CONVERSATION: Reading Slumps
Janine: In our December conversation, 2022 in Review, Jennie mentioned that she’d experienced a bad reading slump last year.
I don’t feel great about the number of books I’ve finished in 2022 and after hearing other peoples’ numbers, I feel even worse! I know it’s not a competition, but in the past five years I’ve had a high of 56 books and a low of 45. This year, so far, I’m at….29. I will probably finish two or three more, but the number is still going to be a real low for me since I’ve been keeping track.
I don’t think I really have any new trends except *not* reading.
Reading slumps are a not uncommon topic among readers—we all go through periods where we aren’t as in the mood to read. Here are some questions on the topic:
Have you experienced a slump recently or has your reading remained at a constant level (or maybe at an even higher level than that) in terms of number of books read? What about your enjoyment level?
Do you have theories about what causes reading slumps for you—access to other activities and entertainment forms, demands on your time, changes in publishing trends, or anything else?
What are your strategies for preventing or coping with reading slumps?
Any other thoughts on the topic?
Has your reading slumped recently?
Kaetrin: I hit a big reading slump last year and have had them on and off for the last few years.
Janine: My reading has not slumped in terms of the number of books read, in fact that number has risen. But the percentage of books I didn’t finish has also risen a lot in the past couple of years.
When it comes to books I subscribe to the philosophy that you have to kiss a few frogs to meet your prince. In 2022 I kissed a LOT of frogs.
Jayne: My reading level has remained about the same but yes, sometimes my reading enjoyment has tanked.
Rose: Last year was my highest volume reading year since I started tracking, and in fact I read more books in 2022 than the previous five years combined :)
Jennie: I feel like my slump has been intense for the past couple of years, and certainly my reading numbers reflect that especially in 2022. Though I don’t think that number of books read is the sole or main metric I would go by. Or maybe I’d say, there are two kinds of slumps, which may overlap: a slump in the amount of time spent reading, and a slump in my enjoyment of what I’m reading.
Sirius: I think the first kind I never experienced or never wanted to experience I guess – never wanted not to read but of course if one doesn’t find enough books that are interesting for this reader then it can overlap.
Rose: I went through an extended slump for about five years, starting in 2017 or so. Some of it was just me being busy, but changes in the romance genre also had an effect. A lot of the authors I’d depended on stopped writing romance for various reasons – moving to other genres, burnout, health issues – and in some cases, authors who switched to self-publication were going in directions that seemed self-indulgent and/or sloppily edited.
Jennie: My slumps can be informed by any number of factors: the state of the world, what is going on in my life, and just changing habits. When I go through my 20+ year book log, I note that my reading numbers started to drop off once I got an iPhone, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Kaetrin: It’s always about my response to personal or world events I think.
Layla: My short response is: the quality of books published is responsible for my reading slump!! It seems most historical, YA and even contemporary novels I read now are derivative, or formulaic to a boring extent. There are no genuinely wonderful new voices I’ve discovered or authors I’ve become attached to (like to the extent that I will wait for their next book eagerly, etc. ).
I don’t know if this is to do with the publishing world in general, or romance in particular. But I wish that publishers would take more risks and publish better written books. It seems one great concept book will break out and be a huge hit–then everything published thereafter is some version of that book! especially true for YA. And in historical romance, I’m sick of badly written books with dukes that have no tension, no electricity, no conflict and stupid heroines and heroes.
Janine: I agree with Layla. The publishing industry has been playing it too safe lately. Almost everything is derivative of something else. It’s not just romance, I see it in YA and YA fantasy, Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction, and to a lesser extent in SF. Thankfully adult fantasy hasn’t been as badly hit, but I fear it’s only a matter of time. I’m not sure what genre I’ll turn to when that happens.
There have always been dry spells when the books I like haven’t been published (the years between 1999 and 2005 weren’t as successful for me as 1992-1997 or the later period of 2007-2012) but this particular stretch worries me because it’s not just a downturn in my favorite one or two genres, which is what it was in the early 2000s. A bigger issue now is the regurgitating of tropes.
Jayne: Count me among those tired of the same tropes. But I guess those books are selling so … I’m tired of fake dating and I’m tired of wallpaper historicals. I’m tired of reading blurbs for books that sound exactly like 25 blurbs for other books. I’m also getting bored with covers that look almost exactly alike, too.
