Monday, October 31, 2022

Testing for Twitter Deletions

There's a lot of people talking about leaving Twitter at the moment and/or locking/deleting posts. So, I'm going to try testing to see what happens if an embedded tweet on here is subsequently deleted.

I made the post go live. Here's what the page then looked like:

Screenshot of this blog post when it was called "Testing". It shows a paragraph of text followed by a tweet, complete with my twitter icon, a box around the tweet and the other usual Twitter graphics. Below it is a paragraph saying I'm going to make the test go live and I'll then delete the tweet on Twitter.

Then I deleted the tweet. I thought I'd leave this post up for a bit in case anyone's interested in the result, which is that the text that was in the original tweet remains even though the Twitter graphics are lost. I suspect that all images or quote tweets embedded in a deleted tweet will be lost, but this does reassure me that there won't just be blank spaces in the places on this blog where I've embedded tweets.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Price Reduction, A Lost Sociologist, Bestseller Lists Which Aren't Necessarily So and some New Publications

Some of you may be relieved to learn that The Routledge Research Companion to Popular Romance Fiction is now available in paperback, at a price much lower than that of the hardback edition. (Here's a link to the publisher's site, but obviously it's available from many other places too.]


* I found a reference to an article from the 2 December 1972 issue of the Spanish magazine Blanco y Negro in which María Teresa March, described in the article as an essayist and sociologist, reveals to Julio Coll that she is planning to write a study titled "De la novela de boudoir a la foto novela" and that she had, in a sense, gone "undercover" as a romance author, getting contracts with two publishers with the pseudonyms Laura Denis and Síndola Martin. March then gives details of how she was studying the romance: apparently, among other things, she studied the locations in which copies of her 12 novels as "Laura Denis" ended up. She also states that 

Lo que es falso, no es moral. El genero rosa es portador de falsas realidades.  Por tanto, es inmoral en cuanto no es verdadero. Y conste que, a pesar de ser un subproducto, a veces esta muy bien escrito. [That which is false is immoral. The romance genre conveys false realities. As such, it's immoral inasmuch as it's untruthful. And note that, despite being subliterature, sometimes it's very well written.]

It does make you wonder how someone can justify writing (and being paid for writing) so many novels if they think they're immoral. And she wrote a lot of novels, apparently.

Although I haven't been able to find any trace of a work of sociology by March, I was able to find was a list of 9 novels under the name Laura Denis and an indication that she not only used "Laura Denis" and "Síndola Martín" but that she also wrote as "Amanda Román" as well as penning Westerns as "Mark Sten." [You can see pretty small versions of all of the pages (16-18) via]

* An article in Public Books by Jordan Pruett discusses the extent to which "bestseller" lists actually reflect what's selling the most, which is an issue to bear in mind when trying to build a corpora of texts. Specifically with respect to romance:

the status of mass-market romance today is perhaps comparable to that of thrillers in the 1940s and ’50s. If it weren’t for the fact that the Times now publishes a separate mass-market list, some of these authors wouldn’t appear on bestseller lists at all (and even this mass-market Times list has recently been demoted from a weekly to a monthly publication schedule). This says more about formatting practices in the publishing industry than it does about the popularity of these authors.


-----New Publications-----

Henderson, Aneeka Ayanna (2020). Veil and Vow: Marriage Matters in Contemporary African American Culture. University of North Carolina Press. [This includes a chapter which "offers a close reading of black/white interracial romance in Sandra Kitt's The Color of Love (1995)"]

Michelson, Anna (2022). "Pushing the boundaries: Erotic romance and the symbolic boundary nexus." Poetics. Online First. [Abstract]

Wijanarka, Hirmawan (2022). "Cinderella Formula: The Romance Begins." Journal of Language and Literature 22.2. 481-489.

Friday, October 07, 2022

Links: Events, Data, Publishing, Race, Social Reform and Accolades for Romance

First the events:

Saturday 15 October - Rare Books Specialist Rebecca Romney will be leading a class on romance book collecting. It's free and online and more details can be found here.

Saturday 5 November - Hosted by the Center for Black Diaspora at DePaul University, academics and romance authors Katrina Jackson and Elysabeth Grace will discuss writing Black historical romance. This event is also free and online and more details can be found here.


Romance scholars have been commenting for a while that there's not been all that much research into the publishing side of romance. One obvious reason is that it's a lot easier to get hold of the books, or the opinions of readers online, than it is to access insider data about publishing. A recent article by Melanie Walsh in Public Books shows that this is a problem affecting scholars wishing to study all genres. Walsh

went looking for book sales data, only to find that most of it is proprietary and purposefully locked away. What I learned was that the single most influential data in the publishing industry—which, every day, determines book contracts and authors’ lives—is basically inaccessible to anyone beyond the industry. And I learned that this is a big problem. [...]

