Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Where Have All the Good Contemporary Authors Gone?

cat
more animals

One thing I heard out of RWA 2008 was the difficulty in selling the big straight contemporary. What I hear from alot of authors is that it is hard to sell a contemporary without a hook, like suspense or paranormal. What I heard from readers is that they can’t find enough good straight contemps (without hooks like suspense and paranormal). I have loved the contemporaries that I have read recently such as Susan Mallery and Kristan Higgins. Lisa Kleypas’ contemporaries for St. Martin’s Press seem to be successful (both made the New York Times). Deirdre Martin who writes the hockey books for Berkley and Rachel Gibson who writes for Avon also have had good success, if not the NYT List, they both have made the USA Today list.

Jennifer Crusie is an iconic name in romance fiction as well, hitting the New York Times with Bet Me. One of the most popular romance authors of modern time is Susan Elizabeth Philips. There appears to be a disconnect between what the readers want and what authors are telling me is not selling.

The above mentioned successful contemporary authors have a wide range of themes/feels to them. For example, SEP and Lisa Kleypas are more angst driven. Jennifer Crusie, Kristan Higgins, and Susan Mallery are more family-centric, but not very morose with nice levels of emotion and humor. Deirdre Martin writes the most women-y fiction of the two and Rachel Gibson perhaps relies more on humor than any of the other authors.

There are also the popular such as Susan Wiggs, Jodi Thomas, Debbie Macomber, and Sherryl Woods who write a different sort of contemporary women’s fiction. One editor described them as light women’s fiction or gentle fiction.

I asked three New York editors of popular contemporary authors what they were looking for and what they are seeing and what they are rejecting. To protect the innocent, I’ve kept the answerers anonymous.

Editor 1: It’s definitely I’ll know it when I see it sort of thing, but I think there’s room amidst all of these authors for a contemporary romance writer to find her own place. I personally would like to see more realism, though a great high concept never hurts. Ultimately I think the thing that makes a contemporary romance satisfying (well, any romance, but particularly contemporary since it is set in the world we know and live) is the characters-‘layered characters, lots of emotion (and that doesn’t necessarily mean angsty), and fully developed relationships amongst the other characters besides the romantic relationship-‘siblings, parents, kids, friends, etc.

Editor 2: I can only speak for myself, but I always feel that I’m simply reacting to the material that’s sent to me. If the manuscript is wonderful and intelligent and entertaining or touching in some way, then I will do my best to find a smart way to publish it-‘which means finding some way to make it distinctive, so that it has a shot. I don’t really see myself as directing things the way your email sort of suggests-‘looking for manuscripts that are more grounded or high concept or realistic, etc. I always feel the ideas begin with the authors, and my job is to recognize what’s already there-then maybe shape it or bring it out more and serve it up to best advantage. In many cases, my authors have simply written from their hearts, and don’t even realize what’s special about what they’ve done until I describe it to them. But all I’m doing is reflecting back to them what’s already there.

Editor 3: It’s pretty subjective; more of a matter of taste than one big thing that we’re all clamoring for. I myself gravitate toward the down to earth, the realistic. But a solid, singular narrative voice could render me sold on a book I may not otherwise consider for my list. I’m looking to be blown away by fresh, well-executed ideas. I’ll always have a soft spot for good, old fashioned romantic comedy. Of course, a fresh premise and unforgettable characters are a must. The types of books that are being rejected are ones lacking originality or inspiration.

From chatting with a couple of editors, they are definitely open to publishing more contemporaries but they are having trouble finding manuscripts that appeal to them. On the retail end, it seems that readers aren’t buying enough contemporaries to encourage editors to take more chances. There is an abundance of paranormals and a decent number of romantic suspense books but there are few straight contemporaries.

Is it because contemporaries have a greater sense of realism even if the hero is a billionaire that it is too hard to be swept away? Is the thirst for contemporaries adequately filled by Harlequin and Silhouette categories? Is it because the books feature primarily working woman as heroines and they are less appealing? Are older readers more likely to buy contemporaries than younger readers?

If you read contemporaries, what are you looking for? What would make you pick up a contemporary? Is there a certain look on a cover that signals “contemporary”? If you don’t read contemporaries, why not? What would make you read one? If you are a writer of contemporaries, what insights do you have? (feel free to comment anonymously if you like).

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She 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

100 Comments

  1. Kaetrin
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 05:23:50

    I responded to the poll on the site but I was looking for the option “I just like to read contemporaries”. I like funny contemporaries, romantic suspense, some paranormals, some futuristic and historicals too. But, I am happy with a straight contemporary romance too.

    The ones I’ve read which come immediately to mind are the Robyn Carr Virgin River series. Wonderful characters, working people and, at least initially, realistic scenarios. They only become unrealistic in the sense that “OMG, so much happens to the people in this tiny little town!” The individual events themselves aren’t over the top, it is more the cumulative effect – but that’s not a criticism, merely a comment. The first book is Mel and Jack’s story and they feature prominently in the books which follow. It is like catching up with old friends. I like the idea of what happens after the HEA. I can’t wait until the next book is released at Christmas and I think there are 3 more in quick succession in 2009.

    Another is Rachel Gibson’s Daisy’s Back In Town. I was really touched by this story – I expected it to be light hearted but it was much deeper than that and not at all what I perceived from the title and cover.

    I also really enjoy Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ books – although the first one I read was “Breathing Space” and the cover was this picture of Tuscany and I thought it belonged on an old grandma’s book – what was inside the cover was really (happily) quite different. For those who may have seen this cover and been put off by it – don’t be! There’s not a fuddy duddy in sight.

    I judge a good contemporary romance on the same basis as the other types of books I read – I have to like the main characters, the story has to be well written and, within the confines of the “world” it is set in, believable. To find new authors, I turn to sites like this one, Smart Bitches and the catalogue my online bookseller sends me each month. From memory, I think I got onto Robyn Carr via Writerspace – I entered a competition and ended up on her mailing list somehow (I’ve “found” a few authors this way) and I read her email about her Virgin River series, read the excerpt on the site and was thereafter hooked. (Her stories touched me so much that it was the first time I was moved to email an author to thank her and she wrote me a lovely personal email back.)

    I’d love to read other comtemporary romances, bring them on!!

    Thanks Jane, interesting topic.

    PS – I’m in South Australia and it’s nearly 8pm here – I’m NEVER up at 5.23am!!!

  2. Jessica
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 05:30:10

    I wonder if the need for a “hook” in contemps has to do with the need for a believable conflict. The one thing that annoys me in some contemporaries is the pseudo-conflict (“I had a bad prom date at age 17 and I will NEVER fall in love again!”), but I understand why authors resort to them.

    We are living in an age when there are few barriers — internal or external — to sexual relationships or marriage. Everyone pretty much has license to do what they want (I’m neither praising nor condemning this, by the way!), and if it doesn’t work out, on to the next. Perhaps it is not as easy in those circumstances to keep up the suspense, or have a believable HEA.

  3. Jenyfer Matthews
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 05:30:59

    I find this topic interesting from the perspectives of both reader and writer. I prefer to read contemporary – Nora Roberts, SEP, Jennifer Crusie are among my current favorites in the romance world. Perhaps one of the reasons that I’ve started reading more women’s fiction / chick lit in the last few years is because I do prefer a contemporary, real-world setting – books that are character driven and full of emotion.

    And I’m glad to see that editors are still open to these sorts of submissions because that’s what I like to write as well.

  4. Nora Roberts
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 05:45:07

    I’m working on a quartet of straight contemporaries, the first of which comes out next spring. I wanted to go back to straight relationship for this short series, without the elements of suspense, mystery, paranormal, whatever.

    It’s a challenge–not in a bad way–but a challenge because the fate of the world isn’t at stake. Lives aren’t in danger. Both external and internal conflict deal with relationship, emotions, falling in love and overcoming personal obstacles to the HEA.

  5. Diana Holquist
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 06:10:50

    So funny this post today after yesterday’s review of The Hunger Games. I actually read that review and sighed in despair: how to compete with a story like THAT? And yet, I don’t want to read about starving 16-year-olds in hell-on-earth, no matter how good the book is. I can’t be alone.

    Yes, it’s hard to compete with the very, very high stakes of paranormal/urban fantasy/romantic suspense. But ultimately, what’s at stake in a Kristan Higgins novel (love!) or Deirdre Martin novel (love!) is what it’s all about. I think readers are starting to come back to straight contemporary. I know I never left.

  6. vanessa jaye
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 06:14:46

    My personal experience has been that a lot of single-title length, *current* contemporary romance (print book) offerings lean more towards woman fiction/chic lit with a romance subplot of varying prominence within the story arc. At least the ones I’ve tried/read.

    I’ve enjoyed much of it, but they didn’t sweep me away/engross me in *the actual romance* between the H/h in the way Historical Romances do, or Paranormal Romances, or a good (with plot and characterization) erotic-romance will.

    As unrealistic as they are, I find the romances in a the Presents line give me the pure (big n bold) shot of ROMANCE in a contemporary setting (plus da sexxoring) that I like. I’ve also had some good experiences with the Super Romance line.

    So, if what I want is ROMANCE, single-title ‘straight’ contemporary romances aren’t necessarily my first choice (ironic, yes, because this is what I write). But if I’m looking for a good entertaining story, and not too concern with heat level, etc, then definitely they’re in the running.

    I’m probably not unique in this sense, I think a lot of readers want contemps that have a *strong romance* as the *main focus* of the book (with interesting subplots/supporting characters ,etc), and generally speaking while there’s a lot of entertaining, well-written books out there *marketed* as contemporary romances, that’s not necessarily what they’re delivering. This could be the reason for the schism between reader demand and why publishing is saying the supporting sales aren’t there.

    btw, Jayne Anne Krentz’s older contemps really hit the spot (for me), even with the mystery subplot running through them. Her newer contemp stuff is mostly mystery with romance subplot and a shadow of the sensuality/sexual tension she used to offer. Linda Howard has also gone this route more or less lately, but her older stuff kicked ass as straight romances.

    And why no mention of Nora? Or was she too obvious?

    I haven’t tried Susan Mallery yet, but keep meaning to.

  7. Kristie(J)
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 06:16:04

    I like this topic! I love a good contemporary. Some other authors who write this genre that I’ve enjoyed besides those already mentioned include Jane Graves – I highly recommend her latest for example, Tall Tales And Wedding Veils, Susan Donovan who is a delightful writer, Julie Ortolon, Lisa Plumley and Susan Andersen who hasn’t written a book I haven’t enjoyed. While they didn’t work as well for me, Robyn Carr has written some books that have been Very Well received. And not to long ago I REALLY enjoyed Toni Blake’s Letter to a Secret Lover.
    What I enjoy about a good contemporary is the focus on the relationship. Unlike RS (which I also enjoy BTW) there isn’t the distraction of a mystery. I look for something that will make me laugh – such as Susan Donovan’s Take a Chance on Me. I just reread that one after getting home from SF and loved it all over again. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I enjoy the poignancy I can find in a good contemporary.

  8. Sarah C
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 06:17:04

    I don’t read contemporaries so much anymore. I love straight single title romance and category romance, but it’s hard to find ones that I love for different reasons.

    My favorite single title romance writers from the 90’s changed genres. Sandra Brown, Iris Johansen, Tami Hoag, Linda Howard, Kay Hooper used to write romance with some suspense. Jude Deveraux and Barbara Delinsky write woman fiction now. I’m more of a straight romance fan and their new books just don’t work for me anymore. It was hard to find new writers because around the time they quit writing romance in the late 90’s, the chick lit trend started to develop which I hate. And now we have lots of paranormal and romantica.

    The category romance went also in a direction I didn’t like. I used to love category romance like Loveswept(Bantam). The stories and characters felt real to me. It’s hard to find that with Harlequin and their super rich alpha revengeful billionaire greek jerks and their sweet virgin innocent poor powerless doormat heroines who get pregnant on their first time.

    I just want straight romance book with women that are real. Women who have dreams, family, friends, careers, love&sex life and falls in love and tries to deal with that. Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me is an examples of what I want to see in a straight romance.