Rose: I agree that some contemporary romance series, especially on KUs, really do start to get derivative at some point – and seriously, do any normal people fake-date in real life?? – but if I mix things up with older books and other genres, it’s not too bad. I also avoid anything big on TikTok and cartoon covers unless vetted by someone I trust. I’m just not the target demographic for those…
Janine: Discoverability is another issue for me. There are probably obscure books I would love out there if only I knew how to find them. Trial and error isn’t the most effective method.
Layla: My strategies for coping–rereading all my old favorites. Watching period dramas. I just got a subscription to Brit Box and am super into “Lark Rise to Candleford” (a lovely peaceful British television show).
Jayne: One reason I review so much non-fiction is because I preemptively try to avoid a slump. But that doesn’t always work. When I hit the (reading) wall, I will usually (in no particular order) try a completely different genre, or go back to a tried-and-true author, or reread an old favorite.
If none of those appeal or work for me, then I will back totally away from reading and spend a day or three watching Netflix/Hoopla streaming or pulling out favorite DVDs and binge watching. Layla, I’ve thought about and debated getting a subscription to Brit Box!
Jennie: In the 2000s, once I’d read most of my favorite historical romance authors’ backlists and most of them stopped writing new books, I settled into re-diversifying my reading (i.e. not reading romance so exclusively), and for a time I think that helped keep things kind of fresh for me, even though I’m sure I went through mini-slumps. I got into reading young adult/new adult romances and later into suspense/thrillers as a way of trying to recapture the feeling that my early romance reading gave me. (Even with thrillers, I prefer there to be a romance or romantic elements, though they don’t always have HEAs, of course.)
Kaetrin: I turn to old favourites and comfort reads. I’m looking for safety and familiarity to make me feel better. Reading a new book feels too risky so I go with the tried and true. It’s the reading equivalent of hiding myself in a blanket fort. Then, after a while – sometimes a long while – I’ll start to feel better and along will come a book which will bridge the gap – new but low/no risk or just so tempting I can’t resist and then I’m off to the races again.
Janine: I caught up on some older books this year (Holly Black’s Cruel Prince trilogy, the last few Kate Daniels world books I hadn’t read, Ilona Andrews Kinsmen series, and some others) and enjoyed most of them, so I guess that’s one coping strategy—dig into well-loved books from an earlier time that I haven’t read before, or the backlists of authors I can usually depend on.
Another strategy and one I used for years is switching up genres on a regular basis. I usually read three books at the same time and in the past all three would be in different genres—usually one fantasy or YA fantasy, one historical or contemporary romance, and one urban fantasy or paranormal romance.
I’m doing less of that now because recent publishing content is turning me off to most of whole genres I used to depend on. Instead I’m using another strategy: turning to a genre I almost never read in the past, once in a while for an occasional palate cleanser. A few years ago it was science fiction, later YA contemporaries. This year I read three works of literary fiction (two novels and one short story collection). All three landed on my Best of 2022 list. That may have been partly because of the novelty of reading in a genre I rarely dip into.
Rose: There are two people who I’ll credit for getting me out of my recent slump: my brother, who’s a great source of science fiction recommendations (and is much more adventurous in trying stuff on KU); and DiscoDollyDeb who comments here and on other romance websites and is just an amazing source of suggestions and ideas of who to try. Our tastes don’t fully align (Against A Wall is better than Hitting the Wall, and I DNF’d Broken Play but liked Brutal Play well enough) but she’s gotten me to try a bunch of authors I might not have found on my own.
Janine: Rose, you bring up a great point–another good slump buster is when you find a reader whose taste aligns with yours and follow their recommendations knowing that what they enjoyed is likely to work for you. I think that was easier before the proliferation of publishing; when there was a more limited number of books published, more readers had read each book and conversation about individual books was therefore more developed, so it was easier to identify those readers whose tastes were similar to yours.
Jayne: We have some wonderful readers at DA who generously share great recommendations.
Janine: We do. I’ve gotten some great recommendations from DA readers.
Another strategy that sometimes works for me is to dive into a subgenre of a favorite genre that I haven’t explored much before. I’ve been reading a lot more queer books lately and having better luck with them on average than with het ones. The popularity of LGBTQIA+ fiction has exploded in the past few years which means that publishers are supporting those books more and that gives their authors more room to try new things.
Rose: Yes, that is a more interesting part of the genre these days. Another part of the genre where you can often find unusual settings and characters is the inspirational side, and there are typically pretty covers too – but I’m often uncomfortable with the faith-based focus, unfortunately.
