• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
    —ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

Two Covers


Outlander-list-coverThis blog is also a post on my official Facebook page, in response to a spirited debate there:

Well, let’s see now. What you’re looking at are the cover of a free giveaway edition of OUTLANDER, at left, and the cover of a recent edition of Entertainment Weekly,  further down on the right, featuring a shot of Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan as Claire and Jamie Fraser.

(BTW, the cover on the left was written by me. Random House, a few years ago, decided to do targeted giveaways of OUTLANDER by street teams at public events, and they asked me what I thought about the cover for this promo edition. I didn’t like any of the sketches they’d shown me. They got fed up with me/ran out of time and asked me what I’d like on the cover, so I wrote that little thumbnail run-down of the contents, and the resident genii of the art department promptly turned it into an appealing cover.)

2016-EW-Cover-risqueOK.

1. What I’m seeing in the comments from folks about this on (my Facebook page) is a pretty sharp divide over the EW cover, at right, with a lot of people charmed or excited by it, and a lot of people disconcerted or displeased by it. (Make Note of this; we’ll be coming back to this point….)

2. Of the latter group, a large number object on moral or aesthetic grounds, considering the photo to be "smut," "soft porn," "raunchy" or otherwise unsuitable for public consumption by right-minded people.

3. Another large subgroup objects on commercial grounds, expressing the fear that a) this photo is a serious misrepresentation of both the Outlander TV show and the books it’s based on, and b) that viewing this cover will cause the uncommitted public to forever shun Outlander in all its forms because the photo is not properly representing the depth, complexity, historicity, and (as one person put it), "the appeal of married love and lives well-lived." (Stop and think for a minute. Cover blurb: "A gripping story of married love and lives well-lived!" Ooo, I must have that….)

4. Am I perceiving things correctly? (Let me know if I’m misrepresenting anyone’s views here…)

The Romance Issue


OK. Before we get started here with My Thoughts (That sounds pretty pompous, doesn’t it? <g> Still, it is my book, and this is my webpage, so I think I get to have an opinion…). Let me briefly address the Romance issue (since "It looks like a cheesy romance novel!" is one of the oft-expressed negative opinions on the EW cover).

A. I like well-written romance novels. I enjoy reading them, and have no hesitation in recommending them to people—you’ll find several romance authors on the Methadone List on my website (If you haven’t been over there, it’s under the "Resources" tab, you’ll find "The Methadone List:"

http://www.dianagabaldon.com/resources/the-methadone-list/

which is a list of books I feel comfortable in recommending to anyone who asks me "So what am I supposed to read while I’m waiting for the next Outlander book?!?").

B. I don’t write romance novels. Besides being roughly four times the size of the usual romance novel, my books are not (with the exception of OUTLANDER itself) courtship stories, and romance novels are. (Romance novels do not have sequels; when the main characters are mated, that’s The End.) The two unbreakable genre "rules" of a romance novel are that the story should be mostly concerned with the relationship of the two main characters, and that it should have a happy ending (though this term is slightly elastic). Well… sometimes you might get an optimistic ending from one of my books. Sometimes not so much… And while there are all kinds of relationships going on in my books (any novel has relationships), they often aren’t that sort, nor are they the main focus of the story.

C. All of this notwithstanding, I have seen my books sold as Romance fairly frequently over the years. (I’ve seen them sold as Literature, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Mystery, Military History, Gay and Lesbian Fiction, and Horror— all with reasonable accuracy.) Largely as a counsel of desperation by marketing people unable to think of any other way to draw anyone’s attention to enormous books that can’t be described. "Romance" is the single easiest aspect of a story to evoke, which is why you see couples on movie posters, TV ads, and book covers, no matter whether the film or book in question really is primarily a romance, or not.

gabaldon-outlander-kr1What I mean to say here is— I have a LOT of experience in having my books called bodice rippers and seeing them published (in countries where I don’t have any personal control over the covers) with Really Strange covers. (The Korean one with the pink soap bubbles, at right, was one of the weirder ones, though I admit it didn’t have a heterosexual couple gazing into each other’s eyes….) Cover image courtesy of the Ladies of Lallybroch.

