Apparently I’m no good at ranting. I wanted to rant about the annual rash of clickbait stories that abound on Valentine’s Day – ‘five romance novels that defy the genre’; or ‘five romance novels for those who don’t do romance’. I wanted to rant about how it is perfectly fine to like romance, how most romance novels (at least ones written in the last twenty years) already defy the reputation, and why a desire to be loved for yourself is an universal human need. Reading about love is natural. Wanting a satisfying ending is a valid escape from the trials of real life. Not every book you read has to improve your brain – reading can also improve your emotional well-being. It is ok to read because it makes you happy.
Updated with this comment from my wonderful publisher: “I would argue (especially in cases like yours!) that romance novels do improve your brain. I know so much more about early medical school now!“
But my first few drafts of my rant ended up being too rational (ie boring), and not enough of a rant. Most of my rant had been said before by others. How dull. What I realised is that I don’t need to defend romance as a genre. It’s already the biggest selling, most popular genre of novel out there. It shouldn’t need defense. There were 748 million e-books sold in America in 2015. Of those, just 12% were non-fiction. And a staggering 32% were romance (the remaining 56% were other fiction genres – commercial fiction, sci-fi, mystery, etc).
“Oh I don’t read that trash,” says a person who has never tried a romance novel.
“That’s ok. Millions of people do,” the best answer ever – thanks Valarie Parv.
What is it about romance that inspires such posts – five romances for those who don’t do romance. “Is that like five diverse books for racists?” asks writer Erica Hayes. No other genre gets held the same impossible standard. It is widely accepted that there are great murder mystery novels, plenty of good ones, and some dreadful ones. But because romance has a few awful novels, the assumption is often (wrongly) that the entire genre is shit. Nope. Just like EVERY OTHER GENRE, romance has great novels, plenty of good ones, some ordinary ones and a few dreadful ones.
Romance readers know the difference. In a recent interview, Anne Gracie said that when she started, her publisher accepted only 11 books from 20,000 submitted that year. Times have changed, and now anyone can publish an e-book. Readers no longer have to wait until a book is approved by the gate keepers. Instead, readers have access to a huge number of authors. This means that readers decide which authors they love, and which ones get a pass. And the sales data illuminates how readers understand and choose what they love.
According to a presentation done in 2016 by Romance Writers of America, there are 39,330 authors on USA Kindle. Not all of those authors released a book in 2015. However, only 2,460 of those authors made sales greater than US$10,000 in 2015. Now tell me that readers can’t pick out quality. If we assume the current acceptance is 6.3% – ie that proportion of authors are selling a reasonable number of books; then this is much higher than in the old days with publishers when an estimated 11 of 20,000 (0.06%) books made it into reader’s hands.
The power is with readers. They understand what they like. And they buy what they like.
That is why I’m looking forward to meeting a whole bunch of romance enthusiasts at the Australian Romance Readers Convention on February 24-26, 2017.