A Woman Writing for Women Published by Women by Erica Taylor
A Woman Writing for Women Published by Women
by Erica Taylor, author of A Suitable Affair
Hello, my name is Erica and I write romance novels.
There, I said it. It has taken a while for me to say this with pride, and out loud. Writing was something I did for myself, by myself.
When I first began to tell people I had signed a publishing contract, they were curious and would ask what type of book. I would casually mention it was a romance novel. Not only was I downplaying my accomplishment, I was oddly embarrassed, like writing a romance novel made publishing less of an achievement, that it was somehow easier to be published in romance. These are myths of the genre. Most people, including women, were downright condescending. I had a lot of, “Oh, so not a real book,” and “So, like those crappy thin ones?” Most times, sadly, I’d laugh off their condescension and change the subject, effectively demeaning my own achievement. Wait, what is wrong with historical fiction with romantic elements? Or a smutty romance novel you read on the beach to escape the world around you? I was shaming myself for writing a book with sex in it. What was wrong with me? Why could I not own this accomplishment? Something was wrong with my line of thinking. I spent many hours researching the romance genre, trying to understand the congruity of it all. I learned more about the marketing and publicity side of writing romance novels than I’d ever really considered before. And what I found astonished me.
Romance is a genre written for women, by women. The women who author these often-bestselling novels, who empower themselves with a secondary or even primary income stream, are tenured university professors, lawyers, librarians, and marketing professionals. They are mothers (like me!), grandmothers, veterans, and bloggers. They are smart, fierce, independent women who, when someone told them their passion was silly, ignored criticism and kept going. They are kind, supportive, and full of excitement over new books and new authors, welcoming a new author like a little sister finally joining the club. Somehow, I had stumbled into the most empowering group of women I’ve ever encountered. Realizing they are out there, unembarrassed and demanding respect for their work, has given me the permission I needed to claim my own work with pride.
According to the Romance Writers of America (RWA), the estimated sales of romance novels in 2013 was $1.08 billion and accounted for 13% of the fiction market, the largest percentage of published fiction. Romance consistently outsells mysteries, literary fiction, and science fiction. So, why are romance authors automatically dismissed? Why do I feel the need to justify the quality and validity of my work to someone when they ask what genre I write? Yes, I write romance, but I also write about flawed people with actual real world problems, and how they overcome those issues to have a chance at happiness. Why does having a happily ever after at the end of the book make the trials the characters went through unworthy? Some critics say a happily-ever-after, or happily-for-now, isn’t realistic, but, how many people in the world are married? In committed relationships? Enjoying the benefits of a long-term partner, regardless if it works out forever? Those numbers seem pretty realistic to me.
My own series, The Macalisters, features a family in Regency England, all dealing with the same tragic event in many different ways. As I learned more about my genre, I began to see my own stories from a different angle. Without even realizing it, I had an open-ended world of female empowerment stories. Women in the early 19th century had little for themselves. Unable to own property (unless they were married, widowed or divorced), unable to run a business (unless they were married, widowed or divorced), many women looked to marry simply to better their situation. And then, women needed permission from a man (father, male guardian, etc.) in order to marry, until the age of twenty-one. Often, women were not even granted custody of their own children in the event of their husband’s death. With so little afforded them, there are amazing stories of women rising through the ranks, making something of themselves in a time when they were second class citizens. In an age when women had little to market, their beauty and other charms were an invaluable currency. And yet, women still found a way to use their brains.
History is filled with women taking control of their lives and creating their own happily-ever-afters. Women fought for the vote, for the right to own property, for the right to be their own person separate from the men in their family. Women became authors, engineers, scientists, medical professionals, all when the men in the world told them no. The daughters of the early 19th century began to pave the way for the daughters of today to write bestselling novels, go to space, perform surgeries, sit in congress, and fight for their country.
Jane Austen wrote under "Anonymous” because she would not have been published had she used her own female name. Today, women authors are advised to use their initials instead of their own name, to make themselves more marketable to a universal audience. Women authors are plagued with questions about whether or not their husbands know they write, and if he is okay with it, to inquiring about when they have time to take care of their children or to challenging a women’s accuracy in military/hiking/auto/space/anything technical. Women writers are told their work is so well written, the reader thought it was done by a man. Because a woman can’t write? When will that stop being a thing?
In the depressing times we face as a world, I am honored to write stories of happily-ever-afters, to be able to add a little bit of happiness back into the void, providing an escape from the troubles in a reader’s life, if even for a moment. I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of a publishing company created by women and run by women. I am humbled by the women in the romance community consistently contributing to the billion-dollar industry the genre has created. All of this has provided me with the opportunity to teach my own daughter that her words and thoughts have value, and she can do something great, as long as she dares to try.
For the full RWA Romance Writer Statistics click, here.
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