So. Let me say upfront that everybody sees things through the lens of his or her own experience, background, prejudices, and expectations. That includes me. I do, however, Just Possibly have a little more experience in this arena than do most of y’all (who commented on Facebook). So what I’m saying here is not intended to disrespect anyone else’s opinion, nor yet do I intend to come off as condescending, Marilyn <g> (a person who commented on Facebook)— it’s just that I probably have a wider perspective on the issues than most of y’all probably do, just by virtue of having been in these trenches for the last twenty-five years.

What I Think—The EW Cover

Awright. So here’s what I think, anent the EW cover:

a) I think I’ve seen racier underwear ads (mostly in Vogue).


b) If you honestly think this cover is "smut" or "soft porn," then all I can say is that y’all should maybe get out more. If you’ve ever watched television in the U.K., you’ve seen more explicit things than this three or four times in an evening. If you’ve been watching the TV version of "Outlander," (as theoretically you have) you’ve seen much more explicit sexual encounters on several occasions. Were these not "smut?" Is it OK to watch "soft porn" in the privacy of your home, but intolerable that other people should glimpse it on a magazine cover?

c) Starz promoted Season One with "The Kilt Drops (date)," in print ads, ads on the sides of busses and ads the height of ten-story buildings. I didn’t see a word of protest that this was "cheapening” our beloved story, or reducing it to the "level of a Harlequin Romance?"* Why were you totally OK with that bit of sexual innuendo, while the words "Bodice-ripper" (on the cover of a single magazine) makes you foam at the mouth? Is it OK to enjoy male-directed sexual innuendo (and grope kilt-wearing men), while it’s All Wrong to see female-directed sexual references in print?

Jamie-Claire-TV-STARZ
d) For that matter… look at the Facebook post under (previous to) the one we’re discussing. This is from the EW site, but it shows a still from the show, at right, that I’ve seen reproduced all over the internet since last year. It shows Jamie and Claire in a pose that’s explicitly either pre- or post-sex, and (apparently) totally naked. Did I hear a word of protest about this? Why, no, I didn’t. I heard mass swooning and sighing. So—

e) Evidently (for some) it’s the juxtaposition of "bodice-ripper" and "kilty pleasure" with the photograph on the EW cover that gripes you. Well, I’m totally with you, there— but as I say, that’s been happening to my books ever since the first publication of "Outlander." For a great many people (and virtually all marketing people…), "historical romance" equals "bodice-ripper," and they don’t see or intend anything negative by that term; they just figure that’s what you call "that" sort of book. Stubborn resistance will gradually wear them down, but you have to keep at it— take it from one who routinely rewrites the cover copy on her ads and books…


f) For those complaining that the EW cover doesn’t properly express the depth, complexity, etc. of the story (books or show)… well… no. It doesn’t. Would you like to suggest a pictorial cover that a) would express that, and b) would appeal instantly to a wide audience? It’s one image; there’s no conceivable way for a single image to encompass this story, or a fraction of it. A magazine cover is meant to do one thing: attract eyeballs. With luck, said eyeballs will zip to Jamie and Claire, but will also see the word "Outlander."

g) The giveaway cover that does more or less describe the contents accurately is not one that would work on a magazine like EW. The Atlantic Monthly, maybe, but not EW. Question of style and audience, aye?


h) It’s one magazine cover. To assume on the basis of this that the whole world will gasp in horror and make a note circled in red to Avoid Watching Outlander, at all costs, is… perhaps a trifle over-reactive.

i) (Returning to Point 1, above…) God bless those of you who did express outrage, concern, or dissatisfaction, whatever your motives for doing so. <g> Because nothing— and I do mean nothing— makes more effective publicity than controversy. By objecting and writing blog posts and heated comments, you’ve done more to stimulate interest in the show (and by extension, the books) than the EW piece could ever have achieved had it been received with universal approbation by fans. So thank you!

