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How romance novels have changed in the past ten years; plus, is there still a place for “sweet romance”?

round robin logoSo, it’s getting on for the end of May and time for another Round Robin. This month we have two topics, both equally interesting.

First up is:

How have romance novels changed in the past ten years?

My answer to that is: choice. There’s been lots written about the changes in publishing in the past decade or so, and the rise and rise of Amazon, e-readers and self-publishing. There are many more ways for an author to get published these days, which is great. There is

mills and boon, helena fairfax
Some of my 1990s M&Bs

also far more choice for the reader. I remember the days when I used to go down to the second-hand book stall at my local market looking for second-hand Mills and Boons. That was my only option locally to find romance novels. Now I just open up the internet and a whole world of choice opens up to me! Such a big, wide world of romance that at times as a reader I feel overwhelmed with choice, to be honest.

This is where I really appreciate the work of book-bloggers. Book blogs are another great step forward for romance novels. I’ve mentioned before how hard it is for romance authors and readers to be taken seriously. I’ve never come across a romance novel reviewed in a serious newspaper, for example (unless you count One Day, by David Nicholls, but apparently that doesn’t count because it was written by a man : ) ) I follow a number of romance review sites – a few of them are listed here in the column on the right, towards the bottom of the page. I’m really grateful for the work book-bloggers do, as their reviews help me pick out the best reads in a wealth of choice, as well as introduce me to authors I would never otherwise have discovered.

In the days when I used to trawl the market-stall, there were a few types of romance novel on offer: sagas, sweet romance, historical (almost always Regency), and a range M&B called “Presents” in those days (ie the sex was explicit).  I think it took the rise of self-publishing to show publishers that romance readers are more curious and far more open to new ideas than they realised. Nowadays there is something for almost every taste in romance, whether steampunk, distopian, sci-fi, or fantasy, and historical romances have finally stepped out of the 18th century into other eras. Erotica is also far more freely available, as is lesbian, gay and menage romance. All this expansion in choice and exploring of new themes has been wonderful for the reader.

(And my hope for the next ten years is that the romance genre will finally be taken seriously!)

Question two is: is there still a place for “sweet” romance?

I mentioned above that wider choice has been great for readers of romance. For authors, though, it’s a massive market and very hard to get your voice heard. I have wondered myself whether readers still want the sweeter romances, with all the other options open to them. This is the genre I write, and the one I mainly love to read. I did a poll in my FB Book Club and was surprised by the answers. This is a book club where psychological thrillers seem to be the most popular genre, and so I was expecting members to say they would never touch a sweet romance.

Here are some of the comments on my question:

I think there has been a swing towards more explicit sexual content. I think if it is in there it needs to be really good and not powder puff pink tinted (Barbara Cartland style), but I actually prefer a lovely romance. I think society places too much emphasis on sex and seduction and not enough on romance and intimacy.”

From my perspective I actually tend to skip sex scenes, they are too samey for me recently. So a sweet romance would be preferable

The whole, sweaty/writhing/plunging etc thing leaves me cold – and being 100% honest how many of us have ever had sex like you read about in a book? It bares very little resemblance to actuality and paints a bit of a disney picture of perfection.

I’ve read all types of romance over the years up to and including erotica and if the occasion calls for it then yes a sex scene can be put in but I’ve read many where its alluded to which works just as well

I have no issue with erotica or erotic romances if they are written well. If sex is part of the story then I say include it.

I review romance novels and I strongly believe that there is demand for all types of romance – from sweet to erotic and everything in between. Once the plot line is solid and characters endearing, a romance doesn’t have to be graphic to portray sexual tension and passion

I think that Sex is so in our faces these days that is just boring to read sex scenes in books. As someone mentioned earlier, better to focus on the romance and intimacy and I love it when the characters attraction to the man is based not just on looks but his kindness etc

a way from heart to heart, helena fairfax
“A moving and poignant love story”

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I thought this was an interesting set of comments. I was surprised by how many readers weren’t bothered about having graphic sex scenes. From my own point of view, I think if the story needs to have a sex scene, then by all means include it, but I also find the sexual tension and passion in a sweet romance can often be greater because it’s more subtle.

And finally, I really don’t like the term “sweet romance,” or, even worse, “clean romance.” There’s no graphic sex in Wuthering Heights, but you could hardly find a love story that’s less “sweet” and “clean”!

Despite my dislike of the term “sweet romance,” I was chuffed to bits to find my novel A Way from Heart to Heart was a recommended sweet read recently on HEA USA Today. In the same article, you can find just what constitutes a “sweet” read in the US (where I think the genre is more strictly defined than in the UK.)

