Am I out of touch with romance readers? Or is it the publishers’ fault?

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I read about people all over the place being in reading slumps. I’ve seen reviewers on major, long-established book blogs saying they’re not reading much at the moment, that they’re burnt out and struggling to find books that interest them.

So I assumed some of my own thoughts about recent fads in romance fiction were held by a lot of people.

One thing I know I’m in the minority on is romance covers. I hate many of them, and disagree with authors who argue it’s not the naked-people covers turning people away from the genre. (I say this because *I* didn’t read romance for years – mostly because of the trashy covers.)

However, after thinking I just had no clue what most readers enjoyed, I’m starting to think it’s actually the publishers who are doing crazy things to the genre and turning devoted readers away.

Recently I blogged about Avon’s bizarre Wish List for Historical Romances, which really should have been named What Not to do When Writing Historical Romance, if readers’ opinions are anything to go by. It’s no wonder people are struggling with many recent historical romances if this is what publishers are asking for.

Now I’ve been reading the editors’ threads over at the Harlequin discussion forums, and I’m confused all over again.

While I agree on some points, many of the themes and tropes they’re requesting more of are the EXACT tropes many people say they hate. I know I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve seen enough people ridiculing these tropes to know they’re largely out of date.

Some of the tropes they’re requesting more of:

Secret Babies. Amnesia. Twins and Triplets.

The secret baby trope, particularly in contemporary stories (which is what they’re requesting them for) is just awful. Almost 100% of the time, that secret baby is the hero’s. Heroes aren’t known for being so evil a woman could be justified hiding his child from him. Either the hero or the heroine in this type of book has to be an awful person, and then I definitely don’t want to read about them getting together.

Even though I just reviewed a good book involving amnesia, amnesia is the joke trope, and the one you’ll find quoted most often in articles ridiculing the romance genre. The romance world’s version of amnesia is nothing like the reality of the condition, to the point it’s often insulting to read.

As for the multiple babies, I know there’s a certain readership who still loves that sort of thing. But if Harlequin is on the lookout for new generations of readers, they might want to rethink the number of that type of book they put out there!

It just seems to me that every time I read an article written by an editor with a major publisher, their idea of fixing the romance genre is to keep on doing exactly what readers don’t want!

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4 thoughts on “Am I out of touch with romance readers? Or is it the publishers’ fault?

  1. I couldn’t agree more!! The whole cover thing is a TOTAL turnoff – and I have been blogging about that very fact. Take Lilith Saintcrow’s “The Demon’s Librarian” (review on my site). It was originally published in 2009, and the cover, while a bit outdated in quality for these days, was appropriate for the book. The “new” cover? Uh, the book is about a FEMALE librarian of a demon library – – – for what particular reason did you change the cover to a torso shot of a guy???? Pft. BORING. It is completely interchangeable with every other book out there that even approaches romance… and this is not really “Paranormal Romance” – it is Urban Fantasy – there are no sex scenes, and though you (of course) get an HEA with her hooking up with a guy, the story itself is NOT about their relationship, it is about her working as a demon slayer and trying to keep his group from capturing her and turning her into a tool for their own uses. It is a GREAT book, but more than one person has agreed with my review – great book, HORRIBLE marketing…. many other reviewers agreed with me that they wouldn’t even pick it up based on the cover and blurb.

    And have you noticed how “Doormat Heroines” are now back with a vengeance? Ugh.

    “Secret Babies”? REALLY??? These are adults, surely they understand where babies come from. I couldn’t take ‘the pill’ myself, but it is out there, kids. So are IUD’s. Oh, and condoms – maybe the guy should take a little responsibility? Women in my generation weren’t always smart about this sort of thing, but women of your generation? MUCH smarter, surely?

    Back in my day, that whole Harlequin Romance thing was for women of the previous generation, even then, and included all of the issues you mention, and more, that make me CRINGE – and did even then. Harlequin seems to still be publishing for two generations ago. I can’t see it working for your generation – heck, it didn’t even work for MY generation! The thing is, however, that it isn’t only Harlequin. . . I have run across some darn good books with horrible covers, blurbs, and covers that seem to be geared for the brain-dead reader by the marketing crew, and yet the writer did a good job of writing an excellent story – that won’t be read by the intelligent, and will be revile by the reader who only wants smut with no story . . sigh.

    I hope publishing companies that give me requests to R&R will listen to my comments when I send them. This is a generation of intelligent women, and you are right – a lot of readers (including myself) are getting burned out on the whole thing. If the cover and blurb are stupid, you expect a stupid book and bypass it. Sometimes? The book is, indeed, stupid. But other times? There is a good book under that pile of manure that will never be discovered because of poor marketing practices such as bad covers and bad blurbs.

    Great article, Sonya!

  2. Sonya, you wrote “I say this because *I* didn’t read romance for years – mostly because of the trashy covers.” and that’s me too…..Like Leah I’ve been having a moan about covers – I can think of maybe five books where I was attracted because of the cover – I can think of many many more where it put me off. And the same ones keep coming up on different book…along with images that don’t match the description of the characters inside ie dark hair not blonde, that kind of thing. It seems whatever’s inside the cover has to have a man in a vest, tattoos optional, or a hoodie if he’s younger…
    as for content, well I’ve read a few secret/unexpected baby themes that work…a few, a very few 😉 but its got to the stage where when they have sex and no condom is mentioned you just know a baby is going to pop out. its’ incredible how fertile these guys are, one go and she’s pregnant of if on the pill or using condoms. again they’re not 100% but….Sigh. amnesia – needs careful handling and as for twins/triplets? Why? Just why? where does this idea ( wrong of course) that a baby solves all issues so 2 or 3 has to be better….
    ah well, thankfully there’s so many good books out there, and I’ve found some gems via Self Pub, that I just discard those that don’t look interesting. Covers I use mainly for weeding out – any swirly pink/gold writing goes passed over…
    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when its publishing houses asking for books around themes that may have worked back in the seventies ( my mum was a big M&B fan, and that sounds just like what she read then) but today we mostly want a bit more.

  3. Pingback: The Week: 3rd – 9th August | Sonya's Stuff

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