The Cultural Gutter

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That’s a Wrap

Chris Szego
Posted December 31, 2009

teeny2009 2.jpgI
enjoy this time of year. Partly because I work in retail, and the
week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is a kind of gift:
festive and fun, and landing somewhere between the insanity of
December and the dead quiet of January. But also because I get a
kick out of all the lists that float around, the Best and Worst Of
lists, the Most Funniest, Most Influential, etc. They’re not real
news, of course, but they’re not meant to be. They’re more like
the book reviews we post in our store, a way for people to open the
door and peek inside. After that it’s up to them to decide if they
want to go inside and look around.

And
having said all that, you can’t be surprised that what follows is a
potted summary of the romance genre in 2009.

The Good

Romance still sells The economy may still be wallowing in a Dumpster, the world may still be embroiled in a unnecessary and unjust war, and narrow-minded xenophobia may be on the rise, but the romance genre is unquenchable. It’s possible that the woeful state of things might even be a spur: people like to be reminded that happy endings exist, even if
only in fiction. Last Christmas, unit sales of mass-market romances rose by almost 50%, and that was from their already lofty height (ie: more than the unit sales for all other mass-markets combined). This year’s Christmas numbers haven’t been posted yet, but it
will be interesting to see if the results bear out the trend. Which brings me to the next point…

Books still sell
I talk to a number of independent booksellers in the city, and many
of us noticed a distinctly upward movement in sales this year. The
US/CDN dollar issue has evened out, which helped. But this year
people really seemed to realize that books were a good use of their
entertainment dollars. The use of Kindle and other Ebook readers are
on the rise, which is also a good sign. Though they’re currently
the domain of the tech-gadget lovers, use of electronic readers will
no doubt spread, which means more books sales. Because regardless of
format and tech level, they’re still all about books.

clint 250.jpgThe Bad

Black Monday.
The selling of books might have gone better than expected this year,
but the making of them was fraught. Publishers didn’t just trim
costs this year, they pruned to bone. Pink slips flew like confetti
in the early part of the year. Romance didn’t escape entirely
unscathed, but being a strong and steady seller, it took much less
damage than most parts of the industry, and even earned ground for
others. One publishing executive, who shall remain nameless, said
his firm was kept in the black by entirely by Twilight
and its sequels.

The major result of the slew of job losses is fewer books. I’ve
finished ordering through May, and the Fall and Winter publishing
lists were the smallest I’ve ever seen. This will likely make it a
little harder for new writers to break through. But recent years
have seen a glut of titles, and too many of them sink without a
trace. If fewer books are produced, it might be easier for more of
them to make an impression. Except, of course, that many of the
traditional spaces for media reviews also disappeared this year. Hm.

The
Cloud on Harlequin’s Horizon

Recently, Harlequin announced that it was adding a new arm to its
mighty publishing empire: a vanity press, called Harlequin Horizons.
Vanity press wasn’t the term they used, but that’s what it is: a
chance for gullible and/or desperate writers to pay large amounts of
money to see their work in print (not in stores, mind you: in
print). The reaction was swift and severe. The Romance Writers of
America made a public statement announcing the regretful removal of
Harlequin from its roster of professional publishers. Other writers’
organizations quickly followed suit. Harlequin expressed shock and
outrage, but immediately removed the ‘Harlequin’ from ‘Harlequin
Horizons’. Sadly, the damage has been done, and the world’s
strongest publishing brand had been seriously weakened.

The Ugly

Which
has nothing to do with the romance genre at all

Canadian science-fiction author Peter Watts was returning home from
Michigan when he was beaten, cuffed, and pepper-sprayed by Homeland
Security, who then arrested him for allegedly assaulting an officer.
When Peter contacted his partner, she got in touch with friends, one
of whom immediately reached out to Cory Doctorow. By the time Peter
was released from jail, the story was all over the internet, and
donations towards Peter’s legal defense were pouring in. Watts is
immensely grateful for the support, both financial and emotional.
He’s keenly aware that others in similar circumstances might find
the situation much more dire due to skin colour/ language
difficulties/ not being friends with one of the editors of
BoingBoing. For more details, see Peter’s blog, and read Cory’s
original post.

The
Future

Bring
it!

What I’m hoping for in 2010 is more of the same. More books from
my perennial favourites, like Nora Roberts and Loretta Chase. I want
to further my acquaintance with talented recently-encountered
writers like Meredith Durant and Joanna Bourne. I want to be dazzled
and astonished by authors I’m currently unaware of. And I want
Jenny Crusie to finish her damn book already and turn it in. In
short, I want what I’ve always wanted from the romance genre:
entertainment with heart.

And
a pony.

~~~

What Chris Szego really wants for the New Year is Gerard Butler’s phone number.  Oh, and world peace.

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