Jennie: I think I’m probably not as open-minded about subgenres as some readers, maybe to my detriment. I remember when motorcycle clubs were all the rage, and I just really didn’t and don’t have much interest in them. In general I don’t feel like I’ve read many well-done morally ambiguous heroes in romance. So the “he’s a criminal, for reasons” does not work more often than not.
I’ve also not ever really gotten into the paranormal and fantasy subgenres. There are books I like (even love) in both categories, but I’m not a big reader of either subgenre as a rule and usually need a trusted rec to even tempt me to read them.
Writing this makes me realize that I may be my own worst enemy in regards to my slump(s). Being more open-minded would probably help.
What about you, DA readers? Have you experienced a slump recently? How do you cope with one? And what do you think causes them when you get them?
I feel very fortunate because I rarely hit a reading slump, and, on the rare occasion when it happens, it usually passes within a couple of days. Reading has been my favorite go-to activity since childhood, and I find I’m always looking forward to upcoming books and trying out new authors. I read and comment on a handful of blogs and I generally read a couple of (left-leaning) news aggregates on a daily basis, but I’m not on any social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and I try to avoid doom-scrolling while at the same time not being an ostrich about bad news. This seems to leave me with lots of reading time. Plus I’m older and my husband & I are empty-nesters, so no children still at home—also leaving more time for reading.
@Rose: thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you’ve found some books you’ve enjoyed through my recommendations.
My reading slumps are sort of a combination of less overall time reading compared to normal AND the enjoyment I find in reading. Specifically, most of my slumps involve an inability to sink into a book. When I am slump-free, I can mentally and emotionally immerse myself in a book’s story and remain in that mindset for a long time, barring interruptions.
But when experiencing a slump, I keep finding myself struggling to remain interested in reading, even if I’m enjoying the book. I stop and look up more. I’m more tempted to stop and see what others in my household are up to, or check my email (even though it’s always boring stuff in there), or browse book review sites rather than continuing to read a book that I am still actively enjoying! It’s like my focus and enjoyment of the act of reading diminishes during a slump.
I blame raised stress levels for most of my slumps. I’ve experienced more of these slumps in the past year or so than ever before. At the same time, I’ve been completely overworked. The small community college where I teach has lost faculty members, mostly through retirement. When I was hired as a full-time English professor in 2010, there were 10 of us in the English department. By summer 2022, we were down to 4. Our division dean leaned on those of us remaining to overload our schedules. In the fall semester, I taught 8 classes and had the added role of faculty assistant to the dean (mostly working on special projects, more committees, and part-time faculty classroom observations). This semester it’s 7 classes and the same assistant role. Oh! And I’m taking online graduate courses in Communication Studies.
Writing that all up, I think what it really comes down to is just being mentally exhausted, haha. Thanks for letting me complain! The best strategy I’ve found for myself to break a slump (besides saying “yes” less often) is re-reading my comfort reads. I find it easier to sink into those than new-to-me books, no matter how excited I am for the new books. E.g., I’m very excited to read the latest K.D. Edwards book because I know I’ll love it, but I find myself turning to old favorites again and again instead. Frustrating!
@DiscoDollyDeb: I think being off the web for a while is a good solution to a slump, actually! When I cut way back on Twitter I started reading a lot more (and more diversely, too). There are people who lecture others about their reading choices. It’s good to critique books and point out that they are problematic. It’s less good to criticize readers based on what they read or don’t read. I never got hit with that directly, but just seeing it happen all around me had a counterproductive effect on my reading. Books aren’t medicine, we should read them for the fun of it and not because someone else prescribes it.
@JPeK: That sounds exhausting. You make a great point about how stress and overwhelm can lead to a reading slump. Partly because we are exhausted and partly because they are a drain on our attention as well as on our energy and joy.
When I have a slump and decide to reread, it’s not always about favorite books for me, or not just about that. I pick emotional books by authors I have difficulty putting down. Often this is Mary Balogh or Nalini Singh—in fact I’m reading some Singh books now because I was having a slump until recently and decided to revisit one of her books. One Nalini Singh led to another so obviously it’s been effective! Balogh and Singh write completely different books but both are emotional and emotionally engaging to me.
I just thought of something else that can start a slump for me. Too many reading obligations. I don’t know if anyone who isn’t a reviewer would have this issue, but sometimes I request ARCs and commit to reviewing them, as well as commit to reading a book with someone else (often my husband or a book club). Then I start feeling overextended and pressured by being on a reading schedule. “Must have book X read by date Y” — that can take some of my love of reading away.
I’ve gone through slumps periodically, but they’ve always been short lived as I could quickly find something to pull me out.
