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Is Romance Coming Out Of The Closet?

Romance novels are big business.  They vastly outsell other genres and have since 204 when romance accounted for 55% of all books sold.

So, what does the data show?  That women and men from all walks of life, from the poverty stricken to the wealthy, from the uneducated to the over educated, from single people and those involved in fulfilling, long term relationships, from the unemployed to those who are top grade professionals, read romances.

This has been true despite the fact that romance novels are viewed with "a certain amount of derision"  - people will publicly look down their politically correct noses at the genre, while secretly, their e-readers are full of romances. Yes, the jerk who just said they'd never be caught dead reading one is probably reading one right now.  You know why?

Because despite how successful the genre has been for many years, it has never been as popular as it is today.  And yes, that is largely due to the wildfire success of "Fifty Shades of Grey." It's the book people love to hate and hate to love.  A British journalist came up with a snappy description of "Fifty Shades" but it uses Mills & Boon.  I'm going to borrow the description but "Americanize" it.  Yes, a journalist and self-proclaimed real life submissive described "Fifty Shades" as a Harlequin romance  "with butt plugs."

"Fifty" has become so big that it's re-written all the rules.  It sold 10 million copies in 6 weeks.  It's still selling so well that the publisher can't print enough books to meet the demand - they reprint it weekly and some daily reprints top over 950,000.   Just days ago its author, EL James, tweeted that the just-published Hebrew edition of  "Fifty Shades" sold out in 1 day.  And have publishers noticed?

You bet they have.  Publishers know what readers didn't necessarily realize - (although my previous blogs show that yours truly knew it long ago):  FIFTY SHADES IS NOT EROTICA.  IT IS A ROMANCE NOVEL IN THE CLASSICAL, TRADITIONAL MEANING OF THE GENRE.   Presently, because readers think "Fifty Shades" is erotica, publishers have been hunting and buying publication rights to erotica of all kinds.  However, they're betting that readers will see the difference and non-romance readers will start shopping for more traditional romance novels - and publishers are discounting them and running sales to try to be first in line for that interest.

Another group that's definitely noticed is authors.  Yes, a recent Aussie story caught my eye - it started out talking about how women who work full time jobs and write romance part time (you can see why that would catch my eye) - have long hesitated to tell co-workers, colleagues and even friends and family that they write romance.   Those writers feared the  scorn and scepticism such a confession would provoke.  One writer described it this way:

"We kind of refer to it as coming out, when you come out to people about being a romance writer. It's not on the same scale as coming out about same-sex sexuality, but it's hard. It's a hard thing to do to come out to people when you fear that they might have a very loud and public, negative reaction."

But in the wake of the rampant, culture-changing success of "Fifty Shades" -- "Being a romance writer is not something that people laugh at anymore."

Romance is e-publishing's "biggest-selling product, and many, of course, see digital books as the future of publishing. Romance fans were early, ardent users of e-readers, because they are voracious readers who like the convenience of buying and downloading a book in minutes."

It appears that today- more and more- the publishing industry, readers and yes- even authors- are warming to the romance genre as it goes mainstream.

"....the mainstreaming of romance is simply overdue recognition of a potent market sector. George observes that people who've never read romances wrongly assume they're badly written. She says: "In my experience, it's the opposite that's true. For romance to be engaging, it has to have everything that a good story has - great characters which you relate to, good pace, good plot, credibility. I think good writing is good writing, no matter what the genre is."

Of course, I'm tickled nearly quackless that readers &  industry honchos are finally realizing that romance novels are great books - well written and engaging.  I've always felt that romance is literature, although back in my "querying big publisher" days - I once had a book rejected by one agent as "too literary; it would confuse romance readers".  She suggested I query literary agents.  When I did, the literary agent who read it rejected it because it "had too much sex and would offend literary readers."  So, I quashed my querying and headed down the self-publishing path back in the days when self-publishing wasn't cool.

My imagination was more taken with the notion that the success of "Fifty Shades" has made authors less ashamed of what they write.  The new trend is for romance writers to open the door, come out of the closet and confess their secret life to the world.   Gee, I missed the old trend.  I never realized that I was supposed to be in the closet.  And my friends and co-workers have always been proud of me.  My boss tells clients, proudly, about my writing career.

Maybe I didn't realize I was supposed to be in the closet because I'm from the South.  Here we don't hide eccentricity - we parade it.  We bring it out at the dinner table and show it to everyone.  We cover our desks with ducks and keep one on an office bookshelf that has its own bottle and quacks to be fed.

Oh, wait -- scratch that last part - maybe that's just me.......