Sunday, January 21, 2007

Romance History - Guidelines

I've posted about publishers' guidelines for romance before but, as we all know, the romance genre has changed over time, and one can see that if one compares modern guidelines with those of the 1980s. Kassia Krozser posted the story of how she got hold of these old guidelines, as well as a bit of a bit of background about the upheavals that were going on in romance publishing at the time. Now she's posted the guidelines themselves, over at the Romance Wiki.

You can see the following guidelines:
  • Dell's Candlelight Ecstasy Romance Guidelines Circa 1980 - They advise authors to 'Avoid the use of formula plot devices such as a marriage of convenience between the protagonists, or amnesia'. Clearly some things haven't changed that much in over 20 years, as novels with these plots are still written (and although such plots may be described as 'formula', authors still manage to give such old plots new twists).
  • Gallen Books Guidelines Circa 1980 - the heroine must be 'beautiful [...] Instinctively, she knows how to dress well, can carry off almost any fashion. She may choose to wear very casual clothes, but descriptions of pretty clothes are important'. The Silhouette Romance guidelines (see below) also state that 'Her outfits are described in detail'. We've discussed fashion in romance novels already and Radway's criticisms of the many descriptions of the heroine's clothing date from this period (Reading the Romance was first published in 1984). Like the 'formula plot devices' mentioned in the Dell guidelines, I think descriptions of the heroine's clothing can seem tired and clichéd if badly written, but take on new depths of meaning when handled by a skilled author.
  • Second Chance At Love Guidelines Circa 1980 - this is a letter to authors warning them not to use 'devices which we feel have been sadly overworked'. These include some professions for the hero and heroine which are relatively rare today, while others remain much more common. I've not seen many heroes or heroines who are travel agents, for example, but there are still plenty of heroes who are architects and heroines who are journalists, writers and artists.
  • Silhouette Desire Guidelines Circa 1982 - I was amused by the warning that 'The plot should not consist of a series of chance encounters, coincidences or filler scenes in which nothing substantial happens.' I can't imagine that many romance authors would set out to write a novel with 'filler scenes' or a plot based solely on 'a series of chance encounters' and coincidences. If someone did, it would be unlikely to impress readers who, as Anne Marble observes, 'often refuse to swallow coincidences. If the plot hinges on a huge coincidence at a crucial moment, don't be surprised if readers get upset. Even little coincidences can rile nerves if they happen too often'.
  • Silhouette Romance Guidelines Circa 1980 - In the Galen guidelines authors were told that 'The heroine's parents may be living, but, if so, are not capable of giving her the full support she needs'. In the Silhouette Romance guidelines the heroine 'is usually without parents or a "protective" relationship. [...] A brother is permissible, but she is often in the position of caring for him, rather than vice versa--he may be weak, crippled, or uncertain as to his morals or future'. This is a feature of romances which was noted by Ann Douglas: 'As the story opens, the heroine has usually lost a parent, a home, or both, making her especially vulnerable' (1980: 26). Ann Rosalind Jones, writing in 1986, suggests that this may be beginning to change: 'let me offer a summary of a typical romance plot, as it's been stabilized in the genre and is still used by older writers. The heroine, a virgin in her early twenties, is set in a social limbo: her family is dead or invisible' (1986: 198). I wonder if the absence of family in these romances was in any way linked to the popularity of 'the modern "gothic" romance, a genre that enjoyed enormous popularity throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s' (Radway 1981: 141). We can, of course, still find plenty of romance heroines who are orphaned or have parents who are absent for other reasons, but they are not nearly so frequent as they were in the past.
  • Silhouette Special Edition Guidelines Circa 1980 - A matter of craft/style which has changed considerably since the 1980s is point of view. Nowadays readers often know what the hero is thinking, but that was not so often the case in the past, unless he revealed his thoughts in conversations with other characters. As noted in the comments at the top of this entry at the Romance Wiki, the Silhouette Special Edition guidelines were somewhat unusual in what they have to say about point of view: 'A Special Edition is always written in the third person, but it is the heroine's point-of-view which shapes the novel' but 'The narrative may sometimes include the hero's point-of-view in order to more fully develop his character and the plot'. In the Silhouette Romance guidelines authors were informed that, 'Though the point of view of a SILHOUETTE BOOK is usually omniscient--i.e. the author can get in anyone's head, she chooses to remain almost completely in the heroine's'. One consequence of the use of heroine-only point-of-view was that it tended to make the hero's motivation somewhat mysterious. According to Ann Barr Snitow
    Since all action in the novels is described from the female point of view, the reader identifies with the heroine's efforts to decode the erratic gestures of "dark, tall and gravely handsome" men, all mysterious strangers or powerful bosses. [...] He is the unknowable other [...] She, on the other hand, is the subject, the one whose thoughts the reader knows, whose constant reevaluation of male moods and actions make up the story line. (1983: 247-248)
    As Anne Gracie observes,
    In the past, the dominant romance convention was that romance used only the heroine's POV. This was because it was believed that most readers identified only with the heroine.

