Tuesday, May 11, 2010

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Paranormal Romance Readers, Where Are You?*

Scooby Doo

Even though the market for (horror-based) paranormal romance was once supposedly “dead,” it’s not that way now. Readers have developed a rabid taste for preternatural heroes, heroines, and settings. With such a predilection for the exotic, it stands to reason they would also want to glom onto science fiction romance. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror—if you like one, chances are you like ‘em all, right?

So why aren’t the readers who enjoy paranormal romance also driving sales of science fiction romance? It seems as though strong SFR sales should be an automatic by-product of the paranormal romance boom. Clearly, that hasn’t been the case. Why is that?

Is it the content? Could be. On average, girls grow up reading more TWILIGHT-type fare than STAR TREK. Science fiction is largely marketed to male readers both in content and packaging. Thus, there may be a carryover effect, even if SFR covers contain very little science fictional visuals. Ack—don’t want those geek cooties!

Are there not enough books? Goodness knows it’s challenging to find a science fiction romance on bookstore shelves amid the crowds of paranormal romances, historicals, and urban fantasy. Perhaps it’s a matter of availability. If the number of SFR books (i.e., print runs) changed to a significant number overnight, would the sales automatically follow?

Or...is it something else altogether?

Science fiction romance is a niche subgenre. Which, at least as far as mainstream print publishers go, makes it invisible. But there are still plenty of books available, especially if one counts digital offerings (which we should be). However, readers can’t buy books they don’t know about. If you’ll recall, the paranormal romance market didn’t start out with thousands of books ready for consumption. Most publishers didn’t predict that particular trend. So what changed?

Nosferatu HerzogReader buzz about the paranormal books that existed played a key role (ParaNormal Romance, I’m looking at you!). Of course, it helped that they had innovative books (i.e., those that successfully reinvented certain romance tropes) to buzz about. The increasingly graphic sexual content helped a whole heckuva lot. But even if you disagree the books were innovative, someone believed in them. A whole community, in fact.

All of it took time, of course. Decades, even. No matter how much a particular group of readers loved the new paranormal romances, they still had to convince other readers to make a similar investment and to take risks. That, of course, took intense, dedicated effort.

I would also propose that science fiction romance promises a different type of fantasy from that of paranormal romance. I found it interesting when I came across an article recently wherein a publisher was quoted as saying (and I’m paraphrasing here) “we sell romances with strong heroines and heroes that you can fall in love with.”

Heroes that you can fall in love with.” Not heroines, not the couple as a whole, but heroes. And the promise conveyed that the readers would fall in love with the hero, not the heroines. So part of the challenge is that romances in general are frequently marketed to readers as a product that will fulfill their desire for a fantasy lover.

But not all readers want or need that particular fantasy. Science fiction romance offers it, of course, but the recent wave of books tells me the subgenre doesn’t want to restrict itself to just one type of fantasy.

Should we be asking paranormal romance readers questions like, “What kinds of books are you looking for and not finding?” or “Where would you like to go in romance where you haven’t journeyed yet?” If publishers can’t do the market research to discover what readers want, then it’s up to us—especially if we believe SFR has something they want, but just don’t know it yet.

Is it enough to build The House of Science Fiction Romance? Have we started enough conversations about it—conversations that paranormal romance readers will want to join?

In an intriguing case of serendipity, over at Dear Author, there's a conversation happening right now about paranormal romance sales in Paranormal By The (Unscientific) Numbers. Anonymous Numbers Geek concludes the piece by asking

What do you think of paranormal trends, as readers? Is there a particular one of the three (paranormal/UF/YAUF) that you are tired of? Or is there always room for more?

What are your thoughts? Share your answers here and/or at Dear Author!

Joyfully yours,


*Yes, I’m a raging Scooby-Doo-aholic. Zoinks! The 1979 Werner Herzog adaptation of NOSFERATU is also one for your paranormal romance list. Es ist großartig!