  9. Jen
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 07:00:45

    I prefer straight contemporary romances and agree they are really hard to come by. Casablanca books has had 2 really good contemporaries so far this year with “Line of Scrimmage” by Marie Force and “SEALed with a Kiss” by Mary Margaret Daughtridge.

    I completely agree with many of vanessajaye’s comments. It does seem like more and more of the books lean toward women’s fiction and have more of a romance subplot. In one of the contemporaries I tried to read this year the couple had not even met by page 60. This was a DNF for me. I want the couple to spend time together and have the relationship grow. That cannot happen if 20% into the book they have not even met.

  10. Emmy
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 07:01:31

    Books in general are boring me lately. I’m just not as excited about new releases or what’s in the pipeline anymore. I browse Amazon and my fave epubs, then end up re-reading books on my keeper shelf for lack of anything better out there. I think I’ve finally read so many books that nothing is original or fresh anymore. They’re all written with the same template…insert new character names and whip through random title generator and push out into the public. Meh.

    I think publishers are sucking the creativity out of the market by basically forcing authors to write within a certain genre, like paranormals, because it’s what’s ‘hot’. I don’t want to read the new it thing. Give me variety, dang it.

  11. Leeann Burke
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 07:02:04

    I love to read contemporary romance, but I need to be in a mood to read one otherwise I don’t enjoy the book as much. My favorite contemporary romance which include some of the same as Jane, Susan Mallery and Kristan Higgins along with Diana Holquist.

    As long as the book has appealing characters and is well written then I’ll pick it up which probably explain my exploding to be read piles of books. LOL

  12. Ellen Hartman
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 07:24:05

    I’m a straight contemporary reader although I like my books best if they’re funny. I read the “If you like J. Crusie” thread with interest–I’m rereading Faking It for the nine millionth time right now.

    What am I looking for? A love story. I want normal people to fall in love and let me watch. ;-) If they can banter in a witty manner while they do it, all the better! If the book is 400 or so pages, I like it even more.

    I’m writing my next Superromance right now and obviously I love that line. I do wish our books were longer, though.

  13. katiebabs
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 07:34:53

    I enjoy contemporaries more with humor that make me laugh like Sophie Kinsella and Jennifer Crusie. And I would love to see more type of contemporaries like Marsha Moyer. I guess I am a bit confused on what would be considered to be a “straight contemporary”?

  14. Julie
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 07:35:21

    Some of the best writers writing contemporary romances are writing for Harlequin and Silhouette in my opinion. It’s just a shame that the company still insists on slapping hokey titles onto their books which are doing their company more harm than good.

    The immense success of Presents and Desire guarantees that books about Sheikhs, virgins and Greek tycoons will always be around, but people do neglect to look at lines such as Romance, Medical Romance, Special Edition and Superromance which offer readers some great romantic titles every month!

  15. MaryKate
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 07:47:33

    I have to say that barring another book completely knocking my socks off, Blue Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas will be my book of the year for 2008, as was Sugar Daddy for 2007. Yes, her books are angsty, but Kleypas excels at writing characters who I connect with deeply.

    For me, when I read a contemporary I’m looking for a heroine who I can understand and relate to. I’m much more willing to go with a kickass heroine in a PNR or UF, but in a contemporary I want someone who I consider to be “real” and not real in the sense that she’s a size 8, and really will only achieve complete happiness when she’s a size 4. I mean, someone who has real issues. Actual issues. If I can’t relate to the heroine, I honestly am going to have a hard time buying in to the book.

    Generally, I don’t care for “ha-ha” romance. I don’t do cartoon covers and witty titles. Not that there’s not value in them, they’re just not my particular cup of tea. But I do like some humor in my contemps. I recently glommed all of Kristan Higgins books after reading “Just One of the Guys” and loving it. But if not for Jane’s review here, I’d never have picked it up. It has one of those covers that just doesn’t “speak” to me.

    I also adored Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series. And will continue to read her stuff, although it is true that I don’t think you could convince me to move to Virgin River for fear of contracting some rare disease, or some such terrifying thing. But I adore the series.

    Nora, I’m thrilled to hear you’re working on a straight contemp series. Although I’d read the phone book if you wrote it, I miss the stuff you wrote for Silhouette, which was more straight contemp, so this is music to my ears.

  16. Jayne
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 08:05:22

    I find that lately Harlequin is about the only publisher I’m reading for contemporaries. But I avoid the “Presents” line with an undying passion. I always check the American Romance, Superromance, Blaze, MIRA, HQN lines. Usually I’ll look at the Steeple Hill Love Inspired and I’ve started checking the Kimani lines.

    We get some epublishers who offer us books and I’ve tried some of them. But for some reason, these haven’t worked as well, on the whole, for me. Maybe I just haven’t found the right authors yet.

  17. Corrine
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 08:08:01

    I stopped reading contemporaries right around the peak of chick lit. Everything just sounded too similar and I was getting very little satisfaction out of the stories being published, both on the emotional side and on the plot side. Everything started becoming more and more about sex and less about the intimate/emotional aspects of the relationship and I got sick of it. I dived into regencies and medievals after that, and then paranormals. Once in a while, I’ll pick up a contemporary, but I think there just isn’t a good offering out there.

  18. handyhunter
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 08:08:20

    What I look for in a contemporary is the same as what I look for in other books: good writing, well developed characters, a somewhat believable plot, stuff that inverses/subverts certain clichés and tropes, no women in refrigerators or other misogynistic themes, please.

    Give me character development, and I’m there. Give me a plot that is finely crafted as well and I’m sold and will likely be very annoying recommending it to all and sundry.

    I have to say that barring another book completely knocking my socks off, Blue Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas will be my book of the year for 2008, as was Sugar Daddy for 2007. Yes, her books are angsty, but Kleypas excels at writing characters who I connect with deeply.

    I think Kleypas’ contemporaries showed a level of her writing that I hadn’t seen before. The only bad note about them was the whole She Must Be A Virgin (or as close to it as possible) thing that was in BOTH books. I mean, yeah, both women had sexual partners who were not the hero, but they didn’t/couldn’t enjoy themselves. I wish she’d push that romance cliché a little more, or not go there at all, in future books.

    I don’t mean I necessarily want to see promiscuous characters (of any gender), but I think it’s possible to show a previous relationship that didn’t work out and not because the woman couldn’t have a good time in bed. It’s too much shorthand for why relationships work or don’t, instead of actually showing its development (or breakup).

  19. jillyfae
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 08:08:40

    I have to say I agree with Jessica’s comment about the pseudo-conflict in contemporary romances, and I think that’s the real reason I tend to read the suspense/paranormal/fantasy genres. While fantastical, the conflict isn’t improbable; the h/h doesn’t need to act out of character and/or be TSTL, and I don’t need to perform mental gymnastics to accept some ludicrous plot device that’s keeping them apart.

    So while there are several contemporary authors I enjoy and re-read, (though I can’t think of any at the moment that haven’t been mentioned), I find myself looking at the descriptions of new books and being reluctant to try them. “Well, this one looks like I’d have to wade through 100 pages of people being idiotic before anything good happens, and I don’t want to do that… ”

    (And I have to agree with Julie on the hokey titles… part of the appeal of the e-reader my mother keeps trying to convice me to buy would be hiding the ridiculous covers/titles of some of the books I read.)

  20. sandia
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 08:15:38

    I’ve been suffering from a lack of contemporaries as well. I would prefer to read a contemporary to a historical but I find that with a lot of contemporaries that I forget after a day or just didn’t really like, the author has forgotten how to really develop a character and let me understand who they are. There’s sometimes a jump into the bedroom and all of a sudden the H/H were just made for each other…. I think that’s why so many of them ARE paranormal/suspense…. It gives the author to throw two people who don’t have any reason to be together with each other – and then it let’s them develop this “romance” without any character growth.

    I read whatever’s available but I’m much more satisfied when there’s true growth in the character in the book – when I’m given a reason why the hero and heroine fall in love.

  21. Ann Bruce
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 08:17:39

    When reading a straight contemporary that’s (1) not written by SEP, Kleypas, or Crusie and (2) longer than category length, my attention wanders and it might take me weeks instead of hours to finish the book.

  22. Michelle Monkou
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 08:32:41

    I like straight contemporaries and the difficulty is finding them–and I don’t want to be limited to a five-author selection. I don’t like humor because 9 out of 10 times, the author’s humor and mine don’t jive. I’m not into paranormal romance, but I do like straight paranormal. And I feel innundated with suspense. For the past few months, I found myself re-reading romance classics because the latest releases weren’t doing it for me.

    As a writer, I try to write lighthearted, but end up with angst. And now I don’t fight it. I’m tired of trying to twist myself into knots to write something that’s not my style. So I write whatever comes to mind and let the editor give the thumbs up or down. So far, it’s been thumbs up.

    Try the Harlequin Kimani Romances for a wide range of straight contemporaries.

  23. Dana
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 08:35:47

    Nice topic. I just spent almost an hour yesterday at a B&N looking for a contemporary romance, and left empty handed. (I wanted to try Robyn Carr, but they didn’t have any of her books in stock.) I’m probably way too picky, but yesterday I was trying to find a contemporary novel in the vein of Jayne Ann Krentz’s/Linda Howard’s past contemps. (And preferably one without a kid/baby.)

    I totally agree with vanessa jaye’s comment. It’s hard to find a contemp, that has the relationship between H/H as the main focus of the novel. I don’t want chick lit/women’s fiction type books categorized as romance. IMO, too many contemporaries are family focused/heroine focused, and I tend to categorize these as chick lit lite. I like it when there are fully developed supporting characters, but IMO, they shouldn’t be the main focus. I realize Bet Me is shelved in the fiction section, but I liked how the romance was the focus of the book and not the relationship between family/friends. Same with JD Robb/Nora Robert, SEP, JAK, and past Jennifer Crusie’s books.

    Some other authors I’ve tried recently are:

    Higgins- found through DA, funny, great 1st person, but IMO more chick lit than I like, and I had to space out the reading, because she reuses a lot of the same subplots

    Holquist- found via a rec here on DA, funny and I liked how the relationship developed in Sexist Man Alive

    Jennifer Crusie- adore her backlist, but her past few short stories and collaborations just hasn’t done it for me, Don’t Look Down was a DNF for me, and I haven’t even tried Agnes and the Hit Man yet

    Susan Mallery- another author I found through DA, and I tried Sweet Talk, but I couldn’t finish it. The sister, I think it’s Nicole, drove me insane.

    Shiloh Walker- she has a huge backlist, but my favorite’s are Her Best Friend’s Lover (where she actually has me liking a plot I thought I would hate) and Beautiful Girl (which is a gorgeous and hot contemporary novel)

    Susan Wiggs- I like her historicals more than her contemporaries. Her contemporaries are too women fictiony for me.

    And I find that I don’t like the Harlequin category lines. I’ve tried a few recently based on recs here and on SBTB, but other than a couple from Blaze, the majority of them were DNF for me. And honestly, if I want a contemp erotica novel, I tend to prefer the ebook vendors (EC, Samhain, and Loose Id). Maybe I need to try different authors.

    A contemporary novel I’m looking forward to is Victoria Dahl’s, I really liked her historicals, and I’m eager to try her contemp. But unfortunately, it doesn’t come out until next year.

  24. Keishon
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 09:27:08

    Straight contemporary romance equals boring in my mind. If I were to read a contemporary romance today, it would have to have the elements of good writing, I mean really good, well written characters and damn good and sensible conflict. Examples of contemporary writers of old: Kathleen Gilles Seidel. Love. Her. Work. She doesn’t write romance anymore and what a shame. There was something unique about her work and her stories were all character driven and there were interesting conflicts that were realistic. Kathleen Eagle is another favorite and she still writes. Her stories centers around Lakota Indians, heritage, without being stereotypical and the conflicts in her books tend to driven by the clash of cultural backgrounds that are realistic. Her stories are again, character driven. I could probably list more but I’m tapped out.

    Yes, I do enjoy Jennifer Crusie. She was one of the few contemporary authors I bought in hardcover. SEP is hit or miss but I like her stories too.

