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  • Hannah Fielding - Romance Novelist

Follow my blog with Bloglovin An interesting new trend is emerging in publishing news – releases from Amazon sharing reader and reading data.

Take, for example, its news release on the most highlighted passages in Montlake Romance titles (Montlake is its romance imprint). Amazon shared the 14 passages that readers most frequently highlighted on their Kindles when reading Montlake books. At the top of this list was:

“I love you,” he said, delirious with it… “Like I’m the first man who ever loved a woman in the history of the universe. Like it was me loving you that caused the Big Bang, and brought everything else into existence.” – Into Darkness by J.T. Geissinger

Then, more recently, Amazon revealed its annual list of the top 20 most romantic cities in the US, based on sales data for romance novels, romantic comedy moviesand a curated list of romantic music, across cities with more than 100,000 residents on a per capita basis. Topping the list was Knoxville, followed by Miami, Orlando, Alexandria, Vancouver, Cincinnati and Dayton (the full list is here).

The more data Amazon releases, the more it attempts to build a picture of the consumer base – in this case, in the romance genre. Of course, Amazon has its own reason for doing so; in the case of the Montlake release, it is publicising its own books and garnering interest and sales. But savvy authors and publishers keeping an eye out for news items based on who’s reading, how and why can be better informed, and potentially build the knowledge into their marketing campaigns. So, for example, perhaps a publisher would target the top ten romantic cities for a book publicity drive, knowing that the market is strong there for romance.

And what of the author? How should a writer like me be affected by such data? The answer, I believe, is ‘not at all’! Should I read the ten most highlighted passages in romance ebooks? Absolutely. Should I attempt to emulate them in my own writing? No – a writer must remain true to her own craft. Should I keep up-to-date as to which cities read the most romance? Of course. Should I attempt to somehow write specifically for people in those cities? No – a writer must remain true to her own craft.

Of course marketability matters. But whenever I am asked to offer guidance to new or aspiring writers, I am careful to state that writing for yourself is of paramount importance. You must write the book you want to read, the book that is in your heart. Markets change; fads come and go – your writing must be authentic in order to stand the test of time.

Also, I think a danger exists in reading too much into such news releases. For the first release, it’s an assumption that each time a reader underlines a passage it is because she loves it. Perhaps, in fact, she wanted to check something about it later. Perhaps she has missed the bookmark function and is just marking her place. We can’t know that marking passages equates to adoring passages. Nor can we strictly determine that ‘a city is romantic’ based on the number of sales there of romance novels, rom-coms and romantic music. There’s so much extra detail required in order to build a clear picture of the consumer base. It could simply be the case, for example, that the citizens of Knoxville are the most generous givers of romantic music, books and DVDs as gifts in the US, and few of them actually consume the products themselves (unlikely, certainly, but it makes the point that the data is lacking depth).

I will continue to read such news items with interest. Then I will close the news website and go back to working on my latest novel, happy in the knowledge that I am entirely on the right track because I’m writing what is in my heart to write.

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