We listen to you, we really do. And we’ve noticed that you, along with several of our reviewers, aren’t all that happy with most – not all, but most – of the historical romance that’s been published in the past year or so. Using our Power Search feature, we looked at all the Historical Romance reviews we’ve written in 2019. We’ve given out 19 As, 47 Bs, 21 Cs, 13 Ds, and 2 Fs.
Getting Cs, Ds, and Fs were several authors we’ve reviewed positively in the past: Victoria Alexander, Lorraine Heath, Madeline Hunter, Anne Gracie, Marguerite Kaye, and Laura Lee Guhrke to name a few. Several of the DIKs are debut books are are by lesser-known authors.
So, is there a problem with historical romance right now? And, if so, what is it?
There was a very strong response to this column, both on Twitter and in the comments below. AAR’s publisher has written a response to the criticism here.
Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day.
It’s not just AAR readers/reviewers thinking about how well modern values work when tucked into stories set in earlier times.
In the New York Times review of the live action Mulan movie, storied critic Manohla Dargis writes:
Excellent review. I hadn’t given a thought to seeing the movie, but now I’m interested.
This is IMO.
It all boils down to the same thing. Accuracy. Do your research, and you’ll find that LGBTQ people always existed, through every age. There were no slaves on British soil, for instance – do you know how they got around that? They used people like slaves until they died, and then they employed someone else – cheaper than owning slaves, which is the main reason why. There were people of colour everywhere – not as many as you’ll find today in the average city in Britain, but certainly enough to feature in stories. Until the 20th century, homosexuality was punishable by death – until the Victorians arrived, it was less the moral aspect, though that was trumpeted in church on Sundays, it was because there were two baby-makers wasted (despicable, but that’s what you read in contemporary accounts). It didn’t mean that none existed.
Disabled people were often locked away or kept quietly at home. Some were loved, some were not. But they existed – go to any good medical museum, and you’ll see a collection of Bath chairs (chairs with wheels that had to be pushed rather than the person sitting in it doing it themselves – that tells you something right there), crutches, walking sticks. They existed, so write about what they went through in the context of the time. Show people today how conditions have improved, and how they haven’t.
And some authors don’t know this because they haven’t done their research. Informed research, so that the reader knows the “codes” used back then for people who were not white cisgendered. If you knew a gay man (lesbianism was not outlawed), then you didn’t discuss it openly with others. You called him a “confirmed bachelor,” (which also covered men who didn’t want to marry for other reasons), or refer to his “preferences.” Because you didn’t want your friend taken up and hanged for his “preference.”
I did try to write a romance once which had the slave trade as its theme (the heroine was a protester). But I gave up, because the terms they used back then, even when they were advocates for the abolition cause were so offensive to people today. If I’d been writing a non-romance, it might have been accepted, but even then writing it would have been hard. Perhaps I’ll try again one day.
I have not yet written a person of colour as a protagonist, but that’s because I tend to do the aristocracy-type heroes and heroines, and in the top echelons of British society, there just weren’t any. Historical accuracy. But I’ve written plenty as secondary characters, walk-ons and so on. They were there, so I put them in.
Another point – I wrote my first m/m romance as part of The Shaws series – immensely pleased that Kensington allowed it as part of an otherwise mf series. It didn’t sell as well as the other books in the series, sadly, but there you go. I’ll keep doing it, when it seems appropriate.
@Nan De Plume, “My point is that there is a difference between wanting to tell a story about such a character because the author *really* wants to write that heroine, and write her well, versus just saying (or having the publisher say), “Oh, I guess such-and-such type of character is popular now. I’ll throw her into my story to win brownie points.””
Your point from this quote on diversity is racially insensitive at the least as well as disputed by a number of authors who have read your responses. See my above response.
There are lots of accusations that this thread is censored. Just to be clear: there are currently three responses that I didn’t publish because they attacked another/other commenters. Everything else has been published.
And perhaps I should have. I’m still thinking about the balance between freedom of expression and the need to make sure disenfranchised groups don’t feel debased. It’s a hard call for me because I can see both sides. As I said in an earlier post in this thread I’ve been thinking a lot about Ibram X. Kendi‘s belief that there is no such thing as non-racist, only racist or anti-racist. I think that means I have to acknowledge my belief that, in the long run, it’s more important that places of power–which perhaps in romance AAR might be–protect the speech of all than it is to curate speech for some no matter what that speech might be.
1) Historical romance HAS a problem and it’s the fact the the majority of the authors write about white privileged people. So boring, it’s always that same old story.
2)For white author’s I can understand why they don’t write about poc because it’s not their place. We should write our own stories BUT +
3)don’t be a hypocrite there’s a lot of white author’s talking about diversity and such but I don’t see them writing idk at least about the working class.
4)what I see from latest books (written by feminist authors of course) is that they write about white feminist and that’s a problem too, we want more diversity and inclusivity not just +”all women should study!” and they’re just talking about duke’s sisters/daughters
5) when I talk about historical inaccuracy for me it’s about a book that could easily pass as a contemporary, lazy writing and ridiculous plots. But I understand that a lot of people use it to justify their prejudices and that’s not ok.
6)I’ve been a follower of this site for a long time and I think it’s a shame that you give space for people to DISCRIMINATE and EXCLUDE MINORITIES. We can always disagree about plot points/ tropes/ subgenres/ writing styles BUT we CAN’T and YOU SHOULDN’T ENCOURAGE AND SUPPORT people who think that being: a black/latin×/LGBT people is “HISTORICAL INACCURATE”
So you didn’t read the arguments presented here and you’re okay having a Twitter where minorities are actively silenced is what you’re trying to say?
I was right with you in agreement through all your points (#5 especially is I think what I’ve been feeling about recent HRs I’ve read) but then 6 lost me. Are you saying you think that’s what’s happening on this thread? Because I’m not getting that at all. I felt it was more that lots of readers are aware that minorities have always been a part of history ( I realize that’s a DUH statement) and are open to reading these stories when they are written with depth and genuine characters who challenge and endear us as readers. I will read almost anything if I’m captivated. (Looking at you R Lee Smith.)
Honestly, something I’ve struggled with in my own reading is this issue of diversity in romance. Should I read stories I’m not interested in because it helps grow the genre in the “right” direction, more representation of minorities? (My lack of interest stems from the quality, or my opinion of it, NOT the actual content.) I agree it’s important to support this direction but my reading time isn’t unlimited and neither are my funds. I’m also not on any kind of social media so I have no minions to activate.
Im sorry for putting “right” in quotations. It was for emphasis not questioning that it was the correct direction
You got a few authors eyeballing this blog and calling for censorship/heavier moderation of the comments. You’re not allowed to share your thoughts and feelings about the current state of romance novels unless it aligns with their views.
Anyways, I haven’t read a newly published historical romance since 2017. Either I grew up and matured or the books are just way too wallpapery now for me. Seems like all the historical romance characters being written today could easily fit in the 21st century. Also, I am sick and tired of dukes. And if the hero is working class you can bet he’ll be made a member of the aristocracy by the end of the book. I am also tired of the regency era. So many eras to choose from and it’s regency over and over and OVER.
I think for me it comes down to “it’s me, not you”. I’m just over romance. I don’t know if the authors are doing something wrong or not which leads me to believe it’s something on my end that it turning me away.
The boycott threats they’re making are embarrassing, and the number of people who are piling into the argument without doing any research about the topic are migraine inducing.
Would they all rather rely on Goodreads, where reviews are completely unmoderated and sometimes personally insulting? On Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, which covers a quarter of the scope of the romance world? Or Dear Author, which is rarely stable and functional as a website? Or Jen Reads Romance, which for all of her hue and cry about diversity, currently features only three authors of color (Beverly Johnson, Rebekah Weatherspoon and Alexis Daria) and four books featuring diverse protagonists (Band Sinister, Rafe, Forbidden and Take the Lead) out of eight on her “Most People Love These Books” front Page?
Heaven forbid they send arcs to Mrs. Giggles, who’s gone full on alt-right over the years!
Humorous that one of the authors mentioned for not being as “historically accurate” as some commenters expect, is featured in your steals and deals today. I’m sure that you don’t have control over that, but oh the irony. I happen to love her books. Too bad I already have it or I would buy it in honor of this comment section.
What I love about this beautifully humongous thread is all the debate that’s going on about both historical romance and romance in general. Wonderful! It is difficult to find blogs that are willing to entertain alternative view points, and AAR hits the mark for what it means to have an intelligent, respectful debate/dialogue.
Some takeaways for me are this:
1) A lot of commenters clearly understand that authors are often in a bind. As an author myself, albeit self-published, it is a breath of fresh air that so many other commenters in one space *get it.*
2) We have different tastes in historical romance, especially when it comes to tolerance for anachronisms, tropes, social issues, and diversity. Great! Let’s all read what we want to read, and write what we want to write.
Thank you, AAR for posting this topic. It’s been a fun, wild few days following all the posts.
I haven’t read all of the comments, but I’ve read enough. My favorite genre is historical FICTION and I expect books to be historically accurate if it’s labeled as such. I also enjoy historical romance, but I don’t expect it to be historically accurate. If the focus wasn’t the romance, then it would be historical fiction. There is a genre that will reject stuff if it isn’t accurate, scholarly publications. I’ve read a lot of HR and I’ve never had an author use England to refer to GB, Wales & Scotland.
I’ve never read Courtney Milan, but my favorite authors are Tessa Dare & Sarah Maclean, followed closely by Julia Quinn & Lisa Kleypas. Those authors’ books are very well edited and they aren’t repetitive. I like some of Mary Jo Putney’s books, but some of her plot lines are very similar. Mary Balogh, you bet there’s going to be a wilderness walk. I don’t know why that bothers me. Also, her books are poorly edited.
I love the Victorian era & would have loved to wear ball gowns & have a dance card & calling cards, but I would have not liked not voting or children working in factories so I like to see characters that speak out against that – because those are my values & that’s how I would feel in that character’s situation. Why would an author write a character that, hopefully, no one in the 21st century could identify with or relate to? That’s not going to sell books.
Lastly, my favorite books are ones that make me laugh out loud & google things. Books should be entertaining, but they should also make you think.
I think we need to focus on the historical romance genres as a whole, and not individual books or writers. Authors are battling the dictates of the publishing industry and the books they create are often twisted so far out of shape by editors and publishers as to be unrecognizable. We need to champion writers, not disparage them.
If there is a book or trope or writer you love, tell me your recs. But calling out individuals for themes and plots you disagree with just makes me turn away from your comments and think less of you.
Well, I will say, the general impression I get in this thread, is very critical, and disdainful of the books that I enjoy. I think that I am reasonably intelligent but, although I have enjoyed Carla Kelly, I enjoy the humor and joy of some of the very authors that aren’t good enough (not accurate enough) for most of the commenters here. I also see that posters here seem troubled by the addition of social issues and diversity… as though it ruins their enjoyment of a book. It’s so disturbing that social issues seem to bother folks so much. I don’t NEED approval for my reading choices, so you won’t affect my enjoyment of my books. You will affect my comfort in this space. I would love to find a book community where everyone’s tastes are celebrated and accepted. The “perfect” historians, and those looking for joy and humor and lightness and love. The fluffy stories and heavy, angst-filled books. The magic is that we can all choose to read what we want, and NOT read the rest!
I don’t think anyone here is saying that the inclusion of diversity and social issues ruins their enjoyment of a book; in fact, the overwhelming majority of the commenters here welcome it. The issue is not with the inclusion of those things, it’s with the execution; so many times the crusading heronie/businesswoman heroine etc. is there more as a token and no care is taken to show that she’s walking the walk as well as talking the talk, That’s the main cricitism – and to be fair, it happens in contemporaries as well – I’ve read reviews here that take issue with the idea of the 24-year-old female CEO who is never shown doing anything remotely business oriented.
Nobody is dissing your reading choices or suggesting you need approval for them. AAR is, in my experience, completely open to opinions of all sorts and does not – unlike some places – censure people who don’t happen to agree with it. This thread – as are the other the ask@AAR threads – is meant to encourage discussion of all sorts, positive or negative, which, if you’ve read any of the other columns, you will see is taking place in a civil manner and all are welcome.
And finally – we criticise because we love. It’s important to remember that.
I completely agree with you Kim. There is a general tone deafness throughout this thread, often marked with statements like, “I’m all for diversity but…” It is pitted against “historical accuracy” or “done right.” One of these, if you would believe some comments here, BIPoC barely existed in the spaces often written about and when they did, it was maybe because they were rich. The other is a completely subjective notion of inclusivity being done right. Whether it is done right or not raises many questions and will garner several different answers depending on the individual. It’s an intellectually lazy approach.
I see KJ Charles mentioned several times as doing it right, but if you’ve read her books and do not see a message throughout, I’m really wondering where the critical thinking is? Her books have a definite message of inclusivity. As for Courtney Milan, who was much criticized, and no one objected to naming her as opposed to some other authors, you do realize she’s a WOC right? Absolute kudos to her for writing books about people that are often ignored within the romance genre and mostly absent in the HR subset as though they didn’t exist or were at best, wallpaper. She wants to give these people a happy ending. What’s so wrong about that? Harping on historical accuracy for these things and not the enumerable Cinderella tropes within HR comes across as disingenuous. I think HR needs to be upended a bit. It’s dull and repetitive, formulaic. I’ve read tons of HR as a teenager and young adult. The themes are on regular cycle, rinse and repeat. The number of books that are inclusive are but one drop within a rainstorm of sameness; hardly enough to point to the problem with HR being authors “virtue signaling,” writing “historically inaccurate” existence of characters, or so called over the top messaging. Those sound more like defensiveness.
Agreed. Some of the highlights of this thread–“what’s next? A Black left-handed Lesbian? A Muslim?” make me embarrassed. 1) Same sex romances exist, and have a market, they may be shelved in a different area of the store but you will definitely be able to tell from the cover and blurb so no need to worry about accidentally buying one. (gasp!) 2) If you think a Black romance heroine is wacky and far-out, I don’t know what to say to you, 3) handedness is rarely mentioned in novels unless it’s part of the plot but I’m not sure why you think a left-handed heroine would be so perverse? 4) Islam is…..a very old religion and there was no wall around Muslim countries keeping them segregated from the rest of the world, so don’t be surprised if a Muslim pops up in a book set in 1820. They might even be a main character! If that’s a problem for you, there are issues that are not going to be resolved on this thread.
