Genre Fiction: Sometimes Even Publishers Give it No Respect

Elizabeth Camden Ramblings about Romance, The Book World Leave a Comment

The phenomenon of generic products was beginning to take root in the American marketplace by the 1970’s.  Any mass produced product that lacked unique features, such as oatmeal, canned peas, or window cleaner, could be sold in direct competition to name-brand equivalents, but at around a 30% discount.  Identified by their stark packaging, generic products were usually considered inferior to the name brand, but sold well to value conscious consumers.

In 1981 Jove Books ventured into a brief foray of madness when they attempted to launch a line of generic books.  Considered a clever marketing ploy, they launched books targeted at the major genres: Romance, Westerns, Science Fiction, and Mystery.  With a stark white covers, no author, and no blurb on the back, the only description of the content was the tagline on the front. The Romance book read, “A kiss, a promise, a misunderstanding, another kiss, and a happy ending.”  The idea was so ridiculous that some people suspected it was a hoax, but I remember seeing those books on the racks of grocery stores.  No publisher sinks money into a nationwide rollout if they did not intend to make money on the endeavor, and Jove had hopes for this project.   

Without having to invest in cover art and paying the authors a paltry $750 per manuscript, the idea was to pump out genre fiction with the same efficiency as a box of oatmeal.  Did Jove really think genre fans were so mindless they cared nothing for the content?  

People who read genre fiction are intensely brand loyal…that brand being the author.  Although they write in similar settings with comparable characters, a Lisa Kleypas novel has a drastically different feel than a Debbie Macomber book.  Genre readers flock to their preferred author, not the label “romance.”   

Jove had to learn the hard way.  The generic book project was a disaster, and folded after a couple months.  Interestingly, the rarity and novelty of those books has been a good investment for the few people who did buy them.  With a cover price of $1.50, those generic books now sell on the used book market for around $10.

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