Except within the last three-ish years. I have never slumped so hard or so often as I have in the recent past.
When I try to put my finger on why it, I think it is a combination of mood, preference and marketplace.
While I read across a genres, my primary preference is romance and within that, contemporary romance. My sweet spot is a well written romance that includes an nice emotional hook (but without smothering angst) , some humor, and good characterizations. I find that when I am in my most slumpiest, it is when I am in the mood for just that and nothing else and can’t find something to satisfy that fix.
I don’t remember having much difficulty in the past when this was something I really wanted. I seemed to find just the right book, discover just the right new voice that worked and i was off. This is where marketplace comes in and where I think @Layla’s description of her woes speaks for me.
In the present contemporary romance market, I find there is a … white noise… effect, I call it. So many contemporaries look alike, are marketed alike, even sound alike. It feels like I can’t distinguish one I can cull from the herd that I think would work for me. I might be missing some great books but I hate to say, if it involves fake dating or an enemies-to-lovers that is nothing but a thinly conceived, illogical rivalry, I nope out immediately. Why do so many heroines flame out so spectacularly in a big city only to go back to her small hometown to fall in love with the sheriff?
I find that I rely more and more on detailed reviews to pique my interest. And I love topics and the comment sections on romance blogs like this because there are some great suggestions that come out of the blue in these. Also, Interestingly, my Goodreads friend circle has come through in a big way with this. I’ve always used my feed to find books, but never relied on it to the extent that I have lately.
When I am not in the mood for contemporaries I have better luck with PNR, UF and fantasy/sci fi. There doesn;t seem to be that white noise effect with those. Historical romances are a bit hit or miss. Some of the contemp tropes seem to be leeching into hist-rom a bit.
When I am in a slump, like others have mentioned, I comfort re-read. I find some old favorites that hit that spot and will re-read. My latest thing is I’ll try the re-read in audio, so it becomes a bit of a different experience. That has been really sucessful.
I got pulled out of my most recent slump by the new Kate Daniels novella, The new In Death book by J.D. Robb and a new release by Jill Mansell. Her books usually work for me because they are light and full of British humor but also have enough of a chaotic soap opera energy with enough emotional character beats to balance out some of the humor. Also Kylie Scott can be a bit hit or miss for me, but her book REPEAT was right in my contemporary romance zone. I am looking forward to her new book END OF THE STORY because this is actually a blurb that struck me as intriguing.
I don’t know if this qualifies as a slump, but I haven’t been reading as much because I’ve been writing! I’ve been in a writing “slump” for some years but was inspired to get back to it last summer. Since then I’ve read very few books, compared to how much I normally read. I’m either writing, rereading what I’ve written, or listening to “comfort” audiobooks by Georgette Heyer.
I have paused long enough to read new books by my very favorite writers like JD Robb, Patricia Briggs, Nalini Singh (Archangel series), and the latest Kate Daniels novella. I also read a few new authors over Thanksgiving vacation, when I was traveling. (YA fantasy, Vespertine and Half a Soul, both excellent.) Over Christmas I read the new book by historian Alison Weir, Queens of the Age of Chivalry, which I recommend highly. (I have read some paleontology books too, but that was research for my book.)
@TinaNoir: It’s really interesting that a bunch of us have been experiencing slumps in the past few years. A couple of days ago Layla sent me a link to an article about a bookshop in Baltimore with a romance book club (we have one here in LA too and I’ve gone to a couple of meetings). The article mentioned that the popularity of romance in particular has skyrocketed in the last few years and ascribed that to Bridgerton bringing in an influx of new readers. If that’s the case, it’s no wonder that we’re getting a ton of fake dating and enemies-to-lovers books. Season one had a fake courtship and season two had enemies falling in love. And if a lot of the readers are new, they haven’t had a chance to tire of these tropes.
Overall new readers are a good thing, and I have enjoyed books that used both tropes (The View was Exhausting and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before for fake dating, more than I can name for enemies-to-lovers, though typically in historical or fantasy settings. A contemporary enemies-to-lovers book I liked in the past few years was You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle.
It’s just that I wish that there was more other than those tropes as well. There’s very little now.
A few years ago a friend of mine and sometime playwright and stage manager said that other than Hamilton, there was very little original on Broadway now, that a lot of the shows are based on movies rather than on something new and fresh. And then she said she’d read an article that ascribed that to an industry that is dying out—that when the audience is no longer there, these industries try to rely on the tried and true more and more.
