Where is the love for romance novels outside of its loyal readers? Jill Kemerer talks about the misconceptions which have abounded for centuries about the romance genre.
Ah, romance novels. The words bring a sigh of relief to my tired soul. There’s something delicious about opening a book and knowing you have a front row seat to watching two people fall in love. Although we know the couple will end up living happily ever after, we can’t wait to get all the juicy details—the first impressions, misunderstandings, arguments, kisses, and ultimately, declarations of love.
While romantic themes have featured in literature for centuries, the romance novel—where the central plot is the love story—became its own genre in more recent times. The popularity of Jane Austen’s books and Georgette Heyer’s Regency romance novels helped fuel the growing demand for mass produced romances by the early 1900s.
As time wore on, sub-genres expanded. In addition to contemporary and historical romance, romantic suspense, paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, erotic, inspirational, and LGBTQ romances found audiences. The genre continues to evolve as authors go beyond the stereotypical couples to include multicultural characters.
While romance novels have grown more diverse, the general attitude about them remains the same. Often referred to as “female porn”, the romance genre doesn’t get a lot of love from the literary community, even though the books regularly appear on major bestseller lists and continue to grow in sales.
In Why Can’t Romance Novels Get Any Love? Emma Pearce looks at Sarah Frantz Lyons’s question of why the study of the romance genre is neglected in academia. For several years, Sarah Frantz Lyons has championed the study of the romance genre at the academic level.
“In fact, if you look back at the 18th century reaction to popular fiction for women, it’s the same exact argument as we’re having 250 years later. At some point, you’ve got to say, this is so ridiculous,” says Frantz Lyons.— Emma Pearce, Smithsonian
Strides are being made. In 1997, Bowling Green State University’s Browne Popular Culture Library hosted Re-Reading the Romance, one of the first academically oriented conferences for romance novels. In 2013, Princeton University hosted The Popular Romance Author symposium. And on April 13-14, 2018, BGSU’s Browne Popular Culture Library will be hosting Researching the Romance conference with keynote speaker, Beverly Jenkins.
Despite these recent strides, it isn’t only academics who look down on the romance genre. Myths, snobbery, and misinformation continues to feed condescension toward romance readers—they must be lonely women, uneducated, unhappily married, or desperate in their singleness. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A lively article that fact-checks common myths about romance readers is Who is the Romance Novel Reader?. It’s worth the read.
The following tongue-in-cheek excerpt cracked me up:
“MYTH: Romance readers are obsessed with wine, chocolate, and Pride & Prejudice.
FACT: You say that like it’s a bad thing.” —Maya Rodale, The Huffington Post
Speaking from experience, I’ve fielded a lot of odd questions when I mention I’m a romance novelist. Many misconceptions abound. One is that all romance novels contain steamy sex. The reality is there’s an array of heat levels—from blazing hot to super sweet and wholesome—for readers to choose from. Another false belief is that romance novels are somehow easier to write than other genres; that there’s a formula writers use to spit out a book.
This is a slap in the face to authors.
Romance novelists, the same as writers of any genre, work very hard to give readers the best possible story. We pore over plot details, agonize over the freshness of a concept, love our characters, study the writing craft, and deeply care about the quality of the book we’re releasing.
Readers will always be drawn to love, to hope, to happily ever after. And this is why the romance genre will continue to thrive.
Jill Kemerer will be on an author panel at Researching the Romance conference, hosted by BGSU’s Browne Popular Culture Library on April 14, 2018.
Jill's latest release, The Rancher's Mistletoe Bride, is out now. For more information check out her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Do you think the romance genre will ever get the respect it deserves? Why or why not?Let us know in the comments or join the PHS community on Social Media.