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Happily Ever After

Happily Ever After
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Long derided as the lowest form of literature, the genre of romance covers a wide spectrum of sub-genres, including historical, paranormal, fantasy, contemporary, “chick lit,” and more. What readers, writers, publishers, and reviewers fail to acknowledge is that romance shows up in every fiction genre. The difference is that the romantic relationship serves as the fulcrum for the story within the romance genre: it’s the focus of the story, not an ancillary subplot.

In July 2016, the Association of American Publishers released a report stating that the U.S. publishing industry generated nearly $28 billion in revenue in 2015, representing 2.71 billion units. 

That doesn’t tell the whole story. The Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) presentation published on July 15, 2016, by Author Earnings reports total book sales of 748 million units in 2015. Fiction comprised 88 percent of books sold, with 31 percent of fiction book sales allotted to the romance genre alone. 

We can parse the numbers further. The RWA reports that the romance genre claimed 4.4 percent of Nielsen Bookscan units and 45 percent of paid units--and that sales within the romance genre are underreported. The RWA also asserts that 89 percent of romance book sales are digital, less than 50 percent are self-published books, and 67 percent of all U.S. romance sales are not tracked by any traditional industry metric. The RWA offers informative statistics regarding the genre’s strength.

No matter how you break down the numbers, sales reports by genre show that romance is the largest selling genre in both ink and digital formats. 
Aspirational, not Inspirational
Aspirational, not Inspirational
Writing for Thought Catalog, Porter Anderson researched comments from the Writer Unboxed community: “Most of the conversation lay within bookish purview. There were complaints about the ‘rules’ of romance imposed by the RWA being much too strict.” That was followed by “A couple of respondents… wrote that they find romance simplistic, one mentioning that she see its heroines as ‘defined’ by the hero. Another opinion, however, stated that ‘the formulaic approach to romances perpetuating the culture of rape is fading away.”

Overall criticism concerned the lack of quality writing and the strong endorsement of traditional roles with an emphasis on “a woman’s place being at her man’s side.” Other criticisms focused on cover art: “The couple-in-a-clutch is a signal of soft-pornography, not of quality literature, genre or otherwise.”

The argument that romance as a genre deserve respect isn’t new.  In an article for the by Emma Pearse, literary scholar Franz Lyons is quoted, “In fact, if you look back at the 18th century reaction to popular fiction for women, it’s the same exact argument as we’re having 250 years later. At some point, you’ve got to say, this is so ridiculous.”
Lingering Sexism
Lingering Sexism
From bestselling author Danielle Steel to lesser known authors, the main impediment to literary respect centers upon sexism. Although the genre has expanded to include alternative relationships , romance mainly concerns stories written by women for women with a focus on the happiness and fulfillment of women.

The main problem with romance, opines Anderson, is that it focuses on love (or infatuation) as the centerpiece of human life. That emphasis creates feelings of inadequacy because the complexity of human life demands long-term, focused attention on other facets of everyday living: money, children, work, etc. Romance, he says is “aspirational,” not inspirational. Our relationships never reach perfection, despite our societal obsession. In real life, men seldom match the handsome, wealthy, alpha male heroes that populate the genre’s pages, even though the genre has grown more tolerant of less-than-perfect physiques among heroines. Heroines no longer need be slender and beautiful.

Adrian McKinty lists the the most reviled genres in descending order: literary fiction, crime fiction, horror, sea stories, science fiction, fantasy, airport thriller/war books, funny novels, chick lit, romance./erotica. He attributes the cultural loathing for romance to misogyny.
Bound by Tradition
Bound by Tradition
In the 1980s, heroines began to evolve from traditional gender roles. A generation later, we have witnessed the return of women to their traditional roles of being rescued from their lives of underpaid drudgery by a handsome and wealthy man, oftentimes the woman’s boss. This devolution of gender parity emerges from the lessons of the Women’s Liberation Movement.

The Cinderella theme thrives. In short, the hero lifts the heroine from indigent drudgery to a life of wealth and leisure. From ancient myths to modern novels all too numerous to count, literature is filled with thousands of such scenarios from authors such as:
It’s no accident that the most famous authors of romance happen to be women. They were the vanguard of stories that centered upon women and emphasized the fulfillment of women’s dreams, even when those dreams dared not push the envelope of societal expectations. For each of these women, marriage to a man who treated his wife kindly and could support her (and their children) in relative comfort imbued the best a woman could expect. An aristocratic title was just icing on the wedding cake.
Another traditional trope continues to thrive: woman in jeopardy. In this common scenario, a victimized woman must be rescued from danger. Often the focus of a villain who wants this paragon of womanhood for himself, the heroine lacks the wherewithal to liberate herself. Upon rescue, she cleaves unto the hero for the traditional happily-ever-after ending. This trope originates in old fairy tales and legends, such as Tristan & Isolde, and lends itself to the sub-genre of gothic romance. Writers of gothic novels often juxtapose dark, brooding heroes alongside innocent ingenues.  Titles within the “women-in-jeopardy” trope include:
The Happy Ending
The Happy Ending
As with any fiction book, the story is the most important factor when choosing material to read. Good romance isn’t about explicit sex. Its writing involves the same qualities as good writing in any genre, plus a liberal dose of fantasy that the ending--traditionally marriage--also will begin a new and wonderful life. People from every socioeconomic level and background read romance, whether or not they admit it because people want a happy ending. 

Enjoy the journey.

By Karen M. Smith

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