Tuesday, March 21, 2023

News, Commentary, Registration for IASPR 2023 and New Publications

The closing date for early-bird registration for the IASPR conference is 31 March. There's a hybrid as well as an in-person option.

The BBC has published an article with the annoying premise that, as the most formulaic genre of popular fiction, romance is presumably the most at risk of being produced by artificial intelligence. However, the article does also mention that

Last year, sales of romantic fiction in the US shot up by 52.4%, compared with an increase of just 8.5% for adult fiction overall.

Meanwhile, sales of the genre in the UK have increased more than two fold over the past three years.

Erin at The Smut Report explores the preponderance of penetrative sex in m/m romance and concludes that 

Sexual fantasy and wish fulfillment is all over the place in romance. But while wish fulfillment and smoothing out rough edges (I mean, is douching sexy? Apparently not, because—while showers are prolific—these guys never do it.) is one indisputable component of genre romance, it also often contributes to certain groups of readers feeling invisible. Fantasy is great and all, but sometimes it would be nice also to stop the barrage of input that maybe something’s broken because one hasn’t met one’s perfect Romance Novel Partner yet, and that’s why one struggles to orgasm / doesn’t enjoy penetration / doesn’t enjoy sex at all / fill in the blank.

And on the topic of inaccuracies/fantasies, Scientific American offers a reminder that wolves generally do not behave the way that shifter/werewolf romances imply they do: "The idea that wolf packs are led by a merciless dictator, or alpha wolf, comes from old studies of captive wolves. In the wild, wolf packs are simply families."

This year's issue of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies has begun to appear online, and includes:

Other recently published works on romance are:

Burge, Amy (2022) "Beyond Outlander: Annie S. Swan and the Scottish popular romance novel." Scottish Literary Review 14.2:1-19 [I've linked to the entry at the Romance Scholarship Database as there's both an official version (behind a paywall) and a free, pre-print version.]

Cannon, Emanni N (2022). Contemporary Romance and the Question of Literary Value. Master of Arts in English Literature, San Francisco State University. 

Ghosh, Srijani (2023). "Diversity Sells: Uzma Jalaluddin’s Muslim Adaptation of Pride and Prejudice." English Studies. Online First. [Abstract]

Lindström Kruse, Miranda (2022). Pinsamma läsningar: En affektteoretisk studie av #SpicyBooks på TikTok. Masters thesis, Uppsala universitet. 

McDade, Monique (2023). California Dreams and American Contradictions: Women Writers and the Western Ideal. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. [There is a chapter on Eva Rutland, and though the focus is not on her romance novels, this is the first significant academic work about her. See the RSDB for more details.]

Pupipat, Apisak (2023). "Should a Book Be Judged by its Back Cover? Some Written/Formal Features as Observed in Happily- Ever-After Women’s Novel Blurbs." LEARN Journal: Language Education and Acquisition Research Network 16.1:604-630.

Rattanamathuwong, Bancha (2023). "Time Is on Our Side?: Homo Economicus in Time-Travel Romance." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction. [Abstract]

Monday, February 06, 2023

A snippet of romance history

This is probably not very interesting, but since I came across it, I thought I might as well share, since it provides some insight into romance publishing in the 1970s and (possibly, since this is very outdated) some suggestions about how writing romance can help improve other types of writing. It's the opening paragraphs of

Reid, Joy. 1995. "Developing ESL Writing Materials for Publication or Writing as a Learning Experience." Material Writer's Guide. Ed. Patrica Byrd. New York: Heinle & Heinle Publishers. 64-78.

