Romance Community: you’re out of touch!

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I’m not joking when I say I’ve written about a dozen versions of this article. And so I can truthfully say: if you think this version is harsh, you should see the original!

Now, Romance Community: we have a big problem.

Yes, I attended the 2015 Australian Romance Readers Convention in Canberra. Yes, things were fascinating. Yes, the keynote speakers inspired me. Yes, there were some amazing, lovely people there.

However… Yes. I was very, VERY unhappy with some things, and these are things I’ve been complaining about long before this event.

My points:

  • The romance community is out of touch.
  • Romance readers and writers are a little misogynistic.
  • Romance readers and writers are a little sexist when it comes to men. (If I heard one more stupid comment about men ONLY being attractive if they have black hair… Well… my gorgeous thirty-one year old brother met me at the hotel venue at the end of the conference, and he turned MANY heads – even though he was one of those “unattractive” men who didn’t fit the stupid romance reader-writer cliché).
  • Romance readers and writers seem to think the only valid opinions on any of these matters come from people over fifty.

Does this apply to everyone? No, of course not. However, the romance community is startlingly cliquey, and they’re not even the slightest bit interested in interacting with people anywhere near the ages of the characters they’re reading and writing about. I swear, the number of times my attempts at conversation were met with a polite smile followed by a turned back (and while I’m very outspoken online, I struggle A LOT with shyness in public, so it was a huge effort for me)…

I went downstairs to the bar every lunch and afternoon tea because I found few people willing to leave their little cliques and talk to me. I paid for a lot of food I never ate because I was made to feel very uncomfortable upstairs with the other attendees. I drank Prosecco instead. Rather a lot of it – and it was expensive.

I turned a lot of thoughts over while I enjoyed my overpriced wine.

I’m thirty-three. And these convention attendees thought I was – at an age OLDER than almost every romance heroine – too young and too stupid to waste their time on. How can you respect or realistically portray women of my age in books if you can’t even exchange hellos with us in real life?

More effort should have been made to welcome and include younger readers – particularly so for any discussions on YA and NA books.

That’s why I’m reading so-called contemporary fiction where Navy SEALs say things like, “He didn’t have the wherewithal to do it.”

That’s why the (so-called) heroine in Fifty Shades of Grey hilariously, ridiculously doesn’t have a phone or an email address.

That’s why so many books still come with the evil “other woman” who is always slim and blonde.

That’s why so many younger (under forty-five) readers aren’t interested in category romances; they’re considered too old-fashioned.

The romance genre is too often out of touch because – as I learnt at ARRC 2015 – the romance community is by and large made up of women of a certain age, race, size and attitude, and this is very much NOT the type of woman who features in romance books.

It’s disappointing. But I’ve decided I’m not backing out. I’d very much like to see this divide gone. I want to walk into a “Welcome Drinks” event at a romance conference without receiving nasty “joke” comments about everything from my eye makeup (I mean, GOSH, imagine wearing a bit of makeup to a “smart casual” function!) to the fact I’m not overweight.

I shouldn’t leave a function feeling bad about myself.

I want to have a place where romance readers and writers respect the women they’re writing about instead of treating them like underage lepers.

Because, if you cannot respect or understand women in their twenties and thirties, you have no business writing or reading about them!

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13 thoughts on “Romance Community: you’re out of touch!

  1. How awful that what should have been an enjoyable, really fun experience turned out so BAD. Perhaps it was the phase of the moon or someone put a sign on your back that said “Dis this blogger”. Whatever the reason you were treated rudely it was unforgivable. Don’t give up, get in there and continue to fight.

    1. There were definitely good parts (which I will write about tomorrow). And I think the North American people there were particularly friendly, probably because they weren’t just there to catch up with their friends, so they branched out more.

      However, all the complaints I have about present-day romance fiction made a lot more sense to me now I’ve seen the people behind these things. If out-of-touch people are pushing the types of books I find problematic… I really wish that a broader range of people had attended, because otherwise the genre has lost touch with reality in too many ways!

  2. I haven’t done the romance conference thing yet. Maybe one day. But I’m with you with category romance, it actually gives the romance genre a bad rap from a non-romance reader’s stand point. I love NA and YA and as a writer there’s so many times I’ve wanted to sit at place where young people (I’m 34) hang out so I can listen to how they really act and how they really talk, because it’s important. Maybe not now but in 20 years those young people will be the new romance readers. I’m working on my own stuff and have written some short stories that my peers have said have changed their mind to the romance genre. And I’ve changed friends’ minds about romance by introducing them to new authors of romance that don’t write “your mother’s romance.” Don’t worry those readers and writers won’t be around forever 😉

    1. I went because the venue was fifteen minutes from my house, and next door to my brother! Even then, I nearly didn’t go.

