Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

For Love and Money

Love and MoneyI read Laura Vivanco’s study of Harlequin Mills & Boon romances, For Love and Money (2011), while I was reading Edward James’s Science Fiction in the 20th Century (1994). Both books are about a particular niche in contemporary fiction, which attracts devoted fans and writers passionate about their work. Film adaptations of works in these genres are common: these are highly popular areas for the study of why people read the books they do. But while I could see quite clearly why people might want to read some of the writers James was discussing, I could not see why anyone would want to read the writers whose works were quoted by Vivanco. I was more than disappointed by the quality of the writing in those quotations: I was appalled.

I don’t think this is the fault of those authors. Vivanco explains very clearly how the Harlequin Mills & Boon brands work. The novels they publish are manufactured to a carefully worked out formula. The publisher knows what sells best, and tells any potential author who might be thinking ‘I could do this’, how to write to the formulae that will bring in the sales. There is a certain amount of fluff in the guidance about needing to have a passion for reading romantic fiction to be any good at writing it, but essentially, their advice to authors is ‘write this way to sell your work’. I found this highly interesting, though chilling, since studying a formula can be fascinating. But I had not realised how much the formula smothers the individual voices of these Harlequin Mills & Boon writers. Vivanco quotes from many, many separate works, and the only way I could tell them apart was that the older texts, predating the 1950s, had a recognisable style, some sense of a person writing, rather than the formula. I could imagine someone speaking the dialogue in those quotations, and I felt interested in the stories, the characters, their voices. This was not the case with the extracts from the more recent novels, written, as Vivanco says in her title, for the money. I’m not at all surprised that wise novelists, some of whom are now famous, used pseudonyms when they wrote for this romance manufactory. But clearly there is a vast and satisfied readership out there who want to read novels written like this: they choose to buy these books, and that’s the problem.

Vivanco was sensible to explain the formulaic nature of these novels at the beginning of her study. They are clones of the same hive mind: a single story in multiple, infinite iterations, written by uncounted authors and their pseudonyms. This allows her to apply literary criticism to the whole lot without discriminating between them. Very little is said about the authors: we get no sense of their career trajectories or most important works. This is where Edward James’s treatment of the science fiction industry works better: I learned a lot about the writers from him, which I didn’t from Vivanco. But maybe there are no star authors in Harlequin Mills & Boon, just brand labels. She works through several themes, looking for examples to prove her point, which is that these Cinderella romance novels produced to the Harlequin Mills & Boon formula fit the glass slippers normally worn by ‘real’ literary princesses. The romance genre is notorious for not normally being considered worthy of literary criticism, so Vivanco’s study is a good addition to the new romance studies.

However, I have caveats. I don’t think Vivanco has studied these generic, formulaic novels in the most interesting way. I have worked on very similar fiction, mass-market novelettes published in the 1890s. I got nothing of interest by looking at their literary quality, but found vast amounts to write about when looking at them as book history. Thinking about these novels as part of daily reading, and looking at their context is fascinating for understanding their readers’ reading tastes, and how much they would pay for it. Janice Radway did this in 1984 (Reading the Romance) for the American romance market. Looking at how Harlequin Mills & Boon romances are marketed, and what exactly their formula is, and why it works so well, would be valuable socio-literary book-history.

Unfortunately, Vivanco spends most of this book struggling to persuade us (me) that these novels sprout from a deep, rich bed of nutritious literary quality, and share a common standard of literariness. But it’s the formula that Vivanco is critiquing here, not the writing. Because these novels are so formulaic, they are policed rather than edited. Anything that transcends the formula will be edited out if the publisher thinks that The Reader or The Buyer (much more important) will not like it, so applying the principles of literary criticism to a formula seems a bit pointless. Also, I do think Vivanco reads too much into her subject. On p.116 she quotes a novel in which the heroine uses the phrase ‘iron bars do not a prison make’, and the hero corrects her, saying that it’s stone walls, not iron bars. Vivanco claims this as an example of the serious literary foundation beneath these novels; since the heroine is (mis)quoting the seventeenth-century poet Richard Lovelace. The dialogue continues to show us that of course the heroine knew that the phrase came from ‘an obscure seventeenth-century poet’, but this doesn’t wash. If the heroine knew that much she’d have got the quote right the first time around, and she’d also know that Lovelace is not obscure, but regularly anthologised and taught today. It’s more important to notice that this character is quoting a cliché, and getting it wrong because she only has a dim memory of the quote. Someone, inside the prison of Harlequin Mills & Boon romances, is trying hard to be literary, but the formula won’t allow it.

Laura Vivanco, For Love and Money. The Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills & Boon Romance (HEB, 2011), ISBN 978-1-84760-196-4

Kate podcasts tiny, hand-crafted essays on why she really really likes a book, in which enthusiasm tramples all over her critical considerations: http://www.reallylikethisbook.com.

About Kate

Blogger, lecturer, podcaster, writer, critic, reviewer, researcher (in no particular order) in and on British literary history. Preferred occupation while listening to podcasts: cooking or knitting. Preferred soundtrack while reading: the sound of silence.

41 comments on “For Love and Money

  1. Astral Marc
    April 9, 2013

    Sounds like you’d be better off reading one of the Smart Bitches’ books, they have a lot to say about formula writing and tropes and what they mean to people. I’ve found them particularly insightful on genres I know more about (not a big Mills & Boon reader).

  2. rosyb
    April 9, 2013

    Wow Kate – very much enjoyed this piece. I read once that Mills and Boon accounted for about a third of the reading market and would be interested to know what the figures are now. And yet it is virtually invisible in most bookshops and bought almost exclusively online. I think this is a relevant point – this is not reading for public consumption where your tastes and ability are part of the package you may show off to friends (A Brief History of Time, anyone?) but very much a private reading world and perhaps of a different function. I would have been interested to know if the formula is exactly the same as decades ago or whether there is anything that has changed about it. Is it the equivalent of sexual fantasies or is it some kind of escapism? I suppose 50 Shades of Gray would be the equivalent perhaps and noone commends that for its good literary qualities. :)

    The other point I wanted to ask is who is the readership. Not naming names but I know someone of an older generation who used to read similar sorts of books (I’m not sure if they were Mills and Boon though) who could read but certainly was not inducted into the world of “literature” – and left school at 11. I think when people get a bit snobbish about writing style in terms of really mass market offerings like Dan Brown – they do seem to forget sometimes that maybe they are designed to be read by absolutely everyone – they are designed to appeal to a really broad range of people and deliver a story or excitement or a sexual thrill or romance no matter what your reading age or ability. The person I’m thinking of would certainly have had no idea about Richard Lovelace and so an explanation with the heroine getting it wrong would have been a great leveller so I could see it might well be an attempt by the author to add in something of his/her own. I worked for a paper once that required us to replace all long words and be very conscious of keeping things to a lower reading age and I can vouch for the fact this is really very hard and requires a lot of skill! I imagine a lot of children’s writers would say the same.

