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,