This month’s the Round Robin is about: What changes have your seen in romance novels in the past decade? Is there a change in romance novel direction? Is there still a market for non-explicit sex stories?
When I first started publishing some 15 years ago, romance had moved away from the bodice rippers of the 80s and entered the strong, female protagonists. Books have started to address what were once taboo subjects. Subjects like domestic violence, for instance, while not standard fare, are no longer completely uncommon. The heroines are realistic women, intelligent, strong, and beautiful in their own way. Remember when all of the heroines had hourglass figures, hair that fell in massive waves to their butts, creamy, perfect skin, and sapphire/emerald/aquamarine/(insert some exotic eye color here) eyes? Oh, and all of them were 18 or so?
This is where romance novels have become even more exciting. Real women are writing romance novels about real women and our needs. The heroes are flawed but have redeeming characteristics, just like real men.
But you’ll also see a lot of fantasy, and I’m not talking about wizards, elves, magic, fairies, and dragons, although there is that. I’m talking about the ménage literature that became popular five or six years ago.
And we can’t forget the BDSM romances popularized by E.L. James, but by no means started by her.
And we’ll try to forget the dino shifters and such because, well, we’ll just try. (Delete! Delete! Delete!)
There is no question that romance novels have changed. It’s changed with the market.
Interesting, I’ve seen an increase in YA romance. I think some of this has to do with the fact that most of it does not have explicit sex. While it’s read by teens, it’s also read by women 40+. Why? I hypothesize that some of it has to do with the non-explicit nature of it, but also because we are reliving our youth, if a much cooler youth.
So, yes, I do think there is a market for sweet romance. There are publishing houses that focus on sweet romances and have done very well.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to the story, the author, and the whim of the internet gods. You work your tail off in the hopes of getting “lucky.”
What do you think?
If you’d like to find out what my fellow Round Robin authors think, please follow the links below.
We all seem to have the same opinions with different slants. I agree with everything you’ve stated.
Fun post, Marci. I enjoyed it. I’d also forgotten about YA. It’s becoming very popular and you could be right about the non- explicit sex. Good point.
Very insightful post. Romance has changed – for the better in many ways. But while I don’t have a problem with shape shifters if that’s what folk find intriguing, in my opinion BDSM is the one I’d hit delete over and over again to be rid of. (50 shades made me totally barf – narcissists never love anyone but themselves and they never change so how this qualifies as romance is beyond me.) I’ve read some really good YA novels, but on the whole, I find teenagers less interesting – it’s not the lack of explicit sex, just the lack of mature character which really isn’t their fault – they will grow up.
I like shifters, too, Skye, just not the dinosaur/Bigfoot shifters. And I don’t find snake shifters all that sexy either. Someone will probably come up with a cockroach shifter. See, I’d so not want to read that. (shudder)
Starting at the cover, moving to the back cover, and then going through the opening paragraphs, my mind performs some sort of ‘probability’ function where I assess the outcome of the story and whether the writing displays inherent value thus far. Some of the most popular books on the market (on display at my local BN) go back onto the shelf after only that much consideration. They were written for other people, not me.
That much time is all I allow for a writer to make the attributes of salience known to me: my mind is already deciding the potential of climax based on cause and effect of what I’ve experienced to this point.
It’s been my experience that romance is highly predictable. Sex certainly is: that’s why some readers speed through those scenes. Sex has a known outcome from the onset. A whole book, on the other hand, relies on unknown outcomes to keep the reader interested. If a book looks too predictable, I will skip it and that is why I read very few romance novels.
I have no answer to your main question because I have not found the romance genre anything but predictable. By definition, it is predictable: it must involve the development of a relationship between two people to a satisfying outcome.
The difference is in the writing style, to address your other quandary as to whether a writer’s work can get lucky.
Too many writers rely on pushing boundaries to get that ‘luck,’ be it by matter of more explicit sex scenes, by making an alpha protagonist ever so much more alpha, and such ilk as that.
