Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Selling the Unusual Setting

And now for something completely different.

A different time period, I mean. Since I've been following author blogs and forums related to the romance genre, again and again I've encountered the notion that unusual historical settings are a hard sell. There's less talk about erotica; it's a smaller part of the market and doesn't always overlap; it's its own niche, and I think sometimes there's more freedom of setting in erotica than in romance.

My post today is not to be taken as the be-all and end-all on this issue. Mostly, I'm just thinking through strategies that might work. Keep in mind that my World War One novel, The Moonlight Mistress, is erotica, which as I mentioned might be an easier market for unusual settings. I have not yet sold a romance novel, so anything I say about the romance market is extrapolated from observation and conversation.

Here are my thoughts on unusual settings in Romance. In romance, historical usually means Regency (often extended beyond the actual Regency period), Victorian, pre-Regency Georgian, a few French Revolution novels, and...not a lot else. There's a sprinkling of European medievals, usually set in England, and a few Westerns (America, usually post-Civil War), and a few others. I'm sure I'm missing some, and of course the periods and locations of the few books not set in eighteenth through nineteenth century England will vary according to market pressures and other things which I am not going to go into, since that isn't really the topic of this post.

My topic (finally she gets to it!) is how to make the most of the "unusual" period you've chosen. Bear in mind that none of my suggestions are guaranteed to work. If they were, I'd be selling them on television. My suggestions are just intended to help you to think about ways of selling your novel in a more holistic way than simply throwing it against the wall of Regencies over and over again.

If you're starting from scratch, I think the first step is to write the book. No, really. You're much better off trying to pitch something that's a little different if you already have it in hand. The editor can then see what the whole novel is like, and you can impress them with how cool it is and how relevant to today's world.

A simultaneous step is to know the market. Even if there's nothing else exactly like your novel out there, still be prepared to give examples of already-published similar works, not just books but movies or television series or comics, to give an idea of your novel's potential market viability. "Similar" might mean similar themes, a similar basic plot, or a similar sub-genre. For instance, you could compare your romantic suspense novel set during the Russian Revolution to one set during the French Revolution that features similar situations. Or compare your novel to a series of historical mysteries set during the Russian Revolution or some other revolution. Or even to a novel with similar themes set during the breakup of the Soviet Union. Knowing that there are similiarities will not only help you pitch the novel, if needed, but also will give you ideas as to how you might shape it to make it more marketable. (Yes, I said write to market! Those aren't naughty words!)

Third, you can set up a niche market for yourself. Perhaps you could write some short stories set in the time period and location of your choice. After you've sold a few of those, you can use them to demonstrate the possible viability of a longer project. At the least, you've made a little money from the short stories!

I'd welcome further ideas on this topic, so feel free to comment or tell me that my ideas would never work.


Victoria Janssen's erotic World War One novel The Moonlight Mistress was nominated for an RT Book Reviews Reviewers' Choice Award. She's also written the fantasy-universe novels The Duchess, Her Maid, the Groom & Their Lover and The Duke & the Pirate Queen, out December 2010. Find out more at her website.


Michelle Styles said...

As I have sold a few Unusual Historicals (approx 15 books with Harlequin) in the last five years, the big thing is to make sure that your core story is really strong. The thing will sell your book is the story about the emotional relationship between the two protagonists and not the setting. The setting is an added bonus if you will.

Also know your publisher, mine Harlequin Mills & Boon does publish Unusual Historical -- one slot per month. This is everything that is not G/R/V or Western.
Another way of doing it is write a G/R/V set in a different place but with English protagonists.
Other publishers are opening up but it is patchy.

Some such as Zoe Archer have had success with using the Unusual setting combined with paranormal.

Unusual settings are opening slightly. Jeannie Lin has her debut coming out with HH in October. Christine Phillips has her debut Roman coming out in Sept with Berkeley. Zoe Archer has her debut coming out in Sept.
HH Undone recently bought Ashley Radcliffe's Medieval Japan set one. Love Inspired Historical has recently done Roman and WW2 so it is not just super sensual who are getting in on the act.
I understand from the RWA workshop on UH, Avon recently bought an Ottoman Empire Regency and Pocket has bought Carrie Lofty's Victorian South African set ones.
The blog Unusual Historical http://unusualhistoricals.blogspot.com/ is a good place to find out what is happening and always welcomes news on any such books.

Victoria Janssen said...

Thanks so much for your comments, Michelle! I like the idea of "English protagonists abroad" in particular because that could inspire plot conflict.

You're right about paranormals being a bit more open. I would love to see more historical paranormals.

That Ottoman Empire book sounds REALLY interesting.

Minx Malone said...

Great advice. As much as I love Regencies, I'd love to read about some different settings. I'll definitely check out the South African settings.

Jina Bacarr said...

Excellent post especially in a time when the market is tight.

I'm wondering if unusual settings do better in foreign markets. My Blonde Geisha has been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish and Czech. I've also rec'd requests from Turkey and Hungary!

Also, as the world gets smaller through the use of social media, I believe the market will open up to different and unusual settings.

Michelle Lauren said...

Great post Victoria!

I saw the cover for your new book and fell in love. It's great to see how a genre I love (historicals) is getting a remix with blending genres, but also taking on settings we haven't seen before.

Victoria Janssen said...

Thanks, Minx and Michelle!

Jina, your comment about if unusual settings possibly doing better in foreign markets is definitely one to consider.