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Friday News: First World Problems



I came across this picture and this video while browsing Reddit.  Rajesh Kumar Sharma founded a free school in the slums of India.  Their schoolroom is a space under a bridge.  Their blackboards are concrete walls.  First world problems are anything that doesn’t include having to gain an education under a bridge in a slum.


I disagree with Milan on a several points but my concern about historical isn’t whether existing author platforms can be boosted by discounted pricing but rather the malaise in the historical sub genre. Other than a few voices, the genre seems stagnating and the positive numbers generated rest primarily on the same authors repetitive success.  Stephanie Laurens, not so long ago argued that reduced prices would harm her established readership and she didn’t find that her established readers were digitally entrenched.  Her mind may have been changed as many of her books have been temporarily reduced frequently. It’s hard not to run into a reduced Stephanie Laurens book.  

I’m not convinced that mere pricing will herald a rise in historical books.  We need new storytelling within the historical romance genre. One reader told me she thought Regency historicals have become a bad parody of themselves. I’d hope digital strategy isn’t based on price alone and reselling backlist titles at lower prices.  What I do agree is that Avon has been successfully pushing certain books by aggressive backlist pricing. Kind of what Samhain has done for years with its free promotions. Should other publishers do what Avon does? Sure, it can’t hurt. Particularly when you aren’t seeing the numbers Avon is putting out (but that’s just for its historical authors where Avon has long been dominant).  

Digital strategy should also include experimenting with content to capture new audiences.  The latter might be wishful thinking on my part.  I keep waiting for great self published authors to break down the historical gates and really shake things up.  Courtney Milan’s Blog

Though some New Adult titles have sensual elements to them, Hwang was careful to make a distinction between erotic romance–where the relationship is still the primary focus of the story–to erotica, which emphasizes the sex. She expressed some displeasure at the conflation of the two categories, and how trying to wedge the success of New Adult into a post-50 Shades landscape has led to descriptions of New Adult as “sleazy YA” and (in her opinion) the mislabeling of some authors and their books.

Both agree that we haven’t seen the market peak yet. William & Morrow notes that these books are marketed to adults and so the question is whether brick and mortar will find a place for these stories.  Shelf Awareness

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. library addict
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 06:02:58

    That school picture is both sad and inspiring.

    I hope that Penguin does settle the State AG’s case soon.

    I only read historicals by my favorite authors for the most part nowadays. The only new historical author I have added to my autobuy list in the past few years is Alissa Johnson. I think I burned myself out on historicals the first ten years I read romance. And this was back in the days when there were romances set all over the globe. Now that everything primarily takes place in London I don’t see the point. If there are settings out there other than England or Scotland or France please let me know.*

    * I have also read a few books by Jeannie Lin which took place in China that I quite enjoyed. But those are the only non-England/Scotland/France books I can think of.

  2. Aisha
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 07:13:32

    Thanks for the school story. Its always helpful to get some perspective, but also this is, as @library addict says very sad (it is an obvious indication of poor service delivery by the state for one) and inspiring.

    “I keep waiting for great self published authors to break down the historical gates and really shake things up.” How for example? And would that not be likely to generate a great deal of backlash from established fans (which is maybe why it hasn’t happened)?

  3. Patricia Eimer
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 07:22:58

    That school is amazing– and terrible at the same time. The fact that children have to go to school under a bridge….

    Meanwhile, I agree with library addict. I’ve gotten to the point I just skip historicals all together because they’re all the same. Everything is regency England.

  4. Lynnd
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 07:50:39

    Thanks for giving us some perspective Jane.

    I have pretty much given up on most historical romance in the past year or so (Milan, Dare, Thomas, Bourne, Duran and Lin excepted). I find most of the rest just the same old same old (pun intended). I have seen some new authors who appear to be trying to do something different in historicals, but the prices of those debut books are often ridiculous. Unfortunately, I have tried a few debut books and been sadly disappointed to find that they really aren’t any different and am therefore not prepared to shell out $10 + (incl. taxes) for a debut historical author. Publishers may be “afraid” to rock the boat lest they anger their “base” but in keeping to the tried and true, they are probably losing many readers like me who just can’t be bothered with most historicals anymore.

