First, before we get started, if you're new to the Lauren Layne world, there's something you should know:
I write romance novels.
I often call my books romantic comedies, to signal to romance readers that my books are a bit lighter than the Fifty Shades of Grey side of the genre, but make no mistake:
They are 100% romance novels, meaning that they are first and foremost about two people falling in love.
If you're already a romance reader, or are open to becoming one, excellent! You can browse my books here!
If you're a romance novel skeptic, or worse, a mocking critic, I invite you to keep reading.
a word about romance novels
from someone that actually reads and writes them.
I clearly remember the first time I realized that there was a stigma associated with romance novels. I was a junior in college, and a friend was bemoaning a recent family vacation where her sister had spent much of the time reading "trashy Nora Roberts novels."
I was truly caught off guard. Nora Roberts novels were ... trashy?
By then, I was a longtime Nora reader, as well as a devoted Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Julia Quinn fan. And it had genuinely never occurred to me that those books were somehow considered lesser than other fiction.
And certainly not on a comparison level with garbage.
I wish I could say that was the end of it, but I quickly realized that my friend's stance wasn't the exception—it was the rule.
I, like so many romance readers, learned to hide my reading preferences. I was careful to stash my books inside the nightstand drawer, never on top. I'd skulk around Barnes and Noble pretending to browse the general Fiction section until I was confident there were no witnesses, and then I'd dash over to the romance section and grab my haul as fast as possible.
I rejoiced at the e-book revolution, not just for the convenience, but because now I could buy those books without anyone knowing.
But even with all my sneaking around, my enjoyment of the romance genre never diminished. In fact, it steadily increased over the course of my twenties until I decided to try writing a romance of my own at age 27.
I'd like to tell you that I came out of the romance closet proudly, and that the people around me were unfailingly supportive.
That wasn't the case.
I'd also like to tell you that people responded with respect towards my dreams after I secured my first book deal. Or my second. Or my tenth.
Or that I finally got that much-craved respect the first time I made the USA TODAY bestseller list, or the New York Times bestseller list. Or when I hit the million-books-sold mark. Or when my books were translated into German and Japanese and Portuguese.
Or that people finally stopped belittling my career when I quadrupled my income from what I was making in a decently paying corporate job.
None of that happened.
I do have some friends and family who've responded with instant and unqualified support, but I've heard more comments like the following:
(The below are very close to exact quotes because trust me, you never forget the specifics of this sort of belittling of your career.)
"That's great! So, how long do you have to write those kind of books, before you can graduate to writing real books?"
"That's great! But you write romantic comedies, right? Not like cheesy Harlequin romances."
"Your poor husband. He must be horrified."
"I have some fellow writer friends that would be great for you to network with—just don't tell them you're writing romance novels. I have a reputation to preserve, lol."
"How's the smut-writing going?"
"I read your book! It was cute and fun! I needed something without much substance, so it was just right."
"I couldn't believe it when I learned you wrote cheesy airport romance novels. How do you make a living?!"
"Don't you get bored just writing the exact same story over and over again?"
"I wish I had your life. Sitting around writing cheesy porn all day? Sign me up."
"How are things with you? Still writing trash?"
"Romance novels? You're kidding. Seriously? Ohhhhhhh, Fabio, oh baby! *said in mocking, swooning tone*"
"Do you have a business card or website? My sister-in-law reads those trashy books all the time."
The list goes on.
And brace yourself. All of the above examples were from people I consider friends. Not strangers in bars. Not acquaintances. Friends. Or at least people that were supposed to be friends, and yet didn't blink an eye before deriding my entire career, my life's dream with a comment that was condescending at best, downright insulting at worst.
And not just from men! Plenty of the above came from female friends. Isn't that the very opposite of feminism? Doesn't the advocacy for women's rights apply to a woman's right to choose her reading material without being mocked?
And yet we have women like Hillary Clinton, seen by many as a feminist icon, making statements like the following:
“The whole romance novel industry is about women being grabbed and thrown on a horse and ridden off into the distance.” Source.
Wait, what? What horses? What horses, Hillary?!
If you're in this clueless camp, if you've ever rolled your eyes at the very thought of romance novels, or used the words smut, or cheesy, or trashy to describe them, even casually, without meaning to offend, please picture this ...
Imagine you just landed your dream job. A job with a better title, a huge pay increase, and better responsibilities. The job you've always wanted. Imagine being so excited about this, and telling a friend about your accomplishment and hearing something like the following:
"Awesome! Any thoughts on when you can move beyond that to advance to a real career?"
"Wow, congrats! I just hope nobody finds out I'm friends with someone who sits behind a desk all day."
"I wish I had your life, just going to boring meetings all day."
"Congratulations! Do you have a business card? My sister-in-law wants to get a mind-numbing job like that."
It's simply not done. People don't say stuff like that. Why? Because it's incredibly rude. And insulting.
Guess what? It's insulting to romance readers and authors too.
And don't try to tell me, "Oh, I didn't mean it that way."
When you casually, laughingly describe "those" books as trashy or cheesy, this is what you're saying:
The word trashy as defined by Merriam Webster:
being, resembling, or containing trash: of inferior quality
Cheesy, as defined by Merriam Webster:
: shabby , cheap
- a cheesy movie
- cheesy motels
Yes, dear "friends" (and plenty of strangers). When you describe the books I write as trashy or cheesy, you're describing my work as:
trash, inferior quality, shabby, and cheap.
Didn't mean it that way? Then choose different words.
Now, some of you die hard "high culture" elitists out there will stand firm by your opinion that romance novels simply aren't high art. Fine. Let's call them pop-fiction.
And as such, I ask only that romance novels be afforded the same respect as other genres of pop culture. Marvel superhero films. Sitcoms. Dan Brown novels. Game of Thrones. Every Chris Pratt movie.
None of the above is praised as high art, but neither do they illicit the same knee-jerk contempt as romance novels. I've never heard anyone get flack from their friends for going to see the new Avengers movie simply because it's unlikely to get an Oscar nod.
And why, I ask you? Why? I want to know why so many people have such a problem with the romance genre.
Is it because romance novels often have sex scenes? So do Mad Men, The English Patient and Risky Business, and nobody's ashamed to admit liking those at a cocktail party.
Is it because romance novels have happy endings? So do Lord of the Rings, and The Importance of Being Earnest and plenty of Shakespeare's work.
Is it because they're "predictable?" Because we already know the ending (guy and girl get together?)
Well, we also know Jason Bourne, James Bond, and Captain Kirk are going to come out on top in the end, and somehow those franchises manage to avoid the scathing disdain reserved for the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, even though they're all predictable.
Romance novels deserve the same respect as other "blockbuster" forms of entertainment. They do.
And you're allowed to disagree, but only when you've actually read enough of them to speak knowledgeably about them. Most romance novel critics haven't. In fact, most of the people I've encountered that smugly mock romance novels have never read a single one.
So, here's what I'm asking, and it's so easy. It's so simple.
The next time you learn that a woman you know enjoys reading (or writing) a book with a heaving bosom on the cover (yep, those covers are still a real thing, because boobs are still a real thing) ...
Give that woman a friggin break.
That's all. Give her a break. She's reading that book because it makes her happy. Just like watching that baseball game or reading that thriller makes you happy.
So back off. Don't judge her silently, because she does not deserve your judgement. Or if you really must have those condescending thoughts, at least keep your mouth shut like a gentleman, a lady, or a pleasant human being.
Respect that woman's reading preferences.
And for the love of god, be decent.
writing on behalf of romance readers and authors everywhere (and there are millions of us)