How do you define success for SciFi Romance?

Many of the fans and readers of SciFi Romance(SFR) have been advocating for the genre for years. When I started trying to increase the visibility of SFR it was already being published regularly in the e-publishing world. Lately I’ve been wondering, sense it was already available, why did we feel such a need to push it into the spotlight. And how have things changed?

Then and now…

iStock_000002866684_ExtraSmallTen years ago, e-books were still struggling to gain wide acceptance. Many people (if they’d heard of e-books) thought they were not REAL books or that they were only for books you’d be embarrassed buying in public. Others lumped them into the “vanity” publishing pile. If we are to be honest, we must acknowledge that there were some pretty bad ebooks in the beginning, but that was across genres and not particular to SFR.

Overtime independent authors have become much savvier about the business side of ebooks and the need for professional editing, cover art and so forth. It could even be said that SFR benefited greatly from the non-commercial, but often demanding of high standards, world of fan fiction. Possibly elevating the quality of SFR earlier than other subgenres.

What were we advocating for?

Perhaps our need to advocate for SFR was driven by the desire to overcome the stigma of the early ebook markets. Maybe we bought into the belief that e-books would take many years to gain viability and we simply wanted to ensure a long-term ready supply of reading materials. We may have thought that getting SFR into print was the only way to ensure the gains SFR had found in ebooks.


I doubt few see it that way now. E-books have gained in popularity and respectability. Traditional publishers are now frantically trying to find a way to capitalize on the success of indie authors. Several times in the last few months I’ve spoken to authors having sold SFR into major publishers, though mostly into their e-book lines.

Time to rethink…

Article for tomorrowThe big question for me is, do I care? Should any of us care? With digital first publishers growing and traditional publishers rushing to develop digital first lines, do we need to see SFR in print? With indies being so successful, do we even need traditionally publishers to consider SFR a long-term viable genre? Have attitudes changed enough that we no longer define success in terms of traditional measures?

Certainly future generations will be increasingly tech savvy, but right now with many readers still consuming books as a paper product, can we assume SFR readers are tech focused enough to be predominantly e-readers? Or do we still need the print distribution provided by traditional publishers to reach the breadth of the reading public?

Still asking questions…

Personally, I’m not content with the current level of success for SFR. I want to see it gain a much larger audience. I’m just less and less certain how critical a role print books or even traditional publishers will play in helping SFR gain that audience.

What do you think?

39 thoughts on “How do you define success for SciFi Romance?

  1. I think making more inroads into actual print is crucial to stepping up the visibility of the genre. Ebook sales have flattened at just under 30% of the total book market. 70% of readers still buy paper. How many more readers could we find if SFR had a larger presence in print form and bookstores?

    • Good point! Though I think if you look at romance-only numbers they might be more skewed toward ebooks than the general numbers.

      Since most traditional print romance publishers seem to be launching more and more books via their digital first lines, do you think we should be focusing on those lines (as authors submitting work and or consumers buying it)? Even if that might not be the most financially viable for the authors? Maybe we need to look at the long term over the short term?

      • I do think we need to be getting into the digital first lines at the big houses. I have a series I’m targeting at Hachette’s Forever Yours line, if I can tear myself away from my other one long enough to focus on it.

        Authors who do well in these digital first lines are able to cross into the print divisions and get mass distribution. There are a lot of advantages to submitting and being published in these lines.

  2. There will always be members of every audience who will prefer print books over ebooks. I read a lot of ebooks these days, but I would buy all print books if I had the space and money for them. I still intend to get print copies of the books that become favourites. So I think that both mediums are valid and will always be required.

    Also, I think traditional publishing will remain because it does help with quality control. Traditional publishers stay in business because they have discovered, over the years, what makes a successful book. Whether we publish with a traditional publisher or self-publish, keeping an eye on what traditional publishers are doing will, I believe, be helpful.

    • Hi Lynne! I agree that traditional publishers are necessary and not fading away. I do think they are struggling to keep up with indies in the romance genre because their model is a slow moving one.

  3. Paranormal got traction through epublishers in the early days of Ellora’s Cave etc. Other than that there were Silhouette Shadows and Maggie Shayne–not much else. You could find vampire/ shifter romances online long before the genre hit any shelves in Casper, WY. I ordered Christine Feehan from a small bookstore(no shipping back then!) here after hearing about them online. Then the big series started to pop up–Black Dagger Brotherhood was the one that stood out the most for me. It was on the shelves in Casper, WY. Co-workers were reading it.

    We are seeing lots of SFR in e. I think we’ll see a hot selling series that captures the attention of the romance community. It is not that far a leap from paraom/ urban fantasy to SFR.