  5. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 08:05:42

    I recently took back some backlist books and put them up on Amazon as an experiment. They include “Noblesse Oblige,” “Vanessa” and “Laura,” which have all been available for years. I also put up some paranormals. The paranormals are doing okay, but the three Regencies are doing phenomenally well. I was told by a major publisher that traditional Regencies with some sex and attention to historical details was dying and nobody wanted them any more. I seem to have proved that one wrong without trying. So I do think that people want something different in historicals again.

  6. Cindy
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 08:20:15

    I agree historical is beginning to stagnate because the publishers are almost exclusively putting out Regencies. We need a variety of time periods. I’m grateful to see Victorian is finally coming out, but I would dearly love more Medievals. And Westerns. We need a variety and I’m finding them more often than not in the self-publishing. If publishers want to survive nowadays, they need to realize that readers need a variety.

  7. srs
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 09:07:02

    Totally agree about stagnation in the Historical genre. Historicals are my go-to genre, but I’ve had a lot more dnfs lately. I thought it was just me, that, like @library addict says, I’d just burned myself out by reading too many, but maybe there’s something more going on. Even normally great authors like Loretta Chase aren’t doing it for me these days.

    I’ve started reading more contemporaries and even categories, which I used to avoid like the plague, and am surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed some of them. One reason I read primarily historicals and sf/f romance is that I’m often incredibly judgmental of the heroines in contemporaries. I can imagine myself in their situations and have a hard time when they react differently than I think I would given the same set of choices. But put someone in a corset/on a spaceship/in a world with magic and there’s an extra layer of suspension of disbelief that allows me to more easily follow the characters on their journey.

    I don’t know if I’ve mellowed a bit, if I simply wasn’t reading the right books/authors or if there has been an actual change in the contemporary genre over the past 5 years, but I am enjoying the books a lot more now than I did before. I’ve noticed more heroines in their late 20s/early 30s, less self-sacrifice and more variety in plot and character than the last time I strayed from my historica/sff comfort zone.

  8. Kati
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 09:54:22

    I only rarely read historicals at all, I read Sherry Thomas and Meredith Duran and Jo Bourne and that’s about it.

    Avon’s homogenization of their covers is what initially turned me off, half the time I couldn’t tell the difference between authors and books. But now, it’s the blurbs and plotlines all seem the same. No one is doing anything that *feels* new. It has to be a book with a ton of positive buzz before I’ll buy it.

    I will say that I literally haven’t bought a paper book of any kind in more than 2 years. If it isn’t digital, I don’t read it. Simple as that.

  9. LJD
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 10:11:37

    I read only historical and contemporary, and I pick books very differently in both.

    For historical, a lot of what I read is by the Big 6 (or is it Big 5?) With the exception of Courtney Milan, actually. I also really like Tessa Dare and Julie Anne Long (both Avon). These three authors = more than half the historicals on my e-reader. I’ve also got a few books by authors who’ve been around for a while, like Eloisa James and Julia Quinn (though I’ve given up on her).

    For contemporary, I am less dedicated to certain authors, and maybe half of what I read is from epubs, mainly Carina and Samhain. I read little from the Big 6, some from Harlequin.

    But when it comes to historicals from epubs, I’m just not hearing about them. Looking briefly at the historical romances offered by Carina, however, it looks like there is more variety in setting than from the big publishers. Maybe I should give some a try. (Already have so many books in my TBR pile though!) I agree that a big self-published success in historical romance (Milan was previously published by Harlequin, so that’s a little different) would be interesting. But I’m also wondering why we’re not seeing more success from epubs in historicals. Perhaps they should really be pushing for submissions outside regency England and trying to attract readers by promoting their historicals in this way. I imagine they could do well in focusing on less traditional settings–which they seem to be doing to some extent, looking at the ones from Carina. I admit that I don’t know much about what epubs are doing on the historical front though, and would be interested in their perspectives.

