We’ve been noticing a troubling trend when either we participate in Twitter pitch events or authors submit their work to us. We think it’s time to start talking about it. We’re Authors 4 Authors because we’re passionate about fellow authors and helping them succeed, and sometimes that means speaking up for them when they’re too scared or unable to do it for themselves.
(Note: This blog has been updated since its original publication.)
Authors, friends, readers, we’ve got some news for you that you probably already know. There are stigmas against writers across every genre. Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Romance, and the list goes on. And on. And on.
Today we’re going to be talking specifically about the stigma against romance writers. Before we get too far into this blog post, I wanted to make it clear that this is written from an outside perspective. I don’t typically read romance, nor do I write in the genre. (Note: Since the original writing of this post, I have dipped my toes into writing romance.) I wanted to write this post to look at this issue with a more critical eye and less of an emotional retaliation of my genre being talked about poorly.
We recently participated in a Twitter pitch event where we were specifically looking for romance and romance subgenres, and we had to dig and dig and dig to find them because they aren’t marked as such. It breaks all of our hearts at A4A, seeing authors pitch their work that is clearly a romance without the accompanying tag because they’re worried it will diminish their desirability as an author, which means publishers and agents who are actively looking for romances aren’t seeing them unless they dig through everything else. And let’s be honest, most agents and publishers do not have the time to look through every pitch and play guess-the-genre.
Because romance can be its own genre and combine with any other genre, we see more examples of this stigma with romance than with other genres. We’ll give an example of what we’ve been seeing using A4A founder Brandi Spencer’s romantic fantasy, Kiss of Treason:
#PitMad Two forbidden lovers share the rare gift to heal others with a kiss—but at a cost. Odelia and Kennard navigate a world where power always has a price. If they choose the wrong paths, they could destroy not only their hearts but lives and nations. #F #A #SPF #IRMC
Why would a romance writer withhold a romance tag when it’s clearly a romance? Because they hear varying comments that all amount to romance is not for serious writers when they talk about their work with others. It makes authors fearful of the reactions they’ll get and hesitant to share their work.
It’s no secret that romance novels often have people on the cover, and they’re often incredibly muscular, oiled up, and generally very attractive. Sometimes with an equally attractive woman on the cover. This might be to people’s taste; it might not be. All of that is fine. We’re all allowed to like what we like, and you should celebrate what you like.
There’s a long history of viewing romance novels—particularly for the last several decades—as nothing more than written porn, and having a greased-up muscle man on the cover is just the model the reader is supposed to file away into their spank bank while reading. There are books like that, sure, but there are plenty more that aren’t.
Having attractive people on romance covers does not automatically mean there isn’t any substantive content within the work, and people still thinking that today feels much like trying to keep the romance genre in its ridiculed origins.
Why is it happening?
The short answer? Patriarchy.
Who runs the world? Sorry, Beyoncé, it’s not women. Especially in the writing world. And that’s something we want to change because, as women authors and women business owners, we’re especially passionate about uplifting women and helping them succeed.
Romance is considered the fluff of the writing world. Why? Because it’s primarily written by women, and men don’t take women seriously. It’s seen as akin to women in the 1950s going to college and getting degrees in art history for the sake of finding a husband. They didn’t really need the degree, but they needed the husband. Their degrees were “cute,” much like the effort of women writing a book is seen as “cute.” Because, you know, real books can only be written by men.
This is particularly true for young adult romances, the most poked-at demographic of all. Take Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books for example...likely, you’ve heard a wisecrack about the books and movies, no matter the skill you think she has as an author. We’ll take this a little further and compare her to Dan Brown. Their books both came out around the same time and received backlash, but Meyer has continued to receive backlash for years after Brown’s books. Why? Because she had “teens” in love. And in the patriarchal world, there’s nothing sillier than a female teenager in love.
The content of the books aren’t that much different in their fantastical natures. Brown has a scavenger hunt for Jesus’ hidden descent and stopped just short of Lizard Men living in the sewers, while Meyer’s had a teenage vampire in love with a human teenager, with a teen werewolf in heat thrown in for good measure. When explained in plain terms, both sound, well, ridiculous. So why does Meyers get made fun of more and for longer? It’s a romance, and she’s a woman.
Hiding in Plain Sight
Throughout history, women have had to hide behind a man’s name to be taken seriously. There have been so many female authors that have used pen names or ambiguous initials to hide their sex. We do want to acknowledge that there are other reasons women use pen names, such as privacy or a dislike of their names, but historically, it’s been to be taken more seriously. Even though they’re revered for their writing skill, the Brontë sisters wrote under pen names. Louise May Alcott originally published her gothic stories under A. M. Barnard before publishing Little Women with her real name.
To give a more modern example, Joanne Rowling published under J. K. Rowling because of her publisher. While they thought that the story would appeal to both boys and girls, they still wanted to hide her gender.
When even a publisher thinks that women won’t be taken seriously, there is something wrong. And it needs to be changed. Quickly.
How to stop it
This is a simple answer, but not a simple change. When an author tells you they write romance, don’t automatically say, “Oh, romance. Those are silly. It’s not what real life is like,” or, “Who reads this trash? No respectable woman, that’s for sure.” You’re discouraging people to write what they love, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. Genre shaming is never okay, no matter the genre.
Romance isn’t for everyone. Let us repeat that and add a little more to it. Romance isn’t for everyone, just the same as Sci-Fi isn’t for everyone. Or Fantasy isn’t for everyone. There are so many kinds of romances, and they don’t have to just jump from one sex scene to the next. You can have anything between a sweet romance, where the fiction is chaste, and erotic romance, where it gets hot and steamy. If you want to read more about those, you can check out our past blog posts about romance and erotica. You might even like them…if only romance were for serious writers.
Twitter has an amazing writing community, so why don’t we speak up more about this? If you see someone genre shaming—no matter the genre—say something. Call for an end to it, let the shamer know it’s not okay and never will be okay.