You may have heard of the controversy concerning Lori Foster’s latest book, My Man Michael. This book is part of the SBC Fighter series, a contemporary series, albeit one with mild suspense elements, about mixed martial arts fighters — but this one’s a time travel/futuristic. I must admit that my first thought was “Huh?” (My second was “What a cool cover.”)

Many fans are furious, and the rage has exploded across Amazon and message boards. Some of the responses go too far, attacking the author instead of the book (sigh). Yet I can see why fans are disappointed. Straight contemps are hard enough to find, and many contemp fans hate paranormals. So imagine fans’ shock when Book 4 turns out to be a TT/futuristic. Most of all, readers are upset because the cover gave no warning that this one was different from the rest of the series. (Some readers figured it out from the excerpt on Lori Foster’s web site, but not all fans are on-line or know where to find excerpts.) I know I’d be annoyed if I picked up, say, the latest Mercedes Lackey book, expecting a fantasy novel, only to get a mainstream novel set in Cleveland. Or if I started reading a Harlequin Presents, only to get a story about a hero who traveled through magic portals. When we pick up a contemp, or a paranormal, we do so because we want that type of book. Sure, readers want to be surprised, but not that much. It’s like eagerly opening a box of Godiva, only to find that it contains Laffy Taffy instead. Eww!

According to a blog post about dealing with disappointed readers, Lori Foster didn’t expect the reaction to be like this. Authors just tell the story they have to tell, and sometimes forget the big picture. Authors never go in thinking “Ha! This is going to throw my readers for a loop!” But after reader expectations have been set, maybe it isn’t a good idea to change horses in midstream. Also, you’d think the publisher would have taken steps to warn readers — just label it as a futuristic/TT or even suggest that Lori Foster publish it under her L. L. Foster name. Instead, they gave it a cover similar to the previous book in the series. So readers looking for contemps(not to mention trying to meet expectations set by reading the other books in the series) were upset, and readers looking for TT/futuristic passed it up.

There’s a thread on the Let’s Talk Romance Novels Forum about controversy and whether it’s good business for authors. Is this a controversy? You bet it is. Will it help the author in the long run? Who knows? Before this controversy, I didn’t know there was a series about mixed martial arts. The controversy might also sell books, and Lori Foster could win new fans who like futuristics. But what’s going to happen with the next book in the series? Let’s say it’s a contemp. Will futuristic fans pick it up, only to be disappointed when it’s a contemp? Will contemp fans be afraid to give it a chance?

People often complain about series that change tone or even subgenre in the middle. For example, many fans are upset that the Black Dagger Brotherhood books shifted from paranormal romance to urban fantasy. What about any other series that changed genre in the middle? And if this happened to your favorite series, what would you do?

-Anne Marble

Editor’s Note: On a related note, it has come to our attention that Lori Foster has posted on at least one blog saying that we “don’t like” her. That is most definitely not the case. I don’t think any of us know her personally in order to have that sort of opinion, and our opinions with regard to her work have been all over the board, as a cursory glance at her reviews here would show.

In addition, with regard to Foster’s allegation that a reviewer (who she does not name) was forced to write a critical review of one of her books, I can state that this has never been our policy. Both when Laurie Gold owned the site and after the four of us (Sandy Coleman, Blythe Barnhill, Rachel Potter and I) assumed ownership, the choice of a book’s grade has been left up to the reviewer. I know that my editor has on several occasions put up reviews of mine that she would have graded differently and I do likewise with the reviewers I edit. If someone turns in a glowing review of a book, but then gives a C grade, the editor may ask her to explain the C in the body of the review so readers know why that grade is there, but no editor on staff here would force a reviewer to give a book a certain grade.
-Lynn S.