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How Different is Too Different?

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My latest book in the Muses of Mayfair series, The Marquess Who Loved Me, just came out last week (yay!). You can see below for the cover and description, if you’re so inclined. I’ll also give an ebook copy (Kindle or Nook) to a random commenter today – good luck!

However, as excited as I am about my new release, my mind is already churning with ideas for the next book (The Earl Who Played With Fire). Because I’m still in early brainstorming mode, it feels like everything is possible. Even though I write Regencies, I’m considering having my main characters travel outside of England. Which leads to my question for all of you – how much do you think an author can get away with in terms of stretching readers’ expectations?

I know that the stock answer is that you can get away with anything as long as it’s well-written. But if it’s clear from the book description that the book doesn’t match your expectations of the genre, would you as a reader even pick it up long enough to determine whether the writing was good? Or would you move on to another book that meets your expectations?

I’ve heard that the commonly accepted industry wisdom is that historicals (and particularly Regency historicals) don’t sell if they’re set outside the UK. Obviously, our very own Ruby Sister Jeannie Lin is an exception to this rule, since her books are set in Tang Dynasty China. But what’s behind this belief?

And I suppose the real question is this – did previous non-UK historicals not sell *at all*? Or did they just not become massive bestsellers? And in that case, should an independent author take that risk and write for the smaller, unsatisfied niche of readers who want non-British historicals? Or are the publishers right in their assessment of the market?

I realize that this post is more of a survey than a statement of fact – but I’m curious to hear your thoughts. What makes you pick up a book – something unique or something comfortable? And what are your views on how setting plays into purchasing?

As mentioned above, a random commenter gets an ebook copy of my latest release – cover and description below!

The Marquess Who Loved Me - Cover

A not-so-merry widow…

The widowed Marchioness of Folkestone is notorious for her parties, her art collection, and her utter disregard for the rules. But Ellie Claiborne knows her destruction is near. The new marquess is her first lover – the man whose sculpted body and sardonic grin haunt her every time she picks up her paintbrush. If he ever returns to claim his inheritance, her heart won’t survive seeing him again.

A man determined to destroy her…

Nicholas Claiborne hasn’t stepped foot in England since watching Ellie marry his cousin. He has no use for the gorgeous, heartless girl who betrayed him, or the title she abandoned him for. But when his business in India turns deadly, Nick must return to London to uncover a murderer – and take revenge on the woman he couldn’t force himself to forget.

A love they can’t escape…

Nick hates Ellie’s transformation from sweet debutante to jaded seductress. Ellie despises him for leaving her behind. Still, the sparks between them reignite the passion that should have been their destiny. As their demands of each other turn darker and a potential killer closes in, they must decide whether to guard the fragile remnants of their hearts — or find a way to fall in love all over again.

If you want to read it right now, you can find The Marquess Who Loved Me on Kindle or Nook (other formats coming soon!).

15 Responses to “How Different is Too Different?”

  1. I’m always looking for a different story, a creative twist and that could be with setting, too. I will purposely read (or at least give a chance) to a book that doesn’t fit the normal mold. Yes there is something to be said for a comfortable read where you know what you will be getting, but diving into the unknown of something original is more of an adventure.

  2. I don’t know that I have certain expectations for a genre — if I like the cover blurb, I’ll buy pretty much any story. (And I’m easily susceptible to cover blurbs. I want to read EV-RY-THING.

    Congrats on your new release! If I don’t win a copy, I’m definitely buying it.

  3. Vivi Andrews says:

    1) I am so excited to see another Muses book! I adore them.

    2) I have no idea what makes me pick up a book. I’m not turned off by the outside-the-norm – in fact I love it. But then there are also times when I want the comfort of something familiar.

    3) If The Earl Who Played With Fire throws Alex at Prudence, I will be devouring it no matter where you set it. (Egypt! Greece!)

    Congrats on the new release!

  4. Honestly, I love historicals that are set in places besides England. Perhaps it’s because I started reading romance during the 80s when historicals were set in all kinds of exotic locations. Oh, and in America, too. I miss that time when you never knew where your favorite author might decide to take you next.

    • I would LOVE to see more American-set historicals!!! Western, Civil War, Industrial Revolution, Gilded Age, Depression-era, Roaring-20s…America has gone through some really interesting growing pains that I’d love to see authors explore.

