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August 27, 2005

Interview with the Vampire Buyer,

An Interview with Sue Grimshaw               Go to fullsize image

Fans of the erotic vampire murder mystery—and many other permutations of genre fiction--owe a big thank-you to Sue Grimshaw for their success.  As the Waldenbooks expert on all things romantic—she’s been their national romance genre buyer for a number of years and has put millions of copies of books into stores nationwide--Sue knows a thing or two about the book-buying public. Plus she’s a really nice person and a terrific panelist at a conference, so even though the Book Tarts write in another genre, we hope a few of her customers will stroll over to the Mystery aisle once in a while to check us out.  So we asked Sue a few questions about her job and the readers she works so hard to please.

TLC:  We can’t help noticing that romance authors get a lot of grief for writing entertaining fluff. You've been a top romance buyer for years and very in-tune with what's going on in that genre.  What do you feel are the most significant changes in the romance industry the past few years?   

Sue: The best thing about romance is that it is always changing.  Our readers keep us on our toes always wanting something new & different to read.   I think the most significant change is acceptance of the stronger, more aggressive heroine.  Heroines today are not going to let anyone control them…at least, not unless they want to be controlled. 

TLC:  Well, now!  We’re not going to touch that line.  Where do you see the romance genre going in the near future?

Sue: Paranormal continues to be the most popular sub-genre within Romance today.  Authors are delivering exactly what the reader is looking for and seem to be making a conscious effort to keep their stories fresh & different from everyone else's.  Paranormal enables the heroine to be even stronger than that of other sub-genres within romance, and the men they love are sexier.  Some authors are combining paranormal elements in their historicals or contemporaries which also appeals to our readers. 

Erotic romances continue to build their reader base as well.  Ellora's Cave  http://www.ellorascave.com/ and New Concept books are examples of what is selling in this sub-genre.

TLC: Yes, we’ve noticed things have gotten pretty steamy over there in the Romance aisle.  Is there a limit to how erotic a traditionally published novel can be and still be sold in Waldenbooks and Borders?   

Sue: Erotic Romance & Erotic novels are two different categories in our stores.  Erotic Romance, or Romantica, is primarily geared to the Romance reader, just spiced up a bit, merchandised in the Romance section.  Erotic novels are sold in our General Fiction area and bought by another buyer, so I am not knowledgeable of any restrictions they may have.

TLC: No restrictions, huh?  We may have to check this out.  Promotion is a big issue among mystery authors. In your view, what do booksellers really want from authors in the terms of PR? 

Sue: For the most part, anyone who becomes a bookseller does so because they love books.  Booksellers love to read them, talk about them & sell them. The feedback we get from stores is very positive regarding author visits.  If an author has the time to sign stock, drop off a bookmark reminding booksellers of their new releases, etc, it is always well received.

TLC:  What do readers respond to in the way of promotion?

Sue: Based on our readers click thru response on BGI's electronic newsletters (www.waldenbooksstores.com and www.borderstores.com) we see tremendous interest in our author letters that are written exclusively for BGI. Not only are readers looking for a terrific story but they want to know more about who writes them as well! Romance readers seem to frequent author websites, so if you don't have one you may want to get one.

TLC:  "Chick lit mystery" writers like the Book Tarts are interested in reaching romance readers, but we find that difficult when our books are strictly relegated to the mystery aisles of bookstores. Any thoughts?

Sue:  Books are shelved based on the primary theme of the book, and there are always gray areas or books that could be shelved in a couple of different places.  There are various ways to get those 'cross over' books highlighted to the romance readers, so make sure you are working with your publishers to pursue those programs.  For example, I mentioned our electronic newsletters earlier which could easily include your title to be highlighted to our romance reader.  Your publishers are familiar with each promotional option available at every retailer so they would be able to give you suggestions of how to cross promote your books.

TLC:  You seem like a sensible adult with a busy career, Sue. What do you read in your spare time? 

Sue:  I read Romance!  Really -- I love it! I prefer historical romances, however, I have been reading more of the paranormal of which I am enjoying as well.

Thanks, Sue.  We’ve noticed that romance readers are among the most open-minded consumers around.  They seem willing to try anything.  In books, that is. We’re thinking it’s about time fans of other genres take a look around the romance aisle again.  Things are definitely changing!


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Very interesting - I read mostly mysteries, but have been reading romances and related 'General Fiction' much more in the last few years. The romance/romantica readers are an amazing subculture - tons of Internet interaction and resources and very supportive of the authors.

I've met some romance authors (none of the Book Tarts) who have tried writing another genre and have come back to romance because the money is better. When you consider the volume, that makes sense.

Forgive my ignorance but how is a book labeled for a specific genre? I'm thinking of Harley's novels. They weave mystery and romance so what is the process in how DDM and DiM end up on the Mystery Shelves?


Kimberly---Editors & publishers decide where a book fits into their schedule & publishing program, and that's how "mystery" ends up printed on the spine of the book.

There are only a handful of houses now, and they are all divided up into "imprints'--which just means they have subdivisions that each publish different kinds of things. The agent generally targets a specific editor at a specific imprint, and that's how the books end up being categorized. If the combined forces of agent, editor & publisher can't figure out what genre the book fits into, it's called "general fiction" and is shelved in that section of the bookstore.

But the reason Harley's book is so hard to categorize (along with the rest of the Tarts) is that she expertly weaves many elements into her stories--elements that seem to belong in other categories (like romance or thriller or women's fiction) into her books. A good mystery *should* be hard to categorize, if you ask me. We're all using the literary form of the mystery to create plot (the engine that drives the story) but we layer a lot more stuff into our books, too.

You're right, Kathy.--The starting salaries (so to speak) for mystery are low. It's easier to make a living at romance (if you write fast, your sales can be huge) but for me, the rewards in mystery are more suited to my personality right now.--And the money has risen nicely, too, which my children's colleges appreciate.

Nancy, thanks so much for answering my question. When I walk into a bookstore now I find myself thinking about the discussion topics here at TLC.


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