I follow a couple dozen romance review blogs as well. I do a lot of binge book buying based on reviews, because I am weak, and all it takes now is the passing thought of, “Hey, that looks like an interesting premise,” and two clicks later that book is ready to go on my tablet. (With, like, 347 others. I have a problem.) So this year, I saw a lot of Best of 2013 lists and as I scanned all of them a few interesting things struck me.
Mainly, there weren’t a lot of universally-agreed upon Best Books this year, at least not for romance readers. There were a few stand-outs, sure. To my mind, LOVER AT LAST by J.R. Ward was 2013’s landmark book, not because it’s an amazing book—I mean, it’s a good book, though I had mixed feelings despite being a slavish fan of Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series—but because it was a major bestseller which was primarily about the romance between two men. Well, two male vampires. The book went on to win the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Romance. That’s astonishing to me, and also proves how receptive the market is to romance novels that feature, let’s say, less traditional pairings.
But other than the two or three books that made just about everyone’s Best Romance Novels of 2013 lists, the lists were wildly different from each other.
I have theories! I suspect part of this is that there is just so much out there and each list compiler has his or her own preferences. Some reviewers gravitate toward certain tropes, some read almost exclusively books in the burgeoning New Adult genre this year, some are experiencing fatigue with certain character archetypes and historical settings. (Although you will have to pry the Regencies from my cold, dead hands, because I love and continue to read them. Maybe historical romance is slumping, but I’ll buy all the books to keep the sub-genre afloat by myself if I have to.)
I saw perhaps the most variety over on the LGBT romance blogs. You could look at five different lists and not see any books in common. The big names in the genre—authors like Abigail Roux, Heidi Cullinan, and debut author Alexis Hall—all had good years, but otherwise, there was a ton of variance. That surprised me. It used to be that Best Of lists in gay (male/male) romance in particular had a sort of monolithic quality to them, like everyone who read the genre only read the same fifteen books each year. That is no longer the case.
So here’s my take on this phenomenon, for what it’s worth: the explosion of the genre over the last couple of years means there are more books and more readers than ever before. So not everyone is reading the same books.
One of the awesome things about romance is that there’s something for everyone. You want to read a romance between two female bear shifters who fall in love in Victorian England while having steam-powered adventures? That book probably exists. (And if it doesn’t, someone should write that right now. You’re welcome.) It means readers can fall into whatever niche they enjoy—shifters, BDSM, historicals, hurt/comfort, cops, firefighters, cowboys, all of the above—and find a plethora of books to enjoy. It used to be gay romance fans only had a limited number of books to choose from because not much had been published yet, so everyone did read the same books. Now there are hundreds published each month.
That’s a boon to readers. It’s a tricky thing for authors trying to get heard above the cacophony of new voices joining the fray every day—a topic for another column perhaps—but it’s great if you’re a romance fan because there’s no shortage of new books to try.
LGBT romance has also gained a great number of new readers recently. I’ve talked to readers, online and in person, who only picked up their first gay romance within the last year. Now they’re hooked and gobbling up as many books as they can get their hands on. Some are new books discovered by chance. Some are genre “classics,” books beloved by readers who have been fans of gay romance since its inception.
I think there’s a tendency to assume that readers are fans of a particular thing and stick with that thing for a long time. Sure, there are definitely readers who only read m/m romance or who only read paranormal or YA or Regency-set stories. But the influx of new gay romance readers tells me that there are a great number of readers who, like me, read a bit of everything and were willing to give gay romance a shot. At the end of the day, a good love story is a good love story. My favorite Best of 2013 lists contained books that had a little bit of everything on them, because that’s roughly how my own Best Of list shook out for last year.
That’s all really exciting to me. It means that if you write a book that’s maybe a little weird or out there or doesn’t fit the mold of other romances you’ve read, you have the potential to find readers who are as passionate about that book as you are. And that’s the dream, right? To write the book of your heart and make enough money from it to write another. The marketplace is wide open for writers to do just that. ♥
Kate McMurray is an award-winning author of gay romance and an unabashed romance fan. When she’s not writing, she works as a nonfiction editor, dabbles in various crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She’s currently serving as President of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter of Romance Writers of America. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her at www.katemcmurray.com.