October 5, 2010

Is “Romance” a Bad Word?

Woman Hiding Face

Recently, two best-selling authors have insisted that they don’t write romance novels.  In fact, they both acted like romance novels were beneath them.  No, they’re writing more important stories about life and death and war and taxes.  Well, maybe not the taxes part.

Why all the hating on romance novels?

First of all, if someone insists they don’t write romance novels when everyone and their sister-in-law believes they do, does that mean anything?  Do they think booksellers will change where they’re shelved?  Do they think their fans will feel better with that news?  (Hey, what do you know?  I read important literature.)

Or will it alienate their fans?  After all, don’t their readers know darn well what they read and in many cases, probably don’t shy away from reading romance?  If they act like they’re too good for romance, is that putting down their readers?

Second of all, what’s so bleeping wrong with romance novels that two authors want to turn their back on the genre that handed them their success?  The romance genre is the most heavily read genre.  What’s wrong with being associated with popularity?

Is this like how the Oscars rarely award Best Picture to the highest-grossing films?  If something is popular, does that make it less important?

Say It Loud and Proud—Love and Romance ARE Important

Well, color me frustrated and befuddled here because I just don’t get it.  In my mind, love is the most important and powerful thing in the world.  Love drives parents to sacrifice more than they ever thought possible.  Love inspires spouses to change themselves and become better people.  Love gives the heartbroken hope for future happiness.  Love strengthens us.

What’s so wrong with celebrating love?

And I don’t want to hear any excuses about the formulaic stories.  Every genre has its formula.  Every mystery has to solve the case at the end of the book.  Every thriller has to stop the bad guy from blowing up the world.  And within the romance genre, the single-title stories (i.e. non-category) stretch far beyond a simple romance plot.  Nope, that excuse doesn’t cut it.

What about the fact that it’s written by women for women?  Maybe.  But you know what could fix that problem?  Romance readers should stop acting ashamed. And just as importantly, romance writers shouldn’t be ashamed. Romance books are not less than other types of novels.  They are real stories with important messages and positive values.

Romance novels are not porn.  I have yet to see a romance novel get its jollies by having the heroine subjugate, objectify, and emasculate the hero.  In fact, romance novels do the opposite.  They celebrate men and all their strengths.  The happy ending often means that the hero’s weaknesses are healed—not exploited.  The happy ending is uplifting—for both of the characters.

So let me state for the record:  I read romance.  I write romance.  Even my urban fantasy stories that are about big important things like terrorism, genocide, and freewill vs. destiny have the theme of love at their core.  You will never hear me bad-mouthing the whole genre.  If I break this promise, I expect you all to lash me with a wet noodle—publicly.

What’s your theory for why romance is scorned more than other genres?  If you read romance, are you able to state without shame that you read those kinds of stories?  If not, why not?  If you write them, do you embrace the genre?

Comments — What do you think?

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J. Leigh Bailey

Sing it, sister, and I will proudly join the chorus. I READ ROMANCE, I WRITE ROMANCE AND I’M PROUD OF IT!


Hi Jami! Great rant! I embrace the genre, even though I’ve had numerous people tell me I should be writing comedy like Erma B. or, (my personal favorite?) you should be writing something with a little more substance because you do think deeply. So, um, because I love, and choose to write romance, I’m an airhead? Hilarious! Geez, if only these misguided and opinionated people knew how hard it was just to write a freaking novel. *shakes head here* I write romance because I find the relationships between men and women fascinating – and your blog topic would be one I’d explore with my characters even. You know why? Because women make a better case for the inequity of the situation with women issues than men do. Take for instance, the two authors you brought up. Hmm… I’m thinking men can dis the subject and women may get hot under-the-collar because of their male ignorance, but we can excuse it, to some degree, because they’re not women, right? They don’t think like us, process feelings and emotions like us, so yeah, maybe the subject isn’t one that directly appeals to them – and how can you argue with that. So, *pats man on head* that’s okay, go blow-up something, dinner will be ready at 5. BUT when women do it? Well, now, this is a totally different thing, isn’t it? All of a sudden the cut is deeper – sharper, and the attempt to diminish the feminine issue is totally…  — Read More »

Roni Loren

Yeah, this whole thing chaps my hide. I know the male author you’re talking about. I’ve mentioned him before in a blog. I refuse to read his books now. Just because you kill off important characters in your book does not mean it’s some Literary (with a capital L of course) masterpiece and not a love story/romance. Whatevs.

