Historical Romance Seduces a New Generation

Early in my writing career, the best piece of writing advice I ever got—right behind “be persistent”—was “write what you love.” So I did.  I wrote everything because I loved everything, but eventually settled on historical romance.

I’ve always loved historical fiction. As a child, I devoured Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, the Little House books, The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. Later I discovered Jane Eyre, the Jane Austen novels, and other historical classics. But again, I craved more romance. Fortunately for me, historical fiction was a hot market. The hard part was finding a book clean enough for me because I don’t like to read hot sex scenes. Once I discovered traditional Regency romances, which were generally very clean, sweet romances, I was in heaven. It was not to last, however.

Historical fiction began to wane, and for about a decade, sales across the board plummeted.  I guess a lot of people got tired of hot, sexy romance novels referred to as “bodice rippers.” But even clean romance novels suffered. The worst blow came when I learned two major traditional Regency romance publishers closed their doors. The news broke my heart, not only because I loved reading them, but because I’d written a sweet, traditional Regency romance novel that I’d been hoping they’d publish. For a long time, people called historical romance—and Regency romance in particular—a “dead” market. Sob!

Reading_A_Book by painter Ernst RudolphGood news! Historical Romance novels, specifically Regency Romance novels, are regaining popularity. Sales are skyrocketing for all historical romance, both on the hotter side and those sweeter, more traditional romances such as what we expect from Jane Austen era novels or Georgette Heyer. Personally, I love a clean romance, and if it’s a clean historical romance—even better!

When I met Jane Dystel, who would later become my agent, at a writers’ conference, and told her I had published seven titles, six of which were Regency romances, she got excited and told me she couldn’t keep up with publishers’ demands. I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear that. I sent her my trilogy in the works fearing that she’d tell me she’d only take me on if I write in a sex scene into all my books. She didn’t. She offered to represent me as is. Woot!

As a historical author, I had to wonder; why the return of the historical romance?

I think there are many reasons. One is with all the recent movies based on famous books such as all the Jane Austen’s, North and South with the dreamy Richard Armitage, and many other historical novel adaptations, a whole new generation of fans have been converted to historical stories, and historical romances in particular.

Another reason I believe historical romance novels have regained popularity is because most people read either to relax or escape (and escaping is part of relaxing, don’t you think?).  We crave a true escape from the modern world with all our troubles that only a journey into new world can provide. Maybe it’s the fantasy element of vicariously living the life of the very rich, wearing beautiful gowns, having handsome heroes vie for our favor or even dueling over our honor.

In Regency England, manners were very formal. There was a protocol to everything from how many sets a lady could dance with a gentleman in one evening (two), to what to wear while walking (a walking gown).

I love the way people in Regency England spoke so eloquently. They also prized wit and they excelled in using the understatement. As a historical author, I try to bring that out in every historical novel I write.

Regency men were civilized and treated women with courtesy. When a lady entered the room, gentlemen stood, doffed their hats, curtailed their language, offered an arm, bowed, and a hundred other little things I wish men still did today. But they were also very athletic; they hunted, raced, fenced, boxed, rode horses. They were manly. Strong. Noble. Resolute. Honorable. And that is why I love them!

I hope that historical romance is a here-to-stay market.

What do you love best about historical novels or historical romance? Leave me your comments below.


6 thoughts on “Historical Romance Seduces a New Generation

  1. Anna Arnett says:

    Well put, Donna. I think Barbara Cartland was among the first Regency writers I read, and I romped through at least sixty of them before moving on to to the much less predictable but even more delightful works of Georgette Heyer. As a freshman in high school, I thought Jane Austen the most boring author ever, but loved her after I married. I’ve re-read Pride and Prejudice every year for the last fifty or more. Every reading a delight. Perhaps that accounts for why I love reading your books. Keep them coming.

  2. Marion says:

    Thanks for the article Donna. As a UK Regency Romance novice writer, it is heartwarming to find such positive thoughts. I am close to finishing my second book, but cannot find a suitable publisher this side of the globe. Unless I become a self-published author, I have no hope. Everyone here seems to want the steamy side and have lost the art of enjoying a good story as well as the sweet romance. It has helped me decide to look for my publisher in either America or Canada.

    • Donna Hatch says:

      Hi Marion, thanks for your comment. Finding publishers willing to take on sweet or “clean” Regencies is always difficult. However, I believe publishers are starting to realize there’s a true market for good romances that are well written and don’t have steamy love scenes.
      Good luck in your writing career!

  3. Paticia Lambert says:

    Thank you so much for writing “clean” historical fiction. I love it and am always so disappointed when a writers sell out and add pornography to their writing to supposedly sell more books. So … on to your books; I’m glad I found you through this blog entry.

  4. I just found your post and I couldn’t agree more! I typically bounce back and forth between YA fantasy and Regency Romance. Like you mentioned above, the mannerisms in the Regency Era were so eloquent! I wish we could bring back some of those manners in today’s society!

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