I would be very disappointed if my favorite writers changed the way they write based on this thread. Fortunately I don’t really expect them to. Someone upthread was annoyed that they were “doubling down” instead of begging for forgiveness and ripping up manuscripts. Honestly now.
If you really need to have your romances lily white and homogenous, there are plenty out there. I get them advertised to me all the time on Amazon.
Well, I for one am grateful to the voices here standing up for diversity, feminism, politics, and social issues in romance writing. Romances have not always been a particularly inclusive genre, and they have always had plenty of conservative readers feeling anxiety about demographic changes and shifting power dynamics, many of whom post here at AAR regularly. If AAR opens the door to “quality” discussions, no one should be surprised by the conflict that ensues, especially when quality becomes conflated with diversity. You pointed to some of the posts that were among the most insensitive, and I think it’s right to continue to reflect on all of this.
@Blackjack- Speaking of conservative romance readers, I think it was only recently that the overarching industry considered m/m, f/f, and ménage part of the official definition of what could be considered romance. The source escapes me, but I also remember reading somewhere that HFNs are also fairly new to the industry across the board. And even before HFNs, category romances at certain publishing houses had a plethora of strict requirements for their HEAs (e.g. it had to end with a wedding, no explicit sex, no premarital sex, etc.) I remember you commenting about those borderline-obligatory epilogues that frequently insist the heroine got married and had a lot of children. That’s probably a carryover from the industry’s conservative roots. And from a financial perspective, whether we like it or not, maybe conservative readers form the bulk of customers keeping the romance publishing houses and authors afloat- and sticking to the same old tried-and-true narratives. Or should I say, the same old *tired* not-so-true narratives and tropes.
Even today, I don’t think Harlequin publishes non-m/f romances under their main lines. Their imprints Avon and Carina Press do, but not under the Harlequin name. Harlequin also doesn’t publish erotic romance (except through Carina Press, don’t know about Avon), although they have been dipping their toes into racier contemporary stories lately. Make of that what you will.
But I think the publishing industry in general is slow to change with the times. Actually, they tend to be slow period. Heck, it can take *years* from acquisition for an author to see her book in print (not sure if this is true at romance publishing houses or not.) Anyone feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on any of this. I’m just writing from memory and hearsay here.
It’s an odd dichotomy. On the one hand, many romance novels/publishing houses cling to the past. On the other hand, they also embraced innovations earlier than other genres- most notably e-books. But I think major publishing houses in general are going to get eaten alive by Amazon if they don’t get with the times and keep innovating as well as listening to reader concerns and taking more chances in acquisitions.
@Cat- Thank you for itemizing your points for ease of reading. Based on your quotations and examples, I’m assuming you are referring to comments Marian Perera and I made on this thread. I cannot speak for Ms. Perera, but allow me to respond to your concerns:
1) “Same sex romances exist…no need to worry about accidentally buying one. (gasp)” I’m not sure if this was directed at me, but I’m actually fond of same-sex romances. I greatly enjoyed reading Cat Sebastian’s late-Regency m/m romance “It Takes two to Tumble.” And heck, I *write* contemporary m/m erotic romance as well as other erotica pairings. Maybe this comment was meant for someone else on this thread?
2) “If you think a Black romance heroine is wacky and far-out” I don’t. I have read a number of HRs by Beverly Jenkins as well as an HR by Alyssa Cole (the title escapes me right now. Ugh!), and enjoyed them immensely. What I think is wacky and far-out is when any character, regardless of race, feels dropped into the story to make a point rather than existing as a fleshed-out character. True, not every side character needs an arc (and probably shouldn’t for reasons of story length), but characters should be created thoughtfully. I admit fully that this is a subjective rubric. A character who screams “tokenism” to one reader may be well-received by another. That’s why it’s nice we have the freedom to write and read what we please. I say, the more books, the better!
3) “handedness is rarely mentioned in novels… I’m not sure why you think a left-handed heroine would be so perverse?” I don’t think a left-handed heroine is perverse in the least. My example, admittedly fictional and facetious, was making a point about how editors and publishing houses can pressure authors to tack on qualities/characteristics/tidbits that are not part of the writer’s original vision in order to virtue signal. Handedness is just a hypothetical example of this phenomenon, and not a very good one.
4) I don’t recall mentioning Islam in any of my posts on this thread, so I assume this was in reference to a different commenter.
In regard to your parting remark, I couldn’t find anyone on this thread insisting that romances had to be lily white. If anything, I see a lot of commenters who are tired of the same old tropes, character archetypes, and so forth.
“I’m assuming you are referring to comments Marian Perera and I made on this thread. I cannot speak for Ms. Perera, but allow me to respond to your concerns:
Personally, I decided not to say anything further because it feels like when it comes to the use of diverse characters, any comment that is not complete and enthusiastic support is equated with wanting only lily white romances, having a blinkered viewpoint, and believing that minorities didn’t exist in the past.
Basically, there seems to be no middle ground. And if there’s no middle ground, then for me, there’s no scope for discussion.
I see what you mean, Ms. Perera. And I completely agree with you here about the lack of middle ground regarding diverse characters and, Heaven forbid, subtlety. Some comments definitely smack of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” And that’s disheartening.
I also agree with you that sometimes the best choice is to not say anything further, especially if the effort bears no fruit. I think the only reason I’m still on this thread, besides the fascinating topic, is that I haven’t had a good debate in ages. (Not that I came here spoiling for a fight!)
On a related note, I wonder how many straw man accusations regarding people wanting lily white narratives come from writers versus readers who do not write books. I say this because you and I know, as authors, that being a writer is often ROUGH. I feel like a broken record here, but it’s very easy to pick on writers compared to actually writing something. Frankly, we’re easy targets (as a profession, I mean. Not necessarily you or me personally.) I heard there’s a similar camaraderie and support among comedians for the same reason. It was Doug Stanhope, I believe, who said that a comedian would have to do something terribly egregious before he would take a stand against him. But until concrete evidence surfaced, he would give a fellow comedian the benefit of the doubt and support practically anything he said- even if he disagreed- because the complainers of the world generally don’t put in the effort to create. I.e., anyone can rant about a comedian on Twitter without having put in the work and accomplish anything similar. I’m paraphrasing here, but I think it’s relevant to writers as well.
And with self-publishing, it’s easier than ever for a person to say, “You know what. I don’t like the tired old tropes and stereotypes. Dang it, I’m going to write a book that shows a (insert the blank) character as a well-rounded human being deserving of compassion, adventure, and love.” Visibility in the sea of self-publishing is sadly an issue, but most mainstream published authors never achieve fame or best selling status either. But I will say, I admire just about anyone who takes the time to research and write the story they envision. And I wish them every success in finding an audience to share it with.
“And I completely agree with you here about the lack of middle ground regarding diverse characters and, Heaven forbid, subtlety.”
Yes. One of the things I enjoyed most about Django Unchained was that there was diversity in the black characters – Django and Broomhilda were good people, but Stephen most definitely wasn’t. (Note to other commenters : This should not be taken to mean that I want black characters to be blown to bits in exploding mansions).
So what about more diversity in diversity, for lack of a better way to phrase it? Maybe certain people in the past were very supportive of civil rights, but not champions of same-sex relationships, for instance. I’d like to see romances where it’s not easy to tell at once who the villains are because they’re the racist , or the homophobe, or so on. I want development and, as you said, subtlety.
Using a Django Unchained example again, at the start of the film, Dr. Schultz doesn’t like slavery, but he seems to see it as something that backward hicks do. Initially, it offends him as rudeness might offend him, rather than as a deep violation of people’s humanity. Yet that doesn’t make him a bad person. It makes him a complex person instead. I’d like to see more such nuance.
And as I said elsewhere on this thread, it’s difficult to develop multiple issues to the same extent, so a book which tries to do too much may end up not doing justice to those issues (Note, again : This is subjective. A book that worked very well for one reader may not work so well for another reader, but this doesn’t mean one person is right and the other is wrong).
“Some comments definitely smack of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” And that’s disheartening.”
Agreed. Such comments are not productive in terms of spreading awareness or fostering discussion.
“I say this because you and I know, as authors, that being a writer is often ROUGH.”
Yes, it is. I will say one thing about mainstream publishing, though – even though it doesn’t guarantee that a book will be a bestseller, you can rely on a certain profit (the advance) and a certain number of sales (readers who are already aware of what the publisher releases and who trust the publisher’s brand). Self-publishing doesn’t have such a cushion, but there’s a lot more creative control. There are positives and negatives for both.
Thank you so much for your balanced approach to this very interesting discussion!
And thank you, Ms. Perera. I’ve found your comments throughout this thread both refreshing and enlightening.
Yes, self-publishing and traditional publishing have their strengths and weaknesses. One of the many joys of being a writer…
I haven’t seen the movie “Django Unchained,” or any other Quentin Tarantino movie for that matter, but I admire Mr. Tarantino’s courage and talent as an artist. Unlike some other Hollywood-types, he’s not a sniveling apologist who caves to every criticism and special interest group. The man has a backbone, and eagerly defends the works of art he creates. And because of his moxie, he is able to make enduring films which portray characters as complex people. Thank you for sharing some concrete examples of this man’s work.
For another example in movie subtlety, which you might enjoy, is the obscure 1970s film “Skin Game” with James Garner and Louis Gossett Jr. I only caught parts of it on TV a while back, and it falls into that category of “movies you couldn’t get away with making today” (unless you’re Quentin Tarantino). The story concerns two con artists in the 1850s, one of whom is a free black man from New Jersey, who pull off the following scam together: They go from town to town pretending to be a slave and a down-on-his-luck slave owner who must reluctantly sell his last slave. But when the “slave” is bought, Garner rescues him in the middle of the night and splits the money with him so they can pull off the scam again and again. What’s interesting about this dark comedy is the complexity of the characters and their situation. Yes, Garner and Gossett (can’t remember the characters’ names) are con artists, but we can root for them because they are defrauding slave owners. On top of that, the film is smart enough not to make everything all hunky-dory between the two con artists either. Their relationship is rocky (a few times, they con each other and get into a fistfight at least once that I recall), and they have some heartfelt conversations about their scheme. Gossett, for example, tells the more happy-go-lucky and oblivious Garner that playing his slave and getting sold every day is a lucrative, albeit extremely dangerous, scam- but that having to *always* be the slave really hurts his feelings sometimes, and that just because he’s a crook, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have pride. Then Gossett starts to feel bad about the scam for another reason- they are profiting off of the suffering of others. Sure, he and his partner-in-crime have the satisfaction of cheating slave owners, but there are real slaves they could be helping instead of taking advantage of the institution for their personal gain. It’s just another example of a fascinating, subtle movie that I’ll have to watch from start to finish sometime.
I’m told Elmore Leonard, who wrote 45 Western and crime novels, was good at creating complex characters- most of whom were of ambiguous morals but believable as complicated beings. He sure wasn’t a romance writer, but his books may be worth exploring.
marian Perera: “The issue for me is not diversity per se, but how it’s implemented in the story.” THANK YOU! You have summed up succinctly what took me several comments to elaborate upon.
@FancyPants: Never at any time in this thread did I say a left-handed black lesbian heroine was “ridiculous.” That is your word, not mine. In fact, I have written several posts which made it quite clear I would have absolutely no problem reading about such a protagonist, and have given a number of examples of well-written diverse stories that I have enjoyed reading and highly recommend to others.
I also never said that people don’t have multiple identities. And I welcome their inclusion in fiction, provided their presence makes sense for the particular story being told. What I do not appreciate is when authors/editors/publishing houses blatantly pander rather than focusing on telling good stories with well-rounded characters regardless of their race, sexual orientation, creed, etc.
There seems to be a big hang-up about my having used the fictional, hypothetical example of a black, left-handed lesbian. To clarify, for the umpteenth time, I have no problems WHATSOEVER with a non-white, non-cishet protagonist. To use another example, I would find it just as odd and pandering if a HR that took place in say, Ancient Japan, suddenly had a bunch of Swedes, Irish, Polish, and Latin Americans show up without a sufficient excuse for them being there. And I would be doubly annoyed if their presence was only included to make a point rather than flesh them out as people. But if you could put in the research, make it plausible, and convince me through the narrative that such a story is reasonable for the location and time period, that is fantastic and I can’t wait to read it.
“Most writers seem to be coming from a place of genuinely wanting to include different narratives in their stories, or from wanting to see themselves on the page.” I am glad to hear this. As I have said many times, the more stories that are out there, the better. But that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to have preferences or roll my eyes if certain stories are not handled well.
When I first saw the “left-handed black lesbian” heroine comment, I interpreted it not necessarily as “facetious,” but more as a sign that a little diversity may be tolerable but too many forms of diversity is off-putting. It seems to me, perhaps to contradict your analysis here a bit, that a black, left-handed lesbian might actually be three dimensional and complex and not easily typecasted, as in minorities are as complex in their identities as anyone else,. For instance, why are lesbians only supposed to be white for some readers? Why wouldn’t a black woman be represented as a lesbian, even a left-handed one? And sure, one-dimensional characterization plagues the fictional world, but when this issue repeatedly crops up around the inclusion of diverse characters, it starts to sound prejudiced. I agree that no one here to my knowledge actually came out and said the overtly racist words “lily white,” but there seemed to me plenty of insinuations that diversity is troubling a fair number of readers here, especially if an author has “too much” diversity in a book.
And what’s a middle ground between inclusiveness/appreciation for diversity/anti-racism and racism? Is that really a thing? I honestly don’t know what that means or looks like.
I also have to say that the words “virtue signaling” used in conjunction with authors engaged in diverse representations is troubling. It’s a bit akin to the terrible phrase “playing the race card.”
A left-handed black lesbian certainly could be the heroine of a romance novel, whether in historical or contemporary. No argument here. My point is that there is a difference between wanting to tell a story about such a character because the author *really* wants to write that heroine, and write her well, versus just saying (or having the publisher say), “Oh, I guess such-and-such type of character is popular now. I’ll throw her into my story to win brownie points.”