And I’m SO sick of people looking at romance as a subpar genre. Like you said it’s the bestselling genre, so someone is reading them. And if people think they are easy to write, they should give one a try. (I ranted about the romance novel stigma here a few months ago: ).

Great post!

Rachel Kleinsorge
Rachel Kleinsorge

*sniff* The part about love in the center made me teary eyed. Thanks for writing, and being proud of writing Romance.

Jami's Tech Guy

Hmmm, women commenting that they enjoy reading and writing romance novels. Dog bites man. (Wait! Don’t let the dog attack yet.)

How about this ladies, -I-, a red blooded American male also enjoy romance novels. Man bites dog. (Don’t call the ASPCA.) My wife reads them and will recommend ones she thinks I’d like. Other times, she’ll come by my man cave when I’m working from home and give me a detailed summary of the story. I love it. There have been times where I’ve finished a series before her.

It reminds me of Fred Savage in the Princess Bride. At the beginning he was complaining about it being “a kissing book” but by the end he looked forward to Westley & Buttercup’s kiss.

As to why I think the bad rap exists, two things come to mind. The book covers and Harlequin’s crappy reputation for pumping out quantity over quality.

Anyhow, one man’s thoughts. So ladies, hurry up and get your books published, I need something to read during halftime.


[…] my last post, we had a lively discussion in the comments that prompted me to think about things authors do  to […]


[…] As I’ve said before, this is why romance novels are not porn.  There’s no insulting or denigrating of men.  Sure, the heroes are usually good-looking, but that’s not why the heroine stays with him at the end.  The heroine ends up with the hero because he makes her feel treasured.  That’s not an impossible standard or fantasy. […]

Taurean Watkins

I sincerely hope I don’t sound mean, Jami (I’m the same way trying to preach my gospel that animal fantasy is NOT just for preschoolers) but while I read romance, I don’t write it for the very reasons you speak to above, it’s NOT easy to write one as some people assume. I agree there’s more to a well executed romance than sex, but some stories do insist (If not outright DEMAND) it’s there in some way more than others, and you should know better than me (I know don’t read as much romance as you or Romi do) a bad sex scene can ruin an otherwise decent story. I don’t agree with the one of the comments that said men don’t grasp the emotional substance good romance offers. I”m a man, and I’ve NEVER had that problem, I probably freak out most of my writer friends (Who are mostly women) for being more explosive in my emotions than they are, and they possess the more calm and cool demeanor we often think “All Men” have. Not in my case, though. As far as the “For women, by women” thing, I think part of the problem is men don’t always feel welcome. For me personally, I often felt more comfortable in forums that were mostly female, a lot of the male dominated communities felt WAY too jerky and one-note, and while I hate to make generalites because they were often my downfall in school (Or anywhere else) women don’t always…  — Read More »

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

I was clicking through recommended posts when I found this! 😀 Well, you know my changed attitude towards romance, so I won’t repeat that story, lol. Yes, why on earth do people scorn romance? And I also hate how some people think that very popular equals not great. (Thankfully Frozen is an exception to their rule. 😀 ) And I hate how people assume that just because perhaps most romances are written by women, that men don’t write romance. Actually, they DO. I’ve actually made a whole list of male authors who write romances or stories with prominent romance arcs, which includes Charles Dickens and Isaac Asimov! 😀 (And don’t forget Nicholas Sparks. 😉 ) It’s as if just because it seems most romances are written by women (I’m even starting to doubt this claim), that they think men are “biologically incapable of writing or enjoying romances”, what??? But I am aware of the social pressure for men to not admit that they like romance (because it’s a “girlish” thing), and probably there’s a similar pressure for men not to write romance—although some men overcame that social pressure anyway. 😉 In fact, I have a male friend who was introducing this new favorite anime of his, which was dark romance. And I went, “:O Omg you’re a guy who admits he likes romance!” He was surprised that I said that, because he was UNAWARE that there was this “social rule” for men to not like romance!!! :O Lol. Another male…  — Read More »


[…] I’ve learned to ignore the naysayers because they don’t know what they’re talking about. A couple of days ago, Kassandra Lamb blogged about the misleading statistics of divorce rates. […]

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