Buy These Books…Even If They’re Awful

One message I kept hearing during this summer’s RWA conference was that publishers were finally ready to look at books that are different. Not every publisher was saying it, mind you, but I heard it a lot more than I had the year before – when the message seemed to be: “Take a look at what we are already publishing…and write something just like that.” But at the same time, I had an author tell me that her slightly different historicals (I mean really, they were still set in England) weren’t selling as well as she – or her publisher – had hoped. Consequently, she will probably have to switch back to Regency or Victorian set historicals. Which really made me think that those of us who are informed, internet-savvy readers need to vote with our pocket books.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Regencies as much as the next person, and probably more than the next person. I hope that the people who love writing them continue to write them. There will always be room in my heart for spies, spinsters, poor relations, and Almacks. But I don’t just want to read about that. People have been successfully falling in lust and in love and populating the planet for some time now, all over the world – not just in nineteenth century England. And those of us who have been reading and reviewing romance novels for years start craving variety like we crave air.

These three books – from three different publishers – all offer something a little bit new and different:

Carrie Lofty’s Flawless; will be published by Pocket in October. The heroine is from New York. It’s set in Colonial South Africa, where the heroine and her estranged husband must earn her inheritance by proving they can run a diamond business. I’ve never read that one before.

Jeannie Lin’s The Dragon and the Pearl; is set during the Tang Dynsasty in China. The heroine is a former emperor’s consort, and the hero is a warrior caught up in political drama. What? People used to fall in love in Asia too? Who knew? This is Lin’s second book set in the Tang Dynasty, and will be published by Harlequin Historical in Late September.

Anna Randol’s A Secret in Her Kissisn’t out until February. But it’s a) published by Avon and b) an historical set in Constantinople. I know! Constantinople!

I’m going to buy all of them, regardless of how good they are or what kind of reviews they receive. Now granted, they are all probably good anyway. I read Carrie Lofty’s Portrait of Seduction earlier this year and thought it was quite good, and Jeannie Lin’s first novel, Butterfly Swords, received DIK status here at AAR. And really, what are the odds that Avon would take a chance on a romance set in Constantinople if it sucked?

But suppose all three of them are awful? I don’t care; I’m buying them regardless, and I think you should too. Because as consumers, we need to send the message that we want variety in our reading. If books that take risks fail, the likely conclusion will be that their setting is to blame. I doubt the powers that be will reason, “Well, this isn’t a isn’t a good book set in South Africa/China/The Ottoman Empire, but I’ll still take a chance on the next one.” So I’ll be putting my money where my mouth is, even if all three of these books get Ds. I’m not sure I would have said the same thing ten years ago, but then I’m older and (maybe) wiser, and I have a little more disposable income. I also don’t want to spend the next ten years reading solely about Lady Sally Spinster from the “I’m never getting married” club getting love lessons from the scandalous Duke of Swiveshire. Who’s with me?

- Blythe Barnhill

34 thoughts on “Buy These Books…Even If They’re Awful

  1. Oh oh oh I LOVE books that are different or that are set in other places than England. I read both Song of Seduction and Portrait of Seduction and loved them both. I’ll be getting Flawless by Lofty for sure.

    Mary Jo Putney’s newly out for Kindle Silk series are set in exotic locations, as are the two of the Bride books, The Bartered Bride and The China Bride.

    I’ve kept an entire list of books to look for called Other Times, Other Places (yep, love my lists…)

  2. It’s not so much the settings, as the characters. I’m tired of Regency spies, “independent” women who change their minds when a penis is waved in their direction, the same-old, same-old plot devices.
    If they really used the wartime atmosphere, the nutty Regent, the London milieu in a more realistic way, I think there could be some excellent, fresh novels coming out.
    And if they only studied a bit of history!

  3. I think “different” should go far, far – did I say far? – beyond the time period. The books is the author’s canvass. History is mood. Reality is a state of mind. Anything can happen at any time. Characters might say or do anything…

    Okay, my POV is over-the-top but given the gloomy environment around us, I think a trip over the top is a refreshing change of pace.

    I guess my point is that writers should write outside the box. I believe that there are a lot of readers who are ready for a different kind of ride and will suspend their disbelief and just enjoy the journey.

  4. YES, I DO EDIT –

    I think “different” should go far, far – did I say far? – beyond the time period. The book is the author’s canvas (but it’s also her time to canvass). History is mood. Reality is a state of mind. Anything can happen at any time. Characters might say or do anything…

    Okay, my POV is over-the-top but given the gloomy environment around us, I think a trip over the top is a refreshing change of pace.

    I guess my point is that writers should write outside the box. I believe that there are a lot of readers who are ready for a different kind of ride and will suspend their disbelief and just enjoy the journey.

  5. I loved Butterfly Swords and firmly believe that Lin is too good a writer to write awful.

    I am looking forward to reading them all and supporting these authors through trying the “new.”

    maggie b.

  6. As an author who writes books that are slightly different, I whole heartedly agree, but if you want different, you’ll have to go the ebook route. That’s where the really different books are.

    Also, if you like Jeanie Lin, she’s got a novella also set in the Tang Dynasty and it is marvelous.

    And something to put on your calendar for different is a January or February release from Tina Beckett from Harlequin Medical called (I think) A Doctor’s Guide To Love In the Jungle set on a medical boat on the Amazon. I’ve read the first few chapters and it’s a DIK if there ever was one.

  7. I am totally aboard with you on this one! Years ago, I read DESERT EDEN by Patricia Grasso, on of my all time favorite authors, set in the Ottoman Empire in the 1500′s. I so hoped she would keep writing books like those — instead, market forces drove her into the Regency, and her books were just never the same. We’ve got to stop the mainstream from sucking the great authors into the cookie-cutter whirlpool of Regency blahness!