My initial experience with book publishing came not with my first ESL [English as a Second Language] composition textbook but rather with two “pristine” romances. I was teaching a continuing education literature course when one of the nontraditional students approached me and suggested that we should write a book together. She was interested in the romance genre, which I had never read. So I read a dozen, and I thought, “Shucks. I could write one of these.” The eventual result was Orchids for Hilary, a manuscript we mailed (under our pseudonym, Shannon Sayer), uninvited, to the top publisher, Harlequin Romances. Three months later we received a letter indicating that Harlequin would accept the manuscript. Because we had visions of a long and lucrative career as romance writers, we began to write a second romance. Several months passed and we heard again from Harlequin; this time we were informed that there had been a change of editors and a change of mind — our heroine was too competent, the letter stated. Depressed, my coauthor dropped out. In some desperation, I investigated Literary Marketplace, the reference book that lists and describes publishers alphabetically. I mailed Orchids to Avalon Books (the first potential publisher I encountered), and then completed Summer of Pearls. Both manuscripts were published; I never saw either galleys or page proofs — the little, Nancy Drew-like hardbacks simply arrived. The wealth and fame I had anticipated evaporated, and I discovered that sitting alone in my living room, without the pleasures of collaboration, trying to think about what my characters were eating and wearing, was really boring work.

In retrospect, my coauthor and I should have sought out an agent to market and negotiate for us; unlike authors in the world of textbooks, most first-time fiction authors work through an agent. In addition, we should have fired off an immediate reply to the new editor’s letter, asking for specifics about how to revise our manuscript in order to fulfill her expectations. But we didn’t know enough about publishing to do that, and so the opportunity passed. Occasionally I receive a small check when one or the other book is translated into Swedish or used by a British soap opera; otherwise the books served only as a learning experience, particularly about my own writing and about the teaching of academic discourse. Writing “recipe” romances, for example, forced me to reexamine my own prose: to eliminate semicolons (successful romance writers do not use them), to embed short strings of descriptive adjectives (difficult for an academic writer), to be alert for “the less I know, the more I write” syndrome, and to recognize my tendency to use multisyllabic words when inspiration (and clear, short vocabulary) evade me. As a result of what I learned about my own prose, I found that in my native English speaker (NES) and ESL classes I was better able to analyze discourse, audience, and genres in ways that made my teaching of the processes and products of academic prose clearer. (64-65)

Orchids for Hilary was published in 1978 and can be found online here. I haven't read it to see what the second Harlequin editor considered to be "too competent."

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Romance and Quantitative Literary Studies

Katherine Bode's review article titled "Why You Can’t Model Away Bias" (2020) is about Ted Underwood's Distant Horizons: Digital Evidence and Literary Change (2019). Neither are about romance, but I thought some readers might be intrigued by part of Bode's article which uses romance to rebut one of Underwood's claims:

In chapter 4 Underwood employs a data set derived from HathiTrust to identify a decline in the proportion of English-language fiction by women from around 50 percent of titles in the late nineteenth century to roughly 20 percent by 1970 before a reversion to a bit under half of all titles at the end of the twentieth century. Noting that elite university and public library collections may have simply collected more books by men than by women, Underwood seeks to test whether this bias influenced his results by comparing the proportions of male and female authors in HathiTrust to those in manual samples from four years of Publishers Weekly listings. Because the Publishers Weekly samples indicate an even more dramatic fall in women’s writing, Underwood claims that the comparison “addresses . . . doubts” about “how well . . . those collections represent the wider world of fiction” (135). While Publishers Weekly incorporates a great deal of popular fiction that does not figure in academic collections, it indexes almost no titles by even the most prominent and prolific popular romance fiction publisher of the twentieth century, Mills and Boon. Women authors predominate in this genre, and its heyday—the 1950s to the 1970s—corresponds with the most dramatic decline in the proportional representation of women authors and characters in Underwood’s results.

To explore how much the exclusion of romance fiction may have influenced his results, figure 1 amends Underwood’s figure 4.9 (134), using data on Australian women’s novels from 1945 to 2000. If American and British women wrote romance fiction at levels similar to that recorded in the Australian context, then rates of fiction by women would remain relatively flat through the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, at levels equivalent to that found at the turn of the twentieth century. There would be a decline in women’s fiction in the 1970s, but a less dramatic one than Underwood reports, and the general trend across the twentieth century would be fairly stable or growing. The Australian data thus undermine Underwood’s conjecture that the decline in female characterization was due to a decline in women authors of fiction, and expose the fragility of inferences based on literary data sets that have not been adequately historicized. I am not saying that my results show what actually happened; I am using them here as another sample. My point is that comparing two—or three or four or five or however many—samples cannot rule out similar biases in them, nor can it define the degree or limits of bias introduced by sampling methods.

