Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Trends in Romance

Hello all. I'm Anne Rigoulot. I co-author a blog known as Let's Gab where anything goes and usually does. I also do some reviews over on I Just Finished Reading.
I live in Wisconsin with my husband and two teenage boys, and I'm thrilled that the Cindy Gerard invited me to guest blog! Thanks Cindy! And thanks to all the ladies of RWTTD for having me!

Today I'm going to talk about trends in romance. I ran some polls on my blog last month so I could put more than just my opinion into this article and approximately 100 people contributed their votes. Thanks everyone! And a special thanks to Karen Scott for pointing her readers in my direction.

Remember when Sherrilyn Kenyon was one of the only romance authors who had paranormal books out there with her Dark Hunter series? I thought it was the cat's meow. I mean, vampires! And not just any vampires either. Huge, hunky vampires. Oh lah lah. Can you believe the first book in that series was released in 2002? Now look at the market. It's been infused with vampires, shape-shifters, fae/fairies, demons, angels, and witches—the favorite of which, according to the polls, are shape-shifters with vampires running a close second.

And at that same time I think most of what I read was contemporary romance and romantic suspense, while now there is so much more of everything to choose from. What I mean is, while you've got the contemporaries and romantic suspense, there's also paranormal, urban fantasy, historicals, and even sci-fi is making a come back. I don't think historicals ever faded into the background, at least not the regencies, and as of late I've seen some western historicals rapidly making their way back on to readers "must buy" lists. Know what I'd like to see as far as historicals? Some medieval Scotsmen who speak in that really sexy brogue. Think Julie Garwood's The Bride.

Speaking of brogue… let's talk a bit about POV (point of view). (Not a very good segue was it? Ah well… LOL) The vast mixture of first person and third person books is phenomenal. Within the past one to two years, first person POV has been on the rise and it's a refreshing change for many. Sixty-six percent of the voters like third person best while 36% said they enjoy reading both equally.

Did you notice the heat level rising in books over the past two or three years? I certainly have. I enjoy romantica only from time to time and with that I find myself in the minority. The hotter the better it would seem! But that philosophy does not carry over to covers. I asked people if they would feel comfortable bringing a book with a revealing cover with them to a doctor's office and the answer to that question was a resounding NO! Myself included in that. So while the covers are getting more and more risqué, readers don't feel comfortable reading them in public—and that's okay. There's nothing wrong with that. There are a ton of things I like to keep private as well.

But there's a solution…ebooks. Ebooks have become very popular in the past five years and that trend is growing. At the start of it all were a few lonely epublishing houses and now you can find ebooks from NY publishers directly, on eHarlequin, and even on Amazon who made the Kindle for just this purpose. AND ebook reading devices are a convenient way to take books in public without having to worry about the covers. I, personally, have an ebookwise and I love it!

What has all this data told me? The romance market is BOOMING! It's range knows no bounds! Not only is there a diverse assortment of genres but also heat level and POV. Want a contemporary? It's right there. Want a book with a little spice? It's over there too. Want some romantic suspense? How about some SEALs or Special Ops? A story about a Lord and a Lady? A cowboy? Or a vampire? How about a cowboy vampire? Print or ebook? Whatever you want, however you want it, it's right at your fingertips, and it's marvelous!


Okay guys. Cindy here. We'd love to have you chime in and add your preferences to the mix Anne has given us. What do you see as trends? What do you see as here today, gone tomorrow? What do you think is here to stay? And what is it about a certain sub-genre that really trips your trigger, or pushes your hot buttons? Is there anything you want to see but aren't seeing on the shelves? And Anne would love to field questions about her research and about her very busy and popular blog. Let the games begin....


lois greiman said...

Anne, thanks so much for riding with us.

My question is this: How long do you think the paranormal phenomenon will live? Is it immortal as it seems to be? I have a faerie anthology coming out with Michele Hauf and Mary Janice Davidson next winter and it was so much fun writing it that I'm considering expanding. But there's so much 'weird stuff' out there already, I'm wondering if it's worth it. Any thoughts?