    Has the formula has always been there or has that solidified more recently? I’d also be interested to know what the formula actually is.

    Do you think the formula is still popular or does it underestimate its readers? I think reading is a bit like food. Sometimes you want a really wonderful cooked meal and sometimes you just get the urge for fish and chips. I suppose if someone stuck a bit of parsley on your fish and chips to posh it up a bit or make it more interesting it might just be annoying. Because in a way the comfort of the thing is the total predictability and the fact it is fast food. Does this, though, make fish and chips bad? It may be fatty but it still can be damned tasty.

    I have never read Mills and Boon, however, and suspect I’m too entrenched in my own views that they would annoy me. But maybe this is why Vivanco is making the plea to look at them more closely? As you say, though, is this the right lens through which to analyse/judge them?

  3. Kate
    April 9, 2013

    Smart Bitches, as in http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/? Thanks for the reference, Astral Marc!

    Rosy: I too wanted to know the answers to all these questions, but they weren’t in the book (probably because they weren’t the Qs Vivanco was asking). Maybe I was reading the right book for the wrong reasons. I take your points about Lovelace, parsley and fish’n’chips, though, although I reserve the right to insist on giving Da People more literary references than they think they need, because Da People are always more sophisticated than publishers think they are.

  4. Laura Vivanco
    April 9, 2013

    Kate and Rosy, if you want to know about British romance readers, you might be interested in Mairead Owen’s Women’s Reading of Popular Romantic Fiction: A Case Study in the Mass Media, A Key to the Ideology of Women (1990). I’ve summarised bits of it here and it can be downloaded for free from EThOS at the British Library.

    As for me, I read Mills & Boons because I enjoy them and, as I wrote in For Love and Money, I feel that “many are well-written, skilfully crafted works which can and do engage the minds as well as the emotions of their readers, and a few are small masterpieces” (15). Obviously my tastes must differ quite a bit from Kate’s!

    Regarding specific authors, one of the authors I quote from quite often in For Love and Money is Jennifer Crusie. She was the focus of a special feature in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies and the introduction describes the life and career of this “star” author. Other essays in the same issue may also be of interest so here’s a list of them:

    Jennifer Crusie’s Literary Lingerie by Laura Vivanco

    Crusie and the Con by Christina A. Valeo

    Tell Me Lies: Lying, Storytelling, and the Romance Novel as Feminist Fiction by Patricia Zakreski

    Getting Laid, Getting Old, and Getting Fed: The Cultural Resistance of Jennifer Crusie’s Romance Heroines by Kyra Kramer

    The Heroine as Reader, the Reader as Heroine: Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation by Kate Moore and Eric Murphy Selinger

    Gossip, Liminality, and Erotic Display: Jennifer Crusie’s Links to Eighteenth- Century Amatory Fiction by Kimberly Baldus

  5. emselinger
    April 9, 2013

    I’m a bit puzzled, Kate, by what you say about the Lovelace poem:

    “The dialogue continues to show us that of course the heroine knew that the phrase came from ‘an obscure seventeenth-century poet’, but this doesn’t wash. If the heroine knew that much she’d have got the quote right the first time around, and she’d also know that Lovelace is not obscure, but regularly anthologised and taught today.”

    As an American literature professor, I suppose I have quite a different sense of the literary canon, but I do specialize in poetry, and I’d say that it’s entirely possible that someone might call Lovelace “obscure,” despite his being anthologized and taught. My students would call Ben Jonson “obscure,” alas–in fact, the number of poets they wouldn’t call “obscure” is painfully small. As for getting the quote right, I know who Wordsworth is, but I misquoted him just the other day, as a colleague rather gleefully pointed out. So the logic in your “if she knew that much” doesn’t really persuade me.

    I’m currently using Vivanco’s book for the third time in my classes on popular romance fiction, and I’m quite impressed with both the book itself and how well it teaches my students to do close readings of novels from a number of publishers: Avon, Bold Strokes, Harlequin, and several others. Of course, I don’t start from the assumption that popular romance novels are a problem, or that the question of why readers like them is particularly interesting. (I’m quite old fashioned, as a critic–I like novels, even popular ones, much more than reader ethnography!)

  6. Okay. Now I’m going to go buy more romances. I’ll even pick out an extra one with you in mind. To each their own, right?

  7. Ros
    April 9, 2013

    “But clearly there is a vast and satisfied readership out there who want to read novels written like this: they choose to buy these books, and that’s the problem.”

    I buy these books and read them too. How is this a problem? It’s not a problem for me. It’s not a problem for the authors, editors and others involved in producing them. I can’t see why it is a problem for anyone else, and I will not be shamed for reading the books I enjoy.

    It seems to me that you have attempted to read Vivanco’s book without any first hand experience of the books she is discussing. No wonder you can’t tell one author from another if all you’ve seen are the snippets she quotes. It’s fine that you don’t want to read them, but if you can’t even imagine why others might then I think you perhaps ought not to be in the business of reading literary criticism about them. You might also want to check out other scholarly work on the genre (see Jay Dixon) before deciding that Vivanco hasn’t studied the books ‘in the most interesting way’. As a scholar (as well as a romance reader, I have two Masters degrees and am about to submit my PhD), I was fascinated by Vivanco’s work.

    So, you know what, you can take your damned patronising arrogance and stick it in someone else’s genre.

  8. Kate
    April 9, 2013

    I used to read Mills & Boon about twenty five years ago when I was a literature student, but they didn’t suit me; But I still read romances very happily now, and quite a few other genres. Not that that is going to appease those of you who think I’m a stuck-up lit critic snob, but I can only do my best.

    Apropos ‘problem’, the problem is the practice of forcing writers to write a formula when selling the result is the primary objective. That’s not literature, or art (to be really precious about it), its industrial manufacture. I’m quite aware that romance writing IS literary and literature and of very good quality, but that’s not what I’m looking at here, and neither was Vivanco. This review is about her book on Harlequin Mills & Boon, not the whole genre.

    Ros: I’m hearing serious over-defensiveness. Sorry if I hit a nerve, but an opinion is an opinion. There’s no need to shout.