    • I actually was getting print paranormals from a second hand book shop long before I discovered ebooks. There was a surge of time-travel and paranormal in the late 80s/early 90s. Fueled mostly by Dorchester publishing. There were even futuristics in that line. When I ran out of those I discovered a still new EC. If you think one fabulous book were to hit, what kind of SFR do you think it would be? What would have the biggest appeal? I think you are right that if this happens it will take a print distribution to propell it to a wide readership.

      • I think a hit would be an ensemble series. Maybe a space opera, because that seems somewhat accessible to non scifi readers because of their experience with movies and TV shows. It would have to have stellar characters that readers would want to see find their HEA.

  4. Hmm…all interesting thoughts to ponder. I’d love to see SFR grow as well. I don’t know the answers. I’m trying to do what I can to promote my books, but it’s difficult being a new author on a limited budget. Could print distribution help? Probably. But I still think the problem is that the majority of readers are scared to try SFR. They don’t know what it is. People hear the word sci-fi and figure it’s not for them. Or they hear romance and think the same thing. Well now put the two together and many people are hesitant to give SFR a try. I don’t understand that, because they enjoy watching it at the movies. Avatar comes to mind. 🙂

    • Hey Kathy! At least perception of the genre is something we can attempt to change. I think now is a good time to be focusing on this too. Geek culture is becoming more main stream and the popular media abounds with soft scifi. So happy that Marvel properties like the Avengers and Spiderman, and hopefully Guardians of the Galaxy, are getting big attention. This excites me because the Marvel universe is very science and technology based. I wish there were more Star Trek coming out.

  5. I think that we need enough market growth to keep authors writing SFR. With ebooks, that is much more possible. If the authors make the living they need to make to keep writing, then we all win because authors will keep producing SFR and as more authors come in, more readers will naturally follow (not that we should stop boosting the genre, but authors need to feel or be “successful” to keep writing. What that is different for each author. Some authors won’t feel they “made it” w/o NY. Others just want to pay their bills.).

    The thing that the 30% digital/70% print discussion misses is that many, many authors are making a living at their writing only with digital. You don’t need print unless you want it. I have made my SFR available in print because a) I wanted to be able to donate a set to the Brenda Novak auction and b) because I want my IP available in every format I can manage on my own. But in the six months since I was thrust into all indie-ness by the closing of my publisher, my writing business is self supporting (and it is digital sales that is paying the bills). I’m not rolling in it, but I needed the business to start paying its own way. And it is predominantly the SFR that is doing it.

    Great discussion question! Much to ponder…

    • I have a good friend who’s making a living self-pubbing. She was able to quit her hated day job and her writing pays most of the bills. But she’s a really fast writer and has a ton of stuff sitting in the drawer that nobody wanted.

      But she’s not going solo indie either. She’s hybrid, published also in category romance and has a trade deal coming.

      Having something in a mainstream bookstore increases visibility. I’m still pursuing the traditional route and hope to see my stuff in a bookstore someday.

      • Hybrid does seem to be the buzzword these days. I think writing fast is becoming more important for both digital and print. US readers are hungry. 😉 Wishing you lots of success!

    • This is true. There seems to still be many more submission calls and interest in paranormal romance.

      What would be cool– a SFR publisher series like the 1 Night Stand series, but set for romances in a scifi world.

    • Being able to make a living is definitely a measure of success that I, as an author, put a lot of stock in. As a reader, I primarily want a variety of books readily available. Authors being able to support their writing certainly must make that more likely. I guess I would also like to be able to mention a book or author in the genre and have other romance readers at least recognize them or know what I’m talking about. Ha!

      • I’ve been mulling a blog post and am hoping to write it soon. I’ve had a lot of family stuff going on since first of year. And I was sick. While I was sick, I used the “down” time to do a crap job I’d been wanting (?) needing(?) to do. I went back and hunted up as many royalty statements as I could still find from my (gulp) 16 years of being published with both a medium trad publisher, a variety of small presses and then going indie late last year. I knew it would be kind of depressing, so I figured why ruin a healthy week? (LOL) Anyway, it was rather eye opening.

        I need to think about all the things I learned and try to be coherent, but yeah, more is better.

        *The more books you have in a series or similar genre the better (this is totally confirmed by other authors). 12-13 seems to be the tipping number. I have 16 projects for sale, but they are divided between SFR and RS. So I haven’t actually reached the tipping point.

