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Monday, November 30, 2009

Genre Prejudice-Part II

My last post, Prejudice--Not a Wise Platform Strategy, was part one on this topic. I know this is a subject near to the hearts of many readers because of the emails I received through this blog and my website after that post and my earlier, related one on not using blogs as personal diaries.

Most writers I know are intelligent, educated, open-minded people, which is why I keep leaping onto my soapbox to address the topic of genre prejudice--it makes no sense to me and surprises me every time I see an example of it.

People who know me will tell you I'm not a preachy person, but discrimination is my hot button. I live in the South and consequently have a heightened sense of equality because I live in a society that has embraced or endured all kinds of prejudice and discrimination. I find genre discrimination offensive, just as I do racial, religious or sexual discrimination (Though not to the same extent, of course; it's not on the same level as it doesn't bring with it life and death consequences; but for me, prejudice is repulsive in any arena).

No. "Hating" a genre doesn't equate donning a white hood, but it is unwarranted and often unfounded, with the person degrading the genre and its authors sometimes having never even read a book in the genre (or at least not knowing he/she has read one. *wink*). A little tolerance and respect for other readers and writers goes a long way, especially when you're trying to build a potential fan base.

Hands down, the genre I see belittled the most is romance.

Okay. I agree romance is an easy target. The book covers alone warrant an eye roll. They are often cheesy--in fact, some are downright embarrassing (Psst: Electronic readers solve this problem and allow you to read with reckless abandon anywhere without risk of offending anyone with the naked or nearly naked people on the cover).

Kidding aside, keep in mind the potential pitfalls of alienating people who write or read this or any genre before you slam it publicly. Yes, your personal blog is yours and you can say any darn thing you want, but if you are building a writers' platform, you should still turn on your inner censor. Same with forums and loops. It is fine to be opinionated, but as with all things, is it worth shooting yourself in the foot?

Back to romance. I think the stats will help clarify my position.

The following is from the Romance Writers of America website:

RWA’s 2009 Reader Survey reports 74.8 million Americans read at least one romance novel in 2008, with the core of the romance fiction market at 29 million regular readers.

Not only did romance fiction generate $1.37 billion in sales in 2008, but also it remained the largest share of the consumer market at 13.5 percent. R.R. Bowker’s Books In Print shows 7,311 new romance titles were published in the United States in 2008 (out of a total 275,232 new titles). With 7,311 new romances published in one year, “no fiction category can rival romance in terms of sheer size.”

The U.S. economy slid into recession in 2008, and book sales were down to $10.175 billion from $10.714 billion in 2007. Romance fiction sales were strong in 2008 at $1.37 billion.

Wow. 74.8 million people read a romance in 2008. That's a lot of readers. That's a lot of writers. Romance has a gigantic fan base. Larger than any other genre. See the RWA literature statistics page for more info.

I brought my own prejudices with me to my first RWA meeting, only to be slapped in the face by my own ignorance. My fellow chapter members blew me away. Doctors, housewives, lawyers, professors, students executives and teachers. I went even though I was not a romance writer because of the workshops that crossed over genres. I stayed because of the talent and openness of the members. I adore and admire this group of men and women and can't imagine making this trek without them.

The president of my chapter, Kimberly Frost, spoke to our group one time about why she writes romance. Kimberly is a physician and is one of the brightest people I know. I'm sure her friends and associates frequently ask her why she writes romance. Here is a part of the story she recounted:

One morning I opened a reader email that came through my website. The woman wrote to tell me that she'd had a very tough week. Both of her parents were terminally ill, and reading Would-Be Witch was the first thing that had made her happy in a while. She just wanted me to know. I sat and cried as I wrote her a reply.

Before that reader email, I had occasionally wondered if I should really be writing paranormal romantic comedy. It wasn't, after all, serious writing, right? Afterward though, I never questioned my choice again. My book eased the pain of someone who was shouldering a very heavy load. Nothing will ever mean more to me than that.

Hard to beat that for a reason to write.

Honestly, I can't think of a genre I haven't enjoyed from literary fiction to erotica. There are pitiful examples in all genres, but there are also brilliant books in all of them. I choose to read some genres more than others, but that doesn't mean the ones I don't read as often are lesser quality or not as valid.

My point? Discrimination based on genre prejudice not only offends other readers'/writers', it can negatively impact an aspiring writer's reputation and platform.

I'd love to hear from you in the comments or in a personal email.

Wishing everyone a wonderful week.



She Wrote said...

There are days when the whole world seems to have "gone out" - or when all of one's efforts to right a wrong have been for naught. Those are the days when I'll pick up a Romance Novel (love Catherine Coulter's books) and just escape. Some days it's the only thing that works.

Mandy said...

Another great post Mary! I read for entertainment. And I write to entertain. I read across genres from romance to historical fiction, though urban fantasy is my all time fav. A great story is great story, no matter what. Never look down your nose, especially if you haven't ventured past the front cover.

And I'm right there with you on the discrimination front. It's ugly in whatever form!

Suzyhayze said...

I am a little preachy about this as well. Here's my bit.

As writers we need to respect any other writers no matter our personal preference it is often the same lonesome journey. If I was a carpenter and I built Victorian homes I would be just as much a carpenter who built contemporary homes. Banding together is necessary, especially now. Great Post Mary!