  25. GrowlyCub
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 09:31:47

    Hmm, I think my first comment on this got eaten by the spam filter…

    Anyway, I wanted to add a comment on the contemporary Kleypas titles.

    I enjoyed both of them, but I had some issues with both.

    It irritated me that she did make Hardy do something that was not consistent with his character in the earlier book, because it was an expedient plot device.

    The main issue was that I’m used to/expect that the people (aka male/female) who are introduced early on in the book are going to be the hero/heroine of the story.

    That was not the case for Sugar Daddy (I happened to try to listen to Blue-Eyed Devil first, gak, what a horrid narrator, so I knew that Hardy was its hero, which then obviously meant he couldn’t have been the hero in Sugar Daddy) and even knowing that I felt slightly mislead by the way the story started and I never lost the wish that she would have ended up with Hardy because of that expectation.

    I’ve been wondering if anybody else noticed that and if it impacted their ‘reading’ of the story.

  26. Nancy B.
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 09:33:07

    I read straight contemps, they’re my favorites. My goto authors are Nora Roberts, SEP, Jennifer Cruise’s old series books, Susan Mallery, Susan Wiggs, and Jill Shalvis.

  27. Kalen Hughes
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 09:33:35

    I wonder if the need for a “hook” in contemps has to do with the need for a believable conflict. The one thing that annoys me in some contemporaries is the pseudo-conflict (”I had a bad prom date at age 17 and I will NEVER fall in love again!”), but I understand why authors resort to them.

    Jessica pretty much summed it up for me. There are a few authors who transcend this (NR, Cruise, SEP) but most contemps just don't work for me (even when they’re by authors I love in other subgenres).

    That said, I do read Jennifer Skully, Jami Alden and Bella Andre. Love them. If you're not opposed to “hot contemps” these ladies are fab (Jami and Bella are marketed as “erotic romance”, but don't' let that scare you off).

  28. handyhunter
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 09:35:33

    It irritated me that she did make Hardy do something that was not consistent with his character in the earlier book, because it was an expedient plot device.

    Yes. It also cheapened Liberty’s choice because there wasn’t really a choice left after all, in the end.

    I don’t mind that she didn’t end up with Hardy, despite him being her teenage crush/love. I would’ve liked it a lot more if they could have stayed friends at the end, instead of Hardy being turned into a Plot Device.

  29. Anonymiss
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 09:40:25

    Lynn Spears’ aborted parenting book on how to raise two whore-iffic daughters holds more appeal to me than the average Harlequin.

  30. Fiordiligi
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 09:46:44

    While I really love historicals, my first love is for straight contemporary romances. Except for some witch/magic and druid plots I run the other side at the mention of a paranormal plot. And except for Karen Rose, Linda Howard, Nora Roberts and Sandra Brown, I don’t touch romantic suspense titles at all. I am in seventh heaven when I discover an author who writes realistic contemporary romances. By the way, one author excelling at writing them and not having been mentioned yet is Stef Ann Holm. She formerly wrote western historicals, and switched to contemporaries after the western genre died out. For a first try I would recommend Girls Night or Pink Moon. I also adored Ms. Roberts Templeton/Dream trilogy which is one of my all time favourites. So thanks for the good news that you return to this genre.

    I recently tried Susan Mallery but her novels are too fluffy, or sometimes too American for my European mentality … I can’t really put my finger on it. And while Catherine Anderson writes, IMO, mostly straight contemporaries, she’s another author that doesn’t work for me. Which wouldn’t be a problem were there more romances published in this genre.

    All together I miss a variety of straight contemporary novels. While there is the umpteenth paranormal series on the market about a guardian, vampire, shifter or demon, I have the impression that contemporary authors are allowed even less time than paranormal authors to develop and gain a readership.

  31. Fiordiligi
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 09:56:36

    Oh, I forgot to add. Two of the best contemporaries I’ve come upon this year were published with Samhain. #1 was One Night in Boston from Allie Boniface (she recently published another contemporary with them), and Larissa Ione’s Snowbound (I wished she wrote more contemporaries). Dang.

    And because I just now read the rest of the comments: I would like to add Janice Kay Johnson’s stories published with Harlequin Superromance. Down to earth, normal people, no sheikhs and billionaires, but real stories with great issues and conflicts.

  32. Michelle
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 09:58:49

    I agree with most of the comments above. It is extremely difficult to find a single-title contemporary romance where the developing romance between the hero and heroine is the main plot/focus/engine of the story.

    I think that may be because it is extremely difficult to structure/write such a story. In the single title contemporary romances that don’t work for me, they tend to be extremely slow-paced and feel like nothing happens.

    I’ve found some authors who write satisfying (to me) contemporary romances with a main focus on the developing relationship between the hero and heroine. They’re on my auto-buy list and most have been listed above. I’d add Kathryn Shay to that list.

    I also get my contemporary romance fix from the Superromance line. Not every book is a hit with me, sometimes the romance is overshadowed by other plotlines, but each month, they offer me at least 1-2 really great contemporary romances.

    Unfortunately, they’ve really gotten shorter in the past couple of years (WHY???), and that’s a huge bummer.

  33. GrowlyCub
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 10:01:47

    Okay, trying this again. I hope it won’t show up twice now!

    This is a question I’ve been pondering for at least 15 years, since most of the erstwhile contemporary favorites went from romance to romantic suspense (Brown, Robards, Howard, Sala, etc. half of whom have absolutely NO talent for suspense, btw); then came the humor brigade which morphed into a chick lit craze and then more contemporary writers went to the ‘freeing’ and ‘oh so much more wonderful for a writer’ women’s fiction.

    And then came the paranormal romances and put the last nail into the contemporary coffin. I find that attitude reflected in your editor responses and it made me sad to see it. I find it especially surprising to hear how hard it is to write internal conflict since that’s what authors did without trouble for years and years and years. I do have to admit that my most prolific favorite authors wrote series (Rachel Lee, Ruth Wind and Paula Detmer Riggs; I really miss the suspense free books Lee and Wind wrote; does anybody know what happened to Riggs? I MISS her!)

    When these discussions arise I’m always reminded of the chicken and the egg question.

    I stopped reading romance for a long time (6-7 years), after following some of my favorites to rom sus for a little while. So for a while editors could have pointed at me and say ‘look, rom sus sells well’. I finally gave up looking for the few straight contemps that I would have enjoyed, so naturally then the editors could say ‘look, straight contemp doesn’t sell well at all’.

    Now, it’s paranormal this and UF that and I can’t find contemp straight titles either in the deluge.

    The question to my mind is this: would many of the people who also enjoy those ‘hooks’ aka paranormal, suspense, humor, chick lit, women’s lit, prefer to read the straight contemps, but they just aren’t offered? I believe so.

    I now have gone back to mostly historicals after restarting in the genre with mostly contemporary erotic romance in June of 07, because those gave me/give me what I am looking for: relationship stories that I can relate to, no SEALS, no terrorists, no Manolo shoes, no funny dogs, no demons or vampires, no sweeping family arcs.

    I read one Barbara Samuel book and felt BAD after I finished it. Yes, it had a kinda HEA and I *love* angst, but this was just way too much real life and I guess what you’d call bittersweet. I don’t want bittersweet in my romance, I want all out glorious hope that things will work out, not inbuilt doubts whether this or any couple can ever make it.

  34. karmelrio
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 10:03:51

    I think there’s something to what Emmy said upthread about writing to “what’s hot.” I’m surprised at how many published authors I’ve spoken to who left me with the impression that they were writing to some pre-conceived impression of what “the market” is – what they knew they could sell, because someone else had sold something similar. At the same time, at RWA National, and on this website, I hear editor after editor on panel after panel talk about “it’s all about the writing.”

    There seems to be a lack of alignment here – at least in terms of perception. And as a newbie trying to learn how this business works, it is maddening.

    That said, I read everything Nora produces, subscribe to the Blaze line, gobble paranormals. I enjoy contemporaries that have massive amounts of humor – and I recently discovered Regencies.

  35. Karen Templeton
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 10:12:59

    Just FYI — Harlequin isn’t all Presents. Ergo, “contemp”, even in Harlequinese, doesn’t always equate to overbearing Alpha tycoons and virginal heroines (and I gather the virginal heroine isn’t even always a given in Presents!)

    I’ve been writing for Har/Sil since 1998, for Yours Truly, Intimate Moments, now Special Edition (and one hideously-covered single title). While there have been a few rich dudes (no Alphas, though, not my cuppa) and even the (very) occasional virgin, my whole schtick has been writing about real people finding love in a world easily recognizable to most readers. My heroes have included chefs and innkeepers and electricians and real estate agents…and even a recovering alcoholic who hasn’t figured out yet what his life goals are. My heroines are waitresses and country vets and small business owners and kindergarten teachers and SAHMs. IOW, real people dealing with the same kinds of issues and backgrounds and hurts and triumphs we all do. There’s humor in my books because there’s humor in life, and my characters tend to have a smartass streak because, apparently, so does my alter ego. ;-)

    And I’m not alone, since these are the stories many of my H/S colleagues write, as well. Whatever the market for straight, community-oriented contemp romances in single title, they are very much alive and well in series romance — Special Edition, Romance, Superromance, Harlequin American.

    Granted, they’re short (although some authors can work an amazing amount of story into 60,000 words), but if it’s romance-focused, para- and suspense-free contemps you’re craving, don’t overlook the series racks every month. You might be pleasantly surprised. :)

  36. Alison
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 10:17:47

    An author that I’ve recently started reading and really, really enjoyed is Jane Graves. Her “Tall Tales and Wedding Veils” was really well done, and the main character reminded me a lot of a Jennifer Crusie heroine.

    I have to wonder if the popularity of Chick Lit has something to do with the decline of the “traditional” contemporary romance. I think a lot of readers are turning to Chick Lit for their stories of the modern woman and the challenges she faces. For the most part I think that Chick Lit does a good job of filling that void for me personally (although I sometimes long for more luvin’). Marian Keyes is just amazing, and Emily Griffin’s books are addictive as well.

  37. Jessica
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 10:26:05

    Here’s my typical reading week. Start out the week with ‘serious’ non-fiction. This week it’s Promises to Keep by Joe Biden. Then move on to mystery/thriller genre. This week, Hold Tight by Harlen Coben, and The Simple Truth by David Baldacci. I’m catching up my YA and am reading The Golden Compass.

    By the weekend I’m dying for escapist contemporary romance. But when I’m standing in the bookstore or library early Saturday morning, I want a sure thing. So I’m much more likely to pick up the category romance Harlequin/Silhouette, because I know exactly what I’m going to get for my five bucks. It doesn’t always pan out, but it’s five dollars.

    I like the idea of the single title contemporary – but I really like a sure thing in my weekend reading and if I’m going to shell out 7 to 14 bucks (if trade paperback), then I want a guarantee it’s going to be good and like others have said there’s too often a chance that it’s a women’s fiction novel with ‘strong romantic elements.’

    When I want straight up emotional conflict, sex, and a HEA – I don’t want to play around. If marketing of single-titles were better, I would probably buy more if I were sure of what I am getting when I part with my hard earned money.

  38. Emmy
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 10:33:16

    There seems to be a lack of alignment here – at least in terms of perception

    It’s not so much perception, in my case. I’ve had authors specifically tell me that they write for the market. Many write for a living, so if they want to sell books, they sort of have to write what’s selling at the moment.

    I was chatting with Josh Lanyon, of Adrien English Mysteries fame, about that yesterday.

    I need to make a living at it, so I have to be practical about writing what will sell. I can’t reasonably expect a publisher to invest in me if they don’t believe my work will earn back their investment.

    So that whole sparkly, shiny, glowy, naive idea that new authors can write whatever sings in their mercenary hearts is just another spun fantasy. Established authors, perhaps, but not newbies. Maybe that’s where my discontent with new books is coming from. If authors can’t believe in what they’re writing, I’m not going to buy into it either. That might be why books seem to be getting shorter as well. I imagine it would be hard to improv a whole novel on an assigned subject. Sort of like writing an essay for English class, no?

