Monday, April 05, 2021

Just Asking a Question

I have been paying careful attention to book publishing for long enough that I know that categories and genres shift and change.  But there's something a little disingenuous about the frequency with which someone comes along and just wants to ask what a romance is.  Now, I know what the RWA definition is, and I know that the definition has at times been in flux, and there were times when I would have disagreed with some of the parameters that other people at or within RWA wanted to put around it.  But the two things that have remained consistent is that a central (ie cannot be removed without the story feeling empty) part of the plot is the development of a romantic relationship between or among characters, and that their relationship ends in an emotionally satisfying way.  
So, where I think there is plenty of room for discussion is how much centrality do you need. I've read books that I thought involved much smooching, but seemed more about something else.  I've read books where the smooching and the something else seemed to get equal time,  And I've read books that were all smoochy smoochy. 
I think there's even room for healthy and interesting discussion about emotionally satisfying.  There are lots of great discussions about whether X character groveled enough for this or that reader to buy into the future relationship happiness. There are folks who really only want to read characters who find happiness in legally binding documents and possibly even babies.  There are readers who hate baby epilogues.  
But the disingenuous part is that every other month or so (I think, time is weird) someone will be like, well but what if one of the characters is dead at the end, but their ghost visits and everyone's really happy?  Or what if the characters are all in a happy romantic relationship at the end of the book, it's just not with the groupings the whole book was about?  So now character X is with character B and character A is with character Y, but there were hints all along even though the entire story was about A falling in love with B and X falling in love with Y? Or what if character A is super happy because they got a new job and now they don't mind that things didn't work out relationship-wise?  
And it's kind of exhausting.  All of those sound to me like really cool stories.  They just aren't romances.  
And I have to say, I don't see folks going, but what if I wrote a sci-fi but none of the new tech was on the page, but like, I thought really hard about it?  Or what if I wrote a murder mystery and never solved the mystery?  I'm reinventing the genre. 
Here's the thing - genre and age categories are there to help readers find the kinds of books they want.  If you went to a store, bought a thing marked laundry detergent and got home and discovered inside it was really milk, you wouldn't be like, wow - so unexpected!  You would return it.  Because you need laundry detergent.  
And yes, there are products that you can use to wash clothes and other things too, because they are multifaceted.  But they are clearly marked.  Those product makers understand that the beauty of the product is that is a little of this and a little of that.  And they don't try to trick shoppers, they try to entice them with the very things that make their product unusual.  Readers want the same.  
Because honestly the only reason that people want to trick romance readers is because romance readers read a lot.  So they want romance readers' money without having to, yanno, write a real romance.  Except romance readers read a lot outside their genre too.  And like reading things outside their genre that involve relationships.  That's all you need to say to grab the readers looking for your kind of book.  Stop trying to put milk in the detergent bottle.