I'm not qualified to give any opinion on the methodology used by either Bode or Underwood but I was a little perplexed by Bode's statement that the "heyday" of romance fiction was "the 1950s to the 1970s." Certainly as far as the US market is concerned, The Flame and the Flower (published in 1972) is credited as starting a new era in popular romance.

Also, Bode refers to Mills & Boon, but I think that Publishers Weekly is an American publication, so I would imagine that if Mills & Boon were going to be included there, they'd have been published by Harlequin. Was Bode unaware that Mills & Boon novels were published by Harlequin in the North American market? Or is Bode correct in identifying a lack of romance in the data and PW didn't include Harlequin romances?

Anyway, it's always wise to be aware that there may be problems with data (e.g. as discussed with regards to bestseller lists here).


Thursday, January 12, 2023

CFP: Revisiting Radway

With thanks to Azteclady, who alerted me to this call for papers/submissions:

Still Reading Romance

deadline for submissions: March 15, 2023
full name / name of organization: Kathleen Kollman

Editors: Josefine Smith, Shippensburg University, jmsmith@ship.edu; and Kathleen Kollman, Miami University, kollmak@miamioh.edu 

Overview: Based on initial research performed by Janice Radway for her groundbreaking work, Reading the Romance (U of NC Press, 1984), this collection’s co-editor Josefine Smith designed an updated version of Radway’s survey, targeting romance novel readers. After two distributions, the result was over 300 responses and a raw data set which is now shareable to interested contributors to this volume. This survey includes questions on the following topics: Romance Reading Habits, the Romance Genre, the New Adult Fiction Subgenre, and Demographics.

Contributors will be free to analyze the data through whatever relevant lenses they choose, with an eye toward exploring how mores, interests, readership, and the romance novel itself has changed and developed over the nearly forty years since Radway conducted her original research. This will be a book-length peer-reviewed volume. Contributors from all disciplines are welcome and encouraged to submit, and the editors are interested in all types of research methods and theoretical perspectives. Both affiliated and independent scholars are encouraged to submit, as are early-career researchers.

Topics of particular interest include:

  • Women and gender studies research

  • Reader response research

  • Mixed methods research that spins off from the original survey

  • Direct comparison with Radway’s original research

  • Shifting cultural norms in popular fiction representation

  • Genre theory research

  • Romance novel readers’ engagement with feminism and gender equity.

This is not an exhaustive list.

For more information see https://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/cfp/2022/09/19/still-reading-romance 

The call for papers does say that people thinking of submitting can ask to see the data in advance, which I think is helpful as it may be that potential contributors might have issues with the questions, spot something they wouldn't have expected in the data etc and that would affect their submission.

I don't know the editors, but I did find one paper by Kathleen Kollman in the RSDB (it was a paper presented to a conference at Bowling Green University in 2018).

Friday, January 06, 2023

More recent/forthcoming publications: Goodreads, good reading, governesses and sheikhs

I accidentally missed an item off my previous list of new publications:

Turner, Ellen and Cecilia Wadsö Lecaros, Cecilia (2022). “The desert-governess romance: Regency England meets exotic Arabia.” Lund Journal of English Studies 4:1-24.

And since I've started this post, I thought I might as well add a few snippets from an article which isn't primarily about romance but does include some findings about romance readers. I get the impression that the authors of the article aren't judging readers, they're just pointing out that  few people are really reading as widely as is claimed (but not by them) to be "good" for you.

