Friday, May 31, 2013

Little Miss Crabby Pants Resurrects Historical Romance

I started seriously reading the romance genre in 1999.  And by "seriously," I mean this is when the genre began making up somewhere around 95% of my reading.  1999 also marks the start of me being part of an "online reading community."  Which is to say that as I was discovering the wide world of the romance genre, I was doing so just as my "life online" was beginning and the two developments really went hand in hand.  All of this is background to explain how completely "over" I am of the current talk in some online circles that the historical romance is either 1) dying 2) already dead or 3) in serious trouble.

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!"

Child, please.

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.

25 comments:

Gwen Hayes said...

Thank you.

Miss Bates said...

All you have to do is read Cecilia Grant and you know historical romance is alive and well. It's not quantity that counts, it's quality.

Darlene Marshall said...

Thank you for this.

pamela1740 said...

Agreed, most heartily! Never Say Die.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Thanks, Wendy! All this talk of dead/dying historicals has me scratching my head. I'm reading Elizabeth Hoyt's latest book in her Maiden Lane series and I'm really enjoying it. Early Georgian period? Bring it on! And what about Jeannie Lin? Her books are awesome. Doesn't take a whole lot of digging to find historicals that are different. And there are some darn good Regencies out there these days, too, I might add.

Wendy said...

I think what I find so frustrating about all the talk is that I survived (at least) three years of hard-core Regency burnout. Burnout that didn't lift for me until late 2008. Prior to that I was reading one, maybe two, Regency-set historicals a year - and I was still reading just as many historicals as I do now (post-burn-out). I accomplished this in large part to author backlists, taking chances on new authors, and supporting publishers who published books other than Regencies (I owe my reading life to Harlequin Historical, Kensington Zebra and the now-defunct Dorchester Leisure lines). I did just fine - and the availability of digital backlists wasn't NEARLY what it is now.

So......

Yeah.

elisecyr said...

Thank you for placing the recent historical romance naysaying in context! And I would also say smaller presses are willing to take bigger risks on non-Regencies as well!

Wendy said...

Vanessa: My Regency Burn Out period from several years ago was right around the time when "fluffy, frothy" was in full-swing. The Regency has never been my first love - but when I do read it, I tend to prefer them "dark." Or at least a light shade of gray. I like fluff as much as the next girl - but I can't handle a non-stop steady diet of it.

I've had a lot of fun the last couple of years catching up with Regency writers who I just flat-out ignored during this phase in my reading life. It's been a lot of fun - I've discovered some good books!

Gwen Hayes said...

I should also mention that as editorial director of the Scandalous line, I'm dying to acquire non-traditional historical romance at boutique publisher, Entangled Publishing. So, I know some of you readers are writers...check out the sub page. We've expanded the guidelines to allow WWII. And if someone wants to send me something from the Jazz Age, I will love her forever. And ever. And probably after that, too.

azteclady said...

You write the BEST rants.

Courtney Milan can help you some with the "how is Avon doing, with their price reduction stragegy?" question.

Dear Author can help readers with some awesome, AWESOME recommendations of good non-Regency/unusual historicals--many if not most of which are now available digitally.

And, in case you missed it... YOU WRITE THE BEST RANTS


*ahem*

Helena said...

Absolutely. And I'm so pleased to be finding backlists in ebook rather than searching for them secondhand and therefore not benefitting the author.

I would say, though, that the pricing has to be sensible - no more than £2.30. I appreciate that there is a cost associated with digitising, editing, and publishing, but I strongly believe that lots of books sold at a lower price amounts in the end to more than very few at a high price. And when people discover or rediscover older books and like them, they'll probably buy them all if the price per unit is reasonable.

For authors who aren't publishing new books - it's all money you wouldn't get at all otherwise, and your competition is the price of your used books. Be realistic. For authors who are still writing - don't think that you old books have to priced the same as your new books. They don't - again, the real competition is the price of your secondhand books. And you will reel in new readers who will be happy to pay full price for your new books, having glommed on your backlist.

Jayne said...

Thank you for this post and I agree heartily. I sincerely hope no one stops publishing or reading historical romance of any sub genre. As a reader and a writer myself, I certainly don't plan to!

Marguerite Kaye said...

What azteclady said, you do the BEST rants.

As a Harlequin Historical author, I get quite frustrated when people complain at the lack of anything other than Regency. Someone already mentioned Jeannie Lin and I know you read all the Westerns Wendy, but HH also publish Vikings, Mediaeval, Highlanders and some pretty unusual Regencies too. I'm currently working on a trilogy set during WWI, and Harlequin's Undone line is even more experimental though hardly anyone (yourself excepted) knows about it.

But - as a writer, the big problem is that people simply buy a lot more Regency than anything, and forays into other periods, no matter how close to my heart they are (such as WWI) are probably going to cost me. So I would HEARTILY second your call to readers to experiment, because if you don't, innovation simply doesn't pay.

Anne Stenhouse said...