    When authors began to include the male POV -- entering the hero's mind -- readers loved it (to publishers' amazement!) and the dual POV became pretty standard.
  • Douglas, Ann, 1980. 'Soft-Porn Culture: Punishing the Liberated Woman', in The New Republic, August 30, volume 183, pp. 25-29.
  • Jones, Ann Rosalind, 1986. 'Mills & Boon meets feminism', in The Progress of Romance: The Politics of Popular Fiction, ed. Jean Radford (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul), pp. 195-218.
  • Radway, Janice, 1981. 'The Utopian Impulse in Popular Literature: Gothic Romances and "Feminist" Protest', American Quarterly, 33.2: 140-162.
  • Snitow, Ann Barr, 1983. 'Mass Market Romance: Pornography for Women is Different', in Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality, ed. Ann Snitow, Christine Stansell & Sharon Thompson (New York: Monthly Review Press), pp. 245-263. First published in Radical History Review, 20 (Spring/Summer 1979): 141-61.


  1. Emilie Loring's books, published from the 1920s to the 1970s usually had sections from the hero's POV as well as the heroine's.

  2. Thanks, Kay. I wasn't thinking that every single romance was heroine POV only, but it does seem from what I've read that most were. Would you say that was right? Also, since this might be relevant, which publisher did Emilie Loring have?

  3. Dear Laura,
    I tried to send you the info about Loring's publisher twice. Neither time worked. This is a test. If it works, I' send the info again.

  4. Dear Laura,
    Third time is the charm, right?

    "The Trail of Conflict" (c.1922) was published in 1922 by The Penn Publishing Company; the Grosset & Dunlap edition was published in 1951; the first Bantam edition was published in Feb, 1969, "by arrangement with Little, Brown and Company."

    "Uncharted Seas" (c.1932) was published then by Grosset & Dunlap, "by arrangement with Little, Brown and Company." My copy is a very old hardback.

    "Bright Skies" (c.1946) was published by Little, Brown and Company in Nov, 1946; the Grosset & Dunlap edition in Sept, 1948; and the Bantam edition in Sept, 1965, "by arrangement with Little, Brown and Company."

    "The Shining Years" (c. 1972 "Robert M. Loring, Executor of the Estate of Emilie Baker Loring") was published by Little, Brown and Company in Sept, 1972; the Bantam edition in June, 1974, "by arrangement with Little, Brown and Company." I believe that this was Loring's last book. I read recently that her son(s) continued to write romances under her name after she died (in the 1950s?).

    Most of my copies of Loring's books are from library used book sales.

    Hope this info helps.


    P.S. I my Master's thesis was a comparison of the original "Lazarillo de Tormes" to the early 20th century update by Cela. M.A./Spanish from the University of Virginia, 1975

  5. Thanks for persevering, Kay. Blogger was behaving very strangely yesterday and I had trouble posting comments too.

    From what you're saying it seems that (a) Loring was a popular author whose works were frequently republished and (b) she wasn't writing category romances in the 1980s. I had a quick look at one of my Heyer's, and that's got the hero's point of view too (I was looking at Sylvester, first published in 1957, by Heinemann).

    Obviously examples taken from just two authors aren't a lot to go on statistically, but I wonder if heroine-only POV romances became more prevalent after the huge popularity of the gothics in the 60s and early 70s and that the gothics' convention of not giving the hero's POV influenced the romances of the 80s.

    Maybe someone's already written about this and I just haven't come across their work yet. Anyway, it's yet another useful reminder that the genre has changed significantly over time and that some trends come and go and then come back again.

    Re Lazarillo, he really is a 'bad boy' hero, but so ambiguous he would probably never work in a modern romance, at least, not without being thoroughly changed by the end. Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond is from a different social class and time period, but perhaps he has a similar intelligence and slippery adaptability. So did Niccolo, as far as I remember, but I read about him years ago, and got confused after the first few books and stopped reading the series, so nowadays my memories of all three are rather vague.