Recently I did an informal survey to find out what people thought about a particular situation in paranormal books, namely Beauty making love to Beast. I wanted to know what made readers believe in a woman who would “jump in the kip” with a nonhuman, and why readers liked such stories.
I got some great answers. But in the process, I learned something startling. People either love paranormal romances or they hate them. It doesn’t matter how good the writing is or how wonderful the characters are, paranormal haters simply can’t stretch the limits of their fantasy bubbles far enough to embrace aliens, ghosts, vampires and time-travelers. When they are “tricked” into buying a paranormal with their hard-earned cash, they get angry.
One perturbed reader wrote: “I got part-way into the book, and it was really good, up to the point when the hero is revealed to be a time-traveler. Well, I was so disgusted, I just threw that book against the wall!”
A reader throwing your book against the wall is the ultimate kiss of death. That reader (and their friends, mother, and anyone else they chat with online) is lost to your forever. A wall banger can happen for a variety of reasons, but most tosses are caused by betrayal. The reader didn’t get what they expected, and it made them angry.
Why did they feel so betrayed, I wondered? Why would a reader buy a paranormal romance if they didn’t like the genre? Didn’t they know what kind of book they were picking up? Didn’t they read the back blurb?
I’ve always had a healthy respect for readers, so instead of doubting their shopping habits, I did another survey. With Romantic Times’ most recent review of New Reality books in hand, I went to my local bookstores and checked out the available titles. (Waldens, by the way, had stocked almost every title listed in the RT review section.) I read each back blurb and checked to see if there was any special graphic identifying the book as an FFP (futuristic, fantasy, paranormal) on the cover. Of the 13 books I found, five of them had no identifying markers that showed the book was an FFP or failed to mention the fact that the book was not a typical contemporary or historical. That’s 38% of the FFPs being marketed as plain old romance.
In an effort to appeal to a wide audience, some publishers are down-playing the paranormal aspects of books. This sounds like a fine idea for gaining readership for new authors whose names might not be recognizable in the romance genre. But in the case of FFPs, where lines are drawn so distinctly regarding believers and nonbelievers, this approach is a dangerous one. If a book isn’t marketed as an obvious FFP, two things will happen. One, lovers of paranormal romance might miss the book altogether. And two, haters of paranormal romance who buy it will feel cheated. Instead of cursing and complaining to the publisher, the latter group will retain anger for the writer as having “duped” them and might never read that writer’s work again.
Granted, all other types of romances are fantasies, too. But they are fantasies bound by the conventions we have grown to accept: love at first sight, knights in shining armor, bad boys learning to be good, and good girls learning to be bad. The danger of lumping FFPs in with these types of books is that many readers have a fantasy threshold that can’t be violated.
What’s the solution? Honest back blurbs and/or a label on the front cover. Some publishers put an hourglass in the top corner or an insignia that identifies the book as a time travel. Some make sure the word “ghost” is mentioned on the cover teaser. These are good marketing strategies that I hope the rest of the publishing industry will incorporate, as they benefit both lovers and haters of FFPs.
Let’s keep the “fan” in fantasy by urging our publishers to be up front with their marketing. Let’s make it clear what we’re writing and delivering to our readers. We paranormal writers love what we do, and we want our readers to find and enjoy our books as easily as possible.
© 2003 Patricia Simpson