Flavio Q Crunk said...

Anyone who hacks on romance is a complete ninny and n00b. Romance is where the publishing industry gets its money. If you dont take it seriously, no one will be able to publish books.

I always run into the people who think fantasy is a stupid genre.

Valerie Geary said...

Great post! Starting in December, I'm challenging myself (and my blog readers) to explore different genres, ones I don't normally read and ones other people might not normally read. Each month is a different genre. I've barely started and I've already learned a ton. I can't wait to get to the month I've picked out for Romance (February of course)!

Teh Awe-Some Sauce said...

Wow, I just wrote a blog about this today. I'm one of the first people to admit that I don't like books such as Twilight and it's cousins, and I'm not a big fan of romance. But the idea that the existence of those types of books somehow belittles other, more "worthy" books is narrow minded.

That's not to say I won't rant about the problems with Bella Swan-esque characters from dark to dawn, but I recognize that those books just aren't for me. Not every book will apeal to everyone, and before folks start to bash an entire genre they should realize that. After all, not everyone wants to read/write literary fiction. I certainly don't.

Paula said...

I read for entertainment. And I write to entertain.

I echo what Mandy said!! The good tihng is, I'm easily entertained. I enjoy all types of books and don't get literary snobbery. How can something that's meant to help you escape become a controversery? *shakes head*

The other day it hit me that my style is my style. My latest WIP started off with a much more literary theme. But as I began writing my pop fiction style saturated it and any literary themes sort of lost. *shrug* I know some won't like my style, but then again, I'm not writing for them.

In a nutshell, we write for whoever likes what we write.

Lily Robinson said...

Although reading romance is not my
cup of tea, who hasn't enjoyed the happy-ever-after endings? I'm not big into sci-fi either... but hey, that's me. I don't expect everyone to like what I like. My mother couldn't live without her romance novels. My daughter and granddaughters can't live without their vampire books. Thank goodness there's a market for all of us!

Rebecca Knight said...

What a great post! :) I've been going out of my comfort zone this year and reading books outside the scifi/fantasy genres. You know what I found out? I love great storytelling... no matter the genre!

It's amazing what we can enjoy once we try it :). Keep preachin', Mary!

Diana said...

Over all, I love and appreciate your post. I fell in love with romance novels in high school and still devour them and am working on writing them. But:

The book covers alone warrant an eye roll. They are often cheesy--in fact, some are downright embarrassing (Psst: Electronic readers solve this problem and allow you to read with reckless abandon anywhere without risk of offending anyone with the naked or nearly naked people on the cover).

Isn't the above statement pretty heavily slanted against covers and assuming everyone agrees that the covers are awful? Especially since a lot of Westerns and mysteries come out with covers featuring nearly naked women in risque poses.

Mary Lindsey said...

Ah, good point, Diana. I love romance novels too. Some covers are gorgeous and yes, some covers on fantasy, sci-fi and westerns are just as risque. The covers on all these genres affect my teen children far more than me. My kids ask me to keep my books in my purse, which is where the e-reader statement comes from. (I love my Kindle) :D Cover stigma is also a recurring theme with my published romance writer friends. Since I was focusing on prejudice aimed at the romance genre, the covers of that genre were a touch point. I can't tell you how many people criticize the genre based on the covers alone. Unfair, but true, especially in light of your valid point that other genres feature similar covers and lots of folks love the covers. The romance industry has done extensive studies concerning shelf appeal and know what they are doing without a doubt. And hey, some of those covers make me shout, "Heck yeah!"

Mary Lindsey said...

Thanks for the fantastic comments and emails. I love this blog and the QT community.

Rebecca Knight said...

Heheheheeh. I've had that problem with bringing a romance novel to work to read on my lunchbreak. Reading on my iphone is much more work appropriate ;). Tee hee.

Jemi Fraser said...

Prejudice of any kind is nutty. Why do some folks want us all to be the same? And why do others want to feel so superior? I don't get it.

Diana said...

My kids ask me to keep my books in my purse, which is where the e-reader statement comes from.

That's pretty hilarious, Mary! Do you suppose that their issue is with the cover, or the fact that it proves Mom does, in fact, know what sex is? :)

Mary Lindsey said...

lol, Diana. Perhaps it's both.

Tess said...

I agree with you whole heartedly -

but, I sometimes see the opposite thing going on. Writers afraid to give an honest review of work for fear of seeming negative. I know I worry about that -- but shouldn't we be able to politely voice our opinion on a work -- give an honest critique?

I mean, in a polite and professional manner. No bashing allowed.

example: I used to follow a book rating site, but began to notice that the blogger who wrote the site 'loved' every book.

Really? That excessive love seemed to make me not trust her ratings as much. Like she was so busy being pc that she lost the vision of her rating related blogsite.

It's a difficult line to walk.

writtenwyrdd said...

I am clear about what I like and don't like on my blog, but I don't believe I've ever treated another genre as 'stupid' or 'dumb' because of the same sorts of reasons you mention here. As a speculative fiction writer, I get tired of the eye rolls I've endured all my life when I say I read sf and fantasy. Romance gets treated even worse, and it's ridiculous, considering that the purpose of reading books is generally to be entertained.

Good post. Thanks for sharing.