      I’m glad I did, even if it confirmed some of my suspicions. Also, some authors were incredible (Kelley Armstrong, for example).

      I’m not entirely sure what age I have to reach before I’m taken seriously, but wouldn’t it be lovely if people listened to the generation they’re writing about! 🙂

      I definitely wouldn’t be able to write about YA or even NA characters unless I went and spent time with them. I have a sixteen year old cousin, and the way she thinks, speaks and acts is nothing like me. So it must be the same sort of difference that you’d find between someone in their thirties and someone decades older. It seemed quite ridiculous to be discussing age groups and their wants and likes when nobody that age was even present.

      I don’t really know how you can write about a generation of women you apparently don’t have a great deal of respect for or interest in!

      1. I didn’t realise I was ‘so young’ until I went there!
        I was thinking about editing this post, because it’s not very nice, but then I thought – nope! People need to realise there’s a problem here!

  3. Pingback: ARRC 2015 | Sonya's Stuff

  4. thebookdate

    Just found this post from a tweet. Sounds like a disappointing experience on some counts. I am way older than you, so probably fit into the ‘women of certain age… category! However I would hold back from going to a conference where there are cliques… or women who are catching up with each other and therefore no time for ‘newbies’. Perhaps authors need to take on board this is a readers’ conference – is it not! So the authors are wanted there, of course, but to interact with there readers. That’s tough. I’d think twice about going to one, because I would be of wrong culture being an NZer!
    Also I hate it if men are dissed, not okay. “Jokey” remarks made are passive aggressive and disrespectful. Ouch.
    Heh I would have thought I was ‘out’ of it because I am mid sixties, so now I find out early thirties doesn’t do it either.
    Yikes, I hear your disappointment. Speaking out on it is good. I think you have done it in a pretty respectful way, and really it just asks the attendees to think about your point of view. I hope you give feedback to the organisers.

  5. Hi Sonya. I’m so sorry you had this experience at ARRA. I struggle with these events myself, being someone who spends most of every day at home on my own – I think most writers are introverts, at the end of the day. One of the great things they do at the Romance Australia writers conference is have a buddy system where conference newbies can hook up with a friendly face and other new comers on the first day and start to feel a bit more connected. I’m not sure if ARRA does something like that – this was my first event with them. It’s still taken me more than 10 years to view the Rom Oz conference with excitement rather than deep trepidation, though. I think it’s great you plan to persevere – and personally, I am an equal opportunity admirer when it comes to hotties of all colors and stripes!

  6. bronwynstuart

    I’m interested in knowing what the nasty joke comment was? I thought about if I would weigh in (no pun intended) and then decided what the hell. I attended my first romance conference at the tender age of 27 and was wearing a small size 10. I was unpublished and unaware but despite my anxiety, I went. I noticed the women of a certain age and size (yes I did) but let me offer a little insight. Most authors aren’t lucky enough to follow their dreams pre-retirement. That explains one thing. The second, menopause is a ruthless bitch and when she stops your hormones, she stops your metabolism and makes you want to bake. All. The. Time. I’m only 32 but I’ve danced with the hot flashes and weight gain. Long story but it’s there. But. Huge but! Why should it matter what age or size anyone is? Are you saying you were snubbed only by white, large, older women but younger women were okay?

    I disagree with the way you were treated and I especially hate cliques and try to avoid anything remotely like it but bagging nearly an entire subgenre and its authors, and judging it from this one experience, isn’t the right way. Like Sarah said, at our romaus conference newbies are welcomed and celebrated. They wear a different colour tag so we know to make them more welcome. Will we approach you at the bar? Maybe, maybe not. I can’t say for sure and I wasn’t at ARRC but I’ve met some terrific women at conferences who I only get to see once a year so we catch up. That could have been the case here too.

    Authors still have lives to live and we make mistakes. I’m fairly self-absorbed so sometimes I don’t think about the people around me. When I’m also out of my comfort zone hanging out with strangers, I’m even worse and mistep a lot.

