Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove series and Romance Novel marketing generally

First of all, I thought Tessa Dare was awesome before ever reading one of her books, because of this:

If you aren’t familiar with book videos, they are universally amateurish, lacking in humor, and rarely inspire me to go check out the book. A classical sonata plays over a scan-and-pan of the cover, alternated with the copy from the back cover. The well funded ones have vignettes with actual actors who don’t say anything.  Tessa’s two videos have unfortunately not inspired any improvement in the book video genre.  She also hasn’t made any more; maybe the whole bad marketing idea has died a well-deserved death.

Tessa’s sense of humor is also evident in her books, and these three, the latest, are some of the best romances I’ve read.  For this series, she invented a town on the English coast where women who have failed at fitting in the ton can find acceptance and healthy living. It is, in other words, a village of feminine misfits.  Then, soldiers are posted there, and hijinks ensue.  The heroine of the first one is the somewhat neglected daughter of the absentminded local squire and has become quite used to getting her way; the second heroine is a socially awkward geologist with a controlling mama, and the third is an orphan and marked with a port wine birthmark on her face.  The dialogue is what makes these books; if the miscommunications of the hero and heroine can’t provide enough verbal sparring, Spindle Cove is packed full of eccentrics who can fill in absurdity.  The ingenious setup also creates an influx of new girls who can be counted on to provide stories forever.  And I will likely keep reading them forever.

[And now, as usual, I will use the rest of this review to make general observations that are only tangentially related.]

Anyway, what I dislike about romance marketing (aside from the videos) is that none of the humor or plot is communicated by either the covers or the titles.  Instead, they have a language all their own.  Each publisher has a distinct look; presumably, their books have a similarity inside, too, so a familiar style of cover can be an enticement to buy.  This cover also communicates the heat level of the book: the more naked the hero on the cover, the hotter the story.  In the clean ones I buy for my mother, only the heroine appears; the erotic ones often have the shirtless hero only.  Series titles usually have a pattern, as these three do, which starts to show the strain around book five or six.  The dresses are never accurate to the historical setting of the book.  These three covers are better than most in that the covers and titles do reference the plot.  The copy on the back of the book is just as cryptic.  Years ago, I read Connie Brockway’s As You Desire and the cover copy (and thus the Amazon description, if you click through the link) does not mention that the book is set in Egypt, which would have been a major selling point with me since Egyptology is one of my things.  When I wrote a letter to the author telling her I loved the book (it was published in 1997 – yes, kids, before the internet I used to write a letter to authors), she graciously wrote back and said that the publisher thought it was an unpopular setting and so glossed over it, and I suspect, neglected to effectively market it.  As the sequel was only recently published as one of Amazon’s first big publishing breakthroughs, I gather that even a very popular author cannot convince the print publishing industry to rethink one if their tenets, like Medievals don’t sell, or Erotica has a limited audience (prior to recent events blowing that whole thing away).  This is why every third book is set in a sort of fairytale plaid-covered Scotland that was invented by Sir Walter Scott and Diana Gabaldon.

Luckily, digital-first and self-publishing seems to be a cure for this sort of thinking.  As print sales wane, how books are packaged and marketed is undergoing a transformation as well.  I don’t think many authors are very successful at thinking about marketing, (Courtney Milan is clearly an exception, as this post discussing her methods for producing a cover for her self-published work.)  Because of the marketing side of things, I suspect that there will always be publishing houses, even if we ever become a post-book society.

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