In the Introduction to Literary Studies and Human Flourishing, the editors, James F. English and Heather Love, describe the article like this:

English, Enderle, and Dhakecha find that ordinary readers are encouraged to take joy and solace from ways of reading that are sharply at odds with what is positively valued - deemed to be "good for you" - in academic literary studies. The team's study of many thousands of ratings and reviews on the Goodreads social reading site suggests that the vast majority of readers turn to literature to enjoy the repeatable satisfactions of a single favored genre such as romance, mystery, or science fiction. Even Goodreads users who describe their attachment to reading in the academically approved terms of an eclectic openness to new kinds of literary encounter appear actually to seek the comforts of belonging to a narrow community of shared tastes. (14)

In the article itself, English, Enderle, and Dhakecha write that:

readers who favor romance novels [...] are the most balkanized, the least omnivorous, and the most distant from readers who favor literary fiction [...]. The readers of literary fiction would themselves be as sharply segregated as romance readers were it not for the blurry borderland they share with readers of historical fiction [...]. The extreme lack of affinity between the romance and literary groups conforms with a classic high/low social division, romance being the least critically respected of all popular genres and literary fiction being in a sense a tautological category consisting of precisely those novels that attract critical regard. The strong affinity [...] between literary fiction and historical fiction conforms with what we know about the increasingly close relationship between critical status and historical setting on the contemporary literary field. And these patterns [...] conform with a conventional gender hierarchy. Women are a clear majority of Goodreads fiction readers in general, but we find them most heavily concentrated, approaching 100%, in romance. (52)

They do raise questions, though, about the "academically approved [...] eclectic openness to new kinds of literary encounter":  "shouldn't we [...] direct some critical vigilance toward the orthodoxy of eclecticism itself? When exactly did the heterogeneity of one's reading become the measure of one's readerly health?" (59). Unfortunately the book's not been published yet, so I wasn't able to read any further to see if they provide any answers to those questions.

What I did find was the authors' website where you can find an interactive graph of their findings.


English, James F., Scott Enderle, and Rahul Dhakecha. "Bad Habits on Goodreads? Eclecticism vs. Genre-Intolerance among Online Readers." Literary Studies and Human Flourishing, Ed. James F. English and Heather Love. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023. 35-62. [Excerpt here.]

Thursday, January 05, 2023

News and New Publications: Publishing Woe, a Forthcoming Book on the Romance Heroine's Journey, etc

I've now left Twitter but I can still be contacted via my website, via responses to posts here, and I'm also on Mastodon as @lauravivanco@romancelandia.club .

I would say "Happy New Year!" but SmartBitchesTrashy Books is reporting that

It’s a bleak time in the professional world of media and book publishing.

The Harper Collins Union remains on strike after more than a month, and HarperCollins is refusing to negotiate. Publishing shuts down at Christmas, so it’s likely they’ll be on strike into next year. [...]

There are layoffs happening at so many publications, too, including in books coverage. BuzzFeed has laid off a portion of their workforce, including their books editor, Farrah Penn.

And Gannett, parent to USA Today, laid off a portion of their workforce, including Mary Cadden, who compiled the USA Today bestseller list

To continue the bleak midwinter theme, Jezebel is reporting that 

In October 2020, a post on indie romance author Susan Meachen’s Facebook page, allegedly written by her daughter, announced that Meachen had tragically died by suicide a month earlier. This news was followed by more posts from Meachen’s “daughter” (on Meachen’s account) in the author’s private writers group, The Ward, suggesting her mother took her own life because her peers in the online indie book community bullied her.

In light of this horrible news, authors and online friends helped fund Meachen’s funeral, created an anti-bullying anthology in her memory, and offered to help her daughter edit her mother’s final book, free of charge. On Monday—over two years later—Meachen’s account posted something new in The Ward. This time, it was Susan saying she’s actually been alive this whole time.

On a happier note than redundancies and possible fraud, romance academic Dr. Amy Burge was quoted on the BBC website recommending romance-themed Christmas movies/books. She ended with a quick summary of what romance scholarship's about:  "While many read [...] romance for comfort and entertainment, readers can also think more critically about the genre, questioning the way these books represent the dreams, desires, and values of a particular society."