  10. SuperWendy
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 10:51:23

    I’d add that it’s not just digital with Avon – they’re also lowering prices on some of their print books. For example the upcoming Tessa Dare (Any Duchess Will Do) has a retail price listing of $5.99.

    I don’t know – things tend to go in cycles with historicals. A few years ago everyone was complaining about the same thing and then all of the sudden you get Sherry Thomas, Courtney Milan, Jeannie Lin, Tessa Dare, Meredith Duran etc. all coming on to the scene right around the same time. I just think we’re stuck in between waves at the moment…..

  11. Janet W
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 12:26:48

    I agree w/Superwendy — the next terrific historical, surprising and fresh, is just around the corner. In the meantime, go back to the well and check out the newly re-released e-books of terrific authors, like Joan Wolf. I just finished Margarita, different but still vintage Wolf and, bonus, the Earl of Linton makes a couple cameo appearances. Dizzheart tweets often about great formerly out-of-print Regencies that are newly available. To me this isn’t a problem — I don’t spend money on books I don’t enjoy and I’m an avid historical reader. And re-reader.

    I too read the comments about NA and the one about the nostalgic reader, looking to re-visit their college past in this new fresh never-seen-before-genre (little sarcastic there) struck me as off the mark. Again. Why? Because these stories are out there, have been out there and not that I won’t read NA because I will, but the “special snowflakeness” eludes me. I understand marketing, I understand trilogies and stories that continue from one book into the next — they too have been around, as has first person. Well, I won’t continue to beat a dead horse. I personally am looking forward to the meaty sweeping multi-generational novels of someone like a Barbara Taylor Bradford to re-appear on the literary scene.

  12. Aisha
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 13:32:55

    Ok I’m a little confused. I do consider myself someone who enjoys historicals, but the list of writers I seek out is limited (with many of the authors already mentioned here on it) and given limited reading time and unwillingness to spend too much money on untested waters, I tend to stick to those, unless I find something in the library or second-hand, but I haven’t had much time for those explorations lately. I did read less selectively when I first started reading romance, but once I discovered what I liked, I pretty much stayed with it. So, for me, the historical subgenre is defined by Milan, Duran, Thomas, Grant, etc, and I don’t see it as stagnating in their hands, hence my question about how Jane wanted to see the genre shaken up.

  13. Sherry Thomas
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 13:33:13

    When I was growing up in China, my classrooms didn’t always have heat in winter. Sometimes I wouldn’t be able to pay attention to the teachers because my feet were so cold they were in agony. And our condition, in the cities, was considered to be relative ease and luxury, compared to the real poverty and lack of amenities in the rural area. (To this day I still recoil a little when someone says they are moving to the country–the countryside is what folks in China are trying to escape.)

    And let’s not mince words, historical romance has grown smaller and smaller, in terms of how much freedom an author has inside the boundaries of the genre.

    My next release happens to fall squarely inside the constraints–sometimes one gets lucky. But the book after that is going to be set partly in Eastern Turkmenistan, otherwise known as Xinjiang. The last time I set a book outside the UK I had to change publishers. Let’s see this time if I go down in a blaze of glory.

  14. Char
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 14:40:58

    I didn’t read any historical romances for a full a year because I was so burned out from the genre. During that year many authors starting releasing their backlist in digital format. So I started collecting them as they went on sale. This year I am reading them again mostly from the 80s and 90s. I do not enjoy the ones being put out today. They are way too modern for my taste. I really enjoy traditional regencies. I have bought alot of Signet Regencies in the past few months. As Avon has been discounting their backlist titles I have been snatching them up too. I do think there are too many restrictions being put on authors today who write historical romance by their publishers. I just don’t see how the genre is going to come back from the cookie cutter mold it is in.

