Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Does Sci-Fi Romance Need More Series To Succeed?

In Vey Goes “Beyond” To Connect Authors and Readers (via Spacefreighters Lounge), Donna S. Frelick shared an interesting anecdote from a recent talk she attended:

Finally, one of Barbara’s points had me thinking for quite some time, wondering whether it may be something we’re missing in SFR.  She surveyed her blog readers once and found that one of the statements they agreed most with was:  I want to read a series in which the characters feel like members of my family.

Donna went on to compare and contrast the types of characters in SFR/romantic suspense with those found in contemporary and historical romances. In the former, she observes the leads tend to be loners without a significant support system even after falling in love. In the latter, the h/h are, by the story’s end, happily settled in the embrace of an extended family and/or community.

In the comments, Donna stated,

…perhaps we haven't given enough thought to COMMUNITY building sometimes. Think about some of our best SF worlds--they were communities, too. Maybe we need to do better with that.

Now compare that with a passage from a previous post here on TGE:

Elise Logan stated in the comments that “Christine Feehan, Gene Roddenberry, Laurell K. Hamilton all have something in common. They built a world and populated it with their stories. They created a mythology and an entire universe that is a whole and complete creation.”

Given the preponderance of book series in the romance genre, I’ve been thinking about revisiting this topic. Once I read Donna’s post I figured now was the time to do it!

What do I mean by series? I’m thinking of a series of books with an overarching plot that follows the same couple and also a group of books that share a setting but not characters and lack an overarching plot. The two are used interchangeably at times, but both apply to the discussion at hand.

One of the main reasons this issue has been on my mind is because science fiction romance has very, very few long term series compared to other subgenres (to be fair, it’s also a smaller, more niche subgenre). Of those books that are part of a series, some of them are still quite new (e.g., Meljean Brook’s The Iron Seas; Zoe Archer and Nico Rosso’s The Ether Chronicles). Of those in existence for awhile, they haven't yet seemed to achieve mainstream success on a par with, say, Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series.

Therefore, I’ve been wondering if there’s an opportunity here for authors. What if some of them wrote more series as opposed to stand alone books? Many readers love series, and I agree that a sense of community in the stories is part of the appeal. Maybe “community building” is a habit SFR should develop more.

If the idea of community-centric stories is all sci-fi romance needs to break out of its niche status, though, then Anitra Lynn McCleod’s THIEF, which launched her Fringe series (of which there are now four books) should have sold like hotcakes. THIEF is one of the most ensemble cast, community oriented sci-fi romances I’ve read so far. And it’s like FIREFLY, a show with a sizeable cult following.

Maybe THIEF did sell well, but, hmmm, has the series it belongs to successfully penetrated the mainstream market? Has the author been approached by a Big Six publisher for the print rights? Have the foreign right been sold? These are some of the measures by which many people define “true” success in publishing.

Let’s assume that more series/community oriented science fiction romances would lead to more success for this subgenre. Who among authors of SFR are willing to spend the months, possibly years it would require to create and maintain a viable series?

Look what happened to Linnea Sinclair. We never even got to see the end of her Dock Five series since Bantam dropped her. While epublishers have more flexibility than mainstream print publishers, there’s no guarantee an author and her series wouldn’t be dropped from one of them, either. A few authors could certainly self-publish these types of series, but the sheer amount of work involved on both the creative and business sides is mind boggling.

It takes a long time to market a book series even if an author is prolific and releases three or four titles a year. There is nothing overnight about this process. If you were the author of a 10 book series and it sold miserably for the first three years irrespective of quality, how much more time and money would you invest before calling it quits? Three? Five? Ten?

That’s not to say it can’t be done. It can. The question is this: who has the resources, ambition, and patience to take on the challenge? Some luck would help, too. And platforms. And an aggressive, united fandom.

Now I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate.

One aspect of sci-fi romance I like is I can read a lot of stand alone stories in this subgenre. I love stand alone stories—always have. The finite, self-contained aspect of it appeals to me.

There are many other readers who enjoy stand alones as well. I’ve read comments by readers in the past year bemoaning the overwhelming number of series in romance. They’re hankering for some solid stand alone stories. SFR can give it to them--and definitely those that are community-centric. Something to consider, at any rate.

In the end, it may not be about what science fiction romance has or doesn’t have. It’s possible that what the subgenre does have to offer isn’t being marketed effectively. What do you think?

Joyfully yours,