  39. Angie
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 10:43:24

    I’m not a fan of contemporary romances, and never have been. I started at twelve with historicals, and now (on the het end of the genre, anyway) I read mostly paranormals, SF and fantasy (although it’s tough to find good ones in the romance genre) and urban fantasy. “Normal” suspense or whatever doesn’t do much for me either; I need something more to pull in my interest. The only time I’ll pick up a straight contemporary is if one of my favorite writers moves over to that subgenre; I read some of Judith McNaught’s contemporaries when she switched over, because she was one of my very favorite writers at the time, and dismayed as I was by her new direction, I followed her. It didn’t convert me, but the books I read weren’t bad.

    A writer has to be on my Short List, though, for me to follow them into a genre or subgenre I don’t care for.

    Interestingly enough, the m/m end of the industry is largely contemporaries — maybe even most, I haven’t seen actual numbers, but just based on what I’ve seen. I don’t mind at all reading m/m contemporaries, and I’m not sure why that is. I do prefer the more otherworldly ones, and that’s all I’ve written so far, but I don’t have the same “Meh,” response for an m/m contemporary that I do for an m/f contemporary.

    Maybe it’s because “contemporary” m/f is what’s all around me? I know gay people, of course, but most of the folks I know and see around are straight. The contemporary het romance just seems incredibly mundane to me (okay, maybe not the billionaire stories, but I’ve read a few of those and more seems excessive — like a Regency with “several eligible Dukes” attending a ball) and I prefer something different when I’m reading.

    But there’s no shortage of contemporary romances in the m/m end of the pool, whether you’re a reader or a writer.

    Angie

  40. Jill Sorenson
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 11:05:55

    I love contemporaries. I started reading Harlequins when I was 11 (thanks Mom), and I liked them, but single-title contemporaries were what really hooked me on romance. For life.

    This may be a generational thing. I’m a GenX-er who started reading romance in the contemporary heyday. I can go for paranormals, and I like erotic romance (for the relationship! kidding), but I think the urban fantasy boat left without me.

  41. Elyssa
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 11:23:21

    I love contemps and that’s why I write them. I focus more on the h/h and mine are straight contemps, as opposed to having a para or suspense element. I love anything SEP or NR writes (and am so excited that both of them have new books releasing in 2009!). Both of these authors have been a source of inspiration to me in my writing, and if I ever meet them, I’m sure I’d just stand there slack-jawed and idiotic-looking. Some other authors I love include: Elda Minger, Crusie, and Gibson, who all seem to combine humor and realism in their novels.

    I do think that there will be more straight contemporaries being published. It’s just a matter of those authors being signed. I’m hoping I’m one of them. *g*

  42. roslynholcomb
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 11:34:32

    I stopped reading almost all my auto-buys when they made the switch to romantic/suspense. I’m not crazy about paranorms either and until I started reading Patricia Briggs I wouldn’t touch them. Shifters are okay, at least Briggs’ are. Vampires and all the rest of the that stuff just isn’t for me. It goes without saying that I haven’t been reading much romance of late. Fortunately, most of my favorite black authors didn’t jump on the paranorm/suspense/anythingbutromance bandwagon, so I mainly read them. I strongly recommend authors like Lisa G. Riley, Crystal Hubbard and Seressia Glass if you want compelling stories that focus on the characters and development of relationships.

  43. Janine
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 11:49:45

    I have to admit that I generally prefer historicals, paranormals, chick lit and even some fantasy to contemporary romance. I think the reason is that I’m very familiar with the contemporary America in which those contemporaries are set and so I recognize inaccuracies a lot faster.

    Also, I prefer to escape to a world that feels more “other” in my reading. If more single title contemporaries were set in foreign countries, I suspect I would read more of them.

    A third factor is that while I have loved some humorous contemporaries (i.e. Welcome to Temptation, Ain’t She Sweet, Alisa Kwitney’s books), I am probably more drawn to the serious, realistic or angsty books like Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s, LaVyrle Spencer’s, and Megan Hart’s contemporaries. I have the impression that when it comes to single title books at least, there are a lot more humorous straight contemporaries out there than serious ones, and I’m not sure what the reason for that is.

  44. MB
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 11:54:28

    A good romance is a good romance whether it is category, historical, time-travel, chick-lit, women’s fiction, alternative history, fantasy or sci fi.

    I’ve stopped looking to only the “romance” novels for my romance needs. There are some great authors out there who incorporate wonderful romantic story lines into their novels’ plotlines and I love them!

    Just a few mentions of these authors off the top of my head:

    -Robin McKinley (Fantasy)
    -Lois McMaster Bujold (Sci Fi & Fantasy)
    -Sharon Shinn (Sci Fi & Fantasy)
    -Jennifer Weiner (Chick Lit)
    -Marian Keyes (chick lit)
    -Anna Maxted (chick lit)
    -Jane Green (Chick Lit)
    -Diana Gabaldon (Fantasy/History/Time Travel…)
    -Suzanne Frank (Fantasy/History/Time Travel…)
    -Fannie Flagg (fiction)
    -Sherri Tepper (Sci Fi)
    -Terry Pratchett (Diskworld novels have several sweet on-going romances)
    -Rita Ciresi (try Pink Slip)
    -Kathryn Tessaro (chick lit)
    -Barbara? Trapido (fiction)
    -Margaret Maron (mysteries)
    -Donna Andrews (mysteries)
    -Dorothy Sayers (mysteries)
    -Charlotte Macleod (mysteries)
    -Ngaio Marsh (mysteries)

    These are just a few…I have lots more recommendations, but don’t have my author list with me.

    Let’s not limit “romance” to just the obvious publishers and genres. There’s too much wonderful stuff out there!

  45. Barbara Caridad Ferrer
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 12:07:27

    I love contemporaries. They’re absolutely my favorite types of romances to read– and always have been. And I’ve been one of those lamenting the difficulty in finding titles recently.

    What I want out of a contemporary romance is real– it doesn’t have to be uber-angsty or fluffy or funny, but I love it if it contains all of these elements because that’s what makes life real. And I want it with a twist. I don’t want the same old clichés. I know, I know… it’s a tall order. As Nora said upthread, they’re difficult to write because “Both external and internal conflict deal with relationship, emotions, falling in love and overcoming personal obstacles to the HEA.”

    In this current climate of the Over the Top story/hero/heroine, trying to engage the reader with that kind of story is made that much harder. But again, as Nora said, it’s a challenge.

  46. KB
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 12:09:22

    As far as writing to the market, this may be naive but I like to think that authors, like readers, get caught up in new/popular genres, not just because they think it will sell better, but because it prompts some new ideas and directions for them. After all, authors are readers too, so it’s easy to get caught up in the latest thing and think about how you would do it differently, to think of the possibilities of what you could do to your characters given these new parameters.

    Just a thought.

  47. LesleyW
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 12:38:48

    I kind of drifted away from contemporary many years ago. Everything just became so predictable that I was usually losing interest about halfway through the book. I mostly read UF now.

    I think the only m/f contemporary author that I am still devoted to is Susan Elizabeth Phillips and I buy her books as they come out in pback. I love her style, the way she can mix angst and humour in the same book. The way she has you rooting for the characters and makes you feel what they’re going through. I read Deborah Smith’s Crossroads Cafe last year and enjoyed that. Yep, I think I like them heavy on the angst. I keep meaning to pick up another of hers but a little voice in my head is screaming – it’s a contemporary what are you thinking?

    An e-book contemporary that caught my eye recently was Felicity Stripped Bare by Vanessa Jaye (Samhain), the excerpts were v.funny. And it seemed to have the mix of angst and humour that I like but again that little voice is telling me to think carefully before proceeding.

    (I qualified the m/f above, because I’m probably more likely to read a m/m contemporary. The most recent contemporary I read was Crossing Borders by Z.A. Maxfield)

  48. Mireya
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 13:06:16

    I have problems “digesting” contemporaries. I tend to be a lot more unforgiving with them than I am with any other sub-genre of romance. Some I like: Sheridon Smythe (though I haven’t seen anything from her in ages), she writes over the top comedies, Sandra Hill’s comedies (also over the top but I love them), Lisa Marie Rice/Elizabeth Jennings – romance with strong elements of suspense, not the other way around. Lisa Marie Rice’s are erotic romance as well. I’ve enjoyed quite a few from Shiloh Walker, Jasmine Haynes, and Jaci Burton. My list really is very short. I tried Christina Dodd’s, but the one I read from her read (at least to me) like a historical “transplanted” to contemporary… I don’t even know how to explain it, hence, I didn’t try another one of hers. *shrug*

    I am way fastidious with contemps and I don’t see myself particularly inclined to look for more.

    I “inhale” paranormal romance and historical romance. In the five-six years I’ve been reading romance, that is the blunt of what I’ve read and I have yet to grow tired of them. I just discovered yet anothe author to add to my list: Alexandra Ivy … thank God for Booksfree :P

  49. Bev Stephans
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 13:37:02

    The good contemporary romance authors haven’t gone anywhere. Judging by all the answers, they’re right here. You just have to look for them. All of my favorites have already been mentioned, so I won’t repeat.

  50. JulieLeto
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 14:24:16

    I think that contemporary romances have become like historical romances…very steady, always there, no one paying too much attention to it except to bemoan its demise, when in reality, it’s there, doing well. The big sellers are doing well, but the midlist is hurting and it’s harder for new authors to break in.

    On the poll, I also wanted, “I just want contemporaries!” and also a choice for “sexy contemporaries.” Modern, sexy, but not women’s fiction, you know? That’s what I like.

  51. Tumperkin
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 14:35:38

    I suspect contemps are the hardest to write in that they just don’t have that ‘off-the-shelf’ conflict that a historical/paranormal/suspense can deliver. It’s set in The Real World and accordingly, my expectations for how realistic the characters should be and how believable I find the conflict are much much higher.

    Personally I’ve found erotic contemps the most convincing in these terms recently – possibly because I’ve found the characters’ attitude to sex more realistic (if at the more extreme end of the spectrum) and the conflict authentic. What I really can’t stomach are contemps about celibate 24 year olds with middle-aged hobbies (unless I’m indulging myself in Presents-fest in which case believability is at the bottom of my list). But definitely not in a single title contemp.

  52. Anne Douglas
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 14:40:28

    But there's no shortage of contemporary romances in the m/m end of the pool, whether you're a reader or a writer.

    I was coming to post that same point.

    I’ll put my hand up for liking contemporary romance. But I’m in the ‘like them to be funny’ (or pithily witty) group for the majority.

    I also like writing them… only I always seem to end up with three lovers, so bye bye straight contemp and hello erotic romance :)

    So, a question: If it’s contemp setting, but the sex is bold and frankly stated, what is it considered to be? Straight contemp, erotic contemp, or just erotic?

  53. GrowlyCub
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 15:01:03

    So, a question: If it's contemp setting, but the sex is bold and frankly stated, what is it considered to be? Straight contemp, erotic contemp, or just erotic?

    The biggest difference between erotic contemp and straight contemp with lots of erotic action is book length.

    Most erotic romances I have read were way shorter than a singles title would be and also shorter than even the shortest categories.

  54. Jo Goodman
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 15:51:27

    If I’m going to read romances, I tend to lean toward contemporaries. That wasn’t always the case because my first love was historicals (no big surprise there). I read the usual suspects: Crusie, Roberts, SEP because they consistently write satisfying, touching, smart, and amusing stories about relationships. Whatever else is going on in the story, it’s ultimately about the relationship. (Note to Bill Clinton: It’s about the relationship, stupid.) The problem with contemporaries in general is that they are so quickly dated. They become annoying or amusing in unintentional ways: old slang, no cell phones, changes in just the way readers think about issues of the day.

  55. MS Jones
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 16:26:49

    Jane, the editors you surveyed all seem to be saying “I’ll publish any good contemporary that comes across my desk,” and I don’t doubt the truth of that. The problem is that editors, at least the ones at the major print publishers, are not doing the vetting any more. The manuscript cherry-picking is being done by literary agents, and if literary agents are all looking for the latest variation on a YA sparkly!vampire, then that’s what editors are going to be looking at too.

