This post was originally written as a guest post for Mythical Books.
A friend of mine pitched a story idea to an agent, saying she believed her story fit into the ‘New Adult’ category that has appeared recently. The agent’s response was, “Oh, is it erotica?” My friend assured her it was not, and the agent explained that in the publishing industry, the new category of ‘New Adult’ is used to put more explicit adult content in books meant for younger audiences than the usual ‘adult’ category.
This is more than a little disturbing to me. When I started reading for fun (which I didn’t do until middle school), I noticed that no matter what genre I read, the element that kept me reading was the romantic relationships. I am a romantic through and through, but it was tough to find books where romance was the main element unless those books portrayed a bare-chested man on the cover, embracing a buxom lady on the verge of spilling out of her top. Those books don’t interest me, so it was hard to find stories that would satisfy my desire for a sweet and sigh-worthy happy ending without veering into steamy territory.
The day I discovered there was such a thing as ‘clean romance’ was a happy day indeed. I was thrilled to discover that if I looked hard enough, I was able to discover and connect with many authors and readers who felt the same way I did and who had created their own genre to fill a need.
Now, from where I’m sitting, this is a great thing, but as time goes on, I can see the gap widening. The clean authors are fighting a good fight and getting good content out there, but as with the ‘New Adult’ category, there seems to be a tendency for other authors and publishers to venture into the grayer areas. It seems like YA books are becoming more explicit. Adult romance is often difficult to distinguish from erotica. The line separating one from the other is getting more and more blurry. There are fewer books in the middle ground as authors are determined to either keep it clean, or go for steamy.
I wonder how this will affect those just starting to read the genre. Will the gap continue to widen? Will readers as well as authors be forced to pick a side? Or will authors start to demand that they be allowed to maintain their middle ground—to write the story as it plays out in their mind, instead of the way it would be told in order to fit snuggly into one side of the spectrum or the other?
It’s certainly something to consider, especially when readers have so much power. The invention of the ereader, and the ability of authors to self publish has given so much influence back to the consumers of books. We can choose to support the stories we enjoy, instead of being handed the stories that publishers believe will make the most money.
So, will this romance evolution continue, or will we have our own romance revolution to maintain the diversity of our book selections? My vote is for the latter.