  9. Isobel Carr
    April 9, 2013

    I’m a bit shocked by your comparing a book about Science Fiction Fantasy single title novels and a book about Romance category books. You are aware that SFF has its own lines of category books (such as the Dragon Lance novels) that function in exactly the same way as Mills & Boon, right? So if you want to actually have a scholarly comparison, you’d need to find a book about either those kinds of SFF books, or a book about Romance single title books.

  10. Larissa Ione
    April 9, 2013

    I am so sick of people thinking romance is a “problem.” And I’m sick of people judging romance negatively because it has a “formula.” Come on. The ONLY formula in romance novels is that two people must come together for a happily-ever-after. How is that some kind of crazy negative formula? It’s real life. And it’s up to the author to get to that HEA in any way they see fit. No one is sitting behind an author with a whip and telling them that the couple must kiss by chapter three. And have sex by chapter ten. And be pregnant in the prologue.

    Doesn’t happen. Maybe it did in the past, but it doesn’t anymore — it went out with the term “bodice-rippers.”

    If people are going to talk about “formula,” why don’t mysteries get slammed? Or thrillers? Or horror? You will find common elements of “formula” in all of those genres as well.

    I’m a romance author, and I assure you that no editor as ever “policed” me. Or forced me to write to a formula (aside from the fact that the couple must make a commitment at the end, but honestly, even that has changed in recent years, and you can write a “happily for now” ending). And of course selling is the primary objective — um, that’s the idea! Write a book and sell it.

    I really think sameness is achieved because of popularity. Look at the books that are hot, and you’ll find clones — intentional clones and unintentional ones. Partly, people write to the market (in all genres, not just romance,) and partly, cultural, social, and political climates influence the writing. Many of the books of today couldn’t have been published even 10 years ago. So yes, look at any decade, and you’re going to find a lot of books that seem similar — but it’s not because some maniacal editor in a Harlequin office is going through books with a cookie cutter and policing the work. It’s because editors buy what sells. It’s because of the state of the world at the time the books are being written.

    And look, people are always slamming Harlequin romances for being “lesser” somehow. But authors know that when they submit to Harlequin that they’re submitting to a certain line (Blaze Historicals, Romantic Suspense, Nocturne,) they’re shooting for “tone.” Not formula. There’s a certain tone and sensuality level that does often define the individual lines. I know this, because I have tried my damnedest to get published with Harlequin. Here’s the thing: it’s hard. I never did sell to them.

    I really, really wish people would stop digging on romance. It’s everywhere — it’s usually even a subplot in violent action movies. Mating is an instinct built into humans on a very basic level, and why it’s so giggle-worthy and shame-worthy when written as the main plots in books baffles me.

    Isn’t it time we stopped slamming the people who write it, edit it, and read it and focus on larger literary “problems?” Like the thousands of books written about the joy of sex with children you can find on Amazon? That, to me, seems far worse than Harlequin’s formula machine.

  11. Ros
    April 9, 2013

    Kate, an ill-informed opinion may be an opinion, but it’s still ill-informed. Also dismissive and patronising. And I can assure you, that was the toned-down version of the comment I wanted to write.

    “Film adaptations of works in these genres are common”

    Name one adaptation of a Harlequin/Mills and Boon in the last 20 years. Oh, that’s right. There aren’t any.

  12. sshaver
    April 9, 2013

    “Policed rather than edited.”

    You’re right. This is not literature. It’s worse, even, than much of TV.

  13. Ela
    April 9, 2013

    As Isabel Carr writes above, there is a distinction to be made between “romance” novels which tend to be stand-alone novels, and which might shade into the so-called “chick-lit” genre, and the Harlequin Mills and Boon type novels in which the romance is centre-stage. In stand-alone type novels the author has much more freedom to write what they like. A friend of my mother’s writes for M&B, and makes a reasonable living from it, I believe, but I remember her saying that, for her first book, she had originally written much more description about the setting (Italy) which was edited out before publication. Whether M&B feel that diverging from their formula will lead to decreased sales, I don’t know, but the publisher does have different lines, and what might be acceptable for one line (descriptions of sex, for example) wouldn’t be in another. Publishers are in business to make money, not to produce art, and often not even literature – though that can be a by-product.

    Maybe the formula (and the money it brings) enables writers to be more independent, or to find their own voices. I do think that any writer who writes prolifically does approach formula in some respects, though it may not always be as obvious.

    I don’t read romance novels all that often, though I’ve found some of the historical romances quite informative about life of the period in which the book is set, and are often well-researched.

  14. Laura Vivanco
    April 9, 2013

    My book was indeed just about Harlequin Mills & Boon romances but that certainly wasn’t because I thought they were lower in quality than other romances. Of course there are guidelines for individual Harlequin Mills & Boon “lines”, and there’s an expectation that they, like all romances (though not all romantic fiction), will focus on a central romantic relationship and end with that relationship heading in a positive direction. One of the reasons I wrote For Love and Money, though, was to try to counter the idea that these novels “are manufactured to a carefully worked out formula”. Evidently I wasn’t entirely successful.

  15. Larissa Ione
    April 9, 2013

    Ela, often editing like that happens because of word count issues — extraneous description can be cut in order to meet word count requirements or because it slowed the story, or a million other reasons. Or if an entire setting is changed, it’s often because an editor feels that certain settings don’t sell, but formula is really no longer an issue. And rarely is anything substantial actually cut by an edtior — they make suggestions to the author, and the author usually has the final word.

    Laura, I can’t speak for the other commenters, but what I took away from the post wasn’t that you were being negative. I was actually responding to what Kate said (and I think others were too.) And, admittedly, much of what I said was a general response to the bashing romance takes from all corners. Nothing I said was aimed at you, and I’m not going to judge your book from a review. Reviewers too often come away with an interpretation that vastly differs from mine. In the past, Harlequin was big on guidelines and strict adherence to those guidelines, and from what I gather about your book, that was your focus. Things have changed, though, but it seems that too few people have caught up with that fact. :(

  16. Laura Vivanco
    April 9, 2013

    Thanks, Larissa. My book actually said quite little about Harlequin’s guidelines. I was focused on

    1) the balance different novels strike between fantasy and reality (for example the protagonists of the Nocturne line’s paranormal romances are very different from those you might expect to find in a Superromance)

    2) ways in which authors have adapted traditional plots, including the Pygmalion myth, the tale of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast

    3) ways in which the texts themselves sometimes address (and question) the distinctions drawn between “high” and “low” culture

    4) uses of metaphor, particularly those relating to the building of relationships, the flowering of romance and the hunt of love.

  17. Rosyb
    April 9, 2013

    Hey people! Let’s get a bit of proportion and perspective here!

