Thursday, 3 July 2014
The "next big thing" in Romance is the New Adult sub-genre. By now, everyone knows it, but as little as three years ago people weren't talking about it.
Now it's everywhere and people are jumping on the bandwagon. Even Harlequin M&B tried to market to it within their category lines.
But why this sudden splurge of coming of age romances?
Because there was a big black hole in Romancelandia. It was like a small town where all the school leavers have left to go to the big city and didn't come back.
Young adult as a genre is stronger than ever with the ubiquitous trilogy plus stories being made into movies. These stories cater to the adolescent verging on adulthood market (and quite a few middle aged women) The young adult market is resistant to including more intense romances with young people experiencing sexual relationships or leading to marriage within a genre that is read by children from around nine years old. So where do you go next?
Once upon a time it would have been category romance edging out the Babysitters Club and Judy Bloom. But not any more.
Because mainstream romance is getting older. The bulk of heroines are late twenties and into the thirties. This is particularly true in the category lines with stories about successful professional women and their successful professional men. The medical lines, the good old fashioned doctor nurse romances, always tended a little older because to be a nurse or doctor you had to have spent years training and now we are seeing more heroines in that line nudging into the thirties. Where are the sweet stories about first year nurses falling for the hot doctors? Or vice versa.
When I was a fourteen year old, (yes I was once a teenager, don't tell my children), I read category romances with heroines mostly aged between eighteen to twenty-three. These were the mainstream romances and the heroines were mostly considered mature enough. Yes there were older heroines. Mostly in the medical profession, but in an era when a lot of girls had been in the workforce from sixteen, maturity was expected at that age. Most were virgins, most were in their first job or at most just left college. Sounds like New Adult to me.
So what does fourteen year old read in romance these days that would be the equivalent of a 1975 Harlequin Mills & Boon. Because a twenty-eight year old heroine is never really going to be someone a fourteen year old can identify with. OMG, that's almost as old as parents. Truly icky.
The expected answer, the Cherish/Sweet category line, isn't going to meet the needs because it is full of single mothers and more mature heroines. Even if the sweet, closed bedroom scenarios are approved by Mom for her teenager to read, the story lines are not going to appeal to a teenager. The glamorous increasingly explicit Sexy/Presents line is generally not going to be something Mom wants to find her tweenage daughter reading under the covers, even if the exotic nature of the story lines helped overcome the age barrier. (we won't mention the titillation factor *giggles*)
Girls always want to read ahead of themselves. It's a normal part of growing up and learning what it means to be a woman (of course we all think we are WOMEN at fourteen). It's not until later we stop calling ourselves "nearly sixteen" and mumble "shady side of forty".
The point is, that the romance industry had left a gaping great hole which means there is a generation of young women out there who never read a category romance. But now it's being filled with the influx of New Adult books flooding the market.
How is this working for the category lines? Not so good it appears. Because the closest thing Harlequin Mills & Boon managed to put forward was the KISS/Modern tempted line. It has younger heroines and heroes and is marketed as flirty and sexy. Maybe too sexy? Because the line is closing down, and it may be because the target market was that generation who never read a Harlequin Mills & Boon under the covers when they were fourteen. You have to catch them young.
So we have New Adult. And with a whole lot more publishers out there, the competition is fierce. Now that the market is identified, everyone wants to be a part of it. I don't think the genre is new. I think it was a core part of mainstream romance that was sadly neglected as publishers chased the holy grail of realistic romances that reflected the social mores of the present day. More sex, later marriages, more single parent families, more second, third and fourth chance romances.
They forgot that teenage girls don't want that kind of reality. They still want to dream about finding their prince charming the first time round.