What has changed over the past decade is not specific to Romance: it’s the availability of interaction between your readers and authors. Everyone marketing by Twitter or Facebook is positioning themselves (not just their writing but their own personhood) to immediate to criticism, and moreover that criticism can go viral. I’ve seen far too many sole, solitary individuals become sudeenly empowered by calling in all their friends to come down on someone deemed to have said something politcally incorrect or insensitive. An author these days has to employ some tact for dealing with crowd mentality, and for putting on thick armor at a moment’s notice. That’s my two cents regarding the past ten years.
Me: Show me a book in any genre where the author is pushing the boundaries of explicit story-telling; where the writer uses words to paint a potrait with vivid color instead of just drawing a smiley face so-to-speak, and I’ll invest some dollars from my wallet fror that, yes ma’am.
People who read romance do so for the predictability of it, Stephen. They want the happily ever after. I enjoy the happily ever after myself. Personally, the world is full of so much angst and negativity, or at least what is most often seen by the media, that when I read, I prefer to escape. Unless I’m doing research, reading a non-fiction article, history, science, etc, I don’t want to be edified by what I’m reading, but I do expect to be entertained and smiling at the end.
You could say the same thing about mystery, science fiction, horror, and most other genres. There is a certain amount of predictability in all of them. People read them because they know what they are going to get from them.
Thank you, Marci. My opinion of Romance goes up a notch based on what I see in your reply. I understand even bungie jumping is predictable. Heck, an evening in my own living room is predictable.
Stephen, I’m glad I’ve raised your opinion of romance. It’s a much maligned genre. 🙂
Great post, Marci. I do so recognise that bit about working your tail off in order to get lucky, Anne Stenhouse (sweet-ish, regency-ish, but with villain)
Great post, Marci. I agree with you about the rise of YA, and that readers of YA novels cross all ages. I had wondered, too, if lovers of sweet romance now read this genre. Thanks for your interesting post!
I’ve read the move from passive, young heroines to modern, brilliant women on some other Round Robin blogs and that’s good! I don’t read much romance but I do write some sweet love stories, and I can tell you that if I picked up a book where the main girl was simply the object of the hero/male’s affection and she did nothing really whatsoever, I would not finish that story. Great post!
Re: comment by Stephen: “I have no answer to your main question because I have not found the romance genre anything but predictable. By definition, it is predictable: it must involve the development of a relationship between two people to a satisfying outcome.”
By definition, a mystery must have a problem to be solved. Many have one or more murders. The detective must read the clues, the reader comes along, and the mystery is solved by the end, with the guilty person punished. Predictable, no?
Much of literature is predictable based on what genre it belongs to–that determines the outcome. Men will overcome adversity and “earn” the cute woman…typical of stories from those by Nicholas Sparks, to comic books. The main difference in romance is that the heroine is allowed to be the star of the story. Most women have spent many years reading books starring men, and enjoying them. Why is it so hard for men to read books starring woman?
Of course there is what I call the “soap opera effect:”, where men talk about their feelings much more than most men do in real life. But some men do talk like this…at least with the women in their lives. To me, a good romance gives me insights into human nature via the protagonists. And, of course, I enjoy it more when it’s well-written.
And Marci, anything that involves tentacles is an automatic DELETE for me! Bleah!
Hahaha, Fiona! You don’t like tentacles in romance? But… but… I got nothin’. LOL I don’t either. 😀
Very well said, Fiona. Predictability is inherent within genres. When you ask why it is so hard for men to read books starring a woman, I have no answer: I did not know that condition existed. Regarding the “soap opera effect,” the men in my peer groups are rather open regarding their feelings. On the other hand, I have been among men with closed feelings… and no bonds of friendship form between them and me. I took to reading romance novels back in the early ’90s and I enjoy them very much. Still predictable 😉 but the female authors tend to have a knack for involving all five and if lucky all six senses in their descriptive prose. I am drawn to strength and intelligence in women, and when a novel presents females with those traits, that is a good character base.