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Dear Author Does a Valentine’s Day News Article Round Up

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There’s a couple of things that I wanted to blog about this morning. First off is the irritating number of press articles about romance as we lead up to Valentine’s Day. This is frustrating for me because we don’t read romances for the “romance”, do we? We read it for the excitement, the conflict, the emotionally satisfying ending. Since when does Valentine’s Day guarantee a happy ever after ending?

I think what sticks in my craw is that the only time that romance novels seems to penetrate (how’s that for a pun) the mainstream media is to a) say how oppressive they are or b) to say how fluffy and silly they are. The articles are generally written by those who have little to no experience with the topic and the tone of the articles are often mocking. This year’s Valentine’s Day articles have taken no different of a tack. The focus this year is that it’s all about super graphic sex. It’s like a revelation to some reporters. Girls like sex too. Who knew?

  • Reuters takes on the sex, sex, sex but contains a quote from Bindel which she gave in the Guardian article. Unfortunately, Reuters calls her Birchel? WTF, Reuters? You are so lazy that you get your quotes from an old news piece and then can’t get the attribution correctly? Use the Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V combo on your computer. It works like magic.
  • Mills and Boons debuts new price point, covers and titles to India audience.
  • National Post cites unnamed pop culture experts as saying that the lust for graphic sex is based on “a cultural desensitization; young readers are more blase and have a morbid fascination with vulgarity, having been brought up on music videos and the Internet.”
  • Christianity Today put out an article about how to overcome your addiction to romances. It begins with the realization that romance novels fulfill a lack of intimacy in one’s life. Recognize and own it, ladies, and you too can kick that bad novel habit.
  • Yet to come is the infamous Washington Post article about the bedrooms of romance writers.

Now that your blood pressure is going up, there were some decent articles out there:

  • Sacramento Bee interviews Celeste Bradley who offers up the quotable bon mot: “Romances are stories of self-realization and the search for fulfilling relationships. Women cannot get enough relationship stories.”
  • Times Online sits down with Mills & Boons’ lone male author, Gill Sanderson. “It’s about love: an absolutely universal emotion. Everyone – well, 95% – has experienced it. I think when people read a Mills & Boon they remember what it was like when they first fell in love.”
  • Independent in Ireland talks to Irish author, Trish Wylie, who states that her biggest pet peeve is “how Mills & Boon is portrayed in the press, is that people will quote things from the 60s and 70s, but that’s not how things are now.
  • NYTimes columnist, Charles McGrath, writes that literary divide between genre fiction and literary fiction is new and unnecessary.

    What we look for in genre writing, Mr. Updike suggested, is exactly what the critics sometimes complain about; the predictableness of a formula successfully executed. We know exactly what we’re going to get, and that’s a seductive part of the appeal. It’s why we can read genre books so quickly and in such quantity, and happily come back for more of the same by the very same author. Such books are reassuring in a way that some other novels are not.

    Does that make them lesser, or just different? Probably both on occasion. But it doesn’t necessarily make them easier or less worthwhile to write.

In some weird synchronicity, today I received a fancy, colorful, very expensive mailing from Harlequin. No, it was not books, it was it’s annual study on romance which Harlequin ships out to media wanks everywhere to further emphasize how romance is all about sex and superficiality. I’m learning to love Harlequin and believe that it is a large and important part of the romance community. But I cannot stand these annual mailings. I really think that these “studies” and the lavish amount of money spent on polling and whatever could be better used to promote romance books in a completely different way.

I wish the publishing juggernaut of Harlequin would take its power and money and make efforts to have romance better received because it can be done. When the one thing that mainstream media receives in mailings or press reports is this annual report and not about its contributions to literacy or the smartness of its readership or the broad reach of its demographic, it simply contributes to the idea that romance books are brainless books for brainless bimbos and perpetuates the stereotypes that those outside the romance community have.

Note: I was going to blog about ethics today but am awaiting some source material which I hope to have this week.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

27 Comments

  1. (Jān)
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 04:47:20

    …the lust for graphic sex is based on “a cultural desensitization; young readers are more blase and have a morbid fascination with vulgarity, having been brought up on music videos and the Internet.”

    Because, you know, this generation invented graphic sexual images. Before the internet no one ever wanted to see porn. O_o

  2. Kerry
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 05:04:37

    Oh, is that the product of Harlequin’s “confession” gathering effort? I barfed over that months ago. I even sent them a list of alternate promotional ideas, such as spotlighting the diversity of romance readers, encompassing all age groups, races, genders, social strata, etc., thus demonstrating the universal appeal of the genre. As opposed to, you know, outing your readers’ admissions to sins, which has fuckall to do with romance.

    Wait, wait… I take that back. Obviously it’s a deliberate effort on their part to eliminate the soft-and-fluffy image of the genre. Thank you, Harlequin, for portraying your readers not as lonely, desperate women living vicariously through your books, but as hellbound sinners. Much better.

