Shannon Stacey

Defining romance

The definition of romance has come up again around the blogosphere, due in part to publishers defrauding readers adding Romance to spine labels in order to get good real estate and attract the multitudes of romance readers. I am, first and foremost, a life-long romance reader, so here are my two cents:

If it doesn’t end with happily ever after, it’s not a romance.

Boy meets girl. Conflict ensues. Boy and girl almost get it right. Conflict heightens. Boy and girl get it right. Happily ever after.

That’s not to say I need an epilogue showing their wedding or showing them one year married and welcoming their new baby into the world. But there had better be something that lets me believe they’re in it for the long haul.

Whether a book is a paranormal romance or a futuristic romance or a historical romance or an erotic romance, that “spine” had better remain the same. If the hero dies in the end, or if the boy and girl part ways but the girl has “found herself”, I’m going to be pissed. I’ll read a paranormal novel or women’s fiction and love it. I’ll read a novel with romantic elements and enjoy it. But if it says “Romance”, then it had better be one or I’ll be pretty damn pissed.

It’s a matter of trust. I trust Silhouette Special Edition, for example, to give me my happily ever after. I didn’t trust Bombshell. Clearly I wasn’t alone. I don’t trust Aphrodisia. I don’t trust Spice. I don’t trust a lot of the paranormal romances right now.

It makes me tight with my money. And aren’t there commerce laws to protect consumers from knowingly and willingly being sold a product that’s not what it’s advertised as? I guess not or publishers/editors wouldn’t be so freely admitting they’re doing it.

Anyway, to me: Romance = HEA. No exceptions.

8 comments to “Defining romance”

  1. Natalie J. Damschroder
      · January 15th, 2007 at 12:02 am · Link

    I mostly agree with you on this.

    I HATE reading a book that does not end with the couple getting together. I don’t need Happily Ever After, but I must have Happy With Potential. And if that’s not there, it’s not a romance.

    Bombshell and Spice have ALWAYS said they are not romance. I never read a Bombshell where the heroine was not with her chosen man at the end in some capacity, I don’t think, though I guess there were a few that were ambiguous because there were future books planned for the same characters.

    The problem with Spice and books like Downtown Press is that I can’t find them if they’re not labeled “romance” or at least put in the romance section. I get frustrated spending twenty minutes looking for a book. But usually, I know what I’m expecting from that book (like, say, Julie Kenner’s demon-hunting soccer mom). I wouldn’t want other readers who didn’t know to pick it up and be annoyed because it wasn’t what they expected. So I guess it’s better to shelve them in fiction and not risk misleading the reader.

    Deliberate misleading should not be done at all, though. That I agree with wholeheartedly.

  2. Michelle
      · January 14th, 2007 at 11:31 pm · Link

    Interesting post Shannon. I recently blogged about this (although not quite in the same depth as you but I do agree with you) here


  3. Shannon
      · January 15th, 2007 at 10:31 am · Link

    Bombshell and Spice don\’t fraudulently slap \”Romance\” on their books in order to get shelving in the spot that reaches the big romance spenders, unlike the others I mentioned. I agree.

    But…(you had to see that coming)…

    H/S is the powerhouse it is because it has consistently delivered on it\’s promise—romance. Now, Spice is iffy to me. It\’s clearly a different format and it\’s clearly labeled \”erotic fiction\” on eHQ. They\’re straight up about that. But as a reader and writer of erotic romance, that gets a little tangled up in my head. I know the difference, but my heavy bias towards one skews my expectations. And they can have an HEA, so really I just have no clue what I\’m getting for my $14. For $14 I can get 2 SSEs, an iced coffee and a candy bar, and a guarantee I\’ll be one happy lady.

    Bombshell…this delves into the scary place that is my subliminal mind, I think.

    We have logic: I was pretty well-versed in the Bombshell premise. Announcements, meetings, discussion threads, workshops, editor Q&A, the same damn questions over and over again on eHQ. I spent at least an hour on the phone with a Silhouette editor talking extensively about a Bombshell project. (And, as with my ability to spell doom for a line with a mere submission, she then left the company. :cry: ) I knew Bombshell had hung out a sign that read No Traditional HEA Required.