Hi, I'm visiting because Marguerite recommended you on FB and I enjoyed your blog and the comments, thank you. I'm a debut Historical writer. It's not Regency, but quite near it. It has a dastardly villain who's real not pantomimic. It has humour and lots of dialogue (I was a playwright before). Maybe my heart sinks a bit reading about how everyone wants to get out of Regency/near enough Regency, but I enjoyed writing it and I'm not sorry. Each to their own, Best, Anne

Vanessa Kelly said...

Yes, the lighter Regencies have been super popular the last few years. It's an interesting trend - maybe connected to the recession and readers' desire for lighter material? Like all those Astaire/Rogers musicals and the screwball comedies during the Depression.

Hilcia said...

Hey Wendy, great post! You're so right... a couple of years ago, contemporary romance was dying and/or dead, now it's historical romances. Readers cycle, tastes change and yes, everyone burns out reading the sameness that gets published over and over again.

I say, thank goodness for all those awesome backlist titles still out there to explore, the magnificent Americana historical romances I've read recently and the ones I still have in my TBR, western historicals, and books set in other places besides England and Victorian or Regency periods! I hunt books set during WWI and WWII and usually find historical fiction... why not great romances?

Maria said...

Love this post. I'm a new reader to historical romance (since Nov. 2011) and it's mostly what I'm reading now, along with some historical non-fiction. I'm also a librarian who works in a library where romance buying gets shafted every time. I work in reference so I have no control except in constantly demanding they buy the stuff that's out there. Perhaps someone will listen.

Wendy said...

AL: Thanks for pointing out that Courtney Milan post - that was really interesting!

Wendy said...

Helena: Exactly. Even after your book is "out of print" in paper - it is presumably still available in digital. So the author is really only competing with used bookstores at that point. It really makes financial sense to keep those backlist titles available at a reasonable price (which for me would be, oh - $3.99 or lower). If I discover an author through their backlist - and get hooked - I'm more than happy to pony up a little extra money for that brand-new release that just came out....

Wendy said...

Marguerite: During my Regency Burn Out period Harlequin Historical kept me sane. It was the one place I could go every single month and find at least ONE book outside the Regency - and HH kept me in westerns for a whole lotta years. Coming up in that line - I'm looking forward to the new Jeannie Lin and Michelle Willingham is starting a new Viking series :)

I would LOVE to see Harlequin do pricing specials on older HH titles (ZOMG - that line's backlist is HUGE!) and they really, really, really (IMHO) need to do some pricing cuts on the Undone line. Right now they're....what? Just under $3? I'd even love to see them try at least $1.99 on some of those, if not $.99. Even a short-time-offer would be welcome.

True story: It was the Undone line that really kick-started my Regency Reading Mojo. Also, it's how I discovered Nicola Cornick :)

Wendy said...

Anne: I don't think the Regency should, or will, ever die in historical romance circles. Readers love it too much. What I would like to see is more attention to detail in the time period, and just more variety in general. I read a Regency earlier this year that took place in Scotland. So yeah, a Regency - but it was something different from the usual London, Season, Almack's scene - which was nice.

Wendy said...

Hils: I should have also added that publishers need to start looking at what the Inspirational market has done in terms of setting, cover art etc. Some really exciting stuff going on in Inspys these days.

Every time I hear talk of historicals "dying" it's hard not to roll my eyes - because all I need to do is look at my own TBR. Good gravy! I could not buy another historical romance for the next 10 years and STILL have plenty of them to read/try. And certainly, glomming backlists is a lot easier these days. I think of all the hunting I did for books like Conor's Way by Laura Lee Guhrke - and pfft! Now it's readily available in digital and at a cheaper price than I paid for my used copy! Argh!

bookishjottings said...

I'm genuinely puzzled by people declaring that the Regency romance is dead - judging by bestsellers lists and the books currently being published, it seems that the Regency is as popular as ever. Maybe it's just a small number of readers who are actually tired of the sub-genre and the great majority still likes reading about dukes, rakes, spirited misses and duchesses?

I don't know whether it's because most of my historical reading is done via the Harlequin Historicals line, but the Regency is still my favourite historical. I'd love there to be more variety, but I'd also love to see more accurate Regencies that respect the time period they are supposed to be set in rather than the plethora of wallpaper historicals cluttering up the shelves.

Wendy, if you're looking for a historical romance set in a different time period, you must try the fabulous UK author Christina Courtenay. She's written books set in 17th century Sweden (Trade Winds) and Japan (The Scarlet Kimono and The Gilded Fan) and Scotland (Highland Storms)

faacc1c0-cbbc-11e2-810e-000bcdcb2996 said...

I am going to have to go with "much ado about nothing." I would say a VAST majority of my online acquaintances (meaning I ONLY know them from online interaction) and there are more than a few, read historicals. And only read historicals. I hear far more about the impending death of the contemporary than I ever do/have of the death of the historical.

Anne Stenhouse said...

Hullo again, Wendy, I was cheered by your reply to my post because I've signed up a 2nd book with MuseItUp. It's called Bella's Betrothal and it's set in Edinburgh, 1826. The hero is an architect helping build the later Edinburgh New Town. The heroine has untameable red hair and a past in need of some TLC. Anne