For one last blowout, everything under my purview is $.99 for the day, plus Shadow Lover is $1.99 for one final day. Afterwards we go back to new, lower prices, lowering everything by a dollar, meaning what was usually $3.99 will henceforth be $2.99 (do normal people say "henceforth"?) and $1.99 novellas are now $.99. ON THIN ICE will go down to $4.99 because, y'know, new books to write, new worlds to conquer.
So I was gonna give you the quick and dirty story of what romance novels were like in my reading lifetime. Once we got past Nancy Drew, the Sally Watsons, all those yummy YAs with a delicious hero, it was time for grownup books. I looked around, and found my grandmother's nurse books Very Old Skool -- the offshoot are Harlequin Medical Romances, which aren't published here (at least, I don't think so) but do very well internationally. Virginal nurses, gruff but handsome doctors, etc. Since my grandmother had worked in a hospital during the Depression it was a logical leap of her.
But I was quickly distracted by Gothics. MISTRESS OF MELLYN by Victoria Holt and NINE COACHES WAITING by Mary Stewart (for some reason contemporary romantic suspense books were called gothics as well) were game changers for me, and I think I was about 11. The covers were the same -- some shade of blue, a tall house in the background with one light in an attic window and a girl in a white nightgown running away. (Oh, my, I just went searching for a cover and momentarily got lost in memories!) No sex in these books, but plenty of excitement.
At the same time Harlequin romances were beginning to pick up steam (literally as well as physically). In fact, the two main romance lines were Harlequin and Dell Candlelight Romances, neither of which interested me. Mind you, I loved romance. But I needed danger, mystery, excitement to go with it.
And then came the glorious day when women discovered sex. In books, that is. We can pretty much thank Kathleen Woodiwiss and Avon books for that, in historicals. Of course, the sex was pretty much romantic rape with the man of your dreams, which served as a gateway drug. The good girl heroine could have delicious sex with the hero but it as never her fault. She could enjoy the hell out of it and still be a good girl.
Then came the short sweet time when Regency was king, and Fawcett, Signet and Dell Regencies were the hottest commodities. Then people started slipping sex into them, sex without rape, and we were off!
It was Vivian Stephens and Candlelight Romances that decided modern women could enjoy sex and didn't have to be raped. Candlelight put out 6 books a month, I think. 2 were regencies, 2 were Intrigues (a last stab at Gothics), 2 were straight romances. They added 2 Candlelight Ecstasy Romances, with s.e.x. in them, and suddenly I wanted to write romance.
Every publisher jumped on the bandwagon. There was Second Chance at Love and it's off-shoot, To Have and To Hold. Candlelight added bigger books, Ecstasy Supreme. Simon and Schuster/Pocket Books started Silhouette, Harlequin was adding lines left and right. Signet got in on the action for a short period with Rapture Romances, but they were so short-lived most people forgot about them, and Bantam, with the worst marketing information ever, decided to launch a "sweet" line called ... Circle of Love?
That one folded after giving us Carla Neggers, and quickly became Loveswept, a much smarter idea. But of course this was exactly what had killed gothics. The publishers glutted the market, underestimating the consumer and having little idea what constituted a good book. The lines fell away one by one, Harlequin bought Silhouette (though for years they still competed with each other in-house), and the others closed.
Romance novels still go through fads. I've accepted the fact (reluctantly) that gothics will never return, but most things come around again. For a while Time Travel was huge. Historicals come and go -- right now they appear to be on the wane but they'll return again, stronger than ever. All they need is one or two powerhouse writers and genres are revitalized. For all it's fun to pick on certain successful books, it was Stephanie Meyers who drove the huge surge of fabulous YA novels.
Paranormals have been huge for far longer than anyone ever imagined. I spent almost ten years asking to write a vampire story, only to be told they were on their way out. I think things are slowing down a bit in that area, but like the undead they keep rising again.
Small-town, warm-hearted romances were big recently (and my still be -- I'm too mean and nasty to write them). Women's fiction -- less romance-centered, more women's journeys come and go. Then there's bonnet-porn -- Amish and Mennonite romances written by non-Amish women. I think the simpler life appeals to people, possibly in the same way Time Travel and historicals do.
And now there's good erotica. Well developed, character-driven erotica and romantica (a cross of romance and erotica, like This Man and others). Some are fabulous, some make me want to take a shower. It's all a question of personal taste (and you'd be surprised at what I like.)
As for what's in the future -- it's anyone's guess. The best bet is to write what you love but be flexible. If you can only write Time Travel you're screwed. I'm going back to my first love -- romantic suspense. Not that they seem to be doing particularly well -- there are the giants, like Nora and Linda Howard, there are the powerful newbies (Julie James and ... god, I can't remember. Her narrator is named Khalil. Problem with having a brain for trivia is you run out space for the new stuff. I don't really need to remember Circle of Love - it only lasted abut 4 months.)
I'm moving the Committee to the US and activating their deadly agents over here. Yes, I know the drill. "These books aren't for everyone." "Anne Stuart is not for the faint of heart." And I'll keep writing historicals because I love them, and because I left Emma and Brandon at opposite ends of the United Kingdom for more than three years, and Lucifer is still locked in Limbo (Lucifer being a ... ahem ... hero) and there are just so many wonderful stories to read and to write. Romance novels both reflect women's fantasies and activate them -- in the past if I had a character who kept restraints for bed-play he was a sordid villain. Now he's my kind of hero.
Just as writers have more power over what they write (with the advent of an effective model for indie-publishing) so do readers have power over what they read. You want Space Opera Romances (and I love them!)? You can find them. Menages? Sure thing. M/M romances? Yup. Westerns, medievals, time travel, even gothics. You want 'em, you can find them or write your own. After all, that's why I started. Not enough gothics to read, and I was scraping the bottom of the barrel (I won't name names).
In fact, we're rather like television right now. It's a golden period of wonderful variety, great writing, inventive premises (though tv and movies kill off successful genres by flooding the market with knock-off versions just as publishing does). But there's great stuff out there, great stuff to read, great stuff to write.
As for me, I intend to live forever, and retire when I'm 122. See you when I celebrate fifty years in the business.