    As for whether or not there’s a demand for “straight” contemporary: I think the way to figure out what readers want is to survey epublishers. They are the ones who catch emerging trends, like the demand for erotic romance (a bandwagon all the major print publishers got on after epublishing led the way).

    For example, Samhain has 10 pages of paranormal romance offerings, 6 of romantic suspense, 2 of romantic comedy, and 14 pages of contemporary romance. If they were to reveal their sales figures for these various titles (especially over time, like the past two years) that might be informative.

  56. Amy Wolff Sorter
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 16:34:58

    This is a very interesting topic for me as a writer and a reader. On the reading end, I have to agree that a lot of the “straight” contemp I’ve read has left me cold. It’s either the same-old, same-old plot line or the sex totally obscures the plot. Maybe it’s the “Harlequinization” of contemporary romance, but I don’t like it. I can take the “woman finds happiness in the arms of her man but goes through hell to get there” plots only so much.

    I’m finding the same thing on the writing side. My hockey novels (as Erica DeQuaya) have sold far more successfully than have my straight contemporary novels. So much so, that I’m working on a couple to come out sometime in 2009. Is it the hockey angle? I don’t know. But it’s a good thing I enjoy writing them.

    My feeling about straight contemporary is that with all of the ebook publishers coming online with their own offerings, maybe that’s flooded the market — and maybe the quality isn’t quite as good? I don’t know.

    Thanks for bringing up the issue, though. It’s a good one :-).

  57. LDB
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 17:46:49

    I started out reading straight romances, and my two all time favorites are straight romances by SEP and LH. Now though I find that I am more easily fullfilled reading HQ for my contemps, or rereading favorite authors. For me one reason is that I just don’t like overly “funny” books, where I feel like the plot and love story where spent less time on then the humor. I answered that way in the poll, yes I like to laugh, but even more then a laugh I like to be given a moving and captivating story. Of late though contemps have felt very flat, there have just seemed to be minimal climaxes and not archs in the stories I’ve read, no building emotion and nothing exciting going on.

    I also have a hard time relating to heroines who don;t have something special about them to drive the emotion of the story. It can be their situation in life, their personality, or life experiance, but I just don’t want to read about the run of the mill average everyday person because I am the average everyday person. Plus when author’s try to hard to make their books real I get pulled out of the story, not so much because real life doesn’t take me away, but because I often times notice things that aren’t “real” in terms of dialogue or the way people act. I want a romantic world like ours.

    The last new author I read was Jane Graves, it was enjoyable in a calm sort of way, that didn;t have me running out to go read her backlist, nor did it have me rushing through pages breath held to see how it would end. And that’s what most contemps are for me, calm nothing special nice reads.

  58. K. Z. Snow
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 18:10:25

    Where readers are concerned, there’s likely a certain “burn-out” factor. The Golden Age of contemporary romance was — when? — the late 1970s to the late 1980s, probably. TONS of category romances were produced during that decade.

    Then, thanks largely to e-presses, cracks appeared in the romance ceiling. Readers got a taste of “teh hot” and wanted more. They got a taste of “otherworldly” and wanted more. Those straight-up contemp’s lost their sheen, largely because of formulaic predictability and market over-saturation, and readers began abandoning all but their favorite authors in a quest for something more unexpected and titillating.

    Publishers, in turn, took up the banners of “teh hot” and “otherworldly.” As a result, it’s become extraordinarily difficult for writers to publish (and SELL) straight contemporaries. Ask any author who’s published with Ellora’s Cave as well as its sister company, Cerridwen Press. There are some damned fine contemp’s available through CP, but unless they’re paranormals, they’re not going to sell worth a crap. And even the best-selling paranormals aren’t going to net the sales that EC titles do.

    Society changes. Standards and tastes change. Unless contemporary romances can provide the same level of reader engagement that’s now being produced by erotic and/or paranormal romances, contemp’s will continue to suffer.

    It stands to reason. Look what’s being offered in other areas of popular culture — movies, music, art, etc. As society evolves (or devolves, depending on one’s viewpoint), we become more open-minded (or jaded, again depending on one’s viewpoint). Old boundaries are constantly being tested and pushed. Satisfaction through entertainment comes less easily. We require more, more, ever MORE stimulation and instant gratification, but not necessarily of the intellectual kind.

    I think it’s sad, but I also think it’s inevitable. Readers who enjoy books that challenge them to feel and think are becoming a rare and precious commodity.

  59. Elly Soar
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 18:15:57

    I didn’t answer the poll cuz I didn’t know which option to pick. I pretty much just read contemporaries, but most of my reading needs are fulfilled by Harlequin. The biggest reason? Pricing. Single title contemporary book prices just keep rising and I can’t justify buying those books anymore. For example, I love Rachel Gibson, always enjoy her work, but I don’t buy her new books anymore because the prices and big font scare me away. “Not Another Bad Date” costs $7.99 USD ($8.99 CAD) – add in tax and you’re looking at spending roughly $10 bucks for a 3 hour read. Add that price to the feeling I’m being ripped off thanks to the large font and wide margins, and I end up putting off buying new single title contemporaries the same way a dieter might a piece of cake. I know I want it, but I can’t let myself buy it now. Note to publishers: using regular size font/margins even if it leads to a smaller book width-wise is highly preferred – and it saves space so I can fit more of your books on my bookshelf!

    (Of course the feeling of being ripped off isn’t uniquely caused by single title contemporaries, take a book from HP “Modern” line and compare the number of lines on a page to an old Susan Napier… The downsizing of book plots is the main reason I prefer to buy used HPs from the 1980’s instead of buying new books.)

  60. MoJo
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 18:55:58

    K.Z. Snow said:

    There are some damned fine contemp's available through [Cerridwen Press].

    I completely agree. That’s my go-to for straight contemporary. I don’t care for paranormal or urban fantasy, and I like my “teh hot” very erotic, but buried in the story. I’ll take less hot for more story, but would prefer more story and more hot. Otherwise, I’m just reading historicals

    I, too, would have liked a poll option of “straight contemp” without the qualifiers. SEP makes me laugh AND cry, so I don’t know which that would be.

  61. Kay Sisk
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 19:42:44

    As a reader, I was won back to romance by LaVyrle Spencer, both her contemporary and historical offerings. And KGSeidel? Wonderful, as is SEP.

    Alas, I’ve read too many books where I think they were published for the paranormal element introduced. The book would have stood on its own (imo), but if that’s what it took to get its foot in the door, so be it.

    It is harder to find straight contemp to read. I did answer the poll with it doesn’t have to be funny. It’s great if it is; life can be funny. It’s great if it’s a bit angsty; life can be angsty.

    The Christian market has a good many contemporary offerings. Try Victoria Christian Murray.

    As a writer of contemporaries, e-published, I’d like to think my books contain both humor and angst. Still, it’s a tough sell.

  62. Angela
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 21:26:17

    Outside of choice Kimani Press releases, I stay away from contemporary romance because it comes across as complete fantasy. Not only do these books rarely feature a contemporary landscape in all its facets, but these so-called 20/30-something protagonists read straight out of romance genre casting, and come across as less “contemporary” than as the perception of a 20/30-something filtered through the eyes of writers AND readers who were 20/30-something twenty or more years ago.

    I’m in my mid-twenties and it kills me to see so-called contemporary romances where the heroines are desperate for children, or to get married, or are bored with life, etc. Or heroes who are practically “perfect” with tons of money, tons of success, good looks, no problems, etc. It just doesn’t look realistic when I look at the lives of myself and my friends, and just regular acquaintances.

    I’ve liked one SEP (Aint She Sweet, b/c Sugar Beth was kick ass), and I’ve only found Jenny Crusie entertaining with her Bob Mayer collaborations, and the rest of the ST writers mentioned are just too sugary, too fantastical and just too white washed. In my experience, Chick-lit seems with the times regarding the setting and the actions of the characters. I want to read about real people with real life situations, meeting someone and falling in love the way it’s done in real life, not typical romance tropes and conflicts. The 20s and 30s are a time for fun and exploration (and not just sex…), but based on contemporary romance, I surely don’t see it.

  63. Brenna
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 21:28:42

    Nora Roberts on September 9th, 2008 at 5:45 am:
    I'm working on a quartet of straight contemporaries, the first of which comes out next spring. I wanted to go back to straight relationship for this short series, without the elements of suspense, mystery, paranormal, whatever.

    It's a challenge-not in a bad way-but a challenge because the fate of the world isn't at stake. Lives aren't in danger. Both external and internal conflict deal with relationship, emotions, falling in love and overcoming personal obstacles to the HEA.

    Oh goody. While I’m more of a JD Robb reader (fanatic) and not a NR reader, I think your books on straight relationship w/o the suspense and paranormal were very good. I kind of miss them. Your Chesapeake Bay series and Born In were fabulous. This trend especially towards paranormal and vampires can get nauseating most of the time. And everyone seems to be getting on this trend. It’s a wonder I am reading fewer new books, not trying any new authors but instead look to more older titles on used book sites.

  64. JenB
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 21:34:41

    I haven’t noticed a great lack of straight contemporaries. What I’ve noticed is a lack of *good* straight contemporaries.

    When I want complete escapism, I go for paranormal or historical or even m/m (gets me completely out of the female mindset). When I read contemporary, I’m looking for realism and relatability (spell check is telling me that’s not a word, but oh well).

    I’ve noticed that a lot of straight contemporary is full of ridiculous slapstick comedy, bizarre, exaggerated characters, and completely outlandish story lines.

    I just want real people in realistic relationships. But I think “real people in realistic relationships” is probably tough to stretch out into a 350-page book, and that’s why it’s easier to find in category romance.

  65. Alison Kent
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 21:37:02

    I miss Lisa G. Brown. “Billy Bob Walker Got Married” is an all time fave. I miss LaVyrle Spencer’s contemporaries. (Kay Sisk and Keishon – you both know Seidel had a book out last year or the year before? “A Most Uncommon Degree of Popularity”) I also miss Mary Kirk who wrote amazing books for Silhouette.

  66. GrowlyCub
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 22:19:23

    I just want real people in realistic relationships. But I think “real people in realistic relationships” is probably tough to stretch out into a 350-page book, and that's why it's easier to find in category romance.

    I really don’t believe that. Matter of fact, I think it is *harder* to write a good, satisfying book and complete story in fewer words.

    I read quite a few categories (Blaze, although not so many recently, since they’ve gone off the deep end with the paranormal and suspense stuff too; Superromance and Special Edition) and the one thing I often feel is that as great as some of them are, they would have been even better if the author had been allowed that extra 50-80 pages to flesh out more.

    Paula Detmer Riggs wrote some full length novels besides a ton of catgories for SIM (when Intimate Moments still meant exactly that rather than suspense; the one truth in advertising I’ve seen in the book business lately was Harlequin’s decision to rename the SIMs into Silhouette Romantic Suspenses). Does really nobody know what happened to Paula, nobody? Sigh.

    Theresa Weir wrote some fabulous stories (One Fine Day, Forever, Amazon Lily). She’s writing suspense under a different name now (I can’t help but feel deep sadness at that and a certain amount of abandonment). Theresa Hill wrote some great stuff (she’s also fallen off the face of the world it seems).

    For anybody who thinks ‘real life is boring’ and categories suck, try Rachel Lee’s ‘Point of No Return’. Or for that matter, Linda Howard’s ‘Mackenzie’s Mountain’ which I just re-read. How I miss Howard’s great contemps of yore. Sigh.

  67. Janine
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 00:01:57

    (Kay Sisk and Keishon – you both know Seidel had a book out last year or the year before? “A Most Uncommon Degree of Popularity”)

    She also had one out this year, Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige. I think both books are women’s fiction, rather than romance.

