Well, folks, as you might guess, there’s no shame in my game. Even when I was new(ish) to romance, I didn’t try to hide it.
Example: The first time my now-husband approached me for a one-on-one conversation, I was sitting on a bench after track practice, reading. He asked me what I was reading, and I proceeded to explain all about my romance novel up to the point I’d been stopped. He hasn’t stopped listening to me do that for 20 years, though I will say he stopped asking many years ago. Now I just volunteer the information.
But still, I live in the world where romance is what it is.
Example: At work one day many years ago, one of my colleagues said, “I see women reading those books on the Metro, and I feel bad for them.” And I didn’t say that I might be one of those women, and there’s really nothing to feel bad about.
And there’s no denying that one of the reasons that romance is what it is is that it includes explicit (more or less) sex. (Not to say closed door/no sex isn’t romance! It is!)
Example: Once I was asked if I thought romance writers didn’t have very good sex. As in, was that the reason they wrote sex. My answer was “no,” but now that I’ve lived in Romancelandia for a few years and read different kinds of books with different heat levels, I might go so far as to argue that, on the whole, they’re more likely to have awesome sex because they are thinking about what sexy feels like and are more likely to embrace what they want. But I have no data for that assertion, so take it as you will.
So, here I am, doing what I’ve said I wanted to do for years. This in no small part thanks to the support and encouragement of Ingrid and Holly and my husband. I published a romance novella (last October…it’s taken me a while to post this).
It’s on Kindle Unlimited, so not only is it romance, it’s not trad published, but the nice thing about romance is that the readership is maybe the one group that actively supports indie publishing because romance readers read a lot and they don’t always like the limits of trad publishing’s gatekeeping. Not that I’d say “no” to a call from Avon or Harlequin, of course. But my book is a novella, it’s my first one, and it’s fluffy. It’s meant to be! So it is what it is.
Now I have a (very) little bit of experience of Romancelandia from the writer side. You may recall that a while ago I wrote a novel during NaNoWriMo, but that is still desperately in need of significant edits, so it’s not published. Putting something out into the world is different than writing a story. Case in point: I do not at all care about sharing sex scenes I wrote with Holly and Ingrid, but with my family? My Grandma?
What I’m realizing is that this is not because I’m ashamed of what I’ve written. It’s because I know that most of my family doesn’t read “those books.” And, like many people I’m sure, we don’t talk particularly openly about sex. The same goes for many of my friends who aren’t in my romance reading circle.
I’m excited about what I’ve accomplished, but I hesitate to share it with my familiars because I’m afraid that my accomplishment is going to be reduced to everything that non-romance readers think about romance. It’s only about sex. It’s about me or about how I like sex. And, of course, as Ingrid pointed out to me, I start off “strong” with a masturbation scene early on, so my first concern is that I’ll be confirming those assumptions.
The usual argument to this is that thriller writers aren’t presumed to be writing about how they like to murder people. And the reductive discussion about sex doesn’t take into account the ways that sex is a part of characterization and conflict. Romance is about people and emotions and interpersonal relationships, and sex is part of that (even if we’re talking asexuality, because differing sex drives between partners can be a point of contention in relationships, which impacts people’s emotional states).
The presumption that the sex in particular is a reflection of the author’s sex life means that, out of the gate, the potential reader doesn’t buy into the characterization. Which is crummy.
I wonder if people writing fantasy or mysteries or other genre fiction have the same feelings when they first publish. I expect not. I bet they’re apprehensive about readers enjoying their books, but I bet they’re not holding their breath because they’re worried that people won’t want to read those books because sex is so personal that they don’t want to know how someone they know personally thinks about sex.
It’s not a great feeling, and I’m honestly annoyed that I’m feeling it, because it’s also based a lot on presumptions, not on what I know to be true. Mostly. I’m reasonably confident that my fluffy, sexy novella isn’t going to be the story that changes someone’s mind about romance. And I didn’t write the story and publish it for non-romance readers. I wrote it because I wanted to, and I published it for people who want to read a fluffy, low-stakes romance. I’m definitely behind on marketing, but that’s what’s going to be important for me in the next part of this writing journey I’m on. Being excited about a publication and knowing that there are people out there excited to read it will be, when (I hope) it happens, absolutely thrilling, and I can leave this mindset in my rearview mirror.
Nearly a year later, I’m still not doing a great job with marketing (I’m writing, Holly! Like three different books! I swear!), but I’m also not shy about telling people that I published a book, and I’ll even send them a link to it if they ask. People are generally supportive, even if they don’t actually read the book. So, uh, net positive! Go tackle your dreams!
Want to read Erin’s smut?