Michele Hauf said...

I blogged over at Simply Romance today about weres being the new vamps. But seriously, I think vampires are one trend here to stay. And they've been around in the romance community far longer than Kenyon's dark gang. :-) What about Feehan, Shayne, Miller and Ashley? (And yeah, I was in there, too, in the mid to late nineties.) But I think werewolves are on the rise.

Ebooks, for sure a new staple. Probably won't ever go away, only increase in popularity.

What I wonder about is the hardcover releases in romance. Seems they've waned a bit. Romance authors aren't coming out in hardcover so much anymore, unless the story has a more suspense/thriller angle. Is that just me? Or is that happening?

Anne said...

Hi Lois! Thanks for having me! I, personally, think that the paranormal trend will be around for a long time. It may diminish in number of books or authors as right now it's HUGE, but I truly believe that it's not just a flash in the pan trend. But that's just me. I mean it's delving into the unknown, authors taking readers to places they never imagined in their wildest dreams. That's why I think it's going to be here for the long haul. :-)

Anne said...

Hi Michele! I agree about weres being the new vamps... but I have to say that all shifters really. They are HUGE sellers right now. Most everyone I know is reading them as fast as they come out... which is AWESOME. I think the fact that romance has branched out so far in the last however many years (five? ten?) is amazing and says a lot about the strength of the genre. (I forgot about Maggie Shayne and Feehan... then there's Anne Rice with vamps too... Kenyon was just THE one for me *G*)

I noticed that about hard covers as well, but for the readers that's not a bad thing. Truthfully with the economy being the way it is, buying a trade-size book is a hardship for many. Maybe publishers noticed and cut back? I can't say for sure, but it could possibly be that trade size will replace some hardcover books so as to make them more affordable to the reader? I honestly don't know, but I do know that if my must-haves are in hardcover, I wait until they get to a special price on Amazon before I get them. For instance, one of Nora Roberts' books normally $25+ went all the way down to $17. I snapped that book up so fast! I mean that $8 is another book, mass market anyway or possibly even TWO category books--which I also love.

Look at me rambling on. Hee. Sorry. I just LOVE the Romance genre in all its forms and am very excited to see it expanding so far!

Helen Brenna said...

Hi, Anne - thanks for coming! So interesting to read your insights.

What's happening with the inspirational market? I have a couple friends just starting out there and I'm curious what they're heading into.

Cindy Gerard said...

Hey Anne. Welcome welcome. I've got a question too. Lately,I've been setting my romantic suspense action adventure books in foreign countries: Argentina, Sri Lanka, Argentina for example. I'm allowed to do this by my publisher but with the caveat that the books must be anchored in the US. It seems that many publishers are so leery about setting a book outside the US that they don't allow writers that option. Any thoughts on whether foreign settings really are an issue with readers?

Anne said...

Hi Helen! I'm so excited to be here.

From what I've noted as a reader is that the inspirational market has expanded and is becoming more and more popular. For instance, Harlequin's Steeple Hill line has expanded to include more sub-genres. Such as... I remember when Steeple Hill just had the Love Inspired line and now they have (per eharlequin site):

Steeple Hill Cafe- Hip, fun, and smart fiction.
Steeple Hill Inspired Suspense (self explanatory)
Steeple Hill Womens Fiction
And, of course the original Steeple Hill Love Inspired.

Generally I've found that Harlequin tends to follow the trends of all genre and usually after those trends are already established... example- SPICE and Nocturne.

So... my answer is that I think that the inspirational genre is booming and expanding and will continue to grow and sell well. :-)

Anne said...

Well, for me, as a reader I like the action adventure/romantic suspense settings in other countries. I like the accents and the surroundings, it can be distracting and does reduce my enjoyment of the book if too many cultural details and descriptives of the environment/their surroundings. But if it's just minor details, that totally works. But if too much focus is on the "world" the hero and heroine are in at the time, that pulls me from the story and diminishes my enjoyment.

