by Angela James
“Without romance novels, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
Romance readers have long suffered through Fabio jokes, inaccurate assumptions, contempt, and lurid speculation from those outside the romance community. No other genre is the target of such ridicule as romance. And yet, romance readers remain loyal to the books, their favorite authors, and to their community. Romance may be the most popular fiction genre, but not because of all the things non-romance readers like to sneer at. Romance gives something to its readers that no other genre seems to offer.
Romance isn’t a joke. It’s an escape, it’s hope, it’s a community, a source of knowledge, a gathering of friends, an affirmation, it unites differences, offers representation, gives comfort, and provides a voice.
So many articles have been written about romance novels, but none capture the spirit and positive impact these books have had in the lives of those who read them. No mainstream articles seem willing to pay tribute to the readers, the authors, and the words on the page making a difference. So I asked people to share their romance positive moments. This is a small selection of the responses, which were as different as the readers of romance are, but also united by common themes. In their words.
By far the word mentioned most often in the responses, romance novels have given readers hope across illness, loss, despair, uncertainty and turbulent political times.
Representation came up again and again in romance readers’ responses. The gift of seeing themselves, feeling validated, understanding that they weren’t alone… It’s difficult to overstate the value of representation, the opportunity to be seen and heard.
Sometimes funny, sometimes touching, readers shared the opportunities reading romance has given them, and the knowledge it has imparted.
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Those involved in the romance community know that it’s a place where lifelong friendships grow and thrive. For many, romance novels have led to some of their most rewarding relationships.
The romance community has given a lift to many of its members during times of sorrow, loss and pain, and when encouragement is needed, a kind word, gift, or just a response on social media can make a difference.
It’s no secret that books are inspiration, but those who’ve never read a romance novel might make a lewd joke about just what it is they inspire, rather than understanding the difference romance novels have made in readers’ lives.
Race, sexuality, gender, economic status… it’s all that and more. Romance is about hearing the message of “yes, you can” and “it’s okay to be who you are, you will be loved.” Not just representation, but encouragement and acceptance.
Yes, romance offers hope, representation, empowerment, inspiration, friendship and support, but, at the end of it all, romance readers can rely on a sense of optimism and the promise of a happy ending.
Without romance novels, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t be doing a job I’m so thankful for, in a marriage with my best friend, a parent to a beautiful daughter, a believer in social justice and equality, a friend you can count on, and a person who believes in love and happily ever afters. Those might be my words, but it’s already easy to see I’m not alone. Read a romance. Who knows, it may just change your life too! #romancepositive
Angela James, editorial director of Carina Press, an adult genre fiction imprint of Harlequin, is both an avid reader of digital books and a veteran of and advocate for the digital publishing industry. She has enjoyed fifteen years of experience in her field, including successfully launching, building and serving as editorial lead for two digital-first presses: Samhain Publishing and, since 2009, Harlequin’s Carina Press. She has edited bestselling authors such as Alexa Riley, Shannon Stacey, Jaci Burton, Lauren Dane, Ilona Andrews, Lilith Saintcrow, Shelly Laurenston and more. She was profiled in Fast Company magazine as a digital pioneer in the romance publishing industry, has been named New York Romance Writers of America’s 2013 Golden Apple Editor of the Year, and is the creator of Before You Hit Send, the popular online self-editing and writing workshop for authors. You can find Angela on Twitter at @angelajames.