There have been a couple of posts – one of them here at AAR, a later one at Dear Author – in the last couple of weeks that have talked about the decline in both the quality and availability of Historical Romances. Lots of different perspectives were offered, and some of the more frequent criticisms that came up were to do with the fact that many HRs today are perceived as being too formulaic, or that there are too many stories in which characters living in the early 19th Century act and speak as though they are from the 21st. It seemed that one of the biggest complaints, however, was to do with the fact that so few Historicals are being published that stray outside the Regency period and/or are set outside England.
Speaking as someone who reads Historicals almost exclusively within the genre, I found much to chew over in these discussions – including the perspectives of some authors who do write novels set in different time periods and locations, in which they explained how hard they find it to sell their work to a major publisher because it doesn’t fit what seem to be their preferred parameters – i.e 16th Century (for historical fiction) or 19th Century Britain.
I’ve worked in marketing and promotions (albeit in a different arm of the entertainment industry) so I know how much is about profit and how little (sometimes) is about craft or artistry. I know how strong the desire to jump on the “Oh – that was really successful; let’s do it again!” bandwagon is. And I know how stifling it can be. One only has to look at the proliferation of FSoG ‘clones’, with their stylish black-and-white covers, that are flooding the market. My local supermarket, while not having a huge selection of paperbacks, does have part of an aisle devoted to books, and it’s amazing how, over the last year or so, that aisle has turned incredibly monochromatic!
Now, I’m not knocking anyone’s reading preferences. I’ll happily put my hand up and admit to being addicted to Historical Romances and Historical Fiction, and that I don’t read very much outside those genres when it comes to fiction. That doesn’t mean I’ll put up with any old rubbish as long as it’s got a half-naked couple on the front surrounded by a sumptuous, never-ending dress; I like some history in my Historicals, too. I admit to liking 19th Century Britain as a setting, but I’d be delighted to see a surge in stories set in Medieval Ireland, or the 16th Century French Wars of Religion. There’s room for everything, surely, in a market as wide-ranging as it is today. When it comes down to it, the important thing is that the story is good and well-told, whether the hero is a Celtic Clan Chief or a Regency Duke. And as someone pointed out on one of those posts, the Dukes, Earls and Viscounts of HR are the precursors of the billionaires and hard-nosed businessmen one finds in some Contemporaries, so it seems there’s an appetite for stories about wealthy, powerful men regardless of time-period.
But this debate has made me think about all those HRs – and I imagine they are predominantly Regency stories – that are now out of print. I wasn’t a great reader of romances back in the 80s and 90s, and it seems I’ve missed some good books as a result! There’s a Goodreads group devoted to Traditional Regencies which has turned up quite a few great reads that I’d otherwise have missed, but which I’ve had to buy second-hand and in some cases at ridiculous cost. Belgrave House’s Regency Reads arm has already published a large number of old Signet and Fawcett titles as ebooks and is continuing to do so each month; and Intermix (Penguin) is putting out a lot of Signet Regencies, too. Some great books by Carla Kelly, Elisabeth Fairchild, and Elizabeth Mansfield have reappeared courtesy of e-publishers and in some cases, authors themselves are self-publishing their backlists, (Diane Farr, Danielle Harmon, Stella Riley to name but a few) – and that’ s great for someone like me, who is addicted to my Kindle and is new to many of these books and authors. I hope there are a lot of younger readers or readers new to the genre who are discovering some of these truly delightful books for the first time, too.
That doesn’t mean that everything that publishing houses such as Signet, Fawcet and Zebra put out thirty years ago should be re-issued. I’m sure there is plenty of stuff there which shouldn’t have seen the light of day in the first place – just as there is today. But there are undoubtedly some real gems that are languishing out there just gathering dust that people like me who missed them the first time around – and possibly people (also like me!) who are bemoaning the poor writing and characterisation found in many of the HRs being put out today – would be only too eager to snap up. I’ve recently read some lovely books by Charlotte Louise Dolan, Donna Simpson, Nancy Butler, and Cindy Holbrook, to name but a few. Then there are names I see cropping up like Paula Allardyce, Melinda McRae and Dorothy Eden who all sound as though they’ve written books I’d enjoy. I’d love to get my hands on some of Patricia Veryan or Sylvia Thorpe’s Georgian novels without having to stump up £3-£8 postage for each book (depending on where I can get them from). Belgrave House and Signet price their ebooks at under £3, so it does gall that I have to pay as much for postage as for an actual book! (I should also add that there are very few works by these authors in UK libraries – I don’t know if that’s because titles were never published here or if books got so old they fell apart and couldn’t be replaced, but using the library to get hold of these titles is frequently not an option for me.)
So then I got to thinking about how to make authors/publishers aware that they might want to be more proactive in this area of the market. Having poked around the internet for half-an-hour or so, I see that some of those authors I’ve mentioned have websites or Facebook pages. In some cases, of course (Veryan, for instance) the author is no longer with us, so re-publishing would presumably rely on the willingness of the family or their estate.
AAR has a wide readership across the romance industry – readers, writers, publishers and other interested parties – so surely, between us all, we can make a case for dusting off some of these older titles and getting them back out there electronically for a new generation of readers to enjoy.
What titles / authors would you like to see back “in print” (figuratively speaking)? I know I’ve written specifically about HRs but please feel free to include books and authors from other genres, too. Who knows? Maybe someone reading this will be able to make some of our wishes come true.
– Caz Owens