Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Is That A Vampire Romance?

I'm talking to the purists today, and if the reply to that question is, "Well, it's got a vampire in it." then, no, it most likely is not a vampire romance.  Of all the various genres within the romance category, including western, historical, contemporary, time travel, psychic, inspirational, paranormal, erotic, and others, the vampire category has become a genre of its own.  But it is the most convoluted of all the categories.

The pure vampire romance is becoming harder to find.  That which features a vampire as either hero or heroine (usually hero) and focuses on vampirism and romance.  I'm not saying they aren't being written anymore.  It's just become a challenge to actually sight them on bookseller shelves.  Sure, you can sight in the classic fang slipping over the lower lip, or the splash of blood on the cover or even the pale broody guy.  Most likely there are vamps inside.  But just because it has the props, is it still a romance?

Lately, vampire romances have been disguised as paranormal romance and urban fantasy.  And vice versa. If you check the label on the spine, it is no longer an accurate indicator of the book's contents.  This is not the author's fault.  I have no idea who at the publisher is ultimately responsible for putting that spine label on the book that designates it either 'vampire romance', 'paranormal romance' or 'urban fantasy'.  Probably, it's Marketing.  Marketing does not read the story.  By using a synopsis and back cover copy they determine how to market the book and who they believe the audience is for that book.

Have you ever picked up a book you thought was a vampire romance only to discover the romance was lukewarm, and it was dominated by kick-ass action adventure?  An urban fantasy!  Yet, the spine clearly says romance.  It's frustrating.  The definition of romance is that the story will focus on the relationship between the hero and heroine.  Sure, you can have action, adventure, slayings, apocalypse!  But still the focus will remain on the two main characters and their growing emotional connection to each other.  And the unspoken promise all romance writers make to their readers is this: The story will end happily.  You don't get that promise in urban fantasy.  Often UF follows the same hero and heroine through a series.  Sure, there is romance, and it's slowly doled out over the series.  But the ending may not resolve that romance and ensure you the hero and heroine are in it forever.

If you go by spine label alone, you may pick up a vampire romance and end up with a mystery.  You may get an urban fantasy and discover it really is just about the hero and heroine.  Most authors aren't aware of the spine labels for their books until they actually receive author copies, open up the box and look at the book.  It can be as unsettling for an author as the reader to learn someone decided their urban fantasy was really more of a paranormal romance.

If you're a vampire romance purist, you want your story focused on all things vampire: blood-sucking, fangs and immortality.  All the struggles and triumphs that go along with being a vamp.  Nowadays, a story might be labeled vampire romance even if a secondary character is a vampire.  Or I recently read a book with a vampire hero, yet it didn't focus at all on his vampirism, and instead was mostly about faeries and magic.  I was disappointed, which led me to writing this article.

I'd like to start a discussion on the current state of vampire romance.   Not paranormal romance, but those stories we would call vampire romances, which focus mostly on vampirism (though often one of the pair is another species or even mortal; that still counts).

Are you a vampire romance purist?  Do you depend on the spine label to tell you what is inside the book?  Have you ever been blindsided after buying a book and discovered it wasn't what you'd expected?  Or are you pretty cool about the whole genre overall, and even if the romance isn't key, you're just happy to read about vampires?

Let's chat!


Marissa Farrar said...

As a writer of what I have always considered 'vampire-romance', this blog has me confused. I am now going back over my book trying to figure out what genre it would be in. Have I focused on the vampirism enough? Is the story led by the romance? I just don't know. Surely you need another element to create a story? Just having two people/vampires moon over it other wouldn't make for a very interesting tale..?

Maria Lima said...

