Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The words haven't changed, and neither has the attitude

Somewhere around 1991 or 1992, I got together with a few local romance writers and formed what eventually became the Valley of the Sun Chapter of Romance Writers of America.  I served as president for a couple of years, and devised their annual "Hot Prospects" contest.  Yes, it's still running, too.  (Pats self on back.)

One of the greatest things about being a chapter president was the opportunity -- in those days before blogs -- to write a monthly column for the newsletter.  While looking for some other "old words" this afternoon, I stumbled upon this.  Nineteen years and counting. . . .

President's Column for April 1993
The Almighty Dollar

As most of you who write romances are aware, our brand of popular fiction accounts for close to one-half of all mass-market paperback books sold in this country. Whether we receive fifty percent of the advances and royalties paid for these books is debatable. What is not debatable is that we do not receive nearly the respect such numbers should generate.

Andy Rooney (who writes most of his own material, or so he says) and Johnny Carson (who claims to be a "victim" of his staff of writers) have made considerable fun of romance writers. Romances are routinely trashed in newspapers and other print media, and when they aren't denigrated, they are frequently just ignored.

The "bashing" of romances seemed to reach a new low on Mozark Productions' HEARTS AFIRE, a television sitcom that pokes fun at the U.S. government as symbolized by the bumbling fictitious Senator Smithers. In the episode aired March 15, the Senator's speechwriter, a former investigative reporter, confesses with immense shame and embarrassment that she moonlights as a writer of "sleazy" historical romances, under a pseudonym, of course, and also of course only for the money. She has a manuscript due in the morning and 100 pages remain unwritten. Her husband and cronies complete the manuscript for her (with no apparent research for historical accuracy but with liberal use of the word "throb") and deliver the completed product on time. Two days later, the editor produces a check for $25,000. Laughs abound.

Fantasy, right? And good clean fun, right? And we occupy 46% of the paperback market, so why should we care?

We should care because it is the perpetuation of this attitude that keeps us from taking an even greater share of the market. It is this attitude that prevents the reviewers from Newsweek and Time from reviewing romantic fiction with the same respect as mystery or science fiction. It is this attitude that allows publishers to withhold advertising and promotion money from profitable romance authors while lavishing those same funds on first-time mainstream authors, and then using the profits from romance lines to compensate for others that habitually run in the red.

It is even this attitude that allows a reputable agent, who represents romance authors, to negotiate six-figure contracts for her non-romance clients and admit publicly that romance novelists, whose books routinely show profits, support the "serious" writers.

If we are supporting them, by what definition are they "serious?" Does "serious" then mean "unpopular" and/or "unprofitable?" Do we then take it one step further and say that publishing cannot therefore be a "serious" business, since most publishers are in the business to make money, and this is not, by definition, "serious."

The answer, fellow romance writers, is to make a concerted effort to stop this nonsense, to take ourselves seriously, to stand up for ourselves when bashed, whether by ill-informed individuals at cocktail parties or by dollar-wielding media moguls who ought to know better. And to demand the respect, in the form of dollars, that we have earned.
Yeah, right.  That's really happened, hasn't it. 

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