The Romance Genre on the Web

Researching online romance genre communities and their perspectives

Golden day

Filed under: News — Bron at 8:31 pm on Monday, March 26, 2007

Today’s been a big day. I gave my first PhD seminar, presenting an outline of my research and methodology to my department. Although I’ve been preparing it for a while, workload from the day job and other issues kept getting in the way, so I was up late working on it last night, and realised that I needed this morning to polish it. And then….

…when I checked my email first thing this morning, I discovered that my manuscript, Falling into Darkness, is a finalist in the RWA’s Golden Heart Award, in the romantic suspense category.

Yes, I’ve been grinning all day. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go out and kick up my heels to celebrate, but my cyber friends on various loops have been wonderful in sharing the excitement with me.

My congratulations to all the other Golden Heart and RITA Award finalists!

At this stage I doubt I’ll be able to attend the conference and Awards night at Dallas in July, although I haven’t entirely given up hope. The return airfare alone is well over $3,000, so adding conference fees and accommodation, it becomes a major expense.

Oh, yes, and the seminar went quite well! There were some good questions and feedback from the audience, and I appreciate everyone’s time in attending and supporting my research in this way.

Too diverse for one label?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bron at 8:56 pm on Thursday, March 22, 2007

Recent discussions about the RITA Awards over at Romancing the Blog and the Smart Bitches (here and here) and the inherent challenges and difficulties of determining the ‘best’ romance books brought to the front of my mind a question I’ve been pondering for a while. I still haven’t come up with a definitive opinion, either way, so I’m going to throw it over to you all for your consideration and opinion:

Is romance too broad and diverse a genre to be effectively covered by one ‘label’?

Is there too much difference – stylistically, in content, approach and purpose – across the huge range of contemporary romance novels to call it a single genre? Or is the general definition of romance (a story with a main focuses on a romantic relationship and an emotionally satisfying ending) sufficient to unite that diversity?

I’m not just thinking here about all the subgenres. Obviously, there can be a great deal of difference between, for example, a Christian Inspirational romance and an erotic urban fantasy romance, to pick two ends of the sensuality scale. But is there more to the diversity than levels of sensuality and the key plot themes?

If I can illustrate the question with an example. If you take a look at the amazon reviews for Jo Beverley’s The Shattered Rose, it’s pretty clear that this is a ‘love it or hate it’ book, with not a lot of middle ground. I read this book last year, and I loved it. However, if you’re after a light, relaxing, easy read, a straight-forward ‘traditional’ romance, then this book is definitely not it, and I can perfectly understand people being disappointed if that’s what they were looking for. The Shattered Rose is challenging, and at times confronting, in terms of the main characters, their actions and their motivations. The historian in me (who has read a fair amount of medieval theology and Christian mysticism) loved the fact that the hero and heroine were people of their time, with a medieval perspective on religion, faith and Church, and they dealt with their conflicts – especially their internal guilt, doubts, and fears – within the framework of that medieval perspective. But that made their actions quite challenging to understand, from a 21st-century view of the world.

Now, I also love and enjoy lighter and less challenging romances, too (like the two I just read yesterday!). I’m not suggesting that there is less ‘value’ in books-as-entertainment than in books-that-challenge. They all have important places and roles in literature. I do wonder, though, about the advantages and disadvantages of calling it all ‘romance’, and whether the sub-genres we have – which seem to focus on sensuality, length and setting as delineating factors – are sufficient to describe the diversity.

So, the floor is open for your thoughts….

Finding books

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bron at 7:17 am on Monday, March 19, 2007

I was all set to post a new post last night, as soon as Miss Marple finished on TV, but 10 minutes from the end, just before all was worked out and unveiled… the power went! We live out in the bush, so after groping for the candles, we phoned in to report the problem, and then went to bed. The power finally came back on at about 3am…. and I still have no idea who the murderer was on Miss Marple, or why.

Anyway, on to the topic I’d like to explore for the next few days – finding good books. In the online survey, (which so far has 498 responses!) the question about how important various activities are for you online, has the following two items with a good percent of you rating them as ‘very important’:

51.31% reading book reviews and news
42.86% discussing books

So, to what extent do you read books as a result of a review or discussion of them online? Do you actively seek out reviews when you’re looking for something to read? If so, do you stick to just certain review sites, or wander around looking for a range of views? Do you just look for reviews for book recommendations, or do you read reviews sites and discussion for general interest, as well?

