Thursday, January 03, 2008

Respecting Romance

I received a question recently in the blog email account that was really insulting. Now I know the author didn’t intend to insult me, or at least I assume she didn’t intend to insult me, but I couldn’t help but take it that way.

A member of a romance writers group, the reader asked if we could recommend “serious quality writing in this genre.” She continued to say, “Now maybe I am asking for the impossible. Does anyone write really quality stuff in this genre, or simply stuff that will sell. Surely there are writers out there producing quality work that still gets a smile, gives great vicarious sex and a happy ending?”

I’m going to give this author the benefit of the doubt and assume that she didn’t mean it the way it was said, because of course she can’t possibly be saying that there’s no good writing in all of romance, can she?

I’m asked regularly why I think romance doesn’t get the respect it deserves and if that will ever happen. And I’ve been sitting for months trying to answer that question. I guess I hadn’t been insulted lately because now I have some things to say.

First of all, don’t ever imply that all of the amazing authors I represent are simply writing to sell. I have an incredible list of very talented writers and I think all of their work is quality. Of course they are all different and not all might be to your tastes, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t writing quality material. I also have to wonder what your question says about me. Do you honestly think I got into this business to represent crap? C’mon! Give me some credit. I got into this business so that I could represent books I love to read. Sure I need to make sure those books are also something I can sell, but books don’t sell unless the editor and agent buying and selling actually think they are quality.

Romance is not going to get the respect it so aptly deserves until the writers of romance all stand tall and proudly proclaim that they write romance. I know RWA is amazing and I know there are many, many authors proud of what they write. But there seems to be just as many who whisper it under their breaths, who are afraid to admit that they write romance. Why is that? It’s the single most profitable genre in this business; over and over romance dominates the bestseller lists. Thousands and thousands of women and, yes, men read romance novels. Why is it we then feel shame over these amazing books?

I guess some if it must be history, but aren’t we belittling women by saying that books geared toward them are crap? Because I do often think that’s what we’re saying. Listen, there’s bad writing in every genre. There’s bad SF, bad mystery, and yes, folks, literary fiction doesn’t always mean you’re getting quality writing.

I can come up with lots of reasons why I think romance gets a bad rap, but most of it, I suspect, is just plain snobbery. And if you haven’t noticed, it just plain p’es me off.



December/Stacia said...

I agree, it's just plain snobbery. For some reason, writing books that are entertaining and have happy endings is somehow viewed as less serious and important--hack work, something easy the Little Lady can do from home in between soaps and loads of laundry (not that there's anything wrong with watching soaps or doing laundry, either.)

Reid said...

Eh. There will always be people who'll put down certain genres of art simply because they don't see the worth in them, or are just stereotyping based on a few bad apples.

Just let 'em go. If they're not willing to look for quality, then they're not really looking for it at all.

And what's wrong with making money from being a writer? Isn't that the goal of every one of us? No one says "I want to write a brilliant, painstakingly crafted novel that will change the lives of its readers, but I only want to sell a few dozen copies out of the trunk of my car at county fairs while I'm on vacation from my job at the laundromat."

I mean, come on.

Anonymous said...

I agree with this 100%.

I'm also sorry to say that I:

(a) write romance and
(b) don't tell people at my day job about it.

There's a good reason for it. I want tenure. And for every person who will listen, there's at least one over fifty who will not. I'm in a male-dominated, highly analytical field. And so I'm not going to say anything until I have tenure.

Yes, I have talked to Eloisa James about it.

Now, once I have tenure, it'll be a different story. But for now, I keep my mouth shut.

Merry Jelinek said...

Snobbery is annoying in all of its facets, but it will never go away. Like every other catty judgment, it's really geared to make the speaker feel superior - which says a lot more about the critic's character than their intended victim's talent.

The optimum goal of the fiction writer is to make their audience feel the story; whether that emotion is pulled from a work that is literary or mainstream, romance or mystery, the objective is very much the same. I've noticed the same sort of embarrassment from children's authors who often start their introductions with, "I never in a million years thought I would write children's books..."

I've actually said the same thing myself and I think a lot of us who have ventured into writing for children had a love of writing before we found that niche... but it's really not the point - why do we feel the need to justify it to others?

As for the validity of romance as a genre - I find the argument hypocritical. Have the critic name ten of their favorite all time novels and I would bet my eye teeth there is a romance running throughout the story, if not one of the main running themes.

Christine Wells said...

You go, Jessica!

I've never really understood this prejudice against romance. I think a truly intelligent person doesn't dismiss something they haven't bothered to inform themselves about and judged with an open mind. I'd be surprised if any of the journalists and others who like to bash romance have ever read the novels we in the romance community consider to be the best the genre has to offer. And critics outside the romance community seem determined to judge romance against literary fiction, when all it's ever meant to do is entertain.

Of course, many romance writers explore serious themes, but at the end of the day, we're there to give our audience a satisfying read. I don't want to change the world, but if I brighten someone's afternoon, it makes me happy. What on earth is wrong with that?

When I was a lawyer, I made no secret of the fact I was writing romance in my spare time. I found a lot of my colleagues then came out of the woodwork to chat about their creative pursuits. I made friends with people I'd only said hello to in the hall before. Of course, if I thought my job was on the line, I'd probably be more circumspect. No point in being a martyr, after all. But I agree with what Jessica said--we need to respect ourselves before anyone else will. Thanks for a great post!

whimper1823 said...

I for one don't write it, but I don't mind reading it either. Of course, being a cop, I can't go around talking about it with a bunch of guys who are lucky if they read their reports before court let alone any Romance novels, I would be crucified. To me, it's a guilty pleasure sitting on my bed. No different than a playboy or my first look at a breast from when I was a kid. It draws the steamy, lustful imaginated feelings. The only difference, my hormones aren't exactly raging at my age, they are more like a babbling brook. Just my thoughts.