  15. Evangeline
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 15:35:03

    I think it’s rather flippant to use the term “first world problems” on this topic. I have family in St. Louis & Kansas City and their stories of obtaining basic education–daily violence, sexual assault, metal detectors, classmates being killed, terrible amenities, overworked, unmotivated, and poor teachers, old or no books, etc–are just as heartbreaking and horrifying as being forced to learn under a bridge in India. I grew up on the knife’s edge of poverty, but was blessed that the school district I attended included super wealthy, middle class, and low-income neighborhoods, so I managed to escape the fate of my less fortunate relatives. But that could have just as easily been my educational experience if it weren’t for the simple fact of geography.

    As for historical romance, who knows what the future holds. I’ve been reading more romantic/women’s historical fiction than historical romance because I desire more wiggle room in terms of where the plot and characters go (incidentally, I found time to read Sherry’s Fitzhugh trilogy last month and they were a breath of fresh air mostly due to the overlapping timeline and multiple POVs).

    Oddly enough, historical romance seems to tighten and tighten–from sprawling “bodice rippers” to Westerns/Civil War to Regency–as other sub-genres rise and fall and expand. The only part of this wild industry I can control is what I choose to write, no matter the market or what’s popular, and let the chips will fall where they may.

  16. MaryK
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 15:35:10

    Hwang was careful to make a distinction between erotic romance–where the relationship is still the primary focus of the story–to erotica, which emphasizes the sex. She expressed some displeasure at the conflation of the two categories

    Good for her. I have displeasure when those are mixed up, too.

  17. Aisha
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 16:01:44

    @Evangeline: My colleagues and I were hosting a workshop last week which was attended by some preeminent Indian intellectuals and one of them said that something like 30% of children in India do not attend school. I am not raising this in opposition to your point, which I would never dream of discounting or denigrating in any way. Poverty, I believe, is best understood using a relative (to others in a given society) rather than absolute ($x/day) measure.

    But I think the point of the title is not to be flippant (at least I hope not) but that there is a level of deprivation that is experienced in much of the third world that has very limited parallels in the first. And all these things, “daily violence, sexual assault, metal detectors, classmates being killed, terrible amenities, overworked, unmotivated, and poor teachers, old or no books, etc” , (except for the metal detectors) are too frequent occurrences in some “third world” schools too, at least here in South Africa (exacerbated by the prevalence of child-headed households, poor childhood nutrition, HIV/AIDs, etc).

  18. Evangeline
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 16:11:49

    @Aisha: My point was that the phrase “first world problem” implies that “bad things” are “third world problems”. As though hunger, deprivation, homelessness, etc don’t happen here in the “first world” and we should just feel grateful we aren’t living in those “wretched” “third world” countries. I lived hunger, deprivation, and homelessness as a child, and this mindset is why people here in the “first world” overlook and denigrate the needy in their own damn neighborhoods while patting themselves on the back for donating to charities and causes for people suffering thousands of miles away.

  19. Evangeline
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 16:20:17

    Needed to add that I am not playing “oppression olympics”–I have a knee-jerk reaction the “First World Problems” phrase/meme because it isn’t used to raise awareness or make people think, but for fun, flippant irony on social media. And it also ignores the intersectionality of privilege (*clutches pearls* that word!!) in our “first world.”

  20. Ridley
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 18:01:50

    I have an uncharitable view of any exercise that boils down to “at least I’m not *that* guy.”

  21. Jennifer
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 22:55:44

    If a new direction is needed in historical romance and regencies have become parodies of themselves, why are so many of the historical romances reviewed here those of Regencies/British-set books? I did a quick perusal of the last five historical romances reviewed here, and four were British-set historicals. Admittedly, this was far from scientific, but it confirmed my impressions.

