Full Tilt: On Advent and Romance Publishing

In Which I Start With Religion and Whining and Somehow Get Around to Genre Fiction In the End

our Advent "wreath"

our Advent “wreath”

I am a pretty indifferent Christian–the kind who’s not comfortable referring to myself that way. This morning I wanted to hide under the covers, but I made myself get up and go to church because I’d missed a couple of weeks and this is the first Sunday of Advent. As sometimes happens on these occasions, I heard words I really needed to hear. It’s because of such moments that I persist in my half-assed life of faith.

Advent is my favorite season of the church year. It is not the over-hyped, sugar-rush, what will I get? anticipation of the secular Christmas but a time for quiet, reflective waiting. Its theme is hope. I need both hope and quiet desperately at this time of year. 

I am not fond of the pre-Christmas season, though I usually manage to enjoy Christmas itself (I love giving and cooking and music and the quiet time after Christmas when we read our new books and play our new games). It’s a busy time at work, even this year when I’m not teaching and don’t have mountains of grading. It’s hard to fit in time for Christmas shopping. I worry about making everyone happy. I hate crowds and busyness. I hate Christmas shopping. Even though I don’t do a lot of “Christmas” stuff–I’m not a baker; my kids are deprived of photos with Santa, trips on the Christmas train, etc; we decorate minimally and not until their dad’s mid-December birthday–I feel stressed to the limit. Possibly part of my stress comes from the feeling that I should be doing more of those things. I’m anxious and depressed and the exact opposite of waiting quietly in hope. Every year, I tell myself I’ll do better, and every year I don’t.

This year, my usual grumpy thoughts about all this connected up with my thoughts on the pace of romance publishing. I really liked Jessica’s post on what academic writers can learn from genre writers, and like her I have tremendous admiration for the work ethic and productivity of the writers I follow on Twitter. I’m on record as believing that writing fast doesn’t mean writing badly. But I do wonder at this brave new world where two books and a novella every year may be seen as a small output, and where a reader can worry on Twitter whether six months between books is too long and people might forget her favorite author.

At this time of year, I often think of Wordsworth’s sonnet that begins,

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.


That’s what I worry about when writers are turning out so much so fast: the laying waste of their powers. I think a lot of writers can write two or three or even more really good romances a year for a while. But how long is that sustainable? We can all think of writers whose earlier books we loved, but who we now feel are “phoning it in” or writing pale, formulaic copies of those books. I want writers to be able to rest, recharge, and be inspired. I want them to be able to try new things. I think some writers need that time regularly, and everyone will eventually.

And as a reader, I feel overwhelmed by the flood. I don’t really want a new book every three or four (or maybe even six) months from the writers I like, because I like a lot of writers. It’s too much to keep up with. An author writes a trilogy I enjoy, I plan to read more of her, and before I know what’s happened she has six more books out. At a certain point, I feel so far “behind” I just give up reading her. I listened to the first of J.D. Robb’s In Death books and enjoyed it, but there are thirty-something books in that series! It makes me tired just to think of it. I never went back for more.

I honestly don’t know quite what I’m getting at here. I’m not every reader, though I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. And I certainly don’t blame romance writers for wanting to make a living from their writing or for doing what today’s market seems to require of them. I do think this is unsustainable over a long career, though, and that it’s not going to produce the best books we can get in the genre.

I’d rather have fewer good books than more good enough books. But publishing, certainly genre fiction publishing, is a secular Christmas world, not an Advent world, and I don’t think there’s anything any of us can do about that.

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17 Responses to Full Tilt: On Advent and Romance Publishing

  1. Kaetrin says:

    Given the size of my TBR, I’d also be happy if my favourite authors put out only 1 book a year – then I *might* have a hope of keeping up. I get so excited about all these new books. I even buy them. But when do I find time to read them?

    In my typical hypocritical fashion though, the In Death series (of which I am an unabashed fan) is my exception to being intimidated by the length of an existing series. I enjoyed the first few books so much that I was delighted that there were another 15+ or so (at the time) for me to catch up on. And, there are 1 or 2 every year (although I hear that the last one was no great shakes – I have it on my TBR so I don’t know what I’ll think of it myself yet). I have listened to most of them on audio too and have re-read some. It is, in effect, a comfort series for me. Any other series where there are that many books, I might be intimidated, but for this one, it made me furiously happy that I could spend so much more time with the characters. Perhaps because they are set in the future, I never felt I was “behind”. I started reading the series in 2009 I think and there were quite a few books out then. Anyway, I’m rambling now… so I shall go read 🙂

  2. farmwifetwo says:

    Even an agnostic still enjoys the trappings of a Mennonite Christmas…. I just no longer have much use for organized religion. Toss in a few “religious” people I know and their hypocracy… I’d rather stay home and listen to Christmas carols including hymns on my own.

