Discourteous Discourse & Why Erotica Is Killing the Romance Genre
Is criticism or questioning always discourteous? Can we have intelligent disagreement or will it also devolve into a catfight. Alternatively, is all female centered disagreement automatically termed a catfight? Karen S brought to the blogosphere’s attention the interview of Jill Barnett over at The Book Bitches. I have some thoughts about Ms. Barnett’s comments (the author of the delightful Bewitching) that I am going to expound upon below. But in my attempt to get a clarification, I was smacked down by the blog owner, in the nicest way possible.
Mrs. Barnett is a very gracious lady, I doubt she will come here and “have it out” with anyone over what are her views and personal opinions –" neither would I allow it.
She has her way of thinking and expressed it very eloquently in this interview. She is entitled to it and need not explain herself to anyone here (if she wishes to do so elsewhere that's her prerogative). . . .
I am very much for free speech and all that, but I WILL NOT have one of these tasteless bloggers-readers-authors catfights in my home. I hope you understand :)
Every blog owner has the right to run her blog in whatever way she wants. Viscious Trollop has a right to put the kabosh on discussion she does not want to continue on her blog. I completely respect that and my question below is no reflection on The Book Bitches or the way that they chose to run their blog. But the blog owner’s response raised a question even beyond the ones generated by Ms. Barnett’s comments:
Is any challenge to an author’s opinion considered tasteless and an opening salvo in author/reader catfight?
I would hope not. If an author offers up an opinion, she should be open to comment and criticism of that opinion (even if she herself chooses to abstain from discussion). I am sure that we can have disagreement without it spiraling downward and being labeled a catfight. If we cannot, what does that say about us as women? Nothing good.
So what did Ms. Barnett say that I found a bit controversial?
I am a huge believer in writing to your own vision and truth. I write Jill Barnett books. I write commercial fiction books, which are stories about people and about honest emotion and life and love. . .
These two facets you mentioned, chic lit and erotica, now attached wrongly to romance, and the dull uninspired limits placed on the historical romance genre by publishing houses is the reason we have lost 75% of our romance readers. Romance has always sold strongly before, so a new genre attaching itself to romance only helps the new genre. But it is the brilliant writers within a genre who make it more than merely genre, who elevate the content and a story and character and who rise to bestsellerdom. . . .
Even for top sellers now inside the genre, the print runs are 70% less than they used to be. Readers buy an author's voice, her way of storytelling, not a type of book. There is little room for voice inside erotica and erotica gets old fast. Chic lit is its own genre. However, paranormal series books are very popular, selling better than chic lit and erotica, and are written by authors whose vision is and always was to the paranormal, authors like Christine Feehan and Laurel K Hamilton and Sherrilyn Kenyon. Their visions and voices are successful. Readers recognize honesty.
My query to Ms. Barnett would be this. How many erotica books are you reading? What have you read in the past? How do you know that the rise of erotica is driving away readers? Where are you getting your numbers? Why categorize erotica outside the romance genre? If readers are moving away from traditional romances to spicier romances, aren’t they still buying romances? What is it about hot sex that limits an author’s voice?
To me, the statements by Ms. Barnett are provocative and challenging. The comments suggest that those readers who enjoy the erotica or romantica or whatever we are calling it don’t care for a “voice” or “honesty”. They suggest romance authors who write spicier romances are the downfall of the largest selling genre in publishing history. The comments urge that all books with a certain explicitness must automatically be discounted as being voiceless. It’s an opinion that ignores the fact that sales have been declining in the romance genre before NY Publishers ever started rolling out its erotica lines. Ellora’s Cave and Samhain didn’t put print books into the stores until about a year ago.
I find it especially ironic that Ms. Barnett would hold up Laurell K Hamilton as an author whose visions “is and always was to the paranormal” since even LKH has publicly acknowledged she is writing erotica, the very genre that Ms. Barnett is decrying as partially responsible for the downfall of the romance genre. I wonder if Ms. Barnett has read LKH in the past five years. These types of broad generalizations condeming erotica give credence to the complaints that other authors have made regarding being marginalized within RWA even though what the authors are writing are books that fall closely within the definition of romance provided by the RWA.
Jill Barnett does get it right when she says “Readers buy an author's voice, her way of storytelling, not a type of book.” I think, ultimately, what is driving readers away is the lack of a quality romance regardless of the genre. Jayne and I are perfect examples of this. We’ll read anything so long as it is good.