I’ll never forget how surprised I was when my editor called to say that Romantic Times Book Review had rated my debut novel, 4 1/2 stars. She was thrilled. The publicist was thrilled. My agent was thrilled. I was confused.
Why would a big romance magazine review RUBY AMONG US, a women’s fiction novel? When someone explained to me that RT didn’t only review straight romance novels, but also stories with romantic elements, it made sense. RUBY AMONG US definitely has that. Once I understood, I was thrilled!
The same thing happened to a bunch of my novelist friends when their books came out, so when some reviewers and bloggers started referring to my second novel ROSE HOUSE as a romance, I shouldn’t have been surprised.
“But it’s a Women’s Fiction novel, not a romance,” I told my sister.
“If someone likes it, then who cares what they call it?”
“But it’s not a romance,” I moaned, imagining I don’t know what if people thought my book was really a romance.
“It’s a romance to them,” she said, causing me to think about what else my readers really might might want. Apparently, it was love.
All this to say that while I haven’t dubbed myself a romance novelist, I’ve learned to loosen up about people seeing romance in my novels. People who don’t like a novel could, and sometimes do, say much worse about a novel than, “Hey, this is a romance.” They want romance? They can have romance.
Of course, books do have to be categorized and because I have some personal friends who are real published romance novelists (Joanne Kennnedy, Pamela Nowak, Mary Gilgannon, and Amanda Cabot to name a few), I wouldn’t dare call my own book a romance. But if a reader says it’s a romance? Then it’s a romance to them. If readers say it’s Women’s Fiction, then better, but there’s no denying that my books have love stories woven into the plot, and I think it’s a good thing. The world revolves around love. Even the character James Bond loves women! (Well, sort of. I guess you can call that love if you want to.)
There is another author, more famous than I (I know, can’t you believe it?) who gets so hot under the collar about his novels being described as romance that he is said to have dubbed a new description for them: Happily Ever Afters. I don’t know if that’s true, but honestly, is it necessary to correct our readers if they’re already reading our novels?
I don’t know if Romantic Times Book Review Magazine reviews Women’s Fiction anymore, but that review of RUBY AMONG US, one of my first reviews ever, has definitely made me look at my own writing differently. I know that readers care about romance. They care about the love story, even if they aren’t reading an all out romance novel.
When I think about a few of my favorite novelists (Sarah Addison Allen, Mary DeMuth, Amy Sue Nathan), they all have a certain amount of romantic love in their novels, and yes, I care about that part of the stories I read. I love a good love story, so I would be a complete snob to deny the romantic elements in my own novels, especially if some readers liked my novels enough to talk about them. And let’s face it, we newish authors need people to talk about our books.
Either way, Women’s Fiction writers like me and the “Happily Ever After” guy probably won’t ever accidentally be shelved beside the steamy romances from Harlequin (Which in a way is too bad since those novels sell like hot cakes), but good grief, if a novel contains a love story and readers find that romantic, then I say good for them.
You can even call my books steamy if you want, but of course, that would just reveal you as a church lady who probably reads in front of the fire with ten cats and a Bible at your side.
by Tina Ann Forkner (a.k.a. Friend of Many Church Ladies, and a bit of a church lady herself – minus the cats)