An Interview with Avon Romance

“It’s no secret that certain words in the title (or rather English “titles” in the title) will make an author sell more copies. I think readers like to read about dukes.”

(May 19, 2009)

Like it or not, Avon Romance is one of the biggies in the romance genre. Many top names write for this house – including some that I love to read – and Avon’s marketing reach is huge. Laurie Gold had an opportunity to interview Avon’s Editorial Director in 2002, and when Avon agreed this year to an interview with some of their editorial staff, we jumped at the chance. After all, a lot has happened since 2002. Many more people use the internet now and internet marketing of books has changed – and become much more widespread. In addition, we face a very different economic situation now than in 2002 as well as changes in the romance market, particularly the explosive growth of paranormal romance.

Given all this, I was curious to talk to Avon and see what the company had to say about their own publishing process and about the current romance market. The interview was conducted with the Avon Romance department as a group, with responses being supplied by May Chen, Lucia Macro, and another unnamed source. So, without further ado, here are the responses that I recieved from Editor May Chen and VP/Executive Editor Lucia Macro.

–Lynn Spencer

Lynn Spencer: When All About Romance had its last interview with Avon in 2002, the romance market was a very different place. How has the current economic climate affected what Avon can do with regard to buying new books and marketing them?

May Chen: Fortunately Avon is weathering the current economic climate well. We haven’t changed what and how we buy and we’ve never been told to cut back on acquisitions. We still buy books we love and that has the potential to appeal to a large audience, but I think we have become more focused in marketing books.

Lynn S.: On a somewhat related note, we often see people on our message boards discussing the fact that the romance landscape is very different now than it was 20 or even 10 years ago. What new trends have you seen emerging in romance in recent years?

Lucia Macro: Paranormal/fantasy, though to my mind it’s no longer a trend and it simply “is”, the way historical will always be with us. And I’ve also seen a revitalization of contemporary small town books and western settings – readers are seeking a sense of community, which they aren’t getting in real life.

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Lynn S.: In our 2002 interview, you felt that the online world didn’t have much of an impact on sales. Much has changed in the intervening years, and more and more people – including more women – are online now and use reviews as a helpful guide to the buying process. Has Avon changed its thinking in this area? Avon, also, seems not to include many online reviews in books. Are there any plans to change that policy?

May Chen: In my opinion, the online world still doesn’t have much impact on sales as, anecdotally, I’ve seen books get horrible online reviews but have done well. As far as I know, we still don’t include online reviews on our books, but that can certainly change if we see them start making a difference. Right now, the best endorsements for us still seem to be from NYT bestselling authors and from major traditional print reviewers.

Lucia Macro: Do the consumers recognize the source of the quote? I’m not sure that the vast majority of readers recognize all the online sites. When checking their rankings I’m often surprised at how little traffic they really get. We are all very plugged in, but many casual readers are just picking up a book at their local Walmart and barely have time to watch tv, much less wrestle the computer away from their kids. So an author quote might carry more weight with them.

Lynn S.: I noticed that both May Chen and Lucia Macro indicated that they don’t see the internet as much of a factor in marketing. However, many more people are online now as opposed to in 2002. At AAR alone, we’ve seen this growth as in 2008, we had over 4 million unique visitiors to the site. In addition, a recent (2008) Zogby study of more than 8000 book buyers found that more than half browse for books online and about a third responded that they rely upon online reviews. Given that so large a group of buyers rely upon internet resources for their book purchase decisions, why are they not considered a significant factor in marketing?

Avon: The internet is a factor in marketing. We do “browse inside” on our books, post our covers early, and have author microsites on the main Harper Collins Server. However, we aren’t seeing that any review driven website has the power to “make” a book. Yet.

Lynn S.: Whenever the topic of what readers would like to see in their romances comes up, one thing that appears again and again on a variety of Web sites (including this one) are comments from readers wanting to see more variety in historical settings and characters. Does Avon have any historicals planned with settings outside Regency/Victorian England, which are more commonly seen?

May Chen: We actually have published some pirate romances by Edith Layton and Alexandra Benedict, an Italian-set historical romance from Loretta Chase and have a forthcoming Viking book from Sandra Hill. If the readers love these books we absolutely will do more of them.

Lucia Macro: They call it mass market for a reason – my role is to publish books that appeal to hundreds of thousands (ideally) of readers. Yet in my years in the business I’ve personally never been able to get a medieval to work at that level. However, we have upcoming titles such as Sandra Hill’s VIKING IN LOVE so we’re branching out.

Lynn S.: Both May Chen and Lucia Macro have pointed out that Avon is branching out some from the Regency/Victorian England settings that dominate the historical lineup with books including an Italian setting and a Viking romance from Sandra Hill. How do you all plan to market these more unusual settings to readers? Do you plan to brand your line as a whole, rather like HarperMonogram did in the 1990s, or do you have something different in mind?

We did not get a response from Ms. Chen or Ms. Macro on this one, but an unnamed source at Avon did inform me that, “What the goal at Avon always has been is to brand authors, not lines. So, if someone comes in like Sandra Hill, and wants to create a role for herself writing Viking love stories, more power to her, and we hope to publish her well.”

Lynn S.: One comment that I get from readers with regard to romances in general has to do with the somewhat generic nature of titles. People have trouble keeping them straight since so many recent titles sound alike. I know it varies from house to house, but is there a formula for titles that authors and publishers use? Secondly, how important is a title when it comes to book sales?

Lucia Macro: My question is: If there are buzz words that work in the market, why would you avoid using them to sell your books? In my opinion, when it comes to importance, it’s title first, then copy, then art, then the opening paragraph.

Lynn S.: Lucia Macro mentioned these buzz words that seem to work with regard to book titles. How does Avon decide how to title its romance books? I know that’s an issue that is the subject of all kinds of questions and information (and, I suspect, misinformation) from commenters.

Again while I did not hear back from Ms. Macro on this one, I was informed by Avon that, “It’s no secret that certain words in the title (or rather English “titles” in the title) will make an author sell more copies. I think readers like to read about dukes. And there are words that just never work in a romance title. If it’s possible, it’s great to have the title be a line from the book(I always love that).”

Lynn S.: I know that readers are often curious about what happens behind the scenes before a book gets into print. Could you tell us briefly what process you go through from buying a book until it comes out in print? How many editors do you currently have on staff getting these books together for readers?

May Chen: Though I have bought a few books from unagented authors and from contests, the majority of my submissions are from agents. After I negotiate the advance with the agent and acquire a book, I then edit it, send it back to the author for revisions, read the revised version to make sure it’s in tip-top shape, then send it to copyediting. Once the manuscript is copyedited, it is then typeset and then proofread for errors. Meanwhile, I am also working with the art department and the copywriter to get a fabulous looking cover. The author is consulted on every step of the process which, from acquisition to finished book appearing in stores, takes around a year depending on the schedule.

There are eight editors acquiring for Avon— VP/Executive Editor Lucia Macro; Executive Editor Lyssa Keusch; Executive Editor Erika Tsang; Editor May Chen; Assistant Editors Tessa Woodward, Esi Sogah, Wendy Lee and Editorial Assistant Amanda Bergeron.

Thank you to the editors at Avon Romance for your time and insight. I’m sure that this will give our readers plenty to talk about.


Post your thoughts on the Romance Potpourri Forum 2002 interview with Avon’s Carrie Feron


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