Links! Lots of ‘em!

I feel a need to go shopping with Elisa Rolle, who blogs at Rosa is for Romance, and who is blogging at the Wet Noodle Posse blog today about how difficult it is for her to shop for the romance in Italy. Key quote:

“We” are still embarrassed to admit that “we” read romance. There is still the fear to be labelled as Z-level reader, with a little brain and a head full of impossible dreams. Worse, like a pervert who likes to read about rapes and obscenity. When I go to buy a romance on the corner shops, I always try to go to a shop owned by a sweet lady who doesn’t comment on my choice. If I see a shop owned by a man, I hardly stop to buy my books, cause I already know that he will look down to me for my choice of reading.

I am so spoiled by my many choices of places at which to shop for my books. Thanks to Esri Rose for the link.

 

Are you befuddled by the way payment and income in the publishing world work? Jeaniene Frost breaks it down bit by bit and explains the whole process, debunking the “everyone is rolling in dough” myth as well as the “you’ll never make a dime” myth as well. Thanks to Shae for the link.

From the “Get to the point already please?” department, MadMiss forwarded me a link to a recent article in The Times Online (UK) that wonders “why efforts to take romance out of its ghetto haven’t worked.”

You can hear the creaking of my jaw as it drops open at the opening paragraph:

Publishers are often seen as venal; desperate for sales, indifferent to art, puffing their fiction lists with substandard titles of proven mass appeal. And yet, it is not easy to sell books. A willingness to peddle repetitive rubbish isn’t enough; our vain, trash-loving, elitist souls also want to be fed; we need to feel that we are discerning readers. So the publishers must delicately exploit the middle ground between high and low.

Oh, for headdesk’s sake. The writer, one Lidija Haas,  writes, “the essential story remains that of a plucky young woman, poor, or at least a misfit in some way, who struggles to make her way in the world, facing loneliness and adversity, before at last being rewarded with a conventional happy ending: successful love, and perhaps babies.” And thus I suspect Ms. Haas wouldn’t know a romance novel if she tripped over one and banged her own head on her own desk so as to empathize with mine. With such marvelously sweeping statements as “happy endings are now risky” and valuing them is a form of myopia, and “one thing holding popular romance back may be that it is aimed so explicitly at women” Haas’ article reviews five novels from Short Books, a UK publishing house that is better known for non-fiction.

It’s always nice to know that there remains a market for reviews of romance that treat the genre seriously and don’t try to lament its position in the greater scale of taste or sneer at it while doggedly trying to hold the genre to the same standards of other works of fiction. The books Haas profiles take place in some very neat locations, certainly ones that are rare for romance, such as early twentieth-century China and 1000ad Iceland (yet another clue that Haas isn’t too familiar with the actual genre).

What struck MadMiss and me as well was the sort of “Get to the point, please?” element of the article. MadMiss said, “Do they want a more broadly appealing romance novel? Do they want to turn romances into open ended novels..??? Do they place anything that has a compelling story and protaganists out of the norm [combined with a] Happy Ending in genres other than Romance?” Good questions. I have one more: anyone read these books? Are they in fact romances?

 

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  1. 1
    Rissa says:

    So, so tempted to whap MadMiss on the head ~repeatedly~ with a romance novel to make the broken rattling of her little brain stop. Maybe a little osmosis could occur as well, although one doesn’t hold out much hope.

  2. 2
    Vuir says:

    Madmiss sent the link; Lidija Haas wrote the article

  3. 3
    ev says:

    If it weren’t for idiots like this we wouldn’t have anything to bitch about. On the other hand, I fear for the long term survival of the free world.

  4. 4

    Yet another case of someone trying to make themselves look smart by putting down what would seem to be the easiest target… I dare any of them to challenge Sarah or Candy or Ja(y)ne or La Nora to a debate on the “worthiness” of romance novels.

  5. 5
    cecilia says:

    [pouting]I put that Times Literary Supplement link in a comment a few days ago for your collective enjoyment (?) several days ago! [/pouting]

    Spam repeller word: out19
    Yes, the lip was out 19 times farther than usual.

  6. 6
    Lori says:

    What world is that woman living in? Most bookstores are delighted to see customers NOT buying from Amazon, they’d be cutting their own throats to mock their customer’s reading tastes.

