What makes a romance book?
After avoiding it for several years, I’ve finally broken down and joined Romance Writers of America (RWA), a ‘must-have’ membership for anyone in the field. As part of my application for their professional section, I have to demonstrate that I’m a published author in the field of romance, as opposed to any other genre. Now here’s the interesting part: Impulse & Initiative doesn’t count as a romance because my publisher listed it as Fiction & Literature, while Pemberley by the Sea does qualify because it was listed as Romance. I’ve always thought of I&I as a romance because it’s all about Elizabeth and Darcy coming together as a couple, whereas I consider PbtS to be women’s fiction, since it explores family relationships as well as the romantic couple, Cassie and Calder.
I wasn’t too happy at first with PbtS being sold in the romance section of bookstores because I think of that as having less traffic than the fiction section. Lately, though, I’ve come to accept it because it turns out that in the current economic situation, romance is the only genre that’s still selling well. I guess we all need some romance during hard times! But now I’m baffled by the next chapter, as it were. Morning Light, which is also women’s fiction, would be listed as a romance because – get this – PbtS was listed as a romance. I’m sure you can guess why Last Man in the World is being listed as Fiction and Literature!
This brings up the thorny question of what constitutes a romance versus a novel with strong romantic elements? The traditional definition is that if the focus is the couple and the ending is HEA (happily ever after, leaving no conflict unresolved), it’s a romance. If the romance isn’t central to the plot, but the focus is on relationships (friendships, family, etc.) and the ending isn’t strictly HEA, it’s “women’s fiction.” I guess men’s fiction must be novels that aren’t about relationships! Hmm, that’s a scary thought. If the romantic relationship is the focus of the novel but there are other important relationships explored, and if the ending isn’t fully HEA, it’s “women’s fiction with strong romantic elements.” Yes, that really is an officially recognized genre!
I started out writing romance and moved into women’s fiction with strong romantic elements as a natural progression. It wasn’t something I intended to do, but I’ve noticed it happens with a lot of writers. Their first few stories are happy romances, then successive stories get progressively darker. I’ve never figured out why that happens. I have to admit that as a reader I tend toward the happy romances, even if that isn’t what comes out of my pen. I’m curious what other readers like. Do you like your romance straight up, or with a dollop of other issues, or off to the side?
Interesting! Actually the romance and women’s fiction division is something I learnt about only recently.
In Poland romances gained on popularity only lately, although the numbers are still far from those in the US, and women’s fiction nearly doesn’t exist. It doesn’t mean there are no female authors, only that they always wrote about the same stuff that men, so no one made such a division.
Personally I fell in love with P&P for the complexity and compatibility of the characters, and the romance is the major part of it, so when I read fanfiction I look for more in this direction. I like when stories centre on the couple, and when they have other important plots I still want them to reflect on the couple, just as everything in P&P is construed in a way to give us more info about E&D. Although I like well built subplots, I don’t like when secondary characters steal the show.
But, well, it’s personal. In writing I think the most important thing is the story one has to tell.
It’s a romance, I think, if it appeals primarily to women and taps into their fantasies. Women’s fiction writers would be Alice Munro, Barbara Kingsolver, Margaret Atwood, etc. Any romance in the novels are secondary to the characters and plot. And the endings tend to either be “open” or not necessarily happy ones.
In a romance,the hero is always studly and rich. The woman is lively and lovely. You should check out Tessa Dare’s blog. She wrote as Vangie originally on the sites, and now she’s writing Regency Romances and making lots of money. There was a bidding for her books, and she’s finishing the third which she contracted for. Look for the books starting in June (then July and August). The first is
I’m sure she’d be happy to tell you the process she went through. I met her in New York when she was in town to visit Simon &Schuster (I think that was the publishing house). She had won a romance writing contest and went from there.
I think all your stories are Romances. PBTS has more angst (and so does TLMITW), but there’s always a happy ending. I”m reading Georgette Heyer now, and I was nonplussed to see her books also in the romance section. I think she’s good company for you and a signal that you have nothing to be abashed about.
http://tessadare.com/ check out her diary, and here are the archives http://www.tessadare.blogspot.com/
I agree (with qualifications) with Sylwia. E.M. Forster said “the only crime a novel can commit is not to interest the reader.”
I don’t really think about what books are called or how they are categorized, but I suppose I should. I guess what I prefer is a strong drama with romance included. Examples would be John Jakes’ North and South Trilogy and, of course, Gone with the Wind. I also am a big fan of Star Wars even though most claim not to have liked it. I seem to prefer my novels to be dark or Gothic, but I do, at least, want a satisfying ending, if not a happy one.
I like my characters to be deep and flawed but redeemable. I also like intricate plots that are layered and based in reality, and by that I mean realistic. What I don’t like are sappy men and Amazon women. In other words, I like alpha males and lead females who have to overcome a lot to reach an understanding. I like this because it is every woman’s dream to have her Mr. Darcy and yet, it would appear to be a rare occurrence for many. Thus the popularity of Romance Novels…:)