The Genre of Romance: Popularity Versus Respect

Romance novels are like Thomas Kinkade’s paintings. They’re big hits with the general populace (the biggest genre in print – over 50% of paperback sales), but they have a bit of a bad rep in literary circles (Seriously, do not mention Thomas Kinkade to an art major unless you want to hear a long rant about selling-out related issues.).

As far as I can tell, this goes back to the Julia Quinn quote about happy endings (did I mention that she writes romance novels?). I’m afraid that people often dismiss happy endings and romance novels as predictable fluff (Ouch!).

That’s a pretty narrow label for such a vast body of work.

There’s no denying that when it comes to unpredictability, romance novels have a disadvantage. Without even opening the book, the reader knows the main characters will fall in love and that, although there may be a few rough spots on the way, there will be a happy ending. That’s pretty much defined by the genre, so criticizing a romance novel for being predictable is a bit like criticizing a fantasy novel for including magic or magical beings. Or insulting a sonnet for following a rhyme scheme.

In other words, predictability in these areas is part of successfully being a romance novel. So if someone wrote a romance novel with an unpredictable, unhappy ending, the critics might love it, but it would completely fail at being a romance novel. There’s a catch 22 for you.

Sorry, romance novelists, I guess respect will continue to be a problem until current writing trends change. You’ll just have to console yourself with higher sales and a broader audience.


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