  68. KeriM
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 00:26:22

    I am first and formost going to buy by author and none of my favs are auto buys for me anymore. Their writing has been to iffy for me to justify the expense. I used to be in straight contemps back in the 90s, but it seemed that all my favs (Linda H, Sandra B, Tami H, Karen R) had all switched to romantic suspense. Oh the days of early Sandra B or Tami H, they wrote some killer early contemporary romance. Now I read mainly romantice suspense, Karen Rose, Pamela Clair and Susan K Butcher. Erotic romance is a relatively new genre for me, Lisa Marie Rice, Lora Leigh and Amy Fetzer. For just straight romantic contemp I would have to say Robyn Carr and Higgins…very few in comparison to what i used to read. I don’t buy catagories at all anymore.

  69. Masha
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 02:51:26

    Angela said:

    I stay away from contemporary romance because it comes across as complete fantasy. Not only do these books rarely feature a contemporary landscape in all its facets, but these so-called 20/30-something protagonists read straight out of romance genre casting, and come across as less “contemporary” than as the perception of a 20/30-something filtered through the eyes of writers AND readers who were 20/30-something twenty or more years ago.

    Yes! Thank you for saying this. I used to be really bothered by the inaccuracies in contemporaries (how many 20-somethings wore pleated pants or Jackie O-style pearls in the late 90s/early 00s?), but now it’s that contemporaries that focus on young women really don’t reflect the life of anyone I know. I’m non-white living in a community that’s mostly non-white with a lot of racial intermarriage (not just white and non-white, but black-latino, latino-asian, asian-black). I don’t know anyone whose friends are all white and I don’t know any 20-something women who are miserable because they’re not married yet. (Although I have met a couple men who were…)

    I don’t need a contemporary that deals with foreclosure because of an ARM or bankruptcy because of medical bills or the family drama that goes on when a Catholic announces she’s marrying her Muslim boyfriend, but I’d really like to see a contemporary that looks more like life in the suburbs of an American city today.

  70. Angie
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 03:59:24

    Then, thanks largely to e-presses, cracks appeared in the romance ceiling. Readers got a taste of “teh hot” and wanted more. They got a taste of “otherworldly” and wanted more.

    I don’t think we can really blame e-books for any of this. The late eighties is when paper romances started branching out, with time travel books incredibly popular for a while (and there was a lot of fun there, although some silliness too). Fantasy and “futuristic” romances were also very popular, although rarely done well. E-presses have provided more market opportunities for the more otherworldly romances, but they didn’t invent any of those subgenres.

    Including “teh hot.” Check out Alyx, by Lola Burford in 1977. This book was a major bestseller, taking up six or ten or more slots in the supermarket book racks. It was also the first place I ever read a detailed description of a snowballing scene, although since the book is a historical it wasn’t actually called that. Catherine Coulter’s historicals always had a good deal of very graphic sex as well, along with many other writers of the time. Today’s erotic romances are different in degree — in that they have more sex scenes, and more often have gratuitous sex scenes — but “teh hot” in terms of specific, graphic, and sometimes a bit kinky, has been around for a very long time.

    Angie

  71. K. Z. Snow
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 08:18:12

    You’re right, Angie. I’m not “blaming” e-pubs and didn’t mean to suggest they invented eroticism or paranormality in fiction. But the sheer pervasiveness of these elements in e-books has made a significant impact on NY offerings and, subsequently, readers’ tastes.

    So in answer to the original question, Where have all the good contemporary authors gone? — I suspect they’ve gone where the income is. Readers who clamor for good, straight-up romances (the ones that don’t overemphasize sex and bizarre plots) seem to be the vocal minority. It’s the silent majority that’s spending most of the money.

  72. Barbara Caridad Ferrer
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 09:56:36

    The problem is that editors, at least the ones at the major print publishers, are not doing the vetting any more. The manuscript cherry-picking is being done by literary agents, and if literary agents are all looking for the latest variation on a YA sparkly!vampire, then that’s what editors are going to be looking at too.

    This kind of generalization is sort of naive, IMO. Truth of the matter is, it’s a bit of a conundrum. Yes, publishers are looking for what’s going to sell– so agents are going to make it their business to know which editors are looking for what type of manuscript and try to send them something that will fit those parameters, therefore, that’s what they’re going to be looking for within their own submissions.

    However– that said, most agents honestly want to sell/work with what they like. Some acquire clients by their voice, some are driven by favored genre– but bottom line is, the most effective and successful agents are the ones who can be enthusiastic advocates for their author’s work. They have to love the work in order to be able to get an editor excited enough about it to fight for it with increasingly picky acquisitions committees. There are some very successful agents who have small, but incredibly varied client lists– one of them told me “I won’t take on a client if I don’t love their work-‘period.” And this is one of the longest lasting and most successful agents in the business.

    So I guess I’d say that yes, editors are going to be seeing a lot of the same, but it’s never going to stop an agent from sending in something they love and believe in and think an editor would also love.

  73. Chicklet
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 09:57:09

    I don't know anyone whose friends are all white and I don't know any 20-something women who are miserable because they're not married yet.

    For that matter, I don’t know any 30-something women who are miserable because they’re not married yet. It’d be nice to read more romances that didn’t end with a “band of gold.” *g*

    I've noticed that a lot of straight contemporary is full of ridiculous slapstick comedy, bizarre, exaggerated characters, and completely outlandish story lines.

    Yes, this! I wish authors would pleasepleaseplease stop trying to make heroines relatable (*I* say it’s a word, JenB, so it’s a word!) by making them klutzy. I don’t have time for heroines who can’t walk and chew gum simultaneously. Oh, and comedic dogs are so 1999. *g*

  74. GrowlyCub
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 11:11:44

    Definitely do away with the dogs… grin. Cats RULE!

    I disagree on the ‘relatability’ issue. I’m in my mid 30s, I don’t have kids, never wanted them, but I can still read about women and men wanting kids and enjoy finding out how they resolve their relationship issues. I don’t have a career either, but I can read about women who are ambitious and have to integrate their careers into their relationships.

    I live in a mixed neighborhood and have friends who are in interracial relationships even though I myself have not experienced it beyond being from a different country and married to an American.

    Maybe it’s because I did not grow up in the U.S., but I don’t see the ‘dated’ or ‘wrong’ things people mentioned. I find that especially interesting since some of my all time favorites are categories written in the late 80s through late 90s, a fact which one would think should date the books considerably.

    Always good to get a different perspective. :)

  75. Michelle
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 11:36:34

    FWIW – I do know some single women in their 20’s and 30’s who are fairly obsessed about getting married and having children, and some of them would be viewed as very successful career women. They are out there.

    There are some contemporary authors whose contemporary characters feel kind of like a throwback to some 1950’s ideal or whose POV feels like it belongs to an older women, but I have met some “throwbacks” in my day. If I like their story-telling, I’ll still read their books.

    There’s a lot of diversity among women in their 20’s and 30’s with different perspectives, hopes and dreams. Some are more traditional while some aren’t. And, many have very different thoughts on sexuality. To use a specific example, some will find Blaze heroines more relatable than others do. A good book is going to make me care about the more traditional types and their complete opposites.

    I’m not trying to be preachy – just trying to argue the point that there is no standard 20/30 something woman.

    On another point, I do think there are a decent number of romance authors in their 30’s, but very few in their 20’s who are published. I’m not sure what the average age of the published romance author is these days.

  76. Amanda
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 12:00:04

    You know, for all of you who are looking for straight contemporaries, Toni Blake is a good option. Her characters never fail to move me in some way and her stories are character driven old school drama. Tempt Me Tonight, which was nominated for the RITA this past year was my first and it was IMHO great. Big city lawyer goes back to small home town where she grew up and finds quite a lot has changed. Including her high school boyfriend who broke her heart. And Toni’s latest, Letters to a Secret Lover had the heroine type I hate–Manolo wearing material girl–but I still loved the book because Toni made her seem more than just the designer clothes on her back and the shoes on her feet. At this point I don’t think there’s a Toni Blake book I wouldn’t like. She’s that good. Her new series is going to be set in a town called Destiny, Ohio. I can’t wait.

  77. Nell Dixon
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 12:05:48

    I read a lot of contemporaries and write them too. I will freely admit a bias because I write for them but Little Black Dress do a wonderful line in contemporary romance and publish Rachel Gibson, Susan Donovan, Jenny Crusie and a whole host of other authors. Distribution is widespread throughout the world except in the US where you can get them from Amazon.com or from Book Depository. Go check them out, they publish three new titles a month.

  78. Jen
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 21:49:35

    I have to be honest and say I quit reading contemporary romance back in the early oughts, due to burnout. I’ve been pursuing publication since 1996 and wrote contemporary romantic comedies (with a fair amount of slapstick, because hey–crotch-shots just never go out of style), however I got a consistent message that my characters and situations were just a little too quirky. I suspect nowadays they might receive warmer reception, but I m not a hundred percent sure I want to spend the effort to retool them. I read them nowadays and they feel a little dated to me because of reasons mentioned by persons above.

    But I quit reading all but Crusie and Krentz because I literally just got so damn sick of the “small-town feel” to them. I was seeing so many small-town sheriffs, firefighters, dog-walkers, etc, whose stories took place around so much Americana that I felt alienated, as someone whose history is that of the outcast, the just-left-of-center (you know the type). The whole bake-sale and high-school football game scene was something I had to ignore to enjoy the story, rather than something that enhanced it or made it unique.

    I’m hesitant to pick up any more contemporary because the heroines don’t seem very real to me anymore. And I’m the target demographic–SAHM, married, suburban, kids, soccer, minivan, etc. I am the stereotype in Easy Spirit sneakers. But mid-twenties virgins–or women in their thirties who’d had the sex, but didn’t enjoy it because it wasn’t the hero–just feel like traditional “romance heroine” (and all the almost Victorian strictures that label implies) trading in her ball gown for a pair of jeans and a polo shirt. She still walked as if she wore a hoop skirt, and behaved as if she had a fan or a lace hankie to hide behind whenever something startling happened.

    I’m also afraid to pick up a contemporary again because I know I’ll be reading about women my age or slightly younger, and I know I have an expectation that they will have come to the same point in their lives as I have, or at least have figured out some of the same truths about life as I have–that emotional neediness is no substitute for a real partnership, that someone who plays head-games with you because of a misunderstanding will return to the same M.O. the next time he mishears you reading off the grocery list due to a bad cell phone connection, and that you will have a lot of apologizing to do before you can mend the deep chasm of the breach of trust that a secret baby will have opened up between you and the dad.

    I have found a lot of straight contemporary plots and enjoyable reads in M/M. Somehow, the tropes don’t seem so much like tropes.

  79. mac
    Sep 11, 2008 @ 12:24:06

    To grossly oversimplify — I think that it’s easier to introduce believable, big-enough-to-worry-about obstacles to romance in a historical novel. Nowadays, at least in the Western world, there’s very little societally that can keep a straight couple apart if they really mean it, aside from their own hang-ups, which are not interesting to some readers, and can all too easily devolve into psycho-babble and tension that is not really tense enough.

    Of course, an excellent writer can MAKE it interesting.

  80. Angela
    Sep 11, 2008 @ 18:13:11

    There's a lot of diversity among women in their 20's and 30's with different perspectives, hopes and dreams. Some are more traditional while some aren't. And, many have very different thoughts on sexuality. To use a specific example, some will find Blaze heroines more relatable than others do. A good book is going to make me care about the more traditional types and their complete opposites.

    I'm not trying to be preachy – just trying to argue the point that there is no standard 20/30 something woman.

    Honestly, I’ve heard this argument before when I voice my utter dissatisfaction with contemporary romance. It feels like an excuse to keep writing the type of books being released. I know there is no prototype 20/30-something American woman, but the contemporary romance hero and heroine are not realistic. Either they’re written way too broadly and neurotic, or they’re some weird amalgamation of the author’s perception of a 20/30-something mixed with what…a peek in Cosmo or tuning into some TV sitcom? Not to mention that I can rarely distinguish between a historical and a contemporary these days they can be so similar in h/h, tone and plot device.

    When I complain about contemporary romance it is because it exists in this bubble where everything is glowing and pink and perfect. For example, I can look at the secret baby plot device with horror when I see the drama and frustration of a woman’s unexpected pregnancy and the relationship between the parents if the baby was unexpected. That plot’s popularity astounds me and actually angers me with how it trivializes the situation in real life and turns it into fantasy fodder for women who mayn’t ever be involved in such a gut-wrenching situation.

