“Thank you, kind Sir. I simply swooned not at the sight of your naked body randomly walking these fields, rather it was the suspiciously purple color of the sky. Is that L.A. smog?”
Why, yes, I write romance stories. Why is this such a surprise? A surprise that is sometimes coupled with a wrinkle of the nose in that judgy I-smelled-something-bad way. Consider this: romance genre is a $1.08 billion dollar (industry (“Romance Industry Statistics,” n.d.), with a 13% share of adult fiction, and a 39% market share for e-books—impressive numbers, no? So what’s with the attitude when someone says she (or he) writes romance books? Of course, this kind of reaction is usually from people who don’t read the genre; which always brings out my inner snark of “If you don’t know what you’re talking about, just shut it.”
I’m old enough to remember Fabio’s flowing hair featured on almost every cover of a romance novel, with the heroine on her knees, hanging on to the bare-chested Fabio for dear life. I devoured these books when I was younger. In college, before the invention of the internet, I procrastinated by reading “trashy books” (as my husband calls them, in jest of course, as he fully supports my writing about hot men and of course, hot women). I admit, for years after college, I stopped reading this genre. Partly because I had a job that was in hyper-drive, but mostly because I felt that I had outgrown the genre. With the insight of experience, I found the heroines tiresome, the heroes pure a-holes; men whom I would never date in real life, and women whom I wanted to clobber hoping to knock some sense into them. But in the last decade or two, I have seen a resurgence of the genre. Many of the new pool of writers and editors now come from the generation that reaped the benefits of feminist attitudes, thus they shared a frustration for the outdated concept of romance filled with weak females and “rape-y” (that’s a word!) men.
So post-Fabio, the romance genre had expanded to sub-genres that are as diverse as its readers, from sweet romance to fetish ghost stories (yes, apparently that exists). But one thing is certain, most mainstream writers create women that reflect our social milieu of strong, independent women who are now on equal footing with the (their) men. Are there still cringe-worthy, jerky heroes out there (I’m looking at you Mr. Grey)? Sure, there are. But there are also bad non-romance books, some are even downright awful. How come no one is snarking on those books? Why is there still a double standard on the romance genre? It’s frustrating as hell for a writer for her/his work to be considered the stepchild of literature. Fortunately, I don’t write for those people. I write for me. I write for readers who find comfort in a book that tackles a subject matter we can all connect from a basic human level—the need to love and to be loved.
So, when people mean-girl me for saying I write romance, I ask them if they’ve read one recently. Nine times out of ten, they have not. So I encourage them to read the genre because a lot has changed in the last twenty years, just ask the 13% of adult readers who buy romance books to the tune of $1 billion a year.
Reference: “Romance Industry Statistics.” MyRWA: The Romance Genre :. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Sept. 2014.
This blog post was originally posted on www.writingwenches.com on September 24, 2014.