    I think after 13/11 yrs we have one Santa picture each. I hate the shopping too, plus 3 birthdays this month, so we went to Mom’s a couple of weeks ago and she took me shopping. She has malls. I got most of it finished except the stockings.

    I read….. a lot. I find when you read a lot you have very few favourite authors and after about 6 books there are very few authors that can continue a series. Oh, they try, and I keep buying and finally… I give them up. But, I’ve learned to quit sooner or use the library. I’ve also found that over the years I no longer care if a particular author writes another book or not. There are so many books, so many authors, that there’s always something new to try. I have been there on boards when authors and readers create a mess and I lost respect for the author instantly…. and from that day forward… forget it. I have followed other authors blogs and now have none on my reader. I just don’t care and I have too many other things to lose sleep over.

    I started Robb at book 4…. and yes, I still buy them. Although…. I’ve been debating that took. The Witness was the first in a long time that I bought a Roberts book.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I agree that there’s always a great new author to discover. My feelings about this have definitely been colored by Twitter. I follow some really nice and enthusiastic and interesting newish authors, and I wonder if they will still be around in 10 years. For their sakes, I hope so. Of course, writers stop getting published for all kinds of reason.

  3. Natalie L. says:

    I’ve thought about the sustainability of that pace of writing, too. In the long run, I’m not sure it is. In other genres, most writers put out 1 or maybe 2 books a year. SF/F has a thriving short fiction market, so there are a lot of short stories being published, too. But no one expects John Scalzi or Jo Walton to churn out multiple books a year (there are writers who do, but they are exceptions and not the rule). I would much rather have fewer books if that meant that they were also better books.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I do think there are people who are naturally prolific and who write good books fast. And taking 10 years over it is no guarantee a book will be great, either.

      But I also read some good fiction (genre or not, though the time pressures are more a factor in certain genres) that seems like it had the potential to be much better. Would more time fix that? Maybe not–I think it was Courtney Milan who talked in a comment thread recently about how not all problems with a book are “fixable,” and that was an eye-opener. There are books I adore that have problems I can see.

      I think for me it’s the difference between problems due to exuberance or still learning craft, where the problems don’t make the book less engaging, vs. problems that seem to be due to rushing and carelessness. You can’t always tell the difference, but sometimes it’s clear (years of reading student papers that suffer from one of these kinds of problems has helped me differentiate).

  4. I agree. I would much rather wait an extra year for another wonderful title than a book that has been submitted due to publishing deadlines. As for advent, growing up in a strict Greek Orthodox home we were required to fast from all animal products (yep – Vegan!) for the whole of advent meanwhile my friends would be revelling at Christmas parties. I always forget about Advent calendars or even putting up Christmas trees until Christmas eve – but once up it isn’t taken down until the Epiphany. And though my own home is one of lapsed Orthodox/relaxed Christians, my mum still observes this strict fast and so my sons know that visiting her means not admitting to steaks for dinner 🙂

  5. Poking my head out of the writing cave to say the part of this post on the pace of romance publishing was (were) words I really needed to hear. Thanks.

    We don’t have any Santa photos either. My daughters were reluctant to approach him when small, and I thought, “Do I really want to set the precedent of urging them to override the little voice inside that’s saying ‘Don’t go sit on that strange man’s lap’?” *

    (Answer: nope.)

    * Correct placement of question mark thanks to DA Robin, who recently corrected my longtime belief that it went inside the innermost quote mark no matter what.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I had to laugh because I’ve spent years teaching people rules about punctuation with quotation marks. That was a great complicated example.

      From my time teaching writing, and my own experience as an academic writer, I’d say there really is no one size fits all writing process or speed. At the same time, I’m wary of the point at which “I can’t do it that way” becomes my excuse for procrastination. It’s a tricky one.

