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Romance Needs a Makeover

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Romance is an easy target for dismissal by critics, both insiders and outsiders alike. Respect that the genre deserves isn’t being earned despite the tremendous buying power that the genre readers command. Science fiction and mysteries are more honored and more respectable by mainstream press and critics.

This past summers brou ha ha over the costume arose out the anger of authors such as Nora Roberts and Jennifer Crusie at how the costume was all that the press could talk about and how it diminishes the genre as a serious concern.

There have been alot of reasons tossed around as to why the romance genre does not get respect: It’s written by women. It’s about love. It features the a happy ending. It’s formulaic. It’s about sex.

The problem that I see is much more cosmetic. It’s the titles, the covers, and the whole package that is put out there for everyone to see. With the majority of non romance readers and with the common misconception about what romance actually is (i.e., whenever LKH is referred to as a paranormal romance author, I cringe and not just because I think LKH’s writing has totally gone in the shitter, but because that is not what romance is – group orgies and woman with unlimited power).

I don’t think the genre will be taken seriously until there is a shift in the covers, the back cover blurbs and the titles. The book by Joanna Bourne is so delicately wrought and so intelligently written that I believe it could stand up to a serious literary critique but with its man chest cover, who would take it seriously. For non romance readers, the cover already characterizes the book as fluff.

I am much more hard on those within the publishing industry than I am on those outside of it. Genre authors, publishers and editors should know better than to make scurrilous statements about the romance genre based solely on the covers, the sex of the writers, the formulaic constraints of a genre.

Can you really blame the outsiders, though, for creating negative assumptions when the main exposure to romance is the factory-like, horribly named books with the clinch cover or the man titty cover? When the major representative of our industry from the reader point of view is RT and its man-a-tastic festival of oiled chests and pleather?

You can’t blame the outsiders for our negative image. We’re part of it by accepting the covers and titles, making excuses for our deficiences, attacking without questioning. We can, however, be part of making it more respectable. By allowing spirited debate. By acknowledging our flaws. By speaking out about issues that we think are important to the issue of romance as a genre.

It’s not about keeping certain genre topics out, i.e., not permitting the forced seduction books. Those are obviously a cherished part of the genre and should be given their due. But there are changes, particularly cosmetic ones, that could happen within the genre such as better covers.

Ned is currently reading the Golden Compass series but from October and November he read nothing but romance novels: Meljean Brook, Claudia Dain, Shana Abe, CL Wilson. I asked him if he felt like he was a romance reader now. He looked at me curiously and said, “I guess if that is what romance books are, then I am a romance reader.”

The stories within the covers have universal appeal else they wouldn’t sell so well. Shouldn’t the covers and titles reflect that? Shouldn’t the image of the genre reflect that?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


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