There have been times when I’ve thought, “Oh no, not more paragraphs of description of weapons and banners and scenery. It feels like the worldbuilding is crowding out the story.”
There have also been times when I’ve thought, “It feels like the author is substituting sex scenes for a good story.”
Likewise, there have been times when I’ve thought, “It feels like the author is substituting lots of diverse characters for a good story.”
I feel that if it’s possible to have too much worldbuilding, or too many sex scenes in a story, it’s also possible to have too much diversity (which does not mean I’m saying these should never appear in a story, nor am I saying that worldbuilding/sex/diversity is bad). I also realize that different readers have different thresholds in this regard. The issue for me is not diversity per se, but how it’s implemented in the story.
@Nan De Plume. People were offended by your comment was because people have a multiple of what you have called “different” identities at once. Just like we all do- we all consist of a multitude of identities, even if it is the identity of a white, right-handed, heterosexual woman. To consider one identity as the default and the other as “different” is the issue. To make a declaration that a black, left-handed lesbian is a seemingly ridiculous heroine is offensive because there are many, many people who have that identity, and have for all of history.
To make it seem like that character’s story would be ridiculous is incredibly offensive, and implies that it is a story that does not deserve to be told. I am not saying this to be mean, but because black women, queer women, and black queer women have read YOUR comments and have been hurt. What you wrote says they don’t deserve to see their stories in print, because you have declared it to be ridiculous.
Additionally, while the inclusion of a few diverse titles in the mainstream romance market is exciting, there is no guarantee of financial success, or is there a push from publishers, to create marginalized characters. The market is still saturated by white authors writing white, straight characters. Most writers seem to be coming from a place of genuinely wanting to include different narratives in their stories, or from wanting to see themselves on the page.
[Most writers seem to be coming from a place of genuinely wanting to include different narratives in their stories, or from wanting to see themselves on the page.]
Is that why many of the authors who have involved themselves in this situation happily continue to perpetuate the continuance of white, straight characters dominating the genre?
It’s nice to hear they really, really want to include diversity in their books but, gosh darn it, when their books get published it’s Oops, All Whites all over again.
A number of authors have written in response to this blog and the overwhelming majority indicate that diversity appears in their books because the issues are of importance to them as writers. No one that I’ve read has agreed that publishers are forcing them to write about multiple diversities, and so there seems to be a disconnect between what I hear authors stating and what I am reading here at AAR from a handful of responders that publishers are to blame for the ubiquity of diversity in romance novels today. I think too that to make an assumption that diversity exists because authors are forced to do this tries to diminishes authors’ choices as well as how diversity actually functions in books today.
“No one that I’ve read has agreed that publishers are forcing them to write about multiple diversities” Because to do so would be career suicide. There have been authors, actors, public figures, etc. who have lost their contracts and jobs because of making controversial remarks on the internet or elsewhere. Books have even been pulled pre-production and their authors pilloried online just because of nebulous complaints from people who have no financial skin in the game. So no, you probably aren’t going to hear any complaints from traditionally published authors whose advances, and sometimes livelihoods, are dependent upon playing ball with their editors and publishers.
Obviously, my experiences are anecdotal, but the issues I have been describing certainly exist. But it is usually only self-published authors, former traditionally published authors, and constantly rejected authors who can take the risk to come forward.
A few more examples of the phenomenon I have been describing:
I know of a man who wrote a modern-day hard boiled detective story in the style of the old grisly film noirs. This man, who was somewhat established in journalism, was rejected by multiple publishers who told him, “You know what’s hot right now? Chic female college-educated detectives who know which fork to eat snails with. You want to get published? Change your character to a female, or get lost.” Now, this man was quick to clarify that he had *no problem* with intelligent, attractive female detectives. But this was NOT the story he wanted to tell. So he self-published.
See my earlier post about Ellen Finnegan. She was told to put more church scenes in her *memoir* if she wanted to be published. And other publishers told her, “Your book is too religious. Make it secular.” She self-published.
I also know of a traditionally published science fiction author who lost his contract because he was adamant about giving the robot villains a unique, albeit extremely controversial motive, for taking over the world. He ended up legally breaking ties with his publishing house so he could self-publish the story he wanted to tell.
Patti Davis, who wrote a great f/f novel entitled “Till Human Voices Wake Us,” was not permitted to publish this story traditionally because it did not feature a cameo appearance from the Reagans. (Long story.) She self-published.
It happens in nonfiction too. An economist wanted to write about his insights on life and love. His publisher told him, “You are a stockbroker and trends analyst. Those are the only kinds of books of yours that we will publish.” Guess what? He self-published.
Marian Perera, who has been agreeing with a lot of my posts here, has her own experiences with rejection. Her HR with an architect hero sounds really interesting. But mainstream romance publishers won’t touch it because the hero isn’t titled or an heir to a large fortune.
Obviously, my examples go both ways. Some authors are told to be more inclusive while others are told to be more exclusive. I have no problem with traditional publishing, or traditionally published authors. For many, it is a viable option. But it’s not right when authors have to take all the blame for their “offensive” work when 1) it may have been mangled beyond all recognition by editors, and 2) they are often forced to write stories they don’t want to tell- or in the way they want to tell them- in order to get that next advance. Just like most actors, most authors are not rich. Writers may not come out and say, “I didn’t want to write about XYZ, but my publisher said I had to.” But there is such a thing as “writing to market-” and paying the bills.
As a reader, I can’t tell you how disappointing this thread is for me to read. I didn’t realize how bad the books that I love are. I didn’t realize that all that diversity and social issues took up too much space and made for a bad book. I had no idea that if a book isn’t precisely, historically accurate, it’s unworthy. The judging, and calling out specific authors, and honestly some of the insults, is really sad and disappointing. An honest review of a book that you don’t like is acceptable, a wholesale complaining session about “those authors” is not the same thing. Your blog used to be an everyday read for me. I’ve noticed lately, that I don’t come here much, and I think that I’ve figured out why. I’m not “cancelling” anyone, I just feel like I don’t belong. I wish you all well.
That’s hard to hear. We’d like everyone to feel welcome at AAR. And, I assume you realize that this thread is NOT a review. It’s not even an editorial. The vast majority of the responses here–many of which praise books that others criticize–are by readers. The AAR reviewers, only a few of which have commented here, are just a subset of a much larger group of writers who review all kinds of romance favorably–much of it diverse and showcasing social issues.
Personally, I’m THRILLED to see historical romance be opened up to other groups. Some might bemoan the changes but I welcome it. I cut my romance teeth on HR – Lindsay, Woodiwiss, Small – but after a while I became done with the sameness of the characters and the rapey tropes that just made me cringe. I think the complaints about “historical accuracy” are nonsensical because the number of Dukes in England would have been marginal at best. Given wars, diseases, accidents, and kings with an unhealthy penchant for beheading, there most certainly would NOT be a Duke for every Duchess or scullery maid, lol. It’s also nonsensical because history is big and complex and interrelated. As insular as many East Asian cultures were, they still knew of and traded with much of Europe, yet most HR does not reflect this fact. A quick Google search and voila. How many people are aware that Alexandre Dumas (both father and son) were mixed race Black and French? Read “The Black Count” by Tom Reiss. You’ll never view The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers the same way because both novels are actually about Dumas senior. Who knew? As an Elizabethan re-enactor, it’s been interesting to step out of my “wench persona” and introduce patrons to Dr. Miranda Kauffman’s “The Black Tudors”. I mean why is it so shocking that there were Black people in the Renaissance world? Secondly, history was happening everywhere around the globe and the fact that people don’t know this is obviously a failure of our educational system. Third, some of these laments sound like the only way BIPoC, LGBTQ and other identities are allowed to flourish is if they’re suffering as trauma porn or serving as the stereotyped magical negro/mystic asian/exotic sheikh. Sorry, not sorry, but including these characters isn’t “preachy”. It’s not anachronistic. Newsflash, we may not have been aristocrats in Europe, but BIPoC did exist – even during Roman times – and lived and loved DESPITE the strictures around them, and isn’t that one of the things that makes a great love story? The old guard had its place, If this genre wants to survive, it needs to accept change, and I grant change is difficult. It’s uncomfortable. We have to grow and also be willing to really LISTEN to points of view that were silenced (and in some cases continue to be silenced). Granted, that can be uncomfortable at times. Change is also inevitable and if you stand in the way, you’ll just get left behind. I’ll take Alyssa Cole (her Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight is an amazing Scottish romance based on historical fact), anything Beverly Jenkins writes, Piper Hugley and others to the staid and hidebound cookie cutter HR that so many seem to be enamored of.
I think a lot of people agree with you, Kymberlyn. History is filled with fascinating accounts of people finding love and becoming successful despite the limitations imposed by the society in which they lived.
I’m glad you mentioned Beverly Jenkins. I have read a few of her historical romance novels and enjoyed them. Like you, she mentioned the difficulty of publishing a book with a black hero and heroine that takes place in the 1870s because of the industry standard of “black = oppressed,” as well as black protagonists being relegated to the Civil War or Civil Rights Movement. Thankfully, she set a precedent to open up other amazing stories! (And I also send some love to Alyssa Cole!)
On a side note, Ms. Jenkins has mentioned in interviews that she feels compelled to include her research resources/notes in the back of her historical fiction because a lot of people simply wouldn’t believe her stories are plausible. But, heck! I wish more historical romance writers did that. Cat Sebastian talked a little about her research in the back of “A Duke in Disguise,” and it was fascinating.
Things are changing, slowly. But there is also the other extreme where authors may feel pressured from multiple directions to address as many groups and social issues as they can in one book, and that can make narratives messy and preachy rather than compelling and well, romantic. *Of course,* historical romance can include diverse protagonists and side characters, but they should feel well-rounded and believable rather than, “Oh, here’s my token East Asian character to keep the SJWs happy.”
Like you I want to read books that contain social issues and diversity, and I also am not a sticker for “accuracy” in historical fiction. I’m not a historian and I tend to give authors a fair amount of freedom to create stories they want to write.
I don’t like name calling either, but I do disagree that authors shouldn’t be named by their published name if their books are under discussion. The ones named above are discussed in the context of texts sold for public consumption, and I’m sure authors understand that if they release books to the public, reviews of the books (good and bad) will follow. If readers are complaining about an author’s book(s), that seems fair game to me.
What a relief to know that it’s poor writing!
I thought it was being post-menopausal and not on Estrogen!
If you are an author on this thread who used “historical accuracy” as an excuse to complain about diversity in literature, I will make an effort to not purchase your books.
Just a reminder–any comments that personally attack another commenter will not be published. All comments are moderated for civility. Thanks.
Little bit of a double standard. Published people attacking authors. I was calling out BS for what it is. Free speech and all.
That’s fair. I did call out the other poster and asked that she refrain and haven’t published any other personal attacks.
You did. However that whole thread of comment is a problem and it was published. But mine wasn’t. Was there some problematic bits? Yes. No more than what was said above. And important commentary in defense of said comments.
I would publish it without the first paragraph. Would that work?
I can’t reply directly to yours, but yes it would. Thank you
I used to read more historical, got tired of them to an extent but the ones being trashed for being “political” here are the ones I still bother to read when they come out, because of the quality of the writing and because the plots are interesting and go beyond the usual “The Duke and the feisty Wallflower.”
If acknowledging the existence of people who aren’t straight, white, neurotypical, etc is against your “politics” then obviously don’t read the books, just like I don’t read Nazi romances (which are a thing that exists
And “If toy don’t like my books, don’t read them” is a perfectly reasonable response from a writer. ♀️
I agree. And it’s great that politically minded stories are finding enthusiastic audiences.
Agree on the appreciation for politics in fiction. For instance, I know that as a feminist, I seek out feminist narratives in romances.
There has been a strange conflation in this entire thread though of “quality,” “politics,” and “historical accuracy,” and I can see why authors who are checking in now that there is attention drawn to this blog are getting annoyed.
When politics are done well, it’s such a fabulous thing. As I’m someone who doesn’t care about historical accuracy at all, for me, quality in historical romance is the same as quality in any book. I love stories with characters I can believe in (because the author has made me do so by her talent), plots that unfold in ways that are true to the story being told (again, this is within the context of the world the author has built), prose that makes me stop and reread a line in joy, and overall experiences that, when I recall them, I think, damn that was soooo good.
I agree. I don’t know enough history to fact check. But my psychology degree means I care about how people think and feel and their motivations and their upbringings and so on. I like consistency in character and seeing growth. I also agree with another comment that mentioned that preachiness and sketchy token characters are bothersome. To see diverse characters and plots reduced to cardboard and filler? Is that better than no diversity at all?
This is why I prefer historical romances that focus on one social issue, or a few social issues, rather than the ones which showcase or tackle too many. It’s not possible to develop everything and every character to the same extent, and issues that are added but not explored or well-integrated call the wrong kind of attention to themselves.
Authors pissed about this column might want to shut down criticism of their books because it might end up making them less dough. It’s funny anyone takes whining by authors about a book review site seriously. Isn’t this site doing their job when they criticize authors?
LOL we all know what it’s really about.
What I read briefly on Twitter is that there is frustration with the conflation of politics, social issues, diversity, lack of quality, and supposed historical inaccuracies. These are all separate and complex issues and at times in this thread, they are being treated as one single element.
You got the attention of one of the above-named authors. She’s reading this blog piece and doubling down in her Twitter feed. She states that readers who don’t support her or other authors’ political beliefs don’t deserve their books.
Well, that’s OK, really. She, and any authors, have the right to express their beliefs just as AAR’s readers do. I think what this column’s responses show is that many readers AREN’T buying books that don’t work for those readers. I’m all for authors writing the books they want to just as I am for readers being able to read what they love.
Good luck to her in her quest to find readers who perfectly tow whatever political line she espouses. And better luck to her in her ongoing quest to rip her books out of the hands of readers who don’t agree with her every political statement. I’m sure she’s glad to take that MAGA coin no matter what she says.
But to put those Tweets in perspective, the author in question hasn’t written a non-white heroine or hero in years. AAR is more diverse than their output just judging from the last names of its reviewers.
And yes, I’m talking to you, Sarah “My Heroines all All White” McLean and Elizabeth “Black people existed before 1200?” Kingston. Where are your diverse heroines? Where are your diverse heroes?
