In defense of the romance genre

I recently read a thread where various authors were talking about the romance genre. To make a long story short, it was not in a favorable light. Most of them claimed it was too formulaic and they couldn’t write or be creative under those restrictions, other were less generous, stating that the romance formula doesn't allow for original stories and that romance writers use the same skeleton over and over and that’s why we produce so many books: Writing by numbers.

I’m going to skip past the obvious replies to those statements (but feel free) and just say, Give me a break! But maybe not for the reasons you assume. It's my opinion that, in essence, all writing is formulaic.

Once you step beyond writing for fun, writing for you, and begin writing for publication, every word you write is confined by some kind of restriction or guideline.

Think about it, you have a beautiful one page synopsis and another five page synopsis crafted with loving hands, but the agent wants a three page synopsis. What do you do? You write the three pages. The publisher wants a one line tag. You write the one line tag. A three line blurb? Coming right up.

Good guys must be redeemable; there must be a crisis (at least one) and a crisis resolution. Your characters must grow in some way. And so on. Why these rules? Because that’s what sells books.

And folks, this is a business.

Before starting any business, you determine your market. Who will buy this product? Who are the experts in the field? Where does your product fit in the scheme of things? Then you set about creating the best product you can.

Is it any different in the writing industry?

There are requirements and guidelines to writing, as a job, just like there are requirements in any occupation. You’re no longer simply writing for you, you’re writing for the reader, you’re writing per editor’s instructions, you’re writing per publisher’s instructions. Does that mean you’re any less creative? No. I don’t think so. In fact, at times, you have to be more creative, more subtle, characterize in fewer words. And! And bring something new, fresh and unique to the table. In other words: you need to know your business.

This may make a few people out there angry, but those people who don’t care about industry standards, or the industry at all, who write only what they want, the way they want, and scoff at guidelines are called self-published.

That’s not to say everyone who self-published falls within that category, but if you don't want your creativity hampered in any way, if you don't want to follow the guidelines, it's your only option. I’m also not saying that writing isn’t fun or that you can’t step outside of the box. (See the fresh and creative line) But before you can step outside that box, you need to know where the box is. In writing, you don’t break a rule, until you know the rule.

And yes, I get irritated when wannabe experts make broad proclamations about an industry, and a genre, they know very little about.

And there is my rant. I figure I get one every 6 months or so. ; )


Cecile said...

Yes, we are entitled to a rant every once in a while... Well, with that said, I normally have one once a month, lol!! =)
Hope you have a great day and wonderful weekend!

Kait Nolan said...

It always mystifies me that there's this...aura of specialness (aren't you impressed with my precaffeine vocab?) about publishing and writing. People are somehow OFFENDED that it truly is a business and in business there are rules. It is the nature of the beast. Now some of these rules (aka the entire publishing model) are antiquated. But thems the breaks. I would, however, argue that in order to self publish successfully, you STILL have to know the rules. You still need to know accepted story structure. You still need to know the rules of the distributors you choose to use. There is no getting away from rules about any kind of business. It's like death and taxes.

Lynne Roberts said...


You're absolutely right and I didn't want to get into the reasons why a writer would choose to self-publish, rather than go the traditional route, or even the benefits of e-publishing vs. the more traditional New York publishing because that's a new post. : )

But those that will only obey the muse and scoff at restrictions will have no choice.

Lynne Roberts said...

Cecile. I probably have more than one every 6 months too, but I keep them on the low down. ; )

In fact, I was ranting at my kids yesterday.

Thanks, I hope your weekend is wonderful too!

J.A. Saare said...

Since you visited my blog and shared, I figured I'd do the same.

**Stands on soapbox**

Okay, here goes...

It pisses me off when authors of other genres look down on those who write romance. There, I said it. It's not only unprofessional, it's downright catty and rude. If they don't want to read it, partake in it, or endorse it, more power to them. I think it's fantastic that they write what they love. But by the same token, they need to take a step back and observe the picture without "focus" but perspective. After all, when it comes to reading, tastes and preferences are some of the one of the most subjective in the world.

I'm not a strictly romance author. I love horror, urban fantasy, and some sci-fi. With that said, I detest chick-lit with a passion and hate when I have to read it to keep my reading palette up to snuff. Does that mean I lament the reasons why I dislike chick-lit. Of course not. To each his own.

I don't know if romance authors will ever get the respect they deserve, but they really should. There's a damned good reason it's the highest selling genre in the market, ya know.

**Steps down from soapbox**

Okay, I feel better now. ;)

J.A. Saare said...

And after reading that, the sentence:
When it comes to reading, tastes and preferences are some of the one of the most subjective in the world.

I supposed to be some of the most subjective in the world.

Sorry, still sick.


Lynne Roberts said...

Oh, Jaime, I hope you feel better! yeah... I almost deleted that comment on your post. I must be in a 'sharing' mood. : )

I also write in other genres and I know there are techniques you need to learn to write in any..... what really got me was the attitude that romance writers are somehow subpar because we don't have to work as hard. We simply throw words into a formula and, voila! Instant book.

: ) Boy, I'm really stretching this rant out. :P

Rosalie Stanton said...

The funny thing is, this very sentiment is what I listed in the interview you sent me as my "least favorite thing" about being a romance author. It has nothing to do with writing or the material, and everything to do with the perception of others who like to pass judgment and feel superior.

Catherine Bybee said...

*steppin up on my soap box

And what? Horror - Mystery - Suspence doesn't have a formula? WTF? Come on folks. Yes, some publishers have a tighter box to follow but the bottom line is if the book ends in the same place it starts than what is the point?

I never have understood why writers of horror and terror somehow have a elivated status over the writer of a romance novelist. A lot of romance has both horror and terror and, get this, Happily Ever After Too!

*off soap box.

Lynne Roberts said...

I love you, Catherine! But you know that. : )Climb up on the soap box any time!

One of the writers commented on this post elsewhere.

I responded with something very similiar to your comment.

Cari Quinn said...

Excellent post, Lynne. I agree with Catherine too - why are horror and mystery accorded a respect that romance isn't? Blood and guts must be more socially viable than falling in love. That's always something that vexes me.

Keep telling it how it is, have a lot of people out here who agree with you! :)

J.A. Saare said...

You know, I just had to add one more thing...

It's a damned shame that violence, blood, and horror are "okay" but falling in love (and making love) is considered inappropriate and "taboo".

No wonder the world is so fucked up.