Romance is doing well, but book publishing overall isn’t. Fewer people read than used to. And I’m seeing this kind of repetitiveness in other genres—for example historical fiction right now is little else but dual timeline narratives involving finding a journal or letter correspondence. When A.S. Byatt wrote Possession in 1990 it was truly fresh. That was one of my favorite books and I never thought someday I would be tired of that trope (the addition of white saviors in World War II doesn’t help—if only the same percentage of Jewish people were saved IRL as in current World War II fiction, the world would be a different place).
As I said above, I’m seeing the same tropes used over and over across many genres. New readers may love it and I don’t begrudge them that. But to me, who has been reading adult novels for 40 years, it’s frustrating.
I agree that speculative fiction has a lot less of this problem — it’s doing better than most other genres right now in this regard.
Listening to an old favorite you used to read in print is a great idea.
@Kari S.: It sounds like you still enjoy books when you read them, but are engaged with writing more. I’m not sure I would count that as a slump either.
Layla has recommended both Vespertine and (I think) Half a Soul to me.
Vespertine is very good but very Catholic! As a person who’s read a lot of Medieval history (my major) and a fair amount of fiction (the Cadfael series for one comes to mind) I found it an interesting twist on the Joan of Arc story. However it is also definitely fantasy, having to do heavily with ghosts. Apparently there are sequels planned, because the heroine, unlike Joan, survives.
I’m a little stuck in my writing presently. I need one more major event before I can get to the big adventure near the end, when my heroine almost gets killed. I may take a break to read the latest In Death book.
I have had reading slumps in the past but they never last very long. It’s more like a few days when I can’t decide what to read next and end up rereading favorites before I’m newly inspired to try something new. Life is reading.
@Janine: I read a lot of contemporary romance in the past year or so, and haven’t felt like it’s all been fake dating (excessive as that is) or enemies to lovers. I think it’s really a question of which authors you read; also, maybe this is indeed more of recent trend (due to Bridgerton, The Hating Game or other causes) while I’ve been reading authors’ backlists going back almost a decade, and mixing in romantic suspense as well.
Elizabeth O’Roark, who I know you’ve enjoyed, does a lot of enemies to lovers; Cate C. Wells (who was not you cup of tea) only has one fake dating book I can think of (Against A Wall) and no enemy to lovers. Leaving aside Chasing Her Fire, Claire Kingsley mostly does other things; so does Kate Canterbary (Preservation and The Worst Guy are the exceptions). Karla Sorensen and Julie Kriss do a mix of things. These are all authors I’ve read a lot since the beginning of 2022, so I don’t feel like I’ve gotten stuck with the same things over and over again.
One other thought: I may be missing out on good stuff by skipping books with cartoon covers, but I feel like these are often catering to a newer/younger readership that may also be drawn to tropes and characterization that I don’t necessarily care for.
Actually, I have another “other thought” :)
Romance is the main genre I read, and has been for the better part of two decades. I love HEAs and HFNs. But I have to acknowledge that the need to tell a love story and get to a happy ending in a few hundred pages *is* limiting – especially in contemporary romances, because we have a good sense of which conflicts are realistic and which aren’t. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of us have been drawn to other subgenres that require more world-building and external conflict.
I just finished an eight-book science fiction series. It’s single POV and covers a period of about a decade and a half in the narrator’s life, during which he fights both humans and aliens. Most of the books have at least an optimistic ending, and he has the same love interest throughout the series. These books are not perfect by any means, but you see him grow, learn, make mistakes, come into contact with people who like him and others who don’t. Not everyone who comes into his life and not all of them stick around – because some friendships are fleeting (and a military life isn’t always conducive to maintaining them). His actions have consequences, both in the short and long term. He is definitely a more interesting character by the end, and I bought into the romantic HEA too, even though it’s not the main storyline.
We don’t get a lot of that in the romance genre. There are some series following the same couples, but they’re either shorter (e.g., trilogies like Charm of Magpies by KJ Charles) or the characters pretty much stop evolving and the books feel like filler (Outlander). I don’t know that it makes sense, financially, to attempt longer arcs with HFNs at the end of each book like Charles has done in some of her writing, but I’d love to have more stories with characters growing and maturing, separately and together, over and extended period of time.
Well how many blurbs and arcs have you read in the past 2 years that mention Bridgerton? I know I’ve read tons.
And how many movies lately are retreads of older ones or are movie versions of older TV shows? Studios want sure hits and moneymakers. Publishers want a steady stream of good-enough.
