Romance Novels: I Love Them

This past week, the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress (LOC) hosted a one-day symposium on popular romance fiction. Kiersten Hallie Krum has accumulated all of the #poprom tweets on Storify.

Whether or not you’re familiar with the genre, I bet the thought of it brings to mind a host of book covers—men sans shirts, well-defined chests on display; women mid-swoon, shoulders bare, necklines plunging. These covers can prompt the unfamiliar to make assumptions about the genre. Romance novels, traditionally, aren’t taken seriously. You won’t find a Courtney Milan or Eloisa James book reviewed by The New York Times. Yet romance sales are among the top in the industry, and I, for one, love them.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the conference. To my delight, it was filled with smart discussion, smart women (and the occasional man), humor, and camaraderie. Panel discussions ran the gamut from what belongs in the romance canon (if there even is one) to the scientific analysis of love, the changing popular perception of love throughout history, and the future of romance publishing in the digital age. I had a chance to meet Eloisa James/Mary Bly after the sneak preview of the fantastic documentary “Love Between the Covers,” and she is kind and gracious. I also spoke with Beverly Jenkins and she is a fabulous lady.

Historical or contemporary, supernatural or space alien, every romance novel conveys hope in finding someone who will love us for the way we are.

Historical or contemporary, supernatural or space alien, every romance novel conveys hope in finding someone who will love us for the way we are.

One of my favorite moments at the conference came during the first panel, What Belongs in the Romance Canon? Ms. Jenkins was talking about African American romance novels and how they only began to gain traction in the industry over the last few decades. To paraphrase, “If you read romances with vampires and werewolves, why not African Americans?” That question made me realize that I hadn’t read any. I’m not often in a bookstore anymore, and their stock overall has declined. There are fewer books available in all sections of my local bookstore. In fact, I think they’re fast coming to carry more stock in toys than books (though I love them still). I don’t think I’ve intentionally avoided this sub-genre of the market, but Ms. Jenkins pointed out an oversight in my own reading that I’m now determined to rectify, and I look forward to it.

I came away from the conference impressed by the attendees and panel members, and admiring the Library of Congress for hosting the event. One Washington Post journalist may have noted that “a remarkable number of passionate readers… also [possess] doctorates,” but those of us who read the genre are not at all surprised to find that these books with their happily ever afters and their messages of hope appeal to women—and men—of all backgrounds.

My very first romance novel was Jude Deveraux’s The Princess. It captured my attention in a way that no book had up to that time (I was thirteen) and started my long-term relationship with HEAs. What was the first romance novel you read?

Stages in the Life of a Book

You sold your book to a publisher. Yay! Awesome! They tell you they want to publish it… a year(+) from now. It took you that long to write it. What’s up with that? There will be differences if you’re publishing a novel versus a textbook, but at heart, the process is the process.

  • Notes from your editor. She may want some changes to your manuscript. You read, absorb, figure out what makes sense to do, revise, submit. And maybe the process repeats. This could take a few weeks or a few months.
  • Copyediting. Yes, a novel can be read in a few days, but you don’t want it copyedited in that same short window. It’s a different kind of reading when you’re paying attention to grammar, punctuation, style, and consistency. Then you review the edits and return the manuscript to the copy editor, who cleans it up and sends it back to the publisher. This will probably take a couple of months. After all, it’s not as if you quit your day job, so you’re doing all of this after hours, in lieu of laundry and dust bunny eradication.
  • Typesetting. Here’s where you get a brief break (to do laundry). The typesetter is creating page proofs, where you’ll see your book set on the page for the first time. It’ll take them maybe two weeks to prepare first pass pages.
  • Proofreading. The proofreader will do his thing, and you’ll do yours. You’re looking for any residual spelling, punctuation, and other errors, and hoping not to find any large gaffes at this point.
  • Corrected pages. The typesetter has corrected all of the markups from first pass and sent a second pass for review. If there are still errors, the book will undergo a third pass.
  • To the printer. Once corrections are final, the book will go to the printer, where it will be printed and bound before being shipped to the warehouse a few weeks later and distributed to bookstores far and wide.
  • Marketing and other fun stuff. While all of the above is going on, there will be cover designs and back cover copy and blurbs and discussions about promotional opportunities. The publisher will be getting the word out about your book because they want it to sell.

None of these stages happen in just a few days. They take weeks, even months, as copy editors and proofreaders and you scour the manuscript for every last errant dangling participle or uncharacteristic exclamation. You will read your book so many times you can’t stand it, but each stage of the process should make it stronger, including when the book hits the shelves.

The publisher will weigh your book against the others that it’s publishing that year, and the books other publishers are planning to publish that year, and will be strategic about when your book can receive maximum exposure and get its best chance in the market. And that is why it takes so long.

What Yoga Taught Me about Writing, and Writing about Yoga

Yoga has seen me through various injuries and a years-long bout of chronic pain, but I don’t maintain nearly as regular a practice as I’d like. The same holds true for writing. I’m writing more now, and more often, but there will be times when I simply hit a wall. I’ve always tried the “one book at a time” approach for fear that allowing something else in would eliminate forward momentum completely. (Yeah, don’t probe that too deeply for logic.) Lately I’ve discovered that I really enjoy having a second project to switch to when I come speeding up to that wall. It’s temporary avoidance, but it gives me space to think without feeling like I’m standing still.

St_Thomas2008Aug 198

A leaf bends in the wind and floats in the air. It goes, unprotesting, with the flow.

If one thing isn’t working in my writing, I no longer beat my head against it. I shift gears.

Lately after a yoga practice, I experience pain flare-ups from an issue I’ve dealt with—and beaten back—for years. The current fix is to change my practice and make it different from what I prefer. I don’t want to do that. I have it in my head what my yoga practice will be, what it should be, and damn it, that’s what I want to do. Except I hurt later, and I am so very over that. I found myself avoiding yoga to avoid the hurt, ending up in less pain but still unhappy because I wasn’t getting all the other benefits of my practice. The solution, I realized, was to shift gears.

It’s time to stop fighting. I need to set aside my idea of what my yoga practice should be and let it be what my body is demanding it become. The sooner I do that, the sooner I’ll feel better. The sooner I’ll get over the honestly unnecessary angst and move on. My body may feel some discomfort, but the true suffering is in my head. Just like when you get to that scene you’ve been waiting the whole book to write and it’s not working. It’s falling flat. Now that you’ve written everything that comes before, it doesn’t fit the way you envisioned. But this is the way you want it! No way are you going to end this book without cramming that scene in The Way It’s Supposed To Be.

Much hair pulling and teeth gnashing later, and possibly a wise writer-friend giving you a verbal slap upside the head, you realize the futility of your resistance. That scene has changed. Your vision carried you right up to it, and then it took flight, altered into something different, something that’s more than a spur to keep going. It’s now a vital, necessary part of the whole. And you’d have realized it a lot sooner if you’d just stopped insisting that what you wanted was still the same thing as what was needed.

There are times when we need that slap to wake us up. And there are times of quiet revelation. However we receive them, we should remember that their lessons can be recycled. Maybe we’ll benefit more from them in the future.