Thursday, May 24, 2007

The death of the historical romance

It’s been a topic discussed in various forms on several blogs I’ve read lately, and I’ve seen quite a few historical romance authors leave the genre, or leave writing altogether.

And considering this is what I write, I’ve given it some thought lately. I’ve been telling my critique group (wrongly) for ages now that the historical is making a comeback. Waiting, hearing on agent blogs that editors are asking for historical submissions.

And then the caveat - if they’re hot, steamy, erotic. Does that put them in the erotic category, or historical category, or is this just more blending of genres, which we’ve seen a lot of lately.

I’ve waited for a new historical author to really make a splash, the way Allison Brennan has in romantic suspense, or Gena Showalter has in paranormals and nothing’s hit my radar, not that it means there hasn’t been that author, I may have missed them.

So what’s happened to the historical?

Some of my favourites, Iris Johansen, Julie Garwood switched to suspense and have done really well. A couple of others either retired, Maggie Osborne, or really slowed down, Laura Kinsale, we miss you.

Some authors that did well five years ago continue to do well, Julia Quinn and Stephanie Laurens come to mind, but I think right now, they are in the minority.

Now we all know, publishing is cyclical. Five years ago, people tell me, you couldn’t give away a dark romantic suspense, or a paranormal. And now, well… we all know how well those genres are doing.

So what did happen? There are a lot of theories out there. My own is that a lot of similar books were released and the consumer got bored. How many variations on the lite regency can someone read before they get sick of them. Not enough variety in the market, and too many of the same plot devices.
I even got bored and turned to other genres. Which is a sad state.

And the future?
No clue, but I’d love to hear other’s opinions. I know how much I love a really good historical. The first two books in the Dark Queen series by Susan Carroll were amazing.
They were different, occasionally dark and really well written.
I’d like more of those books. Books that don’t read cookie cutter, where actual stuff happens that challenges the protagonists, and they have to overcome obstacles. You know, books that have conflict, drama, be it lite, heavy, dark, I don’t care.
I think there are others out there like me. Just waiting for a really good historical romance to re-ignite their love in the genre.


Abby said...

I write historical, too, and in the last few years I've heard the following authors touted as the Saviour of Historical Romance: 1) Lydia Joyce 2) Julie Ann Long 3) Elizabeth Hoyt. Was everyone wrong I wonder?

Unknown said...

I love reading a good historical. But I agree 100% that for a while they were very cookie cutter. I actually will only read certain historical authors because of this. At least I know and love the worlds they've built - Mary Balogh comes to mind.

I think people needed a change. The blending of erotic elements is a good and bad thing. Good, because I like to read the hoter side of the romance. Bad because if the erotic side is thrown into the mix simply because that is what's "hot" is comes across poorly. It can ruin the story and in the end it damages that whole sub element.

"I won't buy an erotic romance, it's just sex for the sake of sex."

Which it's not.

I'm hoping historicals will come back. I love a dark, brooding hero and if you make him a Duke I'm in love!

Maureen McGowan said...

Great post, Sinead and I really agree with you too, Christine -- about authors dumping in elements because they're popular and it potentially ruining not only the book but turning people off a sub genre artificially injected into other books.

I think this is part of what happened to chick lit. A lot of contemporary (and even historical!) romance writers thinking, "chick lit is hot. I'll put some silly elements and designer shoes into my romance novel." Those elements were NOT what the really great chick lit novels were about (in fact, the thing that created the shoe stereotype was a TV show, not a novel. Sex in the City, as a book, had no shoes.) but so many authors trying to artificially inject these elements into novels perpetuated the stereotype and the market got flooded with a lot of mediocre contemporary romances masquerading as chick lit, there was a huge backlash and now publishers aren't buying anything in the genre anymore. (Nor are they buying *any* novels written by women with a light tone lest it be mistaken as chick lit by booksellers.)

Back on topic... I think Historical romances will definately make a comeback -- eventually.

I know when! When some publisher finally discovers the genius of Sinead and makes her a star.

Anonymous said...

You know, I was thinking of Chicklit when I wrote this blog.
Same thing happened there as well, although much faster.
Christine, I agree, when an author throws elements at a story because they are supposed to be saleable, it never works and I do believe that's what's happening with some historicals.
I wish I could write hot, but I can't, and won't.

Abby, I've read two of those three authors and they're great, and should be bigger than they are.

I believe historicals will make a comeback as well. All it will take is one amazing book to really capture people's imaginations.
That will be a happy day for me. I'm looking forward to reading that book. I love dark, brooding heros as well.

Thanks for the plug, Maureen.

Anonymous said...

I prefer to read historicals (me bad as I write contemporary but if I read one more novel with a business woman repenting her evil ways and becoming an artist, I'll scream).

Just got back from London today and the market there is all about the historical novel. Sure, these bestsellers aren't traditional romance, more along the lines of "true" historical novels (about women) but they're still hugging the genre.

Not dead, merely regrouping.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Michele Young's latest is coming out soon - No Regrets and it has such a beautiful cover. A pretty good indication that historical romance is trying to borrow some of the successful marketing tools of the historical novel. (You can see her cover on Amazon -- it's a stunner check it out.)

WHo wrote the Raven Prince? That was supposed to be amazing -- I need to get to a bookstore - quick...

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