Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Welcome Stacey Agdern!

This week the Lady Novelist is pleased to welcome Stacey Agdern from Posman books here to Got it Goin On.

Q. Can you share a little about your background and how you came to be in charge of the romance section at Posman Books?

I had decided that I was going to try to make a go of it as a writer, but needed a ‘day job’; something I could work at during the day and yet not have to bring my work home. The immediate choice was retail, and I’d always enjoyed bookstores, so what would be better than working at one? Once I started, I learned a great deal about the store and my colleagues. They were fabulous! However, as nice as they were, they didn’t read the genre. And so I began making suggestions…which eventually got noticed, because, of course, the management team knew how best to use their available assets. Less than a month after I started working at the store, I was in charge of the section.

Q. What does being in charge of the romance section at Posman Books mean? I.e., what exactly is it that you do?

I like to think of my job as ‘the last line of defense.’ I do a great deal of research on many different levels, speak to customers and use the knowledge that I’ve gained to fill in the gaps in both backlist and current titles. I also look at various publisher catalogues and assist the buyer in choosing new releases.

Q: What do you love about the romance genre?

I love the freedom! A romance can be set anywhere and pretty much do anything, but yet as long as it tells the story of a relationship(and ends with either a happily ever after or the promise of forever) it’s a romance. I don’t think that any other type of fiction can afford that kind of creative freedom.

Q: Are the one to whom the marketing people at a publisher’s house gear marketing strategies? In other words, if you order a ton of vampire romances, would the marketing people tell the editors to push authors to write more of the same? Or do you just get presented with tons of vampire romances because something else pushes editors to push authors to write these?

I think that what happens is that when publishers see the success of one writer, they go on an increasing search to find similar concepts. However, my personal involvement in this whole process is on an entirely different level. That’s where the concept of ‘last line of defense’ comes in. It’s my job to tell the books of the heart from the imitators; the original stories from those that were pushed by some other force. Because for every number of, for example, succubus romances, out there by authors following trends, there’s a series that’s original by someone who’s been toiling for years, waiting and hoping for a time when, as a notably fabulous and brilliant speaker called it ‘the market meets their muse.’

Q: Generally, what sub genres seem to be selling well? Where do you see market growth/contraction for sub genres in the future?

I’m not quite sure that I see contraction; I see more variations, wider steps people are taking. It’s amazing; this is a time where innovation is key! But at it’s core, no matter how many different variations of something do exist, readers can and do tell the difference between imitators and books of the heart.

Q: There have been reports that historicals are in a decline. Is this merely cyclical? Or asked another way, is there still hope for the historical?

Historicals are definitely not dead despite rumors to the contrary. What people continue to forget is that the current generation of up and coming readers grew up on Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Stephanie Laurens as the previous generation grew up on Johanna Lindsay and Kathleen Woodiwiss before her. As long as there are strong stories, there will always be a historical market.

Q: What do you think is the reason behind the push for more erotic sex scenes in all books, other than inspirational romances?

I think that mainstream publishers were confounded by what, to them, seemed like the sudden rise of erotic romance as a subgenre. So when e-publishers caught a great deal of the market share, the mainstream publishers ran to meet the needs of the market. The more erotic sex scenes are a direct result of that, but they’re also the result of what happens when the stars of erotic romance move into the mainstream. They’re used to writing more erotic scenes, and the mainstream publishers want the reading public to discover them at their best.

Q: What covers do you think have the most impact on readers today? Ie., the stepback, the clinch, the male chest, the female back?

Faces, when done well, can bring in readers. In fact, after having spent most of my reading life ignoring covers, within the last two years I’ve bought two different books simply because I couldn’t get the face on the cover out of my head. However, there are a few other rules. If there’s going to be a clinch, PLEASE make it a stepback. Male chests might work but that depends on the chest. Same with the female back.

Q: What books are you looking for to stock in the store? How can readers affect what is stocked in the store?

I don’t think you can stock a romance section, or really any section of a store or library, without taking into consideration reader tastes. If you don’t, I think there’s something fundamentally wrong. Whenever I look at a publisher catalog, or come across a title that seems interesting in my research, if I can’t come up with at least three regular customers who will by it? I don’t recommend it to be ordered. I also talk to customers(regular or non) about what they’re reading and get suggestions from them. At the moment, I’m looking for chicklit(a la Emily Giffin, Meg Cabot, Alisa Valdes Rodriguez) and romantic comedy written in the third person(methodone for those who finished SEP, Rachel Gibson, Julia London, Deidre Martin, Katie MacAlister, Jenny Crusie….).

Q: Do you think the internet, such as blogs, websites, and email are having an impact on romance book sales?

Absolutely! It helps me to choose titles that customers will enjoy, it helps the customers to be more informed about what they’re reading and what to expect from authors in the future.

