Why women’s romantic fiction deserves more respect

Lauren John 10 February 2022

It's a genre that brings joy to so many and yet critics and literary bigwigs repeatedly overlook it. Here's why this cannot continue

Female authors from all different backgrounds and interests contribute to a billion-dollar industry accounting for 34 per cent of book sales in the US alone, and yet their work often doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Women’s romantic fiction gets dismissed and derided, and it shouldn’t be that way.

 “We are talking about career writers with millions of book sales, idolised by their readers, raising millions of pounds of profit for publishers who lose money on books that are respected more. Bonkers.”

Bonkers is right, and it’s not just best-selling author Milly Johnson who shares this view. Across the board readers and reviewers, industry associations and authors, are making noise about the blatant snobbery towards women’s romantic fiction, and it’s about time they were listened to.

Late last year the Sunday Times Literary Editor published an article titled “The 33 Best Books Of 2021 In Every Genre”, followed in other papers with similar round-ups for ones to watch in 2022. There was a glaring omission on all counts: women’s romantic fiction.

This omission is nothing new and comes as no surprise to the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA). Set up in 1960 in part to demand respect for the genre, its acting chair Jean Fullerton comments, “When the press does feature romantic fiction they’ll fall back on the lazy prose of ‘bodice rippers’, ‘trashy novels’, and ‘guilty pleasure’.”

There’s no guilt in reading romantic fiction, engaging with interesting characters, and having a beautiful sense of place. In every novel, there is more blood, sweat and tears than most of us could imagine. Factual research, personal experiences, characterisation are woven into every page, and in some quarters it’s not given the merit it deserves.

"In every novel, there is more blood, sweat and tears than most of us could imagine"

It was these recent omissions that prompted an increase in social media noise, including a hashtag #RespectRomFic, and saw the RNA pen an open letter to the Sunday Times Literary Editor in support of the genre, and all the authors that sell millions of books in it. It also invited him, and others to engage with the romantic fiction community and find out more about who they are.

While you don’t have to look very far to see what a powerhouse romantic fiction is, an elitist attitude is still engrained enough to make a difference. As Jean from the RNA says, “This dismissive attitude extends to some bookshops who, while stocking books reviewed and featured in the broadsheets prominently in their windows, consign romantic fiction to a couple of shelves at the back of their establishment. It limits readers’ access to new romantic fiction authors.”

That being said, we didn’t have to look very far to find romantic fiction entries on Amazon and Kindle charts, and the Guardian reported 212m print book sales were sold in 2021, with a 49 per cent increase in romance. Even lesser-known retailers like audiobook app xigxag are seeing an upward trend. Co-founder Kelli Fairbrother comments, “Romantic fiction is always a strong category for us. Last year our customers couldn’t get enough of the heart-warming escapism that romance books offer. The average monthly growth for this category is nearly three times our overall growth.”

From medical romance and historical fiction to modern contemporary themes, this is a genre that has it all and often responds to current debates quickly.

"From medical romance and historical fiction to modern contemporary themes, this is a genre that has it all and often responds to current debates quickly"

These books are in demand and needed for simple escapism to something deeper. Milly Johnson adds: “We have even brought people back to their enjoyment of books whose mental state was so traumatised they’d completely lost their reading mojo.

We were needed because people wanted their old, safe, taken for granted world back with its simple pleasures of friendship, community, teashops, social groups, and the place they found that was in our books. We have entertained, the very quality for which Netflix is applauded—and yet when the word is applied to our books, it is a much lesser compliment.”

It’s time for change, it’s time for respect, and it’s time for inclusion. These writers from career authors right through to debut novelists deserve much more than they are getting. Luckily there’s a fiercely passionate and ever-growing book community here to fuel the fire, and they’re not going away any time soon.

“Regardless of what predominately male journalists coming up with lists that don’t include romance think, romance is part of life, and the books are here to stay as they are much loved by those that read them,” says Rachel Gilbey, Random Resources blog tour organiser.

Emma Cowell is a debut author hoping her novel will become one of those “much loved” reads, and we will end with her words.

“It’s been said so much, but these books about women’s issues from women’s points of view aren’t just disposable fluff, they bring so much joy but also tackle serious subjects that need to be talked about.”

So let’s talk, read, and push for that recognition, perhaps with some of these new romantic fiction releases:

The Start Of Something by Miranda Dickinson out February 3, 2022

The Impulse Purchase by Veronica Henry out June 23, 2022 (Paperback)

Should I Tell You by Jill Mansell out June 9, 2022 (Paperback)

Woman In The Middle by Milly Johnson out March 3 (Paperback)

One Last Letter From Greece by Emma Cowell out June 9, 2022 (Paperback)

Beach House Summer by Sarah Morgan out May 26 2022 (Paperback)

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