Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Meditation on 2011-2012 Romance Novel Titles

It has been far too long since I've gazed deeply into the heaving bosom of romance novel titles, as I did in these previous posts. I'm about half a year behind schedule, in fact. The good news: this means I have TWO sets of Romantic Times award nominees to draw from (2011 and 2012), in addition to the Romance Writers of America 2012 RITA and Golden Heart awards list. The bad news is that this means I really can't compare this crop of titles to previous years. However, this project is based on my whims rather than any real degree of statistical accuracy. Onward!

Methodology: I copied and pasted all the titles of romance novels into an Excel spreadsheet, de-duplicated, and searched on various keyword stems based on my previous findings and anything else that struck me as relevant while I skimmed the list. That process looks like this:

There are 677 award-nominated titles on my list (some of which are short works rather than novels), and these are my favorites (links go to covers and descriptions):

A Misplaced Cowboy, like a comma, can end up where he shouldn't be.
What an Earl Wants is responsible for an insidious earworm every time it appears.
When You Give a Duke a Diamond, which I always imagine as part of this series.
Lady Doctor Wyre is the first in the Jane Austen Space Opera series. Think on that a moment.

Best Puns: Bathtub Jinn and The Sexorcist
Head:Desk: Daring to Date the Boss and Sheikh Surgeon Claims His Bride
WTF: Reclaiming His Pregnant Widow and Cat on a Hot Steel Flight Deck

Continuing Trends:

Nobility: As usual, being of noble birth is an excellent way to get yourself into a romance novel. Dukes were the clear winner last time, but this time they were supplanted by Ladies, who featured in 16 titles [followed by Duke and Lord, each with 11, Earl: 6, Heiress and Prince: 5, King: 4, and a variety of stragglers with two or three titles]. As for Sheikhs, there were three (plus one harem). Overall, more than 10% of all the nominated titles featured a mention of one or more nobles.

Scots: After a somewhat disappointing showing last year, the highlanders were back in force! Ten titles had "Highlander" in them. In addition, there were six "Scot" titles, one "Laird," and one "Kilt."

Punctuation: I can't help it, it's my favorite trend. This year, there were seven colons (Rancher's Twins: Mom Needed); five dashes, one question mark (Not Fit for a King?), and one ampersand.

Professions of Love:

I also scanned the titles to see what people's jobs were (beyond being noble). Mostly it's the men that get actual jobs, usually in some kind of protective capacity. There were the usual cowboys (7), soldiers (7), and warriors (5), as well as assorted rangers, ranchers, mavericks, and so on. Interestingly, there was one mention of a homesteader and one of a farmer. Some of the women allowed to have professions were three governesses and one nanny, most likely so that they could be seduced against their will from their subservient positions (Seducing the Governess). However, there was also one cowgirl and one lady doctor, so perhaps there's hope after all.

Rogues (7), rakes (1), renegades(2), rebels (3), and scoundrels (2) continued to be popular, although perhaps the low number is some indication that "rake," with its negative connotation, may be falling out of favor?


Most notably, the economic downturn seems to have finally penetrated the world of the romance novel, as there was no mention of millionaires, billionaires, tycoons, or magnates. There was also only one "Boss" title.

I definitely spotted a "how to" trend among the titles I scanned. Some novels gave contradictory advice, such as How to Seduce a Rogue and Never Seduce a Rogue, but the advisory urge was strong. There were six titles that begin with "How To," two "Guides" and one featuring "Rules," as well as three "Lessons." By picking up one of these books, you could learn:

How to Bake a Perfect Life
How to Dance with a Duke
How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf
How to Marry a Duke
How to Seduce a Scoundrel
How to Woo a Reluctant Lady

Gender and Power Divides:

Breaking the titles down along gender lines required a little chart-making:

Almost all categories are dominated by the female-identified descriptor, which is . . . completely unsurprising.

I also wanted to talk a little about the language being used, which implies some value judgments. Love, it seems, is usually a scandalous enterprise:

These sin-ful titles make up almost 8% of the total. Many of them are likely historical romances, but I wanted to include them before this chart:

Mixed in with generic words such as "love" and "desire" are some that suggest lack of control and powerlessness. Generally, a loss of agency is exemplified by boss romances, but is also a prominent feature of many other romance subgenres. Combined with the previous chart, we can see a focus on surrendering, possibly against your will, to a scandalous desire. Again, not surprising.


  • Werewolves and vampires seem to be trending downward, with only three mentions of each (in addition to a "Wolf" and an "Alpha," giving the werewolves a dubious victory).
  • There were six mentions of angels and archangels and six mentions of devils or "devilish," which is likely an adjective rather than a demonic protagonist.
  • There were 11 mentions of homes, houses, and homecomings.
  • The sea and sea-related things, which seemed to be trending last year, only made it to four titles.
  • There were only 9 Christmas titles listed, plus two mistletoe titles and one Valentine's Day title.
  • Unsurprisingly, titles were much more likely to feature dark* (17) than light (1) or sun (2), with various iterations: moonlight (4), starlight (1), twilight (2), midnight (5), and of course night/nightfall (13). Things were also hotter (10) than they were cold (2).
  • There was also a certain amount of blood (7) and death (10). Romance can be hard.

Based on my findings, the most popular trends across all subcategories (occupations, atmospheric, descriptive, etc.) are:

Therefore, my suggested can't-miss titles for 2013, according to my crystal ball algorithm (drumroll):

Bride of Scandal, Lady of the Secret Dark
Seducing the Scandalous Lady by Nightfall: Her Secret Bride's Lover (this plot is super complicated)

If you're an author, these titles are free for the taking. Strike while the iron is hot! Feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments.

Meditation Index

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Reading Roulette

I've described before the feeling of never having enough time to read all the books that I want to read, even if I locked myself in a room (with snacks) and ignored the world. This year I did a much better job of reading the books I wanted to read, and next year I'm planning on keeping up the pace. To introduce more variety into my reading diet, however, I want to experiment with my TBR pile. This is where you come in. I'm asking people who read this post or follow me on Twitter to recommend one book that they think I should read/would enjoy--fiction, nonfiction, genre, picture book, classic, new release--the type of book doesn't matter to me, just the recommendation.

I'm going to put all the recommendations in my GoodReads account as "Want to Read" and select the next book I read using random.org's number generator. Because I am a creature of moods, I'm going to generate three numbers and pick each next book from the three random results. I will give each book at least 50 pages (per Nancy Pearl), after which I can decide to put it down and move to the next randomly generated book. I will report on my results here.

I already have several books on my "Want to Read" list that friends have been surprised I haven't read, such as The Handmaid's Tale and The Giver, so feel free to browse over there and see what shocking gaps I have.

Please leave me a comment on this post or @ me on Twitter, and let me know what I should read next! I will accept submissions until December 31st.

ETA: If it ends up being a later book in a series, I'll go back to the first book or the latest book I read in that series. If a book is prohibitively expensive for me (can't be acquired via ILL or purchased for a reasonable price, I will pick another option).

First Pick
Second Pick
Third Pick
Fourth Pick