Michelle, very interesting points! I write urban fantasy (a fact I've not ever disguised), but have gotten a couple of lukewarm reviews because it wasn't romantic enough. I wonder if this is something that many readers continue to confuse--that just because it's vampires doesn't mean it's a romance at its base. I love all the variations on the vampire themes, including the great romantic novels, I just wish there was a way to better understand how Marketing thinks. ::g::

I think my biggest confusion lies as a reader--if I'm in the mood for a good romantic novel, I don't necessarily want to read the kick-ass action novel, and vice-versa. Then again, maybe it's just me who is confused. ;)

In any case, you bring up some very interesting points.

Stacy Stew said...

Of course I've been blindsided, but i've also been pleasantly surprised too. I love the vampire romance, but I'm branching out.

Michele Hauf said...

Marissa, of course you need hoards of different elements (character, plot, setting, conflict, tension, emotion) to create a story. So we're not just watching a vampire seduce a woman and she falls for him and they live happily ever after (or even happily ever immortal). There's 'stuff' that happens in there naturally.
But I'm just trying to say that a lot of vampire romances could now be classified perhaps as paranormal romance. The focus isn't necessarily on the vampires need for blood to survive. Maybe he's pursuing a faery and the entire story focuses on her? That's fine. But I wouldn't call it a vampire romance, then.
It's a huge topic, and everyone will have an opinion. I'm eager for the discussion today!

Michele Hauf said...

Maria, yes! YOu know what I wonder is... Were romance initially introduced to the vampire in the romantic setting, so then when UF is suddenly huge on the scene, and that reader who expects a romantic tale gets more than that, are they confused?

Heck, I love when a romance has it all. Action. Adventure. Blood, guts and horror. :-) BUt as a reader, I like to know when I want a romance (meaning it'll have an HEA ending) that I'll get one. And too often lately, UFs are being mislabeled as romance.

And I think a lot of UFs get shelved in romance because Marketing feels there's a huge audience there.

Michele Hauf said...

Stacy, yep. I've discovered a lot of great authors just by seeking out vamps on covers. :-) I don't like it when the 'romance' I've purchased is a UF. But I like UF too, to I just have to make a mindshift while I'm reading, and I always enjoy a great story.

The Mighty Buzzard said...

I'm pretty much of the same opinion coming from the opposite direction.

While I'll read anything (yes, even Twilight) with a vampire, werewolf, or fairy in it, I prefer UF. Either way, it's the mental equivalent of putting your car in Drive and going backwards when you push the gas. Very confusing and dangerous for those around you.

Anna Dougherty said...

I'm not a vampire romance purist by any stretch of the imagination but I do wish that marketing had a better classification system in place. And why do they get to decide this stuff anyway? They don't write the book so why do they get such a huge say in what the cover, blurb and spine say? Just sayin'.

Back to the subject at hand... The main difference for me is the HEA. Urban fantasy doesn't necessarily have that, at least not at the beginning of a series, while romance should. And I agree with Michele that I need to be in a certain mindset to read either category. I enjoy all the variety out there, and read almost all of it, but I would like to know what I am getting when I shell out the bucks for a book.

For example, last month Bite Club read a book that was labeled vampire romance and it turned out to be more of a mystery with a small amount of romance. Of course this generated a decent discussion and it turns out that the author had originally intended the book to be a mystery with the two main characters not ending up in HEAland. Interesting.

Gina Maxwell said...

Great blog topic! Okay, so I'm pretty narrow-minded when it comes to my genre of choice. I NEED a romance novel. Like Michele says though, for a well-rounded story it has to have all the other exciting elements, but what I want is the story of the hero & heroine and their connections and struggles until such time that they live HEA.

I've just recently finished writing my first book, which I've been classifying as a Paranormal Romance. Although the hero is a vampire and a lot of the story revolves around vampirism, it deals with angels and other celestial beings just as equally. So I'm not sure I could classify mine as strictly Vampire Romance.

But if there's one thing I'm certain of, it's that my book is DEFINITELY a ROMANCE! ;)

For me, when I go to find books, I always look in the Adult Romance section and make sure the back cover has the typical He/She/They tidbits about their relationship. Or I go with authors I love and trust. With any luck, someday I'll become one of those authors for others as well.

