Laurie's News & Views

July 30, 1996 - Issue #9

This is the perfect time to catch up on some outstanding issues, so this semi-scattered column is my attempt to do so. Among the topics to be discussed: Are our firsts our favorites?; and a closer look at reader's opinions of publishers. Also included is a new subject - glomming (to read a description, you'll just have to be patient).

ARE OUR FIRSTS OUR FAVORITES?
This question, and get your minds out of the gutter ;), was brought to my attention by a Prodigy pal. Gretchen was struck by the fact that, although so many of us are such fans of Julie Garwood, most of us cannot agree on which of her books is best. For instance, Gretchen likes The Bride best. I like Castles best. It turns out that she read The Bride first. I read Castles first. Were we on to something? Could we say that readers tend to prefer the first book they read by a beloved author? As it turns out, yes . . . and no. Here is what some of you had to say, beginning with Gretchen:

"I have been a bit befuddled over the fact that everyone seems to have a different favorite. Everyone that I know loves her books. So, why is it that few of us could agree upon which one was the best?

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After thinking about it for awhile, I asked a BB pal if her favorite Garwood was the first she had read. The other BB'er said that, yes, her favorite *was* the first she had read.

"Does this hold true for all authors and readers or just the Garwood group? The friends I talked to couldn't decide. I can honestly say that it depends on the author for me. If the author is someone who tends to write better in one time period than another, or if the author has a few bad apples in the bunch, then perhaps I'm a little more open-minded and it's not always their first book that's my favorite. However, if the author is someone who only writes 'gems' and they are all standing on my keeper shelves, then my tendency is to like the first one I read best. Maybe it's because that book turned me on to the author and therefore has a special place in my heart, maybe not. I don't really know the answer to that one."

When I looked through my library database, I discovered that my firsts are usually my favorites. It has held true for Julie Garwood, Johanna Lindsey, Catherine Coulter, Rexanne Becnel, Teresa Medeiros, Judith McNaught, Lisa Kleypas, and Kathryn Lynn Davis. But it is not always the case -- my favorites by Ruth Langan, Amanda Quick, Deborah Simmons, Elizabeth Elliott, Linda Lael Miller, and Katherine Sutcliffe were not the first books I read.

Author Kimberly Cates weighed in with this response:

"With some authors I have what I call the 'Indiana Jones' syndrome -- remember the first Indy movie, it was a complete surprise, our first intro to his character. The second film couldn't match it, though the third was also great. Sometimes that's how it is with authors. That first wow of discovery that is never quite matched, often because the element of surprise is gone.

"On the other hand, I've read lots of authors over and over, watching them grow and change, and some of their best work is a more recent book that shows that growth/mastery. It just all depends on the author, on the book, on my mood, whether I have PMS, etc."

Here's what Jan had to say, "I find that if I read a new author and it clicks, then I want to read other things they've written. Most of the time I like their other stories just as well. For me, the initial book is a make-or-break deal. If I really don't like a book, then it becomes more unlikely that I'll try that author again. But if a favorite author disappoints me, then, as with good friends, I give them the benefit of the doubt and try again." Well said, Jan.

Jan's comments were echoed by Angela, who said, "It has been my experience that if the first book that I read by an author doesn't grab me, it is unlikely that additional titles will be read. If the first book that I read turns out to be my favorite, it is either sheer luck that I happened to pick that particular book or because of good recommendations. It is not an automatic situation of 'first is best' and in many cases, I prefer the later works by an author that I have followed. An example is Nora Roberts, who, I feel only gets better and better with each book."

Theresa goes along for the ride, saying, "I find that I like the first book I read by an author best, too! I guess the first one sets up a certain level of expectations that you use to judge the others. There are exceptions, of course, and it also works in the negative -- I find it difficult to try another book when I've disliked the first one I've read. The only thing that has changed my mind about those authors are lots of personal recommendations."

I agree with Theresa on this as well. I read the first in Leigh Greenwood's Seven Brides for Seven Brothers series, thought it was, at best, an average read, and traded the rest of them in the next day. The only reason I read Laura Kinsale's Midsummer Moon after disliking so intensely Dream Hunter was because I was assigned it to read by this web site. Other authors I've only given one chance to? Marlene Suson, Elaine Barbieri, Meg Davidson, Pamela Morsi (I know I'll be tarred and feathered for that one), and Connie Mason.

