Monday, September 24, 2007

I just don't get it

The New York Times has made some changes to its bestseller lists. As of yesterday, the paperback books have been divided into two different lists, one for "trade" paperbacks (larger and more expensive, generally more "literary") and one for mass market paperbacks (smaller, cheaper, generally more genre-oriented). They've also lengthened these lists to twenty books, from fifteen. Hardcover remains at fifteen.

This makes a lot of sense, given the difference in the price between the two types of paperbacks. But you can't completely think of one as "literary" and the other "genre," as I've had both mass market and trade editions, although by far more mass market than trade. Many so-called "chick lit" books were published in trade format, although it seems that the editors of the Book Review section have other books in mind: "It gives more emphasis to the literary novels and short-story collections reviewed so often in our pages (and sometimes published only in softcover)."

As for increasing the number between hardcover and softcover, I think this reflects the difference in volume.

Unfortunately, it seems as though romance is still going to be shut out when it comes to actual reviews. "Regular features, like Crime and Accoss the Universe" are going to continue. There will be other columns, for poetry and horror fiction. And for romance?

Nothing, apparently, despite the number of romance novels that make their bestseller list, new criteria and old, and despite the number of bestsellers in other genres by writers who began in romance.

Romance novels still don't make the cut.

I just don't understand this. Why horror and not romance? Why mysteries and not romance? They have just as much of a "formula" as romance. You can have good writers and bad, cliches and innovation, in romance as much as the other genres. Yet only romance is consistently shut out.

Why? Truly, at times like these, the answer that seems most believable is that they think that because romance is read primarily by women, and written primarily by women, romance must be just so much fluff (women being, apparently, stupid and incapable of, you know, thinking) and therefore the whole genre is not worthy of their attention. I don't want to slam another genre, but I just can't see that horror is so much more august, worthy and of greater literary merit than romance, or some of those cozy mysteries, either.

If it's not sexism at work, what else explains this vast ignoring of a whole genre, a bestselling genre, a popular genre, whose books regularly appear on their own bestseller lists? Why isn't romance worth at least an occasional column, too?

3 comments:

Leah Braemel said...

It's even more baffling when you see the statistics - that almost 40% of book sales and more than 1.2 billion is spent on romances. Talk about ignoring the elephant in the middle of the room.

Christine d'Abo said...

I don't get it either, Margaret. Someday maybe they'll change, but I'm not holding my breath.

Margaret Moore said...

It's those stats that lead me to the sexist explanation, because otherwise? It really makes no sense.
I can get they might want to focus on literary fiction, but if they're going to do other genres, why not romance?