The Golden Age of Paranormal Romance Novels - How It Happened & Why It's Just Getting Started
If you're an avid reader or writer of Paranormal Romance like me, I have some good news for you. We're rule breakers. Rebels. The wild-haired and electric-eyed eccentrics of the Romance genre who won't accept society's stifling and conservative demands! We want sex, we want hot, superhuman beings to have it with, and we want a LOT of it. So put that on a stick and suck it, naysayers.
Oops. Got a little carried away there. Sorry, I'm just very passionate about this topic, as you can see. Part of the reason why I'm so passionate about it is the glorious fact that right now, at this very second, in this very lifetime, we are within the warm halo of the Paranormal Romance Golden Age. PRGA for short (I don't have all day to type this stuff out, okay?).
Paranormal Romance Novels (PRNs, as they say in the industry) are, depending on who you ask, either a sub-genre of Romance, a sub-genre of Paranormal Fiction, or are their own genre all together. If you'd like a dizzying yet satisfying explanation of this fascinating topic, I suggest reading Lybrarian's post about it.
What we can generally agree upon is that the (sub)genre demands three main elements. A romantic or erotic theme, characters who either are supernatural beings or who interact with them, and a character-driven plot. There are many, many ways to make these things happen in a novel (thank God), and that is perhaps the basic reason for modernity's recent surge of popular, engaging, and prolific PRNs.
So, what's the driving force behind this PRGA I speak of? Well, I'd say it all starts with human nature and (mostly) women's frustration with real-life men.
People Want To F*** Fairytales: An Ancient Truth.
We can debate all day about when exactly the Romance and Paranormal Romance genres were birthed into human history, but I have other things to do and also I don't want to. Gazing lustfully back through the annals of history, I am inclined to say that human beings have always told Paranormal Romance stories, long before there was even the concept of a novel to pour those stories into.
Think about all of the polytheistic religions of the past and the common elements they contain when it comes to their mythology. At some point, for some reason, and under SOME series of circumstances, a deity or otherwise not-mortal being hooked up with a human. Actually, it's usually a really prevalent theme...I'm looking at you, Zeus. And Indra. And Thor. And Xochiquetzal.
Then of course you have all of the myths, fireside stories, and tome-length texts that talk about the non-deified supernaturals who have pretty much turned "shacking up with humans" into a hobby. They probably have to rent out an entire football stadium for their "Shacking Up With Humans" convention every year, and even then, tickets sell out within the first 24 hours of listing.
Don't believe me? The concept of ghost sex alone has a long and pedigreed history amongst us frisky mortals, with sub-genres like the classic tale of the Succubus and Incubus spinning off of the more generic ghost-screwing category. Even if they acted scandalized, apparently people were kind of...into it. Then you have concepts such as the lovely ghandarvas and apsaras that had a real kink for making demigod babies with human royalty, or just with random cowherds who were good enough to get the deed done (maybe their version of a Tinder hookup? Just a speculation).
Oh, yes, we homo sapiens love to weave tales of gods seducing humans, humans seducing gods, humans seducing not-gods-who-were-still-supernatural, and any imaginable combination thereof. We've got protagonists who shacked up with gods and became immortal, gods who shacked up with humans and became mortal, and babies who could just...talk like normal adults as soon as they were born of some ill-attempted coital union between sentient species.
In short, people have fantasized about this for a long, long time. And why wouldn't we? It's exciting, taboo, an escape from the mundane life of herding cows or getting cholera. In severely patriarchal societies, the stories usually function from the angle of male fantasies (of course), and in less patriarchal ones they can go both ways, or they may tend to lean more toward women's lurid imaginings. Either way, they're a lot of fun.
Think of it like "rule 34" of human mythological history. We like to tell stories. We believe in mythological/supernatural/fairytale beings. We absolutely, 100% want to f*** those beings. That's just how we are, and why deny human nature? Unless you're like, really messed up about it, which some of the stories truly are. But let's stay focused on the basic concept, people.
