Sinner's Creed by Kim Jones is the first in a new MC series and published by Berkley. MCs are really a romance genre "thing" right now, there are endorsement quotes by Joanna Wylde (this book) and Katy Evans (upcoming second book) and, you know, just look at that cover. If it looks, acts and walks like a duck, you'd think - hey, a
OK, now you're back. Here, have a cookie, a blankie and a puppy dog. Feel better?
The spin (because, of course, there's always spin) is that it's a "non-traditional HEA." Now I've been guilty of using this phrase more than once in my life. Back in the Stone Ages I would use this term to describe some Black Lace novels (which were marketed as erotica) that featured "happy endings." Just not in the traditional Let's Get Married And Now The Heroine Is Pregnant With Quadruplets happy endings. It was my way of calling out "Happy For Now" books back in the day when we really didn't know what that term was yet.
This book though? I'm sorry, it's not a "non-traditional HEA," it's just not happy. "Non-traditional HEA" still implies that YOU'LL GET SOME DARN HAPPY! So not only does it not have a HEA, it's completely hijacked the concept of a "non-traditional HEA." Naturally some romance readers are displeased. And by "some" I mean anyone who identifies the genre strongly with the HEA.
I can here you thinking, "WHA?!?!?! Are you INSANE Wendy?!?!?!? ROMANCE = HEA!!!!! ALL READERS SHOULD KNOW THIS?!?!??! IT'S LIKE THE ONLY RULE OF THE GENRE!!!!"
And I'm hear to tell you - all readers don't. At least, I don't think they do. And this is the theory I've been musing about for the last several months.
Unless you've been living under a rock you'll have noticed that self-publishing has changed the publishing industry - but nowhere so much as within the romance genre. As far back as the early days of this blog (2003), I would state quite emphatically that the number of romance readers online is actually quite small. GoodReads has changed that somewhat, but the truth of the matter is that there are plenty of "shadow readers" out there. Folks who buy their books at WalMart, check them out from the library, read said books, and then don't talk to anyone about them. They read in a vacuum.
Sweet Savage Love, and discovered they liked it. But here's the corker - they don't necessarily identify themselves as "romance readers." They aren't waving a Romance Freak Flag high in the air. Self-publishing has led to more fluidity in the genre which has led to more fluidity among readers. What was verboten ten years ago is now fair game and for some readers this isn't a big deal because they aren't lugging around the Genre Baggage. They aren't lugging around The History. In fact, if they've stumbled across this blog post they're now Googling "Sweet Savage Love." In short, they're not weighed down by the trappings of the genre (the HEA) that other readers expect and demand.
These readers may read romance (sometimes occasionally, sometimes more often) but don't necessarily "identify" themselves as romance readers. They're reading the book because it sounded good or was cheap or was free or they were bored or it's a Wednesday or whatever - but not necessarily because it's a romance novel.
The knock against self-publishing has always been that it lacks "gatekeepers." Without editors and publishers telling readers what they deem is worthy it will be anarchy! And to a certain extent? It kind of is. Because the simple truth is that anything goes in self-publishing. There's nobody telling you that you can't write something. That readers won't accept it. Readers might not accept it - but you'll find that out from the readers, directly - not from an agent or editor acting as gatekeeper. So to a certain extent? Readers are the new gatekeepers.
Which is why, I think, we're now here. Readers who don't necessarily define themselves as "romance readers" who wade on the fringes of the genre are open to more to this sort of fluidity. Don't believe me? There are plenty of early four and five star reviews for Sinner's Creed over on GoodReads to suggest otherwise. This is exciting or terrifying depending on what school of thought you belong to. Which is how we've arrived, I think, to this moment in time where a major romance player like Berkley would publish a book like Sinner's Creed and wrap it in all the trappings and signal cues of romance. Because for the all the readers who will want to drive a stake into the center of this book? There will be just as many readers who want to sleep with a copy of it under their pillow.
I've never been an end-reader, but I'm wondering if I need to rethink that policy.