a point of contention

DearAuthor.com has brought up the much-overstated demise of the Luna line (among several other things) in a recent post.

I’ve been running into this once or twice a month in blog postings and on email loops. It’s insanely frustrating, for a lot of reasons. One big one is that people have been saying, “Well, if the line’s going away anyway, I’m going to stop buying Luna books.” Well, the line isn’t going away, but saying so will help it to. :/

Two is that the line has been restructured and a lot of people have read that as being a death knell. From what I understand, the parent company is considerably more brutal about cutting off books, even mid-series, that aren’t doing as well financially as they’d hoped, than most publishing companies are. Ironically, apparently the reason many publishing companies will continue to produce books even that are losing money is because they don’t want rumors of their impending demise to spring up and strangle the sales of other books.

Three is that part of the reason people are apparently frustrated with the line is that it’s a fantasy line, not a romance line. Luna’s never been pitched as a romance line. It’s been pitched as fantasy with romantic subplots, but never as romance. Unfortunately, romance readers–who are supposed to be the most voracious readers of all, willing to give anything a fair shake so long as it holds still long enough for them to read–are apparently expecting romance novels, and are frustrated and disappointed when they don’t get them. I have read many, *many* people who’ve said they bought all the Luna books the first year and only liked two or three of them, which was totally outside their expectations. They’ve got the Luna line idea set up in their heads like it’s series romance: all books published under the Luna imprint will have a similar quality to them, and therefore it is to be expected that if you like one, you will like them all.

But that’s not how fantasy publishing works, and to me it’s like expecting to like every single movie Paramount produces because you liked MI:3.

I know part of the problem is that the parent company is Harlequin and nobody can wrap their minds around the idea of Harlequin doing something that’s not romance. There’s absolutely nothing that can be done about that except for non-romance lines to succeed, which, of course, is only going to happen if readers can learn to play along.

I’ve been rebutting, as politely as I can, the comments about the demise of the line when I come across them. Rebutting people’s expectations of the line is more difficult to do politely, because I’m dealing in fact with the line’s survival, and in opinion with the expectations. I don’t want to find myself attacking, or giving the impression of attacking, people’s opinions, but to me it seems like a matter of education about what the line is and isn’t. I suspect it’s painfully easy for education to look like nastiness. :p

Possibly the entire thing is an exercise in frustration, but it seems like addressing the demise of the line issue, at least, is critical. I feel like Mark Twain…

23 thoughts on “a point of contention

  1. We talked about this already, obviously, but yes. I think part of what frustrates me the most about this attitude is that, yeah, the more people hear that a line is closing down or “going away”, the less likely they are to seek out the books. That seems like a pretty good way to kill a line to me. I don’t think there’s a grand conspiracy to do so, but it is disturbing.

    As I also said, I had a reviewer mention that she’d have given me top marks on The Dragon Undone, but felt she couldn’t because I clearly set the book up for a sequel. With the Walker Papers, you can make each book more of a standalone, which is cool! With Dragon, I set up the beginning of a big clash of cultures and leave some pretty ragged edges. The story must continue.

    Like a fantasy saga. But since it was published by a house that does romance, people have different expectations. Still. Sigh.

  2. One related problem is that not enough bookstore employees are educated enough to know the difference. Since Luna came out, I’ve worked under four, count ’em four different bookstore roofs… and in only one of those stores have I failed to find Luna books shelved in the Romance section.

    I always correct the situation myself, and try to educate my coworkers (and occasionally, the customers), but there’s just a lot of inertia there waiting to be overcame.

    Forgive me for saying as well, though – I’m a voracious sci-fi fantasy reader, and I’ve given several of the Luna authors a fair shake when the imprint came out… but just because we read the books, isn’t a guarantee that we’re going to like them. A lot of the Luna authors are people the general public has never heard of. Risks. And unfortunately, some of them are bound to not be as good and as popular as the heavy hitters of the genre.

    Another thing, the books are clearly designed to appeal to a female audience… which is fine, except that the demographic for science fiction and fantasy is *both* sexes, as opposed to the romance section. I’ve got nothing *against* books designed for women–women do make up 52% of the world, and a higher percentage overall of the book buying market–but cutting out half of your sales demographic from the get go is kind of shooting yourself in the foot.

    Just my 2 cents from the front lines…

  3. I think part of the problem is that the SF community does not take Luna seriously _as fantasy_ – and that Luna does not appear to take the SF community seriously. At Worldcon 05, every major publisher was there, presenting their programme, talking up their authors – did Luna even send bookmarks for the freebies table? Nope. This failure to engage with the fantasy-reading community has left in me, and many others, the feeling that Luna books are ‘Romance set in other worlds’ or ‘Paranormal Romance’ rather than fantasy. And the two genres, romance and fantasy, have different conventions, so that readers of one might be very reluctant to pick up the other – or else feel dissatisfied.

