Ask a Romance Writer: Misconceptions

Did anyone catch that infographic, The Reputation of Romance Novels, that was sweeping the Internet yesterday? One compact and cleverly designed image revealed so much about the widespread denigration of our beloved genre. For those of us who love romance novels – both to read them and to write them – these statistics hit a little too close to home. How many of us have been judged unfairly because we have a passion for the happy ending?

So, in this installment of Ask a Romance Writer, we’re asking the question:

What do you think is the most common misconception about the romance genre?

And our chapter members have a lot to say on the subject.

“The biggest misconception I usually hear is that romance is predictable because you know it’s going to have a happily ever after. The reality is depending on the sub-genre of romance there are usually so many twists that you’re left wondering how they will EVER find a happy ending.

I also like to remind folks that any genre fiction has reader expectations, just like romance. If you pick up a thriller, you know there will be life and death stakes. If you pick up sci-fi you know it’ll revolve around science and potentially take place in the future. Historical will be set in the past. The list goes on.

Romance means two people are going to fall in love, but there can also be global stakes, life and death consequences, and plot twists that are game changers.”

Lisa Kessler

“I don’t know if it’s the most common misconception, but what we hear the most of is people assuming romance fiction is “sexy” (or erotica, or smut or ?)

Like other genres of fiction, it has lots of different types, most of them wholesome. In fact my first published romance novel was an “inspirational” romance about characters who were committed to living a church-centered (or at least a moral) life.

But people are different, and I have no quarrel with those who prefer sex — even lots of it — in their books.”

Phyllis Humphrey

“One of the most common misconceptions about the romance genre is that it’s all about the sex. While a majority of romances include scenes of intimacy (to varying levels of explicitness), the sex in romance novels serves a deeper purpose than salaciousness. One of the cornerstones of romance novels is that they digs deep into two characters’ emotional journeys, and sexual intimacy is one of the most emotionally vulnerable states that two people can enter into. It reveals a lot about the hero and heroine’s personalities and the evolving dynamics of their relationship, and it helps deepen and strengthen the hero and heroine’s romantic bond.”

Melissa Cutler

“The biggest misconception is that the sex in romance is gratuitous. Just like real life, sex is a way to build intimacy. When done right, it advances the story and gives the characters a chance to grow.”

Sorcha Mowbray

“I think the one I hear most often working at the library is that Romance is lightweight fluff…with sex.”

— Kelly Hayes

“I actually still hear this from people when I tell them I’m a writer.

Them: Oh? You’re a writer. Great. What do you write?
Me. I write paranormal romance.
Them: You mean “bodice rippers?”
Me: *sigh*

I also often get this:
Them: Oh? You’re a writer? Great. What do you write?
Me: I write romance.
Them: Oh…. (long silence as they conclude it might not be a good idea to ask me when I’ll write a REAL book. Sometimes they just smirk instead).”

Linda Thomas-Sundstrom

“The most common misconception of the romance genre is that it is emotionally shallow. I’ve written romantic love stories all my life, even when they were sci-fi, but I did not consider myself a true fiction writer until I became involved with the romance genre and RWA.

I love conflict arising in romance novels because of the two juxtaposed intimate points of view of the hero and heroine. Even more challenging is taking a past POV limited to third person and making it as present, or maybe more present than the first person present POV.”

S.B.K. Burns

“I don’t know if it’s still true as much (or maybe it’s worse with erotica?), but it used to be if I told someone I wrote romance, they would reply with something to the effect of – you write smut? or you write sex books? I found it enormously irritating because I don’t have much or any sex in my books, I have ROMANCE in my books, and because they also gave me “that look” that says they now don’t think you are as smart as they once did.”

Kitty Bucholtz

“The women who read them are shallow, lazy, and totally unable to live their lives without these fantasies to get through the day.”

Demi Hungerford

“I believe people infer ‘Romance’ to mean one type of story. And I think that type of story differs from person to person. Some might think of contemporary romance while others think of Regency romance. In each, there is a certain set of protocol that the genre follows and for readers of those genres, that’s what they want. What they expect. Which is fabulous and awesome. But what a lot of people don’t understand is you can have romance in fantasy, or paranormal, or thrillers. Romance can happen in any story, any genre. The book might be full of suspense with a lot of cars blowing up or set on a sci-fi world with aliens attacking a city. It doesn’t matter– as long as you have a hero and heroine who end up together in the end, that’s a romance.”

Tameri Etherton

As for me? I believe the most commonly held misconception about the romance genre is that it’s nothing but fluff, a genre to be ridiculed, dismissed, and not taken seriously. That our voices don’t matter, and our stories are frivolous. And I can’t help but feel this is because it is a genre written for women, by women.* But let’s not forget: we’re a billion-dollar-a-year industry. We entertain and inspire millions of people around the world. We believe in the happy ending. If that’s not important, I don’t know what is.

* Mostly, that is. Let’s not forget the awesome men that attend our RWA meetings on a monthly basis, or that 16% of romance book buyers are men (Source: Nielsen Books and Consumer Tracker).

5 thoughts on “Ask a Romance Writer: Misconceptions

  1. Great post! And very true- people don’t get romance (or most of the other genres) since we aren’t “real” writers. To which I say, let me see YOUR book then! 😉

  2. That’s a great comment, Marie! And a super post, Kristin. I wish people would stop thinking romance means trashy or bad or whatever they automatically think when they hear romance. It’s so frustrating! Romances rock.

  3. I don’t read or listen to any of that “crap”. Somebody always has something negative to say about everything. I write because I like to give the reader a dream world, an escape from reality. If the reader wants bloody stuff, or sex stuff, there’s plenty to be found elsewhere.

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