In the past, I’ve bemoaned a lack of variety in historical romance settings, and we’ve even voted on where readers wanted to see historical set (Result: we like 19th c. England but wouldn’t mind reading about other places and times, too!). However, over the past few years I’ve been seeing change in the historical market overall.
Historical romance once dominated the market. When I started reading romance as a 1990s high school student, the vast majority of books out there were historicals – and they were set all over the place. When I started at AAR in 2003, it was harder to find a wide variety of historical settings, but there were still plenty of books. And this continued for a while. An informal look at book lists, some from AAR and some from old issues of RT at the library, throughout the 2000s even up until 2010-11 showed me that we still had historicals galore being released. In fact, in some of those 5 and 10 year old issues of RT at the library, the list of historical romances each month would take up a full page and then reviews would go on for 10+ pages.
However, now there seem to be fewer historicals out there on the shelves. When I go to the bookstore, the contemporaries and paranormals seem to dominate. If you want to read yet another series about a set of friends or siblings or English spies, you can still find plenty of that but it’s getting a little harder. We thankfully still have authors such as Meredith Duran, Sherry Thomas, Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and others putting new historicals on shelves, but I’m seeing fewer new writers making their debuts in this category each month. And in the more current issues of RT that I hunted down, I noticed that while the historical romance section is still generously sized compared to, say, urban fantasy, the list is shrinking in size and reviews don’t tend to take up quite as many pages.
I’d noticed this for a little while, and had wondered whether it was just a blip in the market or an ongoing trend. A telling moment for me came at RWA 2012 during the Carina Press Publisher’s spotlight. An aspiring author in the audience asked Angela James and company if they would consider historical submissions. The answer she received? Carina would love to get historical submissions but they just weren’t receiving as many of them. That shocked me. Since childhood, I’d viewed historicals as being synonymous with romance in a way, and it’s hard for me to see them growing scarcer, even if only slightly.
And this makes me wonder. Is the declining popularity of historicals merely a passing trend or a permanent shift in the market? We’ve certainly seen trends in romance before. When I first started reading, time-travel was everywhere. Then, by the early 2000s, it had largely disappeared. And now, while not as huge as before, time-travel and time-slip books are creeping back onto shelves. Then again, medical romances were once a staple of the market but now, with the exception of the Harlequin Medical Romance line(which isn’t even sold in bricks and mortar stores), they’re pretty much gone.
I don’t see historicals entirely going the way of the dinosaur. Romance readers tend to read widely, but there are still many out there for whom historicals are a staple of their reading diet. However, with contemporaries and erotic romance growing in popularity, I do wonder if tastes are changing a bit. I read across pretty much every subgenre, so I don’t really see the various subgenres being in competition with one another. However, publishers have a finite number of slots in their lists and if they are publishing more in 1 subgenre, that means that, unless they expand their lists overall, they will need to cut back in other subgenres. All of which makes me wonder if midlist and debut authors, who are getting crowded out already, will continue to face even more pressure in the historical category. A sad thought.
So, what have you been seeing as readers? And authors: You’re out there in the trenches; what do you see happening in the market?
– Lynn Spencer
I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.
I agree with most of the above comments. I became so frustrated with the lack of well-researched historical romances that I am busy putting my older, out of print books on line as e-books. I guarantee they are accurate! Once they are available, I plan to add to the list a few newly written medieval romances. Traditional publishers have a lamentable tendency to publish only what has been a “”proven seller.”” (I for one will be happy when the vampire trend ends!) That habit of publishing the same kind of stories over and over cheats all the customers who would buy a variety of books set in different time-periods. On the matter of time-travel romances, I did manage to sell several books that were set in the days of Charlemagne – but then, I had an unusual editor. All of my books are now out of print because my publisher went put of business.
I grew up on the bodice rippers, Woodiwiss, Joyce, and Lindsay,etc…Great reads and not much out there like these anymore. When I published my first novel, my small group of author friends were against it, thought I was making a mistake. Well, let’s just say I followed my heart and am glad I did. I write what I would like to read and there are readers out there that miss the old style. Historical romance is not going anywhere, like anything else it may recycle, but readers of romance will come back. I did have to step away from the regencies for a bit as it did get a little boring- even though I have one on the horizon. But since I was ten, my middle name has always been medieval and always will be. Alpha knights everyday!