    And perhaps I’m missing something, but does romance still have the same stigma as it did in the 1970s? I keep reading similar comments as these and just don’t get it. Certainly a Greek billionaire with a transexual, virgin, pregnant mistress might get a few raised eyebrows (and indeed, might deserve one or two) but the general public doesn’t seem to concern itself with the covers of what I read as I don’t concern myself with theirs (except on occasion to ask “Is that any good?”)

    Am I just living in a different world than most?

  7. 7
    snarkhunter says:

    Most bookstores are delighted to see customers NOT buying from Amazon, they’d be cutting their own throats to mock their customer’s reading tastes.

    I don’t know. I think there is still a stigma attached to buying “certain” kinds of books. Maybe it’s b/c I live in a university town, where books are attached to intellectual image in a very real way, but there are times when I have to struggle down some embarrassment at my choices.

    And I do think men, who are much less likely to have ever read a romance, are going to be more judgy than women. And some women are going to be massively judgy.

    The general public might not care what you read, but the so-called intellectual elite of the world does, and romance doesn’t pass their test. Not that I really care, but I do have a lot of them in my general vicinity.

  8. 8
    LeaF says:

    Oh, for headdesk’s sake. The writer, one Lidija Haas, writes, “the essential story remains that of a plucky young woman, poor, or at least a misfit in some way, who struggles to make her way in the world, facing loneliness and adversity, before at last being rewarded with a conventional happy ending: successful love, and perhaps babies.” And thus I suspect Ms. Haas wouldn’t know a romance novel if she tripped over one and banged her own head on her own desk so as to empathize with mine.

    Well said, Ms. Haas needs to actually speak with people who read romance novels to comment effectively with respect to what is actually being recommended and enjoyed by said readers. Her comments are just the sort of sterotyping that trys to reinforce the genre’s “bad rap” literary circles.

    While, personally I don’t care what anyone thinks about what reading material I choose, there will always be those who look down their noses at readers who choose books outside of the Robertson Davies’ and Margaret Atwood’s (a author’s whose work I have never enjoyed despite her notoriety) of the world.

    But hey, as Ev said: “If it weren’t for idiots like this we wouldn’t have anything to bitch about”!

  9. 9
    Kimberly Anne says:

    Both of the articles boil down to one thought for me, sadly.  Romance novels are denigrated because they are written about women, for women.  There is a stigma attached to works about love in books and film that doesn’t exist for works about violence.

    As much as I hate to say it, the “feminine virtues” of love and tenderness are seen as lesser than the “masculine” ones of power and strength.  Nevermind that these designations were created during a time when women were property.  Misogyny is alive and well, and shows itself most clearly through which elements of culture are “high” and which ones are “low.”

  10. 10
    Esri Rose says:

    Kimberly Anne, that’s hitting the nail squarely on the head. It was brought home to me forcefully by reading Elisa Rolle’s experiences in Italy. The romances Italy publishes have little or no sex in them, so it’s not a “smutty” book issue, it’s a gender issue. Women read these books, therefore these books are trash.

    Snarkhunter: I’m in the same boat as you. University town, snooty, snooty readers. I sing in a community chorale, and many chorale friends bought my book just to support me. I heard the same thing over and over. “I didn’t think I’d like it, but it was really good!” I don’t know how to feel about the nekkid-torsoed guy on my cover. It seems to be fine in many parts of the nation. My town, not so much.

    Was reading my new fancy version of Jane Austen’s collected works, and noticed she rants about the very same prejudices in Northanger Abbey, published in 1817. (sigh)

  11. 11
    Esri Rose says:

    Oh, and thanks to Jeaniene Frost for the money numbers, Shae for bringing it to your attention, and you for linking to it. Valuable stuff!

  12. 12
    Randi says:

    Mayhap Ms. Haas should receive yesterday’s beach reading list, and then SB Sarah and Candy should invite her here for an interview. Then we can ALL ask her these questions.

    How about it ladies: interview time?

  13. 13
    Tina C. says:

    Mayhap Ms. Haas should receive yesterday’s beach reading list, and then SB Sarah and Candy should invite her here for an interview. Then we can ALL ask her these questions.

    Oh, that could be very interesting!  I second that thought.

