A couple of things I’ve been thinking about, at too much length to leave as comments elsewhere.
Stop With “Not Your Mother’s”
Many readers I know object to the currently popular “not your mother’s romance” marketing slogan. Some were introduced to romance-reading by their mothers; some are mothers who like sex and sexy books; all know newer authors did not invent sexy/dark/whatever they think they invented. The other day, right after reading yet another author tout her book as “not your mother’s erotic romance,” I came across this line in Book Riot’s delightfully diverse summer reading suggestions from The Well-Readheads:
[Tiffany Reisz's The Saint] is not your mother’s fuzzy handcuffs “bondage” story
I then had a positive Twitter exchange with Rebecca Schinsky about this: I explained politely why it bothered me; she said she agreed and said she had meant it as an ironic poke at 50 Shades’ “mommy porn” rep. So my point here is not to criticize her. (I think this fails as irony because Reisz’s book is exactly the type that romance marketers label as “not your mama’s,” though Schinsky may not have realized this. As I recall, Harlequin and Reisz herself basically sold her first book as “for readers of 50, only better”).
This conversation made me think more about why I object to the “not your mother’s” phrase: it’s wrong about literature (or story-telling, if you prefer). I want my Oldsmobile to be “not my father’s”; I expect technology to have progressed in 30 years (my father’s still around and bought one of the first hybrids on the market–he’s not driving “your father’s” Oldsmobile either). But while what stories we tell and how we tell them change (some) as culture changes, that’s not progress. The novel may be better suited to depicting a modern society than the epic is (may be), but it is not a superior or more advanced literary form.
Moreover, today’s writers are still going to the well of the past. The Odyssey? Not on the scrap-heap! Still being read, still being re-worked by writers. The same is true of “your mother’s” romance, for any value of “your mother.” Authors are inspired by and rework loved (or hated) stories of the past, presenting familiar tropes and character types in a new way. Or even in the same old way, because your mother was on to something. Yes, the genre changes and goes through trends and fads, but that’s not the same as “progress.”
So please. No more “not your mother’s.” It just makes the daughters look ignorant.
Social Media: Again
The role of social media in my reading life is one I come back to again and again. I value what social media adds to my reading life, but it can detract too if I’m not careful. I thought about this again because of Dear Author‘s post from two authors on The Agony and the Ecstasy of Social Media. I put “me” in the title of this post because these are of few of my personal current truths about reading and social media. They’re all about keeping me reading happily, and are not meant to be prescriptive for other readers or authors.
In fact, the #1 thing I’ve learned is that authors’ use of social media is often at cross-purposes with my own:
- They may use it as a water cooler, as Roni Loren said in the post. This makes perfect sense, and I’m glad for them, but it’s not my water cooler, since I’m not part of that professional community. And honestly, sometimes I want to know less about how the sausage is made and about how the sausage-makers think about their product. This has everything to do with my own prejudices about stuff like quality, editing, covers and branding. But since those are my prejudices and I fairly often see things that make me despair about the genre, I try to look away from the water cooler stuff.
- Sometimes authors make pronouncements about readers that . . . well, they aren’t true about me, that’s for sure. (E.g. “Readers don’t care about craft/grammar.”) Romanceland doesn’t like it when outsiders make sweeping generalizations about us. But there are plenty of insider versions.
- It can be hard to have readerly conversations that involve authors-as-readers without someone putting on her author hat. Many times I’ve been involved in a discussion about what we want to see in the genre, and someone will say “that won’t sell.” Well, that’s that, then! No point in discussing further. And frankly I don’t care about sales, because I’m expressing a readerly desire. I still wish it existed. (Maybe story-telling should be a little more like technology. They like to develop new products.)
- Of course authors want to market their books. But I don’t want marketing, even in subtle forms, to dominate my feed. This is hard to avoid. I am soooo grateful to the person who taught me you can turn off retweets from an account, because the majority of what most authors retweet is promo. I also gave up feeling guilty about unfollowing people if their balance of promo type tweets and interesting conversation shifted too far to the former for me.By “promo” I mean way more than “buy my book.” There’s a lot of talk about how awesome my friend and her manuscript are that is basically promo. I suspect this is effective for many readers. Not for me.
Twitter is a big part of my book discovery these days. But I have never bought a book from a release day promo tweet or one of those f&*!ing Amazon “I just bought…” autotweets (readers engage in promo too, often unthinkingly I suspect). I will never click that damn button. Once I’ve read it, I’ll tell you what I thought. Why should you care what I’m buying?
Here is what I think is missing in talk about social media and discovery. Knowing a book exists is a very small part of discovery. I mean, obviously it matters as a first step. But I will not click through to find out more based on a “TITLE is out today! [buy links]” tweet. Or a “The fab AUTHOR’S latest is out today! Buy it!” tweet. I see tons of these, despite pruning my feed. I don’t have time to click them all, even if I were minded to. (I do not get why readers do these tweets. Did you write a review that tells me why it’s great? Tweet that. Otherwise, your opinion has no value to me). I have to discover something about the book to make me click through and see if I want to buy it.
Lots of people are very bad at using Twitter to help with this step of discovery. But some are great at capturing the essence of a book in a few tweets. Allison has sold me on several books with her 2-3 tweet mini-reviews. I’ve bought others because of conversations about a particular book, trope, theme or author. By definition, such tweets are not easily retweetable as promo–because this kind of discovery is about readers sharing a book they read, not about promo. It works as discovery because it comes from readers I trust, whose taste I share some of the time. I’m not sure there’s a good way for authors to capitalize on that. Thank God.
I’ve never bought a book because the author seemed nice on Twitter. I have bought books because I liked what the author had to say about the genre on Twitter.
Well, that was kind of ranty. But again, it’s just about how bookish Twitter works for me.