Trapped in Romance

My current pass on the book I’m revising is the “romance pass,” trying to amp up the main relationship. My editor was apparently drawn to the book by the romantic potential in it, while that was much more of a secondary thing for me. But I suspect that’s what readers will want, too, so I’m working to develop that.

I have this weird issue with romance in books, where I don’t see myself as a particularly romantic writer, while the publishing world has me firmly slotted into the romance category. I did try to make it as a romance writer, within the romance genre, and while getting five romance novels published doesn’t exactly count as failure, it was a constant struggle for me to live up to the expectations of the genre, and it was a huge relief to admit to myself that I didn’t really like writing romance and give up on trying. I owe a lot to romance because that gave me my start and taught me a lot about the business, but it’s not where I fit in.

I sort of fell into romance by accident. As I mentioned in talking about my influences, my real ambition once I decided to write seriously was fantasy. I hadn’t even read more than a few romance novels. I got into reading romance after I graduated from college. It took me a few months to find a job, so I was back to living with my parents. We lived in the country outside a small town that didn’t even have a library at that time, so when I ran out of things to read, I found my mom’s stash of Harlequin romances and started reading them. My mom suggested that I try to write one. After all, they published so many, they had to be looking for writers. But I was still focused on fantasy and working on various fantasy novel ideas. I did try starting one category-style romance, and it fizzled out quickly. After I got a job and moved to the Dallas area, I found a local writing group, and the speaker at one of the first meetings I went to was a romance author. She mentioned a group she was in, so I went to one of their meetings, and in that one meeting I learned more about the publishing business than I’d ever known. That group was a chapter of the Romance Writers of America, so I got involved in the romance world and started trying to write romance novels, always with the idea that once I got established there, I could move into fantasy. That was where I learned all about structuring a novel, plotting, pacing, character development, how to submit a book, dealing with agents and editors, etc. Maybe I should have seen it as a sign that when I entered writing contests, I never went anywhere with my romance attempts while I won the fantasy categories, but then I started selling romance novels, and it’s hard to imagine you’re failing at something and in the wrong field when you’re succeeding at it, and selling anything is a pretty big deal.

There was a romantic thread to the Enchanted, Inc. books once I started writing them, and RWA was acknowledging books that had “romantic elements” then, so I still fit in. But then they dropped that, and I realized that I would probably never write something that really fit the romance genre, so I dropped away from the romance world.

I do like a good love story, but what I like is something that develops along the way rather than being the focus. I think what I really like is essentially what happens in TV series “shipping,” where the relationship isn’t all that overt, so the audience has to read between the lines and interpret for themselves what’s really going on. Once it’s obvious and becomes text instead of subtext, it’s a lot less interesting to me unless the relationship is just taken as a given at that point and is part of the characterization without any worry about making it romantic. One of my favorite bits of “romantic” writing is what’s going on with Henry and Verity in Rebel Mechanics, where I’m trying to show that he’s falling for her while she remains oblivious, and yet the whole story is in her point of view, so I have to have her notice things that the audience can interpret but that she interprets a different way because it hasn’t crossed her mind that someone like him would see someone like her that way.

My problem is that the fantasy world has pigeonholed me as a romance writer, and they seem to overemphasize that aspect of my work, to the point they think there’s more romance than there is. I originally wrote Rebel Mechanics to be an adult fantasy, but the fantasy publishers rejected it as “too romancey” and suggested I send it to romance publishers. Never mind that there’s not so much as a kiss between the romantic couple and the relationship remains subtext until almost the very end. I had the same issue with A Fairy Tale. The fantasy publishers rejected it as too romancey, even though there’s no actual relationship between the two main characters because he’s married and focused on looking for his missing wife. If I have a man and a woman interacting at all in the first chapter, the fantasy publishers will say it’s a romance because that seems to be my reputation. It doesn’t help that the publisher of Enchanted, Inc. keeps classifying it as “paranormal romance,” and when they do a BookBub ad, that’s where they put it. I feel like we’re missing a huge potential audience in contemporary fantasy that still hasn’t heard of these books because they keep marketing it as paranormal romance when, again, nothing much happens in that first book.

I really don’t know what the solution is. I don’t mind that I have a big romance readership because romance readers are voracious and loyal, and as long as they’re okay with the low levels of actual romance and non-existent heat, then we’re good. I just hate being dismissed by the market segment where I actually fit on the basis of something that’s not even true.

Comments are closed.