Hooray for your socially rebellious heroines who run around caring about the poor and unjustly downtrod while being as white as a cup of yogurt. Shitting on readers who don’t like your cookie cutter plots in public won’t get you anywhere. They don’t have to accept the same story being pushed at them over and over again as if it’s revolutionary.
When you’re not giving your non-white readers someone to relate to, you’re not helping the discourse move.
Yikes! Can we keep name-calling out of this thread, please?
Saying someone’s white is name-calling now?
No–I meant the authors. In my perfect world, threads like this at AAR would avoid any personal attacks.
I don’t think that pointing out that these two women, both of whom are white as snow and are trying to open up a discussion about diversity while not providing diverse content to their readers is personally insulting. But all right.
If you’re gonna call out an author by name who is putting in work to empower people then why don’t you sign your name to your post. Otherwise, you are a troll.
Her plots aren’t cookie cutter: in fact her recent successes show that.
Lack of diversity? Maybe that’s a fair criticism. Have you asked her why she doesn’t write in the view point of POC?
She DOES, however, continually advocate for the authors and books of POC. Which, from a white person standpoint, its more vital to hear the POC’s own stories and perspectives in their words than that of a white person espousing then.
Also: yes it’s her work. Her time. You don’t like the messages of her books or what’s she’s writing then move along! Because there’s plenty who do.
This is offensive as hell, because she listens to criticism and takes it in stride. And what is happening here isn’t criticism it’s attacking to destroy. And that ain’t cool.
Gwen, as someone who’s experienced flat-out racism in this community – as in being told to my face i’m a “dirty k***k c**t” and a ‘nasty s***k’ by other people in other places in the romance world. Let me tell you one thing.
I am tired of nice white lady allies patting me on the back and telling me I’m a good person and boosting marginalized voices mostly so they can look like good girls while not writing characters who look like me, sound like ,me, or live like me. I’m glad more people will read diversely because of her, but she, Dare and the others aren’t doing any material help by churning out more white people whitely traipsing about England.
I haven’t asked her why she doesn’t write POC characters because i don’t care about her excuses – she’s not doing it. She’s not putting the work in. And she easily could and get a sensitivity reader if she were so inclined.
As to you’re ‘don’t like don’t read’ message, I’m afraid I won’t be doing that. Is that your reaction to the Linda Howards and Bertrice Smalls of the world?
You are speaking from a white standpoint. Maybe don’t do that. And maybe if you ‘take criticism in stride’ don’t try to shut down critical voices.
By the way, thousands of people bought Post Malone’s last album. Popularity means nothing. when it comes to quality. I don’t have the power to destroy McLean or Malone. I’m just one person, but I’m not going to sit down and listen after years of “look at me! I’m a good person!”.
(The reply button isn’t available on your latest reply that’s why this is up here)
I don’t know you or can speak to your experiences. They sound awful and horrific to deal with. In terms of “don’t like her story move along” comment that’s in connection with the idea you put out there that she’s writing cookie cutter plots.
The MAGA comment and the idea that she’s a “nice white lady” and the message you’re perpetuating is absurd. If you are a marginalized, POC then you’re attacking someone who is working as an ally in society in more ways than one. She’s not only a consumer of marginalized POC’s work, but reviews and pushes their work with her voice and written word to a wide mass of people. Could she fight more in this? Maybe, I’m not sure if all the publishing and newspaper barriers that exist. You brought up politics and it’s contradictory that you’re attacking someone who is fighting for these rights and voices. The politics of her books do the same. “Nice white lady” patting your back doesn’t apply because yes she follows it up with action in more ways than one.
However, again regarding her lack of use of POC or marginalized characters. Yes asking her the question is actually important. Because you’re running off the assumption that she’s intentionally cow-towing to the white masses. It’s not about excuses but understanding the why. Again in my interactions and discussion with POC they want their voices and works heard not that of another white person.
Holding them accountable for the lack of color isn’t a bad thing, it’s needed criticism and vital. It pushes conversations and actions forward. I would follow that up with this. Do you believe their writing can and will evolve? Her books have evolved over the course of her career and really since DOTD has escalated that. I do hope that she includes more voices and POC in her work going forward. I’m actually confident she will.
Every body has power. You’re written word is read by others which they either agree and it infuses them or they disagree with and it irritates them. This idea that you can’t influence no body is inaccurate. Your comments alone influenced me to argue back. I would challenge you to rethink that mindset because the only way you truly have no power is staying silent.
Speaking from a white standpoint is what I’ve got. I can’t live the life of another. And I’m not going to pretend to know what that’s like. But what I can do is listen and advocate and push their voices forward. As an ally. Fighting and destroying allies isn’t the answer. Telling them how they can do better and how we can help is.
[I don’t know you or can speak to your experiences.]
This is exactly where you should’ve stopped talking. Exactly and precisely. But since we’re playing the “my white faves are the bestest and goodest!” game…
Guess what, Gwen? As a marginalized POC I have the right to reject the “help” of white allies. I have the right to not bow and scrape if I smell bullshit in the wind. I have the right to say ‘you aren’t doing enough’. I do not have to say “oh, how lovely it is that this person reads diversely and boosts marginalized voices!” when all of their heroes and heroines are white, neurotypical and straight. For all of the help they think they’re giving the community, they’re just writing the same plots over and over again with the same heroes and heroines. It still doesn’t diversify their output. That’s playing the nice white lady game, the same game you’re playing right now.
So no, I do not owe McLean and Dare or any other author who’s climbed on their high horse about this subject while writing more white characters my time, my Tweets, or my questions. I do not give a damn what they have to say on the subject. I don’t want to hear their excuses. I’m not going to pat their backs and tell them they’re being good girls. They could improve, but it’s too little too late. They stepped into this situation knowing what sort of books they write.
[I’m not sure if all the publishing and newspaper barriers that exist]
Then they could self-publish. There are hundreds of books on Amazon that feature black and brown leads of all shapes, sizes and ability.
Out of all of the authors mentioned in this thread who have dragged their asses into this conversation, only a handful have written non-white, non-neuro typical, non-straight heroes or heroines. I will give Tessa Dare credit for writing non-neurotypical characters. I will give Courtney Milan credit for writing non-neurotypical and non-straight and non-gender conforming characters. But the rest of them? Nice white kids on parade. Now I wonder why that might be? It couldn’t be that they’re courting the WalMart audience for money! No, publishing is a pure art form and no one ever makes money from it. Would you like to buy part of this nice bridge I just bought in San Francisco?
I’m not saying that #ownvoices romances aren’t important and that they shouldn’t be read or boosted from here to the heavens. I’m an #ownvoices author. Do I want to read the stories of non-white people as written by non-white people? Fucking yes. But I’m also saying that white authors can do better than they are right now. I’m saying that writing about people like me doesn’t require some ridiculous feat of strength to pull off. I’m a human being, just like they are. I am not some science fiction creature.
They have no excuses. This is not some arcane science. Jenny Holliday is white and she’s written about Asian characters credibly. That’s just one example I can think of off the top of my head.
[Speaking from a white standpoint]
Don’t do that. I don’t want your ‘white standpoint’. I don’t want your ally perspective. Don’t let’s fight the real enemy me. Sit down and be quiet. Accept that I think your hero isn’t perfect.
Can’t reply to a comment, but have to do a new one.
In reply to the Amazon comments;
At least half of the authors on the Amazon historical romance best-selling lists don’t exist. They’re being produced in bulk, the main place being Taiwan by click-farmers and synonimisers. They take tropes and get a ghostwriter to make something out of them. Or they will take a lot of books, slice them up and put them back together – a bit here, a bit there, and then get somebody to smooth them out a bit.
The books are either put out under fake names, very often, though not always, alliterative, and put out at 99 cents on Amazon. They then buy reviews to get the book into the top 100 and use click farms to page through the books and game KU. Some books are sold to people who again, buy the reviews and game the system.
As long as it sells, Amazon will turn a blind eye. The case of Christine Serruya, who is now back and selling books again, highlighted this.
The fact that I can describe this so accurately shows you how much Amazon cares about reforming their system. To them a book is a computer mouse, or a set of makeup brushes, just a unit they can sell. (Their publishing arm excepted, that is a different thing altogether).
Two issues emerge here – that Amazon doesn’t care enough to reform their broken system, and that Gresham’s Law is alive and well.
That’s super depressing to hear that. I suspect it’s also true in contemporary romance.
I see what some are saying. I’m bored to death with raked and dukes and people not knowing how to address them properly. But most the authors listed are victims of the wider problem of lack of originality when appealing to the Heyer/white cishet historian version of history, with a bit of romance genre gloss. They aren’t doing anything revolutionary anymore. Whereas, you have authors like Eva Leigh, who get dismissed as inaccurate or anachronistic, but her books, with one exception, have been incredibly entertaining. The books that divert from the traditional white Regency world, like those by Vanessa Riley, are a breath of fresh air and ten times more accurate than the scores of alphahole duke books I see on the shelves and pass up because I’ve read them before. Cat Sebastian’s latest books talk about gender and sexuality beyond the typical cishet identity and how it’s always existed. And I was just informed of a book published in 1879 that completely goes against the expected Victorian patriarchal notions. Historical romance needs something new that isn’t the aristocracy, which many American authors can’t seem to get right anyway, at least not while also making them unique and compelling, and it’s out there in history if people are willing to look past the obvious sources.
Hmm… maybe I need to give Eva Leigh another chance. Her Zoe Archer historical fantasy adventure books didn’t work for me, so I didn’t try her Eva Leigh books. I haven’t heard of Vanessa Riley, so will give her books a look-see. Piper Huguley is another author I’ve been meaning to try. Thanks for the recs.
I’ve really enjoyed several of Leigh’s books.
Courtney, I’m curious about the book published in 1879 you mention!
Late to the party but very much in agreement. Lately I’ve noticed that I turn to HR to immerse myself in a world with clearly defined social rules or expectations. It doesn’t mean I don’t want these rules turned on their heads sometimes, but I do want them acknowledged and issues resolved despite or because of these societal expectations. Too many of my former go-to-authors are writing such modern characters that I don’t get that same sense of history like I do from Austen or Heyer. I’m not sure if I’m expressing well exactly what’s missing but I rarely can achieve that submersion into the past that I crave. (I did really enjoy Mia Vincy’s debut.)
I decided to branch out into other historical sub genres and found Ellen O’Connell and I’m so glad I did.
I’m not giving up on HR but it’s been a discouraging few years.
I think what makes it more complex is that there are too many things that are hitting us over the head simultaneously. One or two of these factors alone wouldn’t be as big a deal, but when you’re hit over the head with all of them every time you pick up a book and it’s in your face in popular culture as well, it’s just too much.
I don’t expect historical romance to be as accurate as historical fiction. It’s the skill of the author and my own ability to engage with the characters that allows me to suspend belief. The degree to which we can suspend belief will be different for everyone and probably also has a lot to do with how much we know about the history, setting and culture the author is writing about. However, I do expect the characterization to be believable within the context of the plot, setting and theme the author has constructed and any internal rules they’ve established. If you’re going to write about a 19th century suffragette, at least make some effort to show her within the context of her time (and less smug, please!). I personally am more put off by excessive virtue signaling than minor historical inaccuracies.
Personally, I want to engage with the book, not the author, and it’s hard to be fair to the text when you know too much about an author. Sometimes author intentions can’t be known, and sometimes it gets distorted by hype and their own fan base shaping reader opinions. There’s just too much noise. Years ago, we were far more insulated from the opinions of other readers and the political opinions of authors. It’s nearly impossible to get away from it, even if you barely use the internet or social media. However, staying completely away makes discovering new books difficult. A lot of the social media tantrums might have root causes that deserve our consideration, but too many of them also show a complete lack of understanding of human nature or they’re instigated by people for questionable reasons and to manipulate people. To fulfill their expectations, the author would have to ignore their own inspirations and ideas and how humans realistically behave and are motivated. I think authors owe themselves the story they want to tell (not the story others want them to write, reflecting their own worldviews). Even if it’s a story I don’t like, there are probably other readers out there who will. And here is another thing. If I’m asked for an opinion on a book that I dislike, I’ll say why I dislike it, but I’ll also attempt to acknowledge some positives (f there are any). I will also MOVE ON! I won’t go on crusade to lambast the book or author every chance I get.
I also think there are just too many books vying for people’s attention. I don’t think we had as many choices in the past as we do today. That’s not necessarily a bad thing–there’s something out there for nearly everyone if you look hard enough–but my sense is that the review network is an incestuous and often very organized group (a lot of them know and interact with one another professionally and in real life) and too much of one dominant ideology that is quick to shame and shut down opinions that diverge from their own. They take their choir with them everywhere they go to ensure they have someone to agree and support every word they say. I’m tired of it, and I expect a lot of people are, given that many opinions go unexpressed.
I agree with all of this!
And here’s the thing that really irks me vis-a-vis historical romance: Look at the current romance best-selling ebooks on Amazon. In the top 100 paid and the top 100 free there are many books that are as un-PC as you can get, most self-published. And yet publishers are terrified that if they publish books with controversial–so narrowly defined!–themes, they’ll be trashed all over social media. Books are being pulled PRE-PUBLICATION due to social media temper tantrums. My suspicion is that many of those non-PC books–often by authors who churn one out every couple of months–sell precisely because they are incautious.
It’s very well summed up in “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure” by: Jonathan Haidt, Greg Lukianoff. I read this earlier this year and, though not shocked, was nonetheless, saddened. So different from when I was at the University of California from ’67 to ’71. So much going on – the killings of RFK and MLK, the ’68 Democratic convention in Chicago, Kent State, Viet Nam, friends coming home in boxes, blah, blah. But we were challenged with ideas, books and situations that we did not necessarily like, agree with or accept but that was TOUGH! We were expected to read, to learn and then argue our corner and see how we could change things. Not fall over in a mess of complaints, safe places, rooms with teddy bears, etc. I shudder at some of it. Makes me want to be pretty violently sick.
Critical thinking seems to have gone out of fashion.