Two Viking romances you might enjoy:
Far After Gold by Jen Black:
The Eagle’s Woman by Miriam Newman:
You may also enjoy mary Gillgannon’s historical fantasy:
I write medieval romances. I’ve also written a romantic suspense set on the Greek island of Rhodes in the 1930s, called ‘A Secret Treasure’.
You can see them at my website: http://www.lindsaytownsend.net
I loved The Velvet Promise by Jude Deveraux. I think that counts as my guilty pleasure.
I think there may be less historicals (I can’t really say because in the 90’s I was a baby), but there is definitely less variety in historicals. I like to read a historical romance, but I honestly don’t like Regencies. All the lords, ladies, viscounts, the ton, etc just bores me to tears. There are only a few authors in that time period that I will read. I would love to see more medieval romances. Some of my favorites are the old Johanna Lindsey Viking books. Some set in the 1920’s would be fun, but you almost never see historicals that are so close to our current times. Harlequin has done a line of Historical Unbound books that are novellas and they accept submissions up to WWII, which seems unusual in the industry.
We could also discuss the content of historicals and how it has changed. Does anyone else still love the old bodice rippers? Those are my guilty pleasure books, I admit.
As a reader and history buff, I know my reading of historical romances slacked off a few years back when it seemed as if the quality of plots and historical accuracy slacked off. After paying good money for sloppy research and unrealistic-for-the-era characters, I shifted to the historical mystery genre which I find more satisfying, especially since the series formats (C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St Cyr, for example) often have a romance running through it. So it seems to me, that while there are a fair number of historical romances still out there, the number of GOOD ones has fallen off sharply.
Historical romances of all sorts and sensuality/sexuality levels are alive and well at Harlequin Historicals! We tend to be the forgotten series over there but we keep writing them. Each month features a Regency (usually 2), a Medieval/Other, and a Western/Frontier/Americana. Vikings are quite popular, too.
Though HH is one of the smaller selling series in the US retail market, it’s huge globally.
You’re certainly not the forgotten series to me! I love the HH line. I wish Harlequin would do more to market it, though, because I think you’re right about there being some real gems there. I usually get at least a couple of these every month, especially when I’m looking for something that isn’t wallpaper Regency.
I write English medieval and ancient world historical romances, plus medieval historical mysteries. (To Touch the Knight is reviewed here at AAR). I have found the rise of ebooks has given readers greater choice in historical romance periods and in the kinds of historical romances. I enjoy the novellas of Linda Banche for her Regencies without dukes, and gentle humour. I enjoy Erin O’Quinn for her novels about dark age Ireland. I loved Jeannie Lin’s Butterfly Swords, set in ancient China. Sometimes finding historical romances set before the 19thC can be difficult. Sometimes, too, the portrayal of people’s choices and beliefs (especially women’s) seems rather modern to me.
Judith, PLEASE, not do leave the 17th century behind….been following your career since Broken Wing…and I am interested in publishing more of your Restoration fiction.
Wild Irish, I love that name! It’s what the English used to call the Scottish Highlanders in the 17th century. I may go back to it someday, I certainly love the period and the characters and I swear I know 17th century Nottingham and York better than my own town. The market would have to pick up enough to make a living with it though,and sadly, other than self publishing, I think they are going the other way.
I’ve been writing epic style (as in taking place over a period of years) historically accurate romances for about five years now. The last four have all taken place in the 17th century. They’ve done well critically, but I honestly can’t say they’ve sold well. I was a little dismayed when I was on a panel at the RT convention a couple of years ago. The topic was why do you write in the time period you do? I launched into an explanation of the excitement of the period, the challenges it gave my characters et. Sabrina Jeffries, who was on the same panel said she used to write 17th century historicals but they didn’t sell well enough to make a living at. My own experience has been the same. A tremendous amount of work and research for at best, so-so sales. I have one restoration era story left to publish to finish a story arc that covers most of the period, but I am switching to fantasy and paranormal after that. It seems to be where the sales are and as much as I love non regency fact based historicals, for me at least, they don’t pay the bills.
@JudithJames Wow – I guess the economics speak for themselves, and it’s hard to argue with your direct experience of sales/outcomes…. but speaking purely as a longtime HistRom fan, I am saddened to know that you are leaving the 17th century behind! Libertine’s Kiss is one of my all-time favorite romances. And the bawdy Restoration would seem so well-suited for romance fiction with intrigue… I just wish I could understand why it doesn’t sell as well… Not that it will make a difference at this point, but I am going to recommend Libertine’s Kiss to everyone I know, because I think it would get people hooked!
