Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

WTF Wednesday: What Is It With Dark?

My dear friend and CP, Amie Stuart, received a rejection today from a major publishing house on a “dark” paranormal. The editor’s reason for rejecting it? The tone felt “too light” for her tastes. Now, I can’t tell you anything about the proposal (which I’ve read large chunks of) because I can’t give away Amie’s story idea, but here’s the funny thing: a different editor rejected the same manuscript not too long ago because it was “too dark.”


Of course, this just points out what we already know–that reading is subjective, and editors are just as incapable of having completely objective reactions to books as anyone else. One editor’s too dark is another editor’s too light. And as an author, you really just have to write the book YOUR WAY and not try to second-guess. That’s really hard to do, though, especially when you get so much conflicting feedback.

But the real topic of my post today isn’t rejections or subjectivity so much as it is–what gives with DARK these days? Everywhere I turn, it seems editors want “dark” (usually “dark and sexy” but notice the dark comes first.) And they don’t just want it in paranormal, but also in historical, romantic suspense, etc. Now, I do see books coming out now that are lighter (Tessa Dare’s wonderful trilogy from Ballantine comes to mind, as well as Victoria Dahl’s fun contemporary series with HQN), but it does seem to me that editors right now are looking for stories that I, at least, suspect I would find depressing and unreadable.

To me, dark is fine, but it needs to be balanced wit and humor. When it comes to books with dark, tormented characters and plots, I don’t mind a bit of weight, but I still want it to be fun to read. (IMO, Amie’s book is exactly the right mix of dark/tormented and wry/twisted humor.) And if there’s no wit or humor in it–if there isn’t SOME lightness–then it’s not fun. After all, even Hamlet and King Lear, among the darkest stories ever written, have moments of comic relief.

Mind you, I’m not actually saying that none of the “dark” books editors are buying have moments of wit and humor. What I wonder is why there’s such a passion for dark at all? We’re living in difficult times, surrounded by real crises and real danger. I thought one of the reasons romance was bucking the downward trend in book sales is that romance offers a guaranteed “feel-good” read.

Yet it seems to me that most of the dark romances I’ve read lately DON’T make me feel good at the end. There may be an HEA, but all too often, I’m left wishing the heroine (or hero in some cases) would run as far and fast as possible from the character who is supposed to be his/her perfect mate. And even if I like the characters and want them to live HEA, the story leading up to that ending can be too difficult/painful for me to feel like I had a good time reading the book.

Now, of course, I’m only one reader (and one writer). Perhaps there’s something about very dark stories that end happily that a large proportion of romance readers finds particularly satisfying. I simply find it perplexing, in the current climate, that lighter romantic comedies aren’t more sought after/fashionable. I know I want to escape the darkness of our times, not immerse myself deeper in it, and I’m looking for romances that give me pleasure all the way through. (That doesn’t mean there’s not conflict or danger or heart-wrenching moments, but I want to ENJOY those moments. Does that even make sense, lol?)

So please, New York, give me more of the fun and less of the torture. Pretty please?


  • Amie Stuart September 2, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    FWIW I think those two rejections really TRULY prove how subjective/a matter of taste it is!!!! And while I don’t mind dark, I also don’t want to feel like stabbing my eyes out at the end of a book either.

  • Vanessa Kelly September 2, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    I’m totally with you on this, Jackie! I’ve been reading a dark paranormal that’s been greating great buzz. It’s beautifully written, with a lot of power and a driving plot. But it’s sooo dark. The h/h both undergo so much torment, especially the heroine, who when she isn’t being tortured has to live under the threat of rape and torture. I finally had to put it down. I like a certain amount of angst and danger, and I love a good Gothic, but I don’t want to reach the end of a book feeling like I’ve been put through the emotional wringer!

  • Vanessa Kelly September 2, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Er, I mean, getting great buzz!

    Amie, stabbing my eyes out is exactly how I felt after reading the book I mentioned in the previous post.

  • Colleen September 2, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Several of my formerly favorite authors have gone so far over to the dark side 😉 that they are no longer favorites. I couldn’t even finish some recent books – Linda Howard, Shannon McKenna’s “Ultimate Weapon,” Christine Feehan’s “Hidden Currents,” and her “Burning Wild” was borderline. I like dark and sexy very much. What I don’t like is dark, sexy, vicious, cruel, and violent.

  • Jody W. September 2, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Are there any dark books (in romance anyway) that are not also sexy? Dark does come first in dark and sexy but it seems like sexual content has been revved up right alongside the darkness. I like more variety and combinations in tone and heat.

  • Cyntia King September 2, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Hmmm…I think I’m on the fence a bit.

    I find I’m relating more strongly with darker stories lately than previously – they just seem more realistic and relevant to me right now. I like seeing the H/H overcome darker more desperate circumstances now than a few years ago because the world is a darker more desperate place – I relate more when their HEA comes.

    Oddly, I find I’m balancing darker paranormal & UF reads with light-hearted historical & and romantic action.

    I also agree with Vanessa that some ‘romantic’ reads have just taken it way too far. just put down book with constant threat of rape/torture – made me want to paint the wall and not in a good way.

  • Amie Stuart September 4, 2009 at 11:55 am

    LOL Vanessa…are you reading KMM’s Fever series?? That’s some of the darkest books I’ve read and I can’t even begin to explain why I love them so. Most of the time, I read YA (or suspense/thrillers) and in most of the YA I read, you get a happy ending.


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