I was an apologist for the romance genre for a long time.
Initially I felt uncomfortable telling people I wrote romance because I was unpublished for five years – so I felt my writing didn’t count. Which, when you think about it, is as stupid as saying the only important part of the iceberg is the third above the waterline.
A lot of hard work takes place in the unpubbed years when you’re struggling toward a dream on faith, learning the craft, and all the time scared half to death that you’re never going to make it. The longer I went unpublished the more I developed the attitude, Hell, this deserves respect.
So I started saying things like:
- Did you know that published romance writers take an average of 5 years and 4.5 manuscripts before they get the call?
- It takes years to learn how to be a good writer and Harlequin picks up only a tiny percentage of new authors from the thousands of manuscripts they receive each year.
- Sure, I might not succeed but at least I’m following my dream…and how many people do that?
Then I got published and hit another problem. As a cynical journalist, admitting I wrote romance implied that I believed in true love and happy endings. As it turned out, the cynical journalist was the pretending part. I was just being a chicken, because admitting to being an idealist in a cynical world takes guts.
So I got some.
Along the way I discovered that how I told the anti-romance brigade that I’m a card-carrying romance reading/writing devotee made a difference to how they responded.
Being defensive or slightly apologetic gave them tacit permission to denigrate the genre. But when I took an attitude of quiet pride, the sarcastic comments they were dying to make tended to remain unspoken. I saw them thinking, ‘She doesn’t realise she’s supposed to be embarrassed’. Suddenly they were the ones having to justify their anti-romance position rather than me having to justify mine.
And that helped get a real conversation started. Bring up questions like, Have you ever read a romance? What are your reading tastes? Let me prescribe one that might suit them. Because as any romance reader knows, our genre has something for everyone.
If I come across the rare critic who has actually read romances and STILL dislikes them, then the question becomes, ‘Should romance readers take any notice of someone who disapproves of their choice of reading material?’
It’s very hard for anyone to answer yes to that.