Saturday, September 23, 2006

Category Romances

Do category romances (i.e mostly the ones published by Harlequin/Mills & Boon) get less respect than single titles? In the UK Mills & Boon are pretty much the only well-known publisher printing romances, so I assumed that when Mills & Boon novels came in for criticism, that was because they were the romances with the highest profile, and it just reflected the way that the genre as a whole is denigrated. But as I've spent more time on US-based romance boards and blogs, I've got the impression that even within the romance genre some romances are perhaps 'more equal than others'. I read Jennifer Crusie's article on category romance, in which she comments that
Every now and then, well-meaning friends congratulate me on having broken out of category romance. I love the image this evokes--the sirens, the lights raking the sky, my desperate plunge toward the wall, Birgit and Malle holding onto my ankles--but the truth is, I didn't break out of category, I was evicted. I love category romance. I think it's an outstanding although very difficult form of fiction. "Oh, come on," I can hear some of you saying. "Those little books?"
I assumed that maybe these friends were people who didn't really know much about romance, or that they were thinking of the advantages of 'breaking out' such as having one's work available on the shelves of bookshops for longer. But now I'm beginning to wonder. I know there are some websites which review more category romances than others, such as The Romance Reader and CataRomance (which, as its name suggests, only reviews category romances), but is it the case that category romances are less likely to get reviewed than single-titles? Is it just because of the speed at which they're removed from the shelves? Or is it because people feel that they're of inferior quality to single-titles?


  1. As a CBA reviewer of nearly 200 titles, I've reviewed exactly one category romance. On my blog. And it was written by an online friend.

  2. So with other types of romances, do the publishers send them out free to reviewers? I wonder if with category romances the publishers maybe promote the category/line more than they do individual books? Clearly some review websites are reviewing category romances, so I wonder where they get them from. Are the reviewers paying for them themselves? Or do some of the authors send out free copies? I know that some authors of category romances do a lot of self-promotion. But then, authors of single-title romances seem to have to do a lot of self-promotion too.

    As you can tell from all the questions, this is an area I know next to nothing about.

  3. I admit to snobbishness when it comes to category romances. There are a few (very few) authors whose category romances I buy, but that's because I found them first in single title, or I met the author herself somewhere.

    It's partly because the first two times I tried romance, it was via a Silhouette subscripton--once in the mid-80s and once in the late-80s. Out of dozens of books, I found exactly 3 worth keeping.

    Then later, in the late-90s, having "discovered" romance, I tried again, with subscriptions to different Silhouette/Harlequin lines that I thought would better fit my interests, with the same results: only a very few gems and the rest cliche-ridden and dull.

    Maybe the quality has improved in recent years, but I'm wary of trying again, and my TBR pile is too big to take chances.

    But yes, the free books thing does come into it, too--if Harlequin sent me free books, I'd read them & write about them just like I do the ones from Berkley/Jove.

  4. I agree with Jennifer Crusie - that category romance is 'an outstanding although very difficult form of romance' - it's that difficult bit that many reviewers, many academics, many many journalists don't seem to get. They see how many of the books are written, how easy they are to read and they assume that they are 'dashed off/churned out' and a dozen other derogatory descriptions for the writing process that has gone into them.

    In answer to this I always quote:

    When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing. Enrique Jardiel Poncela

    It's not that the writers/writing is simplistic but that the author has been at great pains to make the book easily readable. Certainly, I've found creating new stories again and again each with along the same lines but with a new twist, something in the characters, a new angle on a plot that makes the reader enjoy this book within their expectations while at the same time not thinking it's exactly the same as everything else I've written is far harder than any of the academ,ic writing I did for my MA etc.

    Reviews - I think the publishers do promote the line rather than the individual authors within them so it's up to the authors to promote their own work as a way to make it individual amongst such large numbers of titles produced every month in so many lines. I submit my books personally to various sites where there are reviewers who will read and review them. The short space of time and the numbers of titles does have soemthing to do with the way that they are not generally reviewed, because they're seen more as a magazine type of publication - here this month, gone next. But not in the minds of the readers who collect 'keepers', reread favourites, go back and find backlists when they discover a new author.

  5. the author has been at great pains to make the book easily readable

    They certainly are easily readable; the reader can zoom through one of them very quickly, enjoying the story. Of course, there's a huge skill in making a story flow so that the reader is caught up in it in that way, but the reader doesn't notice that. Not being a writer, I'm not trained to notice some of the things that writers talk about such such as beats, headhopping, etc. But, when I stop and think about the books, and I've been doing this more and more frequently, I can quite often see themes and imagery which underpin/are woven into the story and give it extra richness.

  6. I believe Nora Roberts once compared writing category to dancing Swan Lake in a phone box -- which describes the restrictions resulting from the word count quite nicely, doesn't it? But perhaps the compressed plot also allows for stories which wouldn't work out as well in a longer format, e.g. even in many of today's M&B Modern Romances the hero is mad at the heroine for quite a long time, distrusts her, and comes up with dark plans of revenge. The same can't probably be done in longer single titles, in which there is more room for characterization and descriptions of character development, or the hero would come across as a total jerk. If I'm not mistaken there are also not that many amnesia and secret baby stories outside categroy.


    But not in the minds of the readers who collect 'keepers', reread favourites, go back and find backlists when they discover a new author.

    And Harlequin/M&B have caught up with that, haven't they, when you look at the many reprints of older titles or special author editions like Lynne Graham's International Playboys series in 2004 or the Queens of Romance edition earlier this year.


    Darla, I see you're from Germany -- have you ever been to the Booklovers' Conference in Wiesbaden?