A “Too Many Books, Too Little Time” Blog Post: Have You Read Any African American Historical Romances Lately?

Denny S. BryceThis is a total Catch 22 (Google if the reference is too old for you:) moment. Now that I’m writing almost full-time, I’m also getting the chance to read more. I have a huge stack in my “to read” bin, but lately I am  reading a lot of contemporary romantic suspense and straight-up thrillers. (Some authors I’m very excited about include Robin Perini, Stephanie Freeman, Carla Cassidy, and many more). Additionally, I belong to a Book Club (a quick shot out to my pals in the Phauxcon Book Club) where the diversity of the reading material is giving me even more opportunities to explore and enjoy. Last month, I made the book selection and got to re-read one of my favorite thrillers, Heartsick by Chelsea Cain. This month the book is an oldie by the late Robert Ludlum entitled The Chancellor’s Manuscript (excellent espionage suspense).

But now I’ve gone off and discovered a new genre (new to me, that is:). One of my new pals from the 2013 RWA National Conference is Piper Huguley. She was a 2013 Golden Heart finalist in historical romance, and a Top 50 finalist in Harlequin’s SYTYCW contest in the inspirational historical romance category. She writes African American(AA) historical romances. There is this HUGE world of readers and lovers of  historical romances that feature African American characters (which means there are other ethnic groups that have books out there, too) but I must admit, I did not know about this genre until I met Piper – which just shows there’s a lot of reading and exploring for me to do because its some damn rich story telling, and just wonderful stories, and I love history.

So I was going to share some authors in this blog post who write in this category, but kept coming across one name that dominates (see below).  Not a bad thing, domination, but what does it also say?  I ask because I’m naturally curious (and a marketing person, too) – why aren’t there more authors writing AA historical romance? I’ve talked to African American readers of AA romance who are devotees of historical romances across the board. I visited webs pages on Amazon where readers have read all of Beverly’s 30 books, and are requesting more authors, and more books. Is this an example of a niche that is too small for publisher’s to ‘buy’? Or like me, are publishers/editors just not as savvy about all of the potential of this category? What if the extremely popular AA historical book The Help had a romance as the central story? Would you have bought it?  Read it? If you aren’t black would you pick up a book that has an AA historical romance? Or do you pick up books because they get a good review from a trusted reviewer? Or is this void an example of another opportunity for self- publishing or digital publishers who are naturally ‘risk-takers’? Honestly, I don’t have answers, and I’m curious about what you think:)…

Beverly Jenkins (apparently the Queen of this genre is published by Avon and has a TON of books she’s written)

So my journey will begin with me reading some of the books by Beverly Jenkins…!!!

7 thoughts on “A “Too Many Books, Too Little Time” Blog Post: Have You Read Any African American Historical Romances Lately?

  1. Interesting topic, Denny. I haven’t been reading much of anything lately, but I know when I like a new genre, I start reading everything in it. For one whole year I think I read pirate books. If it had a swashbuckling pirate and swooning heroine on the front cover, I was all in. Lol.
    I went through a period where I liked historical romances. Read everything I could get my hands on. Then back to contemporaries. I’m all over the map.
    But here’s the thing. With publishing these days, self published authors have an edge here. Where the publishing house might not want to take a chance on someone who’s writing in the same category as someone else (like Beverly Jenkins), authors could very well publish for themselves, market themselves successfully and get very lucky. I would think that if Jenkins became that big, she surely can’t be putting out a book every week, and I’m pretty certain her readers do in fact read other books and don’t just wait for her next one.
    Great post, Denny! 🙂

  2. Great point made by Kim above. I totally agree. In answer to a couple of your questions, I will read just about anything if there is a love story mixed in somewhere, whether it has a Happy Ending or not. (Example Cold Mountain) So I would definitely read an AA Historical author and if I loved her voice and style, I’d read her a lot. It wouldn’t matter to me what color the people are on the cover. I am going to drool over heroes period. No matter their skin shade! Thanks for pointing out a new genre!

  3. Hey Denny,

    A number of us have been watching Henry Louis Gates’s documentary series “The African Americans : Many Rivers to Cross,” and have been tweeting about the history presented there. A number of people have discussed the pain presented in some of the stories. I think that is part of the road block. Romance is supposed to be filled with joy. However, I think that increasingly there is an awareness, maybe as people come to know the history more, that the stories of survival, craftiness and triumph are joyous stories. Also, that the roadblocks of life did not stop people from falling in love and having babies–that’s how we got to be here! So I will keep chiseling out my stories and as your other commenters have suggested, may have to engage with self-publishing to prove there is a market for such stories. Thanks for the great column!

    * waves to the fab Kim Maccarron, fellow GHer and Pittsburgher too!

  4. Hi Denny,
    I blog about African-American historical romance and women’s fiction. This summer, a group of us compiled a list of about 150 related titles. I’m digging my way through reading them now.

    I also make a point of encouraging aspiring AA historical romance authors like Piper Huguley and Kianna Alexander so we can have more titles to read in the future.

    1. Very good article, and I think it’s high time NY publishers come around to taking chances on authors of African American historical romance. There are readers clamoring for it, but there are also writers waiting to fill the need.
      Kaia, you critiques drive me crazy but I love you anyway. Thanks for the plug!

  5. Great post, Denny! Lots of information here. Thanks for introducing me to a new genre — and I’ll be adding it to my TBR books!

  6. Publishers or more like their marketing dept operate like they are in the midwest of the 1950s. They get a spark from Hollywood, jump on the bandwagon, but do nothing to gain readers and cross populate readership, and then when the honeypot stops attracting, they withdraw to greener pastures. Meanwhile those readers drift off to whoever is available. Exclude Jane Austen, category romance was in the ’50s and has evolved to the present. AA romance was born in the ’80s, came into fruition in the ’90s and the number of books and authors published in print has gone backward. Digital is now the platform for the resurgence. But for some subgenres like historical, you can’t even call it a resurgence. It’s like going from Zero to .05 with what’s out there.

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