Yay! The finalists for the 2017 RITA Awards were announced on Tuesday! And for those who don’t know that that is, it’s the industry award for romance novels…like the Oscars of Romance. Also FYI, the finalists are chosen by romance-writing peers who read a selection of novels in multiple genres and score them based on a series of guidelines. And to take it back one step further, those novels are submitted by traditionally published and indie authors, with a contest cap of, I think it was 2000 books this year. So after everyone reading and judging all of those 2000 books in a variety of categories, we now have finalists!
But today I want to talk about the finalists in the two Historical Romance categories, because when it comes to Historical Romance, I think the industry/category has some serious problems.
First, though, let’s celebrate these magnificent authors who made the finals!!!!
Historical Romance: Long
Historical Romance: Short
A round of applause for all of these authors!
And now, let’s talk about what’s wrong with this picture. First of all, I hope you clicked on that link to the RT blog to see all of the finalists in all categories. See how many of them some of those categories have? Up to 10 per category! But notice how many there are for both historical categories combined? Only 10. And notice something else? Of those ten finalists, five of them have made the finals many, many times, year after year. That’s half of the finalists in the category popping up perennially.
So why do I feel like that’s just dead wrong? As my friend Caroline Lee said when we were discussing this, doesn’t that just mean that those authors are the best in the field, especially if they’re finalists almost every year?
And that’s the problem.
As I said to Caroline, where is the new blood? Where are the hot young authors in the genre? If the same excellent authors are reaching the finals every year with relatively few first-time finalists in either of the historical categories, what does that say about the health of the genre as a whole?
Personally, I think it means two things. First, it’s just a fact that Historical Romance has been on a downward trend for a while. It doesn’t sell as well as it used to. Even my historical novels—which make up about 70% of my total catalog—don’t sell as well as the contemporary novels I have out there. And I think that becomes a problem when people are judging the books. Overall, they’re scoring them lower, because they’re just not that in to historical romance.
Okay, that’s fair enough. You can’t expect someone to get super excited over books that aren’t their cup of tea. But the other problem I have—and it’s not just this year, it’s every year—is that the number of non-Regency novels that make the finals are…well, there are two this year—one Scottish and one Western. And this is not just a problem with contests, it’s a problem with the industry.
Let me explain… Regency Romance takes up a gigantic percentage of the historical romance market right now. HUGE. But there are so many more eras and locations of history with rich, fabulous stories to be told. So with all of the vibrant history out there, why so much Regency and so little of everything else? Because traditional publishing claims that any historicals other than Regency don’t sell. But the vast majority of what they publish is Regency. So how can they sell something that they don’t publish or claim that volumes of ignored history won’t sell when there are so few case studies of non-Regency books out there?
This is why Indie Historical Romance writers have become so valuable to the industry. We write the stories that no one else will publish. And guess what? They sell. Not as well as contemporary romance, mind you, but they put kibble in my cats’ dishes. So if we have proof that other historical eras do, in fact, sell, why isn’t the traditional publishing industry putting more effort into publishing them (and I won’t say they don’t publish anything non-Regency at all—they do, just not very much). Furthermore, and this is more of a question based on reality, have readers been trained to only consider Regency and to block out any other historical eras? (Except maybe Scottish, which is also mildly popular, but honestly, I’m not a fan)
This brings me around to my other question/concern/problem with the industry and readers and awards these days. Is it possible that Historical Romance is seeing such a huge downswing because readers are dead tired of dukes? Is the genre as a whole failing to attract new readers because those readers are SO over Regency, but that’s the bulk of the entire category these days? Is it not possible that the category as a whole could get a huge boost if publishers and contests alike pushed more Western, Medieval, later Victorian, 20th Century, Non-European titles? I’d give my eye teeth to read a romance novel set around the founding of Australia, for example. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to read a series like that. Or what about a romance or two set during WWI? Hasn’t Downton Abbey proven that the material there is rich and crowd-pleasing? What about romances that explore the history of People of Color? I definitely want to read those!
Why don’t we see more variety in Historical Romance?
… That’s basically what it’s all about.