  3. Mireya
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 06:42:04

    Have to admit I don’t read articles on romance. After having my blood pressure shooting through the roof a couple of times, I decided that my health was more important than reading ignorant comments from ignorant idiots that have no idea at all about what romance is about and much less about readers of romance (we all are depressed losers), etc. *shrug* Instead of trying to write a comprehensive article, really dig the “dirt” out about romance, they take a few outdated sources, shape the article to what they want it to be and target it to the audience of choice (the audience that considers all of us depressed losers, addicts, sinners, ). I just don’t bother, why should I. You are a braver woman than I am!

  4. Leeann Burke
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 07:52:36

    Great article Jane. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Personally I don’t care what others think or say about romance books. I read and enjoy them because they entertain and I love a happy ending. We have enough of bad endings in the real world. I write them for the same reason.

    That is one cute kitten.

  5. Michelle
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 08:36:45

    I seriously want that kitten.

    I couldn’t believe they posted that letter/story/whatever in Christianity Today. Did you notice on the same page the several ads for romance novels-they looked like Inspirational romance novels but still, can you say hypocrite? Anyway that poor woman has serious mental problems and how nice and easy to just blame it on the romance novels. Grrr. The lack of insight and logic amazes me. But I think it is just similar to some of the hoopla with the Harry Potter novels causing kids to believe in fantasy and lead them on the path to demon worship and witchcraft. I personally think some extreme sects of religion want complete mind control over their worshippers and want to ban any type of reading that makes someone think or give them personal worth or value.

  6. Jennifer Estep
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 08:47:46

    I think what sticks in my craw is that the only time that romance novels seems to penetrate (how's that for a pun) the mainstream media is to a) say how oppressive they are or b) to say how fluffy and silly they are. The articles are generally written by those who have little to no experience with the topic and the tone of the articles are often mocking.

    I’ve noticed several posts talking about how the media only pays attention to romance novels around Valentine’s Day. It’s a valid complaint, but it’s something we can change.

    I took a marketing class (I think it was Louise Ahearn’s class) last year where the instructor suggested that authors contact their local media and tie their books in with other holidays/events. For example, she suggested if you write paranormal romance to send out something like “The Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Vampires” around Halloween. There are a thousand ways authors could do this — we just have to be creative.

    As for the tone/content of the articles, part of it is how the person writing the article sees romance (and genre fiction in general). Most people (including journalists) have no idea how the publishing business works or that romance is the top-selling genre. Then again, most people have no idea how newspapers work, either. Or any other field they are not a part of.

    But part of it is just sloppy journalism. That Washington Post letter made me cringe. As a professional journalist, I would never send a letter like that out to people. You’re not supposed to be funny as a journalist. Professional? Yes. Objective? Always. But leave your idea of a joke at the door. (I work for a daily newspaper as a page designer).

    As for people writing stories about topics they don’t know anything about, well, that’s what being a journalist is all about. If you’re a general assignment reporter for a newspaper, any given day you could cover everything from a city council meeting to a boating safety demonstration to a fire to a hostage crisis. I’ve done all those stories in my career and more. Even if you have a regular beat, you’re still not going to know everything about it. Dance and painting terms alone could confuse the smartest person.

    Journalism is a tough field to be in. Everyone is overworked, underpaid, and chasing the next big thing. And everyone criticizes what you do — even your own grandmother. It’s rather like publishing. ;-)

  7. Lorelie
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 09:10:19

    the lust for graphic sex is based on “a cultural desensitization; young readers are more blase and have a morbid fascination with vulgarity, having been brought up on music videos and the Internet.”

    Huh?

    Someone needs to tell that reporter the original version of Sleeping Beauty.

  8. Katiebabs
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 09:37:39

    I hate V day. For the past 8 years I have worn black on this horrible day.
    But I do like chocolate and I will eat some on this black day. *G*
    Yes, I have issues. :D
    BTW Jane your cartoon is adorable.

  9. Jill Sorenson
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 09:41:07

    Extra media attention is a good thing. Dismissive attitudes and snarky articles aside, what’s wrong with celebrating Romance on Valentine’s Day? Every time romance novels/authors are in the news, another skeptic could be converted into a fan.

  10. Jill Myles
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 09:47:38

    I hate how romance is equated with porn as well, as if we are all sitting around, getting our jollies off with every book we read.

    And while I may read some books to get the jollies off, that’s not EVERY BOOK. Jeez.

    I’ve actually had this argument with my husband before – I tell him romance is more ‘emotional porn’ than actual porn. I honestly don’t care if the book has a single solitary love scene…but I’d better get some emotional sort of gratification through it.

  11. Belinda
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 09:49:49

    You neglected to mention that the National Post article has a glossary!

  12. Robin Bayne
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 09:59:31

    Katie and all, be ware of eating traditional V-day chocolates this year. Just read stores are selling what didn’t sell last year. Bleh.

  13. Katie
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 10:02:51

    Hey Robin!
    I can just imgaine going into my local drugstore and picking up last years chocolate hearts with mold growing on them.
    I am more of a Hershey’s minatures type of gal. Mr. Goodbars…. yum.

