Popular Romance conference reinforces genre’s ever-growing status
In a world where happy endings are required, Romance Fiction authors, readers and scholars — English professor Pam Regis among them — have reached a new milestone.
The centuries-old genre has moved onto the radar screen of the nation’s library, the Library of Congress. Its Center for the Book hosted the recent conference, “What is Love? Romance Fiction in the Digital Age,” and announced plans to add a Romance pavilion to this year’s prestigious National Book Festival.
The recognition raises the stature of Romance Fiction and has been a long time coming, says Regis, president of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance and one of three conference organizers.
After all, Romance Fiction is the second best-selling genre in the publishing industry, accounting for $1 billion in sales in 2013 and 21 percent of the adult fiction market.
“We’re very happy to see this happen,” say Regis, author of “A Natural History of the Romance Novel,” one of the first positive academic looks at the genre when published in 2003.
The Feb. 10-11 conference brought together scholars, authors and fans to “explore the changing dynamics of the genre, its relevance in popular culture and how digital technology is shaping the future of romance fiction,” said John Y. Cole, director of the Center for the Book and a conference co-organizer.
The conference opened to a packed audience of 500 for a sneak preview of “Love Between the Covers,” a feature-length documentary about the romance community by producer/director Laurie Kahn — a film that Regis says is the first major sympathetic look at Romance in a documentary.
“‘Love Between the Covers’ captures the ethos of the Romance community,” says Regis, “It’s a pay-it-forward community that says and means, ‘you can come and join us and we will help you’ whether you are a writer or reader or scholar.”
The film was part of Kahn’s Popular Romance Project, a multi-media exploration of romance, with a symposium highlighting day two. Audiences of 200 — some with standing-room only — participated in discussions centered on various facets of the genre, love and publishing. The first of four panels explored the question of what constitutes canonical, or “keeper” romance fiction, from books chosen by scholars and teachers to ones chosen by readers. A second featured historians and scientists who study love and relationships, who noted that definitions of love vary from culture to culture. A third explored and celebrated the romance community itself. The final panel launched a far-reaching discussion focused on the digital frontier in publishing — the topic echoed in the symposium’s title: “Romance Fiction in the Digital Age.”
“Romance authors led the digital publishing revolution,” says Regis. “Some authors earn millions of dollars self-publishing in ebook formats. The path to publication has never been more open for all authors, and romance authors were quick to walk down that path.”