Again I am a little late on the bandwagon here, but this article by Justin Moyer of the Washington Post exemplifies an attitude common to genre Romance readers and writers in the mainstream. The Sneer.
I am neither a writer or reader of the genre — at least at this point in time — but it does steam me that the tone is, offhandedly, dismissive of women, of which I am one, and the emotional needs and sexual fantasies of some, though not all, women.
What causes the sneer?
Well, the stereotype. I really doubt the sneerers have read enough of the current crop to realize the diversity, breadth, and robustness of the Romance market today. (I think of it as a dancing multi-armed Indian fertility deity.) In fact, I doubt they’re read more than one or two of the books, period. So where does the contempt, and often the contempt of women, come from? I believe it’s the visual representation, what’s on the covers of the books on display in the bookstore, the trade show, the author websites. It’s the more florid representations, specifically, the ones that shout the loudest and overwhelm the rest. You know the kind I mean.
Readers and publishers from mainstream to indie might say these covers sell (even though they may be in no way representative of what’s going on in the book, save there’s a man, and a woman, and there’s passion between them). But do they sell because it’s what readers expect, even if said reader doesn’t like them or is insulted by them? I’d certainly be insulted by them (not the least by their artistic merit) because they imply that a publisher thinks so little of a book, or an entire genre, that it slaps a cookie-cutter illustration on it that might fit on at least fifty or more other books as part of a mass production line. It is in fact contemptuous of the reader, to think they don’t deserve something more intelligent and sophisticated.
For example, here are Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series books, which are shelved alongside the “general best selling authors” in most grab-and-go book sections, like you’d see in a Rite-Aid or an airport concourse newstand.
Classy, no? Name recognition, a discrete Celtic design element, and title. You’d have to read the blurb to tell it’s a meaty, historic time-traveling romance with fantastic elements.
Here’s John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars.”
Again you have to read the blurb to see what the story is about, assuming you haven’t heard the hype. Design is young and lively in feel, but not too teenish. An adult could buy it, carry it around without feeling awkward.
Some books by Stephanie Perkins, a female YA writer, in case one would think John Green has more respectability in the genre because he is male. all of which are boy-girl romances:
Aside from the choice of title, they don’t exactly scream ROMANCE! either. The Isla book looks like it’s about a girl’s adventures in NYC, for example. Actually, all of them imply adventures in glamorous locations in addition to the romance.
Now here’s a Highland romance I picked at random:
This book makes no bones about what it is, by its title, the florid typeface of the title, and the uncanny waxed perfection of the male model. It’s published by Macmillan as part of their mass market romance line. Being a large publisher, I would say they had total say over the packaging. The book (I haven’t read it, so am neither criticizing the author or the story) and by extension the series, might be aslucrative and intriguing as Outlander, but the general public, or a TV producer, is not gonna pick it up to find out because it just screams all the cliches of the genre. This kind of is what people sneer at when you mention “romance.” If I could give it a name, I’d call it, “The Torso.” What they used to call Beefcake in the 1960s, and Fabio in the 1980s.
I know this is only one type of cover the big publishers favor. Other houses — the Harlequin Silhouettes, for example, have their own standards. But all are clear about what they depict and what the reader can expect. Which is good for both publishers and readers — the former make money, the latter are telegraphed visually with what kind of story they’re getting. But it also means a lack of crossover.