As a teacher, I see, every day, how much we are NOT preparing children and young people for real life today by oversanitising everything and insulating them from nasty things like failure. I can’t even say – nicely – “that’s the wrong answer, have another go” – I have to pussyfoot around it and find another, less direct way to say it in case I injure someone’s fragile self-esteem. Regardless of whether that’s the right approach or not, you can bet if someone in a paid job makes a mistake nobody will be there to mollycoddle them.
Off topic, but just another example of how people are becoming afraid to tell it like it is for fear of upsetting someone.
Yup, tell it like it is. And that’s what, to round off the argument here, too much HR is failing to do with too much inaccuracy!!
I promise not to do that, Caz…. ;)
I am currently reading Jennifer Weiner’s Mrs. Everything–it follows two women from their 50s childhood through today. It’s wonderful and is a real wakeup call for anyone who thinks the way to solve social/financial/racial inequity is to do so by refusing to work with those who come from a different perspective. I recommend it highly.
I don’t do much in the way of social media, I don’t even have a Facebook page. But I think people jumping all over ideas they have barely thought about is rarely a good idea. I know they have impact, but taking the opinions of the masses with such seriousness should be carefully considered. I understand why artists and public persons want to create and behave in ways that don’t make waves. No one wants to be attacked.
But some of our greatest works of literature have depicted awful things; Heathcliff and Cathy savaging one another emotionally, Mr Rochester’s highly inappropriate attempt to marry Jane Eyre when he was already married, the societal upheavals and violence depicted in les Miserables, nearly everything Poe ever wrote, just to name a few. Would those things be published today? It’s doubtful, imo. And if they were, I can certainly see the Bronte sisters taking a public drubbing for their dark, depressing, yet brilliant gothic novels.
So I think that writers need to be brave, they need to write what their gut tells them to write, and self-publish If they must. I want to hear authentic voices, I want to read about original ideas, and I want this in all genres and in non-fiction too, which I also read.
As readers, we have an important way to vote – our wallets! And when you do sometimes find yourself slogging through uninspired crap, write to the publisher. Complain. Tell them what you do want to read, and exactly what you don’t.
The twitterverse can go hang as far as I’m concerned!
” I understand why artists and public persons want to create and behave in ways that don’t make waves. No one wants to be attacked.”
Sometimes it’s a question of money too. I have a day job, but if I relied on writing to pay my bills, it might come down to two choices. Either I write about dukes and social-crusader heroines and earn generous advances from publishers, or I go it solo, pay for everything out of my own pocket, and see if the public can find my original stories among the millions of self-published romances out there.
I say “might” because I still believe there’s more variety and creativity in the industry. But I also feel that there are reasons authors might not be comfortable with taking risks.
I am sure every writer has a reason why they do or don’t self pub. Economic realities are exactly that..reality. Everyone wants you to feed your kids, keep the heat on, and have a savings account. And certainly no one wants to see you abused online or elsewhere by the unthinking masses. I want you to write, but it is heartbreaking that you must write what publishing houses think we want to read instead of what you dream of writing. Because I want to read the book you dream of, not the book someone else tells you is profitable.
But those of us who are readers have a voice, too. We need to demand better content from publishers, perhaps consider serving writers by becoming freelance editors or cover artists ourselves if we have such talents, and stop buying third rate books. Hit them in the pocketbook. That will get their attention like nothing else.
A lot of this goes in cycles. Some 9 years ago it felt like the contemporaries had a quality problem – I read few of them, most seemed to be focused on rather silly romantic suspense plots and I was reading few. Dear Author even run a bunch of posts under “Save a contemporary” heading, saying that single title contemporaties were “a hard sell”. https://dearauthor.com/misc/contestsgiveaways/save-the-contemporary-one-book-at-a-time/
Now things have turned and I read lots of great contemporaries but historicals have a quality problem and it feels like it narrowed in the same way as contemporaries did 10 years ago – then it was “suspense or nothing” in contemporaries; now it is “duke and heroine with a cause or nothing” in historicals. I have to trust that it will sort itself out eventually and the cycle will be on the upswing again.
I was just thinking about this campaign the other day!!! I was trying to find a good HR to read and thought “Forget ‘Save the Contemporary’! It worked and now we need to work on historicals.”
I’m really enjoying this thread – and agree with nearly everything you have all said. Mark’s comments too, although as rare as hen’s teeth recently, are as dry and pertinent as always. Can I endorse the suggestion made to read Brenda Jagger? Also, although technically more ‘historical faction’ – you may want to try Rosemary Hawley Jarman. She wrote excellent books set in the Plantagenet Era, although she has also written on Agincourt. Finally if you really want to get away from Dukes, on my DIK list is Beverley Hughesdon’s ‘Song of Songs’ set in WW1. It is a love story between Lady Helena, and a northern working class train driver. It encompasses the Boer war: the trenches: British post-war class struggles and attitudes and has a cracking love story…
Oh, there’s a name from my reading youth: Rosemary Hawley Jarman. I loved WE SPEAK NO TREASON, a different view of Richard III, and CROWN IN CANDLELIGHT, about the illicit affair between Henry V’s widow and Owen Tudor. Of course, I’ve read neither book in 40 years, but I seem to remember them being quite sexually explicit. Possibly the first historical fiction to be influenced by the bodice-ripping trend of the mid-1970s.
Much to my surprise Brenda Jagger’s Barforth trilogy has been digitized. I had to hunt down paperbacks when I read them several years ago.
Regarding the accuracy issue, this topic is a perennial for the community of readers. This was an AAR column in 2003: https://allaboutromance.com/at-the-back-fence-158/.
Regarding being tired of dukes, they are a symptom of a broader inflation problem that shows up in a lot of fiction: title inflation, wealth inflation, power inflation, destructiveness inflation, etc. Heyer managed to write a lot of books with Regency settings with only a few dukes among the protagonists. In the years since, dukes have become common. Some years ago, a millionaire was a big deal, now books are littered with billionaires. In paranormal / fantastic / science fictional stories, especially series, there is a large subset with characters and/or devices that grow more powerful with each story. In the “Golden Age” SF of E. E. “Doc” Smith (Skylark series and Lensmen series), conflicts grew from continental scale to planetary to galactic or intergalactic. Inflation occurs in the works of single authors, and in whole genres. I don’t know a cure.
I think we’re in the trough of disillusionment in the hype cycle. Fortunately, it should be followed by the slope of enlightenment.
More on the hype cycle, which addresses technology specifically, but you could apply it to a lot of other things:
Thank you for your comments. I write historicals and after many, many years of rejections due to my time period, not my writing, I’ve decided to self publish. I also quit reading most of the afore mentioned authors because I am bored with Dukes, and the tropes that are popular now. I reread my old books, and the only new author I’ve read is Kerrigan Byrne, because she writes dark historicals like Anne Stuart used to. Otherwise, most of my new reads are from British Authors. Francine Howarth is amazing, Helen Hollick, Annie Whitehead, to name a few. Check them out. And I have a few good friends who write historicals and the pressure to sell is immense. It’s no different than in the movies, remake, rehash something old because it sold in the past. Money and profit trumps everything and kills the creative art that’s truly out there. It sad. So I will choose to self publish, if only to please myself and say I did it.
Good for you, Ms. Lynn. And good luck!
I notice you write stories set in the Restoration Period. Awesome! Have you read “Forever Amber” by Kathleen Winsor? It’s a real page turner with a fiery heroine hot on the trail of the man she loves- while engaging in several rendezvous along the way. It is historical fiction rather than historical romance, and is surprisingly frank in its treatment of sexuality for a book published in the 1940s. There’s no on-page sex, and it was Banned in Boston, but it’s a real treat to read. And I’m told it was very well researched.
I think some of what stifles HR and even art in general lately is also a fear of creating something that will be controversial. I’ve watched with dismay as authors have, post publication, pulled books because something in them was offensive to someone. I’ll simply never agree that one of art’s goals should be to be non-offensive.
I agree wholeheartedly with that! Art is meant to push boundaries, to make people think, to make them feel. Artists cannot and should not be responsible for how their work is interpreted; it just *is*, and the interpretation is up to the individual.
I believe strongly that the amount of rage and vengefulness in a global social media debate gets to be too much for people.
It would be too much for me.
Another reason for blandness prevailing.
Like Mark below, I see no cure, for this either.
Arriving at this conversation a day late.
I am disappointed by much of the historical romance I’ve read lately. I don’t know if it’s possible or practical to include gender/sexuality/race/equality within the content of a single romance novel and still have room to write an engrossing romantic love story. It’s often a case of more is too much. I’m not troubled by lots of dukes or familiar tropes if the rest of the storytelling is strong. Compelling characters, interesting settings, clever writing and lots of romance. If those elements are well done, the author can impart a message, too. But when I feel an author is patronizing me and/or ‘teaching me a lesson,’ right out of the gate, I’m usually too fired up to enjoy whatever comes next (which, btw, if often more of the same).
I can’t speak to what goes on when a writer hands their work off to a publisher, and the story changes to meet whatever niche the publisher needs it to fill.
I think that could be another @ask AAR column – what does happen afterwards? I have noticed a lot more creative, quality storytelling coming out of authors who self-publish, though. I just finished the new KJ Charles, Gilded Cage, and it’s brilliant. (Review to come). KJ self-publishes, is also a wonderful historical romance writer (this is important too!), and seamlessly incorporates diverse and inclusive casts of characters into all of her novels. The Lilywhite Boys series is yet another wonderful example. Everything flows from great storytelling – the author doesn’t pander to her audience or beat us over the head with societal messages. The characters and their history and experiences are intrinsic to the plot, enhancing the story in every way. Historical accuracy is also important to this author and it shows. And while KJ may include members of the aristocracy in her stories, they’re usually largely secondary characters and often the target for derision and mockery. I sort of love how hard she goes after her dukes.
I want to mention one other important reason I haven’t enjoyed historical romance as much this year. There are simply TOO MANY other terrific books to compare to it! Yes, I think HR writers are struggling – and it’s a bummer. But historical and contemporary suspense writers are absolutely killing it, and I’ve lost track of how many new favorite contemporary writers I’ve added to my GR shelves lately. Off the top of my head? Kennedy Ryan, Kate Clayborn, Keira Andrews, Annabeth Albert, Molly O’Keefe, Gregory Ashe, Amy Lane, Roan Parrish, Talia Hibbert, Sidney Bell, Charlie Adhara, Jenn Burke, Sally Malcolm, Lily Morton, Hailey Turner…And that Beth O’Leary book (The Flatshare) – THAT WAS A DEBUT and it was tremendous. Honestly, I’m so surprised it hasn’t become the crazy wild success that The Hating Game was – it’s JUST AS GOOD AND LOVELY AND WONDERFUL – go read it!).
It’s a pity if you only read historical romance and/or only read m/f historical romance (for lots of reasons!). I hope/believe HR will shake out these growing pains and we’ll see better quality stories in the future, but I think it’s going to take some time. I’m still loving Elizabeth Kingston, Joanna Chambers, Julie Ann Long, KJ Charles, Bec McMaster (so great!), Loretta Chase, Stella Riley…and more & I”m also looking forward to the newest Vincy. But with so much variety in Romancelandia, there’s plenty to keep me happy while I not-so-patiently wait.
Oh, one more thing. I spent the summer bingeing the back catalogs of many of my favorite historical writers. I’d read all of these novels before, but needed some comfort reading to get me through a tough spell. I read Kleypas, Thomas, Duran and a few more bigger names, and FWIW, now that I’ve read so much more historical romance….well, these books are good but not quite as AMAZING as I once thought. And I realized my impression of newer titles was sometimes negatively affected by a remembered love for these older titles, even though they weren’t quite as brilliant as I remembered. I glommed my way through all the big names during those early halcyon romance reading days…and time and experience has substantially altered my opinion of more than a few of them.
Em’s life: More Than You Needed (or Wanted) to Know.
AKA, Life on the Soapbox
Em, so true!
I reread and not that maybe, my taste has changed, and those old loves are weaker than I thought.
(But they used grammar correctly….. sigh)
I’d add fantasy to that. I’ve recently read Holly Black’s latest and Philip Pullman’s latest and both are fabulous with strong female leads who are determined to upend the power structure.
I must admit, I find it impossible to read novels based during colonial times in India (I’ve even recently found myself unable to read Heyer’s Black Sheep). There’s such blindness about the fact that the English were the bad guys during that time. It’s like reading novels about slave-owners as heroes.
It’s becoming increasingly common now, and adding in to why I’m turning off historicals
agree with many of the thoughts expressed here. recently got back into HR after a three year long gap and have been craving character driven stories. i read judith ivory’s black silk this past week and was surprised-it never would have been published today. authors today are much less likely to write ‘grey’ characters or explore complex issues well. there’s a childish simplicity to how many HR authors write serious issues and too often a boring mystery is used to compensate for a lack of character development. would very much be grateful for recommendations re: interesting, character focused HR
Wow! A real outpouring of emotion here! I love the debate, the comments and the investment AAR staff and members are making in their reading and sharing. It seems there is a real divergence of thought on inaccuracy in HR. I read HR almost exclusively but I have two TBR piles and I read from both with the aim of balancing my reading. I guess that deep down I feel that as I read (and enjoy!) what some would call fluff that I must read serious stuff as well – but I enjoy it too and I have a list of books that are not overwhelmingly academic but have given me a framework over the years in which place HR. I would suggest very, very strongly that some would-be and even experienced HR authors ought to look at my list and pick out a few to read. I won’t list all 34 here but if anyone wants to see it, I will gladly send it to them by email or if the AAR Goddesses want me to, I will post it in full here. It’s exclusively social history about food, dress, sex, housekeeping, servants, social life, birth, death, filth (yes we can’t completely ignore it but it’s good to at least be aware that life was not sanitised), landscape, society and its hierarchy, famous women and men, social leaders and more. At the VERY least anyone writing HR set in the Regency period should read:
Georgette Heyer’s Regency World: The Definitive Guide to the People, Places and Society in her Regency Novels by Jennifer Kloester
The Private World of Georgette Heyer by Jane Aiken Hodge
However, I did say above I would get off my hobby horse (it’s now grazing in the back garden) and have a look at my “real” and electronic keeper shelves and list the HR (mainly Regency) authors that I read with real pleasure. Many are on the auto-buy list. Some are no longer with us or not writing any more. Some have been stupidly overlooked and are worth seeking out in the UBS or on line. Some have written the odd silly clangers that made me think twice about them (or produced good books at the beginning of their careers but then petered out) but I thought they all wrote well and seemed to get with the programme and did at least a modicum of research. Here goes:
Paul Allardyce (Loved “Octavia”)
Mary Balogh (peerless)
Emma Drummond (Army stories about India, the Crimea and 1st Afghan War)
Marjorie Farrell (so sadly overlooked – brilliant writer)
Valerie Fitzgerald (“Zemindar” – never produced another book. Too bad)
Anne Gracie (earlier books are the best)
Philippa Gregory (learned SO much about the Wars of the Roses from her)
Eva Ibbotson (semi YA but lovely writer with charming wit and lovely settings)
Carla Kelly (peerless)
Judith A Lansdowne (Overlooked, Big Mistake – loved “The Bedevilled Duke”)
Emily Larkin (a new find! On my TBR list now)
Edith Layton (much missed)
Elsie Lee (oldie but goodie for her Regencies)
Barbara Metzger (Excellent secondary characters, especially servants and dogs)
Mary Jo Putney
Joy Reed (also overlooked – elegant writer with great characterisations)
Stella Riley (another new find – wonderful writer)
Anya Seton (not read “Katherine”? A Must Read)
Joanna Trollope (writing as Caroline Harvey – best is “Parson Harding’s Daughter” set in India – frequent re-read))
Gayle Wilson (not the mysteries)
Patricia A Wright (about Czarist 19th c Russia – lovely: “A Space of the Heart”)
I just read my first Elisabeth Fairchild. She’s wonderful!