Aimless Writer said...

Some people have minds so tightly shut they'd need a crowbar to open them. Pity them. They are too lazy to go out and explore this wonderful multi- faceted genre.

Chro said...

I have the same issue with writing fantasy. Half the time when I get asked what my book is about, I say, "Well, it's a fantasy novel about..." and their eyes just glaze over with that, 'Oh, that's nice...' look.

What's worse is that this prejudice doesn't just hurt the authors, but the readers, too. Most people wouldn't think twice about reading something like the Da Vinci Code in public, but hand them a bestselling romance or fantasy novel and all of a sudden they start hiding the cover art from everyone around them!

beverley said...

I tell everyone that I write romance. I don't know how you can write something that you are ashamed of. How is that possible. I would imagine that that would somehow affect your writing.

And yes, I totally agree. It's about something women love and do extremely well. Men dismiss it and women who know no better, follow suit to emulate men's attitude. I find it harder to stomach coming from women who, I believe, should not be tearing each other down but building each other up. But we see centuries of pitting women against each other and it continues.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'll cop to it (anonymously, of course). I've never read a romance book, until this moment never planned to read one, and pretty much assume it's formulaic soft porn.

So educate me. Is there a Raymond Chandler of romance writing? A William Gibson? Someone whose prose leaves you breathless, and not just because it's about sweaty sex on a pirate ship?

Honest question from an admittedly prejudiced person.

lainey bancroft said...

Jessica said:

"Romance is not going to get the respect it so aptly deserves until the writers of romance all stand tall and proudly proclaim that they write romance"

Bingo! The trouble with this is that 'romance' as a sweeping label has become difficult to define. Reading the RWR for the last year, I've seen the authors of 'traditional' romance argue against including a book that is not strictly one man + one woman. Monogamy, happily ever after yuda blah...

They want to claim their sub genre and disassociate from others, and in doing so harm the entire genre, although probably unintentionally.
"I write romance, but not that porn crap."
"I write romance but no silly vampires."
"I write romance, but not those goofy bodice-rippers."

Know what I mean?

Lainey, who proudly writes romance. But only the 'good' kind, of course. ;-)

Erik said...

I think it's worse than snobbery, I think it's sexism. Romance is a genre that is invariably assigned to women, which I think is why it gets dumped on so much. It's been a while, but I have read some novels firmly wedged into the "Romance" category that were very well written.

Hint to men - if you get a Romance book as a reccomendation from a date, read it and tell her what you think and why. You don't have to like it, but making good comments will show you aren't a total Neanderthal.

(that might help the genre out of its funk, but mostly men have to stop being jerks, which is a lot to ask sometimes)

Christie Craig said...

Great post, Jessica!

I'm proud to write romance. I'm amazed how quick people put romance down, how they call it trivial, but we all spend a big part of lives trying to get it right. Love, and the relationships between men and women is part of being human. How can that be trivial?


rina-grant said...

I can imagine how you feel!!! I fully agree.

But I wouldn't think it's as complicated as snobbery or sexism. IMHO, it's just plain amateurism. It's a bit like people watching ballet saying "Sure I could prance like this if I had time to spare!"

When I was a _very_ beginning writer I too used to think "Sure I can write like this! No sweat!" :-)))) Only now I fully realise how much professionalism and hard work goes into ANY genre writing -- romance, fantasy, etc -- and I truly admire the authors' work! They do a much better job putting words together than many high-brow one-book wonders.

The writer in question just wasn't professional enough to recognise true professionalism where she saw it.

Merry Jelinek said...

anon 8:49,

How about Nathaniel Hawthorne?

Margaret Mitchell?

The Bronte Sisters?

Jane Austen?

Will those do or are they not highly regarded enough?

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm going to admit to being a romance snob (though I agree I would have been insulted however inadvertently by the letter as well). How about someone pointing me to a romance novel I might test the waters with? The writing has to be great, voice and structure-wise. I read almost exclusively fiction and my favorite authors are Kingsolver, McEwan, Sue Miller, Lamott(novels), Conroy, Murakami.

I honestly wouldn't expect there to be something in the romance genre that I'd really like. But I'm willing to try!

But Merry Jelinek: I've read Hawthorne, Mitchell, Austen, and the Brontes and if they're truly romance genre, I've either misunderstood the genre definition or every lit class I ever took. (Not trying to be a smartass-- just very curious about labels)

eatrawfish said...

Anon 8:49, it's interesting to me that you bring up William Gibson. In an attempt of my own to diversify I've been reading his stuff lately. After finishing one book I found myself thinking, what makes this book more valuable than some 'trashy' romance? The writing is excellent of course, but the plot is pure fantasy and hardly teaches me the meaning of life. The characters are interesting but I don't think I come away with a deeper understanding of humanity.

How do we "measure" the worthiness of a book? I've read plenty of books where the writing was excellent but the plot put me to sleep, or I could predict every next move. Is that a 'better' book than one with OK writing but a plot that keeps the reader engaged?

I guess I find reading too personal an experience to attempt to quantify in any general way.

Elissa M said...

Labels. That's what this comes down to, isn't it? And if a book is labeled "Romance" or "Fantasy" or "Mystery", it can't be as good as a book labeled "Literary", can it? Unless, of course, it's still in print after 50 or 100 years, at which time it magically becomes "Literature" no matter what genre label it originally bore. Authors ought to know better than to judge books by their covers, or labels. Readers, well, I hope they just keep on reading, whatever the label.

Josephine Damian said...