      And, even if I had to wait 10 years, I’d still be looking forward to your next book.

  6. Just found this post.

    And as a reader, I feel overwhelmed by the flood. I don’t really want a new book every three or four (or maybe even six) months from the writers I like, because I like a lot of writers. It’s too much to keep up with. An author writes a trilogy I enjoy, I plan to read more of her, and before I know what’s happened she has six more books out. At a certain point, I feel so far “behind” I just give up reading her. I listened to the first of J.D. Robb’s In Death books and enjoyed it, but there are thirty-something books in that series! It makes me tired just to think of it. I never went back for more.

    +1 to this. Esp. as a reader/reviewer who is anal about reading series in order, I can get stressed out by the need to keep up with them. I’ve given up on a lot of authors because they put out more books in a year than I am interested in reading. i prefer to mix up what I read so that I get a variety of voices and genres. I don’t “glom” (hate that word, but can’t think of another term) an entire series at a time but I wonder if I am the exception to the rule in that regard. Otherwise I can’t imagine why it’s considered a good marketing strategy for authors to publish 3+ books in a year in the same genre market.

    As a writer, I worry about these market pressures leading to burnout. I think of authors like Laura Kinsale, who hasn’t published anything in years, Jennifer Crusie, who has said she can no longer write without a co-author, Patricia Gaffney, who left historical romance for women’s fiction and now publishes very little, Judith Ivory, who disappeared off the face of the earth. These were some of the most well-regarded romance authors of the 1990, authors who put an emphasis on quality, and I wonder what that cost them. And they were only publishing one book a year!

    Some writers can produce great books quickly, but in my experience they are the exception to the rule. I can’t believe that it never comes down to a choice between quality and quantity for others, and speaking as a writer, I’d like to make quality the priority. I think that’s getting tougher for writers to do all the time.

    • That was supposed to be “These were some of the most well-regarded romance authors of the 1990s.”

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      This is the kind of situation I was thinking of, or one of them. I read a really interesting interview with Philip Roth about his decision to “retire” from writing. He said something like, I guess I could force more stories to come, but I think I have nothing more to say. He has the luxury of saying that, of course, at 80 with a successful career behind him. Someone trying to pay for rent or food from their writing income may have to force it.

    • So I’m not going to actually ask you (Janine) to shed any light on this, but I will say that I wondered about burnout in regard to Sherry Thomas.

      A month or so ago she said she felt like she was done writing historical romance for the foreseeable future. It’s hard to not speculate about whether her 2012 production schedule had something to do with that. I’d been thinking of her as a one-book-a-year writer, and this year she released three novels and two novellas. (Granted, she didn’t publish in 2011, but that’s still a big uptick in production pace.)

      Anyway, I’ll be disappointed if she really has written her last historical romance, and extra-disappointed if the demand for more books, faster, had something to do with it.

      • Anyway, I’ll be disappointed if she really has written her last historical romance,

        Cecilia, did you see her October 4 blog post? Because she has more or less taken that statement back.

      • willaful says:

        Although I enjoyed the series. I think there was a reduction in quality as well, which I also saw when Mary Balogh spit out a whole series in rapid succession. It almost made me give up reading Balogh. These series books really seem to force authors into writing more quickly than they should.

  7. Ros says:

    You know I completely agree with you about Advent. I also agree with you about pace and quality of writing. There feels like so much pressure to build a backlist at the moment, and I don’t think it’s sustainable. I am an outlier at Entangled for only having one category length novel under contract at a time. Most of them seem to be signed up for three or four in quick succession. That scares me. Partly, I know, it is because I am still under the great shadow of the thesis, but even without that, I don’t want to ever be phoning books in as quickly as I can and hoping they are good enough. I want to keep getting better as a writer and taking my time to write things I can be proud of. But that probably means I’ll never be a millionaire. Oh, well.

  8. Unfortunately, romance writers aren’t given the benefit of releasing one book a year, or one book every couple of years. I believe romance is the last “pulp” genre of the industry, which is natural, given that it is still in the stage mystery/thrillers and science fiction/fantasy were forty to fifty years ago. I write fast, but only after months, and sometimes years, of reflection and brainstorming and pondering my characters and their plot. I can definitely see myself burning out trying to meet the grueling pace required of romance writers, which is why I decided to shift towards romantic historical fiction (and possibly self-pub regular romances).

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