For years I never told people my secret. I kept it between myself and my laptop. No one knew, suspected, or had any inkling what I did with my free time. Then one day, quite by accident, I let it slip. The look I got from the person I told was comical and just this side of insulting.
“You write WHAT?!?” I was asked.
“Romance,” I replied.
“Why would you write that kind of book? You’re happily married and successful.”
I asked what that was supposed to mean and what connection it had to the kind of book I liked to write. The response floored me. “Romance books aren’t very interesting. I mean, the plot is always the same. Nothing new ever happens. They’re not very stimulating.”
Okay, did I say just this side of insulting?
Romantic fiction has gotten a bum rap for a number of years, yet the sales statistics are staggering. Over 1.5 billion – that’s billion with a capital B – dollars in revenue in 2012. Compare that to its next highest competitor of mystery sales at just over 7 hundred million, and you can safely say romance sells. So why the bad rep? Why do people – professional writers included – feel that romance novels are the second class citizens of fiction?
You can probably get ten different reasons if you ask ten different people, but I’ll tell you the ones I’ve personally been told by friends and acquaintances.
“I don’t like books that have a lot of explicit sex in them.”
“The basic story line is always the same. The ending, predictable.”
“If I’m gonna buy a book, I want to read about more than just the two people in the story.”
“I don’t like mushy writing.”
These are actually things that have been said to me when I asked. I’d like to address them individually.
“I don’t like books that have a lot of explicit sex in them.” This is so stereotypical that I’m pissed off I even have to address it. Romance novels come in all degrees of heat. Everything from inspirational novels, where the two “love interests” don’t even kiss, to erotica, and everything in between. Some romance novelists are known for their heat level, jacking it up high and then cooling it down, just to fan it again. This is a normal romance roller coaster. The characters don’t hop into the sack on page one ( well, some authors in erotica do that). Their relationship grows in the novel until it reaches a point where the author either lets them act on their sexual attraction, or finds ways to keep them apart – interested – yet apart. It’s not all sesexsex on every page. That would be a boringly clinical book if it were, with nothing vested in the characters. You might as well read a sex manual.
“The basic story line is always the same. The ending predictable.” Part of this statement has a smidge of truth – the last sentence. Almost all romance novels end the same way – with the heroine and hero discovering that they want to spend the rest of their days together. Marriage is usually the end product, but not always. The first part of the sentence is just flat out wrong. The basic story line of every romance novel is not the same. Sure, you have two main characters whom you’re rooting will fall in love, but how they get there, how they go on that journey, is different from book to book, character to character. Just like every person in real life is unique, every character in a novel is as well. Every person’s journey is unique, just like every character’s is. Nothing in life is predictable and neither are romance novels.
“If I’m gonna buy a book, I want to read about more than just the two people in the story.” This statement is surely made by a person who does not read romance. Yes, all romance books have two love interests. But just like in real life, there are people surrounding those main characters. Parents, siblings, friends, bosses, enemies and co-workers. Unless your story takes place on a deserted island and the main characters are shipwrecked, you’re gonna have more than two people in the story. Those secondary characters have their own story lines as well, again just like in real life. How they all intersect, intertwine and effect one another is the basis of sound story telling.
“I don’t like mushy writing.” Well, neither do I. Nor do I read it. What I read is dialogue that sounds natural, as if the two people were speaking in my own living room to one another. What I read is a plot that has a beginning, middle and resolution that satisfies me as the reader. I don’t read flowery sentences and purple prose, or any kind of drivel that makes no sense and makes my groan. I read well written, well plotted, superbly spoken works of talented writers. That these books have as their main premise a romance in them is frosting on the cake as far as I’m concerned.
Romance readers know what they want in a good story and romance writers strive to give them that with each and every book they pen. Numbers don’t lie and romance novels are here to stay.
Thank goodness for that.