"The Far Pavilions" and "The Woman in White" are classic stand outs for me.

As a teenager with raging hormones (much like whimper1823 ;-)) I read romance, especially Rosemary Rogers. But I have to say, as I've aged, my tastes have evolved. I realized now I was just as interested in the exotic/historical settings of those books as I was in the romance.

Once I got to be more, ahem, experienced, I'd rather read about tragic romances - I found the love stories that did not work out to be less preictable than books with the requisite HEA ending, and therefore a more enjoyable read.

Regardless of genre, I don't want to be able to see the ending coming, or predict it (I can say the same about thrillers).

Angie Fox said...

In my experience, it's been an issue of perception. Many people who have never read romance have this negative image in their heads. So then some of the people that do write romance tend to want to avoid having to deal with that. I have a lot of friends who are shocked I write romance, and then they’re even more shocked when I point out to them that they read romance – especially the guys. It’s really a lot of fun.

If you get the chance, you have to try it, just to see the looks on their faces when they realize, oh heck, those Philippa Gregory books – those are romance? But the one I read is about King Henry VIII’s court. Oh? Historical romance? And JD Robb? And JR Ward? But I pick those up at Target. And there’s no Fabio on the cover, and, and…

There’s no wonder romance is so universally appealing – who doesn’t like a well-told story, with plenty of sexual tension, new places to explore, a satisfying love story and an ending that makes you feel good?

Vivi Anna said...

It comes from years of being misunderstood. Science Fiction writers had the same problems years ago about being considered less than. I think that's changed a bit. I'm not sure if it will ever change for romance on the sheer fact that it is fiction written for women by women.

I have never been ashamed to say I write romance. I even write erotic romance. When I sold to Harlequin, I told everyone. Because hey it's Harlequin, and hey I'm making pretty good money doing what I love.

Want some recommendations:

DRIVEN - Eve Kenin - a fantastic post-apocolyptic romance set in an ice-age with a truck driving heroine

It's my favorite romance of 2007.

Angie Fox said...

Hi, anonymous 10:45. If you like McEwan and Sue Miller, you might want to try Sarah Dunant's "The Birth of Venus," a wonderful historical romance set in medieval Florence.

Kris Eton said...

anonymous -

My recommendation for a relatively 'modern' romance? Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale. Absolutely brilliant...and not a pirate anywhere to be found.

And if Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" was never talked about as romance, I don't know who was teaching your class. That is classic historical romance.

The same character depth, range of emotion, and life struggles can be found in most well-written romance.

Phoenix said...

I, too, was once a literary snob. I read SF but not *sniff* that fantasy stuff. Romance? Puh-lease. Then somebody shoved "Lord of the Rings" into one hand and my aunt's bestselling romance novel into the other. Now I write both romance and fantasy.

Is my writing commercial? I certainly hope so! Is it quality? I work hard on sentence rhythm and word choice, on characterization and atmosphere. I don't write crap any more than Jessica represents it.

But the broadening definition of romance now makes it much easier to find something to your liking that's labeled "romance." Series romance is showing us you don't have to have the happily ever after in every book. Male/male and menage a trois romance are gaining in popularity. You have alpha males and beta males and even were-males. Kick-ass heroines and ditzy, comedic leading ladies. And nearly every genre is represented under romance. To dismiss all of romance with a sweep of your hand is no more accurate than making any other broad generalization.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go put another load of laundry in before my favorite soap comes on. Then I just want to whip out three or four chapters this afternoon...

Anonymous said...

I think what holds romance back are the damned covers. There is the on-going argument that there must be 'bodice-ripper' type covers in order for people to know what the books are about. And that those without pectorals and half-dressed women don't sell as well.

But I say, if you want your genre to be taken seriously, do you really want the covers looking like Playboy magazine? Or Playgirl.

That is my number one pet peeve about romance. I won't buy them in bookstores, read them in front of my children or in any public space, or feel comfortable telling people how much I love certain books...just because of the damned covers?

Why do they have to do that? That is a big reason for the prejudice against romance, in my opinion. It looks like all they are trying to sell is cheap sex, not a good story.

Sally MacKenzie said...

For those of you looking to read romance for the first time, here's the Library Journal's list of best romances in 2007:

Secrets of a Proper Lady by Victoria Alexander
Not Quite a Lady by Loretta Chase
Driven by Eve Kenin
Celluloid Memories by Sandra Kitt
White Lies by Jayne Ann Krentz

viva anna, there's Eve's book! I'm especially thrlled as Eve is a pal of mine. A new writer, too, I think her first book, a gothic written as Eve Silver, just came out in 2005.

If you want to browse through some bestsellers, here's the link to the RWA honor roll.

Poking around the RWA site might open your eyes to the wide variety of the romance genre.

Maya Reynolds said...

Try telling people you write erotic romance and watch the reaction. People invariably respond, "Oh, you write porn."

No, I don't. I write about male/female relationships, using frank and graphic language.

I'm not ashamed of what I write.

Interestingly enough, when I do booksignings, I sell to as many men as I do to women. And guys have written reviews on my "Bad Girl" on Amazon.

Women have come a long way in claiming their place in the world. This is one of the few remaining areas of prejudice. There are well-written romances and poorly written ones--just as there are in every genre.

I'm a professional and expect to be treated as one. When I respond matter-of-factly to those persons who say I write porn, I find most react very positively. When someone sneers at my work, I challenge them to try it. I do not let their attitude color my perception of myself or my genre.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you posted this. I'd actually backed off the goal of submitting to an agent lately. I've been watching a friend of mine submit proposals to her agent, a very well known person who represents awesome writers, and be told "No, it won't sell."
Not "It's not good." or "It needs work." She wants my friend to write the same book that GOT her the agent over and over again.
In other words, urban paranormal fantasies are "in" so write that.
I was VERY nervous about that.
My friend doesn't seem surprised or upset by it. She just writes what her agent tells her to.
I couldn't do that.
It makes me wonder if "what sells" is more important than "what I write".
This post reaffirms something for me. I REALLY want Jessica Faust as my agent.

