I have an impressive list of traditionally published authors that I will always read, no matter what. (They include but are not limited to: Darynda Jones, Jeaniene Frost, Beverly Jenkins, Lorraine Heath, Lisa Kleypas, Ilona Andrews, Roni Loren, etc.) I trust those authors to deliver an A+ reading experience and I don't see that changing anytime soon. But these days, unless an author is on my "proven to be safe" list, I don't pick up their traditionally published books. Why? I'm glad you asked. It comes down to one thing that traditional publishers are doing TOTALLY wrong:
That's right. Traditional publishers are marketing their books in such a way that has made me start to steer all of my book-buying budget towards self-published authors, and authors who are published by small, independent presses. The terrible, no-good, awful marketing choices the big publishers are making these days fall into 3 categories as I see it:
Cutesy, illustrated covers for EVERYTHING
I don't hate illustrated covers. Truly, I don't. I know that for some authors, illustrated is the best way to go because of the lack of diversity in the stock photo world. Meaning, if you're looking for great, cover-worthy, romantic images that include diversity or marginalized classes of folks, you're not likely to have many choices on iStock, Deposit Photos, and Shutterstock. Illustrations opened up some great possibilities for authors, and I don't want to EVER discount that. BUT, when publishers started putting cutesy illustrated covers on their ENTIRE romance catalog, that's when I started to get really annoyed. When I see a cutesy illustrated cover that's being marketed as a romance novel, I expect a lighthearted, rom com. But now, you can find anything from women's fiction and chick lit, to darker, deeply emotional contemporary and historical romance under cutesy illustrated covers when you browse a traditional publisher's catalog. It's INFURIATING to readers, and it's completely invalidated my ability to decide what I'd like and what I'd hate in a book. So, it's just a lot easier for me to avoid traditionally published romance altogether, frankly.
And as if all that wasn't annoying enough for a romance reader looking for a good rom com, the illustrated covers mean NOTHING in terms of heat level. The cutesy illustrated covers are on high heat novels and no-heat novels alike. Some kind of rating system to indicate heat level would be GREATLY appreciated.
HEA is NOT OPTIONAL
Traditional publishers have been trying to sneak women's fiction reads and love stories past me as romance novels lately (under cutesy illustrated covers, of course). I've said it before and I'll say it again: IF YOUR BOOK DOESN'T HAVE A HAPPY ENDING, IT IS NOT A ROMANCE NOVEL. There is a big difference between a romance novel, and a novel that is romantic, or that contains romantic elements. You can have a really romantic novel, but if it doesn't have a HEA (happily ever after) or a HFN (happy for now) ending, it isn't a romance genre. The happy ending is the ONLY convention in the whole genre. Ask RWA if you don't believe me. I didn't make the rules. I mean, you wouldn't call The Terminator a romance, would you? Even though Kyle Reese traveled across time for Sarah Connor and was really romantic (and hot) about the whole thing? No...no you would not.
And all of you out there who are ready to fight me on this or claim that I'm "gatekeeping" by trying to dictate what writers can and can't do, I'm going to ask you to kindly see yourselves out. No one is stopping you from writing your romantic love story of the ages that ends in death and emotional devastation. Write and publish until your heart's content. I don't care. But the MOMENT you try and market that depressing crap to me as a romance novel is the time I come for you HARD in a book review that's guaranteed to make you cry. Let's just all save ourselves some time and market books in their correct categories, shall we?
I'm hereby boycotting traditionally published romance, except for my list of "proven safe" authors. And I would encourage traditional publishers to straighten up and fly right and quit trying to scam romance readers. You're not doing yourselves or your authors any favors by intentionally mis-marketing your books.
And if you feel the same way I do, here's some INCREDIBLE authors who AREN'T traditionally published that you should check out RIGHT AWAY:
Lucy Score and Claire Kingsley