    I’m in my mid-20s and didn’t feel like a real adult until I was 22/23–where is my story in a contemporary romance? Where is the story of a young woman who may be stuck working a restaurant? Or is still living with her parents? Or is putting herself through college? Or is wealthy but dissatisfied? Or is engaged to a man she is unsure of? And tons of other real life stories of young men and women who are the sort of people you can pass by in a grocery store!! When I open a contemporary romance, the hero and heroine usually have everything all together and to fabricate some sort of “romance,” idiotic measures are taken (i.e. the shudder-inducing plot of The Heart of Mine).

    I wouldn’t mind if contemporary romance was promoted as some glossy fantasy, but it isn’t, and a large segment of voices and experiences are cut out of the genre in favor of this white-washed, pristine, frothy landscape.

  81. Karen Templeton
    Sep 11, 2008 @ 18:53:03

    When I complain about contemporary romance it is because it exists in this bubble where everything is glowing and pink and perfect. For example, I can look at the secret baby plot device with horror when I see the drama and frustration of a woman's unexpected pregnancy and the relationship between the parents if the baby was unexpected. That plot's popularity astounds me and actually angers me with how it trivializes the situation in real life and turns it into fantasy fodder for women who mayn't ever be involved in such a gut-wrenching situation.

    I’ve written a few secret baby stories, although only once was the baby in question the heroine’s, so while the MOTHER of the child may have kept the child from the father, the heroine did not. And yes, it IS gut-wrenching, and I’ve never put anyone in a bubble while they worked it out. I’ve also written several surprise pregnancy stories, and again, haven’t soft-pedaled the emotional aspects of that at all. But you gotta remember…these are romances, not literary fiction; we have X number of words to resolve the issue(s); and the people involved have to be at least appealing enough to earn the right to be called heroes and heroines, which already gives them a leg up for getting their HEA. That doesn’t mean the characters have to be perfect, but they do have to be likable. From the outset the reader’s going to (or should) root for them to get together. You can have women in all sorts of situations (and I have – like my plump, homeless, screwed-over, single mother waitress in one of my recent SSEs), but God forbid they actually bitch about their sorry lot. Put ‘em through hell, sure, but make sure they’re still upbeat about it. ;-)

    I'm in my mid-20s and didn't feel like a real adult until I was 22/23-where is my story in a contemporary romance? Where is the story of a young woman who may be stuck working a restaurant? Or is still living with her parents? Or is putting herself through college? Or is wealthy but dissatisfied? Or is engaged to a man she is unsure of? And tons of other real life stories of young men and women who are the sort of people you can pass by in a grocery store!!

    I think I’ve written gals in just about every scenario you just described. There is nothing even remotely perfect about their lives, if by that you mean they never have to worry about money or bad hair days or whether they’ll ever finally finish their education. Geez, I’m writing one now who, because of a family situation that’s kept her out of circulation for several years, still has no clue what her purpose is in life at 29(one reason why she resists her attraction to his hero, because is she really ready for that kind of commitment?). But we do have to be careful not to let the tone dip into dreary. Romance readers aren’t big fans.

    The problem is — and I’m speaking as someone who’s been in the trenches for more than a dozen years now — a lot of what some of you seem to want in your contemps is being or has been done in chick lit and women’s fiction…but then romance readers say that’s not what they want, because they don’t want sexually experience heroines (especially those who sleep with someone other than the hero during the course of the story) or they don’t want to read about someone in a dead-end job, and they definitely do want that guaranteed HEA. While of course there are real-life HEAs, they rarely happen the way they do in fiction, because fiction only approximates real life, it doesn’t mirror it. Most courtships are pretty boring, actually, a series of steps that eventually lead to commitment. Or not. But in a Romance with a capital R, no matter what the obstacles keeping the couple emotionally or physically apart, by the end of the book All is Well. That means the writer has to plot her story in such a way that the problems DO have solutions…otherwise the reader won’t believe the happy ending. And if the heroine is unhappy with her lot at the beginning of the book, she has to see some sort of progress on all fronts by the end, or the reader’s not gonna be happy.

    So while that doesn’t mean you can’t put the characters through the ringer, or write about “ordinary” people — which I’ve been doing over the course of twelve years and 30 books — the very structure of the genre is at odds with what we think of as real life. Add to that the number of readers who AREN’T looking for “real” — they want escape, no matter when the book’s set, and the contemp writer is faced with some real tough challenges.

  82. Janine
    Sep 11, 2008 @ 19:29:17

    The problem is -‘ and I'm speaking as someone who's been in the trenches for more than a dozen years now -‘ a lot of what some of you seem to want in your contemps is being or has been done in chick lit and women's fiction…but then romance readers say that's not what they want, because they don't want sexually experience heroines (especially those who sleep with someone other than the hero during the course of the story) or they don't want to read about someone in a dead-end job, and they definitely do want that guaranteed HEA.

    When you say romance readers say they want that, are you referring to feedback you’ve gotten from readers in emails, to comments on message boards, or to publisher market research?

    I know I want at least a HFN ending in a romance, or some kind of upbeat ending. But I like sexually experienced heroines. I remember when I first read Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s book Again, one of the things that charmed me was that the heroine was romantically involved with and living with another man when she met the hero. And as far as dead-end jobs, I remember being struck (in a positive way) by the heroine’s first job in Janice Kay Johnson’s With Child — she was a barista in a Seattle coffeeshop. I like to think that other than the upbeat ending, everything else depends on the execution, and any scenario can be written well. But maybe that’s naive of me.

    Add to that the number of readers who AREN'T looking for “real” -‘ they want escape, no matter when the book's set, and the contemp writer is faced with some real tough challenges.

    I often say that I am looking for escape in my reading, and I often say I am looking for realism too. I don’t believe the two are mutually exclusive. I think it’s possible to find both in the same book. Take Megan Hart’s gut-wrenching books, Dirty and Broken. The emotions and situations the characters faced were portrayed with unflinching realism at times, but the characters still had a sexy glamour to them. Speaking only for myself, I think when I read romance I hope to find that blend of reality and fantasy in one book. I don’t want the world of the book to be as mundane as the real world, I don’t want it to be depressing or bleak, but I want the characters to feel authentic and their relationships as well as the emotional responses they have to their situations to hit on some kind of emotional truth, for lack of a better term.

  83. Karen Templeton
    Sep 11, 2008 @ 20:22:09

    When you say romance readers say they want that, are you referring to feedback you've gotten from readers in emails, to comments on message boards, or to publisher market research?

    All of the above, plus reviews (reader and otherwise). Industry “chatter” in other words, gleaned from many sources.

    I often say that I am looking for escape in my reading, and I often say I am looking for realism too. I don't believe the two are mutually exclusive. I think it's possible to find both in the same book.

    Me, too. And emotional truth is the perfect way to describe it. Which is why I write the stories I write, trying to find that balance between believable/relatable and modern day fairy tale, ‘cuz that’s what I hear in my head. ;-)

  84. Barbara Caridad Ferrer
    Sep 11, 2008 @ 21:06:06

    Me, too. And emotional truth is the perfect way to describe it. Which is why I write the stories I write, trying to find that balance between believable/relatable and modern day fairy tale, ‘cuz that's what I hear in my head. ;-)

    And Karen does it beautifully. (I put the purple pimp hat on for Karen all the time.)

    And I’ve written stories like this– real, flawed people, without being over the top, real, flawed situations, where the happy outcome isn’t a guarantee, at least, not until near the end, and time and again, I’ve been rejected by editors with a variety of “Great writing, but…” And the but usually includes something like one of the leads sleeping with someone who’s not the hero/heroine or some other “taboo” being stomped all over. I’m not boo-hooing the situation, although I will admit to it being frustrating. All I can do is continue to write the stories I love writing and hope that I find that one editor who’ll love it and when/if that happens, that, to paraphrase Field of Dreams, if I write it, they will come.

  85. Angela
    Sep 11, 2008 @ 21:59:54

    But we do have to be careful not to let the tone dip into dreary. Romance readers aren't big fans.

    The problem is -‘ and I'm speaking as someone who's been in the trenches for more than a dozen years now -‘ a lot of what some of you seem to want in your contemps is being or has been done in chick lit and women's fiction

    I do read chick-lit for that purpose. Honestly, the whole “readers don’t like XXX” sounds incredibly patronizing. But then again…I guess this is why my romance reading has fallen off to an alarming degree. The more I experience, the more it appears the mainstream romance genre is severely out of sync with what I desire out of a romance novel. :/

  86. Karen Templeton
    Sep 11, 2008 @ 22:46:35

    Angela — Of course we all know there’s no such thing as “the” romance reader. We also know full well there are a lot of readers who feel, despite the huge variety of romances offered, that there’s nothing for them. But man, the conflicting feedback’s enough to make your head spin…and can, if allowed, paralyze the creative process.

    However…if you listen long enough, and hard enough, and pay attention to your royalty statements :), you begin to see certain patterns, among those readers who gravitate to particular types of stories. If, say, over the years you keep hearing from readers who say they favor A, but during that same timeframe only a handful who say they favor B, C, or D, then by extrapolation one comes to the conclusion that MOST readers prefer A.

    Take first person, for instance. It’s rare to hear a reader say they like it for romance. Many won’t read it at all, under any circumstances. That’s a logical consensus which in turn influences most romance authors to NOT write romances in first person. And many romance readers are so entrenched in their own definitions of HEA that they often don’t recognize it when it appears in a slightly altered form, such as in chick lit. If you look at what’s selling best right now, across the board, it’s pretty clear that fantasy (as in, not grounded in the world as we know it) rules. Even at H/S, those Greek tycoons and their virgin mistresses sell like mad. Realistic? Not a bit of it. Popular? Heck, yeah.

    But there’s another phenomenon I’ve noticed personally that I think is very telling, and that’s how many readers are reluctant to let the heroine grow, or have issues, or take her time deciding whether to go forward with the relationship. Maybe that’s because I write such fabulous guys readers can’t understand the heroines’ reluctance ;-), but when one talks about the pretty pink bubble that seems to encompass Romanceland, it’s interesting that heroines with genuine reasons for resisting commitment draw such fire.

    Obviously, in real life women have just as many issues about love and marriage as men do — especially if they’ve been through the mill a time or six. And certainly not all of my readers have problems with giving my gals a chance to find their footing and work through their fears. But clearly too MUCH conflict makes a lot of readers uneasy — as though they fear I’m somehow going to cheat them out of the payoff — which is why I suppose so many books, and characters, feel “safe” practically from the outset.

    Because if most readers turn to the genre to feel safe themselves, cocooned from the ordinary world, how much “reality” can we impose on our characters before we lose that core readership that keeps the ship afloat?

    And I hope this makes sense — it’s very late and I’ve been wrestling with a deadline book all day. But I’m enjoying the discussion, diminished braincell capacity notwithstanding.

  87. Ann Bruce
    Sep 11, 2008 @ 23:39:32

    On another point, I do think there are a decent number of romance authors in their 30's, but very few in their 20's who are published. I'm not sure what the average age of the published romance author is these days.

    I’m in my twenties, but I prefer my heroines to be in their thirties. I started writing my first romantic suspense in my teens and put my heroine in her early thirties. From my early romance reading years, I was exposed to way too many twenty-something heroines whose actions, thoughts and, frankly, lack of common sense, made me cringe. Of course, there are plenty of thirty-something heroines out there who are just as TSTL, but not many writers like to cross the thirty line because the misguided belief is the best years of your life are between 19 and 30. (Or at least that’s the impression I get from reading so many romance guidelines.) And God help you if you aren’t married and pregnant by the big three-oh.

  88. Dee
    Sep 11, 2008 @ 23:40:05

    I read mostly Sci-Fi Romance or Romantic Suspense. But I do occasionally pick up a straight contemporary.