  14. 14

    “the essential story remains that of a plucky young woman, poor, or at least a misfit in some way, who struggles to make her way in the world, facing loneliness and adversity, before at last being rewarded with a conventional happy ending: successful love, and perhaps babies.”

    That’s like saying every fantasy novel involves a ragtag band of underdogs who trek across a continent, eluding bad guys, in order to save the world. Ugh.

    The general public might not care what you read, but the so-called intellectual elite of the world does, and romance doesn’t pass their test.

    Nothing seems to pass their tests unless it makes a reader go, “WTF was that?” or renders them clinically depressed.

    Misogyny is alive and well, and shows itself most clearly through which elements of culture are “high” and which ones are “low.”

    Dang well put. But you know, who made men the arbiters of high or low culture? Seems to me the best way to combat that is to just read what we want to read and see the opinions of the ignorant for what they are. I don’t need any man’s approval to enjoy the things I enjoy. And if he thinks I’m inferior because I waste my time on romance, he’s entitled to think whatever he wants. I don’t give a shit. The only thing about that Times Online article that stung was that it was written by a woman. And mostly I just feel sorry for her that she desn’t feel entitled to like whatever the fuck she wants.

  15. 15
    elianara says:

    Randi, that’s an excellent idea!

    Like Kimberly Anne and Esri Rose, I got the feeling from both articles that this is a gender issue, Romance novels are not cool because they are written for women, by women.

  16. 16

    Thanks for the link love, Sarah! I was hoping that post would come across as semi-articulate and helpful.

  17. 17
    SonomaLass says:

    I really didn’t like the tone of Ms Haas’ article, nor her rather shallow analysis.  And I’m not sure that any of the books she is reviewing are Romance in the strict genre sense.  I’m all about genre-busting, of course (and I love me some Margaret Atwood, too) but Haas needs to decide if she is reviewing these books or writing about romance.  If the latter, she should pick books that represent a spectrum of the genre.  If the former, then she should stay away from the genre-lizations.

    I love the BIG logic leap of her argument [sort of paraphrasing here]:  romance is in a publishing ghetto, and it can’t transcend that and become mainstream, as some other genres have, because men won’t read it.

    [T]he romance novel knows you must be perky to survive. It encodes female fear – of helplessness and destitution, of violation, of ageing and abandonment – so that all that is left in plain sight is its inverse, the narrative of love, motherhood, and wealth, which, if not ideal wish-fulfilment, has so often proved to be the safest bet.

    While I don’t necessarily agree with her on this, I do think it’s telling that it all boils down to “written for women equals ghetto.”  La Nora commented on this on DA recently, and I agree with her one hundred percent.  That which is “for women” is automatically second class, even though the “publishing ghetto” of romance makes plenty of money (and thanks Jeaniene for the figures on that!). 

    Reading over these comments, I see that lots of us get this.  I think many of us agree on what to do about it, too—keep buying and reading the books we love, and be glad that we have the collective economic clout to encourage their continuing publication!  In some ways, I find these discussions (MSNBC, PW, all of it) empowering, because our genre is alive and well in spite of the dismissive and judgmental attitudes we see so often.  Subversive power is my favorite flavor….

  18. 18
    Cat Marsters says:

    Great article, Jeaniene.  Depressing, but clear!  I am now going to go and work in a bun shop…

    And as for Ms Haas, she’s writing in the TLS, no?  Where the L stands for Literary.  Which is a synonym for Pretentious Snobbery, is it not?  The romances she’s read are probably of the literary type; not the popular type.  What if someone saw her in public reading a book with nekkid mantitty on the cover?  The shame!  She’d lose her pretentious snobby credentials, be forced out of her job, and end up working in my bun shop.

    Trying to get the LitSnobs to enjoy or even appreciate genre fiction is like training goldfish.  Almost impossible and largely pointless.

  19. 19
    Suzie says:

    At the end of the day, no one owns our shame but us. We can read whatever we want and like whatever we want. There will always be people who look down on the romance genre, and we can’t change that no matter what. It’s a matter of deciding that we trust our own judgment more than them and not apologizing for enjoying something that makes us feel good.

  20. 20
    Gail Dayton says:

    From the Haas article:

    As the case of the lovestruck chemists may suggest, romances are in some ways more like pornography than crime novels or thrillers. In their purest form, they are wholly instrumental, manipulating the reader’s emotions and providing reliable effects, without encouraging different interpretations.

