I grew up reading historical romance during its heyday in the 1980s. I happened upon one of Jennifer Blake’s books while babysitting and I was hooked. Most of her books were set in New Orleans, but in one the heroine ventured all the way to the Ottoman Empire. I also read medievals by Jude Deveraux, and pretty much any other historical I could get my hands on. All of the romance I read into the 1990s included quite a bit of historical detail, which I loved, and the settings were quite varied. Though I didn’t notice it at the time as a reader, the varied locations and historical content of the books began to gradually shrink to the point where I was only reading Regency set romance. I didn’t mind so much because I love Regencies, and I was busy working and starting a family, so finding the time to read anything was a treat.
When I decided to try my hand at writing historical romance, the first thing I wrote was a Regency, which was natural for me because it was what I had been reading, and it ended up being the first book I sold. But I studied Russian from the eighth grade through college, and also majored in international affairs with a minor in Russian history. So in addition to the Regencies I’m still writing, I plotted out a series set in Imperial Russia during the reign of Alexander I, which coincides with the English Regency. Though I have not formally submitted the first book in the series to any agents or editors, I have spoken to several of them about it, and was dismayed to discover that they weren’t excited about it. Some said they would probably be willing to take a chance on it for their digital line, but they would never publish it in print. They almost all universally suggested that I should write it as historical fiction rather than romance.
After I got over my shock, I realized that as a reader, I’ve never really differentiated historical fiction from historical romance (aside from being embarrassed by the old bodice ripper historical romance covers while reading in public). Nearly all of the historical fiction I read has romance at its heart, like The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons or the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Though I love the history, the relationship between Claire and Jamie is what keeps me coming back to the series over and over again.
I recently finished edits on my upcoming release (a Regency), and was unhappy when my editor cut out half of a chapter I wrote in which the hero and heroine are at the British Museum. It had taken me more than a week to research and write. Though she is also a history buff and said she hated to cut it, it had to go because it slowed the story down and wasn’t relevant to the romance. This got me back to thinking about my Russian set historicals, and how because it’s an unfamiliar setting for many readers, it would require a lot more detail and description to ground the reader in the setting. So have I discovered the reason that non-Regency historicals aren’t as popular right now? Because contemporary romance is selling better than historicals, do we have to stick to familiar locations and very limited historical detail to attract readers?
What do you think? Should I take a chance on writing my Russian set books as romance, or write them as historical fiction? Would it matter to you?
Romantic Pursuit Question: What country do I want to set my next series in?