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10 Myths About Romance Novels

Writing by Rachael Johns

Romance novels have long been disparaged by the literary elite and sometimes even called “guilty pleasures” by those that read them. What is most frustrating about this snobbery is that most of it stems from uneducated opinions about the world’s bestselling genre and shame because others look down upon it. Rachael Johns, one of Australia’s most successful romance novelists, believes we may be finally seeing a shift, much in part to young, loud and proud readers on Booktok who are not ashamed to proclaim their love of love! However, for those still in the dark about the power of romance novels, she’s here to dispel some myths:


They’re just porn for chicks – when I think of porn I think of sex, but when I think of romance novels, I think of so much more. Yes, many romance novels have sex scenes (some steamier than others) but a good romance novel doesn’t include gratuitous sex. Romance novels are as much about developing emotional intimacy between the characters as physical intimacy. When reading romance, you go on a journey with the characters, not simply of them falling in love but also often of personal growth and fulfilment.


Only women read them – I know from personal experience that this is NOT the case. I’ve got followers who are men, I receive emails from readers who are men and enjoy my books, and men sometimes attend my events, but if you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe the Romance Writers of America. According to their website, 18% of romance readers are men, but I have a feeling this might even be more now. And why wouldn’t men read them? After all, men are in relationships too, men fall in love and, if they’re smart men, they’d read romance to learn a few things. Some men even WRITE them!


They are poorly written – Like any genre, some romance novels are technically better written than others, but really, isn’t that subjective? This isn’t high school English… some of my favourite writers break the so-called writing rules and that’s what makes their work unique and addictive. More often than not, people who diss the writing of romance novels, haven’t actually read many, and have ‘heard’ that they’re formulaic so must be bad. This is a very uneducated opinion, fulfilling a reader promise does not equal formula, it shows a writer knows and cares about their readership.


They give women unrealistic expectations – this myth always makes me laugh, because I think it’s perpetuated by men who give the bare minimum in relationships and don’t like being shown up by fictional men (aka book boyfriends). As well as men who respect, support, and love their partners, romance novels also feature strong, independent women who are not passive but active in pursuing their goals and desires both in and outside the bedroom. If this is unrealistic, that’s very sad.


They are all the same (formulaic) – as mentioned above, this is an uneducated myth. Like any genre fiction, there are things readers expect when reading romance and therefore authors who know their audience, know to give them these things. The focus of the plot must be a romance between two (or more) people and there must be a happy ever after, or a happy for now ending. Good romance novels also include strong character growth, but then again, shouldn’t most novels? Romance novels often use tropes, which are familiar storylines, such as enemies-to-lovers, fake relationships, and forced proximity, but this does not mean they are all the same. The trick to a good romance is putting a new twist on a beloved trope!


They’re trashy and don’t add any value to the literary landscape – I believe the patriarchy is coming through strong in this myth. My guess is men didn’t like that women writers were selling more copies of books than they were, so they tried to belittle the work, the authors and the readers who devoured them. Romance is one of the biggest selling genres in the world – it’s neck and neck with crime – and has been for a long time. Surely THAT many readers can’t be wrong! Romance novels explore important universal themes of love, of course, and more, but have also often been at the forefront when it comes to diversity and representation.


They’re written by bored, desperate housewives – Hah! Most of the romance writers I know are terrible housewives; we’re far too busy reading and writing to worry about the dust behind the fridge or whether our husband’s socks match. Ironing, what’s that?! Aside from that, many romance novelists come to writing after careers in other fields, such as law, medicine, journalism to name but a few. I was a high school English teacher and started writing LONG before I got married and had kids.


They’re a way to get rich quick while waiting for your big literary break – if that were the case, I’d be writing this from my private island in the Caribbean! According to a recent article in The Guardian, the average writer in Australia earns a mere $18,200 a year. Many romance novelists earn a lot more – I myself write full-time and earn a reasonable living – but if you think writing a romance novel might turn you into a billionaire, my advice would be to buy a lottery ticket or start trading on the share market. Writers don’t write for money; we write for the love of it and you need a lot of that love to keep you going during the tough times.


They’re easy to read so must be easy to write – I’ve got a magnet from the New York Public Library that says, ‘Easy reading is not easy writing’ and nothing could be truer. Years ago, after completely a literary creative writing degree at uni and not getting anywhere with publication, I stupidly decide I’d write a romance novel instead, thinking it would be much easier, but that was not the case. Writing a book that focuses so much on the characters’ emotional journey to a happily ever after rather than relying on crazy action plots or mysteries is a hard craft to master. Romance readers are voracious and therefore also tough judges of their genre. They know what they want and it takes skill to give them that.


They are anti-feminist – this couldn’t be further from the truth and again, I believe this myth is often perpetuated by people (men and women) who haven’t read enough in the genre to comment. Of course, not ALL romance novels could be considered feminist texts, but is any other genre expected to do this? There are many subgenres of romance that would not be considered feminist but give readers access to fantasies and escapism in a safe medium. Yet, many romance novels in current times are inherently feminist. They feature strong, independent women who value their own careers and lives as much as the people they date and love, while also exploring issues of work-life balance, consent, gender roles and non-traditional partnerships.

Rachael Johns

Once upon a time (briefly) Rachael was an English teacher, then her dreams of becoming a novelist came true. Now she spends her days writing romance and women’s fiction in the Swan Valley, Western Australia. Her latest book is The Other Bridget.

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