The Romance Masquerade

No, I'm not talking about the silly thing found in historical romances where rich people dress up and wear masks. I'm talking about when romance books masquerade as something other than romance. These are the books that non-romance readers forget to sneer about.

Catherine Coulter, Jayne Ann Krentz, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Nora Roberts and Diana Gabaldon are a few authors I can think of whose books are often shelved outside the romance area. Sometimes in mystery or fiction. During my tenure at BN, I spent quite a lot of time of escorting a confused buyer from the romance section to the fiction section when they were searching for Jennifer Crusie books or any number of other "romances in disguise."

Anyone who has followed the blog for awhile knows that I'm not a fan of my local indie. But I did manage to find some romance there. Just not in the romance section. And invariably, it was a big name author. In my observation, big names in romance seem to more frequently warrant the general "Fiction" label from the marketing department for their books. Which in turn allows them to skirt the stigma romance continues to suffer under and sell more to a wider audience. (Women's fiction and chick lit offer great camouflage, too.)

The other way to avoid the romance label is to have a book originally published in hardcover. Mass market is still the dominant format in romance (although that's quickly losing ground to ebooks.) Hardcovers have several advantages over the disposable mass market: suitable for gift giving, institutional sales, collectibility.  People don't tend to think of hardcovers and romance in the same sentence.  (We won't mention trade paperbacks because...I hate them. A lot.)

So, what's my point? I guess it's that those without the romance label have an advantage. Because romance readers know who writes their favorite books even if the spine says "fiction." But the fiction label (and potential to be shelved in the Fic/Lit section instead of romance) means that the audience is wider than just romance readers. My secondary point is that those indies (and libraries) who don't stock "romance" but do stock those masquerading authors should be called on it. Repeatedly. A romance is a romance no matter what the packaging says, and stores that decline to carry books based on what's slapped on the spine are doing a disservice to their customers.

(Thanks to Lisa Hendrix, Evil Wylie, and Megan Mulry for their insights into the publishing biz. Any errors in the above post are my own.)


  1. This is why I only begrudgingly support my local indie bookstore. Classic literature and what they consider literary fiction (which for some reason includes Jodi Picoult) are shelved towards the front of the store. Genre fiction (romance, chick lit, mystery, sci fi) is kept further back in the store and mostly consists of used books. The only romances that make it into the lit fic section are the ones that are historical fiction or women's fiction/romance crossovers. The said thing is that I really don't know how to give them the message that I would buy more books if they stocked romance without feeling like they're looking down their noses at me.

  2. @Hannah,

    I've actually told our local indie I'd buy more books if they stocked romance (I mean besides Gabaldon, Nora et all). They didn't care. :( Interestingly, even the paranormal books that have taken off now have fiction instead of romance on the spines!