    First of all, VL is friendly to ALL genres and is regularly invited down to the Romantic Novelists Association Awards because a lot of people and a lot of writers appreciate that we do read and critique all genres – whilst not being a specialist site. If you want a specialist romance or Mills and Boon site, this isn’t it.

    Secondly, I believe that the writer may have sent in the book for review and as a result she has a big indepth consideration on VL – which is what we do. Yes, it pulls no punches but neither is it damning in the least of the book and is measured and praises what works but questions what it doesn’t think work and mainly asks questions about what is the best way to consider it. Which is why this comment:

    “So, you know what, you can take your damned patronising arrogance and stick it in someone else’s genre.”

    is totally uncalled-for. Why not engage intelligently in the comments and have a good discussion about it without flinging the insults about? Here is a platform for people to discuss stuff. We don’t all agree in the bookfox den, you know. We are totally open to people disagreeing and discussing and telling us we are Wrong Wrong Wrong! :) But there really is no need to get insulting about it. If you really hate what Kate writes then you are at liberty not to read it. But I should remind you that everyone on VL takes a lot of time and effort to read and review. We are asked to review things and we do the best job we can. People who send to us know we are not necessarily going to be Mills and Boon readers and that is totally up to them and their risk if they want to send stuff to us – we have a policy and everyone is warned about it and it really is their choice.

    And it’s all voluntary. To read and review and give time and consideration for free like this is really something most authors appreciate. I’m an author myself and bad reviews sting. But someone has taken the time and trouble to engage and if it’s not their thing then I respect that. But the above review isn’t even particularly negative – merely extremely engaged. Being abusive will merely mean that more sites like VL will be put off reviewing genre novels and that would be a crying shame because that is something that people have been really pleased to see on the site – that it really reviews seriously all sorts of different genres that often don’t get taken seriously in mainstream newspapers etc.

    And lastly, thank you Laura, for commenting. i thought it was a really interesting review and a very interesting subject for discussion and I’m glad you have come in to comment and the very best of luck with it. I have to admit I suspect Mills and Boon isn’t for me, but I might be wrong you never know! :-)

    Ok – back to the barney….

  18. Rosyb
    April 9, 2013

    PS Larissa – if you are going to complain about us – you should read the site a bit more. There are plenty of pieces on romance novels. Many extremely positive. And there are plenty of negative reviews of thrillers. People are coming across as extremely defensive without actually knowing anything about this site it seems. We are all opinionated here. It’s what makes us tick and keeps things lively and we like opinionated lively commenters (welcome new commenters!) But if you are going to wildly generalise you really need to look at the site a bit more first. Take a look at the books reviewed in the Romance category and you’ll see you are being unfair if you think VL is anti-romance. : http://vulpeslibris.wordpress.com/category/fiction/fiction-romance/

  19. Eh, Rosyb, I’m going to disagree to some extent here… yes, the book is up for review, open to interpretation, etc, etc, etc.

    The problem, (I suspect) for a lot of us is this…

    But clearly there is a vast and satisfied readership out there who want to read novels written like this: they choose to buy these books, and that’s the problem.

    Yes, the overall tone of this post is condescending, but it’s not just that. We get used to that.

    But this line right here…

    Just why are readers who are happy with the books they buy a problem?

    They shouldn’t be. If the books don’t appeal? Fine. But the people who find them appealing shouldn’t be labeled as problematic and that’s the gist here.

    To do so is snotty, snobby and basically, it comes across as slapping others down just to build yourself up and make yourself feel better. Was that the intention? I dunno and I don’t really care.

    But the condescending tone remains, the patronizing tone remains…and the insult to readers remains.

    What does it matter to anybody, seriously, if people enjoy M&B? Does it harm you? Does it hurt you? Does it take away from you? Nope. So why poke at it?

    Generally when people poke and prod at something that isn’t really harming them (or anybody else) it’s over insecurity, jealousy, a lack of understanding and all that psycho-babble jazz. So…why the poking & prodding?

  20. Rosyb
    April 9, 2013

    I can’t speak for Kate but I took this to be the problem: “But I had not realised how much the formula smothers the individual voices of these Harlequin Mills & Boon writers.”

    Now, you may not see that as a problem, but I got the impression that Kate does as she thinks things could be a lot more interesting. Saying that the readers are satisfied and don’t demand anything more in terms of more individuality or references is what I took the review to be saying was the problem. Not that they read romance novels.

    Sure, it’s not harming anyone, but this is a review. Reviews are opinions and opinions don’t actually harm anyone either. The idea it’s “insecurity, jealousy” is utterly ridiculous I’m afraid. You prod stuff and have opinions in reviews because that’s what reviews are and we aren’t just robots.

    I find the tone of some of these comments really strange. Are you upset that Kate doesn’t rate Mills and Boon? Or is it to do with this review of this particular book about Mills and Boon?

    And all that personal stuff about snotty and snobby etc is really sad. You shouldn’t be attacking a person or trying to say someone is this that or the other because they don’t agree with you. Kate hasn’t done that once – in the review or in the comments. I think some people should stop the personal attacks and come back and chat about the subject. I put a lot of questions above – feel free to answer those and fill us all in. But if you keep on personally attacking Kate it’s not on.

    So – olive branch and some discussion instead, peeps?

  21. Larissa Ione
    April 9, 2013

    Rosyb — er…I’m not complaining about the site. Anti-romance? Wildly generalizing? Unfair? I’m not even sure where any of that came from. My comments were in response to a SINGLE post — not an entire site or any of the reviewers. I took issue with some opinions in the review, in the comments, and in the too-common attitude regarding romance in general (wildly generalizing?), but I never once complained about the site or the reviewers.

    When I said, “If people are going to talk about “formula,” why don’t mysteries get slammed? Or thrillers? Or horror? You will find common elements of “formula” in all of those genres as well,” I was not referring to your site or the reviewer. I would have said, “Hey, Kate, if you’re going to…” Or, “Wow, this site seems to be anti-romance, and if your reviewers are going to…”

    The way the review is written doesn’t make clear if the some of opinions are Laura’s or Kate’s, and the idea that romances are still very formulaic and problematic is so common that much of my defense of the formulaic romance is a bit “general,” but in no way am I complaining about the site or your reviewers.

  22. Larissa Ione
    April 9, 2013

    Also, I find it ironic that I should have been more specific about speaking in generalities in my first comment. Huh.

  23. jillsorenson
    April 9, 2013

    It’s not the review of the book we’re responding to, but the dismissal of an entire subcategory of romance and its readers. Saying that Mills & Boon readers are “the problem” and calling the novels “clones of a hive mind” is insulting. Many of your assumptions are incorrect, as well. My Harlequin editor has never told me to write a story in any particular way to boost sales. Nor has she discouraged me from taking risks on unusual settings or characters of different ethnic backgrounds. I don’t use a pseudonym.

