Saturday, April 25, 2009

Where is the romance genre going???

I recently went to a conference in Spokane, Washington (great job, IECRWA!!!!) and one of the topics that kept coming up was trying to define the "romance" genre. Of course, we all know the traditional romance stereotypes... I still love reading very traditional romances, and I'll always have a soft place in my heart for those super-alpha heroes.

But every time I talk to romance readers, they're talking about authors who aren't writing entirely typical romances. So many big authors -- Linda Howard, Suzanne Brockmann, etc -- have gone toward romantic suspense that isn't true romance, and it seems like a lot of new stars popular with romance readers are doing urban fantasy. In my own writing career, I've seen great sales of urban fantasy, romantic suspense and now a WESTERN, which I thought were all but dead.

So -- What do you think? What's the next big step for romance, and do you think the "genre" should be stretching to call these new authors romance writers? Are they something else? As readers, what do you want to read, and what makes a book a keeper for you? Does a "romance" still need to follow the formula to appeal to romance readers? I know that many writers groups are struggling with this idea, but I'm not seeing a lot of people actually asking READERS.

What's your opinion?

Joanna Wylde


Katie Reus said...

What do you mean Linda Howard and Suzanne Brockman don't write true romance? I always thought that if the H/H have a HEA, then it's a 'true romance'. I didn't think it mattered how they got there. Just because something has romantic suspense or paranormal elements doesn't mean it's not a true romance. Maybe I started reading romance late in the game, but I never realized that to be defined a romance that a formula needed to be followed. Is there a rule book I've missed somewhere, lol? Would you mind expanding on what you mean cuz I'm a little confused ;)

Jo said...

Katie -- I certainly wasn't trying to imply that LH and SB don't write romances, LOL. I love their books, and they definitely have HEA...

But I have noticed that they're often not shelved in the romance section, and are being marketed to a wider audience than the Harlequin novels are.

I have read (and been told) that the difference between a genre romance and a book that has romantic elements is how critical the romance is to the plot. For example, if it's a story about a jewel thief that happens to have a romance in it, that's different than a romance about a jewel thief.

I bring this up because it was a topic at a recent Romance Writers of America discussion (not officially, just at my table), and some of the authors agreed and some didn't.

So I guess what I'm interested in is whether you guys agree -- there so many hot, wonderful books being written right now where the characters are sexy and fun and there is lots of sexual tension... But they don't always wrap everything up with a bow after one book. Particularly in urban fantasies.

I'm certainly not trying to box anyone into (or out of!!!) any kind of romantic formula. I'm just wondering if the concept of that traditional romantic formula is still important to readers. This is a hot debate in writers' circles ;)


Katie Reus said...

I don't read a lot of urban fantasy (only read one author actually), but I think I understand what you're saying. For me personally, I don't care for that 'traditional' formula that's associated w/ certain Harlequin lines (not Blaze and Intrigue obviously) but I do need traditional in the sense that I must have a HEA. Even though I cut my teeth on the old school Harlequins I didn't fall in love w/ romance and actually start searching out specific authors until I discovered romantic suspense (LH to be exact).

I've never really thought about it, but I guess the only elements that a romance needs for me is for the h/h to be faithful to each other and for there to be a HEA in that book or possibly the next one. That's actually why I stopped reading Iris Johansen. She went too mainstream. Yes, her stuff has romantic elements but I don't consider it true or typical romance b/c there's no HEA. I got so sick of wondering if Joe and Eve were finally going to get married so I gave her up.

However, I do consider LH traditional b/c she always has HEA. (if there's a book where she doesn't, then I missed it, lol). If she started leaving out that element, I'd probably stop reading her too.

Maybe it's a generational thing (I'm in my twenties) but a so called traditional, formulaic romance isn't important to me as long as the h/h get their happy ending in one or two books (if it takes longer than that I lose interest). I think UF is different (don't they sometimes take 3 books or more to get a HEA??) but since I don't read much of it I can't give an opinion. I know a lot of DIK ladies do so I'm interested to see what their opinion is on UF.

Great post Jo! You definitely made me think :) (I hope I answered what you were originally asking)

Chris said...