Thanks, Pamela! That’s very kind of you to say. I will miss it too. It is my favorite period of history and full of fascinating characters, but as Lynn notes, the readers poll show most readers have a preference for the 19th century which I take to mean Regency.
Result: we like 19th c. England but wouldn’t mind reading about other places and times, too.
Wouldn’t mind doesn’t seem to translate to sales. My theory is that when times are tough and money tight, people tend to stick to what they are familiar with. Where have all the Historical Romances gone? My guess is most of the non regency ones have had to move on to follow reader’s preferences.
Judith, while of course the current market has to play some role in a commercial writer’s life, I do hope you’re not leaving the 17th century behind forever. Those of us readers who love the big, epic tales, those of us who are, quite frankly, Regencied-out or on the verge of being so, Those of us who turn away from the bookshelves when we *don’t* see anything in a period we love, well, we need love (stories) too.
All things go in cycles, and I, for one, as a reader and writer, would *love* to see a greater variety of settings.
Thanks Anna! I feel the same way. My first job was in a bookstore and I started with the Angelique series and Dorothy Dunnet. Loved Morgan Lewellyn, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Sharon Kay Penman too. I suppose they wrote romantic historicals rather than historical romance but I doubt they would sell today. I have one left. I loved writing it and it’s based on a real life highwayman and England’s first female travel journalist. I will be getting it out there one way or another, but right now I’m working on something more along the line of Game of Thrones. Hopefully it will allow me to write the kind of epic adventure love stories I enjoy, in a genre that gets a little better sales.
BTW I love your books. They will be classics too.
Judith, I’ll be looking forward to your new work as well, but I’m always leaving a light in the window for more historicals.
Love the term “”epic adventure love stories”” because that perfectly encapsualtes my favorite kind. Long may they live, in any genre.
Lately, I find a great majority of historical romance out there today boring with a capital B. Authors like Courtney Milan, Cecilia Grant, Tessa Dare, et al, are beautiful writers, but not even beautiful writing can overcome the general sameness of the genre. Sometimes writers will attempt to buck the trend by setting their book in an exotic place or writing lower or middle class characters, but it usually results in dressing up the same old same old in fancy clothes. And don’t get me started on the aggravating practice of bringing modern, or at least anachronistic stuff, into Regency settings. It irks me to no end to see things that would be realistic and believable in later eras crammed into the early 1800s. To be blunt, it makes me lose a bit of respect for the author because then it seems like they don’t care about history at all, and then I lose respect for the publisher since they are happy to put out books that trample over historical accuracy.
And don’t get me started on the aggravating practice of bringing modern, or at least anachronistic stuff, into Regency settings. It irks me to no end to see things that would be realistic and believable in later eras crammed into the early 1800s.
That’s a big peeve of mine as well. Putting a girl in a long frock or a guy in breeches does not a historical novel make, and if you’re not going to bother to take historical context into account, you might as well write a contemporary.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. One of my biggest problems with the historicals coming out today is bringing modern day stuff and plots into the genre. I think they should call it Fairytale romance because it’s just too unbelievable to resemble anything like the historical romances I grew up with where an author actually did research on the time period they’ve written about.
When I look at AAR’s books on sale page I have noticed a continued dominance in other subgenres over historicals.
I find this unfortunate although I no longer read all the historicals listed as I used to because I’m a more picky reader. When much of the plots are the same with beta heroes and feisty modern feminist heroines I’m inclined not to buy historicals in the numerous amount I boughte in the past.
I was just the other day talking to some romance readers on how tired I am of all the formulated historical romances there is now. I understand this is not the authors’ fault but due to the restrictions publishers have placed on them. I have stop buying historicals that have come out lately. I’ve gone back to reading historicals that were published in the 80s and 90s. Thank goodness for authors who are self publishing their backlist now or I would have nothing to read.
Authors now is the time to get those backlist titles up in digital format. We readers are buying them up as fast as we can find them!
I’ve been doing the same–either reading older romances or picking up historical mysteries. I just scored a hard cover version of RedAdam’s Lady and some new Mary Stewarts at a used books ale.
Authors now is the time to get those backlist titles up in digital format. We readers are buying them up as fast as we can find them!
Absolutely! I spend a fair bit of time looking for older titles second-hand because so many of the things I want to read aren’t available from the library and end up spending more on postage than on actual books!
