Please give a warm welcome to Jillian Leigh who is joining us today with her book, The Rules of Engagement!
The historical is dead. Long live the historical!
Is historical romance a dying breed? Should it die off completely? Strange questions, you’d think, but ones that some of us have been pondering lately, particularly after a couple of very popular romance sites stirred up a heady debate about what they see as the decline of the sub-genre.
The basis for their argument was that historical authors seem to be disappearing off the bestseller lists. Sales for historicals are waning, according to these sites, signaling a decline in popularity. They surmised that this was partly due to a lack of variety in what is available to readers. Want to read about dukes and hellions, rakes and bluestockings? Not a problem. Want to find a romance set outside of early 19th century England? Not so easy. One blogger took the position that historical romance has become so one-note, so restricted in setting and tone, that it really needs to be put out of its misery. Only then can it rise from its own ashes, phoenix-like, and be reinvented, renewed and reinvigorated.
All this discussion about killing off a whole section of the romance market left me a little dismayed, not least because I write historical romance. I write regencies. I write light-hearted banter. The very things that these bloggers were sick of. I wouldn’t disagree that there is an embarrassment of riches for the reader who wants a certain type of story. On the other hand, to argue that every regency is a frothy (and by extension) ‘wallpaper’ historical is short sighted, in my opinion. There are dark, angst-filled regencies, erotic regencies, mystery regencies, fairytale regencies, Austen-inspired regencies, traditional regencies and a hundred other variations. Many, if not most, are well researched and intelligently written.
And, may I say, it is possible to write romance that is ‘frothy’ (though I hate that word!) and intelligent at the same time.
I also disagree with the contention that it’s virtually impossible to find historicals set in other times and places. They may not be making the bestseller lists, but they are out there. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. In this age of self- and small press-publishing, there’s room in the market for all kinds of stories, including the regencies that some want to kill off.
The problem is that there’s so much room. How do historical romance readers discover the kind of books they will enjoy amongst the millions out there? How can historical authors, regardless of what settings they choose and the tone of their books, find an audience when most readers are unaware of their existence?
I don’t want historical romance to crawl off and die. I don’t believe it will. It will continue to evolve as popular culture and reader tastes change over time. And some of us will continue to enjoy our regencies, with or without the dukes.
Jillian Leigh’s novella THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT does not contain any dukes. Or peers of any other rank for that matter. But—and she’s not ashamed to admit it—it is a light-hearted regency that features two popular historical tropes: friends-to-lovers and the faux engagement.