Thursday, April 26, 2007

Reviews and Respect

Recently at Romancing the Blog there was a discussion about reviews, as in who should review (authors? readers? "experts?") and how a more critical approach to romance reviews might engender more respect for the genre and/or improve romances in general.

As far as garnering more respect for the genre, I can say that romance is getting more respect than it has at any other time in my career. I think RWA's grant program to encourage academic study of the genre has been one of the greatest ideas ever in that regard.

I also think the statistics about the sheer volume of romances sold and the amount of money involved have played a part, as well.

I think the covers were a big problem. Fortunately, they've been getting a lot less cheesy and thus less prone to mockery, with a few notable exceptions (Steven Colbert and American's Next Top Model come to mind).

Can more critical romance reviews "improve the quality" of romances, and will that give the genre more respect?

Maybe -- but who sets the standard? And that's the big problem I see with this notion. There's no one standard of what makes a "good" romance, and there never will be. It's too subjective.

It may also come as a shock to some, but no published writer I know thinks they write poorly. They may not believe themselves to be the best writer in the world but they don't think they totally suck, either - and who are you to tell them otherwise? Heck, we writers have to ignore a lot of the criticism, or we would be completely confused about what works and what doesn't. Opinions on the same book can be completely contradictory. What one person loves, another hates. I've had that happen many times. Who's right then?

I believe what will generate more respect when it comes to reviews is having reviews of romance novels that aren't confined to genre-specific magazines or websites. The Chicago Tribune recently reviewed some romances. This thrilled me no end, and not just because they were positive (although, yeah! And no, none of the books were mine). This is the sort of placement of a review that may help gain romance more respect because it's outside the genre.

I don't think respect for romance novels can be generated by those who write or read it. To be truly meaningful to the world in general, that respect has to come from "outside" sources. RWA has helped tremendously in that regard with their grant program, and it seems some newspapers are taking notice.

But yes, we've still got a ways to go, because until romance novels are reviewed more generally, whether positively or negatively, in more media and not just around Valentine's Day, until romance is considered a genre worthy of academic attention, until people from outside the romance publishing industry start to realize romance novels are as valid a form of literature as the mystery or literary fiction, our books will still be dismissed as fantasies/wish fulfillment for lonely, ignorant women.


Kimber said...

Yay, blogger is letting me comment again!

I think that romance authors constantly talking about how romance doesn't get any respect doesn't help the situation. I've read those words so often that even I'm starting to believe its true (repetition of a message engrains it on my brain).

Its also kind of demeaning to fans. I spend thousands of dollars on romances a year. How much more respect can authors want? Isn't me voting with my hard earned paycheck enough?

Reading the business classic How To Win Friends & Influence People (want a good laugh? Read that in public) and Dale Carnegie states that arguing never persuades anyone, if anything it leads them to feel stronger in their convictions. Too true.

Margaret Moore said...

I didn't mean to imply that romance readers don't respect the genre. They do -- and so do most romance reviewers, as well as writers and publishers. It's people outside the romance world who demean both the writers and readers. That's why I think the education would be more effective if it came from people not so closely tied to the romance industry.

Glad you can comment again, too!

Sinead M said...

Great point, Kimber, I'd never thought about it. We're the highest selling genre, so we do get respect through actual sales, which is the highest form of respect.

I do think a lot of people read romance, but don't necessarily admit it.

Molly O'Keefe said...

EXCELLENT POST! Obviously lots of people read romance and don't admit it -- it's not just me and Kimber buying all these books!

It's like the GIl Deacon show looking for people ready to defend thier romance habit on TV. WHy do we have to defend that habit? WHy don't mystery readers have to defend thiers -- personally I blame Fabio.

I think Romances are being better percieved too - I think better covers - chick lit and women's fiction which brought us a bunch of new fans. Interesting - very interesting.