This is evident in Jayashree Kamblé's Creating Identity: The Popular Romance Heroine's Journey to Selfhood and Self-Presentation forthcoming (due in the summer) new book, which is now available for pre-order. You can read an excerpt here. I've collected some of the key quotes from that excerpt, describing the contents, here.

And now on to a list of recent publications:

Long, Veronica Lee (2022). “Individuation and the Romance Novel.” PhD thesis, Pacifica Graduate Institute.

Pupipat, A., Rungkaew, T., & Meeparp, L. (2022). "Judging a Book by its Back Cover: Spoken/Informal Register as Found in Happily-Ever-After Women’s Novel Blurbs." Journal of Studies in the English Language, 17(2), 1–31.

Sheehan, Sarah E. (2022) "The “Popular Romance Canon”: An Academic Librarian’s Response." Journal of Popular Romance Studies 11. [I would like to note that there are some academic libraries with significant romance collections, as listed at the Romance Wiki (unfortunately I've been unable to log in to it and update it with details about the acquisition made by Indiana University's Lilly Library) and I've also added some to the sidebar here at Teach Me Tonight.]

Friday, December 02, 2022

New Publications and Blog Update: Definitions, Canons and more (but probably less in future)

Twitter's been an important source of information for me in finding links and keeping up with what's been happening in the romance world, but with all the upheaval there, I've decided it's time to leave. Unfortunately, that means I'll lose an important source of content for this blog and there will probably be far fewer, maybe even no, notifications of calls for papers. I'll still be posting updates about items added to the Romance Scholarship Database, though.

The last thing I've been present for in online "Romancelandia" is a heated debate about the definition of "romance." I'm not the arbiter of that: my work's about romance as it has been defined, not as it will be. But I am the arbiter of what I add to the database, and so I've added an "About page" to give a brief explanation. I'm using the definition of "romance" given by the editors of The Routledge Research Companion to Popular Romance Fiction. [Incidentally one of the new items listed below takes a very interesting, in-depth look at debates about the definition of romance - see Michelson.]

Another contentious topic (which has not, as far as I know, been provoking controversy recently online), is that of a "canon." There's a trio of short articles about the "romance canon" (would it be helpful? is the concept intrinsically flawed?) in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies:

Other new publications are:

Burge, Amy (2022). "Beyond Outlander: Annie S. Swan and the Scottish popular romance novel." Scottish Literary Review. [This is still forthcoming, but a pre-print is available for free via the University of Birmingham.]

Grinnell, Natalie (2022). "The Challenge to Dominance Theory in Patricia Brigg's and Carrie Vaughn's Paranormal Romance Novels." Femspec 22.2:40-65. [Abstract]

Hua, Shaoqi and Chengli Xiao (2023). "What shapes a parasocial relationship in RVGs? The effects of avatar images, avatar identification, and romantic jealousy among potential, casual, and core players." Computers in Human Behavior 139. [Abstract and excerpt]

Konle, Leonard and Fotis Jannidis (2022). "Modeling Plots of Narrative Texts as Temporal Graphs." CHR 2022: Computational Humanities Research Conference, December 12 – 14, 2022, Antwerp, Belgium :318-336.

Michelson, Anna (2022). Redefining the Romance: Classification and Community in a Popular Fiction Genre. PhD thesis, Northwestern University. https://doi.org/10.21985/n2-4tj1-6567

Sharma, Vishal, Kirsten E. Bray, Neha Kumar, Rebecca E. Grinter (2022). “Romancing the Algorithm: Navigating Constantly, Frequently, and Silently Changing Algorithms for Digital Work.” Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery on Human-Computer Interaction.Volume 6, Issue CSCW:1–29. https://doi.org/10.1145/3555651

One last item, which I'm not adding to the database because it only mentions romance in passing, is a thesis by Leon Kooijmans titled "Christianity after the Death of God: Christian Atheism and the Materiality of Absence." In it Kooijmans observes that, "Since the 1990s, an increasing amount of (post-)evangelical Christians in North America and Europe sought to form communities in creative and innovative ways [...]. One notable group associated with this Emerging Church Movement is called ‘Ikon’, a small collective of artists and disillusioned Christians, agnostics and atheists located in Belfast, Northern Ireland that was active from 2001 to 2013." The connection with romance is that at one of their first meetings (on the topic of the prodigal son), "Around the room dozens of Mills and Boon novels that we had purchased in a second-hand bookshop have been scattered around the various surfaces" (18) and "As the service draws to a close everyone is invited to take away a Mills and Boon book as a reminder of the evening’s theme" (21).

