When Rakehell launched in 1999 all I heard was that the Regency was dead. Well six years later it seems that we are about to witness this rumor as truth, and yet no one seems to care.
On June 10th at the Colonial Luncheon, given by the Long Island RWA chapter, Zebra announced the closing of their Regency line. As of September 2005 the traditional line will end to make way for their new erotic romance line. Marissa Doyle who was at the luncheon said, "It was all quite low key--a slight murmur but no gasps of astonishment. I was seated next to Barbara Metzger, who did not seem terribly surprised at the news."
Although Signet hasn't officially announced the end of their Trad line, my sources tell me that they have stopped buying new books. Since this is what Zebra did, we can only assume that the announcement of the closing of the Signet line is just a formality. Most of the Signet authors I spoke to are just waiting for the bad news.
While I was at the RWA National conference in Reno I spoke to Zebra and Signet authors. Most of them were trying to find a way to move their Trads to the Historical market, or move into the more popular erotica and paranormal genres. One author told me, "My love is for the Regency, but if those aren't selling then I have to write what will." This seems to be the general feeling for displaced Regency authors.
I know that most romance authors are not treated very well. I also know that authors publishing with the Traditional lines are treated worse than most, but why no hue and cry? Why no fighting or hysterics? We are about to witness the death of a genre and no one is making a peep. There is very little conversation concerning this on the Beau Monde (the national Regency authors group) or Writing Regency RWA loops. According to author Regina Scott, "I'm not sure why no one is doing anything. I can't tell whether it's shock or just everyone has been hearing that the Regency is dead for so long that [it] didn't come as a surprise."
When I first began attending romance conventions authors couldn't sell paranormal or erotica to anyone except e-book publishers or the small press. Due to the success of publishers like Ellora's Cave, who is well known for their erotica, and ImaJinn who is well known for their paranormal romances; erotica and paranormal sales have skyrocketed. These small publishing houses who couldn't get respect and were fighting to be acknowledged as "real" publishers, are now leading the pack.
The lessons from publishers like Ellora's Cave and ImaJinn are that readers like variety, good writing is good writing, and when readers can find both together they will flock to it. But these aren't the lessons that big publishers are coming away with. They are hopping on the bandwagon. Instead of improving their existing lines they are killing them to make room for what is the new "hot" item. They are glutting the market with a few genres, and forcing authors to write to the audience instead of writing from their hearts. This leads to poor quality and boredom for the reader. Hence what has been happening in the Regency market.
Historicals and Regency will never die as long as there are good authors to write them. Over the last ten years these two markets have been glutted and therefore the quality has begun to degrade. Whether it is bad editing, lack of funding, poor to no marketing, or a combination of all of these I can't say, but what I do know is that the Regency and Historical market are well loved and it is a mistake to close them.
We are seeing a huge shift in the industry. Happy endings aren't necessarily what publishers want, but anyone who reads romance knows that the happy ending is the ONE rule in romance. Bombshell, Next, and Chick Lit are on the rise. All of these don't have guaranteed Happily Ever After. Sex is in and sweet is out, but give the market a few years and suddenly they will be out again and markets like the Regency will be rediscovered and made new…at least we can hope so.