Erik said...

Labels. Well, as a Taoist, I have no use for labels in the first place, and I don't understand why we have all these "categories". It seems to me that they are designed for people with no imagination.

Ming ke ming, fei chang ming. (The name that is known is not the real name, roughly translated from the Tao Te Ching.)

As far as writing to fit whatever "category" your agent says, this implies that the person is or intends to be a professional author. If they have thier heart set on it, well, I wish them all the best. But I really don't see the point when nearly any other form of writing pays far, far better and offers more steady work.

If someone writes a novel they think needs to be written, for whatever reason, then Mazeltov for them! But writing to sell it? Books don't pay squat, and the run the whole think like a giant scratch-off lottery. If they have a mortgage to pay, I'd advise them to find other sources of revenue.

k.d. knox said...

Good point, Jessica.

I'd also say that people tend to hide their romance reading from the public because of the awful covers! No other genre habitually displays such cheese that borders on pornagraphic. I read romance but alot of times I have to hide them from my kids because the artwork usually depicts a semi-nude couple rolling around on a bed, the ground, against the wall, etc...

I have a deep fear that when a book of mine is published, it'll be ruined at the outset because of the cover, and my inability to control it. If we want legitimacy, we need to have decent presentation. Many a book has been amazing and should have deserved a cover to reflect that.

anon 10:45 said...

Erik, um... isn't "taoist" a label? And perhaps a category? Just a thought. :)

Thanks for the recommendations, all! I will definitely try a couple. And I agree about the covers-- most of what I see just look likes a waste of time waiting to happen. May not be so on the inside but there are a lot of choices out there and I'd tend towards something that tugged at my brain AND heart.

Linnea said...

I suspect it is an old prejudice against the formulaic fluff romance novels of the past.

Candice Gilmer said...

When I first started writing romance stories, I hid it as well, except from a friend. When we talked, I told her that I was afraid of people's reactions to the fact that I wrote Romance, and wouldn't tell people that was what I wrote.

Then she told me a story about her life-- she'd been in a bad relationship and knew she needed to get out of it, but had a hard time finding the strength because her optimism had been sucked out of her.

Then she started reading romance novels.

As she read them, she found women who were in bad situations, and found a way to make it better, with men who really treated the women like they should be treated.

It helped restore her faith.

Now when I work on a romance novel, I don't think about smallish minds turning up their noses to my books.

I think about her, and the women out there like her, who might get some strength and motivation from my stories, and who might learn that there is a better world out there for them.

That keeps me writing.

Michele Dunaway said...

Oh, good grief. Jessica, I'm with you. I'm the proud romance author of 20 novels in 8 years. And no, I don't churn them out.

The bottom line is this, not all movies can be Schindler's List and not all books can be Night. The question comes down to why are you reading the book in the first place?

Romance is a genre that is light, upbeat and funny. You don't pick one up because you want angst or a depression, but because you want a happy ending that's guaranteed. I chose not to read or watch some horror books and movies, not because the works are not good, but because I'm not a blood and guts person.

I would actually say that romance is the hardest genre to write because everyone knows how it will end before it gets started. You give the reader an escape, and make the reader care. It's not automatic.

And have we not heard that James Patterson and both Nicholas Sparks write romance? Or of the queen, Nora Roberts? You can even try to diss them, except they've proved they can write in other genres as well: Roberts as J.D. Robb and Patterson with all his suspense books. I'm sure many other romance authors would--if they chose to do so.

As for the covers, please don't continue the stereotype. I've never had any half naked people rolling around on any of my covers. (I'm still waiting but have given up holding my breath.) And as for sweaty pirate sex, give me Orlando Bloom anytime. Heck, I'll take him as the legolas the elf too.

So, I'll toss one of my own book out there: Hart's Victory, my Harlequin NASCAR release. Tt's very non stereotypical. There's no sex in the book (sorry). All the people who have read it tell me it makes them cry (even though the ending is happy). It's a category romance, and those are different from single titles. It's not romantic suspense, paranormal, or anything but straight romance. Oh yeah, and she was married before and has a kid. No simpering person here.

The romance genre is wide open with books that meet the needs of many readers--there's a type to please everyone. The publishers understand their readers want great, well written reads, but those readers also want to be entertained.

They do not want to be persuaded. Not to be made to feel like crap. Not to judged or forced to think about deep political subjects that are blatantly obvious throughout the piece of literature. If you are expecting that, you may find yourself disappointed. Romance novels uplift. They can be as real or fantasical as the author decides.

With a mystery, you expect it to be solved. With a fantasy you expect to be transported into another world. With a romance, you expect certain things as well. If you haven't read one lately, you have no idea what to expect. It's like saying you hate chocolate without tasting any.

So remember your purpose in reading--as good as Mel Gibson might have made Hamlet look in the movie, I'm not taking Will Shakespeare or Hamlet to bed with me at night. i want to be entertained. I get enough of the classics at work.

(and pardon any typos)

Erik said...

anon 10:45, you are correct. I am normally more careful to say, "If you insist on calling me something, I prefer it be Taoist." It's only a label, and doesn't really peg me in any way that's all that important. Well, I have that obnoxious elusiveness combined with an elusive obnoxiousness that you might expect ... :-)

As for what I expect in a Romance, I think that there are many, many ways that the genre is going. I don't see why there isn't something in there for nearly everyone.

