Wednesday, August 10, 2011

As the words begin to flow again -- and 16,258

That's my objective for today -- to have 16,258 words accumulated on The Stolen Queen.  I may or may not make it, but I will at least try.

After taking my daughter and grandson -- the next Wayne Gretzky -- to the airport Monday morning, I returned home and began putting my house and studio back in order, then turned my attention to the writing.  I'd been away from The Stolen Queen so long that I had to read through what I'd already written to immerse myself in the story once again.  That distance, however, allowed me to fix a few small weak places I hadn't seen the first time through and when I actually began writing again yesterday, I had a better sense of where I was.

I didn't meet my 1,000-word goal yesterday, adding just a little over 300 words.  But it's something.

Part of returning to the writing was also returning to my reading, especially of the various blogs and websites from which I've been pulling information about writing, publishing, marketing, and so on.

As I said before, this blog isn't going to contain reviews, though I may comment from time to time on books I've read.  But in reading reviews of other books -- specifically of romance novels -- I noticed what appeared to be a disappointing pattern.  Yesterday brought some confirmation of my suspicions.

The first was a thread at All About Romance regarding setting as a trope in historical romance.  Many of the readers who posted responses not only stated that they prefer books with specific settings but also either stated or strongly hinted that they prefer these settings because they are familiar, comfortable, non-challenging, non-political.

Which settings are these?  At the top of the list is Regency England, that short slice of British history at the end of George III's reign when his son, the Prince of Wales, was the effective ruler.  As the opening post on that AAR thread states, romances set in the Regency period, whether they are "traditional" Regencies in the style of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen or more involved Regency historicals of the sort written by Kasey Michaels or Julia Quinn, feature upper class characters in upper class situations that rarely touch upon the messier historical aspects of the period, such as child labor, poverty, colonialism, and so on.  Several of the posters on the AAR thread specifically stated they didn't want to read about that sort of thing.  Some wrote that it was out of laziness; others just said they didn't want to think about racism or poverty.  Only one poster had anything negative to say about the Regency trope.

The second was the Tuesday links post at Dear Author referencing PubIt review pitches.  (I'd explain that, but you might as well click on the link and read it there.)  What disappointed me was that Dear Author stated they only review books from 50,000 to 80,000 words.  Even my "short" novels for Zebra Heartfire -- including Secrets to Surrender -- were well over 100,000. 

My conclusion, from reading these two threads at two different websites, is that there is little market for long historical romance novels set outside the English nobility in the early 19th century.  The American West?  Nah.  Medieval France?  Nope.  Tsarist Russia?  Not on your life.

Ironically, of course, most of the criticism of romance fiction comes from the socially conservative right, even though most of romance fiction supports the exact same values as the social conservatives -- one man, one woman in traditional marriage; and unearned wealth/entitlement as a mark of God's grace.  And nowhere are those values more prominently displayed than in the Regency-themed historicals.

Many of the readers who post at AAR frequently admit to being conservatives, so their statements are not surprising.  The readers and reviewers at Dear Author are less conservative on social issues, at least as far as gender and sexuality.  Many of the books reviewed there are male/male, female/female or other gendered romances and erotica.  The reviewers also read many contemporary category romances, with a current emphasis on the newly e-pubbed versions of Harlequin, Silhouette, and Loveswept backlist titles.  But until I read the thread about the PubIt reviews, I did not know Dear Author had a word count limit.

In a way, this explains the current trend toward multiple book series which feature siblings or friends or members of an extended family.  The author can write shorter books, all using the same research, but carry an expanded plot arc through as many as half a million words, a million words, or even more!  (The same applies to paranormal/vampire/shapechanger/whatever novels which require world-building that may be the equivalent of historical research.)

I am not opposed to change.  If I were, I would never have embraced the technology that allows me to publish my own books at almost no expense.  But I do find some changes unsettling and uncomfortable.  My preference is for a long narrative that combines adventure and romance all wrapped up at the end with a securely happy ever after ending.  That's the kind of book I like to read, and the kind I like to write.  Well I have to change my format as I go forward with the new books I'm writing?  Will The Stolen Queen be forced to evolve into a series?  Will its ending become the beginning of a sequel?

I don't know.  What I do know is that I can't address those issues until this book is itself complete.  I haven't reached today's quota of words.  I'd better get back to it.


  1. That was my thread on AAR.

    As for what the market desires (settings-wise at least)? I do believe that readers want books set outside of the most prevalent settings, but I don't see the pendulum swinging towards balance of Regency, Western, Americana, Tsarist Russia, etc because so many popular authors write Regency Historicals, the enjoyment of the author has become entwined with the enjoyment of the setting.

    The successes of authors who write outside of this setting (i.e. Sherry Thomas-1890s; Jennifer Ashley-1880s; Jo Beverley and her beloved Malloren World-Georgians; Elizabeth Hoyt-Georgians; et al), and the wild popularity of The Tudors, Deadwood, Boardwalk Empire, and Downton Abbey, would lead you to assume romance readers are anxious for Tudor-set romances, Westerns, 1920s America, and 1910s/WWI England, right?

    Nope...a look at upcoming historical releases in both print and e-book and even self-published, still reveal the very strong grip Regency England has on the historical romance genre. Because of this, I've begun to think of myself as a writer of romantic historical fiction rather than a historical romance author--my outlook is broader, I don't feel confined by genre expectations, and I definitely do not feel limited by setting.

  2. Hi, Evangeline!

    I read over at AAR but I don't post, for a variety of reasons. I found that particular discussion fascinating, but discouraging as well. I even went back and reread the whole thread -- it wasn't very long -- last night, and yes, there were those who stated they did not want to be disturbed by the messier accuracies of history.

    And I did write (a little) about Tsarist Russia, and the American West. And when I set stories in early 19th C. England, they were definitely not "Regencies" in anything close to the subgenre's qualifications. But I had novels rejected (in the mid-1990s) as being too modern because it was set in 1912, or too dark because the heroine had been maliciously committed to an insane asylum because she resisted her husband's unwanted sexual assaults, or unpublishable because the heroine could not obtain a legal divorce and so left her husband and lived with her lover. That's part of the reason why I left the business.

    But I think it's interesting that now not only is the historical accuracy of our work becoming a necessity because we are expected to educate the reader, but now we have to propagandize for progressive ideals as well! As you may have guessed, I'm all for the latter, but I'm not sure we should be saddled with that responsibility. Is Grisham? Is King? Is Cornwell?