I am loyal to other authors, to an extent. I've stayed with Rexanne Becnel, Catherine Coulter, Linda Lael Miller, Katherine Sutcliffe, and Teresa Medeiros even though they've written some clinkers. In some cases, though I have to qualify what I will or will not buy. For instance, no more Linda Lael Miller medievals, no more Catherine Coulter medievals, and no more Judith McNaught contemporaries.

From RReader contributor Meredith Moore, "Do I tend to like an author's first book? Almost always yes. In other novel genres, the first book is usually the least accomplished. It takes time to develop technique and artistry. However, in the romance genre, the first can be the best. An author will prove herself, then is lashed to the contractual treadmill, thereafter forced to crank out (at least) one book a year. The result can be dreadful." Judging from the e-mails I receive every day from readers wondering why the latest book by their favorite author is such a dud, Meredith may have a point!

From Diane, "Normally the first book I read determines whether I read more of the author's works. Rarely do I go back to that author if I don't like the first book. Exceptions? Jayne Ann Krentz, Nora Roberts, and Jane Feather. The first books by them that I read just did not grab me as they had many other readers. I am very glad that I did go on to read others by these authors since they have become favorites of mine.

"I have found that lately, books by some of my favorites just have not been up to par with their past works. I had thought it was just me, but maybe not. In most cases, though, the first book that I read by an author remains the favorite. The biggest exception that comes to mind is Nora Roberts' Hidden Riches."

Here is what Ita has to say, "I do think the first book I read by an author tends to be a favorite. Let's face it, authors have a certain style and tend to write about the same general type of hero and heroine. The first time you encounter it and it clicks, it makes a special impression by an author."

Perhaps Rachel says it best in her comments, "I would say in my case that the first book by an author isn't always my favorite, but it's a sentimental favorite for being the first. . . Perhaps we remember these books more clearly because they were the introduction to some of our now favorite authors, and thus we deem them our favorites by those authors."

Lori echoes Rachel's comments with this well-thought statement, "I think that if the author has a very special magic for you, then the first time you experience it is probably going to be the best. That magic is what allows fans to enjoy books by a favorite author even when it's not her best, and probably throws some of us off. We hear about an author, and try a book that several people enjoyed. But it might not be the best introduction to that author, because it is only a pale echo of her usual magic. Her fans can still recognize that magic." By Jove, I think she's got it!

Finally, this comes from an anonymous lurker. Afraid of starting a flame war, she echoed many of the comments made above, and leads us to a new topic - glomming. "If the first book I've read by an author is a good read then I track down more by that author. Are they always my favorite? No, and yes!"

GLOMMING:
What, may you ask, is "glomming"?

Glomming is that particular affliction that affects romance readers and sends us looking all over the place for an author's backlist.
Some of us suffer so badly from this disease that we buy an entire grouping of a particular author's work having never read any of her books. How do I know this? Because I'm a glommer. Here are some author's I've sought out backlists for, never having read their work: Elaine Coffman, Susan Johnson, Katherine Deauxville, Jane Feather, Virginia Henley, and Suzanne Robinson.

I want to hear from all you glommers out there -- time to 'fess up! Do you glom? Do you glom authors you've never even read? What do you do when you discover you've made a mistake (I've finally decided to start trading in my errors in judgment)? Please e-mail me here.

ABOUT PUBLISHERS:
Attending the national RWA conference reminded me that publishing as a whole is a very interesting business about which I have little knowledge. Another reason why I am so intrigued by publishers these days, is as a result of a computer error. After noodling around with my library database one day, I mistakenly sorted my data by publisher. I discovered that there was some fairly clear delineation between publishing companies and my personal likes/dislikes of books. I saw that I tend to buy books published by certain companies, choose books from my library to read by certain companies, and tend to like/dislike books by certain companies.

Another reason I wanted to pursue this arena was a conversation I had with author Kathryn Lynn Davis. Her friend, author Jillian Hunter, had alerted her to a guest column I wrote last year for Romantic Times wherein I stated my two favorite books were written by Kathryn and Julie Garwood. Because their writing styles are so different, Kathryn was rather amazed by this, especially since she and Julie share the same editor at Pocket Books, Linda Marrow.

Once Kathryn and I began to talk in preparation for a profile I am writing about her, we began to delve more deeply into talk of editors and publishers in general. Obviously she believes Pocket is the best publisher around. Certainly, Pocket's list of romance authors is quite impressive. I then began to contact some of the other authors I had interviewed in the past; while each believed their publisher was great, a consensus was building around Pocket, Avon, and Bantam, Doubleday, Dell (BDD) as the "best" publishers.