Daelith said...

I am not a vampire romance purist either. I guess I'm also leaning more toward the UF area. I like more variety of paranormal characters though vampires still are my favorite. I like some romance tossed into the stories, but prefer more action and adventure than sex scenes. Not that I mind that as long as it doesn't cross the line and become erotica.

taraSG said...

Really, really great post! I often come across people that assume whatever I'm reading is pure romance because it has a vampire in it. Most of the time I pick up my Urban Fantasy books in the "Romance" section of the bookstore. I don't know that I look at the labels on the spine, but now I'll have to pay more attention to that.

Tara SG
<a href="></a>

Gypsy Jane said...

There are labels on the spine? I never noticed. I don't really pay any attention to how a book (or music either) is classified. I read what catches my eye, or what someone recommends.
I like vampires. Romantic vampires, kick ass vampires, historical vampires, detective vampires, you name it - as long as they aren't sloppy eaters. So all I care about is, I want a good story well told.

Derek Tatum said...

Great post. I have noticed that there aren't as many "vampire books" as people think. A lot of UF/PR feature vampires, but frequently as secondary characters. I like all kinds of supernatural hijinks, but I do wish there were more new books where the focus was on vampirism.

Barbara E. said...

I love romance, but really, I'm just happy to read about vampires as long as it's a good, interesting story. I don't really pay attention to what a book is labeled, I just check it out and if it sounds good, I'll give it a go. I usually hear a lot about new books before I buy them, so I'm pretty sure about what I'm getting from the start. That's why all these great review blogs are so wonderful.

Michele Hauf said...

I like hearing that some people don't care what the actual genre is; it just has to have a vampire. I think I'm that way, unless I expect a specific genre and it doesn't deliver.

And Derek is right. A lot of books have vamp secondary characters and claim to be vamp books. I love Kim Harrison's series, but would never call it a vampire story, even with the fabulous Ivy in it. It's a witch story, first and foremost. Jim Butcher has vamps in his stories every once in a while, but I would only label the one an actual vampire story (now I forget which one that was; aggh!)

So it sounds like there are purists and not. And it's all good, because as long as you're reading, it's a good thing. ;-)

Michele Hauf said...

I have Grave Peril and Blood Rites listed on my VampList as Butcher's vampire stories. I don't recall if both were vamp-focused or not.

Cora said...

I'm not a purist at all and will read paranormal romance and urban fantasy, with or without vampires. And I don't think that the dividing line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance is all that clearly drawn but more of a sliding spectrum.

That said, I am annoyed when I see an urban fantasy series where the romantic content is close to zero shelved under paranormal romance. Or when I see werewolf, fae and witch books shelved in the section explicitly labeled "vampire novels". Plus, when recommending books that tend towards the urban fantasy end of the spectrum to romance readers, I generally warn them that the HEA may take some time.

Emme Toaye said...

It seems the world is moving closer to the paranormal every day (night, should I correct that?) that goes by so there must be something out there causing that effect. Makes you wonder if that shadow you see from the corner of your eye is a shadow or...something more. Looking forward to reading more of your blog in the future.

writtenwyrdd said...

I am not a vampire romance fan, because after reading a couple dozen (okay, probably four or five dozen, lol) I'm a bit burnt out--although I'm sure I'll reread the Black Dagger Brotherhood and the other series I own, eventually. (So many books, so little time!)

But you really have a valid complaint about misbranding of fantasies with vampires. They market them any which way it seems, and it is annoying to buy something which isn't what you were led to expect.

However (and this may be so obvious it doesn't bear even saying) one clue as to subgenre you can find is that, if the book you are looking at is part of an existing series, check to see if it is the same protagonist. If it is the same protagonist, it's likely NOT a romance novel, as these do tend to have an HEA ending. And a romance isn't going to be looking for romance novel type love in another volume; it'll be a secondary character who finds his 'lifemate' or whatever the term is for that book.