    WTF??!?

    Inside the book, as in all the books here, great emphasis is placed on the women’s bodies (usually voluptuous), and their desires (barely satiable), how they “want and want and want”.

    And?? I have no clue where H. is going with this—is she saying “wanting” is bad? Voluptuosity—Voluptuousness, I mean, is bad? Women aren’t supposed to pay attention to their bodies? WTF?? Where is THIS coming from? Or is this Not what she’s trying to say? This sounds extremely anti-feminist to me, because it sounds as if the emphasis itself is bad. Makes Haas sound extremely prudish.

    Crucially, romance doesn’t seem dark enough. The geek boys have emerged from their bedrooms and become acceptable, even admirable, because their fantasies are allowed to be nakedly steeped in power, and the misery of not having it, whereas girlish love stories deal with similar feelings under several stifling layers of cotton candy.

    And here she seems to be saying Misery = Good, Love and Happiness = Bad.
    Fer cryin’ out loud—Yeah. What everybody else said.

    Now to go read the Jeaniene post.

  21. 21

    Sorry, Cat, it’s not meant to be depressing! I actually think people get more upset when they have incorrect visions of money raining down on them as soon as they get a publishing contract, and then find out, wait, it (usually) doesn’t work that way. Then they wonder, “Is it me? Is everyone else getting stuff I’m not?” when might just be the normal process. Great things do happen in publishing; it can just take time.

    I think writers should have the most information possible up front, so they can plan ahead and make their decisions based on an average-case scenario. If things rocket off for an author career-wise, then wonderful! But inflated expectations that get dashed (to me) are a lot more depressing than looking at a scenario with objective optimism.

  22. 22
    Leslie H says:

    The Jeaniene Frost info was brilliantly useful. I always admire someone unscruing the inscrutable.

    (Security image “Beyond 18” yeah, way the hell beyond!)

  23. 23
    Cat Marsters says:

    Well, I knew it wasn’t going to make me rich overnight when I started out (why didn’t I have a burning ambition to be a lawyer or an accountant or, you know, someone who earns actual money?).  Still, I’ll never become a successful, nauseatingly rich author who donates charity money to JK Rowling by giving up, will I?

  24. 24
    Miri says:

    Well this is the same debate as it always was. Folks who don’t know the first thing about the romance genre, putting it down.  It’s wrong headed to be sure but not unsurprising. What I love the most about these “critics” is that they probabaly do like romance. It’s like the guy who tells jokes about homosexuals who is watching firemen videos while his wife is out.

  25. 25
    elisa says:

    Ciao. Thanks for linking my blog session on WNP. In my post I’d like to explain the situation of romance in Italy, sadly a very poor situation. Romance genre is negleted by the main publishers and we can find some title only in paperback format in the newspaper corner shops. I have a romance bilingual blog (rosaromance.splinder.com) where I can share my love for romance with Italian readers, but only few genre are translated into italian (mainly historical). In my livejournal I review M/M gay romance, a genre that it is absolutely inexistent in Italy, we hardly find erotic genre at all.

    So Italian situation is worst than USA, but also then German and Spain, two country so near to us.

    Elisa

  26. 26
    Anj says:

    “the essential story remains that of a plucky young woman, poor, or at least a misfit in some way, who struggles to make her way in the world, facing loneliness and adversity, before at last being rewarded with a conventional happy ending: successful love, and perhaps babies.”

    Jeez. I think that statement was the one that made annoyed me the most. Taking one fabulous example of roman IMHO, Bet Me by Jenny Crusie, I find none of those qualities. I suppose Min may be plucky, but she’s really more snarky than painfully upbeat. She’s an adult who has a job she loves and friends who support her. Her family may not be ideal but, as Crusie points out, who wants to read about someone who’s got everything getting the perfect guy? And that’s only one example. I’m sure we could pool our brains for hundreds more book that aren’t that cookie-cutter.

    But this:

    the narrative of love, motherhood, and wealth

    also made me quite cringe.

    But I think what made me most confused was the desire to look at the “ghetto” of romance while reading five books that are not typically romance. She admits it. They’re some weird “serious fiction”/romance hybrid. So how do these five books that I’ve never heard of take romance out of the ghetto? Nobody knows.
    /rant

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