I wonder if cartoon covers are going to be a longer cover trend than we’ve been used to seeing. I mean covers have cycled through various “looks” in the past (the bodice ripper heroine on her knees before the standing hero, the always popular shirtless hero with a [ahem] very large sword, the heroine’s torso, etc) but I’m guessing that the overabundance of cartoon covers arrived partly due to Covid and must be cheaper than staging a photo shoot so will publishers stick with those?
Hey @Rose what is the title of the eight book series? It Sounds interesting. As for reading slumps, sometimes a book can do that to me. And when that happens it makes me sad because for sure it will mean few book reading for me. What I do is relisten to my comfort audiobooks or look for new ones that are interesting. If that’s not enough, I watch vlogs or listen to podcasts.
@DiscoDollyDeb Thank YOU :)
@Amihan: Frontlines by Marko Kloos. And I do want to reiterate that it is pretty good genre fiction, not great art ;)
@Rose, like @Amiham, I would like to know the eight book series, too.
@Rose ~ thank you for the series name! I should have refreshed prior to posting.
@Kari S.: Do you mean the kind of slumps where you read less, or the kind where you read just as much but few books satisfy you?
Either way, you’re lucky to have them be so short.
@Rose: Yes, it’s a very recent trend (just the last two or three years) for the same few tropes to dominate this much. There’s always been some of that but usually it’s more genre-based, one genre dominates over others. Some tropes are more popular than others. But right now the trope focus (especially in contemporaries) is more concentrated and only on a few tropes. Fake dating, enemies to lovers, grumpy/sunshine, and friends to lovers are the main ones. I like friends to lovers best so I’m not tired of it yet. I can’t speak for historical romances or paranormal because I don’t read many.
And yes, there are always exceptions of some books I like with those tropes, including the last three O’Roarke books. I didn’t like the previous one at all though because I felt the enmity was immature (my main issue with enemies to lovers in contemporaries) and also played out in ways that were mean and completely inappropriate to a boss / employee relationship.
TBH I didn’t like Keeley and Graham’s enmity either (immature and childish on Keeley’s part), but I liked the book for other reasons. Drew and Josh’s tension was fine as a setup but didn’t add much more than that IMO—the book got better when the focus shifted. Gemma and Ben’s book was different because Gemma’s antagonism was a necessary component. But it also seemed the most understandable to me; given her personal history being attracted to him was scary and hard to acknowledge. “Hating” him was her defense mechanism because she felt so vulnerable.
More to the point, though, I don’t read many KU authors so I really can’t speak that much to what’s popular there. I’ve read four of the ones you mentioned because you and DiscoDollyDeb liked them (must write up my thoughts on Julie Kriss) and that was different to an extent partly because I caught up on older books there, I’m guessing, but possibly also because indie authors may have more leeway than authors who want a publisher’s backing.
BTW I would characterize Rewriting the Stars (Kingsley) as enemies to lovers (the star-crossed variety, which I usually prefer to the petty rivalry-based or grudge holding version of the trope). The other three were ALL friends to lovers with the the second book being grumpy / sunshine as well. So I very much see her as sticking to today’s most popular tropes also. I’ve only read two of Kate C. Wells books but I will grant that Hitting the Wall, for all my issues with it, had an unusual conflict and felt fresh. But Against the Wall was *both* enemies to lovers and fake dating. Kriss’s upcoming book seems like it’s going to be, if not grumpy / sunshine, then at least grumpy hero, which is another trope that’s very difficult to get away from right now.
Re cartoon covers—it’s hard to say because so many books across more than one genre have cartoon covers these days. They must be wildly successful because even darker and more complex historicals (thinking here of Joanna Lowell’s books) are getting cartoon covers. I was talking to a writer friend whose romances were known for being emotional and angsty recently and I told her that if she were publishing them now, they would probably have cartoon covers.
I do think the cartoon cover contemporaries of the past two or so years have been very focused on the tropes I’ve mentioned. Before that I think it may have been less the case, or maybe I was just less tired of those tropes. I want to reiterate that I can enjoy these tropes, and really, any trope, when it’s done well. I just want more variety than I’m finding.
@Amihan: Welcome to DA! It’s always good to see new faces here (at least I think you’re new?).
I haven’t heard anyone say that before—that a book can trigger a slump for them. Can you tell us more? Give an example of such a book and how and why it triggered the slump and also if it was a slump on all books or just books that had something in common with the one that began it?