*Pretty sure none of you who’ve used this particular disparagement regarding the EW cover have ever seen a Harlequin Romance, nor do you know what they are. I have, and I do. (Besides being a lifetime member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA)— and the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), and the Author’s Guild, and a few other organizations— I used to judge finalists in the Historical Fiction category for the RITA Awards (the RWA’s award for excellent romance fiction **)). One of the best historical romance novels I found was THE PRISONER, by Cheryl Reavis. It’s a Harlequin Historical, (published in 1992) and it’s a great book; if you ever find a copy on Alibris or Abebooks, I recommend you grab it. Harlequin romances have very strict guidelines as to length and content. So do sonnets and villanelles. Neither length nor guidelines have anything to do with the quality of writing or story.

** When OUTLANDER was published in 1991, it was nominated in four different RITA categories (it was also nominated for the Nebula ballot, FWIW). I told my husband at the time that it wouldn’t win any of the categories, and I was right: at the time, RITA judging ballots had numbers from 0-6, with 6 being, "This is the best book I’ve ever read; I wish I’d written it myself," and 0 being "This isn’t a romance." Back in the day, they showed entrants what their scores were: mine were evenly divided between 0′s and 6′s. I did win the "Best Book of the Year" award— that was an award voted on by the membership at large (rather than judged), and at the time, there were no genre limitations; any book could be nominated.

Feel free to share your brief comments about this entry or any of my other blog posts. Note that ALL comments are subject to my review for suitable content and approval, which may take several days or longer, depending on my schedule. (In other words, your comment may not appear immediately.) Thanks!


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This blog was originally posted on my official Facebook page on March 4, 2016.


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11 Responses »

  1. So,when I saw those Different Covers on FB from Ew, I’m like Whoa……..not in a Bad way…….and yeah, your right…….in past I’ve seen Racier stuff in different mags…………hell, I a subscription to Playboy and just got the current one with no nudes in it……yeah my Hubby isn’t crazy Bout that let me tell you……….I Love the books…….have all 8 books, the Graphic Novel, the O. C . and I think one Lord John Novella……..this past Xmas was an Outlander Xmas……… and am working on…..maybe my third page in my coloring book……even got a former coworker hooked on the books……..Love the way Mr. Moore and Crew have taken your novels and interpreted them……yeah, ok……Outlander n Thank Gawd, DIA,,,,, but still, I really Don’t see the Stink in the Covers of the mags…….and Yeah, you are right……they make a fuss….Maybe some people need to get out more. OR just shut up ,sit down and read the Books……..Jeez Louise………I love them all…….and will be sorely upset when they come to a close, However, I know That Anytime I want to go Back To Scotland, all I have to do is pick up a book and Start all over again………..

    Keep Up the Great Work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank You So Much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Regina

  2. My first of Diana’s novels (Cross Stitch) was given to me in the Lake District of England by couple I was on tour with that were in their 70′s. I had runaway from home on a soul searching missions due to a very vivid dream I had about sea stacks off the Northeastern coast of Scotland 10 years before (I didn’t know this at the time of the dream of course)…

    No matter what anyone calls Outlander (romance, historical fiction, fantasy) no matter if it controversial magazine covers or very bunt statements of scandal Diana’s has touch countless millions with her books, opened up world unto itself that life happens to her characters just like it does for everyone else (time travel not withstanding)

    Diana’s books have seen me through the hard times and the good times and time when I just needed to know that there is a really good place to go where Jamie is Claire’s life blood and Clair was the woman who owned his soul.

    Thank you Diana for all the wonderful years of reading and writing that you’ve inspired me to…You’ll always be my hero…

  3. Well said!

    Personally, I didn’t take offense to EW’s cover. But then again, I’ve read every one of Diana’s books and have not been offended once in reading them!

    I’m an avid reader and yes, have read my share of romance novels. Well written can be in any genre of publication.

    Carry on with your writing Diana, I’ll keep buying them as long as you have the energy to write them!