(I’m in the UK and we don’t have places like UBS here. Also, a large number of Signets, Fawcets etc. don’t seem to have been published over here so almost all the copies I buy have to come from the US).
I know that Intermix have been publishing old Signet titles, and that Regency Reads/Belgrave House has, too, but there are still lots of authors whose books I’d like to be able to get easily – Patricia Veryan, Nancy Butler, Cindy Covington etc. and I’m sure there are lots more.
I stopped reading them when the ones I picked up didn’t have any actual history in them. I don’t know if I was just unlucky and picked up the wrong ones. Plus, publishers want the frothy historicals and they’re not to my taste.
An original story about a “”real”” Regency duke would be awesome.
I’m reading MUCH fewer historical’s these days and I attribute it to age. The average historical heroine is in her early 20’2 and quite inexperienced and innocent. Since I’m way past those days, I prefer the heroines I read about to be older and virtuous. I like spice a lot more than I used to. Since even my d-i-l is 30, I can’t relate to young 20 something’s on any level anymore.
And since in general, the population is aging, I wonder if there others who share my preferences.
I think that historicals will keep on being important. But a different historical style. I mean, I’m sick of dukes and balls and Regency, I rakes that don’t do anyhing remotely rakish and virginal heroines…
And I guess I’m not the only one. I started reading historicals back in the 1980s, with Woodiwiss and Lindsey. But later I found out that I prefered suspense, and sexy scenes and contemporary authors with a certain humour.
But I have discovered good and different historicals that I’m very fond of. For instance, I love Courtney Milan’s books. And I still re-read Kleypas’ historical books -I like them more than her contemporary ones.
I don’t think this trend of paranormal and erotica will last. They will keep on being published, but they will be just another sub-genre, like time-travel or sci-fi.
@ Jane O
WORD to everything you said :) I always think that part of the challenge of creating a good historical is managing to have your H/h fall in love while still adhering – mostly – to the conventions of the day.
I love historical romance and my TBR shelf is full of new ones I haven’t got to yet. I love Eloisa James, Julia Quin, Julia London, Sabrina Jeffries, Monica Mcarthy, Keiran Kramer, Alexandra Hawkins, ELizabeth Boyle, Jo Beverly, Stephaine Laurens, Manda Collins, Elizabeth Hoyt, Candace Camp, Julianne Maclean, Lisa Kleypas, Lynsay Sands, Loretta Chase, SAmantha James…….As you can see I feel we still have a lot of great historical authors out there some are regency, some georgian, some Scottish. Oh, I can’t forget Margret Moore who often features Wales. And Christina Dodd…. the list goes on for me I am an avid collector of all of these authors. Many of them I own all of their books. Just thought of another Tessa Dare and Stefaine Sloane……………….
I still read mainly historicals, but I am relying more and more on familiar authors. Too often, it seems as if editors and publishers are so hung up on a “”big concept”” that the books they put out center around some bizarre plot gimmick that requires the characters to behave in completely non-historical ways.
I have no objection to Regency/Victorian settings, and I have not special objection to dukes and earls. What I want is what I want in any genre: believable characters and a coherent plot. The special demands that come with a historical romance are — or should be — that the characters and plot conform to the expectations of that period. That doesn’t mean that the characters can’t defy the conventions of their period, but it does mean that they should be intelligent enough to realize that such defiance will have consequences.
I think there may also be a negative feedback loop at work here. Regency and Victorian set romances got very popular a few years back, so publishers flooded the historical romance shelves with dukes and earls. Readers got sick of seeing the same thing all over the historical romance scene, so stopped buying as many books. Publishers then concluded that the historical market was dead, and cut back on the historical offerings, without providing any variety in the settings. So it may just be that the Regency/Victorian market is slowing down, but historical readers will start buying again when they have some different time periods and settings to choose from. But we’ll never know if this is true if the publishers keep churning out all those dukes and earls….
An interesting question. I used to consume a lot of historical romance myself, but find my tastes changing. The title inflation, and superficial research in many books, do not help. For anybody with some historical background knowledge, in my case acquired by reading many books actually written in the 18th and 18th centuries, the total lack of realism of much “”historical romance”” has been increasingly irritating. Many successful books seem to take place in a kind of fairy-tale never-never land that has little relation to actual European history. The same tropes and cliches are uses over and over.
