Thursday, March 3, 2016
Romance is Dead
I've been thinking about the romance genre lately, and here's my observation.
I'm going to use a food analogy, since I love food. And analogies.
You can't clump all food books together into one category. Some food books are cookbooks, some are travel journals, some are fiction and some are non-fiction. Some are about baking bread and some are about restaurant life and some are about making sushi in Japan.
And if you insisted that EVERY book about food had to be categorized under the same umbrella term--FOOD--it would be confusing and ineffective and make no sense.
Some folks are looking for cookbooks about French food. And some folks want to read about Anthony Bourdain's experience as a sous-chef. And some want to read culinary cozy mysteries.
And so we have sub-categories, created by publishers and booksellers to facilitate sales and help customers identify the correct book for their "taste."
So what does this have to do with the romance genre?
At some point we need to realize that romance doesn't actually exist. There is no romance genre. You could argue that it must have a central love story and a happy ending, but even those parameters are no longer applicable.
The thing is...every reader has a very personal idea about what "romance" is--in general terms, and for the genre itself.
Some folks think books with criminal motorcycle club dudes who humiliate their "women" are romance.
Some folks think books with abduction, torture, and rape should be categorized as romance.
Should erotica and romance be clumped together under the same umbrella? Christian inspirational books with stepbrothers and stepfathers deflowering the new virgin in the family?
Just because these books have relationship arcs does not mean they belong in the same group. If your book has more than one person in it, it includes relationships. These relationships may or may not include love stories and/or sex.
Some "romance" novels have no sex.
Some "romance" novels have graphic orgies.
Honestly, erotica, erotic romance, and romance have no business being clumped together.
But it gets even dicier than that. Because the core concept of "romance" is now blurry.
This group is fragmented for a reason.
BECAUSE WE DON'T BELONG TOGETHER.
We just don't.
Just like the reader who is obsessed with baking bread could give two shits about Anthony Bourdain's chef experience, the Christian inspirational "romance" reader is appalled by books with stepbrother orgies.
And the person who loves "edgy" NA books thinks the squeaky clean Harlequins are for fuddy-duds.
We don't belong together.
But the publishing industry knows one thing. ROMANCE SELLS.
Romance novels sell...A LOT.
And so, if you slap "romance" on a book description--with a generic cover and title and blurb--your sales will rise.
What does this mean?
It means that the term "romance" as a publishing tool is meaningless. It could be used on a porno book just as easily as an inspirational.
It means that readers have a more difficult time finding books, unless you're sticking with tried-and-true authors you trust.
I think arguing about what "real" romance is--as a genre--is a pointless task. Romance is a personal thing, conceptually and genre-related as well. There are readers who still point to Nora Roberts and Julie Garwood historicals and say "that's what real romance is supposed to be."
And there are new romance readers who have never heard of these authors. Their ideas about romance are totally different.
Trying to fit all these books into one category is ridiculous. It's not helpful for the reader searching for the right book, and it's certainly not helpful for the authors who are trying to find appropriate readers.
But I don't think the industry cares. It cares about making money. And "ROMANCE" sells.
So who cares if your romance novel doesn't actually include a hero or a happy ending?
I care, cried the dinosaur.