On Thursday, August 20, the American Booksellers Association presented a Marketing Meetup focused on marketing romance books. Booksellers heard from several guest speakers on a bevy of topics, such as marketing romance books, who the romance reader is, who might be a romance reader, what a store is missing out on by not selling romance books, what type of events can be created around romance books, and more.
Guest speakers included:
- Ronnie Kutys of HarperCollins
- Billie Bloebaum of Bookstore Romance Day and Third Street Books in McMinnville, Oregon
- Deanna Bailey of Story on the Square in McDonough, Georgia
- Robyn Crawford of Eden Books (online bookstore)
- Hannah Oliver Depp of Loyalty Bookstores in Washington, D.C., and Silver Spring, Maryland
- Emily Hall Schroen of Main Street Books in St. Charles, Missouri
Here are some of the key points from the session:
HarperCollins (home to romance imprints Avon and Harlequin)
- In the past two years, HarperCollins has put together a trade paperback collection for indie booksellers curated by Kutys that is focused on rom-coms. The collection is updated every season. Last winter, the publisher also put together a galley box mailing sent to more than a hundred indie booksellers. The trade paperbacks can be used to encourage readers to try mass markets.
- HarperCollins sends a romance-focused email newsletter, which will feature author spotlights in the future.
- HarperCollins created a new, larger format for romance titles, referred to as “mass market max.” The publisher has heard that books in this format offer an easier reading experience, and it seems to attract readers that haven’t picked up mass markets in the past.
- HarperCollins is aiming to give sales reps all the tools they need to sell mass markets and is continuing to think of ways that booksellers can market and sell the company’s romance titles to customers.
- The publisher conducts a regular internal audit of its romance titles to ensure the list is consistently inclusive with respect to racial diversity, and other types of diversity as well.
- Kutys noted that romance readers don’t just read romance. If a store snubs them for reading romance, they’re unlikely to purchase books in other genres.
- Kutys recommended readers try two titles coming this fall, Her Night With the Duke by Diana Quincy and the first book in the new Runaway Royals trilogy by Alyssa Cole, How to Catch a Queen.
Bookstore Romance Day
- Bloebaum noted that more booksellers participated in Bookstore Romance Day this year than last, with an increase in participation of about 15 percent.
- The event featured an entire day of virtual programming that booksellers could share with their customers, linking back to their own stores for sales.
- Virtual programming was recorded and has been uploaded to the event’s Youtube channel. The event’s Scholastic panel will not be uploaded to this channel, but it is available to watch here.
- If stores didn’t sign up to take part in the event but would like to keep updated on all things Bookstore Romance Day, they can sign up to be on the event’s mailing list here.
- In terms of marketing books to readers, Bloebaum noted that not all romance ages well. There are some classics that she would not recommend to people without some serious content warnings.
- On getting other booksellers on board with selling romance, Bloebaum noted that one strategy she uses is to talk about selling YA. She recommends talking about all of the romance stocked and sold in the YA section, and noting that romance is already sold in-store. It’s also helpful to provide sales numbers to back up this point.
- Bloebaum recommended Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall and American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera.
Story on the Square
- Bailey said her store is currently building its romance-themed book club. While COVID-19 has greatly impacted book club attendance, she noted that the store still has loyal attendees.
- Romance customers started off in the store’s hot new fiction and mystery/thriller book clubs. The hot new fiction book club tends to read heavier titles like The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead and The Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler, so when customers asked for lighter reads, she suggested the store’s romance book club.
- When Bailey gets questions from customers asking if the books are cheesy, she says no, emphasizing the character development and happily-ever-afters (HEAs) in each book Story on the Square chooses.
- Book clubs are hosted in-person in the store’s large events space as well as via Zoom.
- To market the store’s book clubs, she posts to Instagram and Facebook with descriptions of what each book club is about.
- Her store serves coffee, beer, and wine, so the store also tries to cross-promote with its bar in social media posts.
- She recommended stores looking to start their own romance book club consider using Emily Henry’s Beach Read as their first title, as her store has seen a strong response to it.
- At Story on the Square, readers are interested in both recent and older titles.
- Bailey recommended Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade.
