A thread over at kBoards got me to thinking about trends in romance. The OP asked if the step-brother romance thing is pretty much dead (my first thought was: God, I hope so, because it’s always seemed very ewww to me), and the general consensus seems to be that yes, it is in fact dead or very near dead. Then there was some discussion of what seems to be picking up steam, and as per usual the entire thread just fascinated me not only as a romance writer but also as a reader.
I know a lot of indie authors write to the market, and that’s totally cool. To each their own. I generally don’t, because I fall into the group of writers that believes you should write the story in your heart (market trends be damned). That’s what I’ve done, and so far it’s worked out fairly well. Then again, my Devils Ranch Series falls into several different tropes (sports, alpha male, second chance, friends to lovers) and in a lot of ways is just your classic contemporary romance. That’s what I like to read, so it makes sense that that’s what I like to write.
As an indie writer, though, I can’t just turn a blind eye to the market. I like to stay abreast of what’s trending, what readers seem to be gravitating towards, and what’s consistently hitting the best seller lists. Not so I can emulate that, but just so I can be aware of how my books fit into the market in the grand scheme of things. Having that awareness helps me somewhat with sales projections, but also helps me understand the very cyclical nature of trends in romance novels.
And believe me, it’s very cyclical.
There are always constants, though. Always. There are certain tropes that consistently sell well, no matter what the packaging around them looks like. Friends to lovers. Second chance. Alpha males. Small town romance. Sports romance. Those tropes have been around since before I started reading romance, much less writing it, and no matter what those tropes have always appealed to readers and have always sold. And that’s just within contemporary romance–if you look at historical romance there are certain tropes that tend to consistently perform well, too, such as class differences, the rake/rogue/scoundrel and the plucky virgin, and arranged marriage.
New adult came storming onto the scene, and the common thinking these days seems to be that it’s going to die if it doesn’t evolve and move beyond borderline erotic romance (and real talk, y’all, there’s A LOT of sex in most new adult novels and I don’t always understand WHY the sex is there because it doesn’t really advance the plot or further characterization). I tend to agree with that. I also think new adult needs to move away from the borderline abusive assholes that are labeled “heroes.” But that’s just me.
The next trend I started to notice after new adult was the stepbrother thing. And yes, it seriously squicked me out (I have very valid reasons for being squicked out by it, aside from the fact that it’s just kind of weird) and is something I’ve largely stayed away from. I can count on two fingers the number of romances I’ve read that remotely fall into that category–Sophie Jordan’s A Good Debutante’s Guide to Ruin and Colleen Hoover’s Ugly Love. If you’ve read either of those books, you know that the whole step sibling thing was handled extremely well. And, yes, I readily admit that I loved Clueless back in the day. Who didn’t?
Let’s see, though…other trends that have seemed to pop up over the past couple of years and gain popularity:
- Billionaires (seriously, if you looked at the romance shelves on Amazon you would think that half the world’s male population was comprised of billionaires)
- Shifters, which admittedly have been popular for a while, but authors and readers are definitely branching beyond werewolves and into bears, jaguars, panthers, etc.
- M/M, which, again, has actually been around for quite some time (especially in erotic romance) but has jumped into mainstream non-erotic romance (but I still don’t think there’s as much M/M out there as there are billionaire stories)
- Motorcycle clubs (we probably have Sons of Anarchy and Jax Teller’s ass to thank for that…not that I’m complaining because…well…Charlie Hunnam’s bare ass)
- Rock stars (especially in new adult)
- BWWM aka Black Woman White Male. Readers are embracing multi-cultural romance, and especially romance featuring a black heroine and a white hero. It’s niche, but it has a HUGE readership from what I’ve been seeing.