    Kate, you mention reading Mills & Boon many years ago. Perhaps this is why the older novels Laura quoted stood out to you as more appealing. Your unfamiliarity with today’s category romance has resulted in some sweeping generalizations.

    I don’t see anything wrong with saying the books don’t appeal to you, or criticizing them individually, or even criticizing the entire category–from an informed perspective. That isn’t what came across to me in this article.

  24. Rosyb
    April 9, 2013

    I am getting the impression this has been posted to a forum. Is that correct?

  25. Janine Ballard
    April 9, 2013

    Rosyb — It was tweeted, just as any link to an article can be.

  26. Astral Marc
    April 9, 2013

    Yes, Kate, that’s the site! I know they’ve published several books. If you’re interested they also have some free podcasts on the subject. I remember them likening the hookword style of romances to fanfiction systems of genres and tropes, which is a comparison that really helped me to understand those genres, although I haven’t found one yet that appeals to me specifically. I think Laura’s links are also interesting and will be reading them myself but they seem to focus more on social context, while you seem very interested in the rigidity of the formal rules of the genre.

  27. Ros
    April 10, 2013

    Rosy, I realise that you weren’t anticipating this sort of response to Kate’s review. She’s right in her comment that this piece hit a nerve. Not a personal nerve, but one that runs through large swathes of the romance-reading community. I can’t remember the last time I read an article about romance in general, and category romance (M&B) in particular, which didn’t make the same kinds of false assumptions that are in Kate’s piece and indeed in your comments. It’s particularly disappointing here because Vivanco’s book is one of the few attempts to take the genre seriously and understand where it fits within wider literary culture and why it is so successful. I feel like Kate has not only misunderstood and misrepresented M&B, but also failed to appreciate Laura’s book. See Laura’s own comment about the ‘formula’ which Kate makes so much of, but is actually not Laura’s focus.

    It’s hard to see how you could think that Kate’s article and your comments are not insulting to people who read, write and edit (not police) these books. We’re told that our choices are problematic, that the books are manufactured and policed, that authorial voices are smothered, and that it’s impossible to understand why anyone would want to read one. That last is a statement which goes way beyond personal taste. SFF is not to my taste, but I can understand why other people choose to read it. But my choice to read M&B is apparently beyond reason. I’m pretty insulted by that, and if I wrote or edited for M&B, I would be even more insulted.

    Your own comment, Rosy, is also misinformed and disdainful. You say of M&B that, ‘it is virtually invisible in most bookshops and bought almost exclusively online. I think this is a relevant point – this is not reading for public consumption where your tastes and ability are part of the package you may show off to friends (A Brief History of Time, anyone?) but very much a private reading world and perhaps of a different function.’

    Actually, M&B is sold very publicly, not in bookshops but in supermarkets. It’s also sold by subscription – not primarily to hide one’s reading habit – but to save money and be sure of receiving the books each month. I do buy online, but only because I prefer to read on my Kindle. The notion of reading to show off to one’s friends strikes me as an odd one, especially with respect to fiction. Most fiction reading is surely for personal pleasure – and reading to construct a social persona can hardly be thought of as superior to reading for one’s own enjoyment.

    You then move on to discuss the readership of M&B novels: “The other point I wanted to ask is who is the readership. Not naming names but I know someone of an older generation who used to read similar sorts of books (I’m not sure if they were Mills and Boon though) who could read but certainly was not inducted into the world of “literature” – and left school at 11.”

    I am not sure how much more insulting or snobbish this comment could be. You have a sample of one reader. You make a distinction between these books and ‘the world of “literature”. And then you tell us she left school at 11 and go on to discuss writing for people with a low reading age.

    I appreciate that you have a site which publishes reviews of books like this, and of romance novels themselves. But when those reviews are patronising, arrogant and misinformed, I can’t think of any reason why I shouldn’t point that out.

  28. Rosyb
    April 10, 2013

    Ok, well, let’s agree to disagree. Having looked at the various tweets surrounding this I can see that there is a bit of an inflamed situation with people cutting out a completely out of context phrase about the “problem”. The article is a lot more complex than that.

    I also wonder about a UK/US divide here maybe causing some misunderstandings (?)

    Are Mills and Boon on sale in supermarkets in the UK? I haven’t seen that. I think the phenomenon of Mills and Boon being a third of the market but not having representation in bookshops is very interesting and either it IS snobbishness on the part of the bookshops (not saying that’s right) or it is due to the fact that readers do want their reading consumption to be private in this particular area. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people wanting their reading to be more a matter of private consumption and I don’t think I said there was anything wrong with that. And also we are talking about sex etc here and some people are not that happy being open about that – that’s not snobbery. (Err I should point out I was being fairly tongue-in-cheek about A Brief History of Time – the bestseller famous for most who bought it not ever getting around to reading it! Why are you assuming that I think this is the best way for people to read, eh? ;))

    The allusion to the person who was older and not literary was someone I care about a lot. And in no way was I judging their choice in books, either. I was trying to say the opposite. In fact, I was countering Kate’s idea that a literary reference had been over-explained/showed up something wrong in the writing – if you want to check the context. I have admiration for writing that knows or cares about its readership and I think some books get a hard time for reaching out very widely in their appeal. There was no particular reference to modern Mills and Boon there -merely to the books that this person was reading in the past. These provided escapism and fun for someone who wouldn’t have got references to Lovelace and might have found such references a bit alienating. I was not saying that the books were for people of a low reading age. I was saying that books of really wide appeal – say, like Dan Brown – appeal to a huge number of people whatever their reading age and if you want to widen the appeal to the max that you make a book easy to read and that is a skill that is often criticised but a real SKILL. This is one of the reasons so many bestsellers are crossover teen/adult books – I suppose you will find that insulting too. But they win prizes if that makes you feel better. I am not particularly highbrow in my tastes so I’m not quite sure why you are reading all sorts of snobbery into comments and questions I’ve put here. If I’m wrong – fine. But at the end of the day I don’t have the assumptions you are ascribing me.

    I was merely trying to say that books are often criticised for not being literary enough but a) it’s not what they are trying to do and b) it’s requires a lot of skill to write. I don’t know why you have chosen to find that offensive.