    Anyway my point is don’t judge from this one average experience. I put makeup on and a dress and heels every day of every conference and I’m more your age but you might still not like what I write (regency romance). I actually love category romance regardless of who writes it 🙂

  7. Jules

    wow, that’s rather disappointing for you, Sonya. And incredibly sad that you had that experience from an event that is, for me, wonderfully fun and casual. I can only reiterate the comment that for a lot of readers and authors, conventions can be the only place their can catch up face to face. Yes, it does sometimes feel clique-y (I remember my first writers conference!) and many authors can be incredibly introverted, despite their extroverted social media personas! I do hope you’ll attend the next one – ARRA always value feedback and do take suggestions on board.

  8. slickreads1100

    I find your post very interesting. I’ve only been to romance conventions in the United States, several actually, and I find them to be very welcoming and with a WIDE age range of readers and authors and a variety of shapes, sizes, and nationalities. Last weekend at a book signing, there were many YA/NA authors as well as those who write what most would call regular romances and the fans ranged anywhere from 13 to 75. In line there were groups encompassing many ages talking about the authors and their books. The second conference I attended I knew no one, went by myself and was immediately included with several different groups of readers who I am still in contact with today. Some my age (53) but most are younger from age 25-40 and I’m good with that. So again perhaps it was just this conference, I can’t say for sure. I personally read quite a few NA authors which some people don’t understand given my age but I enjoy the stories then then again I also read regular romance anything from sweet to extremely erotic, so I always seem to find someone to talk to about books if I’m in the mood to talk.

    I’m sorry you feel you were treated poorly and perhaps it was this conference or this set of people but I respectfully disagree that the romance community is out of touch. I jrecently finished two books that show just how much the romance community is in touch and bringing to light topics such as foster home abuse, domestic violence, difficulties in the job market post graduation, downturn in the economy, and so much more.

    “Romance readers and writers are a little misogynistic”, sorry not buying that one either…as I said I’ve been readily accepted into many groups at many conventions without a problem not only that if writers really felt this way they would be writing such kick-ass heroines, they’d be writing whimpering fools (and I’m not letting a “bestseller” or two cloud my judgment).

    “Romance readers and writers are a little sexist when it comes to men.” Okay…maybe you have something there but the hair thing, um no. I don’t care about hair color or size or anything and you know what I’ve read books with all kinds of heroes from every walk of life, every hair color, every build, and recently one with even a little paunch so I’m not even sure why this is an issue. The thing is romance is FICTION so yeah, the guys are going to be hot, good in bed, and a little too good to be true because that’s what women want. Some get it in life, some don’t but we never stop hoping for it. That’s what romance readers want…that hope they will find it some day. Is it wrong for readers to want that perfect man? A little unrealistic sure but it is FICTION!

    “Romance readers and writers seem to think the only valid opinions on any of these matters come from people over fifty.” On this point I’m calling BULLSHIT, sorry but to be honest if you want to talk about this point let’s talk about how there is very little out there in romance for people over 50 (and by the way using 50 Shades as an example is probably the worse thing you could do because it by NO MEANS represents everything that is out there for romance readers.) A lot of the romance out there is geared for the younger set and that’s fine, it’s a growing community and I get that which is why I have been reading a lot of NA books. I think the market is actually LISTENING more to the set under 30 and really to the 21-15 set and it is showing in the books that are being released. The thing is there is something out there for EVERYONE is romance, sometimes it might be hard to find but if you really look you will find it.

    You say you are shy in person but outspoken online and that’s not unusual. I have to wonder however if because of your shyness you were projecting body language or perhaps a look on your face that made people wonder if you really wanted to be a part of their conversation. I feel for you, I do and I’m sorry you felt like you were treated badly but I also feel that the points you made are mostly unfounded. I have been involved with many different groups and attended many types of conventions over my years and NEVER have I felt so welcomed than at book conventions. Like I said maybe it was this con but having met several of the authors who were in attendance who welcomed me with open arms at RT last year, I even find that difficult to swallow. My suggestion to you is that if you decide to attend another convention that beforehand you try and meet up with some local people who are attending or find a friend to attend with so you won’t feel so alone and left out. I’m really sorry that this wasn’t a good experience for you but I also think you are being quite unfair to romance writers and readers with your hurtful statements.

  9. AnneGracie

    Sonya, I’m sorry you had a miserable time. Most authors I know are fairly introverted and we all understand that. I’m also sorry you didn’t come up and say hello — since you’re a regular wordwench blog commenter, I would have been delighted to meet you. The Alpha Hero Poker was a lot of fun, by the way — designed as an icebreaker to help people meet others and interact, with a lot of laughs along the way. I’ve always found ARRA conventions very warm and friendly occasions. What a pity you left with such a sour taste in your mouth.

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