I seem to remember a time when most romance novels followed certain, for lack of a better word, guidelines. The men were often dark and brooding, possessive and protective, generally speaking alpha types. The women were not so much portrayed as weak but they seemed needier, na├»ve, and most often virgins. The stories tended to center around the man getting the woman, and the woman finding a man to take to the happily ever after place. I don’t know if that is what the authors and readers believed romance should be, or if that is what publishers thought would sell. Times have changed. Romance readers are more sophisticated these days. We expect and want more from stories and romance authors are now allowed and even encouraged to push the boundaries of what romance really is. I think of romance novels as ice cream, and romantic suspense, urban, erotica, paranormal/fantasy, etc. are the different flavors. There are times when I crave one flavor over another, but I really enjoy reading them all if the plot and story is well written…and doesn’t have cheating. Cheating is not romantic to me.

Perhaps the question we could ask is whether it would be better for books sales if these sub-genres were not labeled romance novels. Much to my dismay, I have found that romance novels are often regarded as beach books, light reads, or fluff where suspense, action, and horror are “real” books. I often find myself trying to defend my choice in reading material. I have to ask! Why is it more acceptable to read about murder and mayhem than romance and yes…SEX? I certainly hope that more “real” people are having sex than murdering people.

LesleyW said...

It's funny 'cause I'm kind of blogging about something similar at the moment but with regards to urban fantasy which is the genre I mainly read.

My main romance reads are m/m - for both contemporary and historical, in fact I don't think I can remember the last time I read a m/f romance. I'm not saying that I think m/m will be the next big thing - though I live in hope - lol. I do think in the future we will see more m/m romances becoming available.

I'm not keen on the idea of the urban fantasy romance a term I have seen recently. To me that is a contradiction in terms.

Willa said...

Arghhh - wrote a long, and yes probably rambling post and it got ate by Blogger. Grrr.

So, to keep it short - I buy romance for the *romance*. That means I want it up-front-and-center when I read the book, not thrown in as an afterthought or a secondary story. Yes, I want the romance about a jewel thief! g

Tracy said...

For me a romance - no matter what the sub-genre is...contemp, historical, romantic suspense or one that has an HEA. Now there not ALL romantic, even if they're considered romance. I think Brockmann definitely would be considered, by me, as a romance writer. Yes she has other things going on but for me it's about the romance.

I think in my case it gets trickier when it's JR Ward. Her first 3 BDB books were definitely romances imho but the books after that were more urban fantasy even though the h/h got their HEA. The romances in those are so minimal it's almost an afterthought.

Anyway - just my two cents! :)

Jo - thanks so much for joining us this week - it's been great having you!!

Kytaira said...

I personally want my romance up front and center. I just don't feel as satisfied with a book where the romance is an afterthought.

That said, I think the change makes good marketing sense. There are many people out there that won't read a book they think is *romance*. My sister-in-law was just appalled to find Diana Gabaldon's books filed with the romances at a bookstore. According to her, Nora Roberts and Evanovich don't write romance either.

I worked at a used book store and saw the same attitude alot. The owner kept Danielle Steele in her own spinner. It was easier than arguing over where they should be filed. One lady in particular made me laugh. She would come into the store wanting the older books by Cruise, Roberts, Howard and Brockman. They all started out in series books. She wouldn't walk down that aisle though. The owner would stand in the series romance aisle calling out titles to the woman as she walked around the general ficion aisles. At the end of the trip, every book was from the series romance aisle.

Mari said...

I agree with what one of the posters said that she likes to read romance, not neccessarily where romance is an afterthought.

Another thing that annoys me is when romance authors that I love switch to mainstream fiction!

Caffey said...

I often like to chat with readers to find more of the romance books! I have a harder time with finding romance suspense that has the heat that I love with the books! I used to read straight suspense long ago and was bored, I needed something more with it and when I found the romance, I so loved it and I keep looking for those! I do depend on other readers to guide me to some that Its just my preference to have the romance sensuality strong. Yep I know straight suspense some love, but I don't. I did read authors before that used to and now don't and I respect those authors to write what they love. But I like to know when they are going to change their books to focus on the suspense instead. So I love to ask other readers about that.

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