* * * *

 What do you think about the above two topics? Do you think romance novels have changed over the past ten years? And do you prefer the sex scenes to come out from behind closed doors?

If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!

And finally, this is a Round Robin post, and so please do check out what these other authors have to say on the subject. I’m interested to hear their views!

Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Connie Vines http://connievines.blogspot.com/
Skye Taylor  http://www.skye-writer.com/
Margaret Fieland http://www.margaretfieland.com/blog1/
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com/

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32 thoughts on “How romance novels have changed in the past ten years; plus, is there still a place for “sweet romance”?

  1. Great article. As to the questions, I don’t think romance has changed, per se, although I do think the way it is portrayed has become far more wide in its boundaries. By that, I mean attraction is attraction, whether written about in the 21st century, the 20th or any other time. But ten years ago, it would almost exclusively have been one man, one woman. Now, there’s a much wider range. Although, some of the “romance” books are not so much romance as lust, which is not the same thing. Personally, I like the tension between two people fighting to control themselves much more than I like the rip-the-clothes-off-let’s-get-busy stuff. On that point, I often skim read sex scenes, especially in books by writers who do them a lot. For goodness sake, there’s only so many ways to indulge and, quite frankly, it’s boring. If it is part of the plot that they have sex, fine. If something important to the story needs to happen while they’re having sex, fine. But not just to pad the pages out. Hilary Mackeldenwww.hilarymackelden.com

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    1. Caitlyn, it’s a shame if the sex is just put in there for perfunctory reasons. When that happens, I’ve often skimmed the sex scenes, too. There are some books, though, where I thought the sex scene was excellently done and brought a “wow” to the whole story. And I agree, attraction is attraction throughout the whole history of literature! Thanks so much for your comment. Good to hear what you think!

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  2. Morning, Helena,Great round-up as always. I think we’re all going to conclude romance is alive and well and more accessible to a greater range of people. anne stenhouse (Sweetish, regency-ish, but a little villainous)

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  3. Funnily enough, my unpublished novella, DRUSILLA’S ROSES (which should be read alongside DEAR MISS LANDAU) was a sweet romance and there were a couple of places where i deliberately avoided sex:

    “She carelessly opened Xander’s door and stopped dead. One hand went automatically to her stake, but then she paused.

    Well, now I know why I didn’t get my cup of coffee…

    Buffy was no poet, but as she looked at the peaceful tableau she quietly said
    to herself:

    ‘We were warriors once and young…’

    Dru and Xander lay together, the outline of their bodies etched in palest golden light. Like the statues of a knight with his lady one might see in an old English abbey.

    He, the hunter home from the hill. She, the lady who had waited so long for the return of her liege.

    Drusilla’s hand clasped his, a sacrament. Her body curled close by him, a protector; and Buffy realised, quite clearly, what would happen to anyone who dared harm one hair on Xander Harris’s head.

    I used to hate you, the slayer thought to herself. Then I resented you. A long time after that I began to feel a little sorry for you. But now maybe I envy you a little, because you’ve found safe harbour and maybe even love, while all I know is loss.

    Buffy closed the door gently and went up to bed.”

    I think there should be a place for sweet romance, it’s maybe undervalued nowadays.

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  4. Great post, Helena. You and the readers you surveyed make very valid points about the importance of sex scenes in a romance novel. I personally write what I am comfortable with. I have tried to go ‘beyond’ once, after a couple of glasses of wine, only to delete everything in the morning. It just wasn’t me – both as a reader and a writer! So although I do write them (tastefully, I hope!), sex scenes are only important for me in the context of the story and the characters’ feelings. Love and romance are what matter the most.

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    1. Hi Marie, I so agree the love and romance are the most important thing! It’s good if the sex scenes are all part of the developing relationship. I think your scenes are very tastefully done. I like the idea of having a few glasses of wine and seeing where it goes, though! :) Thanks so much for dropping in, and for your comment!

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  5. Great questions! I’m also a writer of “sweet” romance, however I like to classify my writing as sweet and sexy. For me, it’s more about the relationship, the chemistry. I don’t mind reading sex scenes, but if there isn’t chemistry and romance then I get annoyed.

    I do feel like BDSM and erotica have flooded the market and have tried to write more explicit sex scenes but didn’t feel comfortable so I deleted them. I’m with Marie Laval…love and romance. The fuzzy feeling that makes my heart beat fast and brings a smile to my face. That’s why I read and write romance.

    Thank you for posing this question!

