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As a writer I follow several industry blogs, and the two I read most often are the Steve Laube Agency blog and the Books & Such blog. Both agencies work almost exclusively in the CBA market, but there's a wealth of industry information shared and great tips for writers no matter what genre/market you write in.
On November fifth, Wendy Lawson of Books & Such did a post called The Trouble With Different.
To preface this, Wendy is talking exclusively about Christian fiction, but the general concepts of what she says are true in both markets. Being too different is hard. Read Sherrilyn Kenyon's publishing journey if you don't believe me. Once there was a time when no editor would touch what she writes.
Now, on to specifics of what Wendy said that I can't stop thinking about.
Sometimes the norm is that way because we’ve watched sales. For instance, we know romantic fiction sales will be strongest if the protagonist is a woman. So if you choose to be different by going with a male lead, you’ve already got a hurdle to cross with the sales people on the acquisitions committee.While this statement is true in the CBA, it's not always true in the ABA. There's a vast number of authors who write at least equally in his POV. I'm exploring ABA romance, for the first time, and finding my hero POV needs much easier to fulfill. I have always preferred his POV in a romance. The older I get, the more I prefer it. Weird, huh?
I commented on the post, which I do from time to time because the agents here usually reply. I said this:
I also gravitate to reading books largely in his POV. Part of my issue with first person, especially in a romance, is I’m locked into HER head. And I don’t care about her. Whenever I try to make it about her, the story shuts down. They stop talking. It doesn’t work. All the spark that is me and my voice disappears. If I write mostly in her POV I’ll never make it to the acquisitions committee in the first place. But my ABA romance told in 70% his POV is going further than my inspy HR forced into largely her POV ever did.The 70% his POV is My Name Is A'yen. I have four POV's. Only one is a woman.
I've been thinking about this for almost two weeks now. What many CBA agents may not be aware of is the explosive growth of the M/M romance in the ebook market. It's so popular that Googling it gave me pages to go through.
Why is it so popular? And it's popularity pre-dates Fifty Shades by nearly five years. I won't rehash the history of the genre's rise, but it appears to be tied to slash fan fiction, which is dominated by women. Having been active in a fan fiction community for several years, the Hardy Boys, I know it's a fact women dominate it. And fan fiction communities tend to center around books with strong male protagonists.
In one of the articles I read the writer quoted Dr. Sarah S.G. Frantz, from a blog post she did in 2006.
...romances are actually about watching the hero figure out and confess his feelings, if they're about watching him move from the "masculine economy of use" to the "feminine economy of exchange," then watching TWO men have to figure it out for and with each other is more than twice as wonderful as watching one man figure it out for and with a woman.I think she's on to something. For decades romances have been heroine-centric. To the point where I had a contest judge in 2011, who's published in Christian romance, tell me in my entry that readers don't care about him. It pissed me off, because it's not true.
What if the rise of M/M romance is directly related to the romance reader's desire for more hero-centric stories? Look at Sherrilyn Kenyon. The single most popular Dark-Hunter is Acheron. I'm in love with him. I read DH for pieces of him. I read DH for the men. And so do millions of others. As the series progresses, it focuses more and more on the heroes. Every single person in my life, real and online, knows when I crack open Acheron there will be a Do Not Disturb sign on my life, until I'm done with 700+ pages of Ash goodness.
Look at the rise of paranormal romance. It's centered around strong heroes who not only share the POV division equally, but quite often tip the division in their favor. There's a reason for this, and I think it has more to do with a hunger for his POV than it does with the novelty of vampires and shapeshifters.
This romance reader does not like heroine-centric stories. I'm sick of them, because they're everywhere. Especially in CBA romance where his existence is almost an afterthought most of the time. But on the other hand, M/M romance isn't something I read because much of it crosses lines I'm unwilling to cross in the graphic department. So what's a girl to do?
My answer: Write hero-centric traditional romances and hope I can hit things just right to fill an unmet need in the romance market.