Funny how today over at Nathan Bransford's blog he tells us that over the break there was a big surge in the "male ennui" genre. That's where a guy drifts ala Clint Eastwood's "The Man with No Name" and finally gives up on the world. I think this ties Romance, or anti-Romance (which isn't sneered at) to my ramblings about the Tao Te Ching.

I feel as though a cycle is completed. I can get back to work now. :-)

Diana said...

Lisa Kleypas gave a wonderful speech at the RWA National conference regarding the value of romance. You can listen to the podcast at:

I have been a romance fan since high school. I was babysitting some kids who were already in bed, and I noticed a copy of Jude Deveraux's The Conquest sitting on a coffee table. I couldn't put it down. The writing was beautiful, the characters complex. And ever since that Jude Deveraux book, I have been a romance reader because, more than any other genre, romance novels are built on characters you really like. By the end of the book, they're like old friends you adore, and you're cheering for them.

I would like to point out that when I was in high school, one of my English classes had a vocabulary-building segment. We had to find vocabulary words (the kind that show up on the SAT and ACT) in print. I could always find them in romance novels. My teacher commented that it said a lot about the quality of romance novel writing that I, a romance reader, turned in far more vocabulary words than anyone else in my class.

Anonymous said...

I wrote that little piece that Jessica has quoted, and I am really blown away by the fact that it has been so upsetting to her. I would just like to pick up on a few comments. But firstly I would just like to say a couple of things about myself. I am a budding romance writer. At present I write crappy stuff, but I have aspirations to become much better. I am well aware that the genre is not intending to be high art, but I feel that there are a lot of books that I have started and could not go far into, because they were of very poor quality. And I would defy all those who agree with Jessica to tell me that they have not experienced more than a little of this themselves.

Back to what Jessica has written.

Firstly. I am struck at the intensity of emotion in this post. And sitting on it so long. I genuinely made this enquiry of Jessica as I truly believe that in any genre, there is the good and the bad. And I was advised to seek out writers whose work I loved, and finding that difficult, I decided to short cut by asking Jessica for some direction. Little did I know....

Secondly, respect. I want to write successfully in this genre. I am no fool. Why would I want to write in an area that I would regard as universally crappy. I don't feel this way. In some ways, I think that the genre may be suffering a little from its own success. The genre needs an amazing supply to fulfill the need. I know that when I read crime voraciously, I would read almost any. Just to get my hands on it! For quite a while I lost my discrimination. I just wanted the supply. Happily,or sadly, I am over that phase. I am getting older. Time runs out. I want better quality stuff for myself if I can get it. If that means supply is reduced, well so be it. I am finding that I feel this way about most aspects of my life now. I am 55.

Jessica. I am thinking of that thing about the lady protesting too much. I am so bewildered that it has had such an effect.

Thirdly the thing about belittling women. Jessica, I am an ardent feminist. I applaud and enjoy all the advances that women have made. And I also support their right to read any damn thing they want. I live partly in my head in a wonderful fantasy world, and it certainly doesn't reduce the quality of work that I produce in my current profession. I have two degrees. I paid for them both myself. I have put every meal into my own mouth since I was sixteen. And I am proud of that. And fantasy and fiction still figure in my life. I really meant it that I want to read wonderful stories, beautifully written, with great sex and happy endings.

Lastly, I am afraid that I do fall into the category of women that keep their romance writing secret. I know this is unfortunate, but I am hoping for a few points on the board first, so that I can temper the news when I broadcast it!!!!

I hope you will all excuse any typos etc. I have written this quickly, and don't want to go back and censor myself.

Vive le (la?) romance.

Yours anonymously, as always.

Jordan Lapp said...

Is it just snobbery?

I think romance and fantasy both suffer from that kind of disparagement, and I think formula is at the root of the problem.

When outsiders think of fantasy they think of countless purile Tolkien knock-offs, and disregard the Mievilles, the Wolfes, and the Gaimans.

Perhaps it is the same for romance? Just like Tolkien and fantasy, many romance novels are nothing more than "Gone With the Wind" knockoffs, aren't they? While people who are steeped in the genre can point to dozens of examples of writers who are forging new paths, the general public just sees that formula.

Merry Jelinek said...

Anon 10:45,

I wasn't trying to be obnoxious, I was trying to make a point. If you've read Mitchell, Hawthorne, Austen, and Bronte, you've read classic literature that also happens to be romance.

Your Lit classes most probably touted Hawthorne as an author whose fiction, 'showed the human condition', 'brought to the page the human heart', or some such high praise... Hawthorne, himself, considered his work Romance, and said so proudly. The fact that critics and scholars found merit in it doesn't take it out of the realm of romance.

The thing is, we need to know what genre our work falls into because that's the way it needs to be sold; by which shelf it will sit on. Books that are continuously stocked over decades are considered classic literature, but in order to be widely read in the first place, a majority of them were considered commercial fiction of their time... they keep being widely read because they are enjoyable....

I'm not saying anyone has to go out and buy this or that kind of romance, or any genre, I'm only saying that drawing a line of merit by the shelf a book is stocked on is a bit silly...

People today quote Shakespeare to feel intelligent - in his day it was crass and appealed to the lowest of the masses. Maybe after today's leading romance authors have been gone for 100 years, people will quote them to appear smarter.

Tammie said...

Wow what a loaded question to start off the year.

I think sometimes the disrespect for romance comes from the demands of always having a happy ending or the over the top dramatic covers.

I'll admit, those covers often keep me away regardless of how excellent the writing - okay that makes me a snob -sorry. I do respect the genre though - its been around forever - you just have to respect that!