@TinaNoir: this totally resonated with me and I agree a hundred percent— my reading slumps now seem to be shaped by not finding new authors to read. I was telling janine that I feel like when I first came to romance as a genre I was continually discovering new authors— and their backlists!— but now I find that I “follow” less authors or discover less new ones that I like. It’s more like I’ll get one off books I like that are recommended. And I echo that feeling of wanting to find a particular kind of book I can’t find it easily— for me it’s a complex historical with interesting characters a sense of a different time and place and good conflict. I have discovered Evie Dunmore and Joanna Lowell and even Alice Coldbreath but all are relatively
new writers ans I have to wait for their new releases.
I also wanted to say regarding cartoon covers— I don’t hate them. I was a person who used to be embarrassed by bodice ripper cheesy covers. I do like pretty historical covers like Mary Balogh and Lisa Kleypas. But I don’t attribute my reading slump in any way to the cartoon covers.
@Janine: I don’t know about the broadway comment— hadestown which is fantastic, the new Michael Jackson musical, six, strange loop— lots of new good original broadway shows!! But idk about audiences dying for it or not— most of the shows I went to were popular and busy.
@Layla: That’s good to hear re Broadway. But theater as an art overall is definitely suffering. If you compare the number of people who used to attend plays and musicals all over the US when I first got here (around forty years ago) relative to now, per capita I’m sure it’s smaller. All the new entertainment mediums compete with it.
Historically, theater was hit hard when cinema came along and now we also have television, video games, social media, VR, and more. When I go to theatrical shows in smaller cities, increasingIy I see higher percentages of senior citizens in the audience. The younger generations aren’t as into it as previous ones were, and some aren’t familiar with it at all. Hamilton did wonders for that, but even so.
It’s a shame because theater is possibly our oldest art form. We were putting on performances for others when we were cave dwellers, most likely. It’s also a form of storytelling that is different than any other because it’s happening in the same space we occupy (you can probably tell that I have some passion for theater, LOL), and that gives it immediacy and power.
@Janine: I don’t consider a romance to be “friends to lovers” if the characters get to know each other a bit before getting into a romantic/sexual relationship; that’s just… normal behavior? Not everyone meets through apps and blind dates. I’d only characterize Protecting You as friends to lovers because there is an existing, meaningful friendship between Asher and Grace. Fighting for Us is a second chance romance and Unraveling Him is just grumpy/sunshine. Rewriting the Stars is forbidden romance, not enemies to lovers. So Kingsley wasn’t doing anything groundbreaking here, but she did mix things up. Of her books that I’ve read, probably the most unusual setup was His Heart, which is an older standalone.
Similarly, while Against a Wall by Wells definitely has fake dating (on Glenna’s part; Cash pitches it as a way to get closer to her), it isn’t enemies to lovers so much as a bully romance. It’s probably the most tropey of her books, and even then it didn’t feel like a rehash to me.
I think self-published authors often stick even closer to trends because they’re closer to the market, but you can still find interesting stuff. Though certainly there is some trial and error involved.
I don’t necessarily hate illustrated/cartoon covers. But as I mentioned above there is something about them… the similarity of the color palette, the composition of the covers, even the font… that makes them almost indistinguishable from one another. And frankly, there are quite a few that are just downright unappealing. There are those that have what I call the color blob people. The depiction of the main characters don’t have any definition, just a general people shape and hair.
The thing is, a good cover absolutely adds to the discoverability of a book. I liken it to the curb appeal of a house. A beautiful house on the outside is gonna make you curious about what it looks like on the inside. If presented with an array of book covers with no other information about the book, the thing that is going to prompt you to pick one up is which cover appeals the most.
There some exceptions of course, the above example of Ilona Andrews’ Fated Blades is an example of a striking illustrated cover. If I wasn’t already familiar with their work and love them as authors and they were complete unknowns to me, I would have definitely picked up that book because of that cover it stands out. Their entire run of their Kinsmen novellas all have really lovely illustrated covers.
@Rose: I don’t view tropes as either / or, a book can have more than one.
If for example a book is set during the Napoleonic Wars and one character is French while the other is English, I would absolutely consider it enemies to lovers because they are from enemy countries. It would probably also be a star-crossed romance. A romance can be star-crossed for many reasons having nothing to do with an enmity, for example that it would cause a terrible scandal and ruin the heroine’s family (sisters to bring out etc.), because the hero was from an inappropriate background, or if they were torn apart by a war — not because they are on enemy sides but for some other reason (family won’t let her marry him etc.).
