Thursday, October 18, 2018
Moving Up the Rejection Food Chain and Perceptions of Women by Jannine Gallant
So, I had an interesting phone call the other day. First of all, I always thought getting a call from a publisher was supposed to be good news. I must be special because I've had not one, but TWO rejection phone calls from editors in the last couple of months. Honestly, I felt pretty good about it. Used to be, I received a rejection form letter email saying "Sorry (insert author name), but your book (insert title) isn't right for us. Good luck." I bet you can all relate. But this time the editorial director of the romance division of a large publishing house picked up the phone and apologized for not getting back to me sooner! She also said she was very interested in me, BUT (you knew there was going to be a BUT, right?) she wasn't thrilled about my proposed series. She didn't think it would sell well. And that isn't a risk a publisher wants to take with a print series.
So, let's talk about what sells in today's market because I honestly found our conversation fascinating. It also made me lose sleep over what market perception says about society (and women) in general. First, I write romantic suspense. Maybe other sub-genres have different requirements, but I'm guessing a lot of this crosses over from one to the next. I (in my infinite ignorance) decided to change things up a little (okay, a LOT) when I wrote the first book in this new series. You may remember COUNTERSTRIKE is a series about a black ops type group that rescues kidnapped victims. She really liked that idea, by the way. BUT (that word again) I did not create a band of brothers headlining the group. I have both men and women working together.
The heroine of book one, Deadly Encounter, is a bad-ass sniper who kills bad guys and saves people. She quits the team, but danger follows her, and she continues to be a bad-ass throughout the book. The hero, an author of thrillers, sort of comes along for the ride. He pulls her but out of trouble a few times, and he offers moral support. He is very self-confident and successful in his own right, and he doesn't feel threatened by her bad-ass-ness. Okay, maybe he does a little, but he works through it. And he does save her butt in the end! Apparently strong, kick-ass women who used to be snipers aren't relateable. And that is key in the romance market. What sells in romantic suspense is Alpha males who save every-day, relateable women. I turned the trope on its head. I thought I was being original. Turns out, the editor was very clear in saying publishers don't want original. They want what sells. She wants heroes who are military or cops and other similar hero-ish professions. She wants heroines who have spunk and personality but have careers women can relate to.
So, then we talked about book two. My heroine is a professor and a scientist who has discovered a cure for dementia. Until she loses her memory after she's kidnapped and takes a blow to the head. The editor was not a fan of that trope, even though I use it as an ironic foil to her life's work, and she does get her memory back, and the story isn't about how she forgot she loved the hero or anyone else, for that matter. The hero is the team medic who saves her and continues to protect her as trouble stalks her throughout the book. The editor didn't think a scientist, super-smart woman was very relateable, either. She's not every-woman.
So, I have to ask myself, do women who read romance really only want to read about strong men and unexceptional women who need to be saved? My oldest daughter read Deadly Encounter and said it was her favorite book of mine. She loved that my heroine was a bad-ass woman sniper. But then Tara is a super smart, bad-ass woman who races triathlons and kicks most boys' butts. She could relate. Apparently Tara isn't my target market. The editor said, as a woman, she isn't thrilled about the stereotype, but as an editor, she has to buy what sells. So, do publishers assume women who read romance can only identify with heroines who are average (not scientific geniuses) and need a man to save them? Or is that what most women truly relate to? I always assumed romance readers came from all demographics, but perhaps I was wrong. So, chew on this, each of you lovely ladies who believes in strong women... If I had reversed the rolls of my main characters in Deadly Encounter and made the man the sniper and the woman the author, I'd probably be signing a contract right now.
As it is, I've decided this series isn't the right vehicle to pitch to an agent or attempt to sell to a different big publisher. I'm going to self-publish it and HOPE that there are romantic suspense readers out there who CAN identify with a bad-ass heroine. I guess we'll find out. I won't release this series until 2019 since I still have my final Siren Cove book coming out in November about a very relateable heroine who sells antiques! The editor I talked to did say she would happily read another submission from me in the future. As long as I make my heroines more womanly and my heroes more Alpha. I've done it before. I may even do it again.
In the meantime, my entire BORN TO BE WILDE series and BURIED TRUTH are still on sale for .99 cents for the rest of the month. Give them a try. And if you like them, leave me a review. I swear, most of these heroines are relateable! Happy reading!