One of the things I love about living in Toronto is the film festivals we have here. Although TIFF gets the most international exposure, the Hot Docs film festival is so accessible and interesting. Hot Docs is a documentary festival with world premieres for many films from well-known directors to first timers. I saw a post on Twitter about an article on the Huffington Post about a film that would have its world premiere here in Toronto at the festival. Since a trip to RWA is not in the cards for me, it was exciting to have this opportunity to see a very special film, Love Between the Covers.
The film maker, Laurie Kahn has a great website that delves deep into the romance industry. Here is the blurb on the movie:
Love stories are universal. Love stories are powerful. And so are the women who
write them. While romance novels and their signature covers are ubiquitous around the
world, the global community of millions of women who read, write, and love them
remains oddly invisible. Love Between the Covers is the fascinating story of five very
different authors who invite us into a vast female community, running a powerhouse
industry that’s on the cusp of an irreversible power shift.
For three years, we follow the lives of five published romance authors and one
unpublished newbie as they build their businesses, find and lose loved ones, cope with a
tsunami of change in publishing, and earn a living doing what they love—while
empowering others to do the same.
We watch romance authors and readers building communities and friendships that don’t
just exist on social media sites, blogs, and message boards, but also transition into the
real world. We accompany authors on trips with their readers, at conferences and
special romance events — and we see them encouraging their readers to become writers
During the three years we’ve been shooting Love Between the Covers, we have
witnessed the biggest power shift that has taken place in the publishing industry over the
last 200 years. And it’s the romance authors who are on the front lines, pioneering new
ways to survive in this rapidly changing environment.
I watched the trailer before I purchased my ticket and was so excited to be going! When I got to the University of Toronto campus to enter the theatre, I was shocked at how many people were there. The last Hot Doc I saw was not well attended (but that’s likely because it was about New York City’s sewers). The audience was not predominantly female, but had quite a few men there. I chatted with the gentleman behind me and found out that he was a distributor. He told me he knew very little about the romance book industry but was aware how popular it is.
According to the statistics on Laurie Kahn’s film webpage, it isn’t just popular – it’s explosive! Here are some statistics mentioned in the film:
Total Romance Novel Sales in 2013
That’s roughly one-fifth of all adult-fiction sales.
46 percent of romance consumers read at least one book per week. In comparison, the typical
American reads five books a year.
Romance Readers At A Glance
Average Income $55K
Relationship Status 59 percent are coupled, 84 percent are women, 16 percent are men
So what did I think of the film? Well, I laughed a lot! Who knew romance writers had such great humour! I learned a few new things, but I felt like it was a love letter to the industry. It explored the disdain that many hold towards romance novels and society’s views of those who write romance novels.
Clearly it is incredibly bad form to turn on your cell phone during a movie, but I was kicking myself for not bringing a note pad as there was so many amazing comments and thoughts shared, but the website is a wealth of information. While the Q and A was happening with Laurie, I did get a chance to jot down a few notes. Here is what I took away from the movie:
Nora Roberts is a queen. Literally. She was one of the only authors who did not do a team interview. She was hilarious and truthful. Her fans are rabid and so appreciative of her work. When Nora critiques Romeo and Juliet, the whole theatre broke out in laughter. She said that Master Shakespeare’s play is not a romance, its two stupid teenagers who commit suicide. She talks about her foray into writing as a way not to lose her mind with parenting young children. She displayed a disdain for being on social media as it takes away from writing.
I found that interesting, as the documentary highlights how social media has changed the industry. Laurie comments that romance authors are highly skilled at social media and were some of the first authors to do so. She also comments that the connections authors and readers make over social media leads to friendships and openness. I wholeheartedly agreed with this as I know from experience that it is true. While I’m not besties with any authors, I do engage in email conversations, twitter exchanges and social media groups with them.
