For those of you not in the know, “hater” is a term that entered American slang vocabulary in the early 2000’s. According to the top-rated definition on Urban Dictionary, a “hater” is:
So how does it relate to romance novels, you ask?
Well, I think it ought to be the new motto of romance authors.
It’s no secret that for many uninformed people, the term “romance novel,” is equivalent to “trashy.” These haters assume inaccurately that romance novels are of lesser quality than other types of fiction, that the writing is poor, the characters shallow, the plot formulaic.
And yet books within the romance genre consistently nab the largest share of the consumer market year after year. So why do they continue to carry the undeserved burden of being considered “lesser fiction?”
In my opinion, as both a voracious reader and author of many types of fiction, this misconception is due largely to the misunderstanding of what a romance novel actually is.
The most widely accepted definition of the genre is the one provided by the Romance Writers of America: Novels that have a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.
It’s a simple definition that embraces a wide variety of fictional works. Acclaimed literary novels such as Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre and more recent novels like Outlander are all, by this definition, romance novels.
But haters don’t think of Fabio and bodice-ripping covers when they think of Jane Austen, do they? So why would they assume all romances are formulaic, shallow pieces of literary junk? I’ll tell you why:
Haters gonna hate.
Remember, the only requirements for a novel to be considered a romance is that it have a central love story and a happy ending. Every genre has restrictions that allow it to be categorized. Just as a mystery is “a novel in which the reader is challenged to solve a puzzle before the detective explains it at the end,” and science fiction deals with “future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities.” It doesn’t make each story within that genre formulaic.
Lumping all romance novels into one, easily-criticizable category is useless and unfair. And judging an entire genre based on your opinion of one book is equally ridiculous. Sort of like calling 2001: A Space Odyssey, Aliens, Star Trek and E.T.: The Extraterrestrial “trashy” because you hated Battlefield Earth.
Sure, romance isn’t for everyone.
There are plenty of genres I have no interest in. For example, I am not a fan of horror. But just because I think Saw III is torture-porn, doesn’t mean I think The Exorcist is too.
There is a portion of the population who (sadly) think that romance is cheesy and that happy endings are unrealistic. These people have my sympathy, and to them I say: Don’t read romance novels.
And to the rest of us, my fellow romance authors and the majority of the general book-buying population, I say:
Excellent! And you are so right, “Haters gonna hate.” As far as Romance is concerned I also think it has to do with it being read by women, predominantly written by women and topping it off with fantastic financial numbers – well, your going to get a backlash. Look at poor Steven Spielberg who couldn’t win an Oscar to save his life until Schindler’s List. We are strange creatures when we value predominantly the negative and unhappy, but “Haters gonna hate.”
So true about Spielberg… So few musicals ever get nominated, let alone win (they are, in my mind, and for the most part, the romance novel equivalent of theatre and movies. Typically happy, almost always dealing with love, etc… Sweeney Todd being an exception!) Same thing for romantic comedies.
Often, when someone writes a novel that prominently features a romance but is sufficiently popular, critically acclaimed, or well-marketed, nobody thinks of it as a romance novel (especially if the author isn’t already established as a “romance” writer). The same thing sometimes happens with science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and most genre fiction. But since romance shows up often in pretty much every kind of story, it’s really easy to rebrand a romance novel into some other genre (or just into general fiction). (It’s a lot harder to convince the public that a novel about magic or robots doesn’t belong in the science fiction section.) It’s as if we had an entire section of the book store devoted to “coming of age” stories. And so romance seems to suffer from this even more than other genres.
Have you ever heard of Sturgeon’s Law? Theodore Sturgeon was a science fiction author and he’s quoted as saying in response to the haters who claimed that there was so much crappy sci-fi out there something along the lines of “90% of everything is crud.” Obviously this applies to the romance genre too, but for the reasons I mentioned above, romance gets all the credit for the cruddy 90% but is denied a lot of the credit for some of the good romantic tales.
Weirdly, this doesn’t seem to happen with movies or TV shows. I think it’s because when you go to the movie theater or turn on one of the broadcast networks, there are no genre sections. Sure, there’s a romantic comedy film genre with some pretty strict genre standards, but there are plenty of crossover hits, genre-subverting films, and completely uncategorizable works and they don’t seem to suffer at the box office. Even after we developed video rental stores and compartmentalized cable TV channels, the primary distribution method remained ungenred, so you don’t find film distributors that produce nothing but science fiction movies. I wonder if, as ordering books online (and/or reading them electronically) becomes more prominent, the need to fit into a particular genre will fade…
That’s a fascinating theory, and I think you might be on to something…