    As to the review of Laura’s book – again, I am uncertain as to what is going on here. Are you a friend of Laura’s? Were you part of the book? (just trying to get bearings)

    What I read from Kate’s review is this:

    She is actually complementary about Laura’s book and says it would be a good addition on this subject. The thesis of the book (as I take it from above) is that Mills and Boon are more literary than is generally thought and worthy of literary criticism. I read from the review that from the examples used in the book that Kate is unconvinced by this argument because the examples are so similar. Kate ascribes this to too much house-style and editing by the Brand (and it is a Brand and it does have strict parametres) therefore she does not see the individuality of the writing and seems unconvinced that studying Mills and Boon in depth in a literary manner is the “most interesting” way of studying it. She says that she doesn’t think the examples used are, in her view, that interesting in a literary sense.

    The reason that she is looking at it through this lens is because the author of the book is asking her to and the reviewer is unconvinced by the argument.

    This all seems clear and absolutely fair enough in a review to look at a book, disagree with the central premise, question that premise.

    Hence my coming in and talking of different kinds of food. Because part of the want, and the SKILL of writing to a brand (I would have thought) is being able to deliver a knowable product over and over to people who are high reading consumers and know what they want. I was saying that maybe it would be annoying to readers if you are really wanting x to be delivered a bit of y at the same time – ie more literary references or whatever. I was also suggesting that Kate might enjoy literary references but that it might be knowledge on the part of the publishers in terms of knowing their readers or wanting to widen the audience as much as possible and take out anything potentially alienating.

    I suppose I was trying to see the house-style from a publishers’ point of view rather than seeing it as necessarily an oppressive thing for writers.

    I do, though, see the point that to study something closely in a “literary” way (i.e. close reading of the writing itself, the imagery, the allusions, what the individual writer is trying to do) is difficult if you are looking at a house style and that maybe the wider style, story, context, structure would yield more in that context.

    The book under review obviously doesn’t agree with that. So it sets up some interesting ideas for debate. Unfortunately not much of it has been had because things have been so inflamed. Which is a shame.

    The argument many seem to be making here is that you can’t comment if you aren’t a fan of the genre and that a review can’t comment based excerpts. I have some sympathy with that in a different context BUT the trouble is that the book under review has set up the idea that literary reading/examination is to be applied to these examples. So it is the book itself setting up the parametres in which the genre is being discussed.

  29. Melrose
    April 10, 2013

    I read mainly non-fiction, but, when I do read fiction for a bit of escapism, I go for something with a formula. It’s what I want out my fiction books – to have a rough idea how it is going to work out, and enjoy knowing it is going to, and along lines I can recognise. On television too, Midsomer Murders has been on the screen for ages – you know that Mrs Barnaby is always going to be present at murder scenes (but remains remarkably untraumatised), there are going to be multiple murders, and they will be done in the strangest of manners. (And now John Barnaby’s wife seems to be following in Joyce’s footsteps – the producers know what their audience anticipates and enjoys). So, you know approximately what you are getting, when you watch the programme, and, for me, that’s great. I feel the same about books, and, if I read romance, might enjoy some M&B for that very quality.

    If there is a market out there for M&B books, then surely it should be provided for. Lots of people like a bit of romance, and love is a nice positive energy. I don’t see that as “a problem”.

  30. Ros
    April 10, 2013

    Rosy, I live in the UK and regularly buy M&B at Tesco when I want a paper copy. I have also purchased them at other supermarkets on occasion.

    I don’t know Laura and was not involved in the production of her book. I have read it and appreciated it. I disagree with the review of it. I assumed that it was okay to say so and say why. In disagreeing with the review I also disagree with some of Kate’s underlying assumptions about the genre, and I found those offensive.

    I’m not trying to say that anyone shouldn’t comment. But when those comments are incorrect or insulting, I still don’t see why that shouldn’t be pointed out.

  31. Marcy
    April 10, 2013

    As a person who reads lots of books not just romance I really take offense to the fact that I am now labeled a problem because I like a formula romance…I know it is a formula romance and sometimes after reading one type of book I want something I know how it ends and I know when I hit a certain point what should be happening….and I read that to basically give my mind a rest from something that took a lot of concentration on my part…I read it because for the most part it is like a warm fluffy blanket and I really don’t have to think a lot while I read it…books are not just read for the artistic value they are read to provide an escape into a fantasy land…some are better then others….it does not make them right or wrong……it just makes them different…In 1813 when Pride and Prejudice was published it was well received however Charlotte Bronte was not impressed because it did not have any open country…and we consider this a wonderful piece of literature but it was a romance novel of that time…some of the books you see now that are formula will be the literature masterpieces of tomorrow…the good ones always stand the test of time regardless of what you think of them now

  32. Ryan Field
    April 10, 2013

    “I’m not at all surprised that wise novelists, some of whom are now famous, used pseudonyms when they wrote for this romance manufactory.”

    Among other things about this post, the quote above made me smile. You’re making a broad generalization based on assumption. Wise novelists use pseudonyms to hop genres. Plain and simple. It keeps readers/consumers from getting confused and buying books in genres with which they aren’t familiar. There are also other pragmatic reasons for pen names. Highly prolific authors sometimes use pen names so they can release multiple books in any given year.

  33. Leena
    April 10, 2013

    I’m not a reader of the M&B genre (though I enjoy other kinds of romantic fiction), nor have I read Laura’s book – though her blog is a great favourite of mine. But I thought I’d poke my nose into this discussion anyway, in a general sort of way, as I find the topic interesting.

    I, too, took Kate’s comment to mean that the ‘problem’ is the market – not the romance genre itself.

    However, I personally don’t think the formula is the problem. I’d argue that writing can be at its most polished within strict parameters. I can’t see much difference between parameters of literary form and parameters of a decided plot structure: sonnet or romance, doesn’t matter; as long as it’s the best possible sonnet or romance than it can be. I can think of few finer pleasures in this world than a work that shines not despite its genre restrictions, but because it perfects them.

    Rosy will remember me going on about this for years… but what I’ve always criticised is the tendency to have lower expectations for the quality of writing in genre fiction. Of course the critics do it, and make assumptions sight unseen; but also the readers and writes of the genre themselves often do it. That’s the problem, as I see it.

    From the readers, the attitude I mean goes something like: ‘Oh, I don’t care about the writing, I read for the plot and characters anyway’ – as if those qualities were separate somehow. The plot is in the writing! The characters don’t exist apart from the writing! The attitude I mean is accepting so-called ‘bad writing’ as if it mattered less when it’s genre fiction. If you accept bad writing, that’s what you’ll get, a lot of the time.

    A lot of the time ‘writing that grabs you’ (yes, that’s the scientific term) is obviously hard to pin down. Take the obvious example of Twilight, for instance. The writing, I thought, was clunky. The plot was non-existent. The characters were pretty much the opposite of engaging. (All of this being purely my opinion, of course; others may disagree.)

