I’m sure with any job there are questions that people frequently ask. A police officer may get asked, “Have you shot anyone?” or a nurse may be asked, “Have you ever been vomited on?”: there are questions that others not working in the industry are curious (and maybe slightly ignorant) about. It’s the same with authors. “Where do you get your ideas from?” has to be one of the most frequently asked questions we get. But there are some questions which are generally only directed at romance authors and to tell you the truth, sometimes it’s difficult not to roll your eyes and say, “Really? That’s what you want to ask me about?” So to help both romance authors and interested parties, I’ve put together a list of questions you should never ask a romance author – and why you shouldn’t ask them. To help you out, I’ve also included alternative questions to ask.
1. How do you research your sex scenes? (Almost always accompanied by a wink or a chuckle as if they’ve asked the funniest question in the world)
I’m not sure what is about romance (and sex) that reverts adults into 10-year-old children. I often answer this question with, “The same way as I research my murder scenes” and see how they react. I mean really, what do you expect the answer to be – that I test out all my sex scenes with my husband? (Which I wouldn’t tell you about even if it were true!) The truth is most romance authors have actually had sex and while they may not have done the exact position they’ve described, they know enough about anatomy to be able to make stuff up. And sometimes the answer might actually be ‘I google it’. Really this question is just about the person trying to be funny but it’s so old as to be tiresome. Plus, the really good sex scenes, the ones that make you feel, are often more about emotions than insert tab A into slot B.
Alternative question: What kind of research do you do for your books?
2. Is your husband the inspiration for your books? (Also implying “are the sex scenes based on your own love life?” along with more grins and winks)
With absolutely no disrespect to my husband, if he was the inspiration for all of my heroes, the books would get boring pretty quickly. No one wants to read about the same hero book after book (unless it’s a series of course). I will admit the occasional character trait of his may slip in, or a particular saying, but that’s as far as it goes. Like the question above this is more childish nudge-nudge, wink-wink and we’ve heard it before – multiple times.
Alternative Question: What inspires you to write?
3. When are you going to write a real book?
Last time I checked, an 80,000 word novel is considered a ‘real’ book. What people are generally suggesting here is that romance isn’t worth reading and isn’t a legitimate genre. So let me throw some romance related statistics at you to prove that romance is real:
- The romance genre is a billion-dollar per year industry with an estimated $1.08 billion in sales (taken from RWA)
- Romance has 13% of the adult fiction market (taken from RWA)
It saddens me that romance is so denigrated. The genre is full of emotional, positive stories, promoting equal relationships between people and always has a happy ending. Why are people so dismissive of it? Is it because it’s written predominantly by women? Or are people scared of the touchy-feeling emotions? Or is it just ignorance because they’ve never bothered to pick up and read a romance novel?
Alternative Question: How many books have you written?
4. You write romance – what like 50 Shades of Grey?
I can tell you now that I wish I sold as many copies as 50 Shades of Grey! That series definitely got people talking about romance, which is a good thing, but for some reason, non-romance readers seem to think that all romances are erotic. They’re not. Romances come with all different levels of sexual content or heat levels:
- Sweet – there may be no sex at all, perhaps just some kissing or fondling, or any sex happens behind closed doors
- Sexy – there’s sex in the story and it may or may not be detailed. We’re climbing up the thermometer here. It could be a single sex scene or multiple.
- Erotica – these books have a very high sexual content and sometimes the plot is on the periphery.
Usually when people mention 50 Shades it’s because that’s the only romance book they’ve heard of. I guess it’s like fantasy authors being asked, “What, like Game of Thrones?”, but it does get a little irritating.
Alternative Question: What are your books about?
5. Aren’t romances easy to write – there’s a formula, right?
This usually makes me laugh. Firstly, no book is easy to write. A single title novel has a length of 70,000 words or above and it’s hard not only to write that many words, but to also have a cohesive plot that keeps the reader turning the page rather than closing the book. Secondly, for me at least, romances are way more difficult to write than fantasy. In a romance your hero and heroine are the centre of your plot and you’ve got to keep that tension between them for the whole book. If they declared their love for each other in the first chapter, you don’t have a book. Similarly if the conflict is something that could be resolved by them simply talking to one another, you’ll irritate your reader and they’ll put the book down. No, romances are hard to write – at least with a fantasy novel if I get stuck I can throw in a fight scene or some interesting magical conflict! As for the whole formula issue: romances are formulaic only in so much as any genre is formulaic. Two people meet, they fall in love, something bad happens, they make up and live happily ever after. Similarly a mystery has a crime committed, someone is trying to solve it, the detective is almost caught by the criminal, and then the bad guy gets his comeuppance.
Alternative Question: How much work goes into writing a book? or How long did it take you to write the book?
6. Don’t you think romance novels give women unrealistic expectations?
Just what expectations are you talking about here? The expectation of equality in a relationship? The idea that a woman can be happy in a relationship? The suggestion that a woman deserves to be treated with respect and kindness? I’m not quite sure what the person is trying to imply here. To me it is almost suggesting that a woman is unable to tell fact from fiction which is incredibly insulting. It’s along the same lines of when people suggest that computer games promote violence. Please! We have the intelligence to know when we pick up a novel that what we are reading is a work of fiction. We know not every relationship ends in happily-ever-after but we’re not reading for a real-life look at relationships, we’re reading it for entertainment, to escape life for a few hours and just because we like to feel good.
Alternative Question: What’s your favourite thing about romance?
So, they are my top 6 questions not to ask a romance author. If you’ve got any more you want to add, leave them in the comments below. I must thank the women at Romance Writers of Australia who responded to my question about least favourite questions and gave me some of the questions they hated. In the future I’ll write a post about questions you shouldn’t ask any author. 🙂