Kate’s transatlantic notes

So, some of you might know I started off my writing career with American publishers. I won a few awards across the Pond, but there’s one I’ve never cracked: the Romance Writers of America’s main award, the RITA.

Last year, I entered The Untied Kingdom and my scores were, well, mixed. Two judges gave it a perfect score, one just under that, and two thought it was utterly mediocre (how depressing is ‘mediocre’?).

So we at Choc Lit started wondering about the RITAs and what does well. Some of my favourite authors have been honoured by the award, but it’s a tough nut to crack for a British author.

“Theres not enough sex in my book!” said one friend. Well, that’s genre-dependent. Being an author of paranormal romance (as well as erotic romance under my pen name) this is a trope I’m wearily familiar with. You don’t necessarily need sex in a book to do well in the US market, in fact there are lots of popular books which keep it off the page. But American readers are pretty vocal if they feel they’ve been cheated: lots of build up and then the bedroom door closes!

Having read a few American paranormals lately (I’ve read loads and loads, just not for a while) yes, the feel seems more urban fantasy, vampires and werewolves and chicks in tight leather with swords (just look at the covers!).

It’s style as well as content, and really hard to put your finger on. The market is used to a certain type of book, as are we I suppose–I’m not sure Sherrilyn Kenyon or Loretta Chase would win a RoNA, but they’re pretty damn popular over there (Sherri doesn’t actually enter the RITAs as she says she isn’t in need of the publicity, and might as well let someone else have the chance. Sherri is an utter sweetheart. She even bought me lunch once).

I don’t know if that’s why The Untied Kingdom wasn’t right–just not paranormal enough, maybe, or perhaps they prefer clean-cut heroes whose long hair is always perfectly conditioned, who wear leather trousers without irony, and have names with extra H’s in them (ahem). I suppose a guy like Harker who has a pathological aversion to shaving, smokes like a chimney and says ‘bugger’ a lot probably didn’t seem so appealing…

Well, I like him anyway.

13 thoughts on “Kate’s transatlantic notes

  1. That’s the thing about taste – we’re all different 🙂 I find the contrasts between what the UK and the USA prefer in their ‘romance’ fascinating – but on the whole, we all like a happy ending.

  2. It seems to me that romantic fiction in the US is mostly confined to wallpaper Regency romances or small town contemporary romances whereas in the UK there’s a greater variety in tone, styles and sensuality.

  3. Evonne, I find it fascinating too. There’s a lot of crossover in the markets but they’re definitely different markets. Divided by a common language again!

    Julie, I find probably as many different kinds of romances in the US market as there are over here, but you may be right about this historicals!

  4. Well, all I can say is – the Americans don’t know what they’re missing! Harker is wonderful 🙂

    It is fascinating though, the differences between US and UK romantic novels and very hard to put your finger on exactly how they differ. I think it’s more a question of impatience, in the US the readers seem to want the hero and heroine meeting on page one, whereas in the UK you can have more of a build-up. But that’s probably a huge generalisation and not true of all of them.

    I enjoy both kinds and happily read either, but as for winning a RITA – wouldn’t that be lovely!

  5. Great post, Kate. I’m currently in Ohio but have already recruited one friend to come to next May’s RT Booklovers Convention in Kansas City. I imagine it’ll be a fascinating insight into the US market!

  6. My first two books, published in America, are not categorised as Romantic Comedy, but as Contemporary Romance because, as my publisher said ‘American comedies are more set-pieces and slapstick than wit and commentary’. And my vampires are, apparently, very gritty and dirty compared to the American version. Maybe that’s the difference, the Americans like their books more ‘mannered’, more ‘scrubbed up and prettified’ versions of life, while we Brits deal more in the reality of life? I know that’s a huge generalisation, and there are always books that creep through the cracks on both sides, but we do seem to have very different expectations of romantic novels on either side of the Atlantic.

    Ours is best, obviously. How DARE they dismiss Harker?

  7. That’s a great observation, Jane, perhaps we do like the grittiness and mundanity more. (After all, with a US author have created the Dicsworld takeaway Mundane Meals?). I agree that a lot of American comedies I’ve read fall into the slapstick and silliness category, but then again I find Jennifer Crusie cheek-bitingly funny and her wit is much more sharp and snarky. (That said, I believe she’s usually in the Series Contemp category for Ritas, so I’m not making that argument well, am I?).

    Christina, you’re right about pacing in US romances, I don’t think the slow build-up is popular. And let’s not forget that the RWA has dozens of chapters and conferences and workshops where people learn how to hone their books, and having been to a few I can tell you they take it deadly seriously! So you might just get a few opinions and techniques trickling down to everyone…

    Juliet, enjoy RT! Every year I think I ought to go, and never quite make it. However, I’m sure I heard it’s in New Orleans soon, so I might make a trip out there…

    As for Harker, I imagine he’d be singularly unimpressed with awards of any sort. Can you eat it, smoke it, or kill someone with it? Well then, what’s the point?

  8. Sorry to be late – but the bonus is I get to read and enjoy all the comments. I have little knowledge of the American market (evidently!) so can’t add anything to that debate – but Harker’s a damn fine hero.

  9. The US market is incredibly fascinating, but you’re quite right, many British or European books don’t do too well over there. Some British/European authors have the ability to write in a particular way which appeals to the American market (e.g. RNA member Lynne Connolly), others, well, don’t. However, we’re discussing romantic fiction in this post, and I suspect that slightly different rules apply to crime fiction. I’d be interested to know what they are…

    Btw, I like Harker too!

  10. Well, I still live in hope of seeing Mr Harker on the big screen and I am sure the US could be persuaded to like him as much as we do!

  11. great post Kate – and I think I’m with Jane on her observation about reality vs prettified. I adore Harker too 🙂 X

  12. I’m also in Team Harker, but some Americans do often look for someone wholesome and clean-cut. The all-American boy. Nothing against that kind of hero as long as they’re not boring, but I like mine a little rough around the edges.

  13. You can tell a lot by the favorite soap operas in each country – Coronation Street and Eastenders wouldn’t last a week over here! It’s over simplifying things of course and it’s a tricky path to negotiate if you want to write for both countries.

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