It may also be a generational thing, that the baby boomers like me are no longer in the typical reader age group (wasn’t it late thirties to forties, I read somewhere?) and are slowly turning away from the genre. –
Can it be that the historicals were also a way to sublimate some of our generation’s conflicted feelings about the changing roles of both genders, by using escapism to an older time when mutual duties and possibilities were safely and comfortably established? Maybe that sort of thing is not so necessary for the younger reader, who has never known anything different from the current model.
I also feel that there is now enough good historical romance in existence (I still have boxes and boxes of the old stuff) and the logical step would be to make the backlists of the all best authors available electronically at reasonable prices, as Loretta Chase has been doing. A new reader would find years of goodies that way. More and more of the same is not necessarily an improvement.
I agree with you. One of the problems I have with historicals nowadays is their lack of historical accuracy. If you know anything about History, it’s irritating and you cannot enter in the story. IMHO, Garwood is a perfect example of people from the past behaving and talking and thinking like 20th or 21st century people. Sorry I just don’t get her brigadoonish style, but I have to recognize that I must be one of the few because she has got millions of readers and fans. So the problem must be mine.
And it’s a very interesting idea: there are loots of magnificent books very well researched in the past decades. But I think there’s always a new way to revisit old places. And refreshing new authors.
I have not noticed a lack of historical romances. But I write historical mysteries with strong romantic elements and debuted in 2012, so I happen to know a lot of strictly historical romance authors who debuted around the same time (about 2010 – 2013). I do hear from them about how there is some pressure toward conformity. And those that do happen to write unique settings or heroines are often marketed in a way that does not highlight this difference, so it does not necessarily compel the reader to pick up the book. They are also given smaller print runs, so their books are in fewer stores, making it more difficult for their books to be discovered randomly by someone browsing in a bookstore. So I think part of the problem is not that there are so few new historical romances, but that they are all being marketed the same, and getting fewer placements on store shelves, etc.
Newer authors like Heather Snow, Erin Knightley, Anna Randol, Jennifer McQuiston, Maya Rodale, Valerie Bowman, Grace Burrowes, Lecia Cornwall, Christy English, Cara Elliott, Manda Collins, Juliana Gray, Miranda Neville, Kieran Kramer, Delilah Marvelle, Cheryl Ann Smith, Ashlyn Macnamara, Cecelia Grant, Maire Claremont, Susanna Fraser, Carrie Lofty, Margaret Mallory, Alix Rickloff, Zoe Archer…
Oh my, yes. That ol’ formula you have to follow in romance, and it’s very strict and getting stricter instead of more liberal. My novel was heavily edited not because the story was bad or it was badly written, but because I strayed from those narrow formula parameters.
do hear from them about how there is some pressure toward conformity. And those that do happen to write unique settings or heroines are often marketed in a way that does not highlight this difference, so it does not necessarily compel the reader to pick up the book.
And yet those differences could be the very thing that makes readers – especially readers who have read many novels in the genre – pick up the book. I always say that I don’t mind conformity provided it’s done well – there are only so many possible plots, after all.
I find this conversation about the pressure toward conformity interesting. My debut contains some elements that are outside the box, most notably a dual romance story line, which features two heroes and two heroines. My editor never once suggested I split the book into two or tone down the more secondary of the two romances. Some reviewers, on the other hand, have been completely been thrown by the dual storyline and my rating have suffered because of that. Now I recognize that I may not have done my job adequately, and that is all on me. :)
Another example I can point to here is Jennifer McQuiston’s debut WHAT HAPPENS IN SCOTLAND. She, too, did something outside the box in that her hero and heroine are separated for a good part of the book, and some reviewers (but certainly not all) have slammed her for that. I can’t speak to whether or not her publisher asked for changes to make her story fit the formula a bit more, but I’m going to speculate that they did not. See, an editor does not acquire the manuscript of a debut author if they foresee extensive edits. They send you a rejection instead.
So I find it interesting that when some romances do something that breaks the expected mold, not all readers jump on board with that, and that in spite of comments like the above.
I’d like to think it’s cyclical, and we’ll see a resurgence of love for historicals when the PNR boom scales back. I suspect new readers are coming to romance via Young Adult (which features a lot of paranormal) and the adult paranormal market. It may take them awhile to develop a taste for historicals.
Agreed. There’s a market glut in paranormal right now…I’m interested in what the next trend will be. Perhaps it will be adventures set in unusual locations?
