Janine: In our December conversation, 2022 in Review, Jennie mentioned that she’d experienced a bad reading slump last year.
I don’t feel great about the number of books I’ve finished in 2022 and after hearing other peoples’ numbers, I feel even worse! I know it’s not a competition, but in the past five years I’ve had a high of 56 books and a low of 45. This year, so far, I’m at….29. I will probably finish two or three more, but the number is still going to be a real low for me since I’ve been keeping track.
I don’t think I really have any new trends except *not* reading.
Reading slumps are a not uncommon topic among readers—we all go through periods where we aren’t as in the mood to read. Here are some questions on the topic:
Have you experienced a slump recently or has your reading remained at a constant level (or maybe at an even higher level than that) in terms of number of books read? What about your enjoyment level?
Do you have theories about what causes reading slumps for you—access to other activities and entertainment forms, demands on your time, changes in publishing trends, or anything else?
What are your strategies for preventing or coping with reading slumps?
Any other thoughts on the topic?
Has your reading slumped recently?
Kaetrin: I hit a big reading slump last year and have had them on and off for the last few years.
Janine: My reading has not slumped in terms of the number of books read, in fact that number has risen. But the percentage of books I didn’t finish has also risen a lot in the past couple of years.
When it comes to books I subscribe to the philosophy that you have to kiss a few frogs to meet your prince. In 2022 I kissed a LOT of frogs.
Jayne: My reading level has remained about the same but yes, sometimes my reading enjoyment has tanked.
Rose: Last year was my highest volume reading year since I started tracking, and in fact I read more books in 2022 than the previous five years combined 🙂
Jennie: I feel like my slump has been intense for the past couple of years, and certainly my reading numbers reflect that especially in 2022. Though I don’t think that number of books read is the sole or main metric I would go by. Or maybe I’d say, there are two kinds of slumps, which may overlap: a slump in the amount of time spent reading, and a slump in my enjoyment of what I’m reading.
Sirius: I think the first kind I never experienced or never wanted to experience I guess – never wanted not to read but of course if one doesn’t find enough books that are interesting for this reader then it can overlap.
Rose: I went through an extended slump for about five years, starting in 2017 or so. Some of it was just me being busy, but changes in the romance genre also had an effect. A lot of the authors I’d depended on stopped writing romance for various reasons – moving to other genres, burnout, health issues – and in some cases, authors who switched to self-publication were going in directions that seemed self-indulgent and/or sloppily edited.
Jennie: My slumps can be informed by any number of factors: the state of the world, what is going on in my life, and just changing habits. When I go through my 20+ year book log, I note that my reading numbers started to drop off once I got an iPhone, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Kaetrin: It’s always about my response to personal or world events I think.
Layla: My short response is: the quality of books published is responsible for my reading slump!! It seems most historical, YA and even contemporary novels I read now are derivative, or formulaic to a boring extent. There are no genuinely wonderful new voices I’ve discovered or authors I’ve become attached to (like to the extent that I will wait for their next book eagerly, etc. ).
I don’t know if this is to do with the publishing world in general, or romance in particular. But I wish that publishers would take more risks and publish better written books. It seems one great concept book will break out and be a huge hit–then everything published thereafter is some version of that book! especially true for YA. And in historical romance, I’m sick of badly written books with dukes that have no tension, no electricity, no conflict and stupid heroines and heroes.
Janine: I agree with Layla. The publishing industry has been playing it too safe lately. Almost everything is derivative of something else. It’s not just romance, I see it in YA and YA fantasy, Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction, and to a lesser extent in SF. Thankfully adult fantasy hasn’t been as badly hit, but I fear it’s only a matter of time. I’m not sure what genre I’ll turn to when that happens.
There have always been dry spells when the books I like haven’t been published (the years between 1999 and 2005 weren’t as successful for me as 1992-1997 or the later period of 2007-2012) but this particular stretch worries me because it’s not just a downturn in my favorite one or two genres, which is what it was in the early 2000s. A bigger issue now is the regurgitating of tropes.
Jayne: Count me among those tired of the same tropes. But I guess those books are selling so … I’m tired of fake dating and I’m tired of wallpaper historicals. I’m tired of reading blurbs for books that sound exactly like 25 blurbs for other books. I’m also getting bored with covers that look almost exactly alike, too.
Rose: I agree that some contemporary romance series, especially on KUs, really do start to get derivative at some point – and seriously, do any normal people fake-date in real life?? – but if I mix things up with older books and other genres, it’s not too bad. I also avoid anything big on TikTok and cartoon covers unless vetted by someone I trust. I’m just not the target demographic for those…
Janine: Discoverability is another issue for me. There are probably obscure books I would love out there if only I knew how to find them. Trial and error isn’t the most effective method.
