Small Publishers – Bringing Variety to the Romance Market

I grew up in a smaller city that was a little lacking in the movie theater area. We had choices, but almost all of those choices were mainstream blockbuster films from the major studios. If you wanted more variety, you had to put forth a great deal of effort to get it. However, in recent years, this has changed. The major studio productions are still there, but indie films seem to be proliferating as well. There are the word of mouth hits that eventually went mainstream such as Slumdog Millionaire and Once, but also more obscure films. I am no cinema expert by any stretch, but I watch enough to notice that suddenly, the local film market seems to have had new life breathed into it.

This seems to parallel the reading lives of many I know, both online and offline. When I started reading romance in the 1990s, the major publishers seemed to be the only game in town. I’m sure I could have found other options if I had scoured the internet long and hard, but even the best of bookstores carried selections only by the major publishers. One could find some variety within these lines, but as many have written about (and lamented) in other places, the big publishers have tended more and more to go with the big blockbusters that sell huge, a business model that squeezes out midlist authors and more unusual voices.

I am heartened to see more and more smaller publishers, both print publishers and epublishers, stepping into the market to fill the gaps. There have been small publishers in the market for years, but recently, they seem to be stepping up marketing efforts and getting their works in front of more readers, which is a very positive development. These publishers seem to offer a broader base of stories, with different settings and different voices than what I find in the mainstream. For instance, lovers of historicals should check out Medallion Press if they haven’t already. In addition to publishing the fantastic Broken Wing, their catalog covers all kinds of rarely seen time periods from Reformation Germany to early 18th century England and early 20th century Australia.

Sourcebooks also showcases some interesting voices. I first discovered this house through their beautiful Georgette Heyer reprints, but I stick around to read some of their original publications. They’re currently publishing a Georgian series by Donna Lea Simpson that follows the development of one couple’s romance through several books, which is something that mainstream houses (with a few exceptions) have struggled with for a variety of reasons.

And in the world of fantasy and paranormal romance, Juno Books has been on my radar screen ever since they released their first anthology. That anthology, Best New Paranormal Romance, caused quite a brouhaha as some of the stories did not exactly fit within the standard definition of romance, and some discussion of the “mislabeling” of romance then ensued. See here and here.

I have to admit that I don’t consider it a real romance unless I get some kind of HEA, but that’s really a topic for another day. What I really took away from this debate was that there was a new publisher out there I’d never heard of, and this new publisher was willing to push the boundaries and publish all kinds of new, interesting stuff. Sign me up! I read just about everything Juno published. Some, such as Clockwork Heart, the Blood Lines series from Maria Lima, or Beyond the Hedge, worked better than others for me, but I still enjoyed trying new things and seeing authors try things with plot and narrative that probably wouldn’t have made it into the print in the mainstream. Now that Juno is part of Pocket Books, I’ve noticed that their guidelines are a little less freewheeling and a little more focused on urban fantasy, but I’m hoping that they will continue to feature a wide range of original voices.

And then there are the epublishers! I’ve only dipped my toes into this world by picking up the Roberta Gellis reprints from Cerridwen and enjoying a few Samhain offerings. However, the range of books from these publishers is also quite varied(and would need an article of its own!), and it seems as though a new publisher is coming on the scene every time I look around. While the mainstream houses still dominate bookstores and I still love to read their offerings, I’m grateful to see some of the smaller houses showing more flexibility and willingness to take chances. It brings new life to the genre and after all, when someone takes a chance and succeeds, that’s how we get advancements and innovations. Blockbusters have their good points and I am a huge fan of many of the big authors at the big houses, but having some more variety to spice things up makes for a much richer reading life.

One of the small publishing houses has graciously donated a set of books for a contest here at AAR, so check above for contest details!

-Lynn Spencer

8 thoughts on “Small Publishers – Bringing Variety to the Romance Market

  1. I used to be very happy to find this web-site.I wanted to thanks for your time for this excellent learn!! I definitely having fun with each little little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to take a look at new stuff you blog post.

  2. I second what others have said about small presses and about Sourcebooks. My book, FIRE ME, didn’t fit neatly into a romance category but Sourcebooks (in particular, Deb Werksman) took a chance on me and the book. It’s exciting to see a publisher break boundaries. I think it’s good for readers, writers and the industry as a whole.

  3. As a Medallion Press author of historical romance, I applaud senior editor Helen Rosburg’s vision and her determination to find “outside the box” stories that don’t fit the guidelines of many of the larger NY houses.

    Without Helen’s willingness to take risks, fine novels such as “Broken Wing” might never have been published with their original concept intact. I consider myself fortunate that my own debut novel, “Fire at Midnight” is a Medallion Press release.

  4. The best part is the ability to take massive chances, push past the envelope and just flat out have fun with our writing.

    Linda

  5. >>>I think small presses are less monolithic and can shift direction more quickly than the big publishers, responding to new trends in a good way.

    @Donna Lea Simpson – I don’t work in the publishing business, but from what I see as an appreciative consumer, that seems to be happening. I also get the idea from things I’ve read in various articles about Dorchester that the smaller houses are better able to take a financial gamble on things outside the mainstream.

  6. I think small presses are less monolithic and can shift direction more quickly than the big publishers, responding to new trends in a good way.

    I have to give credit to the wonderful Casablanca editor, Deb Werksman, at Sourcebooks. She is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable romance reader and has a more open mind than any I have ever worked with. Sourcebooks Casablanca has some very talented writers aboard, and has acquire some interesting future properties, including some reprint and a new Laura Kinsale, and Judith James new novel Highland Rebel will be coming out in September.

    Join us at our Casablanca blog for all the latest!
    http://casablancaauthors.blogspot.com/

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