    But in the scary depths of my head, Silhouette = Romance. That was probably cemented a little with the first one I read. I think it was called Get Blondie, and it had a pretty traditional romance arc. It probably would have fit well in the SIM line, except the heroine out-alpha\’d the hero just a bit. Okay. SIMs with a more kick-ass heroine! I\’ll read those. Then I read the Dove one and recoiled in horror. WTF. If that had been handed to me as a mainstream book, I might have enjoyed it. But this was not my Silhouette romance. From that point on I only read those by authors I trusted, since I couldn\’t trust the line. Not to be what they claimed, because they did that. But to be what I expected.

    Imagine a long-time Silhouette reader\’s reaction if she didn\’t hang out online and have all the scoop on it pre-purchase.

    Silhouette didn\’t market Bombshell and Spice as romances to me, but Silhouette has marketed itself and its romance promise to me for pretty much my entire reading life, and despite logical facts, that colored my expectations and therefore left me disappointed.

    Maybe that\’s why these debates come and go so often—a reader\’s expectation of a book and her perception of whether or not the book met that expectation is not only based on logic and fact, but on perceptions, which sometimes are totally whacked.

    Aphrodisia and Juno, of course, are different cases. In trying to manipulate the stores, they\’re being fraudulent with the readers. That\’s a straight-up no-no.

    I\’ve played hell trying to find Julie Kenner and Gena Showalter\’s trade books, as well. I consider them romance authors, so I looked for the the soccer mom and the alien huntress in romance. I was aggravated that I had to hunt for them, but I\’d have been more aggravated if I\’d picked up Kenner\’s book expecting a romance because it was with her romances. (I\’m a fangirl of the Demon Hunting Soccer Mom, so I\’m not referring to anything but shelving there.)

    :crazy: I\’m sleeted in and chatty today. :type:

  4. Karen Templeton
      · January 15th, 2007 at 4:38 pm · Link

    I agree with you, Shan, both with the idea that Har/Sil created their own monster by so relentlessly marketing Har/Sil as the Go-To publisher for romance, and that perception really is everything. That’s why their traditional lines still do much better than any of the “innovative” stuff they’ve hurled at the wall to see what’ll stick.

    That said, the new stuff they’ve marketed under entirely different imprints — Red Dress, Luna, Mira — seem to have found their readerships (at least, as long as the trends last!), because the books didn’t start off with the H/S “handicap.”

    On the other hand, there seems to be a fairly large contingent who have a hard time with the romance=HEA equation, because they consider Danielle Steel and Nicholas Sparks romance writers — to them, if it’s a love story, it’s a romance. Genre definition? What’s that?

    And I have no idea what point I’m trying to make, other than. ..obviously, a lot of people saw things the way you did. Others, however, couldn’t care less. :shrug:

  5. Lori
      · January 15th, 2007 at 5:29 pm · Link

    Preaching to the choir here. I could not agree more. And I agree that it’s a mistake for H/S to try to sell anything without a HEA under either imprint. I also agree that’s a large part of why the Bombshell line, well… bombed. Spice may suffer the same. People read Harlequin and Silhouette for one reason. Romance. And romance comes with a HEA. The end.

  6. Meljean
      · January 16th, 2007 at 3:36 am · Link

    Yes, yes and yes.

    And yes again.

  7. Shiloh Walker
      · January 16th, 2007 at 4:49 pm · Link

    :wink: What Meljean said.

    HEA= the H/H are together. Plain and simple. That’s a romance for me. If the hero is laying there at death’s door and can’t ever go back to his way of life, that’s fine, so long as the heroine pulls him back and they are together.

    if they can’t quite seem themselves married with the white picket fence and kids, fine. As long as they are together.

    That’s the key. HEA doesn’t have to mean an all around happy ending to most romance readers. We just want to see the H/H TOGETHER at the end of it all. That’s the point of a romance, isn’t it? As far as I’m concerned, that is the only hard and fast rule of the romance genre.

  8. Natalie J. Damschroder
      · January 17th, 2007 at 12:51 am · Link

    Imagine a long-time Silhouette reader’s reaction if she didn’t hang out online and have all the scoop on it pre-purchase.

    Oh, yes, definitely, I agree with everyone that it’s the main reason the line failed. Many of us had doubts about the marketing from the beginning (they were trying to get readers like me who are so sick of the “line” romances by…selling them as line romances! Brilliant!):crazy:

    And I agree about the fraudulent labeling, too.

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