Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Could Science Fiction Romance Become A Fearless Leader?

Via Alien Love Song post by P.I. Barrington
In the April 13 issue of Entertainment Weekly (#1202), there’s a feature on Adele, pop culture’s current breakout singer. I don’t follow Adele’s music, but I am aware of how popular she is. That, and how her rise to fame seemingly came out of left field. In other words, she was one of the most unlikely candidates to become a pop star. One passage in the article really jumped out at me:

If you’re looking for “the next Adele” in the sense of “the next pop phenomenon,” however, then the female-singer-songwriter genre may not be the right place to search at all. Says Rob Cavallo, who signed a scrappy little punk band called Green Day and is now chairman of Warner Bros. Records: “In this business, you’re trying to uncover that proverbial needle in the haystack. It’s not about following—if you follow, you’re dead. ‘The next Adele’ will look and sound and feel different.”

That passage resonated with me because I felt that it could easily be applied to science fiction romance. In a world of flashy performers like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Justin Bieber, one could argue that Adele is the musical equivalent of science fiction romance. Her style of music could easily have remained niche, but somehow it broke out into the mainstream. I’m sure part of that had to do with marketing (and the EW article did refer to a “…string of high-profile, pre-album-release appearances on shows ranging from Today to Letterman…”, but it still doesn’t change the fact that in the beginning, XL Recordings took a risk on an artist whose sound was very different from the prevailing acts.

Could science fiction romance be a subgenre that "feels" different?

I took away two significant points from this article. One is the concept of taking a chance on something different. Science fiction romance is definitely different from other romance and SF subgenres, but I began wondering if it’s different enough. By that I mean "bold" different, as opposed to "weird" different (although I'm all for that, too, heh heh). The second point was the importance of strategic marketing decisions. Are science fiction romance stories considered special enough that publishers would decide to pay for/arrange high-profile marketing campaigns to help increase their visibility?

If science fiction romance is going to thrive, it’s important for both readers and authors to take risks. For readers, this means making a decision to be more adventurous in one’s reading. For authors, it means writing the stories one wants to write—follow your Muse, not the market.

Risk means experimenting with diversity of all kinds. It means placing a high value on worldbuilding even if editors disagree (and subsequently shopping your story elsewhere). It means acknowledging the validity of all heat levels (in the current market this translates to a “sweet” heat level being the risky one). It means exploring new kinds of characters and settings. Finally, it means totally owning one’s enjoyment of sci-fi romance even in the face of ridicule (and unfortunately I encountered a recent example of this online).

The risk will not always pay off, but that’s part of the challenge, isn’t it? The easy thing to do is to go and write/read a vampire romance or a dystopian YA novel. I suppose Adele might have had a faster rise to fame if she’d donned a Lady Gaga-esque outfit. But she didn’t. I’m betting that one reason she stayed the course is that she believed in her talent.

And so I wonder what’s in store for science fiction romance if it not only continues to produce a string of absolutely fearless stories, but to adopt that approach as a core strategy. What if, instead of following, sci-fi romance took the lead?

Joyfully yours,