Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dead, or FUTR?

Apparently, and completely unbeknownst to me, as well as my fellow historical romance writers and thousands of readers around the world, historical romances are "dead." Or thus sayeth one writer at a conference. And so comes the hand-wringing and cries of despair.

Now, are historical romances the flavor du jour among romance readers? Are they getting lots of buzz?


Are they the new "hot" thing in romance, so romance publishers are falling all over themselves to buy, buy, buy?


Are they selling at all? Are they making bestseller lists?

Uh, yep.

Are they selling in the numbers they used to?

Based on the number of authors deserting the genre, I think not.

But does that mean historicals are "dead?"

Well, somebody's buying all those historicals on the USA Today list, so I think it's a bit premature for anybody to pronounce my sub-genre "dead."

What I would say, though, is that historicals are FUTR (flying under the radar), at least for now.

But I honestly don't believe the genre will ever be completely "dead," and here's why:

Historical romances are the Lincoln Logs of the romance world. (Lincoln Logs are small wooden logs you can use to make little cabins, etc. My grandmother had them for us to play with; my niece delighted me by giving me a set last Christmas.) Lincoln Logs aren't as flashy as some of the new toys. They don't make noises or talk or have flashing lights.

What they are, though, is timeless. Classic.

As with Lincoln Logs and toys, romance trends may come and go, but for many readers, knights, castles, pirates, ships, balls and carriages and gowns are romance.

I also believe much of the perception that historicals are dying is based on the absence of an internet presence or chatter. If you were to go by the amount of talk about my books on blogs and message boards, yep, my books are deader than a twenty-year-old corpse on CSI.

But that's only on the internet. I suspect most of my readers, and historical romance readers in general, don't spend a lot of leisure time at their computers discussing their reading preferences. They know what they like, they buy it, end of story.

Or maybe I'm just in serious denial, fiddling while Rome burns. Maybe my readers will all decide, en masse, to abandon my historicals for those new kids on the block -- brooding vampires or Navy SEALs.

However, if that's the case, I still think it will only mean the death of Margaret Moore historicals, not the genre in general.

What will it take to "revive" the genre? Well, let me say here and now that I find the notion that it's only going to take one "super" historical to suddenly enliven the market quite insulting. Are my books and those of my fellow historical authors currently being published responsible for the downturn? Do all our books stink? I certainly don't think so, but that's what that notion implies to me.

What it will take is a combination of factors, the most nebulous and unpredictable being the mood of the buying public. It's like trying to build a bonfire: if you don't have tinder, kindling and the right configuration of logs, no number of matches will make it burn. But if you do? Bingo. Unfortunately, nobody can predict the future and what will affect the mood of the buying public.

That means publishers can only go by what's sold well recently, which explains the number of Regency-set romances available now.

So what's an author to do? In my case, I put on the blinkers and write what I like. If I don't make lists or one day can't sell books anymore because of my choices, so be it.

But that's only my books, and my sales, based on my choices. Historical romances were around before I started writing, and I honestly believe they'll be published long after I've stopped.


Leah Braemel said...

I think they're FUTR too, and I think that the publishers are a 'little off' in what they're buying. I was in my local Chapters recently and was talking to the clerk who looks after the Romance section. And she knew her romances. She said that Vampires are hot (no big news) but dying off. Erotica is hot - (again, no big stunner there), but lots of people come in looking for historicals - Regencies yes, but the clerk specifically mentioned Medievals) and they are disappointed that there are so few of them. I think the buying public is looking for them but if they can't find them, they buy something else. It's sort of a self-fulfilling publisher's prophecy.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

Kimber said...

What are your numbers saying?
Are less people buying your books?

Since most stores can't keep them on the shelves, I doubt there are.
Plus I saw your latest in the club stores. They usually don't touch any authors with low turns.

I find these discussions interesting.
The historical romance authors are saying their genre is dying.
The contemporary romance authors are saying their genre is dying.
The chicklit authors...well, 'nuff said there.
The vampire authors are concerned about their genre.
Etc. Etc.

Yet romance sales haven't dropped off a cliff.
So what ARE people buying?

Kimber said...

Oh, and btw..just got back from London
and there, its all about the historical novel.
Mills & Boon's historical shelves dominate the romance section.

And the general fiction shelves are packed with novels by authors like Philippa Gregory.

Margaret Moore said...

Book sales in general aren't what they were -- too much other and new media competing with them. OTOH, I read somewhere that the genre suffering most is the sci-fi/speculative fiction, the one that was the favorite of adolescent males, who are now too busy playing computer games. Their book sales number dropped from about 100,000 books a month to 10,000. (I wish I'd noted the source, but I'm pretty sure that's right, because my mind was boggled.)

Speaking as an author, when sales start to slip, you can wallow in the Slough of Despond, you can write what you think will sell better, or you can write what you want and hope for the best.

Since I've been hearing that medievals are "dead" since 1988, and I'm still writing them, you know my choice. :-) That said, I do appreciate that it's all about the numbers, and the day may come when mine are too low and I "get the onion," as my sister would say.

But regardless of my sales, I still think historical romances will be around as long as there's any market at all for romance novels.