I would add Lucinda Brant to your list. She has written several really good HRs. Her books mainly take place during the 1700s so it’s a nice to read something that is not a Regency.
I’ve just recently put Noble Satyr on my kindle – she’s new to me and I look forward to seeing how it goes.
Love Anya Seton. My copy of Katherine is falling apart from the many rereads. Avalon, Green Darkness, and Devil Water are other keepers. I don’t think publishers would know how to classify her books today as they had elements of history, romance, mystery, gothic suspense, etc.,, but I don’t think they would fit into one category or formula. Particularly today, readers don’t like to read about adultery (Katherine had an ongoing affair with John of Gaunt while he was married to his second wife). Times and readers preferences have changed. And that may be part of the problem with why there aren’t as many good HRs being written. The stories have become too sanitized in order to cater to today’s viewpoints.
KATHERINE was one of my gateways to historical fiction (I also read a lot of Jean Plaidy and the now-rarely-mentioned Margaret Campbell Barnes back in the day)—but I think the key is to remember that, with KATHERINE, Seton was writing historical fiction, not historical romance. She did a tremendous amount of research into the lives of Katherine Swynford, John of Gaunt, Geoffrey Chaucer (Katherine’s brother-in-law), etc., for the book. She was fictionalizing real lives and events. This is opposed to historical romance where, possibly, a historical personage might walk through a scene, but the main characters are usually purely the product of the author’s imagination. I’m not sure a historical romance featuring decades of adultery and many illegitimate children would appeal to many readers, but that was the actual truth of Katherine’s life—and Seton made her both sympathetic and relatable.
All of the comments here go a long way to articulating why my romance reading has made a complete 180 over the last seven or so years. In 2012, I was reading about 95% HR, throwing in the occasional contemporary. Now, I read contemporaries almost exclusively. Looking at my reading log for this year so far, I haven’t read a single new HR (but I have done a couple of Mary Balogh rereads). I figured, if most HR was basically going to be “contemporaries in corsets,” I might as well ditch the corsets and just read contemporaries where at least it made sense for the heroine to have a career, not be overly focused on being married by 25, have opinions, confront reactionary attitudes, etc.
While I agree that Katherine is historical fiction rather than historical romance, 40 or 50 years ago it was marketed and shelved with the romances in stores and libraries. That is part of the problem with modern romance publishing, the genre is very narrowly defined. We like our escapist fantasy and HEAs so that narrowly defined genre isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does make it difficult to inject some fresh ideas into the stories.
Jean Plaidy was my go-to author in my teens! I still maintain I learned more actual history from reading her books than I ever did at school!
And you’ve made the point I was going to make about Katherine; it’s a great read, but it’s HF rather than HR.
I have many of these authors on my bookshelf. Will need to look for those I don’t.
I’d like to add:
Dinah Dean (Cockermouth Mail is my favorite)
Most are either no longer with us or not writing.
Seconding “The Cockermouth Mail”! Excellent Christmas book.
Yes, Dinah Dean. Also loved “That Sweet Enemy” by her. The “Cockermouth Mail” is definitely, IASHM, a lovely Christmas re-read.
Looks like we have similar taste, Elaine. I’d add Brenda Jagger to your list. I think her books are out of print, but you can find a few at open library. Her Barforth family saga is well worth tracking down.
I would love to have this list of reference books, Elaine – I’d rather not post my email here but if there’s a way to post the list in a comment or as a separate page on the site that would be such a wonderful resource. I love histories focused on domesticity/life at home. One book that’s come to mind because of some of the comments here is Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale. It’s one of the best works of history I’ve ever read, based on the diary of a midwife working in Maine in the years just after the Revolutionary War. It’s astonishing.
I’m happy to act as intermediary – firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi Katherine. I’ve just emailed Caz with the list. Hope you find it interesting!
Thank you so much, Elaine, and thanks Caz – this is lovely of you and I’m looking forward to diving in!
Historical romance was my first love in the genre, but nowadays I read it less and less. I can only talk about the kind of book I like, which is NOT Tessa Dare or Julia Quinn, as I don’t usually connect with these light authors. I prefer intense and emotional love stories.
When I check my favourite novelists in the genre, what do I find? Well, Lisa Kleypas, keeps on publishing great romantic novels. But others… Laura Kinsale or Cecilia Grant? Not a new book in years or decades. Courtney Milan? I have this feeling that she is not interested in telling you a love story but other things that detract from the romantic core of the novel. I guess Joanna Bourne will publish something, in the future, all her novels are magnificent.
I haven’t seen anything written by recent authors that are even this close to those high standards that these authors have set in the past.
So, in the end, whenever I want something historical with a certain quality, I keep on going back to anything written by Loretta Chase, Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverley or Mary Balogh. And if I want something really stylish, I buy a Georgette Heyer book.
I guess it is because, it doesn’t matter how trite the plots could be, those authors knew (the ones that are not with us today) and they still know (those that we can still count among ourselves) how to write in a very attractive way, with style and no need to put sex on each page, or try to be funny, with no depth of character..
But I’m 50 years old, perhaps younger readers will not enjoy a good Balogh, for instance. Perhaps somebody in her twenties or thirties want something ‘funny’ and sexy rather than an intense emotional journey with a little bit of respect towards the zeitgeist of the time in which the novel is supposed to be set.
I’m so sick and weary of bad research, bad writing, dukes, spies, modern women in a 19th century story … and did I mention bad writing?
I love historical romances. I cut my teeth on them in the 1980’s, perhaps the Golden Age of Historical Romances, Western Romances, and Regency romances…
So I am keeping Thrift Books in business with my search for the romances I remember loving — Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart, Patricia Veryan, Celeste DeBlasis, Rosanne Bittner, Lavyrle Spencer, Christine Monson, Woodiwiss, Brandewyne, M.M.Kaye, Diana Brown, Joy Freemen, and so many more who have faded from the front lines, but have a lyricism and intelligence that outshines the dull, repetitive, formulaic, poorly researched “historical” romances that have been published the last five years, or more. I call out Mary Balogh as an exception; her stories still charm and impress me.
I have joined Book of the Month club to expand my literary horizons, and for the most part the bad taste of 2019 historical romances is replaced by a stretching of my reading wings
Authors who read this should forward these posts to their publishers. Couldn’t hurt! And I challenge those publishers to come here and open an honest dialogue with us. You know…the people who pay their salaries?
I don’t believe that I can add anything new to this discourse, it’s been all well expressed and I 110% agree. I have been in a deep reading slump with HR for more than two years now. I have dropped many authors – Dare, MacLean, Heath, Jefferies, Quinn, Hunter…….I wonder, if they realize or their publishers, how hard it will be for them to get us back.
That’s a really good point. I still make a point of picking up books by new authors because I strongly believe that’s part of the reviewer’s job and I can do it without any financial risk. Thankfully, some of those times, I’ve struck gold, but I could probably count those on the fingers of one hand – the dross far outweighs the gems. But the issue of once-reliable authors who are no longer reliable is interesting. I’ve said in various places that there are authors I used to pick up regularly whose books I’ve stopped reading – but what would it take for me to go back to them? Probably a review by someone whose opinions I trust telling me it’s worth my time. But publishers can’t rely on that (and neither can authors).
As with so many other things today, everything is about the now and sod the future. Many of the newer authors who appear get a 2 or 3 book deal and then disappear when sales aren’t great (almost always because the books aren’t great) – and I honestly believe part of the problem is that they’re being contracted too soon, before they’ve really honed their abilities, and are then left to their own devices without much editorial support. As someone here said, there are no “historical editors” – that said, I’m one, and I do know a couple of other developmental/content editors who specialise in HR – but I doubt any of the mainstream publishers use any.
I think that with the way things are going, there won’t be any “real” historicals around any more – well, certainly not that are published in the mainstream. It’s going to be up to the Indie authors to keep the flag flying…
I think another big issue contributing to this is that publishers have pigeon holed HR so much that there’s very little room for growth and creativity. It must be Regency. It must have a Duke/Earl (I think a marquess or viscount can pass but they’re not preferred). The same story can only be told so many ways.
I know someone writing american historicals that was told “move this to England and make the hero a duke and we’ll buy it” from a big publisher.
I’ve heard this from a few authors as well – and our very own Marian had the same experience I believe, when she submitted a (very good) historical in which the hero was (I think) an architect. Nope, she was told, give him a title and then maybe it might sell.
There are so many people like me and many of those commenting here who would happily read HR about non-titled people, and there are some authors – Carla Kelly and Marguerite Kaye come to mind immmediately – who DO write about commoners, but they’re in the minority.
Thanks, Caz! The agent’s exact suggestion was “make him the heir to a large fortune”. I rewrote the manuscript to show why the hero’s fiancee agreed to marry him despite his not being rich, but it still didn’t work for the agent, so that was that.
I wasn’t prepared to make the hero titled or wealthy because there was a good reason he couldn’t be either. But if publishers and agents want rich, titled men, there’s not much point in my continuing to send manuscripts where the hero works for a living. Maybe if I ever become established enough to write about such characters, I can dust off that manuscript and try again.
I think you should self-publish. Seriously, the books of yours I’ve read have been a damn sight better written and more interesting than more than half of the stuff I’m reading being put out by traditional publishers right now.
Ugh! I am so sorry this happened to you. It goes back to what I was saying in my previous post about that article Ellen Finnigan wrote. She said that publishing houses are basically in the business of producing “ideological cheeseburgers.” In other words, they stick to the same formula no different from a fast food restaurant that never deviates from their sub-standard hamburger recipe. Because that’s, apparently, what the public wants.
Did you or your agent look into Carina Press? They have a historical fiction line, and theirs tends to deviate quite a bit from all the expected titled heroes. And Avon publishes Cat Sebastian’s work, which also tends to fall outside of mainstream Regency romance expectations.
If all else fails, would you ever consider self-publishing? I know that’s off the table for a lot of serious authors, but it seems like such a shame to have an amazing story gather dust in a trunk or on a hard drive just because all the gatekeepers are being stubborn.
Thank you both for the encouragement!
I used to be a Samhain author, back when I wrote fantasy romance, but unfortunately Samhain went out of business. I did enjoy the perks of being trade published, though – not having to pay anything upfront for good editing, formatting and cover art, as well as having a publisher’s marketing department behind me. Those are all responsibilities self-publishers have to take on.
But at this point I do plan to self-publish if I can’t get any interest from the industry. I’ll see if my current manuscript has any success (it’s a beauty and the beast inspired historical where the beauty is a photographer who wants the beast as her subject) and if it gets no response from agents or editors, at least I have another option.
As far as I know, Avon requires manuscripts to be agented (and I don’t yet have an agent). Their e-publishing arm, Avon Impulse, accepts unagented manuscripts, but I’m guessing agented and established authors come first there too, because I’ve never received anything but form rejections from them. Ditto for Carina. I do have a full of another historical romance (which Caz was generous enough to beta read) out with an agent, but it’s been three months since I sent it to her, so that’s probably a no. If I didn’t love writing so much, I’d have given up a long time ago.
You are welcome, Ms. Perera. Hang in there!
I was so sorry to hear about Samhain going out of business. What little I knew of their work, it seemed like they were willing to take chances, push boundaries, and publish authors with something original and unique to say. *Sigh* Their demise certainly doesn’t encourage other publishing houses to take similar risks.
Thanks for sharing your insights about Avon and Carina Press. It sounds like self-publishing might be a better fit for you. Good editing and cover art are the big disadvantages, as you said. And as evidenced on this blog, romance readers can be quite discerning readers. On a personal note, I don’t want to say erotica readers don’t have similar standards for quality, but I haven’t had any complaints about my self-editing or generic cover designs yet. Unfortunately, erotica is probably the one genre where you can get away with totally free self-publishing and still sell books with a minimum of complaints. More’s the pity.
I know what you mean about a love of writing keeping you from giving up. As writers, we have an inner compulsion to write even if finances don’t bear out. I think that’s why we are so easily screwed. The ancient Greeks had a saying along the lines of “Being a writer is a form of divine madness.” (The actual line may have referred to poets rather than novelists, but I like my rendition of it.) And I quite agree!
That’s interesting too because in many current HRs, the wealthy are often portrayed as evil. There’s a real disconnect there–the idea that only the hero is a good guy but everyone else like him is not–that often makes me shake my head.
Maybe what many are talking about here is a longing for more nuance?
If I am reading a really good book, I’m under its spell. Anything that jerks me out of that spell is the enemy of that book. If I read “sell the heroine,” in a book about drugs, I’m jerked out. If I read addressing a duke “my lord,” instead of “Your grace,” I’m yanked out. Any error in spelling or grammar breaks the spell.