I decided to do a little bit of statistical analysis to see if perceptions were the same as reality. I checked out my personal library database and that of the Romance Reader and posted notes around the Internet to determine whether or not my tastes, the tastes of the Romance Reader, and the authors I'd talked to were consistent. What did I find? Mostly that there is, again, not a definitive answer to be found:

THE ROMANCE READER: A large majority of the books reviewed were published by just four companies - Pocket, Avon, BDD (including Loveswept), and Putnam (which includes Berkley, Jove, and Diamond).

My first major surprise was how Pocket titles faired - more than half received low ratings of 1 or 2 hearts. Just over 15% received high ratings of 4 or 5 hearts. These results were markedly different from my personal ratings. The results regarding Avon titles were more uniform, but again, were quite different than my personal ones. Only 40% of Avon's titles received high ratings.

Another surprising result were the ratings of BDD titles - less than half received high ratings. Again, these results differed from my experience. Ratings for Putnam, on the other hand, were more comparable to mine -- more than half received high ratings.

The other publishers are not discussed here because they represent too statistically insignificant a bearing on the total results. Harlequin (which includes Silhouette and Mira) accounted for only 6% of books reviewed. Kensington, Penguin, and Harper Monogram accounted for only 5% of books reviewed respectively. The other publishers had an even smaller share of the statistical pie.

MY PERSONAL LIBRARY: I tend to buy books published by Pocket, Avon, BDD, and Kensington more than the other publishers. Of the books I've bought and read (I have a tremendous reserve of books tbr), Pocket, Avon, Harlequin, Penguin, and BDD account for nearly three-quarters of the books I've read.

Overall, I've read nearly half of the Harlequins in my library, nearly 40% of the Pockets, and more than one-third of the Penguins. At the other end of the spectrum are those published by Leisure/Love Spell and Kensington. I've only read 10% of the Leisure/Love Spell books I own and only 14% of the Kensingtons. (I'm sure there's a reason for this as well, but that's for another column.)

There is some skewing in my personal results because, generally, when I like an author very much, I not only buy her backlist, (there's that glomming again!) but I read them in a grouping. So, of Julie Garwood's 14 books published by Pocket, I've read 13 and gave them all fairly high ratings. I've read a number of Deborah Simmons' books; they account for nearly one-quarter of books I've read by Harlequin. They also have mostly received fairly high ratings. The same can be said for Amanda Quick and her books for BDD.

The converse is true as well. For example, because of the reputation of Bertrice Small, I hunted down her backlist and now have a number of her books (again, the glomming thing). I have read just one and am not in a hurry to read the others. The only books I own by Ballantine are hers. So that rating is skewed.

When I compared my ratings to those on The Romance Reader I was more than a bit surprised (although given the reader response to many of my reviews, perhaps I shouldn't have been) because there are many major differences. I've rated 70% of my Pocket books highly. The same goes for Avon. BDD received high ratings on more than two-thirds of its books in my library. While Harlequin is no more than a crumb of the RReader pie, it represents a sizable amount of my library. I've rated two-thirds of my Harlequins (mostly historicals) highly. Penguin books, another crumb of the RReader pie, is a larger segment of my library. I've rated more than one-half of my Penguins highly.

Kensington and St. Martin's Press have not faired well in my ratings. One-half of the Kensington books I've read received low ratings. My Kensington results, once I checked with other readers, were not surprising, although recent improvements may change the outlook for them.

Here is a sampling of what readers have had to say, starting with those who may not agree about any other publisher, but with a very strong opinion about Kensington (Zebra):