This person just seemed frustrated - as a writer you then knock the genre that isn't letting you in and as a reader you throw everyone in the same boat and make grand statements that nothings worth reading. Whatever.

People have been looking at romance for years and are puzzeled at its endurance and puzzeled at its critics who say it is not to be respected.

And I agree with reid and others who want to know what's wrong with wanting to make money - money is not a dirty word.

Diana said...

Please do listen to the Lisa Kleypas speech, anonymous. She talks about how good romance is about a woman finding a man who respects her, loves her, and gives her the sexual fulfillment to which she is entitled.

Anonymous said...


It's me again. The monster of the piece. I would just like to thank those who posted a comment and made good suggestions of material I should read.

And Merry Jelinek. Do you have any good suggestions of high quality contemporary romance. That is what I am most interested in.

And Jessica? Do you have any reading suggestions?

Vivi Anna said...

My question is this??? Who are you trying to get respect from? The general public?

I think the fact that romance outsells all other genres shows some respect.

If you respect yourself for writing what you love, then that is all that matters, in my opinion. I write to sell books. I sell books. I get good reviews. I get great fan mail. I have amazing friends in the industry. I'm having fun doing what I do well.

Am I going to win a nobel prize in literature? Nope. Am I going to be on Oprah? Nope. Do I care? Nope. If you do, anon, then romance is not the genre for you to be writing in.

BookEnds, LLC said...

I think the recommendations given here are all great. Unfortunately though, few of them represent the current market. If you want to write in any genre you need to know what the readers of that genre are currently reading, buying and liking (not what was popular 10, 15 or 100 years ago). And most importantly you need to love them too. It doesn't make sense for anyone to write a book that they don't understand and that means writing romance, fantasy, business books, or memoirs. You need to know the market and like to read the market to truly connect with readers and write it yourself.

As for my recommendations of course the first thing I would suggest is to peruse the BookEnds web site and pick from the quality books we represent. If you honestly can't find anything there that you like then I would guess that we aren't the right agency for you.

Outside of that I'm not sure I can give you any recommendations without first knowing more about the types of books you like to read, the authors you enjoy and the writing style you prefer.

I also find for me it often depends on a mood. This summer I read a lot of historical romance, and thrillers, right now I'm in a women's fiction and contemporary romance phase. Some books I am enjoying more than others and a few I quit midway through. I think that's the nature of being a reader.


Janet said...

Interesting stuff. It doesn't often happen that I read a comment trail.

I must confess, tacky covers and several Danielle Steele novels turned me off romance too. I guess every other time I've cracked the covers of a romance, I must have hit a bad one. But I persisted in believing there must be some good ones out there, so I'm grateful for the list.

Anonymous said...

She talks about how good romance is about a woman finding a man who respects her, loves her, and gives her the sexual fulfillment to which she is entitled.

And I should read this why?

whimper1823 said...

While I agree with you Jessica on most aspects of your second entry, I think you under emphasized the part where we as writers have to like what we are writing. I think if you begin to write what you think people will buy, you miss the train completely. In order for you to sell it to an agent, you have to be completely devoted to your work. Essentially, you have to sell it to the agent who in turn must sell it to a publisher. Missing any of these factors, spells doom.

On the other hand, I don't think you should limit yourself as a writer to any one Genre. You might have this great concept, excellent, well developed characters that just don't seem to fit in your Genre of choice. Instead of trying another Genre, a writer might try to force them into a Genre where they are more constricted, where if they put them somewhere else, the character begins to breath.

As far as writing something different and unique that may or may not sell, I think every one should try it at least once. Correct me if I am wrong, which I very well may be, since I am pretty new to all this, but isn't that what Harry Potter was? Something new, something never before read or written? Isn't that why they are so popular in both print and movies?

Nancy A. said...

True confessions. I used to be one of those snobs who look down their nose at romance novels--but, no more! I now write historical mysteries with a generous dollop of romance, and have had some eye-opening experiences. A few millennia ago, I submitted a partial of my first novel to a small press, which was subsequently rejected. When I asked for comments, one that came back said the ms. "read like a romance." Why, I wondered, would that be a basis for rejection? The novel's tone was light and bouncy, a little like Elizabeth Peter's (not nearly as good, I hasten to add), and the comment made me realize that many of the mystery writers I most liked, such as Peters, straddle the line between mystery and romance.

I also entered the RWA-sponsered Daphne DuMaurier contest twice (the first and second novels) and received incredibly helpful and supportive feedback. The judges obviously took a lot of time and care with my submission and their comments became the basis for extensive rewrites (thank God the small press rejected that earlier draft!). The judges were anonymous, so I was unable to thank them, but their feedback has made all the difference. If I succeed in getting published, it will be due in large part to their constructive criticism and suggestions. Daphne judges, whoever you were, thanks!

Chumplet said...

Today I went into the bank to deposit my first royalty cheque instead of using the ATM because it was in American funds and of course I'm in Canada.

I told the teller where the cheque came from. She was curious to know what I wrote and without hesitation I said "It's a romance". I didn't hesitate and I didn't say the words with an apologetic tone.

She was genuinely pleased for me and I left the bank feeling very proud.

Aimless Writer said...

All these comments are soooo true. When I first told me brother (an editor for a major newspaper) that I was writting romance the first words out of his mouth were, "you mean a bodice ripper???" I was shocked! Otherwise, he's very open minded. I replied, "you really don't know today's romance novels."

Anonymous said...


Monster here. Thanks for that comment. I agree that you need to love the genre to want to write in that particular genre. But I still maintain that within every genre there is the good, middling and downright bad. My problem has been in finding the good.

