I was surprised again recently when I heard writer Anny Cook describe the reaction she got at a writer's convention to the fact that she writes romance. I don't know why I was surprised, it's not new. It's the same old elitist nonsense that continues to rear it's ugly head again and again among writers. But it also reflects an opinion held by many in the general public.
I guess what continues to surprise me is how the attitude flies in the face of the data and statistics from the publishing world. According the data from RWA (Romance Writers of America), romance fiction generated $1.37 billion in sales in 2008. The genre was the top performing category on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly best-seller lists. Recent surveys show that 74.8 million people read at least one romance novel in 2008.
The romance genre continues to hold the lion's share of the consumer market in 2008. The $1.37 billion out earned all other genres with Religion/inspirational and mystery coming in distant second and third with $800 million and $668 million in earnings repectively. (And most of those have romantic subplots.)
The truth is the romance genre with all it's subgenres out sell all the others and surveys show that romance novel readers are among the most prolific readers. Romances are part of what's being published for most age groups. JK Rowling, as her readers aged, flirted with some innocent romances. Young adult writers Riordan, Meyer, Patterson, McDaniel, Cooney, etc. all touch on the romantic. Adult authors like Dan Brown even build their tension and suspense with romantic subplots. Romance, the tendency of humans to form close and caring relationships, is everywhere.
Maybe the problem is that people don't understand when they're reading romance. I mean, after all, romances can't even begin to compare with literary classics. Or can they? A wide spectrum of what we consider "classic literature" have a their heart romance. Don't believe me? There would have been no Iliad without Paris and Helen. Wuthering Heights? Yeah, a sick little love story but for Heathcliff and Kathy a love story nonetheless. And would the illustrious Masterpiece Theater waste their reputation on tawdry, raunchy romances? Well, they have done versions of almost all of Jane Austen's works not to mention the Brontes. Even Brahm Stoker knew the importance of a romantic element in his work.
So should I be ashamed that I write stories about men and women who meet, fall in love and struggle to make the relationship work out with some hope of a happy future? Why would I?