    Also, the bookbuying habits of fantasy readers tend to be to pick books by author/theme/how much the individual book interests them, rather than being willing to pick something up and look at it just because it’s from Ace/Baen/Tor; whereas Romance readers seem to be much more willing to pick up books from an imprint because they trust the publisher to deliver. It would never have occurred to me to pick up every Luna book – they sounded totally different, and some might have interested me, and others were instant turnoffs.

    Lastly, I would have expected the publishers to do their homework and structure their acceptances/advances to what they can sell. Luna took a fair amount of time to come onto the radar of the target reader group, and by the time that happened, books had already been cut! If a publisher makes little effort to build the readership, and only wants instant hits, they’re asking other publishers to do the hard slog – find unknown writers, build them slowly – while wanting to skim off the cream. I do not think that is beneficial to publishing as a whole – and as a writer I certainly would think several times about going with a publisher who might drop me in mid-series!

  4. I don’t honestly think that Luna wants instant hits. If they were dropping series after one book? Maybe that would be something to consider. But the people who’ve been dropped that I’m aware of?

    Robin D. Owens. She’s not a one-hit wonder. She has her Heart* series with Leisure/Lovespell, but the Luna series didn’t sell well.

    Anne Kelleher had at least three and I think four books in her Silver series before she was released.

    Sarah Zettel is not an unpopular author, has published with other houses, and had three Camelot series books under Luna.

    Even Gail Dayton (who has now had her third book in the series picked up by Juno, yay!) had two books in the series.

    And I am 99% certain that *any* publisher can and will and has made the decision to cut series off because the first one or two or three books didn’t sell as well as they hoped, in many different genres, not just romance or fantasy. Luna’s not doing anything differently.

    Are they doing enough to reach the sff community? Well, maybe not. That I can’t address, but I suspect that they could do more, sure. Keep in mind though that selling anything that’s marketed with a romantic subplot to the SFF community is a hard sell if you announce the subplot from the get go. It doesn’t matter that the majority of fantasy novels out there have *some* sort of romantic element somewhere in the pages. It’s the *announcing* of romance that makes people go ‘eeww’ and walk away.

    Luna’s an imprint of a publishing house that deals primarily in romance. They’re kind of damned if they do, damned if they don’t, you know?

  5. A lot of readers are really exasperated with the choice to kill things in mid-series. Since Luna is series central, fans of people like Zettle and Owens are likely to be wary.

  6. I think you state the problem quite well. Things that don’t fit neatly on the predetermined genre stacks confuse people and don’t sell to the right audience, and Luna’s always had an uphill battle. I also find it weird that romance readers tend to buy publisher lines, rather than authors or subgenres – nice job by the publishers to get that going.

    I don’t want you to stop doing the Walker novels at all – but maybe it’s time to shop around some of your other series to an established fantasy label again? You’ve got some good successful published works now, and it’d be nice to put a few eggs in another basket.

  7. Reading your thoughts, and the comments from people, I think it must boil down to getting the message out to the *right* readers.

    …like me. I’m a die-hard SFF fan — so I’m used to my romance as a subplot in a well-drawn fantastic world, and to multi-volume series — and I’m an equally adoring romance reader — so I’m used to picking books based on reliable knowledge of author and imprint. As such, the Luna books suit me to a T. They’re both. They’re perfect. But how do you identify readers like me, market to them effectively, and do it quickly and in enough volume to suit a business plan?

    That, I don’t know. :/

  8. Well, I do have THE QUEEN’S BASTARD coming out from Del Rey next year, with a sequel already contracted for and due out in ’08. I don’t need a fourth C.E. Murphy series. :) I’m going to be revising my YA novel early next year and trying to sell that as well, so my eggs will be, I think, sufficiently dispersed. If something does happen to the Luna line, I’ll roll with that punch when it comes, but for now I think I’m good. :)

  9. BECAUSe Luna was/is a sci fi/fantasy line and NOT a strictly romance line, is the main reason I started reading them.

    Mercedes Lackey writing a few books in the line helped too.

    I’ve discovered several wonderful authors via Luna. I for one, will continue to support it, although, if they go to pocket paperback strictly instead of trade, well, I’ll have to rebuy nearly 2 dozen books… oh horrors.}:P (I like all the books in a series/line to be the same format.)

  10. Anne Kelleher had at least three and I think four books in her Silver series before she was released.

    Those are the few Luna books I never could really get into.}:/

    Robin D. Owens. She’s not a one-hit wonder. She has her Heart* series with Leisure/Lovespell, but the Luna series didn’t sell well.

    Sarah Zettel is not an unpopular author, has published with other houses, and had three Camelot series books under Luna.

    Even Gail Dayton (who has now had her third book in the series picked up by Juno, yay!) had two books in the series.

    Loved them. Which is saying ALOT if you could see my extensive collection of books.

  11. In one discussion I saw on this topic, someone posted that sales have exceeded fantasy standards but have been low by romance standards. That made sense to me, though I haven’t seen any corroboration.