We Still Want To F*** Fairytales: A Modern Phenomenon.
Look, people think danger is sexy. What, has the bad boy lust-object prototype gone out of style? I think not. The femme fatale is still going strong, too, and we can all agree that a lot of people have been super into vampires throughout modern history. It's the risk, the adrenaline, the gamble of it all! And mostly it's women who are fueling the hot, hot fires of the PRN genre.
Of romance readers, women make up around eighty percent of them across the genre(s). And call it patriarchic socialization, call it ingrained gender norms, call it whatever you want, but apparently the women who are reading these glorious book have a type. All we're asking for is a supernaturally beautiful man who is powerful beyond mortal means and will protect and (consensually) ravish us to a degree no merely human man could conceive of. Is that really too much?
We also want to escape into the simultaneously vulnerable and influential role of the woman he shall pursue, because real life just isn't that cool most of the time. It's not rocket science, honestly. PRNs do what all romance novels attempt to do - they fulfill our fantasies, whether sexual, personal, or romantic. And on a deep, primal level, PRNs simply seem to do it best right now.
One could argue that perhaps this is because our world feels more dangerous than ever, and we want a protector who's up to the herculean task of shielding us from it. It's also possible that we are so overstimulated that we need less-real but still-kind-of-realistic stories to pull us in and engage us these days, and mere cowboys and jocks aren't going to do it for a big section of the market.
Whatever the reasons, the fact that PRNs are regularly claiming top 20 spots on Amazon (the biggest Romance market at this time) and the voracious rate at which these books are read makes one thing abundantly clear. Clearly, we still want to f*** fairytales.
The Ingredients For A Golden Age Of Supernatural Sexcapades.
I personally hate the phrase "porn for women" when used to denote Romance novels, for a whole slew of reasons I won't go into here. However, when it comes to our current PRGA the description is somewhat useful.
Much like the transition from Playboy magazines to the wild world of digital pornography, the advent of the self-publishing boom and conjunctively the enthusiastic acceptance of the e-reader and e-reading app led to the flurry of PRNs we are witnessing today. Unlike some of the more firmly defined genres of fiction, Paranormal Romance is relatively new to the taxonomy (that's categorization, for all of you class-skippers).
Consider it the new frontier of romance and erotica, if you will. And since the genre has grown alongside of the free-love and free-publishing era of Amazon and its ilk, there are very few if any gatekeepers to stop the roaring tide of supply and demand that has sprung up. So to speak.
A few inherent factors relating to the PRN are also relevant to its meteoric rise in the market. For one thing, these novels tend to be relatively short, quite accessible, and formulaic in nature. This means that dedicated readers go through them extremely quickly. Add to that the tendency of the niches within Paranormal Romance to attract singularly voracious readers (fun fact: we call them Whale Readers), and you have a virtual (literally) storm of demand that even the flooding of the author sector can hardly keep up with.
Really, most PRN authors can't put out books fast enough to satisfy readers. The ones who flop are another story, but they are largely irrelevant to this discussion. The authors who manage to attract a number of readers to their work soon find that they have been thrown into a den of horny, ravenous wolves. I know this because I'm absolutely one of those horny canids.
Some self published PRN authors put out a book a month or more just to keep up with demand, and they tend to see an exponential increase in readership with each book they release. It pays to be prolific in this genre, and readers can rest assured that there will likely never be a time when they run out of books or series to read.
So, with self publishing continuing to see astronomical success and increasing market shares, readers who are more demanding than ever, and a genre that has more wiggle room than an eight-person minivan, there's no sign of the PRGA slowing down anytime soon. Which is very good news for those of us who write and consume these steamy supernatural series.
In conclusion, embrace your wanton and ancient human love for ghost sex, vampire adventures, or whatever else gets you going! There's never been a better time to do so. Also, if anyone has suggestions for PRNs about dark, sexy fallen angels, hook me up in the comments. Asking for a friend...