Layla: My strategies for coping–rereading all my old favorites. Watching period dramas. I just got a subscription to Brit Box and am super into “Lark Rise to Candleford” (a lovely peaceful British television show).
Jayne: One reason I review so much non-fiction is because I preemptively try to avoid a slump. But that doesn’t always work. When I hit the (reading) wall, I will usually (in no particular order) try a completely different genre, or go back to a tried-and-true author, or reread an old favorite.
If none of those appeal or work for me, then I will back totally away from reading and spend a day or three watching Netflix/Hoopla streaming or pulling out favorite DVDs and binge watching. Layla, I’ve thought about and debated getting a subscription to Brit Box!
Jennie: In the 2000s, once I’d read most of my favorite historical romance authors’ backlists and most of them stopped writing new books, I settled into re-diversifying my reading (i.e. not reading romance so exclusively), and for a time I think that helped keep things kind of fresh for me, even though I’m sure I went through mini-slumps. I got into reading young adult/new adult romances and later into suspense/thrillers as a way of trying to recapture the feeling that my early romance reading gave me. (Even with thrillers, I prefer there to be a romance or romantic elements, though they don’t always have HEAs, of course.)
Kaetrin: I turn to old favourites and comfort reads. I’m looking for safety and familiarity to make me feel better. Reading a new book feels too risky so I go with the tried and true. It’s the reading equivalent of hiding myself in a blanket fort. Then, after a while – sometimes a long while – I’ll start to feel better and along will come a book which will bridge the gap – new but low/no risk or just so tempting I can’t resist and then I’m off to the races again.
Janine: I caught up on some older books this year (Holly Black’s Cruel Prince trilogy, the last few Kate Daniels world books I hadn’t read, Ilona Andrews Kinsmen series, and some others) and enjoyed most of them, so I guess that’s one coping strategy—dig into well-loved books from an earlier time that I haven’t read before, or the backlists of authors I can usually depend on.
Another strategy and one I used for years is switching up genres on a regular basis. I usually read three books at the same time and in the past all three would be in different genres—usually one fantasy or YA fantasy, one historical or contemporary romance, and one urban fantasy or paranormal romance.
I’m doing less of that now because recent publishing content is turning me off to most of whole genres I used to depend on. Instead I’m using another strategy: turning to a genre I almost never read in the past, once in a while for an occasional palate cleanser. A few years ago it was science fiction, later YA contemporaries. This year I read three works of literary fiction (two novels and one short story collection). All three landed on my Best of 2022 list. That may have been partly because of the novelty of reading in a genre I rarely dip into.
Rose: There are two people who I’ll credit for getting me out of my recent slump: my brother, who’s a great source of science fiction recommendations (and is much more adventurous in trying stuff on KU); and DiscoDollyDeb who comments here and on other romance websites and is just an amazing source of suggestions and ideas of who to try. Our tastes don’t fully align (Against A Wall is better than Hitting the Wall, and I DNF’d Broken Play but liked Brutal Play well enough) but she’s gotten me to try a bunch of authors I might not have found on my own.
Janine: Rose, you bring up a great point–another good slump buster is when you find a reader whose taste aligns with yours and follow their recommendations knowing that what they enjoyed is likely to work for you. I think that was easier before the proliferation of publishing; when there was a more limited number of books published, more readers had read each book and conversation about individual books was therefore more developed, so it was easier to identify those readers whose tastes were similar to yours.
Jayne: We have some wonderful readers at DA who generously share great recommendations.
Janine: We do. I’ve gotten some great recommendations from DA readers.
Another strategy that sometimes works for me is to dive into a subgenre of a favorite genre that I haven’t explored much before. I’ve been reading a lot more queer books lately and having better luck with them on average than with het ones. The popularity of LGBTQIA+ fiction has exploded in the past few years which means that publishers are supporting those books more and that gives their authors more room to try new things.
Rose: Yes, that is a more interesting part of the genre these days. Another part of the genre where you can often find unusual settings and characters is the inspirational side, and there are typically pretty covers too – but I’m often uncomfortable with the faith-based focus, unfortunately.
Jennie: I think I’m probably not as open-minded about subgenres as some readers, maybe to my detriment. I remember when motorcycle clubs were all the rage, and I just really didn’t and don’t have much interest in them. In general I don’t feel like I’ve read many well-done morally ambiguous heroes in romance. So the “he’s a criminal, for reasons” does not work more often than not.
I’ve also not ever really gotten into the paranormal and fantasy subgenres. There are books I like (even love) in both categories, but I’m not a big reader of either subgenre as a rule and usually need a trusted rec to even tempt me to read them.
Writing this makes me realize that I may be my own worst enemy in regards to my slump(s). Being more open-minded would probably help.
What about you, DA readers? Have you experienced a slump recently? How do you cope with one? And what do you think causes them when you get them?