Are Historical Romances Really Dead This Time?

The Bunch of Lilacs, c.1875 – James Tissot

I first was drawn to historical romances because of two things.  One was, absolutely, the dresses.  A woman looks so much more womanly in some of the dresses she gets to swan around in, depending on which historical period you get to write in.  And with her breasts and waist emphasized the way most of history seems to have made of point of outlining them, you can hardly blame heroes for wanting to slide their hands around a pulled in waist and peer down at an enticingly corsetted snow white — and usually heaving — bosom.  Low rider jeans just don’t cut it in comparison.

This factor doesn’t always work, though.  Lord knows, my heroine in Diana By The Moon seemed to go out of her way to look anything but enticing, but she certainly had her moments when Alaric was brought to an astonished halt, and those moments simply could not have happened in a contemporary novel.  You don’t get long white gowns and crowns of flowers on a regular basis these days.

These days clothing is merely a form of personal expression, but what a woman wore had so much more meaning and implication back then.  While I’m not a huge fan of Regencies, they showcase many perfect examples of how the wrong attire can utterly ruin a woman’s reputation in one disastrous outing.

The other point of historicals that I love that you can’t get in contemporary romances is the political/suspense storylines.  Because the story is set in an historical time period, there will be historical events affecting the lives of your hero and heroine, and those events are usually dramatic and highly emotional.  There are events and settings you can only get in the annals of history. 

Wars where the women were forced to stay and home and send their men to fight them, or where the war came to the women’s doorsteps while the men weren’t there to defend them.  Periods in history when women were chattels and moved around political chessboards like strategic pieces, to be married and sold off for political gain.  Eras where superstition and religion ruled society or simply standing in the wrong place at the wrong time could cost you your personal freedom.

There’s so many delicious story possibilities throughout history when men can be really heroic and even women can be strong and brave, yet still melt into the arms of the men who come to love them (while wearing those gorgeous gowns, of course)…why would anyone want to give up stories woven around all those possibilities?

Historical romances used to be the backbone of the traditional publishing industry. Many historical romance authors were solid mid-list authors who put out a book every quarter or six-monthly, year after year. They brought in decent earnings; enough so that put altogether, the midlist historical romance genre looked like it would be around forever because it was propping up the fortunes of many publishers.

Until, in the early oughts, tradtional publishing suddenly stopped acquiring historical romances. They said the market was dead.

A great many authors moved over to the nascent indie publishing industry and published their historical romances that way. I was one of them. And the demand for historical romances seemed as strong as ever to me, to the point where I thought trad publishing was crazy. And to a degree they are; they’ve completely demolished their midlists, relying purely on star biographies and mega best sellers. Anything that only sells a little; the author doesn’t get a second chance, or any time to build up a following the why the midlist authors did. They’re cut, tossed back and the publisher moves onto the next potential mega seller.

So we all happily self-published and readers were happy too, because there was no more of this “wait a year” for the next book. Authors were free to publish as swiftly or as slowly as they wanted.

But times have changed again. Even the small, indie presses (those that aren’t one of the big five in New York), and indie authors are seeing sales slide. Most of the energy and reader demand is shifting over to fantasy romance. On Bookfunnel, there are five fantasy romance promos to every one historical romance promo.

Many historical romance authors I know are retooling their beloved genre. They’ve shaved off the serial number, and added magic, and a few supernatural creatures and are calling it historical fantasy romance, which keeps them happily writing in the era they love.

Others are inventing purely new worlds and writing true fantasy romance.

Is historical romance doomed, once more? Or is there a place where they can pop up once more for true historical romance fans to find them?

I don’t have any answers, only depressing facts. My sales numbers for historical romance have plummeted. This morning, thanks to Amazon’s return policy, my sales numbers for historical romance were -1. Yes, Negative one.

Do you love historical romances? Where to you acquire yours?

Scandalous Scions Box Four out soon!

2 thoughts on “Are Historical Romances Really Dead This Time?”

  1. A good historical author does a great service in teaching and reminding the reader of important past events while still capturing her emotions in an engrossing story. I love contemporaries, but I’ve learned far more about the Napoleonic Wars (and even King Arthur’s England – thanks, Tracy!) from talented historical romance authors than I ever did in history class. So I’ll keep buying and enjoying them regardless of market trends.

    1. Thanks, Meg! Yes, I’ve fallen in love with historical eras because of fiction books I’ve read that were set there, and brought the era to life.

      Mary Stewart was SO good at this — I fell in love with Arthurian Britain because of her, and in turn put my own interpretation on the era. 🙂

      Tracy

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