  • "I always thought I was alone in this. I consistently discard books by Zebra. . . As soon as I see the "Z" I put my hand in my pocket." -- Andrea
  • "My collection is made up of mostly Avon and Pocket. . . I do have several Zebra though and have enjoyed many, but they certainly don't rank up there with the others. No basis for this opinion, but I always think of Zebra as home to "rookies" or undergrads. -- Kathy
  • "I have mostly Pocket and Avon as keepers. I also have Bantam. The fewest are Topaz and Zebra." - Joanne
  • "I have been reading romances for 20-plus years and Avon and Pocket were and are the best. . . I very seldom buy a Zebra or Leisure book. . . Harlequin, of course, has been around for a long time and is now doing very well in the longer books. It wasn't always like that." --Sharon
  • "Hi, my name is Holly, and I've. . . noticed that I've never kept anything by Zebra."
  • "The majority of keepers are Pocket Books. Another favorite is Warner Books. . . I have no Zebra keepers and don't like to buy them unless they are used because they are so 'iffy'" -- Sherri
  • "It's been a couple of years, but I won't pick up a Zebra book anymore because every time I did I find myself beating my head against the wall. Maybe they've changed, but I don't want to spend the money to find out. I've always found Bantam to be a good source." -- Kathi
  • "Out of my keepers the breakdown was as follows: BDD/Lovespell - 63, Putnam - 38, Pocket - 38, Avon - 35, Penguin - 26, Harper - 16. . . I stopped buying Zebra (if I ever did) a long time ago." - Another Andrea
  • "I will not buy Zebras as a general rule. I used to like Avon, but find their quality comes and goes -- their books are so predictable. Most of my keepers come from Bantam. Their books seem to be more sensual and they take more chances." -- Leslie
  • Some readers who used to be adamant about their dislike of Kensington have slowly been coming around and now view it differently, as evidenced by the following statements:

  • "Back in the 80's I swore off reading any books published by Zebra. I thought the quality sucked. During that same time, I bought a lot of Avon books. I am still leery of Zebra, but I have bought Jo Beverley's books and have been pleased. In addition, Stella Cameron now writes (contemporaries) for Zebra. Maybe they are improving." -- Lyn
  • "Zebra used to be the worst, with Leisure/Lovespell very close - actually I think L/L is worse now. And Zebra Heartfire was the absolute worst. I believe Zebra has some new editors now and recently they have improved. . . But I sometimes have to tell my customers, 'No, really, they *are* good' when they see books published by Zebra. . . I believe Bantam is the best and Pocket and Avon follow" - From an anonymous bookstore manager
  • "95% of the books I buy are from the Arabesque line of Kensington" - Ywanda
  • In general, Pocket and Avon were considered by most readers to be the best of the publishers, as evidenced by these comments:

  • "My favorites are mostly published by Pocket, Avon, Bantam, Topaz (part of Penguin), and Jove. . . I don't buy Leisures anymore or Love Spells." -- Yet another Andrea
  • "Loveswept (part of BDD) is my favorite publisher, very few of those get traded. . . My keeper file is main filled with Harlequin/Silhouettes, BDD/Loveswept, Avon, and Pocket. . . I only have 6 keepers for Harper, 6 for Kensington, and 2 for Warner." -- Monica
  • "Avon is the definite favorite and Topaz the least favorite. Avon, I think, has by far the best writers." -- Rebecca
  • "80% of the books on my keeper shelves are Pocket books. This includes non-romance authors as well." -- Angela
  • "I haven't read a Leisure/Love Spell yet which was worth the cost in dead trees. Yecch. Avon, Pocket, Berkley, Signet, and Bantam all have good stuff out there." -- Cathy
  • "Most of my keepers are published by Pocket and Avon." -- Sharen
  • Do you agree or disagree or just don't plain care about various publishers? Have you checked your library? I always remember that every publisher has some fine authors - personally, I think Lisa Ann Verge, Sylvia Halliday, and Anne Stuart are quite talented, and they all write for Kensington. Please e-mail me here.

    THAT'S ALL, FOLKS:
    As is often the case in these columns, I can ask a question of five readers and get five different responses. I think that is proven in the two topics discussed in this column. I'd really like to hear from all of you on the "glomming" issue. Also, because we've had such success with our heroes list (as printed in issue 8), I'd like to start a heroines list. Please e-mail me here the most special heroines you've read, and why they are near and dear to your hearts.

    I am still collecting titles for our Road Romance list, and have added new titles to the Favorite Funnies, Two-Hanky Reads, and Luscious Love Stories lists. Our purple prose section has been growing as well. If you are interested in contributing to any of these lists, or receiving any of them via e-mail, please e-mail me here. And, as usual, if you'd like back issues of this column. Just e-mail me here.

    As for those of you who have sent in lists for our Desert Isle page, that page has been updated. What's pending? RT ratings, the Gilligan's Island Syndrome, and a look at the mid-list -- is there a crisis?

    TTFN, as Tigger said to Winnie the Pooh,
    Laurie Likes Books

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