Wednesday, August 8, 2012

IN DEFENCE (ONCE AGAIN) OF ROMANCE WRITING

After being on the highest of highs following the American conference, I hit the ground with a thump this week after a thoughtless comment on one of my lists, from a male, I shall call Mr. X,  (no names, no pack drill) that derided both women and romance writers in the single strike of the keyboard (I do miss the swipe of a pen...!). 





You know something?  I am not ashamed to call myself a Romance Writer. I am out and proud. 

I like being around other romance writers. It is my tribe. It is a place where people write happy stories and they tend to be happy people. 


When I wrote my first book I didn't even know I had written "a romance". I had simply written a story -- the sort of story I liked to read with plenty of action, a dashing hero, a strong heroine and, most importantly a happy ever after ending. I didn't know that books had "labels" and if you didn't fit neatly under that label you were condemned to a marginal land where you could never be published. 

What was worse I didn't realise that by adopting one of the labels ("Romance") I would be condemned to a world of the perpetual lip curl.

A friend read my manuscript (written on our primitive computer using good old Word Perfect 5.1), declared it readable and suggested I joined the Romance Writers of Australia because they had contests for stories such as mine. I entered it and that year came second, went to my first conference, learned who Norah Roberts was and a romance writer was born...Only there was a problem, saying I was a romance writer out loud was almost as hard as I imagine it would be saying I was a born again Christian. People looked at me in a strange way (and I learned the lip curl) and I found myself making mumbled excuses and trying to explain my work as "really more historical than romance". 

The facts are there on the Romance Writers of America website for anyone who wishes to read them. If you like statistics...here they are. In short Romance Fiction accounts for $1.36 billion in sales each year - the largest share of the consumer-book market. More than a quarter of all books sold are romance and are read by approximately 75 million people each year. The nearest genre fiction (Mystery) doesn't even come close. If you want an indication of the popularity of romance fiction, here is a photo from the Literacy Signing put on by Romance Writers of America just a few weeks ago... Have I missed the point, but why is writing romance a bad thing...?




Many, many writers  make a good living from writing romance. How many other writers can claim that? 

And you know something -- scratch any book genre, literary or other and I bet you find a relationship at its heart. It may not have a HEA but I'm betting there are two characters in that story who are attracted to each other. Romance is about the fundamental of human needs, relationships. It is about love. It is about overcoming obstacles. Even Mr. X's books have love at their heart (I know because I looked him up). So why did he feel he had  to dismiss a group of women writers just because he considered them "romance writers" and therefore somehow unworthy?


Not your preconception of a romance writer?
In my stint as President of Romance Writers of Australia I came across this attitude often -- mostly from the press. Some cub reporter would be sent to interview me, no doubt imaging Barbara Cartland or worse, a housewife in curlers and slippers (they are UGG boots NOT slippers!). In a bored voice, she (or he) would ask..."And what do you do for your real job"? (Yes...they did say "real" job). When I answered "I'm a lawyer", you could almost hear their eyes widening and their back straightening as their preconceptions of romance writers flew out of the window.

Dear old Babs...she didn't really do us romance writers a lot of favours, but by jingo she sold a lot of books!


So what did I do about Mr. X?  No point entering into a debate with people with those sort of preconceptions. All you can do is politely point out their mistakes of fact and walk away. They will continue to believe what they want to believe or they may think "Perhaps I was wrong?"

2 comments:

Louisa Mack said...

Well said Alison! And I am yet to meet someone who doesn't want to be loved and love in return so you do have to wonder what their fuss is about.

Alison Stuart said...

Thanks for your comment, Louisa. If you survive the "What do you write?" question, it is inevitably followed by "Where do you get your ideas from?" and "How much money do you make?" Sigh......