  5. My answer to your question is that NY publishers also told me a book set in the Vietnam War era wouldn’t sell either. That book’s sales qualified me for PAN in only two months. I’m presently writing another novel set in 1973.

    THE MEMORY OF YOU is being featured tomorrow at USA Today’s HEA blog with an article about how New Trends in Publishing are making room for all of those wonderful orphans that New York refuses to publish in print format.

  6. I worry less about setting and more about whether the actual heart of the story captures my interest, which ultimately comes down to the effectiveness of the blurb. A cover (or title) will make me take a second look, but the blurb sells the book. If it’s compelling, I’ll read it, even if the story is set in Timbuktu. :)

    But I do agree that publishers place a lot of importance on genre expectations. Their motto seems to always be ‘different and yet the same’ and while I understand it from a marketing perspective, I think they’re short-changing authors from writing books where their passion for an exotic location or time period could turn an ordinary book into an extraordinary one.

  7. For me, I think I buy based on the book’s blurb. There are certain settings and storylines that don’t appeal to me, but that is usually evident in the blurb.

    Congrats on the latest release!!

  8. Rita Henuber says:

    First I’ll say I have no idea what trips my trigger in book buying. And, you may not want to listen to a thing I say as I like different. I love the ‘old’ Sherlock Holmes. I love the ‘new’ treatment also. Some find comfort in the same story with different H&H in a different place. I enjoy the spirit and challenge of the story with a twist. I think the spark and enthusiasm an author has for the different kind of story shines through making it a great read.

  9. Cia says:

    In my reader persona, I buy by author and storyline. Setting is not a determinant. Harlan Coben can lead me anywhere, for example. I know I’m getting a great story, well plotted, and written with language that delights. I buy new authors via blurbs, so again storyline.

    In my writer persona, I focus on the genre I’m targeting. Part of chasing that ‘same but different’ thing.

  10. Liz Talley says:

    You know, I’m not sure. I think if the author is tried and true, I’m willing to travel with her, but I have to say there is something decidedly romantic about England and Scotland during that period. I’m sure it’s the knee britches and frothy frocks scattering the green at country parties…something both genteel and naughty.

    I say go for it. You’ll tickle someone’s fancy :) Congrats and happy writing with that fire dancing earl!

  11. Addison Fox says:

    I have to agree with what’s been written – as long as the blurb captures me I’m willing to go wherever the author takes me.

    Congrats on the new release!!
    Addison

  12. Jeannie Lin says:

    Oh, sweet! I just saw this. Thank you for the mention and can I say I just LOVE your cover for The Marquess Who Loved Me?

    I like to seek out unusual books, books that are challenging where the author was really trying to do something ambitious.

    But speaking from the other side of the line, as an author who writes in an unusual historical setting, it’s true that different is a hard sell. It’s not that people don’t want variation or don’t appreciate change and the opportunity to learn about new places and cultures. It’s because it’s hard to sell something that people don’t know about. Something that people don’t even know they want, you know? And when it comes to genre fiction and even if you think of the “Also recommended” or “Also bought” lists on Amazon, sub-genres with powerful sisterhoods like Regency romance where you have a maelstrom of Quinn, Dare, Eloisa James, Hoyt, etc. will generate readerships that can continue to grow and cross-pollinate.

    No one goes to Amazon thinking, I’d like to read a Tang Dynasty romance today. No one is going to read the current NYT bestselling Chinese romance and then happen upon my name because they want more. And people rarely go searching just generically for “something different.” You have to know what to look for, so discoverability and exposure is really key.

    So it’s true that writing something different is indeed a long and tough fight to find readership. I’m waiting for the day that another gal is crazy enough to join me. And then she’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends… :)

  13. Amanda Brice says:

    Oh, please lte your characters travel outside of England! It’s not that I don’t love Regencies — I do! — but I also love other settings. So I think having Regency English characters travel outside of their comfort zone could be the best of both worlds, because the social mores will be based on Regency norms (because that’s what your characters know) but they’ll also get to experince something new. And maybe that would be a way for your readers to discover that they like historicals in other settings as well!

  14. Sara Ramsey says:

    Ladies, I loved all your comments – I knew I would get some fabulous advice from the Rubies! Sincere apologies for not participating in the discussion last week. I was knocked out by bronchitis and didn’t have internet at home the day the post went live, so I missed out on comments the day of the post :(

    But the winner is…Ashlyn Macnamara! Congrats, and thanks for all your comments!

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