All the major publishing houses now rely on BookScan data, as do many other publishing professionals and authors. But, as I found to my surprise, pretty much everybody else is explicitly banned from using BookScan data, including academics. The toxic combination of this data’s power in the industry and its secretive inaccessibility to those beyond the industry reveals a broader problem. If we want to understand the contemporary literary world, we need better book data. And we need this data to be free, open, and interoperable.

This data which academics can't access is suspected of being used in ways which reinforce patterns within publishing:

it is likely that books end up much more racially homogenous—that is, white—as a result of BookScan data, too. For example, in McGrath’s pioneering research on “comp” titles (the books that agents and editors claim are “comparable” to a pitched book), she found that 96 percent of the most frequently used comps were written by white authors. Because one of the most important features of a good comp title is a promising sales history, it is likely that comp titles and BookScan data work together to reinforce conservative white hegemony in the industry.

Definitely worth a read, and there are details there about how some academics are trying to find alternative sources of data about books and share "free cultural data with anybody who wants to reuse and recombine it to better understand contemporary literature, music, art, and more." Here's a link to the article.

Some of the people who have been working on romance publishing (as well as other areas of publishing) are Beth Driscoll, Kim Wilkins and Lisa Fletcher. Driscoll and Wilkins have an article in The Conversation and they relate that

In the world of romance fiction, Claire Parnell’s research has shown the multiple ways in which the algorithms, moderation processes and site designs of Amazon and Wattpad work against writers of colour. For example, they make use of image-recognition systems that flag romance covers with dark-skinned models as “adult content” and remove them from search results. They can also override the author’s chosen metadata to move books into niche categories where fewer readers will find them, such as “African American romance” rather than the general “romance fiction”. 

Claire Parnell's paper, "Independent Authors’ Dependence on Big Tech: Categorization and Governance of Authors Of Color on Amazon" (2021) can be found online (and freely available) from AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research: 

Driscoll and Wilkins begin, though, with some accolades for the romance genre:

romance fiction is ... the most innovative and uncontrollable of all genres. It is the genre least able to be contained by established models of how the publishing industry works, or how readers and writers behave.

Contemporary romance fiction is challenging the prevailing wisdom about how books come into being and find their readers.

albeit one might, as Azteclady did, feel surprise at some elements of this:

Similarly, I suspect there are people who would disagree with Jenny Hamilton's assessment, given in a piece on the Tor website, that

the romance genre is particularly well suited to tell stories of social reform. [...] YA novels and even epic fantasy series are limited in the number of characters the author can expect you to keep track of, which makes Chosen Ones an attractive option for toppling unjust systems of power. In aggregate, though, that leaves us with a body of literature that valorizes the individual at the expense of the collective—what Ada Palmer and Jo Walton termed “the Protagonist Problem.”

Romance works differently.

I'm happy to see positive opinions of romance appearing outside romance circles, and if they spark detailed debates, all the better!

I'll end with one more article about romance, this time in Bustle, where Natalia Perez-Gonzalez demonstrates that romance's engagement with "social reform" isn't limited to the pages of the novels:

It’s not uncommon for the romance community to organize. In the past, authors have raised funds to help victims of the Uvalde shooting, to support Stacey Abrams in turning Georgia blue, and to aid communities during the Australia wildfires.

And, as the article discusses in detail, most recently romance authors have been turning their attention to reproductive rights.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Conference Call for Papers - PCA/ACA in Texas, 2023

The Romance Area Conference of the Popular Culture Association (PCA/ACA) will be held in April 5-8 2023 in San Antonio, Texas. The theme is "Body Politic/Body Politics" because, as the Chairs explain in their call for papers,

As Romance Area chairs preparing for our PCA meeting in San Antonio, Texas, body politics is on our minds. Texas is at the forefront of rolling back abortion rights as the country wrestles with the rollback of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v Wade case (which also originated in Texas). But Texas is only one piece of the bigger picture. Elsewhere, state legislatures are fighting over the rights of people with non-conforming gender or sexual identities. The entire nation is and always has been embroiled in body politics, from the forceable relocation of Indigenous Americans, the enslavement of African-Americans, and decades on intense government oversight of where, how, and if BIPOC people were allowed to live, reproduce, attend school, shop, enjoy leisure time, and enjoy state-sanctioned romantic relationships. All of these seemingly private choices lie at the very heart of the romance narrative.

With the issue of abortion affecting both the location and topic of the conference, it's probably worth noting that there has been considerable debate within the academic community generally (though I've not seen anything specifically within romance) about boycotts (whether for political reasons, or because of concerns about emergency healthcare provision for pregnant attendees).

The conference is currently in-person only but the call for papers states that "As the global pandemic continues, plans may change. You can check the PCA website for updates." The PCA President has stated that their

governing board recognizes the concerns that some of our members have voiced about conferencing in Texas. We are working diligently to ensure your conference experience will be as safe and accessible as possible. We are also investigating the possibility of online components for members who are unable to travel.

Full details of possible topics for papers can be found in the call for papers. Abstracts should be submitted by November 30, 2022.