One that kind of suited me was 'No place like home' by Barbara Samuel. I know you might classify this as women's fiction, but as we know early who the hero is, and we have a satisfying resolution of all the issues, and the classic happy ending, I believe it also fits the criteria of romance, even if it is not fit, scrictly speaking, within the categories of such publishers as Harlequin.

As I recall, I wrote more within that email that I sent you, including the fact that I had enjoyed Jennifer Crusie's 'Anyone but you'. But hey, I do love basset hounds!@#$!!! Was ages ago, so can't say for sure what else I did write.

And the business of representation. I don't recall asking for, or suggesting that you represent me. Hey. I have nothing to show but a strong inclination to see what I can do, and with a bit of luck put some actual quality work where only my words are so far.

I have enjoyed your blog for the wonderful insight you give to the business of an agent, publishing directions, why you choose some, and why you reject others. Please keep up that good work.

Relax everybody. I hope you all continue to love what you do and to have great success at it.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Jessica,

I'm so sorry if my comments brought your post a bit off track - it wasn't my intention.

I agree wholeheartedly that you should not only be familiar with your genre, but enjoy it as a reader.


I don't write romance, though I've read more than a few titles that I've enjoyed over the years, I read far more middle grade, women's, and other genres in the recent past... I like Jessica's advice, that you look to current examples in her list or by recommendation of romance authors who are inticately involved in the market - I think they'd probably have a wider array of recommendations for you in the more recent romance offerings.

If you really want recommendations from me for some reason, I'd be happy to put together a list of some of the ones I've liked, though they may be a bit older in some cases. Just pop by my blog.

Anonymous said...

I read science fiction exclusively from the time I was a child until I graduated from high school. Well, science fiction and whatever I was made to read for class, lol...

Then I got to college and for my own reading I wanted something lighter. I read romances. Sorry, but that's what it felt like to me. A great escape. I read thousands of romances in those four years. Contemporary, historical, you name it. I subscribed to several lines and got boxes and boxes of them every month. I loved it.

After college, I cancelled all my subscriptions, went to the bookstore and bought Thomas Wolfe's _Look Homeward Angel_, and began what has been twenty years of reading literary fiction. I have not read a romance since.

My first book will be published in the fall. It's science fiction.

usagibrian said...

If it's any consolation, it's everywhere. Witness the The Geek Hierarchy. There's a version I've seen for clowns as well. And don't get me started on the way people, especially theatre people, treat professionals who do children's theatre. That doesn't make the original question any less insulting,
but as the saying goes, don't ascribe malice when ignorance suffices as an explanation.

Jeannie Ruesch said...

Romance novels aren't for everyone. But for those of who read, write and love them, there is nothing quite like picking up a book that promises a great roller coaster ride to the happily ever after.

I write romance with the same pride I had when I carried Kathleen Woodiwiss books into my high school (way back when) and read them during lunch. (Well, I did hide them from the teachers.)

Part of what I love about romances - both writing AND reading them - IS the happily ever after. I trust it. Sometimes I NEED it. It never lets me down.

Anonymous said...

"Just like Tolkien and fantasy, many romance novels are nothing more than "Gone With the Wind" knockoffs, aren't they?"

Uh, no. Not in the least. And have you read gone with the wind, with Scarlett's multiple children, more than the 2 hubbies that are shown in the movie? Scarlett was a woman trapped in a man's world of strictly defined societal conventions who comes across as selfish and bitter in her attempt to survive and flourish. Not today's romances at all.

"But I still maintain that within every genre there is the good, middling and downright bad. My problem has been in finding the good."

That's true in any genre, and only tells me you haven't been reading enough. I can recommend to you books and so can anyone here, but it all depends on your and my definition of good. They could be different and polar opposites. Thus, it's already doomed to fail. Just get out there and try some books until you find that one that does it for you. It might take a while, but like all good things, it will happen.


Monster, it sounds like you want a shortcut, and there is no shortcut. "Recommend a book I'll love" is the equivalent of "guess what I want to eat for dinner." If you don't know your own taste, you can't expect anyone else to.

You must read widely. Through that process, you will discover which books are to your taste ("good") and which aren't to your taste ("bad"). You should be learning from both.

Head to the library. Ask the the librarian to direct you toward straight contemporary romance, if that's where you want to focus, and take home as many as you can get away with. If you read fifty books and can't find anything you like, you're probably looking in the wrong direction.

Kate Douglas said...

Try telling people you write EROTIC romance! I love what I do and I'm good at it. I think my love for the genre comes through in my work as well as my conversations with people outside the business. When someone tries to put me on the defensive, I've learned to turn their comments around. Face it, who can argue with a GRANDMOTHER who writes really sexy books with a good plot and a satisfying and romantic happy ending? LOL! Believe me, I always win, and I will always walk away from any discussion with my head held high. There aren't a lot of authors out there who can say they get thank you notes from husbands...

Anonymous said...

I don't believe the lady was trying to insult you. Years ago, when Rosemary Rogers made it big, I started reading romance to find out how the trick was done. And I ploughed through a lot of stuff I am sure you would have tossed into the crap can. I just could not stomach the craven heroines, always stutteting and cringing and being rescued by males who went way beyond alpha - maybe all the way to omega. I know from reading their remarks that some of your writers feel the same way, and I suspect that you do as well.

Maybe the trick is not to take someone else's taste in reading personally. I never have been much of a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but anyone who took that statement personally would completely misunderstand it.

Heather B. Moore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heather B. Moore said...

I loved "The Woman in White" too. One of my all time favorites.

I just don't get all the negative vibes about romance, or romance writers.

Life is a romance. Just because some books have romance as the central element doesn't make them less readable, or less intelligent.

