What is a romance novel?
As a reader, you may be surprised that the answer to that question frequently is under discussion by romance authors and the main organization of romance authors.
Sure, you know that the romance novel is a literary genre, and that the primary focus in this genre is the relationship – the love – between two people. Once, publishers of romance novels demanded writers end the story with a happily ever after. Now, publishers often ask for writers to end stories with an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.
To me, there’s a huge difference between happily ever after and emotionally satisfying and optimistic. I suppose the new romance novel standard is supposed to reflect the cynicism of contemporary times.
A Teensy History
In 1740, Samuel Richardson penned Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded. Considered the first romantic novel, Pamela had two surprising elements that were different from other novels. First, it focused almost entirely on courtship. Second, the novel was told from the viewpoint of a female protagonist.
In the next century, the remarkable Jane Austen, whose Pride and Prejudice is often considered the pinnacle of the genre, came along. She inspired Georgette Heyer – I always think of her as the twentieth century Jane Austen – who introduced historical romances in 1921.
About 10 years later, a small British company called Mills and Boon began publishing what were called category romance novels – short books with a set number of pages and standard elements. The Mills and Boon romances were resold for a North American market by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. Harlequin marketed directly to readers and allowed mass-market merchandisers to sell the books too and the genre was off and running.
Then, in 1972, Avon published The Flame and The Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss, the first single title romance novel to be published as a paperback original, and the modern romance genre was born.
My How You’ve Grown
From then until now, there have been a lot of romance novels published. The genre has grown and given birth to sub-genres of every possible variation. It has become the most popular genre in North America where it accounts for more than half of all paperback books sold.
Romance isn’t just a North America phenomenon. The genre is also popular in Europe, the UK, and Australia. In fact, romance novels are published in more than 90 languages.
Hey, Girls! Guess What?
For years, the romance novel was decried as being lowbrow and read by women who were out of touch with reality. We’re not out of touch with reality. We just know what we want. Sadly, many women don’t get that overwhelming love and romanticism from the men in their lives, but many women do have that.
I sometimes think a good romance novel sets the standard for the kind of love and romance a woman wants in a relationship. If a man really wants to know what a woman wants, he should read a good romance novel.
I find it heartwarming — and a bit ironic — that our beloved genre is now the most popular, best selling genre of all time. Tell that to your romance-dissing acquaintances the next time they start talking about how romance novels aren’t “real” books!
With all the changes and growth in the romance genre, I guess it’s not surprising that the happily ever after morphed into the optimistic and satisfying. But, I’m not willing to give up my happily ever after – in real life or fiction.
Maybe, it’s because the traditional ending is all about love — lasting love. Today, in the wake of so much death and destruction in the news, I find myself thinking about the importance of love. In the end, it’s the most important thing in anyone’s world.
With the romance novels I write, like my latest novel, SCENTS and SENSUALITY, I aim high. I want that happily ever after for my characters, not just an optimistic, satisfying ending.
After all, I always say my motto is: “It’s never too late to live happily ever after.” And I believe that.
What’s your favorite kind of ending for a romance novel?
(Joan Reeves writes sassy, sexy Romance Novels. Her latest novel, indeed all her ebooks, are available at most ebook sellers, with audio editions available at Audible and iTunes. Joan publishes Writing Hacks, a free subscription newsletter for writers, and Wordplay, a free subscription newsletter for readers. Visit SlingWords, Joan’s Blog, or her Website.)