Do you read? Do you love zombies or the men who fight them? Vampires who for some reason hang around high school girls? Kinky rich dudes? Then you my friend have been loving the shit out of the past few years!
Whenever a book hits it crazy-big out of left field, stories with similar characteristics naturally flood the market, to meet the demand of both readers and the publishers hoping capitalize on the latest trend. There’s nothing wrong with trends. They’re interesting cultural phenomena, and they cycle in and out, year by year. Yesterday’s vampire is today’s billionaire Dom, is tomorrow’s who-knows-what.
Turn, turn, turn. And as many of us hope, chest hair will cycle back into popular acceptance any year now, and grown-ass men will stop wearing tapered stretch-jeans and growing ironic beards that make it confusing for us women seeking guys to ogle who can actually split wood.
But publishing trends can become a touch tedious, especially when marketing dictates that even the covers must all look alike. When Twilight was catching fire, everything was suddenly about red-on-black. And now with Fifty Shades, every erotic romance cover seems to feature a posh accessory on a swathe of satin. All logical marketing shorthand for, “If you liked X, buy this!” But it can feel homogenous, at a certain threshold. Remember all those chick-lit covers? Café-casual illustrations of thin women and lap dogs and high heels? And don’t those look sooo 2002, nowadays? Ubiquity has its perils.
So what’s next? If anyone knew how to predict that, publishers wouldn’t be sent scrambling every time the next big thing presented itself! We can’t know the next great trend in romance, but after simply asking around on Twitter, one thing is clear to me: we want to be surprised. Not by what the trend will be, but by what rules it will break.
We want conventions challenged.
Fifty Shades certainly broke them for the mainstream masses. To the broadly-read romance fan, BDSM’s not so elusive a unicorn. But can you imagine how many of our parents must own floggers now? Wait. Let’s not think too hard about that. Boundaries, Cara.
Here are a few possible trends—my own wishes and those curated via Twitter—that some us would like to see shake up the romance world. They don’t have to be the next sparkly vampire, but it would be nice to see them go mainstream enough that we aren’t stuck begging one another for recommendations.
(Note: these would-be trends all happen to be hero-focused. Not an intentional commentary on anything, just a coincidence…or perhaps an indicator that many of us read romances so we can imagine boning interesting dudes. A distinct possibility.)
Heroes with nerdy jobs. “I’m sort of hoping the next big thing is hot botanists who speak in botanical Latin… [B]otanists are WAY under-rated as sex objects,” says @PennyRomance. There are certainly scientific and academic geek heroes out there, and many of their books have sold well. My brain immediately goes to Wonkomance’s own Del Dryden’s Theory of Attraction, featuring a socially awkward rocket scientist, and forward to Ruthie Knox’s highly anticipated “stuttering hacker” hero in Flirting with Disaster, due to hit your shelves and panties this coming July. We want these books and they do exist, but we still need to turn to community recommendations to find them. They remain the exception.
Heroes with traditionally feminine jobs. @Miss_Shelley_H tossed out, jokingly, “Sexy beta hero social workers with lots of body hair.” She then quickly amended in seriousness, “I really wanna read romance novels with heroes in trad[itionally] feminine careers.” This sparked quite the little discussion. @MaryAnnVadnais wondered, why so many doctor heroes, and nary a nurse to be found? (I was proud to say that After Hours, my April debut with Penguin, features an alpha hero who’s an orderly—basically a nurses’ assistant.) So where are the school teachers, counselors, stay-at-home dads? We want to meet them! And I’d personally like to see a few who aren’t betas. Not because I don’t love beta heroes, but just to prove that a caring profession doesn’t preclude a dominant personality. He can be a nurturer on the clock and still trounce a woman senseless. Dimensional!
Broke-ass heroes. This one’s from my own wish-list, and I know Ruthie shares it, so there are at least two of us in line to buy these books. There will always be an extraordinary abundance of billionaire entrepreneurs and magnates in Romancelandia—too many readers love our genre for the escapism, and for plenty, they want to escape into a world free of financial worry. Understandable. But I’m a weirdo who finds wealth strangely repulsive. Don’t ask me why, I’ve just always been highly suspicious of rich people. So I’d love to see more heroes who are struggling financially, or at the very least who are working class (no shock to anyone who’s read pretty much any of my books.) And as I saw someone say—forgive me, their identity and exact phrasing were washed away in my tweetstream—how come it’s never the heroine who’s the billionaire?
Still, I won’t be holding my breath that a down-on-his-luck autoworker will be the next Christian Grey—not until this recession’s over, at least.
And so those are just three requests I’m tossing out there. But what else are we craving? Racial diversity? Older heroes and heroines? Amputees? Overweight characters? Married couples? Romances set in Africa or Russia or an underground doomsday bunker? Organic farmers? Balloon fetishists? Lay ’em on me. Even if we can’t start a trend, I bet we can at least scare up some good recommendations.