Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Romance: The quick and easy path to publication?

This entry from The Kenyon Review blog made me laugh:

Writers don’t write because they have to, [Margaret] Atwood went on during a student seminar at the Kenyon Review Literary Festival. There’s no gun to the writer’s head, “and by the way, there’s no pension plan.”

There are four ways to write, according to Atwood. You can write a good book that makes money, a good book that doesn’t make money, a bad book that makes money, or a bad book that makes no money. She advised students to aim for the first, or at least the second. Obviously she is in the first category. However, she began writing recreationally (”I had no idea I’d make any money at it”) and, after failing to become a romance novel writer, she became a journalist.


Since it's a common assumption that romance novelists lack the talent or experience to write "real" books, I have to wonder about Ms. Atwood's former ambitions. Did she truly want to write romance, or did she just believe that romance was the quickest and easiest path to publication? I suspect the latter, because I've heard many unpublished writers say exactly that. They aspire to "break into" romance and then go on to write other things.

Writing romance isn't easy. If you think it looks easy, perhaps that's because you've been reading romance novels by some very talented authors.

4 comments:

Douglas Cootey said...

I don't know....that third option drives the entire industry in Hollywood. ;)

~Douglas

TrudyJ @ www.hypergraffiti.com said...

I think to some people (probably me included) it looks easy because we've been reading romance by some very UNtalented authors -- of the "If this dreck could get published, surely anything I write could get published" variety. It's definitely out there -- in all genre fiction, not just romance -- and it does lead aspiring writers to believe that "anyone can do this." (By the way, I haven't read your novels because I can't find them here, and based on the quality of your blog-writing alone I would guess you're NOT in the above category). There definitely are good romance writers, but I think it's reading the bad ones that makes people think, "Anyone can publish a romance novel!!!"

Kristin said...

I also think romance is an easy target because it *has* been so marketed as a throwaway type of book. Harlequin has their lines quite regulated to every last detail...if you don't think so, check out eHarlequin for their writing guidelines. Some of their category books have 10 or more books printed and shipped to readers EVERY MONTH. Also, they promote *lines* vs. authors for many of their books. Yeah, you've heard of Harlequin Presents, but how many of the authors have you heard of and look for when new books are out? More likely that you just pick up the next Harlequin Presents book, not wait anxiously for your favorite author to publish another.

That is where I think this comes from. It makes it seem as if very little creativity and talent go into writing romance books. When really all it means is Harlequin knows their readers very, very well. And their model works!

It could also possible be the fact that many people read romance, so this is the first type of book they think of when thinking about writing themselves.

I think you also get the same kind of stuff from fantasy writers. I don't know why...but there are LOADS of people out there who are writing fantasy books that will never see the light of day. They read LOTR and think about how 'easy' or 'fun' it would be to write their own.

Brenda Coulter said...

There definitely are good romance writers, but I think it's reading the bad ones that makes people think, "Anyone can publish a romance novel!!!"

No doubt. But anyone who's tried to write a romance novel and get it published knows how difficult it is to get even a bad book into print! My editors flatly rejected the three bad books I sent them.
;-)

If you're really interested in my novels, Trudy, try Amazon. I buy a lot of books and CDs from them and I've always been pleased with the service.

Kristin, you make some excellent points, especially about the "throwaways." The smaller paperbacks can be picked up for around five bucks at WalMart, and even if you really enjoy them, they're easy to toss after you're finished reading them. Certainly that ease of disposal affects the perceived value of the books.

[You wrote] Harlequin has their lines quite regulated to every last detail...if you don't think so, check out eHarlequin for their writing guidelines.

Major League Baseball has some pretty strict rules, too. But within that framework, some very exciting and unexpected things can happen in a ballgame. It's the same with romance novels.

Douglas, your photo made me laugh.