The social media savviness of authors has led to the explosion of the electronic market. Romance readers were the first to readily accept e-readers. Romance readers don’t want to wait to go the bookstore to try to find the next book in the series, they want it NOW. I could totally relate to this. I would finish a book and be desperate to read the next one in the series. I would drive to the bookstore and frantically search the shelves. Sometimes it was there and more than likely it wasn’t. Amazon changed a lot, but I still had to wait a couple of days to get my fix. Laurie Kahn said her film took about three years to make. During that time she said that there has been a huge shift towards self-publication. The authors interviewed comment on the change. One editor said that if you want your book out there for consumption, the self-publication is great. But if you want a career, you need an editor. Watching Joanne Lockyer open her proof of her self-published novel (her first one) was so moving. The overwhelming emotion on her face was ridiculously touching.
What I really appreciated about this film was how the author didn’t just stick with contemporary romance or historical. She highlighted all the genres that are out there. She provides ample screen time to Radclyffe and Beverly Jenkins. I have to admit, I was not aware of both authors, but LOVED their perspectives. Radclyffe is a former surgeon who writes novels with two women (as she put it!). Like many others, she has taken other authors under her wing who want to write LGBQT books. When she talks about exploring gay romance novels, it showed us how far we have come as a society. It was wonderful to see the many authors at her farm learning about the trade and hearing how writing romance novels has given them a freedom they haven’t experienced before. Beverly Jenkins is an African American author who stole the show! She was fabulous! I loved her viewpoints and how important it was that she represents romance and history. Beverly was aware that there was nothing on the market ‘for someone who looked like me’ and set out to correct that. She has certainly succeeded. She spends time with her loyal fans who take road trips with her to visit sites that speak to the history of black culture.
Radclyffe has a publishing house and does writing workshops for authors. She is one of many authors who ‘pay it forward’. What struck me about this film was the sisterhood that shone through. Most authors were filmed in pairs. It was exceedingly clear that they know each other and are friends. It doesn’t seem to be a cutthroat industry, but rather a sewing circle of support. There were interviews with authors who write together, are critique buddies and party like teenagers. The film highlighted the networking done at industry events and how established authors support and help those new to writing. I think this made me fall in love with romance authors even more. Eloisa James was so charming. Every time she came on the screen she just brightened it up. She shares her journey and allows us a glimpse into her job as a professor and her writing at home. She has cultivated great relationships with other authors and readers and I liked her SO much. While I have read her books before, I will certainly be on the look for her new stuff!
Nora Roberts stated that if she read a thriller and they didn’t reveal who did it, she’d be pissed. So then why shouldn’t romance novels have the happily ever after? Beverly Jenkins commented that it’s a romance novel, it’s a fantasy and it can have that special ending. All the authors talked about why the HEA is not farfetched. It’s something to hope for and standards that one should set. Kim Castillo, who runs Authors’ Best Friend, said that reading romance books made her feel that she should hold out for the man who treated her like a princess and her hopes and expectations were not foolish.
The industry is largely female. Women readers, women authors. Roughly 95% of the authors out there are women. The film posits that this industry is so successful because it is by women, for women and supported by women. The 5% of male authors are pretty low key. Laurie Kahn did a Q and A at the end of the film and when asked about the role of men in the industry, she said that up to 15% of readers are men. Surprisingly the men who read romance novels come from retirement homes (they like the history) and prisons. It seems that the hope and love is attractive to those who need it the most.
The film asks authors when they became aware of romance books. They commented that they found them on the shelves of their mothers and grandmothers. It was comforting to know that my influence was a common one. Romance books are the bastion of women, a sisterhood and friendship built around the hopes and dreams of ink and paper. Susan Donovan and Celeste Bradley share that writing has seen them through bad marriages, divorce, financial ruin, stress and more. Romance novels have been the same for me over the past twenty-five years. I couldn’t imagine my life without a new story to read or a new author to discover.
I hope this movie gets picked up for wide distribution as it was fantastic. You can view a lot of the interviews on the website and its well worth taking a look!