At the Back Fence Issue #284

November 12, 2007 

 From the Desk of Cindy, Lee, & LinnieGayl:

 All About AAR’s 2007 Top 100 Romances Poll

First off – congratulations to all the authors whose books landed in the top 100. It’s an immense achievement no matter how you look at it. And, thanks to all of you for giving us such a fabulous turn-out in terms of voting. We know how difficult ranking up to 100 books can be, so we’re thrilled that we experienced a tremendous increase in voting over our 2004 poll, with over five times as many ballots received. The average ballot had 55 titles on it.  All told, you voted for 4,975 separate titles, which is more than twice the number of titles which appeared on ballots in our last poll (2,150 in 2004), which only makes the achievements of those authors whose books made it into the top 100 all the greater.

A total of 1,339 different authors were named on this year’s ballots. Out of all of the titles voted for, only 195 appeared in first place on any ballot.  And of those titles, only three appeared in first place on at least five percent of the ballots.  Lord of Scoundrels was in first place on 8% of all of the ballots, Pride and Prejudice on 7% of the ballots, and Outlander on 6% of the ballots.  In addition to these first place votes, Lord of Scoundrels appeared on 40% of all the ballots received in some position, and Dreaming of You, the overall second place title, appeared on 34% of all the ballots we received. At the other end of the spectrum, 2,784 titles, or 56% of all the titles you voted for, appeared on only one ballot. There is a fair amount of continuity across all of the Top 100 AAR polls. 34% of the titles in this year’s top 100 have also been on all the previous top 100 charts.  Therefore a third of the books that were listed as favorites in 1998 made the list in 2000, 2004, and 2007.  After four polls covering ten years, these titles have proven that they withstood the test of time.

Looking at the table to the right, you can see that the love is spread out fairly consistently over the past 17 years. More than 80% of your top 100 romances were published on or after 1990. And it looks as though nearly as many favorites were published between 2000 and 2007 as were published between 1990 through 1999. Does this mean romances are becoming better and more memorable? It’s possible, but it’s even more likely that as the pub date for books stretches out farther and farther into the past, they begin to be forgotten. Also, if a greater number of newer readers participated in the poll as compared to long-time readers, they may have more exposure to recently published books…and less access to older ones. This could possibly account for the 39 titles published since 2000 making the Top 100 list as compared to the 45 titles that made the list published from 1990-1999. Meanwhile, just nine titles from the 1980s land on the list of which four were from 1989.
Year % of Top 100 Year % of Top 100
2007 2 1998 6
2006 1997
2005 6 1996 4
2004 5 1995 6
2003 4 1994 4
2002 5 1993 5
2001 4 1992 5
2000 8 1991 5
1999 3 1990 2

As previously stated, just over one in three books from your top 100 list appeared in the top 100 for each of our previous polls. On the other hand, one of the biggest surprises we encountered were titles that appeared on this year’s list that had not previously made a showing…and had been published prior to the date of our last poll in 2004. Jane Austen’s Persuasion, for instance, published in 1818, immediately stands out, as does Anyone But You, Jennifer Crusie’s 1996 category romance (just one of two to make your top 100), and Julie Garwood’s Ransom, originally published in 1999. FYI, every “best romance” from AAR’s annual reader polls landed in your top 100 – from Crusie’s Bet Me, in the 8th position, to Suzanne Brockmann’s Gone Too Far, in the 87th slot.  Also, 80% of the titles that made the list were granted DIK status.  The lowest graded book at AAR (J.R. Ward’s Lover Eternal) was given a C.

Authors With Two or More Titles in the Top 100

What is not obvious from the results you see to your left is just how much of a resorting of rank there was from the 2004 poll.   Suzanne Brockmann may have three titles on the list this year, but in 2004 she was tied for first place with Julie Garwood and Mary Jo Putney, each with seven titles on the list.  Julie Garwood only went down to six titles this year while Mary Jo Putney’s showing fell to four titles.

The big winners this time around are Linda Howard, Lisa Kleypas and Susan Elizabeth Phillips with eight titles each while Judith McNaught came in with seven.  Even though this shows some growth for Howard (+2), Phillips (+2) and McNaught (+2), it is Lisa Kleypas who comes out way on top by increasing the number of titles from two in 2004 to a whopping eight in 2007.

