On the romance genre as a punch line

It started when I was scrolling through Book Riot this morning. The post was typical February/Valentine’s Day fare: books to read about love. All right, fine. I like books about love! Love is awesome. And then I read this:

If you want to dip your toe into girly-romance but want something decently-written…


Wait, what?

And on first blush, it’s so easy to say, “oh, relax. This is one blogger, one person’s opinion, and they probably didn’t even necessarily mean it the way it sounded.”

Except, no. That statement above and the attitude behind it are not at all uncommon, and it suggests that, as a whole, the romance genre is full of badly-written work. It is dangerous territory, through which one must tread carefully, because landmines are everywhere, and you’re more likely to come across purple prose and mentions of “throbbing members” and heroes “sheathing the sword” than actual, meaningful stories.

And you know what? It pisses me off. It’s not fair, and it’s not true. I went off on a little bit of a Twitter rant…


Of course, I’m not the first person to say this, and there’s no way I’ll be the last. In her fantastic article on Writer Unboxed, author Barbara O’Neal writes:

“And yet, romance novels continue to be the most disdained of all genres. Often not just disdained or dismissed, but reviled with an unbridled hatred that oozes and splutters.

Why is that? Serious question.

Genre novels such as mysteries or science fiction are often dismissed, but they are not often reviled the way romance novels are. Why is it so much more ridiculous or ignorant to read and write romance novels than something like Game of Thrones or the latest gory offering from Patricia Cornwell?”

Part of it, certainly, could be outdated ideas about romance novels and their role in society. Maybe we hold to the idea Germaine Greer once espoused about the genre, when she stated that the romance genre encouraged women to accept and, even more, welcome, “the chains of their bondage.”

Uh. No. I’m one of the most feminist bitches you’ll ever meet and I would not love this genre as much as I do if that were the case.

Maybe we believe romance novels are nothing more than “mommy porn.” Which is utter bullshit, first off because the term is stupid, but even more because… yeah? So what if that was the case? I’d never call it that and I disagree that that’s what it is (not even close, actually) but even if it was true it’s certainly not a reason to deride an entire genre. Many comic books, military thrillers, science fiction novels and a wide range of primarily male-dominated genres are nothing more than male power fantasies for the most part. Why aren’t those genres a ready punchline whenever a discussion of books comes up?

Maybe we believe, as the aforementioned Book Riot blogger, that the genre is mostly poorly-written slop. There is no accounting for taste, of course, and people have different preferences. Are there poorly-written romance novels? Of course. Are there poorly-written mysteries, thrillers, westerns, horror novels? Yep.

Yet only one of those is a ready punchline.

Do I seem irritated? Good. Because I am.

Here’s the thing. I love this genre. I love sweet romance, and spicy romance. I love paranormal romance and western romance. I love this genre in all its diversity.

Yes, diversity. Because while the rest of the world seems to think the genre is nothing more than “girl meets boy, girl wants boy, girl may or may not shag boy (often or less-often, depending on the type of book), girl loses boy, girl finds happily-ever-after” — it’s so much more. It is a genre filled by heroines and heroes of all backgrounds, belief systems, and challenges. It is a genre in which, first and foremost, the story is about the woman. The woman is the focus. She has agency — she is not there merely as the hot girlfriend or the object of affections for the hero, or, worse, to get fridged so the hero has a reason to go out and kick ass — it’s HER. goddamn. story. It’s about her desires, her life, her goals… and when she meets the hero (or heroine) and decides to let that person into her bed, her pleasure matters. And while the happily-ever-after is important, the ways of getting there never fail to surprise and delight me.

The heroine may be a doctor, a lawyer, a vampire killer, a stay at home mom, a college student learning what it means to be out in the world. None of them, nor the women who write them, deserve the easy derision they receive.

And that’s all I have to say about that. Time to go write some books about awesome women living their lives for my audience of (mostly) women who find joy in these books.

And none of us are a goddamn punchline.

Update: BookRiot has since improved the post, changing the headline I and many other authors and readers found fault with. Kudos to Elizabeth Hunter, Kat Bowen, KT Grant, Chloe Neill, and many readers for raising a little hell on Twitter. Nice job, all! 🙂




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