Romantic Math

As incongruous as these two concepts may seem, bookslingers everywhere recognize the term: romances are to used book stores what fleas are to dog. What glitches are to What adverbs are to bad writers.

Jack and I began reducing our romances stock this fall, from their own outbuilding called The Luv Shack to four shelves inside. The goal was to get them down to a single, double-stacked shelf. And that’s when the laws of romantic math kicked in:

  • The number of old romances you box up to recycle, donate, or even dumpster after dark when the neighbors aren’t watching equals the number still on the shelves. In other words, the more you box, the more there are in your store.

    Spot the Bookseller

    Spot the Bookseller in this photo?

  • The more you reduce the price of your romances, the fewer people will buy them. “NOW ON CLEARANCE,  3 for $1!” goes to “10 for $1” slides to “$5 per box!” Yesterday I looked at two women paying for their cafe lunch and said “How’d you like a free box of romances each to take with you?” Their eyes grew wide with alarm and they all but raced out the door. They’re probably on Topix now, telling potential cafe customers: “Don’t go in there! They foist books off on you!”
  • The number of shirtless hunks lounging on–or under–the covers equals eternity–which is how long it will take you to box them. Don’t look. Laughing weakens your muscles.
  • The mere act of announcing on social media that you are reducing your romances stock will cause every Tina, Dot, and Harriet to bring you boxes of them. They take it personally when you say no: you’re rejecting romance? From them? It’s a delicate negotiation.
  • The amount of time you spend sorting books into families will exponentially expand as the number of books reduces. It takes awhile to realize those little icons alleged to make it easier for readers to see which series they want (like the spade and heart on maxi-pad packages, only different) are cross-referenced. “THIS SEASON: MAITLAND MATERNITY RETURNS TO TYLER WITH THE NEXT MCCORMICK BROTHERS FOR ROYAL WEDDINGS!” Give it up. Once you understand that cowboys are undercover sheiks and time-traveling Scotsmen are undercover Special Forces–there’s a lot of undercover in romances, tee hee–it becomes one big muddle. Plus that’s four hours of your life you’ll never get back again.
  • And last but not least, the laugh-out-loud stupidity of any given title you come across will be squared by the next title. I thought “Vampire under the Mistletoe” was the winner this year, until I found this little gem hiding at the back of a shelf:DSCN0278

Happy Christmas, everyone, and may the love in your life keep you warm!

Gotta Love Romances

I spent the weekend reorganizing the bookshop’s Luv Shack. I may need therapy now.

The strange story of why this  50-square-feet wooden barn, stuffed to the gills with Harlequins, adorns our front lawn is in my book. What I can tell you here is that those paperbacks are bonking like bunnies, out there in the dark with the shed doors closed, the larger novels begetting slim volumes of “Silhouette Special Editions.”  When we open each morning, I swear there are more of them.

Between My Beloved Pirate, My Beloved Viking, and My Beloved Yankee, it gets the wee bit tricky to maintain a sense of respect toward this genre–even though it really does deserve it. Romances account for a third of all new book sales. More importantly, any book that gives a reader what she or he needs is a good one. And, in an era of cynicism that ridicules human affection, it’s too easy to dismiss these little guys as triumphs of marketing over substance. Not all of them are.

Just some of them. I admit some of the things I saw and read in the Luv Shack provoked sneers. (Sometimes I had to read the blurbs to know where to shelve the book…) Amid the Saxon warriors and Norman princesses, Arab spies and Israeli agents, and plantation owners’ daughters tenderly caring for wounded Union  soldiers, I found my new favorite romance title: Fulk, The Reluctant (a nobleman has to get married or lose his inheritance).

Here are some other titles that stick in my mind–more’s the pity:

Silent Knight – medieval guy from wrong side of the tracks gets imprisoned by father of nubile–sorry, noble–young woman from Raphael painting; she has really great hair. (Also A Knight in her Arms, and It Happened One Knight, and… well, there were more.)

Mail-Order Bride — six books so far with this exact title, and they’re all about a woman–plain but with her own special kind of beauty–who answers an ad and loves his children tenderly until the crisis–a fire, a bad guy, the coal company–shows him just how important and wonderful she is. I wonder how many romance writers read Sarah, Plain and Tall as children.

Her Wounded Warrior — Do I really need to summarize this one?

If I were giving advice to a romance writer, it would be:

1) Bypass the “Knight” puns; there are only so many good ones, and they’ve all been used. Badly.

2) Have fun. Enjoy the writing, because the rest of us–even if we secretly read you–are going to make fun of you in public.

3) Do not, under any circumstances, title your book “My Beloved” ANYTHING. This goes triple for “My Beloved Knight in Paris.”

4) Be proud. You are providing something important. The world needs love–and lust, and sex, and affection–to keep itself turning with joy. And we all know it.