Friday, August 07, 2009

Why do people still consider romance the last refuge of the damned?

I had a friend ask me the other day if she should write a harlequin. Strange question, but she wants a way out of her day job, and other than knowing I have some great writer friends, she knows absolutely nothing about the industry.

I've perused her book shelves, and she has a lot of books, but very few romances and absolutely no series romance.

My question to her was, have you read any?

Her answer was no.

Do you know what line you would like to write?

She looked at me perplexed, because she didn't know Harlequin had different lines. Had no clue what they paid, and even less about what it would take to write a book.

I know a lot us start writing because we believe it's easier than it is, but very few people think, I really loved The Lovely Bones, I'm going to write a book even better in my spare time, one draft and I'm on the path to wealth and acclaim.

My friend(who's really quite lovely, if slightly deluded) had the sense that she could write a harlequin in no time at all.

What do we, as an industry, and as romance authors, have to do to convince the public that what we do is both difficult and requires skill and real effort? I know RWA has spent a lot of time and money on this question. And certainly the press recently regarding romance authors who have PHD's and medical degrees has certainly helped, but is there anything more we can do?

Because I do believe we're still battling the perception of the lonely middle aged woman penning her novels in between meals for her children, because she had nothing better to do. When the reality is, writing takes perseverance and a real intelligence and an absolute love of the genre.

How many smart, articulate, polished women have to speak up in defense of the genre before public perception changes?


December said...

great post - I have to admit, I thought it'd be alot easier to write a bang up novel when I started.
2 years later, and I'm starting to catch on... maybe.
I'm just starting to learn I have a.l.o.t more to learn!!

Maureen McGowan said...

The public perception of romance, particularly Harlequins, is so skewed.

I blame the media. I also blame English lit professors. And have this new theory that both groups (journalists, and english lit profs) are frustrated writers and likely jealous.

As Sinead knows... at one time I was as ignorant about this as her friend is. But at least I bought a few and signed up for a course. Still, I thought it would be easy and the money would start rolling in. HA!!!

I think all we can do is politely correct people who have these misconceptions and try not to get angry when they scoff and jibe.

But back to Sinead's great question... I think people assume that books which are easy to read must be easy to write. So not true.

Sinead M said...

I do believe most people start writing thinking it's a lot easier to write than it is.
What I don't understand is people wanting to write romance, when they don't read it.

Really, I should start encouraging people... see how they deal with being rejected in a genre they clearly have no respect for.

Does that make me a mean person?

Kimber Chin said...

Professionals make difficult things look easy. That's one way you can spot a professional.

We're lucky because romance has so many professional authors. Authors with readers so captivated by the magic that they don't think to peek behind the curtain.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Simone said...

Sinead, I encourage people all the time. "I think I could write a novel." "Yes, you certainly should do that!"

Then let them get 3 pages in and discover they don't know what goes on page 4.

I once had a guy say to me, "I'd write a novel, but I don't have enough money." I still don't know what that means. Excuses, excuses...

Journalists and teachers are definitely to blame. But we have to blame the titles and covers, too. It's hard to take those Harlequin Presents titles seriously...

Alli said...

This is a great post, Sinead! I agree with the comment Kimber made re: "Professionals make difficult things look easy. That's one way you can spot a professional." I often will watch a dancer (on SYTYCD for example, Maureen!) and think "wow, they make it look so easy" yet I understand many years of blood, sweat and tears have gone into perfecting that move. It's no different with writing - if only people would understand this.
I tried the "OK, if you think it is so easy to write, why don't you try it" approach with DH. He, literally, got to page three (it wasn't a romance, but still...) and after he tripped over the stumbling block and banged his head against the couch, he came scurrying back with tail tucked neatly between his legs. That was a few years ago and needless to say, since then he has been my biggest source of encouragement. :-)

M. said...

I'm with Simone. I don't think the sea of nekkid manchest covers helps matters. Or the perception that publishers do some sort of random shuffle of the words 'duke', 'scoundrel', 'rake', 'passion','wicked' and 'sin' to create titles. If the titles and covers were more recognizably individual from one another, it would help combat the stereotype that the books all follow the same formula.

Sinead M said...

Really good point, Simone, the covers don't help. And the Present's covers and titles might be the worst.
It is hard to respect a "The sheik's naked, quivering pregnant, virgin bride" title.

Maureen McGowan said...

I think the covers and titles are a problem, too... but then if you talk to the marketing people at Harlequin, they say when they try for less "man-chesty" covers and subtler titles, the books don't sell as well.

Kimber Chin said...

Okay, I'll fess up to liking the man titty covers (give me something nice to look at please) AND I love it when the title gives some hint as to what is inside. Duke as part of the title tells me it will be a regency with an alpha male hero.

Wasn't there something like 8,500 or more romance novels published last year? Readers like me (I read a romance novel a day) prefer some shortcuts to trying new authors.

Simone said...

Well, the covers sell to the romance readers, we all know that. And I've heard that too, that HP is Harlequin's biggest selling line. I'm all for Harlequin making money.

I'm talking about the perception of the non-romance reader. And it ain't good, with Kidnapped by the Sheik Billionaire.

JKB said...

I have often wondered this myself. Or why YA is so dismissed. Or how *everybody* thinks they can write MG.

It's irritating sometimes.

(Just for the record, I don't think I could ever write romance. I love to read it tho)

Sinead M said...

Too funny, JKB, I imagine YA and MG get as little respect.
And it's strange, because to write an utterly compelling, yet still easy to read novel is so freakin' difficult.

Back to Kimber's point, pro's make writing look easy.

Maureen McGowan said...

On the CBC radio program Q, this morning, they interviewed this woman who publishes an erotica journal in the UK. She's getting a lot of publicity for her journal right now, by declaring that men write better erotica than women. (I think her totally offensive comments are all a big publicity stunt.) Whatever.

But what irked/interested me, was after they interviewed the editor, they interviewed two writers. One, a woman who has written erotica, including for that journal, and the second, a male novelist.

Both kept talking about how difficult it was to write good sex scenes -- that it was one of the most difficult things to do as a writer... But nowhere, not once in this discussion, did romances come up. Every one of which includes some kind of sex scene, whether the door is mostly closed or wide open. Nor did the CBC even think of asking a romance writer to be one of the panelists.

Angry and offended a bit was I.

Dejah said...

Rather than disdaining your friend and explaining why she's OH SO WRONG, encourage her. One of two things will happen: either she'll start writing and find that it's harder than she thought, or she'll write something and get rejected a zillion times and find it's harder than she thought.

Or she could turn out to be the next Lani Diane Rich (a well loved and respeced friend) who wrote her first (absolutely brilliant) novel for NaNo one year and became a solid midlist author the next. Or she could talk about writing that romance novel for the next 10 years but never actually set pen to paper. That would be REALLY annoying.

Forget I said anything.

It's far more productive to gripe at her about how she doesn't respect the genre, when what she really doesn't respect is the process of writing a novel--any novel--the romance part being almost incidental to the her-being-an-idiot part. If you just gripe at her, she'll merely think you're a bitch and she'll never bring it up again. She will neither write a great book nor moon about dreaming about writing a great book and BOTH will be far more conducive to you not strangling her than anything else she might do. It's a win/win!

Party. Bonus.

Theresa said...

As the daughter of romance cover illustrators, I know how hard romance "story telling" is. My parents did Regency covers which they killed themselves trying to get just right, sensitively done,with no bare chests involved. Anyone who thinks any of this is easy is clueless. It's all years of hard work on your craft if it's going to be any good.

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