Now, an example of one that totally worked in foreign country/ terrain... your book Cindy, To The Brink. I loved it. Not too much focus on the surroundings, but just enough to give us the visual of where the H & H were at any given time. And Under The Wire with Manny and Lily is another example of perfection. :-)

Did that answer your question? LOL I wonder sometimes if my babbling makes sense.

Cindy Gerard said...

It made perfect sense and the check is in the mail. You said that just the way I wanted you to. :o) Seriously, good to know.

flchen1 said...

Hi, Anne! Very cool to hear your thoughts and your research! As a reader, I've seen some of the same things you mentioned--a huge increase in paranormal offerings, an overall increase in heat, and a decrease in hardcovers (but maybe slightly more trade-size?) And as a reader, those all make sense to me--books are expensive and the HCs are even more so, plus they're heavier to hold and less convenient to carry around :) I think paranormals are going to be around for a while--they allow people to explore more freely and to have the excitement of a different kind of world. It's pulling some of those elements from sci-fi and fantasy, I think, and giving love a chance to bloom in a different setting.

I'm just excited to see the growing variety--I read everything from inspirational to the fairly risque, so I'm glad that I can pretty much find something new to read any time I want :) And I love that there are so many different settings, from alternate universes to Sri Lanka!

Thanks for the fascinating post!

Jennifer B. said...

You know, I remember seeing Kenyon's books on my rural library's new fiction shelves...looking at them and wondering what my library was thinking. Too bad I didn't open my mind and take the plunge back then. I'm sure I missed out on some good paranormals (like Feehan for example) over the years.

I'm with your poll respondents, LOL. I have come to LOVE first person POV, I found and liked heat in my romance books in recent years and don't care for explicit covers (have a 5-year old son). I don't do ebooks only because I have not yet bought an ereader. Someday.

Debra Dixon said...

Hi, Anne!

Great to have you with us. Especially since I'm giving a talk on "Finding your voice in the romance genre" on the 24th!

Excellent to add this to the mix.

Loved the poll. I think ebooks have finally reached their tipping point. Or are just cresting the ridge.

What's your opinion on the pricing of ebooks? How much cheaper than a printed copy should they be? Wh

Amie Stuart said...

hey Anne! I think ebooks are the future. Maybe not for us old fuddy duddys (and I use that term tongue-in-cheek) but for our kids who have never known a world without computers and games systems...definitely.
I agree on paranormals being here to stay and LOVE the diversity--I definitely lean more toward the urban fantasy side of things.

I do think the one I think I miss is straight contemporary romance --it seems to be getting harder and harder to find.

Anne said...

Hi Debra! Thanks for having me.

Ebook prices seem to be similarly or lower priced than print and I think that's a plus--one exception would be the Amazon Kindle which prices most books at $9.99.

I think the prices offered are fair to the reader. Though it's in ebook form, it is still the same book that can (most of the time) also be purchased in print--thus the author put the same amount of effort, time, and creativity into that book, so in my opinion, the price should be the same or close to it. The difference is, you don't have to pay for shipping and you get instant gratification. You find the book, add it to your shopping cart, and when you're ready you checkout and pay... but with ebooks you don't have to pay for shipping nor wait for it to arrive. It's right there.

The only exception I can think of would be a hardcover book or trade because you pay more for the packaging with those books whereas there is no "extra" to be done with ebooks. I don't know what price would be fair in this case, I think that would depend on the publisher and their opinion. I just know that if I'm going to pay $13 for a trade book or $25-$28 for a hardcover, I'll get the paper copy rather than the electronic copy.

I hope your talk goes well on the 24th! Do you still get nervous when speaking to a crowd? I don't think I'd ever get used to it. :-)

Anne said...

Hi Amie! Glad you found me here. hee! I agree about straight contemporaries. They ARE getting harder and harder to find. I'm not sure if that's because contemporary erotic romance books are taking some of the straight contemporary slots or what. But I do know for a fact (via my agent) that one publisher for sure is NOT taking any straight contemporaries at this time--unless they are from authors already established with that publisher, of course.