The new players with multiple books are Jane Austen (definitely not a new author) with two titles, Elizabeth Hoyt (brand new author) with two titles and J.R. Ward with four.  Elizabeth Hoyt’s first book, The Raven Prince, came out in November of 2006 and placed 23rd, ahead of many authors with extensive back lists.  Meanwhile, J.R. Ward’s first book, Dark Lover, was released in September of 2005 and placed 27th.  The first four books of Ward’s series all landed in the top 100. It will be interesting to see if in a few years, those titles will once again make the cut.

Obviously there are books that have moved off the Top 100 over the years but there are three titles that finally had to make way. Castles by Julie Garwood placed 78th, 39th, 28th in the 2004, 2000, and 1998 polls respectively. This year Castles finished well out of the running in 310th place.  Sleeping Beauty by Judith Ivory placed 68th, 94th, 96th respectively, and this year it was just out of the top 100 in 114th place. Finally, Mary Balogh’s Lord Carew’s Bride placed 50th, 46th, 90th in those same polls. This year, it was in 192nd place.

# of Titles Author With multiple Title In Poll
8 Linda Howard
Lisa Kleypas
Susan E. Phillips
7 judith McNaught
6 Julie Garwood
5 Mary Balogh
Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb
4 Loretta Chase
Mary Jo Putney
Julia Quinn
J.R. Ward/Jessica Bird
3 Suzanne Brockmann
Connie Brockway
Jennifer Crusie
Diana Gabaldon
Georgette Heyer
Laura Kinsale
2 Jane Austen
Elizabeth Hoyt
Judith Ivory/Judy Cuevas

Percent of Titles in Top 100 by Sub-Genre

European Historicals dominate this year’s Top 100, holding more than four of every ten slots. This remains the most popular classification of romances in our poll, and, in fact, represents an increase over our 2004 poll when just 38% of the titles in the top 100 were European Historicals. Just over half, btw, of the European Historicals in your top 100 were published no earlier than 2000. If indeed historicals have declined in quality, one theory is that readers have adjusted their expectations downward.

Contemporary Romances had the next largest showing, representing just about 20% of the titles. It’s tough to do a comparison of poll years for Contemporaries because classifications of “Contemporary” and “Romantic Suspense” are so fluid. Romantic Suspense/Futuristic Romantic Suspense was the third most popular romance classification among those polled and earned 9% of slots in the top 100. At 8% were Medieval Romances. Classic Fiction is next, at 6%, followed by Time Travel and Paranormal – at 5% each. Just 2% of your top 100 were Category Romances; also at 2% were Historical Romances. Trad Regencies and American Historicals only earned 1% of slots each.

The biggest change in classifications from our last poll to this one occurred in the European Historical category (+6%). Trad Regencies also experienced a significant change (-5%) while we went from just one book categorized as Paranormal in 2004 to 5% in 2007. Again, though, it can be tough to compare from one poll to the next in certain categories because of how we classify certain books (it’s not a precise science and in fact, we are currently involved in a project asking authors to help us. to identify books). Son of the Morning, for instance, was considered a Paranormal in the 2000 poll; this time we classified it as Time Travel. That last classification, btw, increased from our last poll as well (+3%) while American Historicals declined (-2%).

Given the trend of increased Paranormal popularity, it’s no surprise that 5% of your top 100 were Paranormal Romances. Four of the five titles on the list belong to one author – J.R. Ward, and the immense popularity of her Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Two of the books in the series earned DIK status at AAR, a third earned a B+ while the fourth received only a C review. The final Paranormal, Nalini Singh’s Slave to Sensation, is the first book in her Psy/Changling series and it received DIK status as did the second book in the series.  Ms. Singh is another author we will have to watch to see how her books stand up over time.

Sub-Genre Percent
European Historical 43%
Contemporary  18%
Romantic Susp/Fut. Romantic Suspense 9%
Medieval 8%
Classic Fiction 6%
Paranormal 5%
Time Travel 5%
Series/Category 2%
Historical 2%
American Historical 1%
Trad Regencies 1%

Comparison of Top Ten Results, 1998 to 2007


2004  2000 1998
Lord of Scoundrels Lord of Scoundrels Lord of Scoundrels A Knight in Shining Armor
Dreaming of You Flowers from the Storm Outlander The Secret
Pride and Prejudice Welcome to Temptation Mackenzie’s Mountain Nobody’s Baby but Mine
Outlander As You Desire Flowers from the Storm Outlander
 Flowers from the Storm  Bet Me  Devil’s Bride  Dream Man
 Slightly Dangerous  Dreaming of You  Dreaming of You  Heaven, Texas
 The Devil in Winter  Outlander  It Had to be You  Lord of Scoundrels
 Bet Me  Over the Edge  Heaven, Texas  The Gift
 Welcome to Temptation  All Through the Night  Shattered Rainbows  Whitney, My Love
 The Viscount Who Loved Me  Sea Swept  The Shadow and the Star  It Had to be You

Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels has placed first in the last three polls – and shows no sign of giving up its top spot.   This much cherished book earned nearly 20% more votes than Lisa Kleypas’ Dreaming of You, and though it was published in 1995 and placed 7th in our first top 100 poll, with time this story has only increased its luster.

Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas was published in 1994 and placed a lowly 85th in the 1998 poll. Two years later, in 2000, it shot up to sixth place, and remained in that spot in 2004.  This year it placed second only 11% ahead of the third place title, but it clearly earned its place.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen has officially made its first showing in the top 10 of the top 100 poll.  In 1998, it just missed and landed in 14th place, in 2000 it climbed into 13th place but in 2004 it fell into 22nd. This is the first time a classic has made it in the top 10 and it was originally published in 1813.  One wonders if any of the Top 100 titles written by contemporary authors will still be this respected in 200 years. This is also the first year that three classics have made the top 100.  In addition to Persuasion, mentioned earlier, another work of classic fiction to make your top 100 – it landed in 52nd place – is Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, published in 1847. Gone With The Wind placed in the top 100 in 1998 and 2000 and received many votes this year, but did not make it onto the list.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon is no stranger to the top 10 of this poll.  It has placed 2nd in 2000, 7th in 2004 and leveled off again this year to match 1998’s showing in fourth place.  Drums of Autumn, Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager found spots in the 1998 and 2000 polls but not in 2004.  This year, Dragonfly in Amber the second in the series and Voyager the third in the series landed in 69th and 70th place respectively.

Flowers From The Storm by Laura Kinsale was published in 1992 and didn’t make the top 10 in 1998. Since then it has always found a spot in the top 10 and this year it topped out in 5th place.

Mary Balogh, a perennial favorite, has finally had one of her books land in the top 10.  Slightly Dangerous was published in 2004 and managed to land in 6th place.  Ms. Balogh has always had titles in the top 100 but because she has such a huge backlist, her votes tend to split over more of her titles than authors with smaller bodies of work. There’s a group of readers who prefer her trad Regencies over her European Historicals, but that didn’t show in the results. On the other hand, the sole trad Regency to make your top 100 belonged to Balogh – The Notorious Rake came in 98th.

Lisa Kleypas’ second title in the Top 100 is Devil in Winter, published in 2006, which landed solidly in 7th place.  This is the most recently published book to end up in the Top 10 and Kleypas now ties Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jennifer Crusie for most titles by one author to land in the Top 10.  As for Crusie, Bet Me (2004) and Welcome to Temptation (2000) managed to remain in the top 10 in slots 8 and 9 respectively.  In 2004 Welcome to Temptation placed 3rd while Bet Me hit 5th place.

The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn just squeezed into 10th place and is Ms. Quinn’s first showing in the top 10.

Authors With Most Votes and Number of Titles

Author Number Titles Number Votes Title In Top 100
Linda Howrd 44 905 8
 Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb  118  880  5
Mary Balogh 62 798 5
 Lisa Kleypas  26  788  8
 Susan Elizabeth Phillips  18  669  8
 Julia Quinn  17  586  4
 Julie Garwood  21  555  6
 Loretta Chase  15  552  4
 JAK/Amanda Quick/Jayne Castle  83  541  1
 Judith McNaught  15  460  7
 Mary Jo Putney  31  443  4
 Jennifer Crusie  14  435  3
 Georgette Heyer  42  415  3
 Suzanne Brockmann  29  402  3
 Laura Kinsale  12  347  3
 J.R. Ward/Jessica Bird  9  317  4
 Jo Beverley  34  299  0
 Judith Ivory/Judy Cuevas  12  268  4
 Diana Gabaldon  6  259  3
 Connie Brockway  14  255  3
 Anne Stuart  37  255  0
 Liz Carlyle  15  230  0
 Jane Austen  6  220  2
 Johanna Lindsey  41  218  0
Madeline Hunter  15  213  0
 Stephanie Laurens  25  200  1

Looking only at the authors that received at least 200 votes, Linda Howard received a total of 905 votes for 44 different titles. Close behind was Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, with 880 votes for 118 different titles. Titles by some very popular authors received numerous votes, but not enough to move any of their titles into the top 100. For example, 34 separate titles by Jo Beverley received a combined 299 votes. However, these votes were spread over enough titles that none of her individual titles placed in the top 100. Similarly, 37 titles by Anne Stuart received a total of 255 votes, but no single title received enough for top 100 placement. I’m sure everyone who voted will compare their ballot to the final tally.  How did the pollsters’ ballots compare with the final 100?

