Those are all good points, Carrie. I definitely agree with you about the different expectations between historical fiction and HR.
Having said that, what converted me to reading romance in the first place were solidly researched HRs that didn’t strain credulity. Specifically, my earliest experiences of HR were through the great Beverly Jenkins. Maybe that spoiled me. :-) At the time, I was searching for a get rich quick scheme and had intended to read romance novels in an act of meanspirited research. Reading HR grounded in history changed my negative attitude and drove me to seek out more for pleasure. Before I got bitten by the romance bug, historical fiction was one of my go-to genres. Learning about HR’s HEA/HFN requirement fully brought me over to the other side as too much historical fiction had depressing endings. Finding out there were historical fiction books out there with a happy ending requirement felt like an amazing revelation. Sign me up!
But if I had started by reading the wildly anachronistic duke-marries-the-serving-girl-who-likes-to-hang-out-in-gaming-hells type stories, I doubt I would have gained such a positive experience with the genre. It’s not that wallpaper historicals are *bad,* but I think there needs to be more of an industry distinction between them and historical fiction-esque HR. The way things are right now, a lot of readers feel frustrated that they have to dig through piles of HR-lite in order to find stories starring characters who act like they could have existed in their particular era and setting versus “let’s put anachronistic characters in pretty dresses and play pretend.” Again, nothing inherently wrong with the latter category, but I think creating two separate subgenres of HR might help readers better find what they are looking for.