I was at an author's conference recently where a very high-powered film producer said, during a conversation about a book-pitch, "never, ever call a book a romance." Every timeless story has romantic elements, he said, but if you call a story a romance, even a story in which the central theme is the relationship between two people in love, you will effectively kill all its credibility.
Kill all its credibility. Huh.
(Insert rant here. It will be the subject of another post.)
My book club read Me Before You this month. Now, to be perfectly fair to the book itself, I did read it in a day, I did shed a tear, and it was written well. My primary criticism of the book itself was that I didn't particularly like either of the two main characters (or anyone else in it for that matter) and didn't really care enough about them to heavily invest my emotions in their story. That's a personal opinion and feel free to yell about how much you loved the book. It won't affect my belief in you and your worth, just as I hope my opinion doesn't affect your thoughts about my worth.
I had a big-picture issue with the book too, though - and it became the topic of a book club conversation about tearjerkers in general, and romance in particular. My issue was with this book's marketing. The publisher of Me Before You, The Penguin Group (who, incidentally, decided it was okay to charge $9.99 for the kindle version when the paperback is $6.40 on Amazon - don't get me started), made a deliberate choice to market the book primarily as women's fiction rather than romance.
Me Before You has all the classic hallmarks of a romance - a central relationship between a man and a woman, the growth of their attraction to each other (complete with sexual tension - you can't tell me the shave and haircut scene wasn't FULL of it), that thing that drives them apart, and ultimately, the reconciliation that brings closure to the relationship upon which the plot was built. Now, the publishers may be tricky, listing the book in women's fiction, but they're not stupid. Romance readers are some of the most voracious readers in the book-buying world. More romance authors are making six-figure incomes than any other genre, and the market is positively flooded with romance novels (good, bad, mediocre, sexy, funny, flirty, dark, thrilling, mysterious, sweet, paranormal, western, military, historical - name a genre and it's a romance sub-genre), primarily because readers are hungry for them.
This is what the Amazon rankings of Me Before You look like today (which, by the way, are very impressive):
#2 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
See - not stupid. By listing Me Before You as a Romance, Contemporary, it does make it onto the romance lists and in front of all those hungry romance readers. But Contemporary Fiction and Women's Fiction also put it on lists for people who "don't read romance," because... (fill in the blank. Usually something to do with the assumption of poor writing or the stigma still attached to romance as a genre). There were women in my book club last night who declared, "Oh, I don't read romance," - except they read and enjoyed Me Before You, which isn't packaged (the cover) or marketed as a romance (except to romance readers). I'm clear it's brilliance on the part of the publisher, and I certainly give them credit for bringing the book to the widest possible audience. But as long as the prejudice against romance exits, as long as romance in the pitch kills a book's (or reader's or author's) credibility, I'm going to have a problem with the subterfuge.
Okay, rant over. For now.
I promised the wonderful women of my book club a list of my recommendations in both the romance and tearjerker categories, so here they are, complete with links to Amazon and the current price for a kindle book.
In the Tearjerkers category (some are romance, some are war stories, all made me ugly-cry, and all got five-star reviews from me on Goodreads):
And these are some of my favorite romance novels (comedy, paranormal, time-travel, fantasy, young adult, historical):
So, that's it for today - a book review, a mini-rant, and some recommendations.
I hope you stumble upon a genre you "don't read," and suddenly discover that when the story is great and the characters are interesting, you do.