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.

June 12th, 2013

Follow-Up on State of Historical Romance Blogging

Wendy the Super Librarian’s post over at Heroes and Heartbreakers is the latest in this almost two month long blog discussion about the sub-genre. For a quick and dirty hop through the chain of posts…

Courtney Milan’s discussion of digital strategy in Historical Romance led to Jane at Dear Author’s post declaring the sub-genre ought to die, while at the same time Lynn at All About Romance lamented the decline of historical romance, both of which were then picked up by myself, Lauren Willig at History Hoydens, Pamela of Bad Ass Romance, 2013 Golden Heart nominee Piper Huguley at the GH Firebirds, Diane Gaston, Carolyn Jewel, and Susanna Fraser at Risky Regencies.

Forgive me if I’ve forgotten any other blogs!

In the flurry of excitement aroused by these posts, I couldn’t help but notice the slightly chilly temperature and the silence from many corners. Jane’s post was abrasive and brash, yes, and it did draw blood–whether intentional or unintentional–which accounts for this adverse reaction. Yet, the reaction disappointed and exasperated me because some of the push-back held a hint of…fear? Fear, perhaps, that if more slots opened for non-Regency historicals, there would be less slots for the Regency romance writers still striving for traditional publication. Which is rather strange to believe since outside of Harlequin Historical, all of the single-title romance imprints have no set number of slots set aside for certain types of historical romance (based on what I’ve heard on the HQN podcasts, HH releases six books each month, four of which are Regency, one of which rotates between Westerns and Medievals, and the last reserved for anything else).

As many, many, many of us have stated in blogs and in comments, no one hates the Regency setting and no one wants to banish the setting from historical romance (a common response to the Dear Author post was, to paraphrase, “you’ll have to pry my Regencies from my cold, dead hands!”). As readers, we simply want a variety of choice when we browse through bookstores and online retailers, and for authors, we don’t want doors slammed in our faces for reasons other than the quality of the writing. If anything, the bright side we should be looking at is that these vigorous discussions may have made editors take a second look at historical romance (since it’s been taken a bit for granted with the Ooh! Shiny! of paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and now New Adult and erotic romance *g*) and remember it’s the backbone of the entire genre. Aaaand that it ought to be nurtured not left to tend for itself!

I apologize if my contribution to this discussion has stepped on any toes! IMO, we’re all here for the love of historical romance, as writers, as readers, as agents, as editors, and everything in between, since to me, the sub-genre is only as strong as its parts.