I just got back from a romance writers’ conference. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen romance writers moshing at the after-party, but that’s a whole other blog. This one is about how everywhere I went I heard editors, agents, booksellers and writers on the topic of romance being the red-headed step-child of the publishing industry.
You’d think, considering romance’s market share—and according to booksellers, the power of romance’s recession-proof sales to voracious readers—that our industry would be more like the 800-pound gorilla. (Now I have an image in my head of a gorilla with a scarlet mohawk. Damn my imagination.)
The perception of our work as trash or vacuous is pervasive. I got into the elevator with a man who looked like an avid footballer from Australia. (He had the accent; I made up the footballer part.) He eyed my conference badge and asked what we were all here for.
When I told him, he said, “Shouldn’t you be having it at night, by candlelight with flowers?”
“That’s a good idea. I’m just running back to my room because I left my feathered boa in my suitcase.”
I had a great time chatting with Jess Andersen who writes romances where the characters are trying to prevent an apocalypse. The one in 2012 as predicted by the Maya. (Would it be horribly selfish of me to think that if the world is going to end, it would definitely be convenient if it did those few months before I turn a particularly scary round number in age?) Jess has her doctorate in genetics. When people discover she writes romance their response is an incredulous “But you’re so smart.” We all know how easy it is to write a book, right?
As I walked to a workshop being given by the romance buyer for Borders Group International, I ran into another friend who said to me, “Man, if romance is the publishing industry’s red-headed step-child, you guys (meaning we m/m romance writers) are the red-headed step-child’s red-headed step-child.”
I am very proud of what I write. I write about people falling in love, enjoying that incredibly amazing adult activity sex, and getting to live happily-ever-after. I don’t need any more bad endings to read about in this sometimes frightening world. I’ll take my vacuous, candlelit, flowery trash over realistic misery any day.
I don’t mind that the woman who wore a dead fox at her hip as a purse all weekend stopped by my table at the signing to express her disapproval of “that sort of thing,” or that some people gave me a wide berth as though gay were contagious and going to jump off the table and convert them. I sold books. I made friends. I bonded with people over our love of happily-ever-afters and, oh what the hell, steamy sex. I saw the power of change.
A woman quickly sidled past in the hope that the bored looking fifteen-year-old girl she had in tow wouldn’t see anything untoward. As soon as she was past my table, the fifteen year old turned back and gave me a quick thumbs-up. I may have done a fist pump in joy. There’s our next generation of readers. Say hello to that red-headed gorilla of a step-child. Here we come.