Columns > Published on February 8th, 2018

7 Interesting Romance Fiction Trends from the Past 10 Years

All corners of publishing are affected by market trends. If more people start buying more books on computer programming, then publishers will naturally acquire and publish more manuals. If a female-led thriller becomes the read of the summer (think Gone Girl), then you can bet that agents will be looking for a Girl on the Train or a Woman in the Window. However, no category is more affected by market forces than the romance novel. In no other literary genre will you see trends pursued so doggedly.

But what’s unique about romance novels? In a word: volume. Professional romance authors will publish multiple books a year, and it’s not unusual for an engaged romance fan to read hundreds of books a year. As a result, both traditional and independent publishers of romance are quicker to react to trends so they can capitalize on a voracious market.

When most people think of a romance novel, they probably imagine pulpy paperbacks with the Italian model Fabio on the cover. But the truth is, this genre is populated by an enormous range of subgenres — something to cater to every interest.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we’re going to have a look at some of the most interesting trends in romance fiction from the past decade. Prepare to swoon.

Historical Romance

This is perhaps the broadest subgenre of romantic fiction on offer. The evergreen popularity of Jane Austen novels has meant that romances set in the Regency era have always thrived: the attendance of social gatherings, the laws of manners, and secret marriage scandals are tropes that never fail to delight fans. In recent years, the success of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series (and its TV adaptation) has led to a spike in historical romances with a Scottish lilt.

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Cowboy Romances

You might think most cowboy books are set in the old west, but these stories often take place in modern day. Their heroes tend to be old-fashioned men who know how to sweep their lovers off their feet with their old-fashioned manners and masculinity. If you pick up one of these books, don’t be surprised to find the story of a career woman from the city who reluctantly ends up in rural America, only to be seduced by its nostalgic charms.

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Billionaire Romance

Falling in love with someone who’s as wealthy as they are attractive and sensitive: it’s a well-worn trope that never gets old (think Pride and Prejudice). The allure of billionaire romances lies in the near-universal fantasy of becoming suddenly wealthy and enjoying the spoils (and pitfalls) that come with joining the upper-crust. Elements of this subgenre can be found in some mainstream bestsellers including, recently, Fifty Shades of Grey and Crazy Rich Asians.

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Basically, anything with a human who transforms into an animal of some sort will loosely fall into the ‘shifters’ category: pumas turning into humans, hawks turning into humans, humans turning into dinosaurs. Something for everyone, basically. While werewolf romances were in fashion following the success of Twilight, in 2018 you are more likely to find yourself stumbling on a dragon-shifter novel. Because, you know, Game of Thrones.

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Bonnet Rippers

A take on the familiar ‘bodice ripper’ Regency romances, this popular romance category tends to revolve around Amish and other Mennonite communities. Perhaps inspired by Harrison Ford’s romance in the film Witness, many authors have found success with these tales of love among the hay bales. As with the cowboy romances, this subgenre appeals to readers who long for simpler times. If the model on the jacket is wearing a head covering, then you just might be reading a bonnet buster.

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Hockey Romances

Watch out for covers featuring stock images of muscled torsos, perhaps with a pair of skates slung over the shoulder. These ice-bound romances often involve our protagonists falling for hockey players who are on their way to the big time. If your idea of a modern-day Romeo is a bearded Canadian with missing teeth, then these are the books you’re looking for.

All kidding aside, hockey romance is just as popular in the male-on-male market — which, as you might expect, has unique trends and tropes of its own.

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NASCAR Romance

If your teenage crush was Dale Earnhardt Jr., then this might be what you’re looking for. The high-stakes, thrill-a-minute world of stock car racing is perhaps the perfect setting for romances that involve rising fame, twists of fortune, and the potential for tragedy. Many of these novels will find the protagonists dealing with family rivalries, or the consequences of unexpected fame.

Between 2007 and 2009, Harlequin had an exclusive licensing deal with NASCAR which allowed them to use the NASCAR name and logo. You can’t imagine the NHL doing the same thing, right?

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And really, this is only the tip of the iceberg. While some of these subgenres might sound funny, rest assured that each of them has a dedicated and hungry fanbase. Whatever floats your boats — however strange it might be — I bet there’s a romance novel out there that caters to you. Niche romance novels might seem odd at first, but once you dip your toes in the water, you might find it hard to come back out again.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

About the author

Emmanuel Nataf is a Founder at Reedsy, a marketplace and set of tools that allows authors and publishers to find top editorial, design and marketing talent. Over 3,000 books have been published using Reedsy's services.

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