In an effort to be more “visible” (it’s not easy being an introvert) I made a vow to participate in real book-related events (as opposed to online events). I am a woman of my word and I signed up for several signings and book sales at local events. I was as excited as I was nervous. I prepared my “swag” (mostly chocolate. You just can’t go wrong with chocolate unless it’s a very hot day), my display, bought a bunch of my own books, designed a special giveaway to earn newsletter followers. I was ready!
I am here to tell you that in the long list of things people are generally prejudiced against and avoid like the plague, you must add romance (as a literary genre). My first event ever was at a winery in a room full of women on Valentine’s Day. I was the only author being spotlighted. I thought; hell, I can’t go wrong with this one. Romance, wine, chocolates and tipsy women. I spent the whole night standing like an idiot by my display (right in the middle of the room where no-one could miss me unless they were blind and even then, they probably would trip over me sometime). I had a great giveaway of a beautiful wine bottle and an autographed book. The only person who talked to me all night was this lady waiting for a table who had no other place to stand but by me. When I went from table to table offering bookmarks and telling them to help themselves to the free chocolates, I was told “I don’t read romance” several times (even though I really didn’t ask) and after they literally raided my goodie basket (there was nothing left) I was left standing alone again. The nice woman who won the giveaway didn’t even want her book autographed.
The next time I thought it was just the location of my table (facing away from everybody else. Not my choice. Just a fluke). I would watch as the “customers” would make their rounds to the other tables, look at the books, ask questions, just generally chat, take some of the free stuff. Even if they didn’t buy any books, they would interact. Then I saw the same people give my table a wide, wide berth. Do I smell? Do I give off some weird vibes, like my ex-boss was so keen at pointing out? Three hours in the sun. One little girl came and asked me if she could have some of my cookies. I was so grateful someone—anyone—was talking to me, I almost gave her all the bags.
The next event was very promising because it involved booze again. This time it was at a Brewery. Well-advertised event, quite a few local authors present. Okay, now we’re talking, I think. Hell no! Same pattern. People going to all the other tables, not necessarily buying but asking questions, looking, talking… Three hours later I had three people come by. Two chatty females who lost their power of speech at my table and a very nice man who was very keen at taking good care of all the authors (he even bought pizza for us. I forgot to ask but I am pretty sure he was the husband of one of the authors). One guy on official business for a small local news site took some chocolate and a bookmark. The rest I brought home. I’m so glad I didn’t invest on more swag.
Don’t get me wrong. I was glad to be there. I got to meet some more local authors and network. The hosts of the events were very generous and kind. But I went home all three times depressed. What’s the deal? They haven’t read any of my writing so it can’t be because my writing stinks. I took a shower and sprayed myself with awesome lavender. I am not a looker but I’m pretty sure I am not repulsive either. My book has a beautiful cover. I’m giving away FREE stuff. What is the problem exactly?
I came to the conclusion that it is the fact that I am a romance writer. I am ashamed to admit it, but at first I was embarrassed to tell people that. There is a stigma about romance. Even though romance is arguably the most read genre in the world, it is not taken as a serious literary genre. If you read romance then you must not be a fan of “real” literature. I was a closet (no pun intended) romance reader myself for a great part of my life. I hate that there is so much badly written romance in the market (because it gives all of us a bad name) but there is also some amazing, beautifully written romances.
There is a very real stigma about romance. I have learned my lesson. Unless there are some special circumstances, I will not be participating anymore in general literature events. I will focus on attending romance-targeted ones where the readers don’t have to feel ashamed to come and ask questions about your book or feel pressured by their own idea of what is good literature. I am hoping that I won’t have to come home destroyed and depressed every time. It’s not the no-sales that does it (I don’t expect to sell much at events). It’s the total invisibility that gets me.
Romance writers of the world unite against this insidious type of prejudice. Romance deserves respect!