    Yet I couldn’t stop reading the first book. (With the second one, I couldn’t get past 20 pages, so the spell was obviously broken by then.) I have yet to understand what exactly happened with that first book, what its magic was, but it was still something in the writing. Some hypnotic quality. I can’t identify it, but it’s definitely there; and it’s a skill like any other.

    Now, imagine a book with that hypnotic quality – combined with otherwise stellar writing, abundant wit, lively characterisation, and skillful plotting. Imagine what a book that would be!

    I know I’m an idealist and that most if not all books are going to fail at something. But there’s no reason why they shouldn’t aim high. Aim higher! As high as you can. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing pure entertainment, so make it the best possible pure entertainment it can be! Make it the kind of entertainment that wouldn’t blush to stand alongside the likes of Wodehouse, who is surely proof positive that writing can be light and airy without being disposable.

    I see this in three points (as both a reader and a wannabe writer of genre fiction):

    1. There’s a reason why a lot of genre fiction is seen as rubbish. I don’t think it’s snobbish to say, ‘I find this particular example of writing pretty bad, and here’s why.’

    2. That doesn’t mean that the genre itself should be dismissed as rubbish. That would, obviously, be snobbish. (Not to mention stupid.)

    3. Be proud enough of your genre to confront the examples of bad writing, to analyse how they could be done better, instead of getting defensive about them.

    When it comes to romance in particular, it’s a vicious circle: throughout its history, romance fiction has been derided because it’s not only a commercial genre, but a ‘womanly’ commercial genre. The expectations were low to begin with, so the readers, too, were conditioned to have low expectations and to be apologetic about the genre they enjoy. (‘Oh well, as long as it’s entertaining…’ ‘As long as I love the characters…’ ‘As long as the plot is interesting…’ ‘It’s just a bit of fluff, it doesn’t have to be so well-written…’) Writers and publishers were therefore less inclined – or shall we say, less motivated – to go beyond those low expectations. Other readers and critics (the ‘snobs’) saw their low expectations to be proven by this. The readers were ashamed of their reading habits, of having such low expectations; and the ‘snobs’ were all too keen to shame them for it. The whole thing is very unfortunate – like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I have read many examples of truly brilliant genre fiction, and I’ve also read – or attempted to read – many examples of blandness and mediocrity, and occasional examples of truly appalling writing. That surely comes as no surprise to anyone who’s familiar with any genre of fiction. Sometimes it’s a matter of taste, and sometimes it’s just… bad.

    But if you’re not allowed to analyse and call out clunky writing when you see it, for fear of offending an entire community of readers and writers, it’s only going to perpetuate that vicious circle. It goes without saying that you should be able to analyse why you think the writing is bad. But it’s not literary snobbery to have high expectations. You may set your expectations too high, but that’s still not literary snobbery, as long as you respect the genre for what it is, and expect the book to be (for example) a truly great romance, instead of a truly great experimental literary novel that transcends the tropes of romance (or whatever).

    It’s not about transcending the genre because the genre itself is bad; it’s about perfecting the genre because the genre itself is good.

    … or that’s the way I see it, anyhow. YMMV.

  34. OneWhoLurks
    April 10, 2013

    “First of all, VL is friendly to ALL genres and is regularly invited down to the Romantic Novelists Association Awards”

    Is this like saying, “I can’t possibly be biased, some of my best friends are Pakistani/live on council estates/are ginger?” Just curious.

    “People are coming across as extremely defensive without actually knowing anything about this site it seems.”

    Funny that. Since Kate – and the other owners of the site – are coming across as extremely defensive without actually knowing anything about the genre examined in Laura Vivanco’s book.

    Someone’s defensive alright, but it’s not the people who actually read the genre.

    Perhaps the owners of the site should be better prepared next time, and seek to ensure their reviews do not exhibit the same level of sloppiness, prejudice and bias.

    Whilst I feel for Kate that Vivanco did not write her book the way Kate thinks it should’ve been written, I feel compelled to point out that this is not a fault of the book’s, but rather Kate’s (rather presumptuous and quite full of herself) personal problem.

  35. MaryK
    April 10, 2013

    “I’m hearing serious over-defensiveness.”
    No, what you’re hearing is outrage over the out of hand dismissal of an entire subgenre and its readers as “a problem.” If that’s not what you meant, perhaps you’d better rephrase because a lot of people read that statement in the same way.

    “VL is friendly to ALL genres and is regularly invited down to the Romantic Novelists Association Awards because a lot of people and a lot of writers appreciate that we do read and critique all genres …” except M&B which you’ll happily denigrate unread. That’s what people are responding to. Somehow a review of a book of literary criticism became a secondhand review and indictment of the book’s subject.

  36. Rosyb
    April 10, 2013

    “Perhaps the owners of the site should be better prepared next time, and seek to ensure their reviews do not exhibit the same level of sloppiness, prejudice and bias.”

    Ha.

    As pointed out before it’s up to the author if they send a work to us. We are completely open about how we review and as previously pointed out the review was not a negative one of the book – although questioned the premise. What I think is a shame is that the interesting subject up for discussion posed by the book has now been lost in many of the comments (although not all I must add). Which is a real shame for the author when a proper reasoned debate would have provided a real opportunity to put the case and debate it and – generate interest in the book itself. As it is – this has just reduced to going over the same two lines which doesn’t generate any interesting debate or provide the book with the best platform – which a good discussion really could have.

    Thankfully the author herself has been nothing but professional about it and that earns my utmost respect. Perhaps she would like to come on and have a discussion or different debate another time, when there would be a real chance to talk in depth about the interesting issues to do with the book. Rather than this thread which is descending into such hostility and turning into comments about the comments. ;)

  37. azteclady
    April 11, 2013

    @ Rosyb:

    Well, now. The comments are about the review, and particularly about the blanket dismissal of all readers of Mills&Boon/HQN romances as “the problem”, and your comments–which are also pretty condescending and insulting, by the way(1)–are about those comments, so people respond to your comments too.

    And one wonders, how do you propose having a discussion or debate in a blog, if not by responding to other comments? Or is the discussion supposed to be scripted somehow along very narrowly defined lines? Is each commenter only allowed to interact with the author of the review? Or only comments that don’t engage responses from anyone are accepted?

    But, to stick with the schtick, I would appreciate if Kate would answer some valid points posed, in the comments.

    For example, Isobel Carr asks:

    You are aware that SFF has its own lines of category books (such as the Dragon Lance novels) that function in exactly the same way as Mills & Boon, right? So if you want to actually have a scholarly comparison, you’d need to find a book about either those kinds of SFF books, or a book about Romance single title books.