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Call for Proposals and Papers: IASPR Conference 2023

From the IASPR website. Note that this is Birmingham in the UK, just in case anyone was confused.
The ninth annual international conference on popular romance studies:

Romance Revitalised
Birmingham, June 28-30 2023

Proposal deadline: December 31, 2022

This will be the first meeting of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance in five years. In this time, the world has changed significantly: how we live, and, as a result, how we love.

In the spirit of renewal, the theme for the 2023 IASPR conference is a broad one. We are open to proposals for papers, posters and panels on anything to do with the popular culture of romantic love, now and in the past, from any discipline, from anywhere in the world.

Popular Romance Studies is an interdisciplinary field, including (but not limited to) scholars from literary studies; film, television, and media studies; communication and the social sciences; critical race, feminist, queer and disability studies; audience & fan studies, etc. All theoretical and empirical approaches are welcome, including talks, panels, and workshops on professional development, international collaboration, and pedagogy. Content creators, writers, and professionals from various romance industries are invited to submit proposals as well.

Submit abstracts of 250 words, along with a brief biography of 100 words, to conferences@iaspr.org by December 31, 2022. Please specify whether you are proposing a paper, workshop, or poster. Panel submissions (3-4 related papers) are welcome.

We are currently investigating the possibility of a hybrid conference. Please indicate whether you would be interested in this option.

If you do not have a permanent academic job at a university (eg. a PhD student, contingent staff, an independent researcher), or are an untenured Assistant Professor, you may be eligible for the Kathleen Seidel Travel Grant. Please note if you wish to receive more information about this opportunity.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Bonkbusters: Call for Australian Readers to Interview

Jodi McAlister is asking "do you (or your mum, or your aunt, or their friends, or anyone) want to help @dramyburge and I with some research on 1970s/80s romance?"

Did you ever read "bonkbusters"? Dr Jodi McAlister (Deakin University) and Dr Amy Burge (University of Birmingham) are conducting a research project on the “bonkbuster” the kinds of books published by Jilly Cooper, Jackie Collins, Shirley Conran, and similar authors in the 1970s/80s. If you live in Australia and you read these books, we’d love to talk to you in one of our focus groups! We value the knowledge readers have, and believe it is important to preserve and take seriously. If you’re interested in participating, please email Dr Jodi McAlister at jodi.mcalister@deakin.edu.au for more information. This study has received Deakin University ethics approval HAE-22-100

The thread on Twitter adds that this is their

official callout for focus group participants, which will take place in November/December 2022 (one in Melbourne, one on Zoom). If you know someone who fits the bill, please forward it along!

Were you ever a voracious reader of authors like Jilly Cooper, Jackie Collins, or Shirley Conran? If this sounds like you, we’d love you to help us with some research!

Dr Jodi McAlister (Deakin University) and Dr Amy Burge (University of Birmingham) are conducting a research project on the “bonkbuster”, a very popular genre of romantic fiction in the 1970s and 1980s. Think Riders. Think Rock Star. Think Lace. 

If you’re Australian and you read these books, we’d love to talk to you in one of our focus groups! We value the knowledge readers have, and believe it is important to preserve and take seriously. 

If you’re interested in participating, please comment here or send me a DM so I can send you more information. 

Monday, October 31, 2022

Testing for Twitter Deletions

There's a lot of people talking about leaving Twitter at the moment and/or locking/deleting posts. So, I'm going to try testing to see what happens if an embedded tweet on here is subsequently deleted.

