If you want to start an argument between two romance authors, just ask them, "Do you think it's possible to educate the uninformed (and frequently snotty) masses about the charms and benefits of reading romance?" Even within our ranks, there are two distinct opinions that will often result in loud, bombastic "discussions" and the occasional hair pulling:
Opinion #1) We adore our devoted readers, appreciate generating $1.2 billion in sales for the publishing industry and accounting for 54.9% of all paperback sales per year and don't give a rat's patootie about anybody else so nanny nanny boo boo, take that you "lit'rary loving" pseudo-intellectuals!
Opinion #2) We adore our devoted readers, appreciate generating $1.2 billion in sales for the publishing industry and accounting for 54.9% of all paperback sales per year, but believe that there are even more readers out there who would appreciate a romance if they could only be coaxed (or coerced) into reading one.
I tend to fall into the second school of thought for one simple reason--I've received so many fan letters and e-mails over the years that said, "I'd never read a romance until I read [Insert your favorite Teresa Medeiros title here] and I absolutely loved it!" And do you know what happens when they love a Teresa Medeiros book? Well, hopefully they read other Teresa Medeiros books, but since those are in limited supply, it gives me a chance to recommend other similar books. The next thing you know, they've shaken off their prejudices and immersed themselves in the wonderful and uplifting culture of the romance novel.
As I see it, our challenge as authors, booksellers, librarians, and fellow booklovers, is not to convince the media or the diehard cynics and snobs, but to get the books into the hands of those who would appreciate a wonderfully written romance, but just don't know it yet. And the best advice I can give you is to…be sneaky. Don't mention the word romance. Just tell them it's a great book and you think they'd enjoy it. The expansion of romance into hardcover has made this even easier to do because many readers still don't associate hardcovers with the romance genre.
In the past I've eased them into the genre by introducing them to romance authors who have branched out into other venues such as suspense, legal thrillers, or women's fiction—authors like Kristin Hannah, Jill Barnett, Tori Carrington, Tami Hoag, Jayne Ann Krentz, Elizabeth Lowell, Tess Gerritsen, Patricia Gaffney, Iris Johansen, Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, and Judith McNaught, just to name a few. If they love one book by these authors, they'll probably be willing to come back and check out their backlist. Once you have them hooked, you can suggest another author with a similar style. That's when you'll start hearing comments like, "Can you believe I found this in the romance section?" And "Wow! I didn't know these books actually had a plot!"
As far as I'm concerned, YOU, Beloved Reader, are on the frontlines of this battle. Your "word of mouth" recommendation has far more power to sway personal and cultural opinion than my latest website update or newsletter.