But I do have several romance writer friends who are hesitant to say they write romance. Maybe this can be the focus of the next RWA ;)

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem is predictability. When you read literary fiction, anything could happen. You could get a happy ending, you could get a tragic ending, you could get a blah ending. Your main character could die, do something morally reprehensible, or save the world. No guarantees. You might find the writing style to be impenetrably dense or weird or brilliant.

Romance? Not so much. Yes, there are "down" endings available now, but they have to warn you about it going in. Yes, there is as much variation on a theme as you can imagine in romance, but the theme remains the same. The story will feature a central romantic relationship.

The romance novel serves its reader, which is fine. The reader buying a romance novel knows what he or she wants to experience. The literary novel serves its author. Buying a literary novel means you're willing to experience whatever the author wants to dish out.

To make the original rant that much darker, it's not just the romance novel that lacks respect in the literary world; it's the romance reader.

Edita A. Petrick said...

I never tell anyone I write romance anymore - and I'll tell you why. I'm an engineer - it's what pays bills and keeps my kids in college since I'm a single mom. Four or five years ago, attending a business meeting of consultants on a government contract, I saw a good promotional and marketing opportunity - to introduce my other side, as a writer. During social hour, I saw my opportunity and 'confessed' that I write romance then handed out my other business card. A female colleague took it, studied it for a while then turned her attention to me. She scanned me better than an MRI machine and then said, "But how can you write trash like romance when you don't even dress sexy?"

Yeah, it was a business meeting but we were at the socializing stage...obviously, my fault for assuming too much. I didn't have an answer and gave myself a mental whack for poor judgment and opening myself to ridicule in a crowd of business associates.

Romance - a genre everyone loves to bash. Sigh. Edita.

Chessie said...

I have a confession to make.

I don't like Thomas Kinkade paintings. Every time I look at them, I cringe inside. I see the stores in the malls that do nothing but sell his work, and I shake my head and think, what is everyone thinking?

I'm a modern art kind of person, though I deeply love the expressionists of the 1880's through the turn of the century. I decorate my home with paintings with bold colors and dynamic lines.

It's what I like. I look at a Kinkade painting and I see nothing but "pretty" colors in a "pretty" picture.

But I'm sure that those pretty pictures make someone happy because it makes them feel soothed and taken away into a world that is calm and pastel.

I imagine a lot of people feel the same way about romance, and I've come to the conclusion that I have to let them feel that way.

Because I can't stand Thomas Kinkade.

I fight really hard with my own internal thoughts, because I see someone whose house is plastered in his paintings and I bite my tongue before I can say, "How can you like that (insert appropriate word here.)

But then I think of the people that say, "How can you read that fluffy garbage." And I feel guilty.

I can be just as judgmental, I'm just a nasty you-know-what about art, not reading materials.

No matter what anyone says to me, no matter how much they point out the "light", I do not like it, and I will never like it.

Some people will never like romances. That is fine. I have to let them.

However, I have looked at Many Kinkade paintings. (often against my will, but that is beside the point) More importantly I've thought about exactly why I don't like them. I looked and I gave them a chance, and I bought the art that made me happy instead.

It is people who have never read any romance, or who haven't read one in at least a decade, then spout off about how it is garbage that really get my goat. That is belittling.

As much as I don't like Kinkade, and I might have nasty thoughts about those paintings fueled by my annoyance with them, I won't belittle them out of respect for romance of all things. And I'm certainly not going to prop up my own intelligence by saying that my art is "worth more intellectually" than Kinkade. I don't need to prop up my intelligence at the expense of others. I got plenty of smarts, thanks. ;)

Unfortunately, there are those that do need to feel superior by touting their literary achievements in their reading life. That is fine, they are all made out of the same words.

Just like it is all the same paint.

The only difference is the opinions, and how people choose to express them.

~Nancy said...

"Well, it's a fantasy novel about..." and their eyes just glaze over with that, 'Oh, that's nice...' look.

OMG, that's so true! I was once talking to my brother-in-law's wife just about reading a fantasy novel, and her eyes glazed over. She also said something like, "I don't read fantasy. I prefer real stuff."

Oy vey. I mean, she's a sweet, funny lady, but, jeez...

As to romance...I hate to admit it, but I used to have a closed mind about that genre and about writers who wrote in an already-created world (think along the lines of the Star Trek novels).

It's been a long time since I've thought like that. I now have respect for all writers, no matter what genre (and I think those who have to write in an alread-created world have it doubly hard, as they have to cleave to alread-created characters, etc.; at least I get to create my own characters).

And, like Jessica said, there's crappy writing in ALL genres; romance doesn't have dibs on it.

I say do what I did: Spend your time doing research on some good writers boards. Go ahead, try your hand at romance or some genre you laugh at or think is easy to write; then have that critted by someone who's read a lot in that genre.

Hopefully, it'll open your eyes, and you'll realize that this writing thing is hard no matter what genre you want to pursue.

Judy Griffith Gill (judyinthejungle) said...

Janet said:
"I must confess, tacky covers and several Danielle Steele novels turned me off romance too. I guess every other time I've cracked the covers of a romance, I must have hit a bad one."

To begin with, Danielle Steele does not write romance! I don't know how many ancient books you might have picked up in your church used book sales, but most of those covers people used to find so embarrasing have gone the way of the whooping crane. I've had 46 romance novels published and only one had a cover I felt was bad--and that, not because of any heaving bosoms or the like, but because the male protagonist, the only one pictured on the cover, looked terribly ill.

Judy Griffith Gill

Judy Griffith Gill (judyinthejungle) said...

One more comment on respecting romance: We recently had a discussion of this on Novelists, Inc. which morphed into an even better discussion about being recognized in public, receiving kudos and thanks from fans. It was an uplifting experience to share those moments with others.

Judy Griffith Gill