Just eight of Lee’s top 100 made your Top 100:  The Windflower,  Jane Eyre,  Mr. Impossible,  Over the Edge,  The Secret Pearl,  A Summer to Remember,  As You Desire and The Viscount Who Loved Me. For LinnieGayl it was 29:  Born in Fire, Born in Ice, Sea Swept, Rising Tides, As You Desire, See Jane Score, Lord of Scoundrels, Match Me If you Can, Mr. Impossible, The Duke and I, Lord Perfect, Naked in Death, Pride and Prejudice, This Heart of Mine, Heaven, Texas, The Secret, Nobody’s Baby But Mine, Dream a Little Dream, It Had to be You, Bet Me, Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, The Viscount Who Loved Me, To Die For, Ravished, Dream Man, Devil’s Bride, Saving Grace, One Perfect Rose, and Dreaming of You.

Laurie did better than Lee but not as well as LinnieGayl; 17 of Laurie’s titles made it into your Top 100: The Bride, The Secret, Pride and Prejudice, A Kingdom of Dreams, Saving Grace, The Prize, Then Came You, To Die For, The Serpent Prince, Born in Fire, Naked in Death, My Dearest Enemy, Sea Swept, Honor’s Splendor, Lord of Scoundrels, Devil in Winter, and All Through the Night.

And Cindy, well, 17 of Cindy’s ballot of 36 titles made the list:  Dream Man, Lover Awakened, Mr. Impossible, For My Lady’s Heart, All Through the Night, Slave to Sensation, Lord of Scoundrels, Anyone But You, Lover Eternal, The Secret, The Devil in Winter, Worth Any Price, Bet Me, Cry No More, Perfect, Morning Glory and Honor’s Splendor.

Cindy:  50% of my ballot matched!  *rubs hands together*  What’d I win!?

Lee:  Uh, there are no prizes.

Cindy: S’cuse me?

Lee:  We did this for fun, remember?

LinnieGayl:  Yeah.  And if anyone should get a prize it’s me cause I actually listed 100 titles of which 29 matched, not 36.

Lee:  Guys, seriously, no prizes.

Cindy:  Okay, first, the math makes me the winner and second ‘Whadaya mean we did this for fun!!’

LinnieGayl: Cindy, the math doesn’t make you the winner, you would have to take my percentage and create a fraction and then take your percentage and create a –

Cindy:  Ow.  No more math.  Seriously, I think you guys are the cause of this weird eye twitch I now have.  So LinnieGayl, you win!  You can have the prize.

Lee:  (props her chin in her hand and grabs the first book off her long neglected TBR pile; sighs) Still, no prizes.

Cindy:  (peeks over Lee’s shoulder to see which book she grabbed and then glances fearfully at her teetering TBR pile)

LinnieGayl:  Yeah, but if there were prizes ….

Which leads us into a few questions to get you started:

1.  How did you do with your choices?  Are there books on the list that you think are just ‘one-hit-wonders’ (there’ve been some in every poll) that will get knocked off one day?

2.  There is a core 34% of titles that have made every poll – how many are among your favorites?

3.  With the average ballot having 55 titles on it, what kind of “rules” did you impose on yourself?  Did you list only “A” or five-star books, or perhaps books that you’ve re-read at least once? Cindy cops to having “umpteen rules yet somehow made up in my mind.”

4. Are there any titles you voted for that you knew would never make the final top ten, and that you suspected would only be included on your own ballot?

5. Which are the books that you are shocked to see did not make the Top 100?

6. If nearly half of the European Historicals that made this year’s Top 100 were published after the year 2000, does this counter the argument that historicals have been declining in quality, is it possible that readers have lowered their expectations accordingly, or that fewer long-time readers participated in the poll?

Be sure to check out the full results

Cindy, Lee, & LinnieGayl

Results of our 2007 Top 100 Romances Poll

Post your comments on these poll results (after checking out the results)

Results of our 2004 Top 100 Romances Poll

Results of our 2000 Top 100 Romances Poll

Results of our 1998 Top 100 Romances Poll

(AAR uses BYRON for its romance reference needs)

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