    What will pull me in is a subject I’m interested in. Such as, for awhile I was on a kick of trying to find any romance set in Vietnam during the war, during the Vietnam era or about Vietnam Vets. There were some VERY good books out there, though very few. I also got on a kick where I read every romance I could find about rock and/or country musicians, very few of those too.

    I guess the main problem for me is 90% of the contemporaries I’ve read go on and on about the fashions the women are wearing, their makeup … all the girly-girl frou-frou stuff. And then, to top it off, they’re pregnant at the end. This is tough for me to get interested in. I’m an older single, professional woman.

    I’m in my late 40s, hell I’m post-menopausal! I’ve gotten rid of 3 husbands (yes they are still alive, just not living in my house). While a relationship with a man is still desirable, you couldn’t drag me to the alter again if you put a gun to my head. High fashion and makeup just don’t carry the significance to me that it did in my 20s and 30s.

    I would dearly love to see more romance novels that feature women in my age range. I’m really surprised there aren’t considering most of my favorite authors are my age and older. I’ve read a few but, they are few and far between.

  89. SonomaLass
    Sep 12, 2008 @ 00:15:43

    While a relationship with a man is still desirable, you couldn't drag me to the alter again if you put a gun to my head.

    Yay, Dee!! Me too.

    I don’t mind younger heroines, as long as they aren’t TSTL; I like watching young people make important life choices, IRL and on the page. But more and more I find myself looking for romance heroines who are a bit further on in their lives, with more experience to apply to their situations. I think that’s why Sherry Thomas’ books both sucked me in; the romances start when the characters are young, but that part is told in flashbacks.

    One reason I loved Nora Roberts’ In the Garden trilogy was that she covered such a great age range in the three central romances. I am also very appreciative of authors who feature older secondary characters getting HEAs along with the happy central couple.

    Of course writing more complex, mature characters (and allowing them time to hesitate and take time resolving their conflicts) makes for longer books. But who am I kidding — romances are my second love, after epic fantasy, so I will never be really happy with category-length stories anyway!

  90. Angie
    Sep 12, 2008 @ 01:26:27

    but then romance readers say that's not what they want, because they don't want sexually experience heroines (especially those who sleep with someone other than the hero during the course of the story) or they don't want to read about someone in a dead-end job, and they definitely do want that guaranteed HEA.

    I know I want at least a HFN ending in a romance, or some kind of upbeat ending. But I like sexually experienced heroines.

    You can have women in all sorts of situations (and I have – like my plump, homeless, screwed-over, single mother waitress in one of my recent SSEs), but God forbid they actually bitch about their sorry lot. Put ‘em through hell, sure, but make sure they're still upbeat about it. ;-)

    And I've written stories like this- real, flawed people, without being over the top, real, flawed situations, where the happy outcome isn't a guarantee, at least, not until near the end, and time and again, I've been rejected by editors with a variety of “Great writing, but…” And the but usually includes something like one of the leads sleeping with someone who's not the hero/heroine or some other “taboo” being stomped all over.

    Honestly, the whole “readers don't like XXX” sounds incredibly patronizing. But then again…I guess this is why my romance reading has fallen off to an alarming degree. The more I experience, the more it appears the mainstream romance genre is severely out of sync with what I desire out of a romance novel. :/

    Another trend that’s been going on for ages. And of course, we get this feedback loop going — the writers and editors are trying to figure out What The Readers Want, and every time the work out a new taboo, something which appears to bring a lot of negative mail or board comments or falling sales, another character trait or plot device or whatever is added to the “Can’t Do That In A Romance” list. And every time something is struck off the list, some number of readers who liked that feature wander away.

    Do this for a few decades and eventually, yeah, you’re going to have quite a few people who used to read romances but don’t anymore, and quite a few more people who are still hanging on but grousing that romance books aren’t as good as they where when those folks started reading them back whenever, and yet another crowd pointing out that this or that other genre has really wonderful romances which break Rule 12 or Rule 27 but are still excellent and the sky hasn’t fallen and why can’t we do this too? And the keepers of wisdom say it’s because The Readers won’t stand for it. And they won’t — the readers who are left are for the most part the ones who don’t like it when books break the current list of rules, updated, with appendices.

    But every time a new rule is worked out, that cuts loose another fraction of the readership. The pool of readers becomes a bit smaller and more concentrated. Less variety is tolerated, but the current batch of readers for the most part really loves the current batch of rules. We’re defining ourselves smaller and smaller and smaller.

    Of course, romance is still the best selling genre by an order of magnitude, right? So who cares? [wry smile]

    One thing I like about writing m/m is that it’s still very much a frontier. The most basic rules are there — we still need an HEA/HFN or our readers will scream too — but so much of the details just haven’t been legislated yet. We can tramp through the underbrush and explore and try different things. Sure, occasionally one ends up with a few arrows in ones back, but that’s just part of being an pioneer. :) I’ll deal with it, in exchange for the freedom to break a few of those long-established rules if I want to, or if my story needs it.

    Angie

  91. Dee
    Sep 12, 2008 @ 01:48:53

    I don't mind younger heroines, as long as they aren't TSTL; I like watching young people make important life choices, IRL and on the page. But more and more I find myself looking for romance heroines who are a bit further on in their lives, with more experience to apply to their situations.

    Exactly! You hit the nail on the head.

    Nora’s series about the Quinn Brothers is a good example of what I’m talking about. Except for that ghost showing up now and then, that was for the most part straight contemporary. While the books were male-centric (which I prefer), the women in those books were 30-ish (if I remember right). But they were dealing with their lives and we, the reader, got to watch and get inside their heads and their feelings. There may have been some frou-frou in there but it was background noise to me, I didn’t notice it. I loved this series, re-read it a few times.

    The most memorable book I’ve read about an older woman was a book by Constance O’day-Flannery called Once In A Lifetime. There was a ghost in this one too but, other than his few appearances, it was straight contemporary. It was about a middle-aged woman whose husband decided he wanted a newer model. Loved this book! You got to watch her struggle and then grow.

    There seems to be an attitude in the genre today that there is a little something for everyone. We got books that feature plus-size women, multicultural, erotica … I really think there is room for us older gals too.

    Well now I’m going to have to go out and buy Nora’s In the Garden trilogy and check out Sherry Thomas. You’ve perked my interest.

  92. Ann Somerville
    Sep 12, 2008 @ 06:03:34

    One thing I like about writing m/m is that it's still very much a frontier. The most basic rules are there -‘ we still need an HEA/HFN or our readers will scream too -‘ but so much of the details just haven't been legislated yet.

    A big ‘me too’ on that. Want older lovers? Easy. Want people who are sexually experienced, and not necessarily monogamous before the relationship firms up? No one blinks. Physical infirmities, deformities? Readers don’t mind. So long as the lovers aren’t dead and are within spitting distance of a HEA (and you don’t bring an icky woman into the mix), you can do so much in m/m – and I think this is why I just can’t bring myself to write het (along with the fact that ‘dripping pussies’ and fingers being jammed where the sun doesn’t shine doesn’t strike me as very erotic, even if it’s de riguer in het romance these days.) M/m lets you break right out of the expected gender roles without creating a ludicrously feisty heroine reminding you every three seconds how she’s not the little woman.

    Even if it never becomes mainstream (and I kinda hope it doesn’t) I can’t see myself writing anything else for a very long time. It’s too much fun.

  93. Sarah Frantz
    Sep 12, 2008 @ 07:03:23

    I’m with Angie and Ann Somerville. I find everything that we’re all talking about here in m/m gay romance. I think the last het contemporary I read was probably Crusie’s Agnes. Maybe SEP’s latest. And I love rom. suspense, b/c it usually also provides unusual, mold-breaking heroines, without the “world is about to END” of paranormals.

    But m/m contemporaries have it all, and I wouldn’t give them up for anything. In fact, I avoid m/m paranormals b/c I just don’t need the extra paranormal boost like I do in het romances.

  94. Mrs Giggles
    Sep 12, 2008 @ 07:23:49

    I also got on a kick where I read every romance I could find about rock and/or country musicians, very few of those too.

    Can I recommend Tami Parrington’s Married To A Rock Star? It’s self-published (I know, I know) but it is very readable. Available on Amazon as well as Lulu (download version).

  95. Michelle
    Sep 12, 2008 @ 10:30:49

    But there's another phenomenon I've noticed personally that I think is very telling, and that's how many readers are reluctant to let the heroine grow, or have issues, or take her time deciding whether to go forward with the relationship. Maybe that's because I write such fabulous guys readers can't understand the heroines' reluctance ;-), but when one talks about the pretty pink bubble that seems to encompass Romanceland, it's interesting that heroines with genuine reasons for resisting commitment draw such fire.

    Why is that, do you think? Personally, I seek out strong, interesting heroines and love when they have issues and take time to commit and grow. I think I may care more about heroines than the average reader (I guess as identified by sales/criticism). But, I have heard lots of folks say that a romance is all about the hero. Do others agree?

  96. MaryK
    Sep 12, 2008 @ 11:11:51

    Why is that, do you think?

    It’s probably for the same reason, whatever that is, that mothers complain about their kids not settling down and having grandchildren – completely ignoring the fact that it’s not that simple.

    I think it is mostly about the hero for me. I’ve caught myself being impatient with heroines who are wary or take their time and have to remind myself to be fair. It may be because nowadays we get a lot of the hero’s point of view so the reader knows more than the heroine and unconsciously feels superior to her because of that knowledge and may even feel more partiality towards the hero.

  97. Janine
    Sep 12, 2008 @ 12:55:36

    I’m sad to hear about some of these trends. I like the heroines who resist the hero and don’t fall immediately into his arms. I think it’s quite possible that Angie is right, and dropping this or that element causes some readers to wander away from the genre or grouse in frustration. I also think it might condition the remaining readers to expect a certain kind of sameness, and to dislike it when something different lands on their plate. Is it really surprising then, that readers prefer paranormals these days? At least there, the ones who do want some elements that feel new and different get them.

  98. Dawn Kunda
    Sep 12, 2008 @ 15:35:49

    I am ecstatic to read this discussion on CR. It’s personally the type of novel I like to read and therefore, I am writing. I guess I am writing what I can’t find enough of to read. My story(ies) are about the hero AND heroine. The H/H want to be together and know it and for the most part, admit it. They have a handful of issues, not all in their control, to clear up before it can happen. Even though there are issues in the way, they still have stolen afternoons and thunderstorms to mingle their hormones. What is a loving romance without the capitulation of physical action? They can’t get enough of each other and that is how I feel the dating scene begins. I like to feel it is in real life, therefore contemporary.

  99. Claudia
    Sep 12, 2008 @ 17:14:40

    My general feeling is that “relationship only” women’s fic & romance novels often don’t work for me because the vacuum created by the absence of hearty goal/motivation/conflict is too often filled with writing and character & plot devices that highlight my dislikes.

    I’m breezing through Susan Wiggs’ Just Breathe, and while I haven’t decided to skip last 100 pages and read the end, the passive heroine has turned a promising premise and deep POV into a unremarkable “C” read. While this is my firstand last Wiggs, the wide breadth of new women’s fic is likely to supply something else I’ll love. I haven’t found this to be as true of romance. It’s pretty much been SSDD and I’ve been reading more non-fiction, mystery, sci fi, and even children’s books in the lurch.

    I think we web folk can be a little insular at times. I see a lot of the same folks posting at many other sites and even counting lurkers, we must just a microscopic part women’s fic & romance buyers beacuse a large number of “someone elses” is creating the demand for and sustaining the sales of books many of us aren’t interested in. Even I’ve contributed in ’08 because I’ve purchased over two dozen books I’ve read 7 or fewer pages of because that was enough pages to know I didn’t care enough to skip to the end.

    I’m a tad disappointed since nearly all were high graded DA and SB picks, but my burnout has apparently turned in to disinterest these days.

  100. Raising the Sexual Acts Stakes (Part review, part rant) | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Nov 04, 2008 @ 15:01:23

    […] of a multiple review post started in my head: I was going to suggest that the answer to the question that’s been bopping around Romancelandia in the last few weeks about “Where have all […]

%d bloggers like this: