Marketing Romance Through the Ages

Everyone is familiar with the stereotypical cover of a romance novel. Generally, it’s a white man and woman, partially nude, staring into one another’s eyes with the wind blowing through their hair. Think Nora Roberts. Think Ilona Andrews. Think Nicholas Sparks. These are all household names to the casual romance consumer. Everyone is also familiar with the stereotypical romance reader. These people are thought to be “middle-aged women who are bored in their marriages and want to fantasize about hard, chiseled men,” explains a writer for HuffPost. But after about ten minutes of internet research, one can figure out that in today’s world, this stereotype is simply not true.

The romance genre is one of the oldest-known styles of writing in the world and has only progressed throughout centuries. Many believe the first example of a mass-market romance was Pamela, written by Samuel Richardson in 1740, which led to the style developing many subgenres and niches that have only broadened its readership. That being said, some argue that late twentieth and early twenty-first century romance readers have witnessed one of the most major evolutions in the subject matter and marketing strategies of the romance genre.

The rise of Harlequin during the 1960s in the publishing world allowed for a wider readership in sensual mass-market romances that were quickly nicknamed “bodice-rippers.” These forms of romance novels led to marketing strategies that give us the stereotypes we have today, which have pigeon-holed these books. It did come with some perks though.

One word: Fabio.

But with the dawn of the twenty-first century came the push for representation of more modern relationships. For example, a heterosexual relationship with greater equality between the man and woman. A relationship that explored what it meant to be an LGBTQ+ couple and the complexities of living in a heteronormative society. A biracial relationship that explored what it meant to be a minority. It also came with Fifty Shades of Grey, but we’re going to ignore that for right now.

The massive tech boom of the 2000s sent the entire publishing world reeling. The everyday consumer no longer searches for the latest books in magazines or newspapers, but on social media or the internet. A publishing house needs to be able to catch a reader’s eye as they swipe through Instagram or Twitter—hence the push for brightly colored book covers and less intertwined limbs.

Readers’ desire for realistic couples and the technological explosion left romance publishing houses scrambling for a better way to market to an evolving audience. We now see less writhing bodies on book covers and more pastels and drawings. Think Crazy Rich Asians. Think Simon vs. The Homo Sapien Agenda. Think Me Before You. These books are all within the romance genre, yet are marketed toward the general public as funny, inspirational, and even relatable. It’s opening the door for the Average Joe (or Jane or J) to fall in love with romantic fiction.

Some claim that the romance genre is the most progressive of the literary industry, and it’s hard to disagree. It has learned to develop with its readers as the world continues to change. So what’s next for the romance genre? One can only hope it will just keep getting better.

Think more inclusion. Think love for all. Think bright future.

The Merits of Hand Marking in the Modern Era

When I was ten years old, adults in my life made a big deal about public schools no longer teaching cursive. “How are you going to pass your SATs without cursive?!” they’d cry, while I would cry over sheets of dotted lines and swirly words. While they were right about needing it for the SATs, I have since retained only enough cursive to spell my name for legal documents. Like many other millennials, I felt my time was wasted learning an archaic skill instead of something more contemporary and more applicable to day-to-day life. It would be another two years before I learned typing, a skill I employ daily at Ooligan.

People my age have been fed the “old way” with the expectation that we’ll need to write everything by hand, that we won’t have a calculator in our pockets every day (in the form of phone apps), and that we’ll need to memorize every phone number and address we ever encounter. Is it really that surprising that our generation is cynical about any analogue workflows when we’ve seen several outmoded in our lifetimes? Unfortunately, it is that exact disillusionment that causes some genuinely useful pre-Y2K skills to be overlooked. Case in point: hand-marked editing.

Undeniably, digital copyediting has its benefits: more room to comment, capacity to share work instantaneously, automatic spell-check. But you lose things, particularly the readability that comes with line editing in the margins of a printed copy. Jason Fried succinctly described this digital fog in his article “Copyediting: Man vs. Machine”:

For example, to suggest a capitalized “A,” you’d triple-underline the letter by hand. But on a computer you’d actually replace the lowercase “a” with an uppercase “A,” but the remnant “a” would remain. Over the course of many sentences and many changes, the machine-made track changes edits blend in too much with the original text. It becomes hard to quickly spot changes. And it becomes hard to actually read the original to the changes.

This added readability is helpful not only for the author receiving the edited manuscript back, but also for the editor’s chances of catching mistakes in the first place. How often is it that you print out an important term paper thinking it’s totally fine while it’s on the word processor of your choice, only to find you used the wrong version of “there” or typed “form” instead of “from” in a crucial sentence? If you were paying someone to catch those sorts of mistakes, you would not be happy if they missed them for the exact same reason you did.

Finally, there’s the simple fact that certain writers (and, indeed, entire presses) are, and will continue to be, Luddites. Whether they were raised in the age of typewriters and never had time to learn other ways or are rightly skeptical of the privacy afforded to modern word processors, changing their minds on the matter isn’t easy, and attempting to do so can be unprofessional. In those cases, editing by hand is really the only option, even if the idea of the author painstakingly inputting your edits and essentially writing the manuscript twice makes you cringe. Our place as good editors is to be rigid about grammar, not the form in which we deliver our edits.

Everything at Once, and All in Good Time

Sleeping in My Jeans is officially one year out. While our official pub date is yet to be set, we’re planning on putting the book out sometime in November of 2018. To many, that would seem like a ton of time. What could you possibly do with an entire year until your book publishes?

A lot. And I mean a lot, a lot. In this term alone, the Sleeping in My Jeans team will have worked on cover design, marketing copy, back cover copy, requests for people to blurb the book, and of course, editing. It’s easy for those unfamiliar with the industry to cling onto the idea that publishing follows a very linear, step-by-step process, going from acquisitions to editing to design to marketing to pub, but the Sleeping in My Jeans team is learning quickly just how untrue that is. Here’s a little breakdown of where we’re at, and where we’re headed:

Marketing

What a lot of people don’t expect is that we’ve been marketing since the acquisition of this project. At first we were looking to determine where the book fits on bookshelves, and now we’re trying to figure out who we need to reach to get it on those bookshelves. What’s more, that marketing process will continue through to the end, and past the publication of the book.

Even after the book is available at your local Powell’s or Barnes & Noble, we’ll continue to send out applications for awards, letters to librarians in the hopes that they’ll pick up the book, and partnership requests with organizations who might be interested in what Connie King Leonard, the author, has to say. But, like the title of this post suggests, we certainly aren’t stopping with just marketing.

Editing

Another big focus for the Sleeping in My Jeans team this term is copyediting. We’ve gotten back some wonderful revisions from the author, and now it’s time to make those revisions look as good as they sound. That means that at least half the Sleeping in My Jeans team, and a number of other wonderful editing volunteers are looking closely at the manuscript to find typos, inconsistencies in language, and any grammar errors that might trip a reader up. We’ll do two rounds of copyediting, one this term, and one the next term, before we move onto typecoding and proofreading.

Design

Perhaps most exciting of all our tasks this term has been the cover design. The team worked hard to put together a design brief that would help designers understand just what we we’re looking for in this cover. That’s something that’s easier said than done. What does a cover for a suspenseful young adult novel that’s firmly rooted in place, filled with raw emotion, and offering a new perspective on the realities of homelessness that still hangs on to hope, look like?

We don’t know yet, but we’ve got a ton of great ideas.

The design team has submitted countless options which are being altered according to press feedback every week. We’ll have four total rounds of submissions, and then the covers will go to vote. The project managers and department leads will work to narrow the choices down to the three top designs, then the author will be able to weigh in, and finally, we’ll have an official vote in the Ooligan Press Executive Meeting. Then, we’ll release that cover to the public.

We’re hoping to do a cover design reveal that promises a free galley or copy of the book to one lucky participant, so stay tuned for more info!

The Sleeping in My Jeans project is trucking along nicely, and our team has hands in every aspect of the publishing industry, from design to marketing to editing, which makes for a lot of exciting new work every day. Though we’re a year out, we’ve still got a lot to do, and the team is doing an exceptional job of keeping on our deadlines, something that’s not always easy when the finished product seems so far away.

Looking Back to Move Ahead

Lately when thinking about Ricochet River, our team has been thinking a lot about change. Living in Portland these days, it’s impossible not to notice the pace of change. Sometimes it seems like the entire city is under construction. Older institutions are closing, and new businesses are popping up like mushrooms. So there’s some comfort in knowing that this change didn’t come on all at once—the town has been in constant evolution since it was settled. While the Portland of today feels a lot different than the Portland of five years ago, that Portland feels like an entirely different world compared to the 1960s Portland of Wade, Jesse, and Lorna’s experience.

As the city rushes ahead with today’s particularly dramatic growth spurt, books like Ricochet River can be a helpful and important method of taking stock of where we’ve come from and how we’ve changed. While it can be tempting to romanticize the past, reading about the flooding of Celilo Falls and the environmental and cultural fallout from that decision, it’s impossible not to acknowledge that we’ve made a lot of progress over the years. One of the things we are most excited about including in our new edition of Ricochet River are essays that explore this perspective. Native culture has healed and regained strength in the years since boys like Jesse were dismissed as “dumb Indians.” Logging practices have become more sustainable. And the dams that started it all, decimating salmon populations and encouraging “survival of the timid,” continue to improve their environmental impact, allowing the fish to recover. Keeping the lessons of our past in mind is always good as we navigate our present.

These lessons are something we are trying to keep in mind as we develop our new teacher guide. There are a lot of reasons why Ricochet River has remained vital throughout its twenty-five years in print—it is a vibrant portrait of small-town life that explores some universal coming-of-age struggles. Still, it would be foolish not to acknowledge how the cultural conversation has changed, and we are committed to facilitating that discussion. Also, teaching methods are constantly evolving. When we wrote our teacher guide for the first Ooligan edition in 2005, we focused on the Oregon State Teaching Standards; this time around we are using Common Core standards as our guide. Government standards come and go, however. While the education mandate in five years will depend on which way political winds blow, our goal is simply to create interesting, thought provoking questions and activities that will be useful to teachers and educators everywhere—questions that deepen students’ interaction with Ricochet River and leave room for them to apply their ever-evolving perspectives to its timeless story.