I made the post go live. Here's what the page then looked like:

Screenshot of this blog post when it was called "Testing". It shows a paragraph of text followed by a tweet, complete with my twitter icon, a box around the tweet and the other usual Twitter graphics. Below it is a paragraph saying I'm going to make the test go live and I'll then delete the tweet on Twitter.

Then I deleted the tweet. I thought I'd leave this post up for a bit in case anyone's interested in the result, which is that the text that was in the original tweet remains even though the Twitter graphics are lost. I suspect that all images or quote tweets embedded in a deleted tweet will be lost, but this does reassure me that there won't just be blank spaces in the places on this blog where I've embedded tweets.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Price Reduction, A Lost Sociologist, Bestseller Lists Which Aren't Necessarily So and some New Publications

Some of you may be relieved to learn that The Routledge Research Companion to Popular Romance Fiction is now available in paperback, at a price much lower than that of the hardback edition. (Here's a link to the publisher's site, but obviously it's available from many other places too.]


* I found a reference to an article from the 2 December 1972 issue of the Spanish magazine Blanco y Negro in which María Teresa March, described in the article as an essayist and sociologist, reveals to Julio Coll that she is planning to write a study titled "De la novela de boudoir a la foto novela" and that she had, in a sense, gone "undercover" as a romance author, getting contracts with two publishers with the pseudonyms Laura Denis and Síndola Martin. March then gives details of how she was studying the romance: apparently, among other things, she studied the locations in which copies of her 12 novels as "Laura Denis" ended up. She also states that 

Lo que es falso, no es moral. El genero rosa es portador de falsas realidades.  Por tanto, es inmoral en cuanto no es verdadero. Y conste que, a pesar de ser un subproducto, a veces esta muy bien escrito. [That which is false is immoral. The romance genre conveys false realities. As such, it's immoral inasmuch as it's untruthful. And note that, despite being subliterature, sometimes it's very well written.]

It does make you wonder how someone can justify writing (and being paid for writing) so many novels if they think they're immoral. And she wrote a lot of novels, apparently.

Although I haven't been able to find any trace of a work of sociology by March, I was able to find was a list of 9 novels under the name Laura Denis and an indication that she not only used "Laura Denis" and "Síndola Martín" but that she also wrote as "Amanda Román" as well as penning Westerns as "Mark Sten." [You can see pretty small versions of all of the pages (16-18) via https://www.abc.es/archivo/periodicos/blanco-negro-19721202.html]

* An article in Public Books by Jordan Pruett discusses the extent to which "bestseller" lists actually reflect what's selling the most, which is an issue to bear in mind when trying to build a corpora of texts. Specifically with respect to romance:

the status of mass-market romance today is perhaps comparable to that of thrillers in the 1940s and ’50s. If it weren’t for the fact that the Times now publishes a separate mass-market list, some of these authors wouldn’t appear on bestseller lists at all (and even this mass-market Times list has recently been demoted from a weekly to a monthly publication schedule). This says more about formatting practices in the publishing industry than it does about the popularity of these authors.


-----New Publications-----

Henderson, Aneeka Ayanna (2020). Veil and Vow: Marriage Matters in Contemporary African American Culture. University of North Carolina Press. [This includes a chapter which "offers a close reading of black/white interracial romance in Sandra Kitt's The Color of Love (1995)"]

Michelson, Anna (2022). "Pushing the boundaries: Erotic romance and the symbolic boundary nexus." Poetics. Online First. [Abstract]

Wijanarka, Hirmawan (2022). "Cinderella Formula: The Romance Begins." Journal of Language and Literature 22.2. 481-489.

Friday, October 07, 2022

Links: Events, Data, Publishing, Race, Social Reform and Accolades for Romance

First the events:

Saturday 15 October - Rare Books Specialist Rebecca Romney will be leading a class on romance book collecting. It's free and online and more details can be found here.

Saturday 5 November - Hosted by the Center for Black Diaspora at DePaul University, academics and romance authors Katrina Jackson and Elysabeth Grace will discuss writing Black historical romance. This event is also free and online and more details can be found here.


