Ebury's Gillian Green Chats Up the Strategy Behind Launching Digital-First Imprint Rouge Romance
In September, British publisher Ebury made a splash by launching Rouge Romance, a digital-first imprint dedicated to bawdy bodice-rippers that are saucily marketed as "sexier, longer and 100% more romantic." While romance readers' love affair with e-books is no secret (no more being judged for those steamy mass-market covers), Ebury's plunge is particularly noteworthy. This is no tentative leap; Rouge debuted with eight titles, with plans for four new titles per month going forward. We caught up with Gillian Green, editorial director at Ebury, to ask about the finer points of this venture.
Book Business Extra: First off, when did you decide to launch Rouge as an e-book romance imprint?
Gillian Green: We started talking about it seriously at the beginning of this year, but romance is something we’ve always wanted to publish as part of the Ebury commercial fiction list; it was just finding a way to make it work here, which is very different to the U.S. in terms of market support of the genre.
It’s also worth noting that I started out as a romance editor for Harlequin, so I’ve always had an affection for the genre, even though I’ve spent most of my career working in general fiction.
Extra: What market factors did you see that led to the decision?
Green: We know from research commissioned by Random House and by the industry at large that romance readers have been among the first to migrate to e-books; 1 in 7 romance readers in the U.K. have already bought an e-book in the last year and a digital-first list seemed an ideal way of getting to readers. We also watch the U.S. market to see what’s happening there, especially in terms of the changing digital landscape.
Extra: What makes a book a Rouge Romance title?
Green: Well, we have amazing authors in a whole array of subgenres: paranormal, historical, regency, romantic suspense, etc.… but what they all have in common is their ability to create great characters and great plots. All Rouge titles have a strong central romance and a lot of sexual tension. For me, the best romances make you forget the inevitable happy ending because you get so caught up in the journey the hero and heroine are on to find each other.
Extra: What would be the criteria necessary for doing a print run of a particularly strong-selling Rouge title?
Green: We’re not going to be as prescriptive as saying that a book has to sell x in digital form before we release a print edition. We’re looking at the list as a whole and plans are afoot…
Extra: There are a lot of notions floating around in the conventional wisdom about what an e-book imprint means, some of which are negative (i.e., that the publisher doesn't believe in the books enough to print them or that perhaps the content is of a lesser quality). Rouge clearly has a stable of great authors, and is backed by an esteemed publishing house, but does a publisher consider those notions and, if so, how does she counter them?
Green: I think it’s important to reiterate that we’re a digital-first list not a digital-only list. However, with romance in the UK there is an inherent snobbery towards the genre even within the industry itself, far more so than there is in the U.S. This makes it difficult to get romance books into the market conventionally.
However, we know the readers are out there and we’ve selected an array of amazing titles to publish on Rouge, including a number by critically acclaimed, New York Times-bestselling writers as well as incredibly talented debut authors. Romance fans are turning to e-books because it’s an easy way to read what you want, wherever you want, without anyone casting aspersions on their reading habits.
As our deputy CEO, Ian Hudson, said recently: "Our aim is to provide readers as much choice as possible by making our books available wherever they want, and in whatever format they choose."
Extra: Rouge has done a number of contests on its website. What is the strategy there?
Green: Romance readers have proven themselves to be very active online so we aim to engage them via our website and social media channels. Competitions, author information and interactivity and discussions are all part of that.
Extra: Rouge claims to be, ahem, "Sexier, longer and 100% more romantic." How does motto this bear out in the content?
Green: We like to think of it as our USP [unique selling proposition]! All our books are at least 80,000 words in length—we’re not publishing short, category romances but big, juicy romances—with a happy ending, and all our books do tend to be at the sexier end of the market. We’re not big fans of the bedroom door closing and…