All my life, I’ve had a thing for the underdog. The little guy who is not only the odds on favorite to lose, but is expected to do so in a spectacularly epic fashion.
The romance genre is the ultimate underdog in the court of public opinion. Romance readers are used to nobody taking us seriously, to people treating us like brain-dead ninnies, and to the snide remarks that inevitably follow if someone finds out what we like to read. But it’s even worse for the category romance reader. Those of us who like to read The Cute Little Books With The Dreadful Titles. Because not only do we have to deal with the non-romance reading population sneering at us, we also get it from fans of the genre who really should know better.
As a librarian, I spend a lot of time banging my head up against brick walls. One of my favorite brick walls is educating fellow librarians on the genre, and I tend to devote whole talks on just category romance. Why? The number of titles published every month is mammoth, and it’s a diverse subgenre (no, really—it is).
The biggest reason, though? It’s by far and away the most misunderstood branch on the fiction tree. I would argue even more so than the romance genre as a whole. Hey, when even some romance fans deride the category format as “trash,” you know there’s something rotten in Denmark.
I’m often asked what the appeal of the category romance novel is. Why do readers love to read them? The short and sweet answer is that it’s all of the romance, with none of the BS. Ask any romance reader why they like the genre and you’ll get a variety of answers. At the end of the day, however, aren’t all of us there for the love story? We’re there for hero and heroine falling in love and riding off into the sunset. Category romance, with its shorter word counts and fewer pages means that the author has to have an intense focus on the romance in order for the book to work. A category writer cannot mess around. They cannot get sidetracked on a 25-page tangent about the weather, the history of the quaint small town, or the Battle of Waterloo. They need to get to the point. And the point of it all is the romance.
I kicked any lingering snobbery I had towards the romance genre to the curb when I was hired on at my very first professional library job some 10+ years ago. However, I told myself that it was OK to read romance because “It’s not like I read Harlequins!” Seriously, even this librarian can be an idiot. Then one day I actually read one of those “trashy Harlequins” and I fell in love with that strong, intense focus on the hero and heroine relationship. To this day, when I pick up a category romance, that’s what I’m hungry for. Give me the romance, all of the romance, and let nothing else in the story detour me off the road to Happily-Ever-After Land.
I’ll admit it can be easy to make fun of category romances. The titles. The sometimes dippy cover art. The overblown, over-the-top-sounding back cover blurbs that are staples in some of the lines. I also admit that it can be a confusing subgenre to navigate. Even years after a lot of publishers have fled the sub genre, only leaving Harlequin, there’s so much published every month, so many different lines, that for the uninitiated it can be a little confusing. It also tends to enforce the negative stereotype that because the books are in separate imprints, then all the books are somehow the same. Yes, each line might have certain guidelines, but just as there is more than one historical romance out there about an American heiress in London, or more than one paranormal romance out there about vampire hunters, it does not mean category readers are reading the same book over and over again. Likewise, the authors are not filling out some generic template for their books, cranking a story out in a couple of hours.
Seriously, if only it were that easy, right authors?
This nonsensical idea that All The Books Are The Same proliferates across the genre, but nowhere more than in category. Those of us who love them know that this could not be further from the truth. And because I love banging my head against brick walls, over the coming months I plan on highlighting many of the category romance lines and expounding on what makes these Cute Little Books With The Dreadful Titles so great, and so addicting. Hopefully by the end of these posts, even if you aren’t a converted category romance fan, you’ll maybe come to understand a little bit of why so many of us love them. At the very least, I hope that the members of our community will stop throwing some of those slings and arrows our way. Hey, don’t we get enough of that garbage from everyone on the outside?
Wendy the Super Librarian also blogs at WendyTheSuperLibrarian.blogspot.com. So dig that library card out of your pocket and head for the stacks.