"Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall..."Let's review why we like romance, in all its nuances and subgenres. Actually, I guess we'll have to stick with reviewing why I like romance, since no one else is writing this blog entry and no way I'm doing a poll at....wait a sec...10:08 p.m. You're stuck with my opinion, only. But I'll venture a guess that I'm not so different than any other rabid romance reader out there.
I like romance because of how it makes me feel as I'm reading it. There's a sense of euphoria, of anticipation, and I'm frequently struck by the very real belief that I am capable of great things. This is as I'm sitting, or curled up, or even standing in line at the grocery store - in other words, while not in motion, not doing anything at all except reading, I feel...empowered. I know what I like - it hasn't changed since I picked up my first Barbara Cartland when I was 13 years old. I like manly men and interesting women, and great dialogue, and intriguing plots with great twists and love scenes that make my stomach do that flipping thing. That's not to say that I don't like chick lit, or action adventure, or literary fiction, or Dear Abby. I'll read anything if it'll hold still long enough. But what I love is romance. Nothing else feels the same. Nothing else moves me in quite the same way.
So tell me why it is that I've read a few romances over the past year or two that just didn't meet my expectations? They were good books - with all the ingredients I mentioned above. But just like the red velvet cake I tried to make on Valentine's Day, which had all the right ingredients, they fell flat. I began to think it was me. Had I reached some level in life that romance no longer punched my buttons? I read more, and discovered that no, it's not me. I did read a few that gave me That Old Feeling. So it has to be the books, right?
Silhouette recently rocked a lotta boats when they came out with new guidelines for what I'd thought was their bestselling line - Desire. It seems that the line will now be more like Harlequin Presents, complete with rich, alpha men and stories that are more plot-driven than character-driven. I have to wonder, why did Silhouette make this change? Could it be that the line isn't selling as well as previously? Is this a knee-jerk reaction, an attempt to get readers to come back? If so, where did the readers go? Did they defect to erotic romance? To vampires? Werewolves? Chick lit? Are all these other subgenres of romance intruding on sales of tried and true romances? After all, how many readers can there be? It's by nature a finite number, and if the demographic analysts are correct, that number is shrinking because young chickies just ain't into the romance thang. Why is that? My daughters want romance in their lives - why don't they read it? This is purely conjecture on my part, but I think it's because young women today are jaded. They lost their innocence and dreams of fairy tales to MTV and The Real World. Yeah, like that's so real. As if.
I notice that almost every house is adding an erotic romance line, no doubt chasing the magic that is Ellora's Cave. (Side note: I question how well the erotic romance books will do in print - I think one of Ellora's biggest draws is that the books are purchased for online reading, in the privacy of the reader's home.) But every house can only print so many books, again because of that finite number of readers. Where will they cut back? Historicals? Romantic suspense? Chick lit? Does it matter? Only to the readers of those subgenres. Meanwhile, the erotic romance readers are no doubt rejoicing.
But I digress. I want to know, is romance as we know it going the way of the dinosaur? Will the number of books I can buy that give me That Old Feeling continue to decline? I hope not, but the fact is, I'm finding it harder and harder to locate them. Maybe it's as I said - maybe the publishing houses are so hell bent to find 'the next big thing', they've abandoned what's carried them through the past three decades. Or maybe it's us, the readers, demanding more books, more variety, more....what?
But this still doesn't explain what I remember one editor called 'meh' books. Yeah, it's all there, but it's just 'meh'. Nothing I'm going to remember five minutes after I put the book down. Nothing to give me That Old Feeling. Why is that? I'd love to think it's because I'm a writer, that I'm much more persnickety, that I pick books apart. But that can't be it. I've read books within the past year that I was so absorbed in, I forgot to eat. No way was I paying any attention to craft while I was reading. I'm afraid to say this out loud - but the hard truth is, there are some books out there that are just 'meh' books, and that's what's hurting sales. It's not the additional genres. It's not the inability to gain new readers in the youngsters' ranks. It is the defection of romance readers - people who get tired of shelling out 6 bucks for a blah read.
I had someone in the industry - someone who's been working it for 25+ years, tell me that she sees the problem as authors getting in a rush. They write so fast, they forget to add the magic. They take classes, read books, learn every facet of writing, then sit down and write a perfect book. But it's 'meh'. It's got no soul. No take-away.
What's the answer to the dilemma? I have no idea. It's about as quantifiable as finding out how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. What do you think?
EDIT: After reading this over, I realize there may be some authors, paticularly those who write for Desire, that might think I'm criticizing the line. Please know, that is not at all the case. Desires have always been a favorite of mine. I only pointed out Silhouette's decision to change the guidlelines, and my curiosity about it. I could also point out the folding of other lines and the beginning of new ones that are not, in the purest sense of the word, romance. It points to an upheaval in the industry, and that, in my rambling, long, ovulating way, is what I was getting at with this entire blog. I want to know - why?