Billionaires and rock stars seem to be waning a little bit, but the other three seem to be gaining in popularity. Some other trends I’ve been noticing:
- Dark romance. I actually have several friends who write dark romance and who are doing quite well with it, so I know the market’s there and readers are buying this stuff up (and BookBub recently added a separate category for dark romance at that). What is dark romance, you ask? It’s basically romance that’s, well, dark. I’m talking mafia, mob bosses, organized crime, shady dealings, etc. IIRC, dark romance really got its start in erotica and erotic romance, but has moved into non-erotic romance. And readers are buying it up.
- Hockey romance. Football and baseball have long dominated the world of sports romance, with hockey making a play every now and then (Rachel Gibson’s hockey series comes to mind). Well, hockey’s back with a vengeance it seems, which hockey player heroes out-selling quarterbacks and ace pitchers. I’m not sure if this is just an indication of readers in America wanting something different, or if it’s a sign of the globalization of the ebook market thanks to Kindle and Amazon (although if that were the case, you would think we would see a lot more soccer, right?).
- Western historical romances. This is one of those cyclical trends, I think. I remember reading TONS of historical romances set in the American West back when I was in my teens (Johanna Lindsey, especially), and then they suddenly died and everyone started writing dukes and rogues and highlanders (and don’t get me wrong–I love me some dukes and rogues and highlanders, too). I’ve been noticing more western historical romances popping up here lately, although the numbers are still low. BUT I do think this could become a trend, and it’s one I would welcome back with open arms.
- From a pure marketing standpoint, I’m also noticing a trend away from the super sexy contemporary romance covers that have dominated the space for the past few years. New adult is primarily using the ripped, topless guy cover (and successfully, I might add). Billionaire and alpha romances are using a hot, serious guy in a suit for the most part, and more and more I’m seeing said billionaire without a head, or just part of his head. Contemporary romance is still using a couple on the cover, but the art is now focusing on just their bodies (so no faces) or it features a couple that only takes up a small part of the overall cover image. And then there’s the move towards objects on covers. Objects on covers has long been a signal to readers that “this book is women’s fiction,” but that seems to be changing. Women’s fiction is now featuring people on the covers (usually just a woman, and more often than not a woman walking away into the sunset with long, wavy hair, or a woman in a field all by herself), and contemporary romance is featuring objects on the covers. Some books are even moving towards something more abstract, or covers that are more typography-based than image-based (Colleen Hoover’s books are a fantastic example of what I’m talking about, as is the Calendar Girl Series, which just really popped up on my radar within the past week or so).
Some trends I would like to see (as a reader AND as a writer):
- More multi-cultural romance that goes beyond BWWM. America is such a melting pot, and for most people interracial relationships aren’t a big deal anymore. I wish romance would really start reflecting that more.
- “Ordinary people” romance. And no, not as in the song, but as in just normal, every day people falling in love. The mechanic and the school teacher. The bank teller and the executive assistant. The single mom and the peewee football coach. Sure, these novels are out there, and I think I remember reading something not long ago about how some people think “blue collar romance” might be the next big thing, but books like this tend to be pushed behind all those billionaire alpha bad boy cowboy step brother SEALS.
- More true plus-size romance with heroines who DGAF about their weight and the latest diet trends. You would think that with me having written a couple of plus-size heroines (Big Girls Need Love Too and Hair Trigger Heart) that I would read a lot more plus-size romance. I don’t. And it’s not that the stories aren’t well-written, because there are some well-written stories out there. It’s that they’re obsessed with their fucking weight and their size. They have low self-esteem. They have eating disorders (or disordered eating). The whole focus of the book is that OMG she’s fat. And most of the time she doesn’t find love until she loses weight. Because, obviously weight loss = happiness (spoiler alert: it usually doesn’t, which I’ve ranted about before). So I would love to see more romance heroines who are happy with their bodies and who don’t count calories or over-exercise and engage in destructive, disordered behaviors and self-talk (there’s a difference, believe me), and who don’t need the validation of a man in order to believe they’re enough just the way they are.
What about y’all? Any trends y’all are completely over or would like to see more of? Tell me in the comments!