I've been reading romance, including historical romance, for 14 years. I've been "online" for all of those 14 years. And by my count? This is the third time that historical romance is either 1) dying 2) already dead or 3) in serious trouble.
Call me a cynic, but I'm past the point of wringing my hands over this non-issue.
However, for the sake of a coherent blog post that's more than me just ranting - I will concede that while I don't think historical romance is either 1) dying 2) already dead or 3) in serious trouble - I do think we've hit a plateau in the sub genre. We're "in between cycles." Plenty of historicals are still getting published, it's just we're currently in a moment where there aren't 1) a bevy of debut authors and 2) we're kind of in a holding pattern for the next "break-out" book and/or author. This sort of thing happens all the time in publishing, and not just to historical romance. Heck, the last time readers started whining about a lack of historicals all the sudden Jennifer Haymore, Tessa Dare, Meredith Duran, Courtney Milan, Sherry Thomas, and Joanna Bourne all hit the market right around the same time.
What I do believe, firmly, is that if readers are unhappy with the current historical romance marketplace that they need to stop their whining and do something about it. To which you all are probably saying, "But, but, but.....Little Miss Crabby Pants! I'm just one wee lil' lowly reader? It's those evil publishers mucking everything up! There's nothing I can do!"
So here it is, Little Miss Crabby Pants' Five Simple Steps To Overcoming Your Historical Romance Ennui. Or, as I like to call it, How Wendy Dealt With The Lack Of New Historical Western Romance And Regency England Burn-Out For A Whole Mess Of Years.
1) If you have the means, vote with your dollars. Publishers understand one thing: their bottom line. They understand money and selling through print runs. If you want to see more unusual historicals, or authors writing historicals that take "risks" - when one of those books comes out? Buy it new. Buy it as close to the release date as humanly possible. But buy it new. Could the book suck? Yes. Yes it could. But that leads us to....
2) Take risks. Look, not every book you read is going to be a winner. When you stretch outside your comfort zone as a reader there are going to be gems and there are going to be duds. If you want to find something different, that means you're going to have to read something different - and sometimes different does not equal good. No risk, no reward. You need to take chances on authors you've never read before.
3) Start giving out second chances. As a historical western fan I cannot tell you how many authors working in that sub genre have gotten "second chances" (and third chances!) from me. Unless that first book I read by them was a steaming pile of crap (so yeah, an F grade) - I'll try another book by that same author. Sometimes it really is the author who isn't my cuppa, but you know what? For every C historical western I read by some author, I've had a lot of instances where the next book I read by them was a B. When you want more stories that aren't set in Regency England, the pickins' start getting slimmer. I have never been cavalier about "giving up" on a historical western author. Why? Because it's not like there are a bazillion of those authors out there to try. So yeah, they get second and sometimes third chances. It's the nature of the beast.
4) Stop your whining whippersnappers! This is going to sound an awful lot like "Damn kids, get off my lawn!" - but seriously, stop your whining! Digital is finally at that spot where I've always wanted it to be - and that's in terms of backlist. Do you know how many "older" historical romances are out there in the massive digital reading universe now? Either through self-publishing or "retro" lines from various digital publishers? O.M.G. Do some digging, and find a gem from years gone by. Who knows? By "voting with your dollars" maybe those authors will begin writing new material set in interesting and unusual historical locales? Yeah, you need to go digging, but finding those long-ago gems has come a long way from the "good old days" when it meant you had to drive around to various used bookstores, perform a series of voodoo chants, and rub your lucky rabbit's foot to secure a hard-to-find title from an author's backlist. Hell, these days all you need to do is hit your favorite online ebook retailer. And the best part? Those authors will see money from those digital sales.
5) Don't read in a vacuum. In other words, share your experiences. Be your own street team. Have you read a good historical romance recently that felt "different" and "fresh?" Blog about it. Tweet about it. Heck, go to GoodReads and write a review about it. There is nothing I love more in this whole wide online reading universe than Genuine Reader Enthusiasm. That pure, unadulterated joy of a reader squee'ing all over themselves because they've just read a book that rocked their world. Please, for the love of all that is holy, share that enthusiasm with other readers! We love that shit!
Now, lest you think that Little Miss Crabby Pants thinks readers should do all the work? I don't. Publishers and authors? You need to get in on the act too.
1) If you market it, they will come. There was a time when historical romance was so booming that it sold itself. Those days are gone. Do you want readers to read your book, be excited about your book - well guess what? You need to market said book. Just throwing it out there in the ether, crossing your fingers, and dancing naked under the next full moon is not enough anymore. Some of the time and energy you're currently dumping into "New Adult" and hopping on the Fifty Shades bandwagon? Yeah, try throwing just a quarter of that at historical romance and see what happens.
2) The price is right. Experiment with lower price points on backlist titles. $1.99. $2.99. Free. Also, try lowering the price on some of your print books. Harpercollins / Avon has quietly been doing this - including pricing some of their new historicals in print as low as $5.99. Obviously I have no knowledge of how this program has been working out for them or their authors, but heck - they're still doing it. It can't be a total cluster, right?
3) Take a risk and write that book of your heart. Authors, I personally think the best marketing tool you have at your disposal is building your backlist. If you have a historical romance idea, a book of your heart, but it features elements that may not be "marketable" from your publishers' standpoint? Explore your options. Maybe a digital publisher is worth a look? Maybe trying your hand at self-publishing is worth exploring? Just like your readers, there is little reward in not taking any risks. Yes, I know we're talking about money, your careers, and earning a living. But sometimes that project of your heart can pay big, big dividends. You'll never know unless you try.
4) Do something with your backlist titles. Did the rights on your older historicals set in Tudor England, France, Timbuktu revert back to you? For the love of Pete - do something with them! Explore some of the "retro" lines offered by various digital publishers. Explore the idea of self-publishing your older backlist books. Find your readers - and let them help you. Are these settings really the kiss of death? Or is that just what editors are telling you? Find out for yourself and see what happens. No risk, no reward.
But yeah, what does Little Miss Crabby Pants really know? Not much - other than the fact that she'll never buy into the idea that historical romance is 1) dying 2) already dead or 3) in serious trouble. Hearing it every few years, looking around at the volumes of historicals in print and in digital that are cluttering up the Bat Cave? Yeah, sorry - I'm not buying the doom and gloom. So why you all are singing funeral dirges, donning sackcloth and cutting your hair - I think I'll be over here in the corner, digging through my pile, or exploring online, looking for my next great historical romance read. I know it's out there, and probably as close as my fingertips. I'd rather spend my time and energy looking for it than debating whether or not the sub genre of my heart is 1) dying 2) already dead or 3) in serious trouble.