Romance scholars have been commenting for a while that there's not been all that much research into the publishing side of romance. One obvious reason is that it's a lot easier to get hold of the books, or the opinions of readers online, than it is to access insider data about publishing. A recent article by Melanie Walsh in Public Books shows that this is a problem affecting scholars wishing to study all genres. Walsh

went looking for book sales data, only to find that most of it is proprietary and purposefully locked away. What I learned was that the single most influential data in the publishing industry—which, every day, determines book contracts and authors’ lives—is basically inaccessible to anyone beyond the industry. And I learned that this is a big problem. [...]

All the major publishing houses now rely on BookScan data, as do many other publishing professionals and authors. But, as I found to my surprise, pretty much everybody else is explicitly banned from using BookScan data, including academics. The toxic combination of this data’s power in the industry and its secretive inaccessibility to those beyond the industry reveals a broader problem. If we want to understand the contemporary literary world, we need better book data. And we need this data to be free, open, and interoperable.

This data which academics can't access is suspected of being used in ways which reinforce patterns within publishing:

it is likely that books end up much more racially homogenous—that is, white—as a result of BookScan data, too. For example, in McGrath’s pioneering research on “comp” titles (the books that agents and editors claim are “comparable” to a pitched book), she found that 96 percent of the most frequently used comps were written by white authors. Because one of the most important features of a good comp title is a promising sales history, it is likely that comp titles and BookScan data work together to reinforce conservative white hegemony in the industry.

Definitely worth a read, and there are details there about how some academics are trying to find alternative sources of data about books and share "free cultural data with anybody who wants to reuse and recombine it to better understand contemporary literature, music, art, and more." Here's a link to the article.

Some of the people who have been working on romance publishing (as well as other areas of publishing) are Beth Driscoll, Kim Wilkins and Lisa Fletcher. Driscoll and Wilkins have an article in The Conversation and they relate that

In the world of romance fiction, Claire Parnell’s research has shown the multiple ways in which the algorithms, moderation processes and site designs of Amazon and Wattpad work against writers of colour. For example, they make use of image-recognition systems that flag romance covers with dark-skinned models as “adult content” and remove them from search results. They can also override the author’s chosen metadata to move books into niche categories where fewer readers will find them, such as “African American romance” rather than the general “romance fiction”. 

Claire Parnell's paper, "Independent Authors’ Dependence on Big Tech: Categorization and Governance of Authors Of Color on Amazon" (2021) can be found online (and freely available) from AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research: https://doi.org/10.5210/spir.v2021i0.12005 

Driscoll and Wilkins begin, though, with some accolades for the romance genre:

romance fiction is ... the most innovative and uncontrollable of all genres. It is the genre least able to be contained by established models of how the publishing industry works, or how readers and writers behave.

Contemporary romance fiction is challenging the prevailing wisdom about how books come into being and find their readers.

albeit one might, as Azteclady did, feel surprise at some elements of this:

Similarly, I suspect there are people who would disagree with Jenny Hamilton's assessment, given in a piece on the Tor website, that

the romance genre is particularly well suited to tell stories of social reform. [...] YA novels and even epic fantasy series are limited in the number of characters the author can expect you to keep track of, which makes Chosen Ones an attractive option for toppling unjust systems of power. In aggregate, though, that leaves us with a body of literature that valorizes the individual at the expense of the collective—what Ada Palmer and Jo Walton termed “the Protagonist Problem.”

Romance works differently.

I'm happy to see positive opinions of romance appearing outside romance circles, and if they spark detailed debates, all the better!

I'll end with one more article about romance, this time in Bustle, where Natalia Perez-Gonzalez demonstrates that romance's engagement with "social reform" isn't limited to the pages of the novels:

It’s not uncommon for the romance community to organize. In the past, authors have raised funds to help victims of the Uvalde shooting, to support Stacey Abrams in turning Georgia blue, and to aid communities during the Australia wildfires.

And, as the article discusses in detail, most recently romance authors have been turning their attention to reproductive rights.