as that is, a creator can charge what she wants for her work. To me, what’s worse is the corrosive slide of writing and production standards.
Most new writers seem to feel they are capable of editing their own work. They’re wrong. Editors make a writer’s work better. I’m not talking about mythical gate-keepers, I’m talking about actual editors. Spell-check is not enough. If you want to sell your work online, you owe it to yourself as a writer to have your work professionally vetted. You owe it to your readers to deliver the best book you possibly can. Just good enough is not good enough. Writing is hard. Deal with it.
Bookseller entitlement. Sure, booksellers may have launched the careers of many writers who now claim that epublishing is the only smart way to go. We may have created hundreds of thousands of readers… wait, I’m getting off track.
Truth is, we’re not entitled to anyone’s custom. If we can’t offer what they want, our customers are perfectly justified in going elsewhere. We need to adapt. Ebooks are not the boogeyman, nor are they the saviour of publishing. They’re a format, and we need to recognize that. Granted, no single small bookseller can possibly compete against the Apples and amazons of the eworld. But we don’t have to: we just have to find a way to give our customers what they want, in they way they want it***. Bookselling is changing. Deal with it.
You know what really chaps me? Lateness. It’s so inconsiderate. Like movie dates that keep getting pushed back. Or authors who take years and years to deliver the next book in a series. Or internet columnists completely miss their posting dates for an entire month… oh, right. That was me.
Sorry about that, folks. Apparently, it’s not enough to write down your deadlines: you actually have to write them down correctly. I mean, who knew?
*Except for horror, because I’m a total fraidy-cat.
**I also strongly approve of libraries. Vehemently, even.
***For more than a frickin’ dollar.
Grumpy McCarpsalot is also known as Chris Szego