- Eden Books is the only online bookstore and social media platform dedicated solely to women’s fiction, with a focus on indie romance authors.
- Crawford noted that she’s spent zero marketing dollars in the 18 months since the store has opened because the authors on her site promote it themselves. Romance authors are happy to have a platform dedicated to them.
When talking about romance to reluctant readers, Crawford noted that it’s important to educate others on the difference between romance and erotica. Romance emphasizes a relationship between characters and leads to an HEA; sex can be explicit, or it might not be included at all. Erotica focuses primarily on sex, and less so on a relationship. HEAs are not required for a book to be erotica.
- Contemporary romance novels also often speak to issues women face today, such as domestic violence.
- Crawford said another way to convince fellow booksellers to sell romance is by recognizing that it’s a $2 billion industry. Sharing numbers with people can be one way to convince them of the genre’s importance.
- Crawford recommended The Wild and The Free by K. Webster, and Sarina Bowen’s True North series.
- Depp shared that Loyalty Bookstores focus on intersectional literature across all genres. The romance genre was a big seller for her stores pre-COVID because she was very vocal about supporting it on social media. Through social media, Depp was able to talk to authors like Alyssa Cole and Beverly Jenkins.
- One thing that’s important to remember about romance authors is that they’re everywhere, Depp said. They live all over the country, and booksellers probably have a romance author living near their store that they can partner with.
- When Loyalty pivoted to digital events, the store reached out to romance authors to see if they’d like to partner. The store currently partners with Alyssa Cole to host a “Date Night” event every other Friday. The event is a panel with various kinds of romance authors where they discuss books, television, and other happy things.
- Loyalty uses Crowdcast for digital events because of the service’s buy button, which drives traffic back to the store’s website.
- Loyalty also hosts a romance book club via Zoom. While attendance for all of Loyalty’s book clubs vary, the sales for the books are always huge, said Depp.
- Depp added that authors have been good about retweeting or sharing announcements that their book has been chosen for a book club on social media.
- Depp noted that many readers just don’t know what romance is, so it’s good to have someone on staff that does, or subscribe to newsletters and box mailings to figure out what’s out there.
- Some romance series can get very long, so she recommended keeping the first book on the shelf, as well as the most recent two installments.
- One strategy Loyalty uses to market romance titles is posting signs around the store that say “Did you binge [blank] Netflix show?” and recommend a similar title. This is a great way to get people to either try new authors, or try the genre in general.
- Depp recommended readers try You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria.
Main Street Books
- Schroen said that, in recent months, readers who she wouldn’t expect to gravitate toward her store’s romance section are now doing so.
- Main Street Books focuses on commercial fiction and carries very few literary fiction titles. Everything is geared toward people who are interested in slightly easier reads, and since the store is in a tourist town, customers are typically looking for something to take on a plane or back to their bed-and-breakfast.
- Schroen has noticed a pull toward fun rom-coms with cartoon covers, like Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston; Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert; and You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria.
- When customers come in and ask for something fun and happy, her strategy is to ask how sexy they want the book to be to gauge their level of interest in the romance section. Lately, it’s been easier to steer them in that direction.
- Schroen mentioned that she’s been a romance reader since college, and having been made fun of for reading the genre, she’s filled with a “righteous indignation” when someone disparages the genre. It’s about educating her customers, she said, and it’s about welcoming those who have been dismissed for liking the genre.
- Her store is close to its local RWA chapter, Missouri Romance Writers. She’s partnered with them to get the word out about her store’s romance events. She’s also partnered with her local library to get the word out about events to more romance readers.
- At Main Street Books, older titles are more often hand-sold, while newer titles are traditionally marketed with flashy covers, so readers tend to gravitate toward them.
- Main Street does not require a purchase to attend events at this time because it seems to turn off customers. But incentivizing purchases is a strategy that works — for example, one author Schroen is holding an event with is offering an exclusive short story for those who pre-order her upcoming book.
- Schroen recommended readers try The Rakess by Scarlett Peckham.
A recording of the Marketing Meetup can be viewed on the Education Resources page on BookWeb.org. Sign up and learn more about ABA meetups here.