    I want Luna to continue because the imprint has brought me some of my favorite authors (CE Murphy tops the list!!!), but whether it does or not, I’ll continue to read those books that interest me. They’re generally the urban fantasy ones, so I’m not personally disappointed by the change in focus.

  12. I can pretty much corroborate it, though I can’t give you numbers because the list I have my information from is a private one. :)

    *laughs* And, thank you. :)

  13. Perhaps you “don’t need a fourth C.E. Murphy series”, but I think you’re making that complaint to the wrong audience. ;)

  14. In the 1970s, Harlequin branched out into science fiction with Laser Books. Laser was edited by Roger Elwood — perhaps best known for having proven there was a market for a large number of original anthologies, and then producing more than that number of anthologies.

    In every genre, regular readers want stories which are “different, but not too different.” (Or “the same, but not too much the same.”) For original sf, readers want their stories more different than romance readers do. A romance novel which ends with hero and heroine poisoning each other for the insurance money probably wouldn’t get published as romance; a science fiction novel which departs that much from the usual/expected would have a chance of getting published.

    Laser had guidelines as tight as romance guidelines were at the time — and romances were rather less diverse back then. (I don’t think Harlequin had more than one sub-genre, though I could be wrong.) It probably didn’t help to have an editor who was a socially-conservative Christian.

    Note that Laser Books wasn’t publishing science fiction romances; it was publishing science fiction. If they’d been publishing sf romance, and if the editor had been someone familiar with both genres, Laser might have lasted.

  15. My biggest quibble with Luna is that everything is in TPB. Augh.

    I’m a very skittish ‘new author’ buyer, and I’d rather re-read something for a 10th time than fork out money on a book I’m not sure I’ll like. Every author is auditioning for me.

    And if an author is auditioning at $14 a pop…well. Not gonna be a lot of auditions on this end.

    By the time Luna started re-releasing a lot of books in paperback, I’d heard enough scuttlebut about it that I’d lost interest in it at that point.

    I don’t think the line is going away, nor should it. However, I do think that they need to consider the audience a bit more. If they’re targeting primarily the romance audience — who are voracious readers, myself included — then they need to release in mass market paperback. They need to get into the grocery stores. They need to make it more affordable so those of us that devour books can buy a new author and take a chance. I’ll take a chance on someone for $7, but not for $14, when I can get 2 books by familiar authors for the same price.

    Yanno? Mebbe it’s just me, but in a lot of romance readers, I see quantity > quality.

  16. Am I totally weird in not finding even the trace of what I’d consider the romance genre in the Walker Papers?

    I usually see them shelved in SF/F, or in YA.

  17. No, you’re not weird at all. I’d be astounded if you found anything you’d qualify as romance genre in the Walker Papers. :) They’re solidly urban fantasy.

    You find the Walker Papers in the YA section?

  18. Luna was right up my bag – the fact that they were fantasy with a romance subplot seemed awsome! I have bought a few of them that sounded good, but when I read them, they were just ordinary. Infact, there was only one book that I liked, the rest were really dull. So I don’t buy them any more. I missed out on buying your book, I’m not sure when it was released here in Australia (or, it may not have been released yet. I do look, because I like to buy historical romances as well and the Luna books are right next door). :)

  19. I admit, Mercedes Lackey’s presence had an impact on my buying of the first Luna books when they came out. But it was also walking down the fantasy section of the bookstore and seeing a handful of books that looked new and interesting and all having the Luna logo.

    It made me take a look at what they were producing overall.

    Of course the goods ones like C.E. Murphy kept me.. even after I had a run in with a few that sounded like they had really good ad blurbs in the back and then couldn’t live up to it.

  20. I am primarily a science fiction and fantasy reader and most of the Lunas haven’t worked for me either. I liked Golden’s two books (and I really hope the remaining three get published somehow), Asaro’s third book (although the first two were nowhere near as good as her usual writing, but maybe she had problems adjusting to writing fantasy), the first two by Brennan (although book three pretty much destroyed my enjoyment of the first two), and I’m reading Lackey’s first one now and I love it. The rest I either liked okay or absolutely hated. I haven’t read much beyond the first year’s books though and I haven’t read yours yet. Even though the Lunas aren’t supposed to be romance, I think some of my problems with some of them are that they still have romance tropes like the heroine who is strong and capable, but then as soon as she meets her male life partner, she just becomes a means of salvation for him. Also, while I like dark fantasy sometimes, most of the Lunas are very dark and some are quite gory as well, which is much more of a turnoff for me as I get older. I’m still sticking with my favorite series though- in fact, I just bought Lackey’s second book in mass market this week.

    And that leads me to my main gripe with the imprint. I don’t have much space for trade pbs, plus I have small hands and joint problems, so holding a trade or hardcover can hurt my hands. And there’s also the cost factor. If the books came out straight to mass market or the turnaround time between trade and mass market was quicker, I’d probably buy a lot more Lunas. But for now, I only buy my favorites in trade and the rest I get from the library or wait for the mass market editions to come out.

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