Sunday, November 27, 2011

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Is It Too Soon To Define The Promise of Sci-Fi Romance?

In a recent conversation I had with a science fiction romance author, we discussed the issue of branding. The conversation reminded me about an article I read in 2009 by Malle Vallik, Harlequin’s Director of Digital Content & Social Media.

In What the Heck is this Author Brand? Ms. Vallik stated something interesting in the comment section about the evolution of an author’s brand:

I really don’t know how long it takes to establish an author brand (Debbie and Nora are both at 100 plus books, but I think their brands have been established for some time). I think it takes a body of work and I think it is the rare person who could really define their brand after one book. Some become bestsellers with book #1 and others build to it.

I would instead concentrate on what Elise and Theresa suggest about how to figure out your brand. But in answer I think you need a few books. Perhaps it is truer to say that by book 5 you should be able to express, understand your author brand.

I’ve blogged about branding before (Mission Possible: The Branding of a Subgenre and my three part series on Branding Science Fiction Romance), but a couple of things prompted me to revisit the issue. One is the quote above. The second is ebooks.

First I’d like to ponder the evolution of an author brand and its relation to science fiction romance. If it’s true that it takes both longevity and a body of work to establish an author brand, then the current batch of authors writing science fiction romance are still in their infancies. Yes, SFR dates back decades (and in the romance genre, to the 1980s). But since then it’s undergone a makeover. Starting in the 2000s, it’s almost as though the subgenre began starting over from scratch.

What’s different now is that many of its authors these days are bona fide fans of both SF and romance—the same goes for editors, particularly those working for digital publishers. This aspect often manifests itself in the stories released currently. SFR, especially those released by publishers of romance, is a lot shinier than it was twenty and thirty years ago.

What that means, though, is that quite a few authors writing science fiction romance these days have yet to build up a body of work, which leaves the branding of their books a work-in-progress.

And if they do have at least five or more SFR books out, the subgenre branding is still also in its infancy. SFR’s niche status, especially in the absence of a clear brand, could be holding some authors back from well-deserved recognition. Other than a blend of SF and romance, what does science fiction romance promise readers? What is it known for? Is the SF-romance mixture enough of a brand to draw more interest, or should another ingredient be added?

Ebooks are creating an interesting situation because authors have much more freedom to diversify these days. They can write in multiple genres and it’s also possible to be successful doing so. In fact, there are more “authors of SFR” than there are authors whose have written only SFR and in part this is because ebooks give them the freedom to write across genres if they are so inclined (freedom that was previously restricted by the limitations of the mainstream print distribution system). Does such diversification impact author brand?

Also, even within the SFR subgenre, authors have written a dizzying range of stories, and the potential for more of the same is very high. Then there’s the fact that a single author can deliver entertaining stories in a variety of settings, from space opera to steampunk to near-future to superhuman. Not to mention the choices of characters, plots, heat level, etc.

Given where science fiction romance is on its evolutionary timeline, I don’t know if SFR or certain of its newer authors can claim a clear, set brand—but that’s okay. This is a great time to experiment with a variety of stories, styles, and voices. Perhaps we are still deep in the process of bringing science fiction romance to life.

If you were to ask me what I hope will be the brand for SFR then my answer would be that science fiction romance promises a new frontier of diverse, cutting-edge stories. Within that frontier, authors would stake out territories and define them with their own individual brands of adventure.

What are your thoughts about SFR and author branding in the age of ebooks? Do you think a subgenre brand exists already for SFR or have we yet to define it? Authors, what's your take on Malle Vallik's observations?

Joyfully yours,