This is very interesting. I’m someone who has come to reading romances relatively late (I read mostly historical fiction and classics in my 20s and 30s), and who reads almost exclusively historicals. But that said, even I can see that the number of HRs put out by the major publishers has declined over the years, although the number of historicals in the marketplace still seems relatively large due to the explosion of self-publishing. But quantity doesn’t necessarily make for quality – which I imagine is true in any genre – and I’m verypicky ;-)
What Pamela says above about there being (maybe) a perception that historicals take longer to write because of the amount of research involved is interesting. I confess I hadn’t thought of that, but I can certainly imagine it being a factor if publishers are keen for their authors to put out more than a couple of books a year. Perhaps there’s a feeling among authors that it’s safer to “”write what they know”” and therefore not risk people like me tearing into them when they use an incorrect form of address for a duke or have their characters transgress one of the major rules of the society of the day.
Fortunately, there ARE some good authors of historicals out there, although perhaps not as many as there used to be. You’ve mentioned Duran, Thomas and Grant, all of whom have made a big impact on the genre in the past five years, but who aren’t especially prolific; there’s Grace Burrowes, too (who IS prolific!) and Courtney Milan, Sarah MacLean… and of course Quinn, Balogh, Hoyt, Chase who have all been writing for some time now. But that’s a handful compared to those now writing contemporaries and PNR.
Perhaps you’re right and it’s some sort of cyclical thing and there will, at some point, be a glut of historicals again. Maybe there’s some sort of indicator – like the way people say the length of women’s skirts denote either a time of prosperty or austerity. Times are tough – maybe, rather than read about wealthy people in a bygone age, readers want to read more about people who are dealing with the same sort of problems they are facing, or even about people who are worse off, and yet triumph in the face of adversity.
I read romance for complete escapism, which is why I tend to go for the wealthy people in a bygone age rather than the grittier stuff. Horses for courses…
Research takes time, yes, but that shouldn’t be the reason for cutting back on historical romance, to my mind. I personally love doing the research, and my new novel has been getting good reviews because of that very reason; the research. If a romance is realistic in it’s plot, characterization and settings, I’m hooked. I can’t see why a romance can’t be entertaining AND intelligent.
I used to read historical romances exclusively but found that my reading preferences have changed drastically. I tried reading recent romances written by Valerie Bowman and Sarah Maclean and just couldn’t get into them as I used to because they were too similar to previous books. I am on the lookout for more unusual historical romances like Victoria Morgan’s For the love of a soldier which AAR reviewed and recommended. I also found myself reading a lot of contemporary romances especially New Adult and categories. So I think there is some credence that historical romances could be losing their popularity because of the popularity of contemporaries.
I have a debut historical novel coming out in July with Crimson that’s set during the Civil War. I received a number of rejections from other places noting that the agent or editor liked the writing but the setting was just too tough to sell.
It’s frustrating because I feel like I see posts like this frequently — readers noting that they want historicals and specifically ones set outside of early nineteenth-century Britain — but the market arbiters have decided that the historical market just isn’t hot right now and thus they’ve being very conservative.
Courtney Milan had a great post on her blog earlier this week about how Avon dominates the historical marketplace, her argument being that they have a web strategy and this leads them to be more successful. But a glance at a list of bestselling romances also indicates that very few new historical writers have broken into the market in the past five or so years. Really, only Meredith Duran, Tessa Dare, Sherry Thomas, and Milan herself: and all of them write about nineteenth-century Britain at least some of the time. (And, incidentally, I think they’re all awesome and very deserving of their success, as are Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, etc.)
But there is a frustrating disconnect between what readers say they want (which might be different than what they buy) and what publishers will take a chance on.
So well said! I share the frustration over “”lack of supply”” of historical romance set in other places and periods. I find it truly dismaying that a Civil War-era romance would be such a hard sell. Frankly, I take great pains to search out books with an American setting; my favorite Elizabeth Hoyt series is the Four Soldiers, and I know that is because of the colonial back story! I love the old school Elizabeth Lowell historicals, and Pamela Clare’s earlier books. But I also remember when medieval romance seemed so dominant, along with Scottish lairds, so maybe these things just go in cycles. You’re right that the key question is what people are actually buying — it may be that since we are all going ahead and reading/buying PNR, erotica, steampunk, etc (and I admit that I do, with pleasure!), sales of historicals seem precarious in some way, and thus publishers insist on the tried and true…?
