Happy new year and thanks everyone who participated in the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge. This is the first of a series of wrap-up posts for books reviewed throughout 2015.
- How many romance and erotica books were reviewed for AWW this year compared to last year?
- Who were our most popular authors?
- Which book attracted the most reviews?
- Who were our top reviewers?
The Australian Women Writers Challenge in 2015 attracted 1527 reviews of a total of 909 books. Of these, 171 books were categorised as “romance, erotica or romantic suspense”. This represents the output of 110 individual writers, while two books were co-written. This is comparable to the 2014 results where a total of 115 authors had a total of 170 books reviewed.
These 171 romance/erotica books attracted 327 reviews, written by 48 separate reviewers; this is an increase on 2014 figures, where there were 265 reviews by 43 reviewers. In 2015, 79 authors had just one book reviewed; 21 had two books reviewed; five had three books reviewed; two had five books reviewed; and one author, Victoria Purman, had six books reviewed. (Congratulations, Victoria!)
Our most prolific reviewers of romance and erotica in 2015 were Michelle at Beauty and Lace (48), Brenda on Goodreads (43), Sam Still Reading (34), Shelleyrae at Book’d Out (21), Jess at The Never Ending Bookshelf (13), Carol at Reading Writing and Riesling (also 13), Debbish (11), Kathryn at Book Date (10) and Rochelle Sharpe (also 10). Thanks to all our participants for an amazing effort bringing books by Australian romance writers to a wider audience.
The book that attracted the most number of reviews in this category (I’m thrilled and somewhat embarrassed to say) was my own debut rural romantic suspense, Snowy River Man, written under my pen-name, Lizzy Chandler (published by Escape as an ebook). It attracted eight reviews. Thanks for all your support – I’m both honoured and grateful!
Next with seven reviews each were four other rural romances: Loretta Hill’s The Maxwell Sisters (Random House Australia), Jenn McLeod’s Season of Shadow and Light (Simon & Schuster AU), Fiona Palmer’s The Saddler Boys (Penguin Australia) and Rachael Johns’ The Patterson Girls (MIRA). Johns also had four other novels reviewed – quite an achievement! Attracting six reviews each were Shannon Curtis’ romantic suspense thriller, Runaway Lies (MIRA); Fiona McArthur’s rural romance, The Homestead Girls (Penguin Australia); and Barbara Hannay’s rural romance/saga, The Secret Years (Penguin Australia). All of the top reviewed books were published in 2015.
Note: Just because a book was popularly reviewed, doesn’t mean it was the most well-liked; you’d have to track down and read the actual reviews to judge that (feel free to do so via our search page). There might be all sorts of reasons why some books get a higher number of reviews than others, including how well-known the author is and how many novels they’ve published previously, as well as the availability of Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) and publishers’ advertising budgets (or whether or not the author founded AWW!).
Continuing a trend, seven of our “top” eight titles for 2015 were rural romance (and the eighth had a rural scene on the cover). The majority of the books reviewed were traditional romances – defined (by me) as focusing on a relationship and leading to a happy conclusion. What our reviewers categorised as “romance” or “erotica”, however, encompassed a broad range of fiction, including short “category” romance, mainstream “women’s fiction” or saga, literary fiction and even a novel in verse. The breadth of what AWW reviewers consider to be romance is important to note as it may help to explain some ratings.
The inclusion of Emily Maguire’s Taming the Beast in the romance/erotica category by one reviewer – and the reviewer’s low (2-star) rating for the book – highlights for me one of the dangers of genre classification (and, possibly, book covers). I haven’t read Taming the Beast but, judging by the one book of Maguire’s I have read and reviewed, her excellent and literary Fishing For Tigers, I’d be surprised if Maguire considered anything she wrote as typical romance or erotica, and a reader picking up one of her books with those expectations might well be disturbed by and disappointed in her work. (I’m not saying that’s what happened in this instance, only that I wouldn’t be surprised and, given the differences between the two cover versions above, you couldn’t blame a reviewer who picked up the second cover and made that assumption.)
Susan Johnson’s The Landing was also included in the romance/erotica category by several AWW reviewers. Again, I haven’t read the book, but I believe at least one reviewer might have had false expectations of the novel, perhaps influenced by the book’s “women’s fiction”-looking cover.
While labelling novels such as Johnson’s and Maguire’s romance or erotica might reflect the breadth of our understanding of these genres, it might also indicate a confusion in the marketing of these books, specifically the problems publishers are having in targeting the books to readers who will enjoy and appreciate them. This is something perhaps to keep in mind when, for example, rating a book on Goodreads and Amazon. Personally, I’d rather opt for the “I’m not the target audience and was misled by the cover/blurb” critique, rather than give such books a low rating. (Please note: I’m not pointing the finger at any reviewer – and I’m personally happy with any and all reviews of my books, good, bad and indifferent – but over the past four years I’ve had contact with more than one literary writer who has been quite wounded by what they consider to be unjustified criticism and mis-labelling of their work.)
On a related topic, if you missed the furore over Beth Driscoll’s reference to Susan Johnson’s and others’ books as “middlebrow”, you might be interested in tracking it down. Driscoll’s post first appeared in Sydney Review of Books, as did Johnson’s reply, alongside those of Stephanie Bishop and Antonia Hayes here. There were numerous follow-up discussions including Meredith Jaffe’s defence of the term in The Guardian. It’s a good insight into the fraught nature of this literary debate.
I’m looking forward to another great year of reading with the AWW challenge. In 2015 Bree from All the Books I Can Read began writing the romance roundups; I took over in the second part of the year when Bree withdrew for personal reasons. If there’s anyone reading this post who has a passion for romance and is interested in volunteering to take over the monthly (or bimonthly) roundups, please let me know via our contacts page.
In the meantime, if you’re a fan of romantic suspense and would like a chance to win a copy of my latest novel, By Her Side, you might like to enter my giveaway. (I’d love to see a few reviews of it included in #aww2016 but I have to warn you: it doesn’t have a rural setting.)
Thanks again and happy reading!
About me: I have published two novels under my pen-name, Lizzy Chandler: Snowy River Man and By Her Side. You can find my author blog page here. I also review books, mostly psychological suspense, on my review blog. In 2012 I founded the AWW challenge with the help of a team of book bloggers with the aim of helping overcome gender bias in the reviewing of books by Australian women. You can read more about our fantastic AWW volunteers here.