However, most of the time, I’m never under the spell anymore. I am bored, BORED with most books. I yawn through them, get up to do the dishes, and I never go back. Even with romances I like, I don’t remember them. Part of it is that I’ve read sooo many romances over the years that I’ve “done that, seen that” a million times. Yes, I notice historical inaccuracies, but if the spell is strong enough, I don’t care, frankly. I don’t want to read about poverty in the past. I, personally, don’t yearn for a book about domestic violence or incested kids. I know. I know. I’m shallow. I love knowing the end will be happy. I, personally, don’t want real historical accuracy. I don’t want the hero declaiming about the white man’s burden and his innate superiority over women and anyone who was not European. I don’t want to read about women who didn’t believe women should have the vote (see: Queen Victoria). On the other hand, I am bored with crusading feminists who don’t want to get married, even though they have no money and no marketable skills. You know, the one who decides to infiltrate a brothel on her birthday. I am bored with the good hearted spinster who loves to read. I yawn at the alcoholic aristocrat who 1. must marry money (you know what happens, right?) or 2. has just inherited an penniless title or 3. is bored with his meaningless life, yet strangely captivated by the crusading feminist. I loved all these books the first few times I read these characters. Not now. I WANT SOME ORIGINALITY. That’s what Courtney Milan, Julie Ann Long, and Emma Chase can give us. It’s what lots of authors who continue to write but the muse is long gone once gave us. (Out of respect and love for their past works, I will omit their names, but you know them. I bought their books long after I should have, in hopes that their talent would exert itself. It never did.)
In the past, the tension in romantic movies and books was supplied by one situation: Will they, or won’t they? Now, every single romance movie or book has eliminated that question. You KNOW they will. What is particularly egregious is authors’ total distortion of past sexual mores in historical fiction. Are they afraid that today’s readers will reject attitudes and values that our society no longer shares? Must we assume ALWAYS that whatever we believe now is the TRUTH INVIOLATE? Thank God we have the proper and true attitude toward everything today, even about men and women! Today’s authors (and publishing companies, clearly) believe that even historical fiction should be just like today, except with corsets.
Isn’t it interesting the P&P and “Jane Eyre,” written a century ago still can make us laugh, worry about its characters, still engage us–even after we’ve read them ten times.? I know. It’s not fair to demand that today’s authors rise to that level. But they prove that romances with characters who believe entirely differently from us still have power. I’m never bored when I’m “experiencing” someone different from me. Few romance authors can create characters, miraculously, that we care about from page one.
Unfortunately, too many authors don’t create. They copy.
The copying is a big problem, especially when they’re copying from other authors who don’t get it right either!
“… reading a really good book, I’m under its spell. Anything that jerks me out of that spell is the enemy of that book. If I read “sell the heroine,” in a book about drugs, I’m jerked out. If I read addressing a duke “my lord,” instead of “Your grace,” I’m yanked out. Any error in spelling or grammar breaks the spell.”
And a few times, I can get back “in”. Too many “jerks”, I cannot .
This is, like you say, a completely different issue from plain old boredom.
And HR currently suffers from both.
Perfectly put, thanks!
I’m tired of dukes and don’t understand why barons aren’t good enough. I’m sure there were as many (or more) handsome, rich barons as there were dukes. I go out of my way to buy books where the hero is a commoner or something less than a duke, but dukes are so thick on the ground they are hard to avoid.
I’m tired of all the premarital sex with barely a thought of the consequences, and no, “I want to have some passion to remember in my anticipated spinsterhood” is not a good enough reason.
I don’t mind H/h with a mission, as charity and political activism did not start in the 20th C, even if it was rarer and harder in the 19th, but I do want a sense of the difficulties. Imogen Robertson wrote a wonderful historical mystery series set in late 18th C England where the heroine is quite aware of the limits placed on her as a woman. She tries to do her best within the prevailing social structures, but she chafes at the boundaries set on what is acceptable behavior. It is discouraging to read so many HR where the heroines – and sometimes the heroes – blithely ignore what is allowed and then suffer no consequences.
I agree with many of the points already made, and as a HR reader, I’ve realized that over the past couple of years, I’ve shifted over to contemporaries more and more. One thing that I would add is that I often would like to read HR set during under-utilized periods, such as the 18th century or post WWI, or even the Edwardian period. Settings too away from the UK are a great way to explore new ideas and bring some much-needed freshness to books.
I wouldn’t mind reading some westerns, actually. That was a time and place where women had to be strong and independent, especially if they lived on a ranch or farm. Women ran stores, saloons, whorehouses, eateries, they farmed and ranched, and they often had kids and siblings to take care of, too. Elizabeth Lowell used to write wonderful westerns, but I guess reader’s interests changed. Maybe some of you writers could think about that kind of historical romance?
Late Victorian era romance is interesting too, with ideas like women’s suffrage being discussed and technological advances happening in the western world. Romances set then can be fun, too!
I can forgive anything, no matter the trope, if you tell your story right. To me awful story telling is just awful – so I guess it all depends on the author’s writing skills.
What I can’t stand is a story with a ‘message’ – which is the reason why I stopped reading Courtney Milan. I get the reason behind it, but sometimes one just wants to read a simple romance story, you know?
Y0u’re right. I can forgive quite a bit if the author is telling a compelling story in a skilful way; but when that doesn’t happen, the reader isn’t caught up enough to be able to ignore the cracks.
And I’m with you on CM.
I think that Milan has always written books with “messages,” but more recently there is a didactic and somewhat strident writerly voice in her books that takes over. It takes skill to express ideas in a romance while keeping the romance front and center, and sadly, I feel that she is not expressing that skill. I’m not entirely sure anymore that romance is what she is comfortable writing. That really is a shame because she has written some superb ones. The Governess Affair is still one of my favorite romances, and it handled child abuse and the exploitation of governesses very well and in a relatively short book while never softening its focus on the main couple’s love affair. ds to be a distinction between the role ideas/messages play in any book and the skill an author uses to express ideas. All books have ideas but when they subsume the fictional elements, they feel more annoying than enjoyable and the books end up feeling less like fiction and more like a treatise.
Not that anyone has said or suggested otherwise, but just in case she’s reading: I am really, really rooting for CM, in whatever she ends up doing/writing going forward. I work in the field that she did prior to becoming a writer, and what she did within the #metoo movement was so brave, and must have been so scary, and I would totally understand if it f*d her up and f*d up her writing a little bit. And whatever she writes or doesn’t in future, I will always love and be grateful to her for The Brothers Sinister series.
Well, re-reading this, I sound condescending, and I don’t like that. So to be more precise: She’s one of my heroes for many reasons, and I hope she keeps writing whatever she feels like writing, and I look forward to more of her work.
Yes, thank you, Blackjack, for expressing my thought so eloquently.
Milan is a good author, and that’s why she was an auto buy for me up until her recent books. I used to be so amazed by her ability to write such wonderful stories with heavy topics, yet never lost sight of the romance between H/h. So you’re right, she’s always had a message in all her books. But her romance has taken a back seat lately and the message has became front and center that It’s a chore to read.
Her The Countess Conspiracy is, in my opinion, a wonderful example of “issues done right.” The heroine faces real consequences if she unveils herself as a reproductive biologist. The legal issues of marriage are connected to the science plot, not tacked on to tick more modern boxes. Historical examples of erasure of women scientists underpin the writing. It’s extremely good. And I can also see how writing like that for multiple books and at any kind of speed would be unsustainable.
Milan’s earlier works are amazingly excellent. In them, she understands what motivates humans to fall in love, to feel pain, to believe in something bigger than themselves. And in almost all of them–I’m not sure I’ve read ALL of them–she does show clearly the inequities and prejudices of the world her characters live in.
I’m tired of the “Why should historical romance be accurate? After all, it’s only fiction” argument.
Well, because the word “history” is in the description. I’m not saying that the novel should become a history textbook, but what history the author chooses to depict, should be accurate. All that “bad teeth, smelly breath” stuff is a generalisation like any other – some people had great teeth, and toothbrushes existed even back then.
If you don’t want to write history, don’t write historical romance. Write fantasy historical. Label it, at least, so saps like me don’t buy yet another book which has Big Ben in Regency Britain, or talks about “England” as if it included England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. If an author can’t be bothered to get their facts right, what chance is there for the rest of the book?
Effective storytelling should be the most important part of historical romance, but it seems to be in short supply in the last year or so. Perhaps 10 or 20 years ago, editors tightened up books they oversaw. Nevertheless, I think of Woodiwiss’s book “A Rose in Winter,” which was long and implausible, but effectively sucked many readers into its plot and became a bestseller.
Research and editing is lacking, many have said, and I agree. A particularly discouraging example was “A Conquest Impossible to Resist,” by Stephanie Laurens this summer. The plot revolves around the unusual architecture of a stable. The problem is, mares and stallions are both housed in the stable together — unbred. Stallions would never put up with being stabled next to mares coming into heat regularly. This isn’t a difficult fact to find out, but I think an increasing number of writers of Regency and other romances set in the 1800s have little or no farm knowledge. Neither do their editors. Many readers seem to lack that knowledge, too, which was fortunate for the author. I wish I could fact-check or edit Regencies, but I guess that’s a pipe dream.
There are too many dukes. I am happy to read about earls, who were still plenty rich and powerful in some places and poor and countrified in other locations. There’s also way too much contemporary oral it yet and convenience burdening some plots. If Georgette Heyer can get through a book without describing bathing, why can’t other authors?
There is a lot of pressure to reduce costs in publishing, but I wish I could buy romance hard copies with a code that would allow me to also download the volume as an ebook edition, particularly when I am buying a hardcover. At the same time, I would like to see better avenues for feedback on sloppy books and larger royalties to authors for ebooks. I am discouraged by all the authors who are self-publishing books on Amazon, since I use a Nook reader and therefore can’t buy their books. If authors and publishers could earn more, perhaps quality might triumph over quantity.
Ms. Long, that is a good point about Nook readers. Unfortunately, authors enrolled in KDP Select cannot have their e-books on other platforms, as you probably know.
Have you considered downloading a free Kindle app? It works on many devices. Although I realize people generally want to read on something that approximates the size and shape of an actual book.
As for downloading an e-book in conjunction with a hardcover, Amazon does something similar. Authors on KDP can choose to allow a free or discounted e-book with a purchase of the same paperback. Other publishers should seriously consider taking this approach. And yes, I’d like to see more hardcovers in the world again.
That’s interesting what you said about wanting “better avenues for feedback on sloppy books.” Just out of curiosity, what did you have in mind?
I would like to be able to highlight a typo, correct the spelling, have the correction supersede the typo in my ebook copy, and have the suggested correction transmitted to the publisher so future readers receive better quality downloads. This would not solve grammatical and factual problems, but a dedicated email for each title, open for say, a year, might be useful for all books, including print books.
Regarding apps: I tend to avoid apps, as I find the privacy standards slippery. In addition, I read for hours each day, and being able to switch from a back-lit screen to actual paper and then to simulated paper in the Nook works best for my eyes. Apps would tie me to back-lit screens longer than I would like.
I’ve found my people!
The inaccuracy drives me mad. I’ve almost stopped reading historical romance, even though I write it. I just can’t.
There are a few reasons. One is that the author herself is expected to take all the responsibility for getting the history right. There is no historical editor for a novel, and I don’t know of any editor offering that service.
There are egregious, insulting errors with titles, custom and practice, everything.
And you know why nobody cares? Because those books sell. In the past five plus years, the “historical” comedy is the best selling, probably because it’s the only kind the major publishers will take. Some publishers have said “we’ve tried different, but it doesn’t sell.” That’s a feeble excuse for not putting their money behind it. Authors are rejected because their books aren’t funny enough, aren’t hooky enough, aren’t interesting enough. Never, ever because they’re not historical enough.
The result is the near-death of the historical romance, especially the Regency. It’s been milked dry. Here’s another book about a duke’s daughter who refuses to marry and will only marry a man who loves her. Or the heroine who longs for independence (if she really wanted that, she’d pick her husband carefully, not refuse to marry anyone at all!) The titles are usually puns on popular songs, or sayings. Who cares about historical accuracy if the book sells?
Sales are declining. Publishers are only taking the books that fill the modern America in Regency England slot, and the formulas are tightening.
What’s next, nobody knows. But I think we’re pretty much Regency’d out.
Plus, there’s the click farms from Thailand. They are all over the Amazon lists. They take the tropes, and either machine write them, or employ a ghost writer to do it. Then they either sell the books to “authors,” or put them out under a pseudonym. After that, there are the click farms, people paid to page through the books to get the required page turns for a Kindle Unlimited payout. Look for books under the “Cobalt Fairy” imprint, and the ones with alliterative names, though there are others who do it differently.
To counter this, authors – people who actually write their books – are pushing them out faster. One every six weeks is the optimum. What sort of quality do you think you’re going to get grinding books out at that speed?
Me? I keep writing, but I’m not playing that game. My income has tanked, but I still love to write. A lot of authors have given up, because Amazon is the big dog, and its system is so corrupt that it’s not worth doing it, especially if you want to make a living at it.
Sorry to be so depressing. But there might be a ray of light. I self-publish my backlist, and last month, for the first time, my “other” sales were bigger than my Amazon sales.
I’ve always been here, Lynne! :) Thanks for your comments – you are so right and I’m sure that many of us around here agree with you 100%.
Ms. Connolly, you are correct on so many levels. Just this line right here drives the point home: “One is that the author herself is expected to take all the responsibility for getting the history right.” It makes one question what good are publishing houses any more if they don’t edit properly, don’t promote, create narrower and narrower publication niches, allow authors to take all the blame for insensitivities and inaccuracies, and pay their writers peanuts? Oh, and then there’s the whole thing about requiring an agent at most publishers. That’s another scam to rip off authors and skim their scant to non-existent profits off the top. The cruel irony is, without writers, none of these other people would have jobs! And yet we in the trade of the written word are often treated and paid the worst.
If you need to listen to a good rant from a frustrated author, watch the YouTube video of Harlan Ellison entitled “Pay the Writer.” It’s a profanity-laden screed from a notoriously irascible science fiction writer, but I think he sums up many writers’ frustrations quite vividly- regardless of genre.