I had the same problem when shopping around my medieval romance. Had good feedback from agents but it boiled down to them not believing the market was there. I finally circled around to small presses, and now I have a contract out for the book next Spring. Unfortunately I think historicals (particularly non-Regency) are perceived as niche, and the epresses are the only ones paying attention…
Historical is just about the only romance I read, but that could also be because I love history. If people aren’t writing them because of the research involved, then I find that a shame. I love them because of that very fact; good research allows me to go back and experience that time if the writer can bring those settings alive for me.
I sure hope the historical doesn’t fade away. I especially hope they continue to be well researched, and if that makes me a demanding reader, then so be it.
Let me preface this by saying that I love historicals. However, perhaps the dwindling market is because (at least for me and maybe others?) I just got burned out by all the regencies, Dukes, Lady/Lord, same old, same old. I love differing locales. Love me some westerns, but finding them in bookstores is not that easy anymore. So I do a lot of research online, reviews online, etc. to find different historicals. I find myself also almost obsessively searching for older books I may have missed over the years.
Seems that whereas publishers of other genres are open to different types of books, publishers of historicals (and even paranormals, small town stories, and now erotica) have tunnel vision. They lock on something that sells well and demand all authors to stick to the same proven formula. Drives me nuts. I find myself reading more regular fiction (Child, Thor, Iles, Flynn), more NA/YA, true stories (crime, biography, current events, etc) and very, very rarely do I read a regular historical romance. But I do devour westerns when I can find them, (Ellen O’Connell, Caroline Fyffe, Kaki Warner, etc), mainstream/women’s fiction (Slaughter, Hoag, Castillo, Stevens, Cain, Hannah, Chamberlain). When I do read historicals, they are those with a lot of history, ala, Gillian Bagwell, Juliet Grey, Eva Stachnick, Genevieve Graham, Darlene Marshall, and Judith James.
Another burn out I’m experiencing is small town, ala Robyn Carr. Love her writing and loved the Virgin River books, but the market is way too overrun with these type books now & I just can’t take another.
I miss the early, glory days of historical romances. When I would rush to the store every week and lose myself in finding the latest romance. I might be taken to epic sotires of medieval days, early America, pirates on the sea, even shieks and harems, LOL, all over the world! Oh, what fun that was!!
I grew up on historical romance as well as contemporary. And it’s still around, but it has been diluted with so many new types entering the market from regency to steampunk to the paranormal historicals and of course, my personal favorite, the western. I actually have a series that’s a paranormal historical western romance because it allowed me to blend all my loves together.
I have noticed there are fewer new authors/titles that are historical and I wonder if it is due to shifting demand (towards erotica and contemporary, as you say) and also perhaps pressure from publishers for books that don’t require as much historical research. Which is not to say that contemporaries and PNR books take less time — everyone’s writing process takes the time that it takes and far be it from me to make any kind of judgment. But wondering if there could be a *perception* that historical novels take more time/research, regardless of whether it’s accurate (since it depends on individual authors)…? I guess I see tastes changing, but also established authors having to deliver longer and longer series (beyond trilogies and quartets – eg. Julie Anne Long/Pennyroyal Green; Tessa Dare/Spindle Cove) and it makes me think that there must be interest in ever more efficient replication once an author has created a successful historical setting and set of characters. BTW, I love both the Pennyroyal and Spindle Cove series!
I think you bring up a great point. You always hear “”write what you know”” but for authors who want to write historicals, that might be harder because they have to do research no matter if they were/are history majors.
I think it’s Julie Ann Long’s choice that Pennyroyal green is so long. I don’t think it’s the publisher. I know there are two characters who are loved and who Long has put off writing about. I think she is the one prolonging series. I also am not sure the Tessa Dare is not trying to prolong Spindle Cove. I think if it’s working an author will continue to prolong a series.
Good point – it’s a win win for both author and publisher. Either way, a less risky venture for the publisher than going with a new, unknown author or — even more “”risky”” — a period setting that is untried and/or perceived as unpopular.
I gave up on the historical romance market with the exception of Balogh and Kelly many years ago. However, for me the “”historical”” market seems to be growing because of the many books set in WWI and WWII, as well as the numerous historical Inspirationals which take place all over the timeline. .
Good point! Historical romance is alive and well in the inspy market, and I have started buying more of those in recent years. I still like to read secular historical romance, too, though. Just wish I could find more of them!
I don’t read as much romance as I did when I was younger. I am noticing more historical mysteries, primarily in the 1600s. And its the same with romance, there seem to be a few more Georgian and Elizabethan romances, but not a lot.