Sunday, May 2, 2010


I've been trying to figure out how to present my thoughts about RT2010, but it's a little difficult. There was little drama, lots of fun, and a good dose of uncertainty about the future. And it's been hard to take all the little snips and threads and coalesce them into a single fabric.

Let me give you an example. Lots of people are talking about the pending demise of UF. But when you ask agents, authors, or editors about sales in this genre, they say they haven't seen sales diminish yet. Maybe they're not growing any larger, and maybe a spattering of slots that would have gone to UF are now going to other types of stories. But does this mean that UF is in freefall? No.

I think -- and this is 100% my opinion, so take it for what it's worth -- all the talk about UF says more about a realignment of hope with reality than with anything to do with actual sales. It's a genre with a readership, and it will continue to exist in some familiar measure for at least some time to come. But it's not the next big market-sweeping thing, not the next paranormal or chick lit, and for a while there, people thought it might be.

Is steampunk the next UF or the next vampire craze? Will it be steady or explosive? Lots of interest in steampunk at this conference. The word was on everyone's lips. The panels were well-attended. (In fact, at the steampunk panel I attended, there were a surprising number of editors in the audience. We're paying attention to this niche.) Are people flocking to read the books? Will it explode? It feels like it might go that way, but only time will tell. My worry about steampunk romance is that we haven't yet had that one big breakout book to solidify the market. Several books have done well, but as of yet, no Bridget Jones or Edward Cullen. Nevertheless, it's an interesting subgenre that has the potential to appeal to a lot of readers in a lot of ways. It feels vibrant.

So, against this backdrop, almost every author I spoke to confessed to working on something in a genre other than their current genres. The surprising exception to this are the hearth-and-home contemporary writers, who seem perfectly happy right where they are. Romance plus domestic arts apparently equals happy authors.

My take-away? This market feels ready to jump in a new direction. But where? Authors are trying new things, genre-switching, bringing beloved old projects out from under the bed to see if they can breathe new life into the text. Editors eye sales reports and hold a damp finger to the air to test the wind. Historicals continue to surge, contemporaries continue to wobble, paranormals continue to look like a permanent presence.

So you tell me. What's the book type you want to read but can't find on the shelves? What's the book type that has captured your imagination lately? What books are your non-writer friends all reading now?



Clare K. R. Miller said...

What's UF--urban fantasy? If so, when you say that, do you mean the urban fantasy that started in the 80s like Charles de Lint and stuff (in which case, where is it hiding?!) or do you mean what's also called paranormal romance?

I thought steampunk was already big. But... I don't actually read or write romance. I just read this blog because it's awesome!

Meghan S. said...

I have to say honestly that steampunk doesn't interest me very much. I'm more into paranormal romance, not the vampire stuff but more of the SF / alien / outer space type stuff.

Julie Harrington said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Harrington said...

Sorry about the deletion... technical error. :(

I haven't read a lot of steampunk, but I was introduced to it through Gail Carriger's books. I liked them, but I don't see SP catching on as the next big thing. Plus I'm still waiting to see how her series rounds out. The reader in me is hoping for the best but looking at all the breadcrumbs... sigh.

I dislike Urban Fantasy, though I should probably clarify after Clare's comment above. The only Urban Fantasy I've been exposed to are those books placed in the Romance Section and whose endings didn't meet my HEA needs. I gave the subgenre a shot but there's too much random sex, too much multiple partner sex for sex sake, hey your hot let's mate! you're my soulmate! that all ends with the leader character(s) never ending up with anybody.

I actually feel very mislead by UF. It might have "romantic elements" but the ones I've read I feel would be better placed in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy sections, not the Romance Section.

Which leads me to paranormals. I'm over vampires and highlanders. I've read several good books featuring both, but I'm ready for something else. Oh, and Faes. I cannot get into the Fae thing. Maybe it's because I grew up reading Sci-Fi and Fantasy BIG TIME, but I can't make the leap of Fae Romance. Anytime a Fae turns up, my interest turns off. Zombies need not apply here at all, btw. Ew.