Q: What do you think of the hybridization of romance or the marketing of books not really a romance as romance? For example, Jane Lockwood’s new book, Forbidden Shores is marketed as a historical romance, but it leans more towards erotic romance.

I love the hybrid/cross genre stuff that’s coming out ! So much creativity in those books! (Down Home Zombie Blues, Moongazer, Wired, Driven….) Mismarketing is not much of a bother for me as a bookseller because that’s something which is easily fixed. But that’s just another example of where the blogs, websites and emails come in handy. They allow me to do research; a great deal of research, on new and upcoming titles. As a result, I’ll know where to shelve the book…even if the spine says otherwise. For example, in the specific case of the Jane Lockwood title, a little research will uncover that Jane blogs with a group of erotic-historical writers. And so the book is shelved under the erotic romance label in the romance section.
My personal pet peeve is writers who swear up and down that they don’t write romance, but yet the core of their books is a)which ‘hero’ is the heroine going to end up with or b) the relationship between the hero and the heroine. My advice is plain and simple. If you don’t want to be sold/marketed as a romance DO NOT write one.

Q: You are also a writer. What kind of romance do you write?

My current wips are both paranormal; one an alternate reality series that incorporates my first attempt at a historical, the other a paranormal political romantic thriller series that uses a UN like organization as a backdrop. But I’ve written romantic comedy and a romantic political thriller.

Q. What/Who do you like to read?

I think it’s easier to talk about what I don’t read. Mysteries, with a few exceptions, Inspirational fiction/non, literary fiction(with a few exceptions), poetry, erotica. Everything else is pretty much fair game. I’m a sucker for a good writing style. If you can give me a well written story? I’m a happy person.

Q. There was a recent article called "Harm in reading romance novels," Do you think romance novels harm or empower women?

Those individuals who are the genre’s biggest vocal critics seem, more often than not, to have something to prove. The critics who refuse to touch the genre with a ten foot pole, constantly emphasize how much of a literary bent they possess; the mystery author who created a longstanding romantic subplot only to kill off the male lead is attempting to present herself as a ‘crime novelist.’ The author who famously bemoaned chicklit whilst reviewing another writer’s work was actually attempting to explain why her own best selling novel was not, and could never be, classified as chicklit. But those people who pick up a romance novel? They’re saying ‘Here I am. I love these books. I enjoy these books. And I dare you to question me.’ If that’s not empowerment, I’m not sure what is.

Q: Romance has garnered the biggest market share in genre fiction, yet it gets the least respect in popular and literary culture. Do you have any thoughts on why that is? Do you find this prejudice changing?

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the genre serves as an easy target for those people who need a quick boost. Unfortunately, these days, if you actually look at the current state of the market, there are many easy targets. For example, take this quote from Maureen Dowd.
“The blood-red high heel ending in a devil’s pitchfork on the cover of the Lauren Weisberger best seller might as well be driving a stake through the heart of the classics. I even found Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” with chick-lit pretty-in-pink lettering. “Penis lit versus Venus lit,” said my friend Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, who was with me. “An unacceptable choice.”

When I first saw this article, and this quote, my eyes couldn’t help but fall upon the cheesy cartoon soldier cover on the most recent translation of the Aeneid(which has been followed by the pretty much identical soldier on the trade paperback of Paul Cartelege’s ‘The Spartans). What’s next? A full blazing cover, complete with a Macho Roman soldier that would otherwise belong on a Clancy novel? It was just the most recent step in a thrillification process that is putting a proverbial sword through the heart of the classics. Penis Lit? Venus Lit? What about Mars lit? You know…god of war? Infusing the common thriller into gorgeous works of epic poetry? I’d rather read ‘The Devil Wears Prada’(which I don’t like for other, unrelated, reasons) than ‘Songs on Bronze’ which juxtaposes modern interpretations of the classics and the very noble, naked back of a Roman or Greek Soldier. Even though I adore both the classics and thrillers(and have actually read some of the most obvious examples of the thrillification process), this should serve as an example of how easy it is to find a target…if you only look.
Unfortunately, despite the prevalence of other easy targets, I don’t see this prejudice changing.

However, ever once in a while I do see signs of encouragement. In a recent interview, Michael Chabon said “There’s nothing inherently inferior about … romance novels,” and proceeded to explain how his novels are infused with romance, to the point where he believes that the core of one of his recent books is the relationship between one of his main characters and his ex- wife If you look at Dean Koontz’s website, you’ll see that he’s characterized some of his recent novels as ‘Romantic Suspense’(http://www.deankoontz.com/books/genre/romantic-suspense.php).

Q. What books are you most looking forward to in the upcoming months?

Do I have to list them all?:) I think the major problem with the fact that I read sooo many authors is that my to be bought list is rather large….but yet I’m never without something to read by one of my faves.
Thanks Stacey for stopping by. And if you're an author or even a reader, when you're in New York, stop by Posman Books in Grand Central Station and say hi to Stacey!

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