Enemies-to-lovers to me is just when people are on enemy sides of an issue. It doesn’t have to be a personal enmity. Donna Thorland’s book Mistress Firebrand doesn’t feel like a star-crossed romance because each can switch sides but her country and her personal ambitions are more important, and his ambitions too are important to him. I don’t know how you would characterize the book as anything BUT enemies to lovers even though they aren’t personal enemies, just on enemy sides. If they were on the same side there’s be no issue, they’d be together, and there wouldn’t be a story at all. But it isn’t star-crossed because they could still be together, they choose not to because they just see the war differently and have different loyalties and priorities. It’s not that they can’t be together–the barrier isn’t an external force but personal choices. So to me enemies-to-lovers means something different than it does to you.
Asher and Grace’s childhood friendship doesn’t magically disappear for their second book, it is still there and part of the story, but the second chance trope is certainly there as well, and more prominent. But I was actually thinking of Evan and Fiona’s book. It is primarily grumpy sunshine but it’s also friends to lovers IMO because they develop a really sweet friendship. In general I agree with you that the best friends to lovers books and the ones where the trope is most prominent (usually) are those where there is a longstanding friendship that exists before the story proper begins. But for me friends-to-lovers can also be defined also by how good the friendship is, to an extent, if it’s part of what either keeps them apart (don’t want to lose the friendship) or brings them together (they’re a lovely person and I really like being their friend, I just wish we could be more). The latter is definitely in Evan and Fiona’s book, even if it takes a back seat to grumpy/sunshine (which as I mentioned is another omnipresent trope and IMO the main trope in that book–do you disagree?).
@TinaNoir: That Fated Blades cover is amazingly good. I keep staring at it every time it happens to be on my screen. I agree that I would absolutely have taken a look at the contents just on the basis of the cover image. It’s hot too IMO! Even with all their clothes on.
@TinaNoir: That Fated Blades cover is amazingly good. I keep staring at it every time it happens to be on my screen. I agree that I would absolutely have taken a look at the contents just on the basis of the cover image. It’s hot too IMO! Even with all their clothes on. I have a thing for covers that suggest motion, also.
Also, IA should write more enemies-to-lovers / star-crossed lovers books, they did such a great job there.
Ok I’m laughing hard the phrase “color blob people”. For sure that is unappealing and you’re right that there are bad cartoon covers and a generic and homogenous quality to them as a whole.
I remember when I used to find books as a kid at the library— I used to browse the bookshelves and be drawn to different covers before reading the back blurbs. I once picked up a book by Charles Todd because the cover was so vivid and intriguing— same for the Pern books which I discovered that way. I miss finding books that way!!! It was hit or miss but I landed on some great ones just from browsing aimlessly. I’m sure that I read a lot of books that way that I never would have otherwise.
Here’s a link to the Charles Todd which is a fantastic mystery series— https://www.thriftbooks.com/w/a-test-of-wills_charles-todd/275517/#edition=2413145&idiq=3317106
Here is the old mccaffrey cover that made me pickup the pern books—
@TinaNoir and @Layla: One of my favorite illustrated covers is the one for The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. Not only is it beautiful but it gets so much across so much about their background — she’s clearly a professional, he’s of a more casual background (though as a guy with ambitions of fashion design, he should look a little less more put together), the equations on the background behind them suggest a mathematical inclination on the part of one of them at least (also–very clever–they are standing on a radical symbol), and the way they are posed, Stella with one leg behind her and hands around the back of his neck, Michael pulling her waist closer, suggest both attraction and an emotional connection.
We should do a post on favorite covers sometime!
@Janine: I agree that tropes aren’t an either/or thing, but it seems like my classification is narrower than yours. I really don’t see Unraveling Him as friends-to-lovers, and the that’s not the heart of Fighting for Us, either.
@Rose: I think I just don’t feel that a trope has to be at the heart of a book to say the book uses that trope (as well as the one at its heart). We can just agree to disagree.
@Rose: Also, w/r/t Unraveling Him, regardless of whether we agree on if friends to lovers applies, grumpy sunshine does and that’s one of the four tropes I named. So it’s not like she’s coming up with something new and different there. And that was my main point.
(On the other hand I do see the first book in the Kriss series as pretty original and her books are generally fresher than most. Even when she uses a familiar element like friends-to-lovers in Axl and Brit’s book, the addiction watcher and rock band bus tour elements add freshness.)
@Layla: A couple of other people have recommended that series to me (Charles Todd).
@Layla: Absolutely agree re: not finding enough new authors to read. Also just have to say I loved Hadestown too. A lot!