  8. To be honest, I’ve been reading so many different kinds of books lately, that I recently found myself reading book backs in the library thinking, “Why can’t I just find something about a Miss in London running around sparkling balls!” I suppose that’s because I just finished Stephanie Laurens’ books about people traveling from… where was it? India? And a Suzanne Enoch about the Pacific Islands. And another set in a fantasy world.

    But I suppose the reason I did turn to those in the first place was because I was tired of Spinsters.

    I would also suppose that’s the reason I am looking for books on Young Misses who aren’t opposed to marriage or resigned to not getting married. Why are there so many books about spinsters….?

    I am rambling now.

    But I have already put the two books from Tang China and the one set in Constantinople on my Wishlist. That is just too intriguing. ::intrigued eyebrow::

    Thanks for bringing the topic up and finding such *hopefully* delicious fodder for my wishlist.

  9. I’m not so sure the local is the problem. I love historical romances, I read all genres but always return to my true love. But I’m amazed at the lack of imagination by some authors, they write the same thing over and over, and not very well. If it’s written well and maybe from a different perspective than a 19 year old debutant and a thirty something jaded rake that is suddenly overcome by her beauty and decides to change his ways because of her violet eyes, who has violet eyes anyways, when we all know he’s just a pedofile that probably has the ‘pox’. Give me a different perspective and good writing. And if it’s in a different local, great, but make sure it’s well written. JMHO

  10. I love different historical settings, but I usually satisfy my craving by reading historical fiction. Sadly, unique settings seem to far and few between in the romance genre. On the other hand, to me, it’s all about the writing. A unique setting isn’t going to sparkle if the writer is not talented.

  11. Hey Susan,
    The second book in the Silk Trilogy is “The Wild Child”. It’s set in England, but the subject matter is out of the ordinary and there are references to previous happenings in another place. I reread and/or re-listen to those works of MJP every year. I like her more recent works, but the Silk trilogy was fabulous!

    Excellence in writing is more important to me than setting. I loved Sherry
    Thomas’ setting in Asia, but it was her writing that drew me to reread the book and give it as gifts to some non-romance reader friends and family.
    Right now I’m reading Mary Balogh’s “The Secret Mistress” and it is right there in Regency England with a young miss, hats&clothes, balls, etc. and I’m enjoying it immensely. Mary Balogh’s writing (and an out of the usual hero) make it appealing.

  12. I agree that it’s not all about the setting. Still, I make it a point to buy (even pre-order) titles that have unusual settings.

  13. Silk and Secrets by Mary Jo Putney is set in the west Asian desert, and parts of north Africa/Persia (at that time). It’s also one of the best second chance romances I’ve read in a long time. Two adults actually come to terms with their past and deal with what has gone on in the 12 years of separation. Excellent book.

    There is a really cool blog that highlights unusual historical novels if you are looking for something different. It’s http://www.unusualhistoricals.blogspot.com. They have articles and interviews and excerpts. I have found a lot of interesting things to read from that blog.

    But if you want the ballroom and bonnets, Mary Balogh is the way to go! :)

  14. Heh, loved your ending.

    I’m not sure I entirely agree with the idea of supporting bad books (though of course you’re not actually expecting these to be bad.) But putting your money where your mouth is is always a good plan.

  15. I don’t care either. I will also be buying them in my own small effort at showing publishers that we readers DO want the different and the unusual.

  16. As much as I enjoy Regencies, a change of place and time for a historical romance is welcome–so long as the story is captivating, the characters are well-drawn, and cliches are avoided!

    And I agree with Susan–”Silk and Secrets” is one of Mary Jo Putney’s best historicals. It’s the second volume of the “Silk” series, and while you don’t have to have read the first book (“Silk and Shadows”), the hero of “Silk and Secrets” does have a sizable role in the first book. Much of the third book of the series (“Veils of Silk”) takes place in India, which is one of my favorite settings for historical romances (e.g. “The Far Pavilions”).

  17. The main reason I almost never read historicals is that they’re all exactly the same. Of course the likes of Lisa Kleypas rise above the others, but in the end, there really aren’t that many ways to rewrite ‘The Season’.

    There certainly aren’t that many dashing masculine men in Regency England (or now for that matter!).

    It really is the readers’ fault in many ways that historical romance is so boring and unimaginative. I’ve come across my fair share of internet discussions with people who say they refuse to read anything NOT set in Regency England. I find that very small-minded and sad.

    Contemporaries have really moved on in the world. You can find books set anywhere, about anything. That’s why they make up about 99% of my reading these days.

  18. I am a huge Carla Capshaw fan. All her books are fantastic and none are set in Regency England. Her gladiator series is amazing and she has a Colonial/Rev. War set one too.

    Another author I loved recently was Christine Johnson. Her first book, Flying Home featured a heroine who wanted to be a pilot. She was determined and strong, but not annoying. And recently I added The Rogue’s Redemption by C.J. Chase to my TBR pile. What drew me was the War of 1812 setting. I know it’s Regency, but England is only one of the many locales.

  19. I agree with your view of supporting the publication of “different” romances. That said, I still only purchased the Lin upcoming book in e-book form since it was $4.79 and also purchased her first book since it was $3.74, both less than the paper price.

    I’m continuing to vote against equal prices for e-books and paper books which continue to have differing rights attached to them. It’s unfortunate that only the Harlequin e-book was priced lower than the paper books. But there we are. So, thanks for posting about these romances breaking new ground, I’m looking forward to THE DRAGON AND THE PEARL!

  20. I would love to see more “different” books published. A book set in Constantinople? I did a happy dance.

    That being said though, I can’t get behind books set in countries under imperialist rule. Imperialism disgusts me utterly, so I can’t get behind hero(ine)s who participate in it.

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