  14. Robin Bayne
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 10:59:41

    Me too Katie, especially the dark “Special” bars!!

  15. KCfla
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 11:37:02

    I don’t read any of the V-Day romance articles either. I don’t need any more stress in my life.

    P.S.- I’ve worked for a drug-store chain for almost 25 years ( yes- I AM crazy!) We never “resell” last years stock when it comes to food/candy/eatables. All the leftover stock is reduced after the holiday- or given to charity. No *fuzzy* stuff at our store!

  16. heather (errantdreams)
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 11:46:27

    The pic at the top is perfect, by the way!

    Christianity Today put out an article about how to overcome your addiction to romances. It begins with the realization that romance novels fulfill a lack of intimacy in one's life.

    I have one of the closest marriages I know of. We’ve been married for almost 7 years (together for 11 or 12) and are, if anything, closer than ever. And yet my enjoyment of romances indicates a lack of intimacy?! Nonsense. It’s about plain-old simple enjoyment. I enjoy romances for the happy-fuzzy ‘awww’ factor and the character interplay. I enjoy erotic romances for the heat and excitement.

    Otherwise it would be like saying that when I read mysteries it indicates a dearth of murderers in my life. Or when I read horror it indicates a lack of necessary pain and misery.

  17. Lorelie
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 12:06:37

    Katie and all, be ware of eating traditional V-day chocolates this year. Just read stores are selling what didn't sell last year. Bleh.

    Yet one more argument to go for the good stuff from a real candy store. . .

    P.S.- I've worked for a drug-store chain . . . We never “resell” last years stock when it comes to food/candy/eatables.

    Shhh, I didn’t hear you. I’m gonna go buy expensive chocolate.

  18. lisabea
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 12:11:50

    Jeeze. I just like romances cuz they are entertaining. Who knew I was a desensitized unhappy unfulfilled ho-bag?

    Wait. Don’t answer that.

  19. lisabea
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 12:25:35

    My mother in law always passes out last years candy on Halloween, Valentines Day, and Easter. It’s a tradition. That and not ever eating any candy my mother in law hands out. Just say no to Clark Bars.

  20. Katiebabs
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 12:28:38

    Mr. Goodbars…. Hershey Kisses… peanut butter cups… eating my chocolate while reading scandalous books….

  21. Jill A
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 12:33:03

    That National Post ‘article’ was awful, and to think this is a national (though not very respected) newspaper.

    Books have traded virgin brides for sexually aggressive businesswomen.

    The author obviously did not check out her local bookstore shelves, as virgin brides still have a strong presence in Harlequin titles. The author even mentions rape scenes from the 70′s, but there’s no acknowledgement that, hey, at least we don’t do those as much anymore…

    And the glossary…I have no words. As if the use of similes and metaphors is a strange thing in literature? orz

  22. Sarah
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 20:08:38

    Don’t read the article dissing romance novels, just read the books and have fun….

    I just finished reading one that took me to the pleasurable and seedy sides of sex – whew! It is about relationships, adventure and life's ups and downs..you can download an excerpt here.

    A great read!

  23. Jane
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 23:26:57

    This is a really interesting article by Telegraph which suggests that Mills & Boon reflects society’s mores/values but is inconclusive as to what reflection can be drawn from it currently.

  24. MaryK
    Feb 12, 2008 @ 23:45:32

    I couldn't believe they posted that letter/story/whatever in Christianity Today. Did you notice on the same page the several ads for romance novels-they looked like Inspirational romance novels but still, can you say hypocrite? Anyway that poor woman has serious mental problems and how nice and easy to just blame it on the romance novels. Grrr. The lack of insight and logic amazes me. But I think it is just similar to some of the hoopla with the Harry Potter novels causing kids to believe in fantasy and lead them on the path to demon worship and witchcraft. I personally think some extreme sects of religion want complete mind control over their worshippers and want to ban any type of reading that makes someone think or give them personal worth or value.

    I notice her husband’s ESPN addiction doesn’t seem to be a problem. I wonder if he has daddy issues.

  25. K. Z. Snow
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 00:24:21

    Hey, we make every day of the year Valentine’s Day–no flowers or chocolate or overpriced cards or teddy bears necessary, just a good imagination! (Didn’t see any dumbass media pundit saying that.)

  26. snarkhunter
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 09:35:08

    I collect religious tracts (…what?) and my all-time favorite, which I keep on my desk, is all about how romance novels are ruining my life/chance at marriage/etc.

    Glad to see Christianity Today hopping on that crazy train. /sarcasm

  27. ann vanrosevelt
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 09:21:57

    I was born somewhere between Grace Livingston Hill , Ethel M. Dell (The Sheik) and Emilie Loring, with Mary Radcliffe somewhere in there, and I have mainly read romances since then. I think that it truly IS all about the relationships, and it really does reflect the changes in our relationships and the nature of our culture. I won’t say that’s why I read them, just that that is why I personally find it comfortable to read them. Times change, and we change in them.

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