I do, however, love contemporary romances. I love to read them and write them. The always present news that its a dying genre (sob!) breaks my heart. But then the last great idea in contemporaries seemed to be the trend in the cover art a few years ago. Now it just seems like a looming question mark of "Now now?"

I love books that are different (Agnes and the Hitman is a great example). I read that book and was just surprised from Page 1 how the authors approached it. So now I really look forward to being surprised by a book and by an authors voice. I like when a writer find a unique way of looking at something and a unique way of presenting it. I like books with great characters, a terrific setup, and yet delivers that HEA with a capital R when it comes to the Romance.

I'm looking for books with fun characters, flawed characters, but most of all I'm looking for that great sexual tension and Romance.

I love books with a subplot of danger. I love a good adventure book. I love a little mystery. But when it comes to my romance, all that shouldn't overwhelm or overshadow the love story.

I'm tired of books where insta-hot sex is all they have. I like a good sexy read but I've noticed that a lot of romance writers seem to be writing less about the Romance of the couple and more about the other aspects like the paranormal slant or the mystery or the sex. It's almost like we're supposed to take for granted that, because these 2 characters spend some 300 pages together that of course they're in love and of course they're going to stay together.

I've closed more books lately thinking, "Well that'll burn out in 6 months" than thinking "Awww, they're perfect for each other. What a great book." That it's very disappointing.

I'm also over serial killers in all forms. In women's suspense, in romances, in mysteries... over it. I really dislike spending 300 pages + with a book only to find out the ONLY motive for the killings was because the dude was crazy.

It's so funny writing all this up because I can tell you what I definitely don't want, yet when I think about what I do what I can't find a specific element. I don't know what I'm looking for. I just know lately I've had a hard time finding it.


Ian said...

Steampunk was also a big topic of discussion at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference last weekend. Coincidentally, my summer novel project will be steampunk (although that was in the works well before said conference).

As far as what I want to see on the shelf, I think it goes without saying that I want to see the ones with MY name on them. :D

And more superhero fiction, because that's my favorite genre. :)

Julie Harrington said...

Oh I lied. I do know one thing I'd like to see... when it comes to vampires, I'd like someone to put the bite back into them and make them something to be feared again. :)


Edittorrent said...

Yes, I mean urban fantasy and steampunk as interpreted in the romance genre. We do talk about a variety of genres and writing styles on the blog, but we're romance editors and I just got back from a romance conference. So this post is about romance in particular.

JT, I wouldn't say contemporaries are a dying breed, just that they're not quite as robust as they used to be. Agnes & the Hitman was a great book. And there are plenty of other contemporary authors who continue to deliver powerful, moving stories every time.


Jami Gold said...

Theresa said: [urban fantasy is] not the next paranormal...

So Theresa (or Alicia),

What do you see as the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal? I've heard various things, but I'm interested in hearing an editor's opinion on this.

I'm not widely read in urban fantasy, but the stuff I do read has a romance (not just sex, but romance) aspect and is not terribly depressing. Many of the UF I pass on seems to be very dark, violent, hopeless stuff (or as JT pointed out random hook-up sex). I don't know how much of UF falls into one category or the other, but I wonder if others feel the same way and it's the depressing stuff that people are tired of. The UF I enjoy is similar to paranormal romance, but with a broader scope so it's not just the romance.

I don't feel like I'm missing anything by not reading steampunk, but if there was a big breakout hit, I'd probably check it out. Until then, it's just not something I feel drawn to.

My favorites are paranormal romance and historical romance. I like stories with the escapism of 'not this world'. So in that respect, I suppose I might like steampunk if I tried it, but it'd have to be a story that had deeper resonance than just some props. Good PR and historical romance can't be set in the contemporary, real world because their setting is integral to the characters. If a steampunk story had characters that felt like they really belonged 'there' and wouldn't fit 'here' in a standard contemporary, then it would be a more interesting world to explore.

Jami G.

Laura K. Curtis said...

Steampunk is a fashion style, and has been for years, along with a literary genre. But the surge in steampunk fashion took off before the surge steampunk romance thing did.

