I’m a fan of E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, and after reading it last year, I perused the spate of P2P romances thrown into the self-publishing arena. While I soon realized I didn’t seek to replicate the billionaire dom/inexperienced twentysomething of Fifty Shades, but the sweeping emotions of the books, I did find it interesting to flick through all of the passionate fan-fiction that came out of the Twilight fandom. The rise of New Adult contemporary romance over the past year also piqued my interest–my unpopular opinion is that New Adult does have its roots in Young Adult romance. After all, the early writers like Jamie McGuire and Colleen Hoover explicitly categorized their books as Upper YA/Mature YA in their Kindle descriptions and on their websites. There’s a knee-jerk reaction against claims that NA is “sexed up YA,” so this tends to be forgotten…but I digress. Entangled Publishing’s foray into category romance, and the subsequent explosion of Jennifer Probst’s The Marriage Bargain, was also a noteworthy accomplishment, as was the sudden change in fortune for contemporary romance in the wake of FSoG.
It seemed that overnight, contemporary romance went from dead last behind historical romance, romantic suspense, and paranormal romance (all of which switched places for the #1 spot in sales/buzz), to absolutely killing best-seller lists. And contemporary is still going strong, whilst historicals, romantic suspense, and paranormals are experiencing a slump, with the exception of the super top best-sellers like Julia Quinn, Linda Howard, and J.R. Ward. Before FSoG and self-publishing, one romance sub-genre dominating over all was practically unheard of–even during the furor for paranormal romance and urban fantasy between 2005-2009, sales and buzz were still spread evenly over other sub-genres (save contemporary romance–it was just in 2009 that Jane of Dear Author and Sarah of Smart Bitches launched their “Save the Contemporary” campaign–bet they didn’t foresee this change!).
When Entangled Publishing launched their Indulgence line, they rankled many in Romancelandia with their claims of “this is not your mother’s category romance”–but in a way, this is kind of true. The same way Fifty Shades of Grey sold erotic contemporary romance in a slick, non-romance genre-esque package, which then changed the face of how romance publishers packaged their erotic romance, Entangled sells their category romance without the “trashy Harlequin” stigma. I see the influence of Entangled and New Adult covers in Penguin’s Intermix line here and here (interesting that they keep tried-and-true romance covers on the books published in their print programs). Covers that were created by artists outside the traditional publishing marketing/art department arena.
My thoughts on this topic didn’t coalesce until I read Jane’s review for Hydraulic Level Five by Sarah Latchaw, another P2P Twilight fan-fiction. The Twilight fandom (YA in general) seems like an entire cottage industry of romance writers working outside traditional romance genre channels. I think we ought to keep an eye on them; these are present and future romance readers who didn’t grow up on Heyer and traditional Regencies, or were passed their mother’s Harlequins, or snuck “bodice rippers” behind books in class like many romance readers who came to the genre between the 70s and 00s.
This new crop of readers (and writers) are likely to bypass the genre altogether because they’re consuming and creating the types of books that speak to them–even if they use the same romance genre tropes. The ethics of P2P aside, the contents and packaging of these super popular fanfics ought to be studied and assessed. The impact of the Twilight (or Harry Potter, or other huge YA books) fandom may not hit the overall romance genre right now (or…maybe it will; self-publishing and the intensity of internet-fueled fandoms have drastically changed the game), but it has hit contemporary romance quite hard in a very short period of time. It behooves us–writers especially–to keep an ear to the ground, and eye on the mood of various readerships, in order to keep abreast of where romance is heading.