No, I'm not kidding. And it's not just strangers who blurt those awful things; often, it's the romance novelist's own family and friends. When I began writing, nobody knew about it but my husband. When I finally told one of my best friends that I had written a romance novel and that the full manuscript was under consideration by a publisher, her immediate response was, "Oh, please don't tell me you wrote a Harlequin."
Well, yes, actually. I did. That manuscript was purchased by Steeple Hill Books, which is owned by Harlequin Enterprises.
It's amazing, really, because romance authors must be fairly intelligent and articulate individuals or they wouldn't be published. Yet they're continually painted as fools who dash off a new book every other week because, hey, any idiot could write that fluff.
Maybe some of you who have actually tried to entice a New York publisher to read your romance manuscripts would like to share with the class just how "easy" it is. Yes, I see a lot of hands, but I'll answer this one myself: Of the six manuscripts I have completed, the first was sold, and then the second, third and fourth were soundly rejected before I submitted and sold the fifth and sixth. Friends, this is not an easy gig. I know quite a few published romance authors, and while they all agree it's deeply satisfying work, I've yet to hear any of them suggest that writing romance novels and getting them published is a walk in the park.
The really odd thing is that we who are producing stories to entertain and delight others are constantly ridiculed for what we do. Sell chocolate ice cream, and everybody will love you. But for heaven's sake, don't write a romance novel unless you're prepared for some clown to slap a Kick Me sign on your back.
It is often suggested that such hecklers are simply jealous, but I believe the urge to ridicule those who write romance stems from something else entirely. Since romance is a genre enjoyed by millions, detractors assume the novels must be of substandard literary quality. How else would so many people be able to read and enjoy them? According to this reasoning, if you read Proust, you're an intellectual. But if you read Harlequin romances, you're a dowdy, donut-eating housewife with no intelligence and not a lick of ambition.
But that perception doesn't line up with the facts. According to Romance Writers of America's 2005 Market Research Study on Romance Readers, 42% of all romance readers are college graduates. 15% hold higher degrees or have done some postgraduate work. 7% hold associate degrees, and 17% have attended some college or a trade school. 11% of the survey respondents were not high school graduates, but because some of those people were still attending high school--the survey included ages 13 and up--that's not a very telling number. In fact, excluding teenagers from the study would push up the percentage of romance readers who are college graduates. So these figures are impressive, indeed, and more than adequately refute the charge that romance readers lack intelligence and ambition.
In their quest to demonstrate their own intellectualism by shaming readers and writers of romance novels, the genre's detractors love to insist that every romance novel is exactly the same: Not just poorly written, but unimaginative and laughably predictable. That tired objection was summarily dismissed yesterday at Teach Me Tonight with this very apt analogy:
Football fans go to a game knowing their team and the rules of the game, and they know there are a limited number of final outcomes, but within those constraints, there are many possibilities which will determine whether they consider it a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ game. Similarly, all genres have their conventions and it is these conventions and rules which distinguish one genre from another. Genres can then be subdivided into sub-genres, which again have their own rules/conventions. To someone who doesn’t read within the genre, these subtleties may be easy to miss, just as I would find it impossible to distinguish between a rugby league and a rugby union game, or between different types of red wine. The connoisseur, however, is very aware of the differences, not just between different wine-growing regions (romance sub-genres), but between vintages (authors) and individual good or bad years for that vintage (individual novels by a particular author).
Well said. The entire post is excellent, so be sure to click over and read the whole thing.
Romance novels don't suit everyone's taste. There are certainly genres that I have no interest in reading, so I can accept that some people simply don't care for romance. But I think we can safely conclude that those who go out of their way to ridicule readers and writers of romance novels just aren't all that--well, intelligent.
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