It's been a little over a year since I converted Love in Panels from a comics-only site to an all-things-romance site. It's been a tumultuous year in the world of romance publishing, with publishers and major blogs closing, trademark battles, and the ever-present issues of marginalization and cruddy rep. It's also been a year full of amazing books, new friendships, and a community that gives me hope and laughs when it feels like my country is burning down around me.
In the past year:
- LiP went from a team of one to a team of seven. With additional team members, we're able to cover a wider array of books and to discuss many of them from an #ownvoices viewpoint.
- Our monthly blog reads went from around 780 in November 2017 to about 6000 in November 2018.
- We went from updating once a week on the comics blog to three/four times a week on the romance blog and once a week on the comics blog.
- We set up a Ko-Fi account to allow readers to tip us every now and again.
- I've hosted two hangouts at my house for romance readers/authors/bloggers.
- We've interviewed 16 romance authors and a few comics creators.
- We've hosted giveaways on the blog and on Twitter.
- I was part of the launch of the Diverse Romance Press List, which aims to get more diverse romances in front of bloggers, librarians, and reviewers. (You should sign up!)
- We fixed up the homepage just last week! Now prettier and full of romance covers *swoon*
- We've had a lot of fun.
Where we are now:
In the last 13 months, Heroes & Heartbreakers, RT Book Reviews (and the convention), and HEA USAToday have closed. Crimson Romance closed. The Ripped Bodice's annual reports on racial diversity in romance publishing showed that things got WORSE in 2017. Every blogger I know reports that their traffic has been decreasing. It's incredibly difficult to build a brand and a following as an author or as a blogger in this environment. A lot of people have decided to update their blogs less frequently, and I'll admit it's been tempting.
Doesn't the fact that the big blogs have gone away mean that there's a gap in coverage? Doesn't the Ripped Bodice report mean that there's a need for inclusive romance reviews and discussion? Amazon and Goodreads feel stuffed full of reviews from super-fans and sometimes even reviews that have been bought in some way. They broke their discovery tools by filling them with sponsored results, many of which are the result of a collective of authors and/or ghostwriters publishing under one pen name. Where do you go to find the books you'll actually want to read?
It's been wonderful to see the New York Times embracing romance with a monthly column by someone who actually loves the genre. NPR has the same. But each of those columns covers three or so books. I don't know any romance readers who only read three books a month.
What this says to me is that us bloggers need to find new ways to engage with readers, and spread the word about our particular brand of content. We know that blog tours and book blitzes aren't generating traffic, which means readers don't much care for them. That's fine. Let's figure out what people actually want to read. Is it pithy tweets? Angry posts on Facebook? Video? We're all muddling around trying to figure it out.
The Plan for 2019:
Here are my pie-in-the-sky goals for 2019. All of this is subject to change, but I'm excited and optimistic.
- This spring, I'm planning a virtual conference for romance bloggers. We'll be talking about an array of subjects and sharing ideas on how to engage with readers and avoid burning out. (More on this soon.)
- Love in Panels will be launching a Patreon account in early 2019 and are still hammering out the details of the subscriber benefits, but here's the rough draft:
- - Weekly Google Hangouts (or similar) for a real-time chat about what we're all reading, what we're looking forward to, and probably some shenanigans
- - Recommendations whenever you want them
- - If we raise enough, we can pay our contributors! This is our ultimate goal.
- We're going to finally put some of our ideas up on Zazzle for you to order the merch you've been asking for!
On a more personal note, I'm going to add a bunch of the blogs I love to my Feedly account so I can read the posts on a more consistent basis. Now that I've started a "real job," I'm not catching as much on Twitter and I really do want to stay engaged in this community.
For all of its flaws, Romancelandia is still the place that pulled me out of post-partum depression and convinced me that my words were worth something. I'm looking forward to another year of reading, discussion, and Jen's absurd drawings.
Wishing you a happy end of year! Stay tuned for an end of year giveaway...