    And if the answer is that there was no comparison made or intended, then why on earth was the other book brought up at all? Anyone up for answering that?

    Or how is it consistent, when replying to Larissa Ione’s post, for Rosyb to say,

    PS Larissa – if you are going to complain about us – you should read the site a bit more.

    while both Rosyb and Kate are discussing the genre (read Rosyb’s first comment in this very thread) and the genre’s readers, without having read anything in it, or at least not for decades.

    Aside: it would be fantastic if someone would slip either/both of them one of the best examples of category romances, sans cover/blurb, and see whether they would enjoy it–and then see their reaction when confronted with enjoying a “clones of the same hive mind.” Would they then become part of the problem?

    Regarding the tweets and links elsewhere: do you seriously posit that people are reacting to that one line without having read what precedes and follows it? If so, I’m afraid you are not very familiar with many romance readers–a word to the wise: we not only “can read;” many of us also understand what we read.

    Finally, on the matter of professionalism: the review is not limited to the book. The reviewer, on the basis of limited quotes out of context, lays down judgement on an entire genre and its readers. It’s pretty rich to have Rosyb then complain that readers of the review are going “over the same two lines which doesn’t generate any interesting debate.”

    *

    (1) To wit:

    The other point I wanted to ask is who is the readership. Not naming names but I know someone of an older generation who used to read similar sorts of books (I’m not sure if they were Mills and Boon though) who could read but certainly was not inducted into the world of “literature” – and left school at 11. I think when people get a bit snobbish about writing style in terms of really mass market offerings like Dan Brown – they do seem to forget sometimes that maybe they are designed to be read by absolutely everyone – they are designed to appeal to a really broad range of people and deliver a story or excitement or a sexual thrill or romance no matter what your reading age or ability. The person I’m thinking of would certainly have had no idea about Richard Lovelace and so an explanation with the heroine getting it wrong would have been a great leveller so I could see it might well be an attempt by the author to add in something of his/her own.

  38. kirstyjane
    April 11, 2013

    I just wanted to stick my head above the parapet, as one of the presumed “owners” of this site, to say that I have my disagreements with Kate’s review and with Rosy’s comments. I say this more than anything — since the discussion is already going great guns and all my points have been made, so why reiterate — as a reminder that this is a collective blog without any one official line on any genre (or book, or author, or viewpoint).

    I’m a romantic fiction reader, reviewer and (as yet unpublished) writer and while M&B isn’t my personal cup of tea, I know very canny and gifted writers who write for them — and not out of cynicism, either — and I think that the complexity and the interest of M&B is pretty well served by Vivanco’s book. I wouldn’t take an axe to them, myself. But this is Kate’s review and Kate’s prerogative and she is an expert in quite a different way to me, so I found her take interesting to read even as I disagreed. We don’t have a corporate identity here on VL.

  39. Kate
    April 11, 2013

    Morning all … I wanted to reply to some of the comments made above in this quite exciting thread of responses. But after this I’ve got other commitments so won’t be replying to further comments.

    emselinger: I do take your point about Lovelace and the presumed audience response. It’s hard to make a valid judgement based on a scrap of dialogue, But my gut feeling from that short excerpt that Vivanco gave is that the heroine’s focalisation and the narrative voice are confused. I think that’s what I was trying to get at in my comment.

    Isobel Carr: I wasn’t making a scholarly comparism between James and Vivanco at all, I was simply ware that in reading two books at the same time, something I observed from reading one made me wonder about that point in the subject of the other.

    Ela and Larissa Ione, on editing requirements: thanks for this, interesting to hear.

    Astral Marc: Thanks, useful points. I’m not ‘very interested’ as such, but the rigidity of the formula struck me most, so I wanted to write about that.

    Ryan Field: Yes, you’re absolutely right!

    Thank you all, for your interest. Over and out.

  40. Rae Summers
    April 11, 2013

    Oops. I didn’t realise until I read this post that my fellow writers and I are voiceless clones of a ‘hive mind’! While I don’t write for Mills & Boon, I do write category romances, and several of my friends are published by M&B.

    I was told that the 1920s as a period doesn’t sell, but a romance publisher still bought three of my novellas set in the 1920s. I was told that Germanic heroes don’t sell, but my most popular hero to date is Germanic. These elements were not ‘policed’ out of my books.

    Romance publishers (including M&B) are in the business to turn a profit. They therefore give their authors guidance on how to write books that sell. But equally, they frequently publish books that break the mould. This is how the genre evolves. I would even argue that M&B are at the fore-front of change in the romance genre. They are continuously creating new lines, experimenting with new covers and new titles, introducing new settings, taking on board new social mores etc. They were also one of the first publishers to embrace the emerging markets in India.

    You can knock romance novels, their authors and their readers. You can call us names (a ‘problem’, ‘voiceless’, ‘no star authors’, ‘appalling quality’). We won’t lose any sleep over it. After all, we’re making a living doing what we love. But when you do so on a such a public platform as this blog, you should be prepared for the fall-out. The romance genre has thousands of loyal supporters who do not find it as ‘chilling’ as your reviewer does.

  41. I find it telling that Rosyb felt called upon to defend the entire blog against criticisms of a single post. It’s also instructive, because this is exactly how romance writers and readers feel when someone says, “I once read a romance and it was trash, ergo all romance is trash.” If I were to judge this blog by this one post, I might, perhaps, determine that Vulpes Libres is biased against romance, but that would not be fair.

    It is equally unfair for the author of this post to conclude, based on the excerpts in Vivanco’s book from M&B category romance novels, that it is impossible to distinguish the authors’ voices from one another. I can tell you unequivocally that I would never mistake a Harlequin Presents written by Maisey Yates for one written by Lynn Raye Harris or a Blaze written by Sarah Mayberry with one written by Leslie Kelly. But then, I actually read the entire books, not just snippets. I think it would be just as hard to discern the voices of any number of writers in other “formulaic” genres (mystery, thriller, etc.) from a few excerpted paragraphs. Simply put, that’s not the way voice works.

    Since the idea that there is a “problem” with category romances seems to be based entirely on the false premise that the author’s voice is being smothered through editorial police work, I submit that there’s no problem at all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

Archive

Editorial Policy

The views expressed in the articles and reviews on Vulpes Libris are those of the authors, and not of Vulpes Libris itself.

Quoting from Vulpes Libris

You are very welcome to quote up to 100 words from any article posted on Vulpes Libris - as long as you quote accurately, give us due credit and link back to the original post. If you would like to quote MORE than 100 words, please ask us first via the email address in the Contact details.

Acknowledgment

  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
  • Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

    Join 943 other followers

    %d bloggers like this: