Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Romance: The Rodney Dangerfield of Fiction

Sometimes it seems like no matter what we do, romance just can't get no respect. Even if our books are on the top of the NYT bestseller list for weeks and weeks, even if we get good reviews, even if they're written by scholars and academics. 

They're still considered trash.

On the big old totem pole of fiction, we're beneath everyone. Way beneath literary fiction, children's fiction, cookbooks, turfgrass manuals, mysteries, thrillers, and horror. On the very bottom, in the mud-pit, is romance.

So, we do what we can to earn some respect in this publishing industry. We write high quality books. We sell. We win awards.

But at the end of the day, there's still one piece of this puzzle which is pretty damned important that is being over-looked. Mainly because I think it's an old-fashioned concept.

And that's professionalism.

If we want to be respected in the industry, we, the authors, need to act with professionalism. In every way.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned. Maybe I'm a stick-in-the-mud. But I spend a lot of time cringing when I see certain behaviors that I think are setting back the respectability of our genre.

Here are a few ways we can help to promote professionalism as authors. I'm breaking this up into three categories...1. Respect Yourself. 2. Respect Your Colleagues. 3. Respect Your Genre

Penelope's Hot Tips: How To Be A "Professional" Romance Writer


* If you attend a professional romance writer's conference, dress appropriately. Do not wear flip-flops, tight blue jeans with your muffin top hanging out, and skimpy tank tops with no bra. Dressy casual, people! Also, don't pick your teeth with toothpicks at the dinner table while some big-name author is speaking. (Don't ask).

* Make sure your author head-shot is professional. Keep your clothes on. Spare us the birds-eye view booby shot. If you want to be taken seriously as an author, your head-shot should not look like a porno. Also, if your bio mentions masturbation or your own personal sex habits, you've crossed the line from professional writer to TMI wanna-be.

* I know there are plenty of folks who think the terms "smut, filth, dirt, etc" are perfectly fine to describe erotica. They think they're cute, funny, tongue-in-cheek. They may indeed be all of these things. They may attract a certain readership. But don't kid yourself. Under no circumstances is calling yourself a "smut-writer" professional.

* Learn your craft. Take writing classes, go to workshops, get a critique group. Write the best-quality work you can. This will earn you respect as an author. Present a polished, professional work to the public. If you self-pub a book riddled with errors, poor grammar and typos, and fail to have it professionally edited, it's a slap-in-the-face to yourself, your readers, and the genre.


* Do not bad-mouth your colleagues in public. EVER. No matter what transgression has occurred. Discuss in private with your buds. But do not discuss in public settings--this includes Twitter, FB, message boards, etc.

* Reciprocate. If your colleagues are helping to promote you and your books, and you are not reciprocating, you come off as a stuck-up beeyotch who doesn't have time for the "little people." Make sure to reciprocate, and to say thank-you. Good manners are professional! Do no underestimate the power of good manners.

* The reader is always right. Even when she's wrong. Do not leave rude, cuss-filled tirades after bad reviews. Do not engage in pissing matches on Twitter. Be gracious, kind, and polite. Karma's a bitch. If you earn an AUTHOR BEHAVING BADLY badge, it's difficult to shake it. Complain in private to friends, family members, and your dog. Public bad behavior sticks with you a long, long time, and is, plain and simple, totally unprofessional.


* Be an ambassador of romance. Recommend good books to readers. Boast about colleagues and their accomplishments. If you hear someone refer to our books as "bodice rippers" you might want to gently point out that there are many sub-genres of romance and erotica, and that "bodice ripper" refers to a certain subset of books that are no longer published. Gently. Kindly. With a freakin' smile on your face.

You have to decide what your goals are. If your goal is to sell a ton of books, you might not care about professionalism. After all, sex sells. Maybe you like your naked photo "head-shot" and your book Daddy Spank Me is selling like hot-cakes. If that's your only goal--to sell a ton of books--then it doesn't matter if you're professional or not.

But if you want to be respected by your colleagues, your readers, and industry professionals--agents, editors, publishers--then you need to act appropriately. The romance industry continues to struggle with respectability within the publishing world--in spite of huge sales and popularity. If we ourselves, as authors, don't act/speak/dress professionally, we're kicking ourselves in the butt. 

How can we expect the rest of the world to treat us with respect, if we don't do it ourselves?

Feeling hopelessly old-fashioned,


Julia Barrett said...

Well, Rodney, you make valid points. I agree 100%. Professionalism - might not get us the key to the kingdom but it's a step in the right direction for the genre as whole.

I think I'm missing a whole lotta drama by staying off GR, FB and skipping the Twitter stream!

Penny Watson said...

True. Staying off social media will decrease the drama. But the lack of professionalism extends beyond that, I think. I'm hoping there will be a return to the "old ways"...thank-you notes, low-cleavage author photos, and pride in our craft.

Liberty said...

Years ago there was a slice of life column in either Writers Digest Magazine or The Writer,(I'm getting old and I don't remember which one!) and the author talked about "Romancing the Stone". (The wonderful movie about Romance Writer Joan Wilder -played by Kathleen Turner- and hunky, alpha-hero, adventurer Jack Colton -played by Michael Douglas.)

The article was actually about how a real writer's life is nothing like Joan Wilder's, except the running out of food, toilet paper, etc. while in the depths of writing.

I remember a line where the author of the article is sitting in a workshop at a conference and she is trying to remember what to use to stop the run in her pantyhose. Was it "white out". (Shows how old the article is, pantyhose and white out!)

This led me to believe that like in any other profession you dress to impress. You never know who is going to be at a meeting, workshop, or book signing.

I admit, there are times when I am running out of the house with dripping hair and a tee-shirt with an obscene saying on it, but most of the time I try to wear something nice.

Great article, Penny!

Penny Watson said...

Liberty---Heeeee! I need to watch that movie again!

Honestly, I wear sweatpants and T-shirts every day. I like to be comfy when I write and when I work out. However, I would never dress like that at a writer's conference. You're chatting it up with editors, agents, publishers. You want to look polished and professional. And tiaras add a bit of extra personality! ;^)

Kwana said...

Great post Penny. Thanks.

Penny Watson said...

Hi Kwana! Thanks hon!

Handy Man, Crafty Woman said...

ummm...cleavage and muffin-top photos? Wow.

I dress like a slob while writing at home, but I was so happy to dress up for the New England conference. Weeeee! I can look nice when I want to! I do have some nice "work" clothes. And I promise to dress nicely when I get my author photo taken.

Penny Watson said...

HMCW...I'm waiting for the author photo that is just a close-up of the cleavage. That's it. It will happen.

Heidenkind said...

To quote Lawrence Block, "I’m not sure there’s any good sense in imposing questions of ethics upon a profession which has muddled along for centuries without any." But there's always hope! ;) Bashing your readers is MUCH more of a career-killer than bashing fellow authors, imo.

Geek Amicus said...

You're absolutely right Penny. I think, that no matter what zone you have to be in in order to write, you need treat the public side of writing as a real job filled with fellow professionals. You wouldn't show up for a job interview at a law firm wearing a hoochymamma top and thigh high boots, why would you show up at an event with readers that way (or potential agents, editors and fellow authors)? In the end, really, all of your promo and social media is really a job interview. You want to nail the interview and get the job -- to be that person's romance author of choice.

I follow a lot of agent blogs and apparently romance is not the only genre filled with people that don't understand the concept of professionalism. Sure, writing is a creative field, but the selling of said writing requires a professional attitude.

Oh, and from a graphic designer who used to work for a professional photographer: Be careful what you wear to the professional photoshoot -- when they crop that photo, you might suddenly look naked whether you want to or not.

Penny Watson said...

Tasha...I agree. The reader is always right. The customer is always right. The wife is always right. These are universal rules. ;^)

Penny Watson said...

Hee hee Geek! Hoochymama! Love that word. Well, I think part of the problem is that folks think "Hey I'm writing erotica. I should look/act/be erotic." Um, no. You should look/act/be professional. Just because you're writing about sex doesn't mean your readers want to know personal details about your sex life. ACK!


martinipen said...

Great post. How about this - don't call it "romance"? Entirely abandon this whole "genre" thing.

Did you know that when Ayn Rand was asked if she would allow Atlas Shrugged to be turned into a movie, but only as a love story, she replied, "well, that's all it ever was, anyway."

It was never slotted into "genre" - it is just plain old literary fiction. The author considered it to be a "romance novel," in a sense!


Just a thought. You know how I feel about "genre," Penny. I think you and many other incredibly talented "romance" writers could abandon "genre" marketing entirely, continue writing, and gain all the "respect" you deserve. If it is good writing, it is good writing!

Again, just a thought.

Thank you for sending the cookies...I bribed the Aussie with them, and I have broken free!

Penny Watson said...

Hi Tom! I think it's the right attitude to just judge every book on its own merits regardless of genre. Unfortunately, those damned marketers need to label us! Damn them!

Give your Aussie a big hug from me. Enjoy the cookies! :^)