        * Looking at the years of numbers, the ups and downs, being in charge is just better for me. I had a miserable experience with the trad publisher, for the most part. The only time my trad numbers trumped my indie numbers was the book that didn’t earn out the advance. Not selling well made me more money on that book. (insert wry grin)

        * I always ran my business, but in the past, there were more elements I couldn’t control. When I start to feel stressed or out of control, either I (or the hubs) reminds me that this is now totally my business. Yeah, I wish I could write faster and leap tall buildings in a single bound. But I can’t. (insert second wry grin) But I’m the boss, so I can give me a break. It’s better for my high maintenance author. (grin)

        * It’s easier to make small waves in a small genre, than small waves (or any waves) in a huge genre. I’m making more money off the SFR because it is more niche. RS is HUGE genre. I’m basically invisible in RS. It’s really hard to make progress when you’re invisible. So maybe the fact that SFR is niche is a blessing for right now? It gives us a chance to find and build a strong core of dedicated readers who love the genre. Who are hunting for SFR and don’t have to be persuaded to read it. And then we encourage them to tell someone and tell some more someones…

        Which brings me to…

        *More is better. Again. Writing more books is still the best plan. 🙂

  6. Print gives us more exposure by giving readers another format option, and being as visible as possible gives us a greater chance of success. The majority of my sales are digital and I certainly don’t make much from print sales, but I’ve been able to do giveaways in places like Goodreads. Anything that’ll help get my books noticed!

    • I think many indie authors agree with you on the need to have a print book available for marketing. I’m seeing them take the time to offer POD even when they aren’t making any direct profit from it.

  7. I think KM made a great point. We should go through all the movies that have been popular in the past that we would call SFR, pointing out the sci fi or the romance, and comparing our books to them whenever possible. “If you liked Avatar, then you’ll love…!”

    After all, it wouldn’t hurt and it may help people get over their uncertainties to try SFR!

  8. Wow! This is a great post.
    I read mainly ebooks; pushed by practical incentives. Shipping overseas is expensive & Japanese houses don’t have much storage space. I love my ereader because I get a much wider variety quickly & easily. I still love print & I appreciate the trad publishers for their experience and quality control. Another plus with ebooks is that smaller niche markets have a better chance, because print through major publishers requires a print run that often means certain good books are not considered viable. E options really help.

    However there is a dignity and reputation that print books get that can push SFR to a wider audience. Every SFR writers doesn’t need to do print, but having that breakthrough writer/book can have a ripple effect on the market.

    • There are some SFR that have been predominately in print–like Cat Grant, Sue Grant, Linnea Sinclair, JD Robb. Even more in the past with futuristic authors like Dara Joy and Nancy Cain.

      So far these haven’t really yielded any breakthroughs or even built a place in the mainstream market for SFR.

      The authors/books that have been most succesful have been ones that dabbed a minor scifi twist into the paranormal market–Lora Leigh and Christine Feehan for example.

      If the JD Robb books didn’t create a market space, what would?

  9. Great post, Charlee. I agree that getting a better foot hold in print can only be a good thing. Being the optimist that I am, I’m hoping for an explosion in genre ala vampires and zombies. One can always hope!

  10. I’m not hard over about SFR being in print or ebook or audiobook or whatever the next new media might be – as an author, I like it to be everywhere LOL! But I do agree with comments made above that sometimes readers are not sure what sci fi and romance mean together and are a bit reluctant to dive in. Hopefully with this terrific blog you all have here and the Galaxy Express and others, an even wider audience can be intrigued into giving the genre a try. I’m mentioning a SciFi movie or TV show at the end of each of my twice-a-month columns over at USA Today/HEA to do a little bit of what Eva suggests above, as far as creating more of a comfort level for people that they may have liked science fiction with romance already! Great post, Charlee!

  11. Charlee,

    thanks for opening the discussion. I agree that sfr authors should not be discouraged by market share, as sfr readers are prolific. They know what they like and they read a lot of it. And many sfr readers are very comfortable with tech devices–kind of goes hand in hand. Smart girls DO love sci fi!

    Too, the ‘ebooks are only 30% of the market’ should not discourage us, as that print 70% includes textbooks, cookbooks and coffee table books. If you walk thru a bookstore or college bookstore you know those are a huge percentage of the print market.

    Pauline’s positive words above are true for me too. I’m not a big name, but since my 1st 2 self-pub sfr books debuted in digital only (I’ll get around to Print on Demand when the 4th book is series debuts) my career has taken a leap up both in rankings and $$.

    I would encourage other sfr authors to post perma free reads. I have a free paraquel novella, Heart of Stone, set in the world of my Orion Series and my new LodeStar series, and it has worked hard for me, bringing in new readers. Later in the year, I have another sfr free read ready to debut.

    The technique has worked so well, I’ll be doing free reads in all the romance genres I write.

    I love the idea of promoting the genre using the current popular movies and TV shows! Can’t wait until Jupiter Ascending debuts this summer–Channing Tatum as a hot sfr shifter?? Yes.

    • Yes! And we need a hot shifter series on TV that is aimed at women. Most of the ones they’ve tried have been teen focused.

  12. I’m trying to write myself free of the day job in a variety of genres–but I was writing fantasy romance back in the early 1990’s, when it didn’t exist! But it does now, and I am very happy with that.

  13. Jean–I have a fantasy series I want to launch but not until next year. My SFR series is my biggest self pubbed earner, I think if I could get three more books out I could at least work a part time day job…maybe quit all together if our downsizing plan actually works. Time really kind of is money…

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