Evangeline Holland

Sweeping Drama ⚜ Larger than Life History ⚜ Exquisite Romance ⚜ Diverse Perspectives
September 6th, 2013

Twilight, P2P, and the Future of the Romance Genre

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.

November 26th, 2012

“New Adult” Historical Fiction

I’d gotten into a research rut with my NaNoWriMo novel, Till We Meet Again, and set it aside for a few days to clear my brain of my anxieties over getting the WWI setting right. In the interim, I began a historical romance that came to me out of the blue–just the beginning scribbles, of course, since I need time to let this percolate in my brain–which was a bit of a palate cleanser. When I picked up my WIP last night, I felt refreshed and ready to tackle it again. Funnily enough, I realized that what I was writing could be classified as “New Adult” because my characters are coming-of-age over the course of the book. Angela James’s definition on the Carina Press blog solidified my suspicions:

We are looking for submissions with a strong story and fully developed, very definable protagonists, 18 and above (or at an age eligible to enter college), in their early to mid-20s. While at least one protagonist should fall in this age range, it is possible the other protagonist may fall in their upper 20s.
Story elements should be targeted to an adult, not teen audience, and should contain adult contemporary themes, frank, modern language, high relationship drama and intense conflict.

And according to Wikipedia:

The chief features that distinguish this category from Young-adult fiction are the perspective of the young antagonist and the scope of the antagonist’s life experience. Perspective is gained as childhood innocence fades and life experience is gained, which brings insight. It is this insight which is lacking in traditional young-adult fiction.

I’ve been intrigued by the concept of the “New Adult” novel for a few months because I am still in my twenties, with all of the angst and drama that comes with it, LOL. I avoided reading contemporary romances for a long time because I couldn’t relate to heroines who had their stuff together (financially, education-wise, etc) when many of my old high school friends are still in college, or are entering college after working for a few years because they didn’t know what to do. And I think the downturn in the economy, which has forced a lot of people my age back into their parents’ homes for lack of steady and lucrative employment, also plays a large part in the so-called delay of “adulthood” (why do marriage and children equal adulthood anyways?). So it’s interesting that there’s a sharp interest in characters living in that transitional stage of not-teen but not-adult at this very moment in time.

But back to my avoidance of contemporary romance. That has changed quite a bit this year (due to my enjoyment of Fifty Shades of Grey, haha!), but I’m still rather on the fence about actually writing contemporaries because that would require rewiring the plotting side of my brain. Not to say I’ll never try, but at the moment, my focus is on historical fiction and historical romance. Since the “New Adult” genre is still new and is shaped one book at a time, the concept of the New Adult historical will be as well.

Thus far, the elements I identify in my WIP are:

1) Young protagonists–my hero is 21 and my heroine is 18 when the book begins
2) High-stakes drama–my H/H deal with issues of class, sex, family responsibility, gender roles, death, etc
3) Personal growth outside of the romantic relationship–my h/h spend a significant time apart on the page
4) Time lapses–no getting the HEA within a few months; this book takes place over the course of five years
5) The shedding of youthful innocence–it’s set during WWI, where young men and women were forced to grow up fast

Whether this genre will stick remains to be seen, but I rather like what it means for novels with characters between the ages of 18 and 30. Plus, with New Adult Historical Fiction, it straddles the agendas of YA Historical Fiction (usually to teach history to young readers) and straight Historical Fiction (readers of which tend to be sticklers for historical fact), which means I’m not overly tied to keeping everything 100% accurate and filled with real life people.