I don’t think there is any genre that gets more insults than the romance genre. I, myself, used to mock and refuse to read anything that could be considered a “bodice ripper.” I only read more literary and sophisticated works, of course.
Then, one day, I was stranded at my mother’s house with nothing to read. On her side table was a paperback romance novel, and I was desperate enough to open it up. It wasn’t long before I was engrossed in the story, and before I knew it, I had finished the book in just under three hours.
You see, while people enjoy mocking the romance genre, there are reasons why it is one of the highest grossing genres in trade publishing.
For someone wanting to work in the publishing industry, it’s important to understand those reasons.
Romance novels give readers the chance to have emotional and mental satisfaction, safely and easily exploring scenarios that may never happen in their normal lives. The desire to be caught up in the passion of a lover and whirled away on a life-changing adventure is one of the headiest draws to the audience.
In a day and age when there are so many demands on our attention—between school, employment, families, bills, and technology—people often look to books for an escape. This is true for all genres, but especially for the romance genre. Readers are looking to escape into a world that is easily accessible. You won’t find the next great American novel in this genre, with beautifully flowing language and complex or understated plots. What you will find is accessible language that can be read by less-experienced readers to those who casually read Joseph Conrad.
A key draw to romance is empowerment—where the protagonist’s desires and opinions are put first. The love interest focuses on protecting, supporting, and pleasing the main protagonist.
A protagonist serving as the focal point of someone’s attention and having the upper hand in a consensual relationship can, and does, empower the reader. Readers begin to believe they deserve the same devotion that their protagonist receives. In fact, scientists are beginning to study the effects of reading romance novels!
The Happily Ever After
One criticism of the romance genre is that the plots are formulaic. Well, yeah. That’s why readers pick them up. They already know that there is going to be a happily ever after, and they know it’s going to be emotionally satisfying. Romance novels promise conflicts, miscommunications, perhaps some action of the sword fighting variety, and threats to the budding romance between the two main protagonists. But they also promise that, in the end, the two main characters’ love will shine through and overcome the obstacles they’ve faced.
It’s reasons such as these that the romance genre is selling upward of one billion dollars each year. Yes, the novels are filled with tropes and they’re formulaic—but that’s what the audience expects. These are also authors who have spent countless hours writing, developing, editing, and pitching their work. If nothing else, their efforts alone demand our respect as publishing professionals.
If you need more evidence of how popular and successful the romance genre is, look at self-publishing. The romance genre exploded. As of writing this, Amazon has 397,361 romance ebooks listed. Writers are now able to make their living cranking out romances and short stories. I know someone who makes nearly five hundred dollars a month with only seven short stories published.
I’ll admit, when I’m struggling under my workload, I’ve considered giving everything up to just write romance stories for a living. Because, if you follow the rules of the genre, it can be a viable source of income.
So if you’re thinking about entering the book publishing industry, ask yourself if you can afford to mock the romance genre and the authors. I’ve come to realize, especially now that I’m interning as a literary agent, that perhaps the romance genre is going to be my bread and butter. I can’t turn my nose up at a BDSM romance or a paranormal romance, and I’m definitely not going to turn my nose up at bodice rippers.
What we must remember as publishing students is something that a literary agent advised me: “You don’t have to like a book; you just have to be able to understand why it sells.”
So if you need me, I’ll be curled up on my couch taking a break from reading manuscripts and writing book proposals to relax with my favorite romance novel.