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Marianne. I’m with you on the chemistry and the romance, and I like your description of your writing as sweet and sexy. A lot of so-called “sweet” novels are hot as anything! Thanks for dropping in!

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  6. Very interesting post, Helena. I love the choices we have these days, as readers and writers, and my own preference is still for sweet and sensual romance rather than sex scenes (apart from maybe a tasteful one if it fits the story). I’ve now tried reading a couple of more erotic novellas to see if I could write one. Both spoiled the otherwise enjoyable story because of the excessive and unnecessary ‘erotic sex’ scenes which left me cold. So I guess I won’t be writing modern erotica! Give me Victorian-type promises of sensuality every time.

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    1. Interesting comment, Rosemary. My books are all sweet romances, and I’ve never tried to write a sex scene. That’s a good idea to study some erotic novels and see how it’s done. I’m not sure how I’d go on. It would be testing me to keep writing scene after scene and keep it fresh, but then often I’ve found the sex scenes are mechanical in a lot of romances. Interesting comment. Thanks for dropping in!

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  7. I agree with what all your sample respondents said, especially “From my perspective I actually tend to skip sex scenes, they are too samey for me recently. So a sweet romance would be preferable”

    Good post Helena

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  8. Thanks for this blog Helena. Restores my faith in true old fashioned romance simply because I’m an old fashioned romantic at heart. I always have that thought in my mind when I’m writing a book, that my characters will be together forever. I can’t and don’t imagine them any other way. That they will have “love for a lifetime”. Sex will be a binding and important part of their relationship but for now, as I write, it’s about their issues and journey in discovering each other and falling in love. That, to me, is truly romantic and why I’ll always write sweet romance, whatever the definition.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Noelene. I have to think of my characters as being together forever, also. Perhaps it’s highly romantic, but romance novels are about romance, after all! I’m so glad so many readers and authors still feel there’s a place for sweeter romances. Good to hear from you. Thanks so much for dropping in!

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  9. Good post, Helena. I found the comments from your book club interesting, and relevant. I think ‘sweet’ romance is here to stay. And congrats on A Way From Heart to Heart.
    Beverley

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  10. Excellent post and interesting comments. I both read and write books that have no sex in them or some, so long as it’s tasteful and focuses more on the emotions than fitting tab A into slot B. Barbara Cartland’s scenes just made me want to barf, but then so does calling 50 shades a romance. Sometimes the plot really requires the actual making love scene, but other times alluding to it works just as well or better. But the one thing I am happy about is that we have so much more freedom to choose, both as authors and readers.

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    1. I saw from all the other posts on the round robin that we all agree there’s so much more choice now. It’s great to see the rise and rise of the romance genre. Thanks so much for dropping in, Skye

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  11. Well, my characters let me know what’s going to happen. If they demand sex, it happens. If I think there’s going to be a sex scene in a specific spot and they don’t, well, no sex scene then. LOL

    I have to agree about there being a place for sweet romance. However, I do believe romance has changed, not so much the romance itself, but the characters in the stories.

    Excellent article, Helena.

    Marci

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  12. Yes, so many choices for readers.Thanks for sharing the book review sites. We need some reliable guides to find the great reads. I enjoy romance. The word romance means to me the roses, the kisses, the kindness to one another, the joy, and yes, intimacy.

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  13. As I write mainly Christian romance, my stories don’t include any sex scenes, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be sexual attraction/tension involved. As in real life, I like my characters to have real struggles and encounters, but in the end, deal with them in a godly way. In reality, we are all sexual beings and these encounters are a part of life, but they don’t always have to be graphic sexual exploits. The important thing is to have a good story, whether it includes sex scenes or not. You want your readers to love your characters and care about what happens to them. http://www.amazon.com/Brothers-Keeper-Kimberly-Westrope-ebook/dp/B00QSFP6W8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1432481679&sr=1-1&keywords=kimberly+westrope

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  14. Helena, I think as you say, sweet romance is a choice. I don’t want to read steamy sex scenes in any genre. And I don’t. I quit reading. I believe good writing is about character development and plot.

    I think your romances are sweet. Keep writing what you love.

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    1. Thanks for dropping in, Susan. I think “Keep writing what you love” is the key. It’s hard to write just for the sake of the market – you have to believe in what you write, otherwise it shows through. Thanks for your comment!

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  15. I write the books I want to read, and they include erotic scenes…occasionally. They’re not the focus of the story, but they are a part of it. Since i write contemporary, I feel sex is an important part of showing how the couple fall in love. But there are books enough for everyone to find what they want. Viva la difference!

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