When I took a freshman creative writing class, the grad student teaching the class made a comment about Harlequin romance novels. She said that she would never want to write for Harlequin and would never tell anyone if she did. The class had been discussing how the Harlequin website was set up so that any author could easily submit a manuscript without an agent, so her comment wasn’t completely out of the blue. But years later, her words have stuck with me.
I’m an avid reader of romance novels. The majority are e-books, but I do pick up the occasional paperback if I find one that really speaks to me. I know how the story is supposed to go: how the characters are supposed to fall in love and how everything is supposed to fall apart just before the happily ever after.
I’ve noticed that romance has a reputation of being a lesser genre. That it doesn’t deserve the same amount of respect as other genres and that only lonely housewives buy the paperbacks off supermarket shelves. The questionable quality of those books seems to reflect that idea. However, the statistics seem to indicate that someone is buying romance novels in huge numbers.
According to market research collected on the Romance Writers of America (RWA) website, romance fiction generated $1.438 billion in estimated revenue during 2012. The next closest was mystery, a genre that brought in an estimated $728.2 million in 2012. For 2013, romance novels hit an estimated $1.350 billion in revenue.
So it doesn’t surprise me that some publishers will sacrifice the quality of their stories in order to compete for a piece of that massive market. And while romance publishers aren’t the only ones who produce bad books (I’ve read plenty in other genres), they stand out because of the demand. Any store that sells books has an entire section dedicated to romance, and publishers need to fill those shelves. Hence accepting less than stellar manuscripts for publication.
Then there’s the “typical” romance reader, who doesn’t really fit the lonely housewife mold. While 91% are women, they tend to be between 30 and 54 years old and make between $50,000 and $99,900 a year. Slightly more than half have a significant other.
Their goal when they pick up a book is the same as readers who prefer other genres. They want a temporary escape into another world. Sure the ending is always the same, and the covers always border on the ridiculous. But romances are fun. I love searching through the rough books to find a diamond, one that makes me question whether or not there’ll be a happy ending. Those make almost every terrible book worth reading.
I think that there’s a major disconnect between the marketability of romance and how it’s viewed. Not only do romance novels appear on The New York Times Bestseller List, but they have a substantial presence there as well. However, the words of the graduate student who taught my freshman creative writing class show that there are people who look down on the genre. And their words might influence a young writer. Someone not yet confident enough in their writing to ignore the criticism.
Anyone who can write, rewrite, and polish a manuscript that’s then accepted by a publisher should be respected, no matter the genre they write. That’s a whole lot more than I’ve done. So I try to be respectful of every genre. Just because I don’t understand or don’t like it doesn’t mean that there aren’t readers or writers who love it.
How do you feel about romance books? What do you think of their negative reputation?