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Historical Fiction

Some authors books published as historical fiction and shelved with fiction even though they have very strong romances occurring throughout the book and are read by romance readers. There are two aspects which set these books apart from romance novels standing alone. First, much more detail is given to the historical events taking place including battles, political maneuvering, and generations of people descended from the same line. Also, all of the romances do not have to end happily although the authors will strive to have at least one which does.

The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough features a very good cover. We see three Roman characters in the foreground and Ancient Rome itself in the background. All three characters are fairly young and good looking. The cover conveys that it is a sprawling saga about Ancient Rome and that there are romances in it. This cover could also be put on a historical romance and look very credible. If it were shelved in romance, however, it is not the cover that would look out of place but the length. It is at least twice the size of the longest romance novel.

Editor’s Note: I do not consider this to be a hybrid novel. This series, which I have read, is pure historical fiction.

The cover of Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Champion strongly shows a battle going on in the background among armored knights. The Champion, who is the protagonist, is such a warrior. This image places us in medieval times which is Chadwick’s preferred time period. In the foreground is a jewel encrusted cross pendant that is lying in the grass. I have not yet read this novel but Chadwick typically has two romances set against giant historical events. One of those romances will end unhappily and the other happily. This cover more strongly suggests historical fiction than McCullough’s although they are both probably equal in historical and romance elements. It would look out of place shelved with romance because of the fierce battle depicted.

Literary Fiction

These books will be shelved with general fiction and although they look and feel like romance books, their innards are supposedly more highbrow which gives them the general fiction status.

I bought Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient fifteen minutes after seeing the movie. I think you can see why. I was putty in the image of Ralph Fiennes kissing Kristin Scott-Thomas. This is, however, one of those unfortunate times when literary means ponderous. It still feels like it took me forever to read this book and it had the same effect on my husband when he read it. I don’t think many romance readers would be happy with it as a romance novel but it certainly could be shelved with romance novels based on this cover image. The film was a vast improvement over the novel.

Equally as joyous in novel form or video set, Colin Firth portraying Darcy as the main element of a cover image for Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is a clear winner. Although not usually shelved with romances, this easily could be both by content and image. It is shelved in general fiction in bookstores and libraries. What are your chances of seeing film stars of this caliber on other literary-romance novels? Very good, if a film or video have been made of the book because the /wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages already exist via stills and posters taken for the film’s promotion. Nil, if it hasn’t been before the cameras yet because the cost of obtaining such a person as a model would be astronomical even if they did consent to modeling outside of their films as they feel it detracts from their image as actors.

In Conclusion

It appears that when romance novels are blended with other genres, the other genre is usually given image and shelving preference. The perplexing aspect to this is that romance novel paperbacks sell more copies than any other category of fiction paperback. Thus, getting at least a partial romance element image on the cover, which doesn’t offend male readers, should increase sales. Shelving these hybrid books in romance could also increase sales since many romance readers may not wander over to other shelves in other sections of the store to look for romance books. Is it more likely that you would buy some of the above books if the romance element were at least partially depicted and the hybrid book were shelved with your other romance books? I am interested in hearing your response.

— Carol Irvin

Editor’s Note: Carol wanted to make sure readers understand this column featured books which include strong romantic elements but are not shelved with romances at bookstores. Each of these books could have been shelved in the romance section but were not. To have been shelved with the romances, most would have required somewhat of a change in their covers, along with different cover blurbs.

She wrote, “I suppose I could have done a comparison and contrast between the ones shelved in romance and the ones shelved elsewhere. However, I almost would have had to read all of the books discussed and that I can’t accomplish. For example, I could have contrasted, for instance, Catherine Asaro’s book with Dara Joy’s, Jayne Castle’s, and Justine Davis’s. Problem is I haven’t read all of those books. However, even if Catherine’s is harder science than theirs, it is still also romance and it was a judgment call to solely place it in the science-fiction section instead of in romance. However, I don’t know if the above three romance authors would sell if their books were shelved in science-fiction. That is not what this column was about, in any event. I’d like to hear from readers for a possible future column on that, if they’d like.”

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