I’ve noticed a trend in the last few weeks after talking to a handful of my friends in the book industry and frankly it’s upsetting.
We are a stigma.
To everyone outside of the indie book world and romance readers everywhere… we are not taken seriously.
For a long time, I assumed (and wrongfully so) that if you hit a best-sellers list like USA Today or the New York Times, it gave you the kind of accolades that made the average person take notice of your accomplishments. However, it doesn’t seem to be the case. At least not for romance writers.
Earlier in the week, I read a blog post from one of my favorite people, Penny Reid (find it here) and I was blown away by what I read. Even she had been snubbed after someone found out she wrote romance. What? My cheeks flushed with heat.
I was defensive immediately and it wasn’t even a slight against me. How dare that woman judge Penny! Penny Reid not only writes some of the best romantic-comedy on the market, but she writes strong, smart and capable women. There has not been a time I haven’t walked away from one of her books without having learned something. The following she has is as diverse and far reaching as you could begin to fathom, but her fans stick together in a tight-knit group. It’s a beautiful thing to witness and be a part of. Her sharks are fierce and protective. I bet McJudgy-pants had no idea.
If we’re being honest, we base some of our self-worth on what other people think of us. It’s human nature. We want to be liked. Maybe we find ourselves asking questions like: What do we bring to the table. What do we offer the world? Do my books make a difference? Is the world going to take me seriously?
Being a writer is hard work. Writing a novel is like purging your soul onto the page for the rest of the world to judge, but you do it because you can’t imagine not writing. Being judged comes with the territory of putting your work out for the masses to see and consume. But for someone to judge you – not by your work, or your accomplishments, but based on the genre of writing you do alone… is a sucker punch to the gut that leaves many of us reeling and feeling embarrassed.
Why? Why should be we embarrassed for doing something we love? When that labor of love gives some of us the ability to write full time, supporting our families, it’s one hell of an accomplishment. Being able to put food on the table and provide for our households… how is this a bad thing? How is it any different than someone who starts an Etsy shop selling crafts and is able to do it full time?
Most days, when we’re working…staring at the cursor on the screen, pecking away at daily word count goals and deadlines— editing, marketing, interacting with our fans… none of that matters.
It usually seems to come up when you’re at a social event, or something going on at your child’s school and the ever dreaded question inevitably comes up more than once.
What do you do?
I loathe this question for many reasons because my answer is complicated.
I never know how to answer. How much do they really want to know? When it comes to my history and the things I’ve struggled through, I get defensive easily. And maybe I shouldn’t, but I wear my heart on my sleeve and the numerous times I’ve been unfairly judged effects me.
For ten years I was an ASE certified Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Ram technician. It was a huge part of my identity. And then I got really sick and had to have heart surgery and was diagnosed with a debilitating illness. Fast forward five years and I’m unable to return to any job because my body can’t handle it.
I was deemed disabled by twenty-six and I’d worked since the age of twelve. I didn’t know how not to work. A lot of judgment comes with being disabled so young and looking healthy even though you’re the furthest thing from it.
That was when I started writing seriously. I needed an outlet. Something to do to keep my mind sharp and myself occupied on days I couldn’t physically get out of bed. I’ve published three full-length novels and have three more due out soon.
I’m also home with my youngest daughter, but am I really a stay at home mom? I was stuck at home long before I had her. And don’t get me wrong, I know I am fortunate to be able to be home with her during her early years, but it’s not all fun and games when you’re sick. So how am I supposed to answer that question?
I have no idea how I identify myself anymore.
I used to identify with being a heavily tattooed, female mechanic. People wanted to talk to me about that and it made me feel good.
Now? I’m lost.
Even though I’d love to be able to say I don’t care… I do. I’m human and susceptible to things other people say. I hold back telling anyone I don’t know that I’m an author because that opens a can of worms of its own.
They ask things like: “Who is your publisher?”
I give them a small smile and reply with, “I don’t have one. I am an independent, self-published author.”
The response is always, “Oh.” and then they walk away without another word.
As if that means my worth in their eyes has diminished. Would their response have been different if I wrote crime novels and was published by one of the big six? Do I need to show them my direct deposits from Amazon to gain their respect? That’s craziness.
Another favorite question which seems harmless enough is: “What kind of books do you write?” When your response is romance, their faces automatically twist into a sneer and ask, “So you write smut? Like sex?” They generally don’t give you time to answer before they’re clutching their throats as they hightail it away from you.
It’s almost laughable, but some part of me shrinks back a bit. Feeling embarrassed. While my books aren’t saturated with sex scenes, I still enjoy reading books that are. Why do I allow these people to make me feel less than? I know I’m not the only one.
“I went to a dinner party and a close friend asked about my books and we were having a discussion about them. A person I didn’t know came up and asked me what I did and my friend who is very kind said I write books. They (the stranger) asked what kind and I said part time romance author and full time…. Before I could say clinical therapist they said…. Oh like HBO stuff? Lots of sex? I was a little embarrassed and said, well kind of. They immediately walked away and didn’t talk to me the rest of the night and then I felt mad at myself for feeling a little embarrassed. Like, would their reaction have been different if I started by saying I’m a therapist and see patients privately for counseling mental health and addiction would they have treated me differently?? It left me feeling oddly vulnerable and angry with myself.” – M.C Cerny, Author of A Night Own Series.
It’s always long after these encounters I wonder— Do these people not have sex? Is that why they’re so against it? Non-readers have the idea that all romance novels are like Fifty Shades of Grey. A book they probably never read but judged based on the media following it had. And guess what? I loved those books, but mine are nothing like it. A lot of romance authors write fade to black sexy scenes and you don’t see much of the nitty-gritty.
Other authors write BDSM but do it under a pen name so they’re not judged by people in their real life and have a wonderful following. Other’s write dark and dirty romance, romantic suspense and they’re some of my favorite stories to read. I have zero problems telling people what I love to read and giving them a list of books to check out. I’m not ashamed of what I read. That’s why I’m a co-blogger for My Daily Romance Books. I want to shout about it from the rooftops.
Why is it any different when it comes to admitting I’m an author as well?
For some authors, it’s not strangers who judge them but people in their circle of friends.
“My friend opened one of my books, crinkled her nose and asked, “Do women read this stuff to, ya know, get in the mood?” I told her no that it was a story with sex not faded out, not a sexual aid.” – Morgan Jane Mitchell, Author of Asphalt Gods MC Series
On the opposite end of the spectrum, people make assumptions about us doing everything we write about.
“When we’re out as a couple and we let someone know I write romance, my husband usually gets an elbow nudge or a high five. It’s usually assumed we use the positions/places we write about.” Josie Bordeaux- Author of the Alluring Promises Series.
I don’t know what it is about being an author in the romance genre and sub-genres that make it seem sub par to others, but it shouldn’t be.
“I often tell people that I write fiction instead of romance because I’m tired of reactions like “oh, that’s nice” or “when are you going to write a real book?” I’m tired of love and Happily Ever After being treated like diseases, despite the fact that Happily Ever After is what we all want from life. Our society is starving for love and we need to start being loud and proud about our work!” –Heather Novak– Author of Hunting Witch Hazel
No matter what the nay-sayers think about what we do, we need to remember that to our readers, we matter. Our stories mean something. They’re an escape. They make a difference to someone, somewhere and we should wear the badge of indie romance author proudly. We’re living our dream by being writers as a profession.