  4. Diana Gabaldon’s books have captivated my imagination as well as my spirit! I came upon the Outlander Novels quite by accident when a young woman from my local Barnes and Nobel suggested the series. She tried to explain that they were the hottest thing going since the series started on Starz T.. Since I view a limited amount of Television, and did not have cable at that time; I took her word for it and purchased that first book, Outlander. Midway through the novel, I was captivated by the detail of daily life which Diana obviously researched. I am officially addicted to the series and have recently received, The Exile as a gift from my very patient husband! I have read all of her other novels to this point in chronological order! Unfortunately I am
    one of those people who cannot read anything out of order!

    I am writing today in hopes of finding a few elusive titles from this series…Lord John and The Hellfire Club, The Succubus, and The Haunted Soldier. This would complete the series and hold me over until the publishing of the next novel! Please let Diana be quick!

    I do not use Facebook, U Tube and I don’t tweet!! Sorry, but I am a conscientious objector! (or so says I!)

    Thank you for any useful information!

    • Dear Barbara–

      Hellfire Club, Succubus and Haunted Soldier are three Lord John novellas. All three are collected together in the book LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS. Hope you enjoy them!

      Best,

      –Diana

  5. Let’s have a tempest in a teapot! If this cover upsets you obviously haven’t read the Outlander books because
    there are more thought provoking incidences between those covers. Some will make you cringe, cry, yearn, grieve, and pray for more. Get over it there are more pornographic images on the daily news report. Never will one photo show the complexity of Outlander.

  6. I agree that most people need to get out more. I can’t believe it’s 2016 and people are so scandalized by a magazine cover. Also, I 100% agree with your thought, Diana, that no one picture or cover can convey the depth of your stories and characters. I think it’s also a good move to show off this type of picture to the EW audience — otherwise they might not have tuned in to the show or heard of your books!

  7. I think the problem people have with the EW cover may be because of the way it reflects on them. Here all along they’ve been telling people that they’re Outlander Fans and when someone asks “What’s Outlander?” they respond with “Historical,Time Travel, Romance.” A pretty calm, generic description. Now someone walking through the grocery store sees the magazine cover and goes “OMG she’s reading THAT??!!” Busted!

    But as we all know, the novels are so much more than bodice rippers. Hopefully the grocery store goers won’t judge us too harshly and maybe even spent their time in line googling Outlander and finding out what it’s really about and will possibly tune in for the TV series.

    I own a travel agency sell Outlander Immersion tours to Scotland in addition to other trips to Scotland and Ireland. Am I worried that this will smudge my reputation? Not really. Most of the time when I try to tell people what Outlander is about, I ask if they’ve seen the commercials about the WWII nurse that touches stones and falls back through time. A lot of times they say yes. Now people will just know that she has a good time when she’s in that other time! “Thank you Sassanach, truly.”

  8. Diana,

    I just read your post on your facebook page regarding your Methadone List. I have finally started the Wilderness Series by Sara Donati. I think her books were on your list at one time. It is really a captivating series and I am enjoying them immensely. I was just about to give up on reading anything but your books, over and over and over again. I read the introduction in her first book that you wrote stating “that you liked books that you could live in, not just read”. This series is definitely that kind. I do have a question, though. In the first book, there is a scene about Saratoga, battle of Freeman’s Farm, where Claire Fraser is mentioned as the doctor on the battlefield. Also, her husband (a big red headed Scot) named Jamie and Ian, too. I am assuming that she got your permission to use these characters and the same scene in her book? I kind of did a double take when I read it so had to go back and read it again.

    As far as your books go, there will never be a series to equal them. I never tire of reading them. I am looking forward to the new season on Starz also. I hope that the show will never be watered down, or dialed back, as some have been suggesting on the Forum. It is your story, you wrote it, and 99.9% of your readers do not want anything left out or changed. I do understand the time constraints for the show, but so far, the essence of the story is still there and done beautifully.

    Keep writing and we will all keep reading.

    Linda

  9. I just fininshed the Echo of the Bones. I have loved the whole series since I love historical books and you weave so much in to it. You left us hanging about what happens to so many people that I feel like you walked away mid sentence! I just wanted to know when the next book will be here??? Can’t wait!

    • Dear Linda–

      The next book is WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD. It came out in 2014 and is waiting for you at your favorite bookseller! [g]

      Best,

      –Diana

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