As for Amazon, I have been mostly happy with them. I know there are horror stories circulating about them too, but it’s the only free publishing platform I can find that doesn’t completely screw authors and actually has some degree of visibility. Because, face it. Nobody else is paying writers 35 to 70% royalties depending on the sales channel. Plus I have near total freedom in story length, topic, publication schedule, titles, and other aspects. Yes, editing and cover design are drawbacks, but it doesn’t sound like mainstream publishing is doing such a great job on those fronts either lately. Thankfully, one of the distinct advantages of writing in the erotica and erotic romance genres is that customers generally aren’t as picky about covers and editing. Not that I don’t try to do a good job!
But the whole quantity versus quality is a real problem in both mainstream publishing and self-publishing. If you think one book every 6 weeks is bad, the expected output for erotica short stories on KDP is one or two per WEEK! Granted, short stories in this category range from 2,500 to 8,000 words- usually on the shorter end- but if you want something better than, “Ooh, mister. That’s too BIG. Ahhhh!” people shouldn’t expect an author to produce that kind of unreasonable output.
I’m definitely on the fence about Kindle Unlimited. The payout is about half a penny a page, which is abysmal, but what is the alternative? We live in an era with so much free online content, that customers expect the ability to borrow books without paying for them. I imagine many customers are in the mindset of, “Oh. It’s not on Kindle Unlimited. So I guess I’ll find something else to read.” And with inflation and everything else going on in the financial world, I don’t blame them. I admit that I am guilty of this myself, not with Kindle Unlimited, but with the public library. If I can’t get something at the library, I usually don’t read it. Macmillian has an embargo on library e-books starting November 1st, but I seriously doubt that will help their tanking sales. Because if people can’t afford a book, they just won’t buy it. At least with a borrowing system, you get *something,* even if that something is pathetic.
On a final note, Ms. Connolly, I looked at your website and see that you are quite prolific. And I’m glad you don’t hold yourself to a ridiculously short time table. Hang in there!
KU is a disaster for us–we make so much less money via our clickthru sales than we used to. It wouldn’t surprise me if the same is true for authors.
When you say “us,” are you referring to traditionally published authors?
I admit that I don’t have much to compare KU against because I have never been traditionally published. I’ve had blog posts and one story published in an anthology under a different pen name, but that’s a different ball game again. So I can’t say whether or not clickthru sales have hurt or help me.
When KU first came out, authors were paid by the book, not the page. But they quit that policy because a lot of writers, probably in erotica, were gaming the system by pumping out 2,500 word stories and making the same amount of money from borrows as full-length novels.
No–I mean AAR. We stay online and maintain the website with the tiny percentage from clickthrus we make when our readers buy books–and anything else–via our site. KU books don’t earn us a dime.
Thank you for the clarification.
Yikes! I didn’t realize KU books didn’t earn AAR money. Although it probably makes sense when you consider the authors only get about half a penny a page through that service.
On the self-published author end of things, I don’t know if there’s a really reliable system for determining whether KU helps or hurts sales. Even though I make next to nothing on KU borrows, they count toward sales rank which can increase visibility. And I often find that I will have a sale immediately following a borrow of the same title. Does that mean customers are trying before they buy, or are those sales just coincidences/wishful thinking? Because of (understandable!) customer privacy policies, there is a lack of transparency there. All interesting things to think about.
I’d add that book sales don’t make hardly any money for AAR because of the plummeting price of most books. We make 4% on anything that a reader buys in a visit that originated on our site. So given that few books our readers buy are more than 4.99, we make in the pennies. Where we make the money that supports us is when a reader buys something vastly more expensive. One purchase of a hundred dollar item makes us 4.00–we’d have to sell 100 books for that. So, if a reader clicked to a KU book through us but, while there, bought a new pair of shoes, we’d make money. Our Amazon revenues have been dropping over the past two years and I do think KU is a part of that however.
this is such a wonderful conversation; so many of the thoughts mirror what I have been thinking
Thank you all for contributing
Can I just say I love a good duke story? Please don’t stone me…lol!
I enjoy the escape of living in that upper-crust world for a day or two, I don’t want to think about dirt or disease or poverty, I want the silliness and sexiness of romance with fancy clothes and without real life complications. I also want good, imaginative writing, well-drawn characters, and a love story that makes sense.
In a story that works I don’t get much bothered by mild anachronisms and since I don’t know the proper forms of address, those don’t bother me either. I’ve have read many books by British writers, however, so word usage (shop vs store, etc., as Caz has pointed out) is important to me. I
I don’t mind a duke story, either! I DO mind the stories where the hero is a duke for the sake of it. Kelly Bowen’s A Duke in the Night is an excellent example of that; the hero is a businessman who unexpectedly inherits, but there’s absolutely no need for him to be a duke. I suspect she was told to make him a duke so they could put the word in the title. There are plenty of stories around now about noblemen who own gambling clubs, who, in most cases, don’t need to be titled. Lorraine Heath’s current series isn’t really working well for me, but at least some of her protagoinsts – the Trewloves – aren’t titled. I just wish we could get past that short-sighted attitude that only noble heroes sell books in HR.
In Kelley Bowen’s Between the Devil and the Duke (which you had reviewed). the hero is not a Duke or an aristocrat or even British! In fact, there are no dukes at all in that novel. Admittedly, in historical romances titles are not supposed to make any sense but even by that loose standard, Between the Devil and the Duke is a non sequitur.
I think the lack of variety in current HR is a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” As an author myself, I can safely say that writers get dumped on from all ends- editors, publishing houses, critics, etc. And this can make the job of uninhibited storytelling extremely difficult, if not impossible. Anything that pushes the envelope, or is even mildly controversial, is bound to get squelched in editing- if it even gets that far in a publishing house. Although I am not a HR writer (with the exception of one erotica short story I did), and I self-publish, I know more horror stories about how authors are pressured into shaping or completely altering their work in order to meet industry standards. For example, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime,” was supposed to star an adult protagonist, but the publisher told the author, “Hey, make the protagonist 15 so we can tap into the YA market.” That’s one of the milder examples. This article by Ellen Finnegan gives some more insight into publishing woes in case anyone else is interested: https://www.lewrockwell.com/2011/10/ellen-finnigan/why-i-decided-to-publish-directly-through-amazon/. The anecdote that got me is how a friend of hers was forced to include a drag race, accidental decapitation, and steamboat fire to his manuscript in order to get published. Talk about contrived plot points! And Ms. Finnigan was told to add more church scenes to her memoir- her MEMOIR- if she wanted mainstream publication. I’m not saying writers don’t bear any responsibility for their work, but when an author needs an advance to pay the light bill or for a dinner more substantial than instant noodles, making nasty alterations to the work (i.e. “selling out to the man”) can be pretty darn tempting. So, how does this relate to HR novels? It often comes down to the publishing houses, who are usually too afraid to take chances for financial reasons- which is understandable from a business perspective. I give Carina Press credit for seeking out stories that mix and mash genres and take greater chances than other romance publishing imprints I’ve encountered. As for historical accuracy versus escapism, I think both authors and publishers are in a bind. Nowadays, internet complaints can get books pulled from production for being “offensive.” If the media has that kind of power, it makes sense that few mainstream publisher or authors would be willing to take chances that could damage their images. Hence, you get all the borderline anachronistic 18th century heroines with 21st century attitudes and causes. And, ironically, these fears of public shunning limit the diversity of characters and situations. So now you get your generic abolitionist dukes and orphanage-running heroines because in the political climate today, creating a nuanced son of a plantation owner (*gasp*) who benefits from his family’s privilege but has qualms about the institution of slavery is completely out of the question for any author or publishing house that doesn’t want to get pilloried on Twitter. On a related note, movies are just as preachy today as the novels- which is also annoying. Lately, I have been enjoying a number of films from the 1970s that are often quite shocking in their content. More than once, I have said, “Wow. That film *definitely* could not have been made today!” But some of them are great films, largely because there was more freedom to tell a story without worrying about every social justice warrior landmine writers have to tiptoe through today. I’m not saying people should go out of their way to offend others, and it’s *okay* to be offended and say so. But I believe the answer to the current problems in HR as well as other genres is to encourage more writing, not less. If someone writes an offensive book- and everyone is bound to be offended by something, perhaps even this comment- I think the most productive response is to say, “Wow. I didn’t like that. I guess I’ll read something else.” And then move on. Are there irredeemably racist dumpster fires of books out there? You bet. But I choose not to dwell on them because making a big stink about such books on the internet can actually give the authors more publicity and credence than they deserve. Let’s praise the awesome books instead! Case in point, I just finished reading Cat Sebastian’s “A Duke in Disguise” and loved it. Ms. Sebastian is excellent at subverting tropes while still paying attention to historical accuracy. She… Read more »
Yeah. All of this. Being preached at is no fun. Entertainment has got to be entertaining first.
It’s boring to read crap that has been written to improve me. It’s not what I am looking for in romance or in movies.
This is really interesting, thank you for commenting so extensively. I’m sure many of us have heard similar stories about authors being told they need to do X in order to sell books, and of course if every author does X, then X is what gets published, X is what people buy so publishers are then telling their authors “you have to do X if you want to sell.” (In HR, you can almost certainly substitute the word “duke” for X!)
I’ve read many HRs this year that started strong but then fell into old, gimmicky plots. Last minute kidnappings. of the heroine to force the hero to see how much he loves the heroine – really, haven’t we seen this enough?!?! Or heroine sees “hero” making out with another only it turns out to be hero’s secret twin brother – this plot is not worthy of any author’s pen. Or I can’t marry you because I’m not aristocracy – but wait, plot twist and now I am.
There are still authors bringing originality – like Julie Anne Long’s books this year – so fresh! And Mary Balogh continues to put new spins on old tales.
I’m also aghast at the editorial issues in so many books this year! I reviewed one with three different spellings of the same name. How hard can this be to get right?
Luckily, Historical Mystery seems to have had a better year!
Yes, historical mysteries have been so strong. For me, they are often my substitute now when I want to read historical fiction.
Seconded! I’ve found so many HM books I love this year (I still can’t get Lizzie Hardwicke out of my head.)
Lizzie Hardwicke is a great series! Georgina Clarke writes beautiful HM. Even without physical contact, her romance is stronger than many HRs I’ve read this year. She knows that romance starts in the head!
HR Quality issues of all kind:
Historical Inaccuracy _ I concur! with all above – I need that in HR. It is not HR without it. Misnaming, misselling, I feel.
Other vanished items:
Where are the Working Men? – and I do not mean the truly poor, making that romantic in those times is very very hard and rare – I mean
– those barons who actually manage their property, and need to care about horses, crops, weather, rents, vicars and all that stuff, or
– those gentlemen active in the Foreign Office, or in politics …
– or others who are not just completely following their whims and preferences in the stratosphere above us all – they are not there anymore, except in specialty niches, like Carla Kelly, KJ Charles and such. So a great source of realism is lost, and the books weaken.
I find billionaires and dukes sloppy and lazy as romance material, (except in HP, which I consume like candy. as nice and forgettable stuff.) You need not figure out how “normal rich people” manage and write those constraints into your book.
Where are the dead siblings (children died a lot, then), the dirt, the religion, the poor, the servants who are not my friends, the needlework, the managing of a big household as work, the close social control, the daily grind, the slow travel and delays in knowledge, the food spoiling or being scarce, where is just plain history?
Where are the real women of those times? I like romance describing people who meet, have some internal/external journey, and a HEA. In a specific time and place. As my staple. Mystery, Suspense, comedy, over the top, are all lovely, but the staple is that. In HR, I by now need to search niche authors to find women I can relate to. Not the Kardashians, not the luminaries, not the caricatures, just whole rounded adults living in their times.
I will not go into writing, plotting, or any such weaknesses, they pertain to all genres, I wish for editors, grammarians, proof readers – there was a time I trusted that books with publisher would fulfill some basics… no more. Much self published is better than big brand publishing for that, by now.
As a corollary to above, I revere the few authors left, like Mary Balogh, Carla Kelly, Teresa/Tracy Grant, Loretta Chase, They have a sense of the place, the background, and the possible thoughts and actions of people in those historical settings.
I also reread or find lots of “oldies” like Edith Layton, Roberta Gellis, Laura Kinsale…and of course Heyer.
And I mourn that Mary Jo Putney and many others who have an effortless grounding in HR seem to lose their way on plotting, pacing, and simply delivering a good read.
A few new good ones come up occasionally, but this is rare. My reading has shifted away from HR, more contemps, more m/m, more urban fantasy historicals, and less romance overall. I am sad about it.
I am happy to read suggestions, a few good to me HR authors appear, like Mia Vincy, Joanne Bourne, Sherry Thomas, but they are rare, I find. And I really want romance, not a mystery plot, no spies (though Joanna Bourne did them well, I can only read one or two at a time), just romance in all its rich variety!
And yes, maybe HR is a dying breed, like HR by Catherine Coulter, K. Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers died, maybe it is the turn of the wheel again, due to #metoo… maybe some favorites will become wallbangers now?
Re where are the working men: I am tired of reading about Dukes, or other fabulously wealthy aristocrats. I wish some authors would shake things up and write a HR about working people. Maybe a bank clerk meets a nice seamstress. Or a valet and a maid, giving us a servant’s view of those fabulously wealthy dukes and duchesses. Carla Kelly has written several wonderful stories where the hero and heroine are regular working people. Part of the problem with HR in past couple of years has been the lack of realistic variety in the hero/heroine’s backgrounds. There comes a point where you see the book is about a wealthy Duke and you just yawn.
I’m doing tags in our reviews database and one I’m working on is “working class historical.” Stay tuned!
“I wish some authors would shake things up and write a HR about working people.”
A few years back, I wrote a historical romance where the hero worked as an architect. A literary agent suggested I make him the heir to a fortune instead (and needless to say,, no agent offered to represent that manuscript).
If you want working class historical romance, I strongly suggest reading almost anything by Rose Lerner. That’s her specialty and it’s AMAZING!!! Her level of research is excellent as well. Start with Sweet Disorder or Listen to the Moon.
Actually, Friday’s the ask@AAR is all about non-traditional historical romance our readers love. I’m sure Rose’s work will make the list!