I don't know what there can be done about it, but I do find myself reading more and more category books from Silhouette and going back to some author's back lists such as JoAnn Ross and reading the straight contemporaries, the ones of old, the "feel good" reads. Looking to the right at this minute, I see Christie Ridgway has a contemporary coming out in June. Thank goodness. I miss them so!

Christie Ridgway said...

Welcome, Anne! (And thanks for the plug about my book, it is indeed a straight contemporary romance...I love them!).

I think you make an excellent point about readers liking hot books but not wanting the covers to reflect all that hotness. Why don't publishers get that? I suppose they need some way to signal to potential buyers what they'll be getting. I just played with a friend's Kindle and you're right, e-books can mitigate that problem.

I review for BookPage (a publication that goes to mostly libraries and some bookstores) and what I'm missing from too many books is the emotional content that really says "romance" to me. So many books are world-building heavy, or weird-species heavy, or action-plot heavy that they neglect to spend time on showing me that wonderful relationship that is developing between the h/h. While I very much like a sexy romance, the very best love scenes have an integral emotional note as well.

Anne said...

Hi Christie

I agree with you about the lack of emotion. It seems a lot of books plot-driven rather than character-drive as they used to be... which is why, truthfully, I stick to authors who I know write character-driven stories. Don't get me wrong, a good plot goes a long way, but without the emotions and romance, I always feel dissatisfied.

For instance... a few weeks back I saw people talking about Susan Kay Law's book, The Paper Marriage. I went and read the blurb and the excerpt and I knew from that much that it was going to be a good character-driven story. So, I went and bought it, read it, and loved it. I'm finding myself looking toward new-to-me authors for stories I used to be able to find from some of my favorite authors. I'm just really, really glad that you are staying with your contemporaries and not changing your style... same with Cindy. You guys rock!

Lori said...

I for one am really glad that ebooks are becoming more widely available from more mainstream publishers. As one with no more room for books, but a serious compulsion to buy, and a very poor public library system, I need a place to store my books, and my ebook reader is the perfect place!

I'd be interested to hear what thoughts are on the laws in place on sharing ebooks. As they become more mainstream, people will want to share them with their friends in the same manner that they do paperbacks. Asked with the caveat that I understand that you all are authors and ideally everyone would purchase your books, but with the understanding that books get shared among friends all the time.

Debra Dixon said...

Anne-- Glad to hear that readers appreciate that the content is the same value of a printed book (g) and that the majority of savings will be in shipping and storage.

Lori-- The easy answer is that if you give your ereader to someone so they can enjoy a book, no problem. If you give the *file* to someone then that's going to be a copyright infringement just as if you give a copy of software to someone to install on their computer. I'll be interested to see how the industry handles this going forward.

The reality is...that there is a limit to sharing beyond which the marketplace cannot go and remain profitable. Writers may need to find other employment to put food on the table, which means less choice for the reader, wonderful stories gone untold. And even worse is the writer who is still willing to write but whose publisher declines to offer another contract because frontlist sales are too small.

I'm sure there are those who will argue that by sharing a file they are increasing the readership who will buy the next book themselves. I'm not sure I believe that to be true, not when looking at the amount of sharing which is routinely done among people who already read that genre or author.

Authors are already having great problems with file sharing sites on the internet where readers are putting up whole texts of books in violation of copyright laws. They have to know this is wrong and yet they do it anyway, forcing writers to take time away from their writing to police these sites and continually demand that content be taken down.

Change is good. It's just sometimes hard getting a handle on anything during the change. (g)

Anne said...

Yeah Lori, what Debra said. I don't know what the answer is to this dilemma just that the sites who have links to books for hundreds and even thousands to download are already causing problems. In my eyes, it has to be the job of the publishers to get this under control. There is only so much an author can do.

Lori said...

I definitely agree on the huge file sharing sites, and believe that they will eventually be controlled in the same way that Napster, et al was controlled. And agree that they should be, absolutely.