Online lives

Filed under: Discussion questions — Bron at 9:11 pm on Monday, March 12, 2007

We’ve been having some great discussions about the romance genre in the posts below – why romance appeals to you, whether you regard it as escapism, fantasy or reality, and your thoughts on romance’s reputation. The comments for all the posts are still open, so if you’re new to the blog, or just didn’t have time to comment before, please feel free to add your thoughts to those posts.

In this post, I’d like to ask questions about romance genre activities online that you participate in. The survey responses so far (440 of them – thanks, everyone!) indicate that around 43% of respondents spend between 3 to 7 hours online each week at romance-related sites and activities, and about 24% spend 8 or more hours per week. I confess I’d be in the higher end of the latter group. First thing in the morning, I stumble to the computer, and stare at it with bleary eyes, to see what my friends on the opposite side of the world have been up to while I’ve been snoozing. (These days, I can call it ‘research’, but that wasn’t always the case :-) )

So, can I ask about your patterns of activity online? Where do you visit, how long do you spend on certain sites, do you have particular ‘must visit’ places you visit daily, or do you just ‘cruise’ around as the interest takes you? Do you do all your participation in one or two bursts of time per week, or do you spread it over multiple times during the week? And can you hazard a guess at what percentage of your online time is focused on romance genre activities, compared to other activities?

Romance’s reputation

Filed under: Discussion questions — Bron at 10:58 am on Sunday, March 4, 2007

I’m sorry it’s taken a little longer to follow up on the post and comments about romance as escape or reality than I intended. It’s the weekend, and I had obligations in town, and didn’t get the brain space to craft a post properly. One of the challenges about being ‘the Researcher’ is that I’m supposed to maintain as much objectivity as possible, and focus on facilitating your input rather than imposing my views. This is easier said than done, especially for an opinionated person like myself :-) So it’s taking me a while to think about what I’m going to say and ask, and how.

In the previous discussion question, most of the responses commented on the fact that there’s escapism in most fiction, and I feel similarly. Whether we’re reading/watching CSI, Miss Marple, or Lord of the Rings, I’d say that there is for many of us a sense of taking some time out from other concerns to focus for a few hours on something entertaining, with the comfortable assurance of a positive resolution.

Yet romance’s form of ‘escapism’ – with its focus on (eventually) successful relationships – seems to attract far more negativity than forms in other genres. Challenging local Inspectors, clashing swords with the bad guys (or Orcs, as the case may be), and studying dead bodies are equally imaginary outlets, but are rarely criticised for their unreality, or described in terms such as that used by Germaine Greer on romance – ‘the opiate of the supermenial’.

In recent years, there has been increasing discussion, both academic and more informal (but not necessarily less rigorous) in romance genre communities exploring the themes, plots and concerns of the romance genre – how they can be interpreted, (for example, the recent discussion at the Smart Bitches); why they are valued less than those in other genres, and how this impacts on the genre (eg recent posts by Tess Gerritsen and Helen Kay Dimon.)

What are your experiences and thoughts on this undervaluing and criticism of romance? Does it impact on you, and if so, how? What are your thoughts about the reasons for it, and how do you respond to it?

Interim survey data

Filed under: Research updates — Bron at 8:30 am on Saturday, March 3, 2007

The online survey has been available for just over a week, and there’s been an amazing 339 responses in that time. I’d like to thank everyone who has done the survey, and encourage you all to spread the word about it through the various romance genre online groups you’re involved with. The more people who complete the survey, the clearer ‘snapshot’ we can get of participation and activity.