    I can only speak for myself, but I would rather read a review of a book that might not be perfect, only decent, but had an unusual setting rather then the latest works from the Regency powerhouses. Not to say that Julia Quinn, Stephanie Laurens, etc, aren’t excellent writers and deserve their success, but those authors have successfully built their brands to the point that you know what you are getting with one of their books and know if it’s for you or not.

    I personally get more out of a review of a book by a new author, with a fresh setting–even if it’s less than great–than the latest Regency/British-set historical. But again, I can only speak for myself.

  22. Aisha
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 00:28:49

    @Evangeline: I take your point and I agree completely. In fact I made a very similar point (but in very different circumstances – criticising a small detail in Tuthie Knox’s How to Misbehave) some time ago. And the “oppression olympics” are something no one would want to be victorious at, but unfortunately there would be many many many many participants.

    @Ridley: If this story does “raise awareness or make people think” and maybe even act (and that doesn’t necessarily mean sending money to India, but examining the needs in your own neighbourhood, city, province, and so on first), or even if it simply makes you aware of your own privileges, I don’t think that is a problem. Hell, when I was studying in Europe, the major issue around which my fellow students agitated was the quality of food in the cafeteria, while in South Africa, we were supporting the Treatment Action Campaign (in the days of HIV/AIDS denialism) for example, and that meant in the immediate environment, ensuring fellow students had access to life-saving anti-retrovirals and of course campaigns to get tested despite any potential stigma. I’m sorry, but there is no comparison there, and its not at all about comparative privilege or dispossession for me.

  23. DS
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 18:38:08

    I saw a reference the other day to what may be an alternative name for New Adult– or it may have been some other genre entirely– Emergent Adult. Sounds like some stage of life in an etymological study.

  24. Evangeline
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 23:21:43

    @Aisha: Precisely. As I said, I have an issue with the phrase (really a meme) used to title this post and what it implies: I would have liked to appreciate the story without the baggage.

    I keep circling back to this post because of the topic of historical romance and I think the only way for the sub-genre to shake itself up is if we have a Fifty Shades of Grey phenom: something that originates outside of the genre and trickles down to us. Contemporary romance, erotic romance, and New Adult exploded over the past year when ex-romance readers, non-romance readers, and even romance haters devoured the trilogy and wanted more. Self-published authors and e-publishers first filled the void, and then publishers sat up to repackage backlists and sell new content from the superstars of these genres (Sylvia Day, Maya Banks, Beth Kery, et al) for these voracious new readers.

    Historical romance can’t even ride the wave of popular period dramas like Downton Abbey, Hatfields & McCoy, Vikings, et al, because it’s still surfing the Jane Austen break of the 90s. Which is the sub-genre’s main issue: it has no “gateway drug” to attract new readers who will push for something different. Someone who enjoys suspense/thrillers can easily slide over into romantic suspense; someone who enjoys vampires/werewolves/etc can easily slide over into paranormal romance and urban fantasy; someone who enjoys chick-lit or women’s fiction can pick up Victoria Dahl or Robyn Carr. We aren’t going to see historical fiction readers–or even Downton Abbey fans–traipse over to the romance section and pick up books with half-naked cover models, seemingly dubious historical content, and titles like “Sins of a Wicked Rake at Midnight.”

    Another issue–regarding the self-pub market–is that newly self-published authors are selling books NY did not want (not a slur on the quality, but the reality of submitting your work). If an aspiring HR author decides to put up those four books NY rejected, it’s a given that they are Regency Historicals–that’s what’s selling and you write what’s selling (and what you read). Why would an author determined to sell to a traditional publisher write books set in 1840s New York or Dark Age Britain? It’s freaking scary to be an outlier. It also requires a lot of balls to stick out your neck with unusual settings/plots/characters, and more than a little hubris, when your chances of garnering attention, readers, and a steady income is safer if you color inside of the lines.

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