The new romantics
Three Australian publishers have announced new digital ventures in the past week that are aimed at one of the most popular ebook genres right now: romance. They’re also on the lookout for new Australian authors, and, in a move that’s unusual in traditional publishing, are eagerly accepting unsolicited manuscripts.
Four titles are already available from Penguin Australia’s new digital-first imprint for local romance titles, Destiny Romance. The imprint was officially launched at the recent Romance Writers of Australia conference, although editor Carol George told Bookseller+Publisher that work began on the project about 12 months ago.
Destiny Romance will publish two new titles each month and will focus on ‘romance ebooks of all kinds, from novellas to full-length stories’, with a strong emphasis on ‘new Australian voices’. The imprint is currently accepting unsolicited manuscripts via its website and George said that the Destiny Romance team is keen ‘to read as many romances as possible’.
Destiny Romance titles are available from a range of retailers—including Kobo, ReadCloud, Google, Amazon and Apple—and will soon be available for purchase from the Destiny Romance website. George said the titles will be ‘competitively’ priced to ensure the ebooks have ‘as broad appeal as possible’. So far, the first Destiny Romance titles are priced between $3.99 and $5.99.
Harlequin Australia is also on the look-out for new local authors for its newly launched digital-first imprint Harlequin Escape. Like Destiny Romance, the new imprint is accepting manuscripts online and is ‘looking for as many titles as possible’, said managing editor Kate Cuthbert.
Cuthbert told Bookseller+Publisher that Harlequin Escape hopes to release its first titles before the end of the year. The team is looking to publish everything from short stories of 5000 words through to novellas, short novels and long novels of over 200,000 words. ‘With digital-first, we’re not as restricted by space and numbers, so we really want to jump in with both feet,’ said Cuthbert.
Harlequin Escape will follow a similar style to that of its US counterpart Carina Press, which has a practice of acquiring global rights to avoid geographic restrictions, with no digital rights management (DRM) protection on its titles. ‘We’re very committed to a strong Australian voice, and taking that voice global,’ said Cuthbert. ‘So we’re going to make it as easy as possible for readers to get our books.’
Cuthbert admits that traditional publishers have been slow to move on the digital front. ‘But Harlequin Australia wanted to make sure we had the right people and the right platform to move aggressively into the market and provide the best product to readers. We’re ready to move, and move quickly, take risks and break down barriers. We think that there are authors out there who want to take the journey with us, who recognise the strength and support of the Harlequin brand when it comes to romance publishing. But publishing is a big world, and the worst thing we could do is try and be all things to everyone.’
Hot Down Under
Pan Macmillan’s digital imprint Momentum is also dipping its toes into the romance pool, announcing this week that it will be publishing a series of 13 erotic short stories later this year, called Hot Down Under. The first five volumes in the series will be available in November, followed by four more titles in December and another four in January. Each volume will be sold individually, at 99 cents, and will be free of DRM, like the rest of Momentum’s list.
The Hot Down Under authors are a mix of new and established Australian writers, and the project was the brainchild of author Tracy O’Hara, who has written a story for the series under the name Tracie Sommers. O’Hara, who is well-known in the Australian romance community, has played an important role in recruiting and mentoring some of the new writers, said Momentum publisher Joel Naoum. Momentum is also working on other stand-alone romance ebooks, including the post-apocalyptic erotic romance Flesh by Kylie Scott, which will be published in October.
Naoum believes that one of the benefits of publishing the Hot Down Under stories separately, rather than as an anthology, is that individual authors can spruik their own modestly priced titles separately, as well as promoting the series.
Both Cuthbert and Naoum agree that digital will play a major role in the future of romance publishing. ‘There are more than 63 million readers of romance worldwide [so] there’s never going to be a one-size fits all solution,’ said Cuthbert. ‘But certainly as the technology advances and readers become more and more comfortable with their options, it seems likely that digital will drive major changes in the industry.’
Naoum believes that the majority of romance titles will eventually be published as digital-first or digital-only, and that romance authors are ‘the most likely to self-publish because they have the biggest audience in digital’ and are ‘very organised’. However, he also sees a future for ‘boutique, high-end, very desirable romance titles being published in print in beautiful editions’.