I was really referring more to the sharing of a single file between one friend to another, privately.

Debra, In the same way I wouldn't mail my bookcase to my friend, I wouldn't mail my ebook reader either. I might mail a paperback, though, and I also might mail an ebook file (if it wasn't against the law, of course) - which is why I asked in the first place.

Not intending to be divisive, honestly, just curious, really.

Anne said...

Honestly, I have to say, I wish the person-to-person thing were possible without copyright infringement because to me that would be the same, as Lori said, as sharing a paperback. Just my 2 cents.

Cindy Gerard said...

I agree, Anne and Lori. It's a joy to share a book you love with a friend or visa versa. I've found some of my favorite authors that way. And in a perfect world, that would happen with ebooks as well as paper books. Unfortunately, the state of e-publishing is far from perfect at this point when it comes to protecting copy-writed work and as Deb said, it's horrifying to find someone listing your book for sale on line and making money from your labor when you, yourself, aren't making a dime. It's flat out theft and, if not policed and soon, will lead to the kind of losses for all of us that Deb mentioned. Less writers making money means less writers, less stories, less for all concerned. At this point in time, publishers don't appear to be doing as much as should be done to curtail this activity so writers are caught in the middle, virtually, without power. One site is shut down, another takes it's place.
It's pretty sad. In the meantime, we will all hope that we can all get what we need and want very soon but until the e-book issue is addressed, it's risky business all around.
We so appreciate you comments on this, guys. Thanks for sharing.

Cindy Gerard said...

When I said I hope we will all get what we need - I want to make it clear that I'm including readers too, not just writers. Money is tight. We all know that and e-books are a often available at a lower price - and they are 'green' :0) No trees died in the process :o)

Lori said...

Agreed :)

Sarah McCarty said...

Hi Anne!

Great post and comments. I'm a huge ebook convert. Just yesterday I was all aflutter because one of my Keepers that U thought wouldn't ever be released in ebook did. I love taking my keeper shelf with me everywhere.

Amie Stuart said...

>>I'd be interested to hear what thoughts are on the laws in place on sharing ebooks.

FWIW Someone...I want to say Brilliance Audio, allows 5 dl's of their MP-3 books. Considering the high price of audio books I think this is nice. I'm not sure how they restrict it though--maybe with a license like Microsoft (you can install Office like 3 times with a license).

Long term I'm not sure there's an easy answer though

Anne said...

The thing about ebooks is, just as Cindy said... one site shuts down and another one starts up. Friend-to-friend wouldn't be such a hardship if it weren't for these sites. THEY are the ones who are going to make it impossible for friends to ever be able to share ebooks which just sucks big time. I love being able to share my books with my friends, especially when they are books that are ones that I absolutely love and adore and my friends have never heard of before. And I won't be able to do that with ebooks. :-( I'll have to either buy it for them (yikes, money IS tight) or refer them to where I bought it (and money is tight for them too). It's kinda nice for groups like Lori, Jennifer, and I on Let's Gab to be able to share books and thus share the expense of said books... especially with the economy the way it is.

We'll just have to wait and see what happens with ebooks in the future. That's all we can do.

Anne said...

Sarah! My lovely friend. I'm so glad you are getting more and more of your Keeper books in ebook format. I know you love ebooks and your Kindle. :-) Thanks for stopping by. Hugs!

Anne said...

Thanks again, ladies, for letting me ride with you today! I had a good time. :-)

Cindy Gerard said...

Anne - thanks so much for being our guest. it was great and we received a lot of thought provoking comments. Come back and see us again. We're always here :o)

Megan Hart said...

Helloooooo, Anne!

The internet is really a small world, huh? :)


Ruth said...

Great post! In answer to Lois' question, I think that paranormal is definitely here to stay, especially since paranormal is becoming more mainstream in a lot of places. Personally I prefer characters that are in the dreamwalker/shapeshifter a la the characters in Take Me There as opposed to weres and vamps.