Steampunk romance would would have easy tie-in possibilities, so it would only take one to really make the genre take off. Chances are, it will be one aimed at a young audience, though, in the 15-22 age group. Those seem to me to be the readers who are most excited by SP romance.

Frankly, I am sick of paranormal and YA and, even more, paranormal YA. I think it's much, much harder to write "normal" YA than paranormal and I wish there were fewer YA novels, but better written. So maybe the SP version of YA would--if you'll excuse the expression--rejuvenate the genre.

What can I not find...ANYWHERE? Straight romantic suspense by new authors or at least authors new in the past few years. Where are the new Karen Roses, the new Dee Davises, the new Lisa Jacksons? Occasionally, someone new will pop up with paramilitary romances, like Nina Bruhns or Tara Jantzen, but what about the others?

Julie Harrington said...

True, Theresa. Bad word choice on my part. I've heard the prediction of the fall of contemporary romance since the 2007 RWA Nationals and it's still going strong. :)


Taylor Mathews said...

I'd like some more contemporary soft SF blending fantasy and SF elements and exploring themes that are more contemporary. Perhaps I'm not scouring the bookshelves thoroughly enough.

Sylvia said...

As a reader: I want more thrillers. I want whodunnits with romance entwined. I'm happy if it is mystery based or technothriller but I'm not seeing romance that even touches the type of page-turning I'm getting from Turow, Cornwall or Grisham. Maybe I'm being unfair (GAWD, I don't want to write it) but that's what I would love to see in my romance.

Eva Gale said...

All my friends and I are reading big fat fantasy. Guy Gavriel Kay's UNDER HEAVEN. Now I want that with romance, please.

Agnes was awesome. Loved it. More please!!

And I think JT is right-bring back the sexual tension. Pages of it. Pages, and pages.

Eva Gale said...

I think the market is ready to jump, too. This is how it felt before erotica jumped in the pool. That said, I don't think steampunk will be it as much as I like it.

I really really hope someone goes back into the archives, and puts a whole new twist on something new. I think that's why Avatar is so big. That hero's journey will never go out of style, it just needed a facelift. (Not that I've watched it. But my kids FLIPPED over it. I'll watch eventually.)

Julie Harrington said...

Eva, you know what book I just read that didn't even have the characters kiss until like page 170 something? Rachel Gibson's "I"m In No Mood for Love." I enjoyed that one a lot. Lots of sexual tension and relationship building.


Laura K. Curtis said...

Eva -

There's a lot of it out there. Jennifer Roberson come to mind. Have you read Ann Bishop's books? Not so big and fat, but real fantasy/romance and beautifully written. Years ago, (like when Roberson's Tiger & Del novels were written), fantasy novels with a healthy dose of romance just got lumped into fantasy. You had to pick through to find them if they were your thing. Now, I think they're easier to find, though publishers still aren't sure whether to put them in fantasy or romance!

Deb S said...

For traditional fantasy heavy on romance, try Lois McMaster Bujold's, The Sharing Knife series.

Eva Gale said...

*love* the Black Jewels Trilogy. Love Bishop, really. And I wish I got to see a little more of her world in those books.

Laura, I was remarking to a friend that I think the romance readers will cross over, not so much the straight fantasy readers.

JT, I actually have that book. I'll have to slip it higher in the reading pile.

Deb, I've heard that Bujold's Sharing Knife series are flaming fantastic.

Thomas Sharkey said...

Steampunk. Nothing to get steamed up about, a little weird and whacky perhaps - like the works of Paul Di Phillipo’s, “The Steampunk trilogy”.
I found his character descriptions were quaintly done (his narration reminded me of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes).
Will this genre, this historical sci-fi fantasy catch on?
Not my taste, too out of the ordinary. I’ve got one foot in the grave, so I much prefer the old-fashioned time travel, futuristic sci-fi (John Whyndam)whodunit crime, adventure with tasteful erotic and extraordinary vampires in future society, (Assassins, by me, not yet published. I thought I’d slip that in).
I like to read, I love to write.
Write what you feel is my motto (somebody will enjoy reading it, some day).
Steampunk - a load of hot air.