I was shocked sitting with some agents and we were talking about things that we had seen and so forth. One of the agents brought up the comment that contemporary romances were simply not selling and the all agreed. I almost choked. Why? Because just 1 hour before, I had been sitting with several editors and they were all saying that they were begging for strong contemporary romances. Where was this disconnect?
The answer to this one was simple. It was embedded in the comment the editor said. She used the word "STRONG". It has been something I have been begging for over the last several years and honestly, the same reason I turn so many contemporary romances away. The premise and the writing simply isn't strong.
Here is the deal... People do fall in love in the contemporary world and they do so without:
- having a huge demon chasing after them.
- having been abused and chased by a stalker
- having lost their best friend in a car accident after drinking too much the night before
- having three affairs with married vampires at the same time
- having a BDSM relationship
Get the idea?
It is possible to build a great contemporary romance with great passion, great tension and conflicts that are both internal and external that work. Let's try this idea on for size.
A couple begin dating while in grad school with one older than the other by say 1 or 2 years. The heroine has lived in academia all her life and is more than focused on staying there, getting a couple of Ph.D's and calling it quits. The relationship is great but that is what she wants. Marriage has been on her radar, but the academia always takes focus. The hero, on the other hand, is not planning on the Ph.D. route and is ready to settle down. He has been given a job offer and is ready for marriage. Now the heroine has been given the opportunity for a research study on the opposite end of the country and to pursue that Ph.D. Long distance relationships are not an option and yet they both know they are right for each other emptionally. Now fix it.
With a story like this, we can really build on the romantic relationship building. We can see the fights everytime the work side of things gets in the way, or they start looking to the future. We can see the make-up situation. We can see each discussing this with friends and realizing things are over. Heck, we can even send her away for that Ph.D. and watch them both admit that it is through, only to bring them back together again. This is normal. This is real.
What most of these stories are lacking is a real focus on relationship and romance. The books I am turning away are stories with a focus on all of that other "backstory" garbage to "make it exciting." In fact, the last time I brought up the contemporary romance thing, many people commented that these relationships are boring. They don't have to be.
If writers would tap into all of the same things they use in the other genres - the world building, the finding a great premise or situation, the internal conflict and just put it in present day, you would have something.
As for me, I am siding, not with the agents on this one, but the editor and if you are listening editor that I talked to in the morning, at the Dolphin lobby, about contempory romances and the women's fiction genre, especially finding someone to replace that big gun writer that just left, I am still looking for you. (and you thought I would mention who it was. Yeah, no!)
Come on contemporary writers. Quit hiding behind those demons and stalkers. Get writing that romance you really want to write.