I’m not going to report on every question here, because hey, it’s still early days, word hasn’t spread evenly throughout all sectors of the romance genre community, and at this point I’ve only got raw stats and no analysis, anyway! The survey will be able for several months, so at the end of that time I’ll do the full analysis and cross-tabulation etc. But here’s a few raw stats for interest:

Are you female or male?
Answer – Count – Percentage
No answer – 3 – 0.88%
Female – 331 – 97.64%
Male – 5 – 1.47%

What is the main language that you speak?
Answer – Count – Percentage
English – 328 – 96.76%
Spanish – 3 – 0.88%
German – 1 – 0.29%
French – 1 – 0.29%
Other – 6 – 1.77% (Finish, Norwegian, Dutch(2), Swedish, Australian)

What country do you live in?
Answer – Count – Percentage
Anguilla (AI) – 1 – 0.29%
Australia (AU) – 24 – 7.08%
Belgium (BE) – 1 – 0.29%
Canada (CA) – 22 – 6.49%
Finland (FI) – 1 – 0.29%
Germany (DE) – 2 – 0.59%
Ireland (IE) – 1 – 0.29%
Mexico (MX) – 1 – 0.29%
Netherlands (NL) – 2 – 0.59%
New Zealand (NZ) – 1 – 0.29%
Norway (NO) – 1 – 0.29%
Singapore (SG) – 1 – 0.29%
South Africa (ZA) – 1 – 0.29%
Spain (ES) – 1 – 0.29%
Sweden (SE) – 1 – 0.29%
Trinidad and Tobago (TT) – 1 – 0.29%
United Kingdom (GB) – 23 – 6.78%
United States of America (US) – 251 – 74.04%
Uruguay (UY) – 1 – 0.29%

Highest level of educational qualifications achieved
Answer- Count – Percentage
No answer – 3 – 0.88%
No formal diplomas/qualifications – 2 – 0.59%
High School Diploma or equiv – 42 – 12.39%
Trade Certificate or equivalent – 15 – 4.42%
College Diploma or equivalent – 35 – 10.32%
Bachelors Degree or equivalent – 137 – 40.41%
Master’s Degree or equivalent – 84 – 24.78%
PhD, Professional Doctorate or equivalent – 21 – 6.19%

On average, approximately how long do you spend online each week, reading and participating in romance genre related sites and groups?
Answer – Count – Percentage
Less than one hour per week – 4 – 1.18%
1 – 2 hours per week – 52 – 15.34%
3 – 4 hours per week – 82 – 24.19%
5 – 7 hours per week – 76 – 22.42%
8 – 10 hours per week – 43 – 12.68%
11 – 15 hours per week – 28 – 8.26%
16 – 20 hours per week – 28 – 8.26%
more than 20 hours per week – 26 – 7.67%

On average, about how many romance books do you read per month? (Include both category/series books and single title books.)
Answer – Count – Percentage
No answer – 3 – 0.88%
none – 2 – 0.59%
less than 1 book per month – 7 – 2.06%
1 to 2 books per month – 33 – 9.71%
3 to 5 books per month – 97 – 28.53%
6 to 8 books per month – 57 – 16.76%
9 to 12 books per month – 56 – 6.47%
13 to 20 books per month – 52 – 15.29%
more than 20 books per month – 33 – 9.71%
(This last one may add up to 340 – someone else has done the survey since I started copying and pasting!)

Now, I’m deliberately not saying much about these figures, because there’s too many caveats at this stage – it’s incomplete, a small-ish sample given the size of the community, representative of only those aspects of the romance online community where info about it has been posted so far, and so on and so on… but I’ve got to say, I am finding them very, very interesting :-)

Romance books – escapism, fantasy, reality, or…???

Filed under: Discussion questions — Bron at 7:08 am on Thursday, March 1, 2007

I was interested in the comments to my first question, ‘why romance?’ that several people talked about romance as an ‘escape’ – Valerie spoke of romance novels as ‘escapist’ from a ‘too-stressful and demanding daily existence’; Jennie talked of an ‘escape hatch when the going gets tough’. Others mentioned that they read romance because they value or are interested in relationships between people. Kate commented that romances validate her own experience (love at first sight, and for 35 years afterwards); Kimiko spoke of hoping for love in her own life; Helen noted romance’s ‘very real, very powerful place in the world’; Ingrid noted how the world focuses on how high the divorce rate is but not on those who have been happy together for years.

So, I’d like to delve a little further into how you as readers (and writers) view romance. Is romance an ‘escape’ for you? Do you read it as fantasy, unconnected with reality, or do you read it because there’s a resonance or validation of things that you value and believe in? Do the relationships depicted in romance books reflect a reality for you, or are they entertaining fairy tales, without substance?

I know there’s going to be a range of views on this – the variety in the genre is huge, as is the readership! – and, as Toni mentioned some of us probably look for different things at different times, but I’m interested in that range :-)