Cowboys, Babies, Brides … Oh My!

Where Has All The Variety Gone?

It sneaks up on me about this time every month. At first, I’m excited. Then, I’m confused. Finally, I’m disheartened. It all starts when I look at the new romance titles for the month. I read a wide variety and happily note titles of interest from the entire genre – until I get to the current category releases. Then my world comes to a screeching halt.

Don’t get me wrong: I love categories. I cut my romance teeth on this subgenre and still enjoy reading a great category. It’s simply that, lately, there seems to be a feeling of sameness to the group. For example, in the past two months alone, there are over twenty-five category titles with story lines revolving around cowboys, babies, or brides – and those are just the ones that I know about.

And please don’t get me started on the poor book that had the misfortune of boasting a cowboy holding a baby on the cover! It was probably a great read. The chances are good that the author gave her readers a fresh spin on an old story. I’ll never know. Between the cover and the synopsis, I feel like I’ve already read this story.

Word on the street is that the cowboy/baby/bride themes are very popular with readers. Based on what I hear from other readers, I’m not the only person out there who is … er … turned off by this trend. While I haven’t done a scientific survey, my stab at the reason for this obvious disconnect is simple: people who buy romance are voracious readers and if category is their thing, category is what they buy.

Heck, I used to fall into that group. Loved category. Only read category. After a while, I expanded my horizons, but I didn’t abandon category romances. I even brainstormed a few stories of my own that boast these very themes.

Until what I call the first baby boom: suddenly every book out there had a baby on the cover. I suspect that there were a few covers with gratuitous babies. In those days, I was rather naïve and found myself genuinely perplexed that so many authors had a baby – or better yet, a secret baby – story begging to be written. It nearly goes without saying that it was mind boggling to see that the publishers were so eager to publish so many books with the similar themes.

The covers looked the same and the stories sounded the same. And I couldn’t see a good reason to spend my money on category romance. While my loss as a reader probably hasn’t hurt the publishers of these books, I have to wonder about the impact this tendency has on those authors who take risks but are lost in the cowboy/baby/bride shuffle. Unless a book is highly recommended by a trustworthy fellow reader or is written by an author that I truly love, I don’t spend too much time thinking about category romance any more.

This was not the opinion piece that I had planned to write this month, but it turns out that I really needed to get this off of my chest. I’ve been reading romance novels for nearly twenty years, essentially growing up with the genre. After such a lengthy career, I feel safe in saying that I’ve read many variations on many favorite themes – but a steady diet of sameness leads to stagnation. And boredom.

It also leads to terrific books being missed because the publishers have created a situation where this reader has no incentive to spend her time browsing this month’s selection.