Is romance the invisible genre?

When I meet old friends they ask, “What are you writing”? “A novel.” I say. “What’s it about?” “A romance.” Their eyes narrow. You can see what they’re thinking That is not literature. But ah, of course it is.

The modern romance features a woman complete in her own skin, but open to love. In the words of Amy at The Geek Girl Project “Changes in the conventions of the romance genre have turned the typical romance novel into an extremely empowering story combined with the happily ever after ending.” Romance is the best selling genre and according to Romance Writers of America accounts for over a billion dollars of sales annually, 39% of E-books and 32% of mass-market paper backs. But, the disrespect starts with the trade paperbacks (bookstore books)—here romance captured just 18% of the market in 2013 and as for hardback books—9%. Audiobooks are even slower to catch the trend-1%, as if a romance is an unspoken secret. (RWA)

I’m not sure where this prejudice against romance comes from. I haven’t encountered it in my MFA studies so it’s not an academic prejudice. It must be something cultural. Romance is to literature what quilting is to art. It’s beautiful, but because women do it, it doesn’t command public respect. Tamara Lush has the right perspective on this, romance writing is a feminist act. (In fact, a study at Rutgers University found that feminists make good partners for romance.)

The art world has come to accept handcrafted items as art, thanks in part to Miriam Schapiro, who worked to get quilts and handcrafted items–the “invisible women’s work of civilization” recognized as legitimate art. Why not the same for romance writing?

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